SAFIER, the educational wing of Sri Aurobindo Society successfully conducted a 5 month online Integral Education Intensive course with 9 teaching faculty of Auro University (AU) in 2021. As this course happened during the surge of Covid-19 it was on a full online mode. This year a three-day Retreat Program was organized on 22-24 September 2022 by Sri Aurobindo Integral Life Center (SAILC), Auro University, Surat in collaboration with SAFIER, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry, for the same 9 teaching faculties who had undergone Intensive IE training in 2021. The objective was to interact with the faculty and to help them deepen the grasp of the principles of Integral Education introduced in the online sessions and also link them with the broader principles of Integral Yoga, and apply them both in their personal life and in academia. The main underlying theme was ‘Knowing oneself and controlling oneself’ to lead a harmonious and centred life. Some of the key practices that were taken up were
- Practices for Awareness through the body
- Practice for Channelising emotional energies through Self-Observation & Journaling
- Practices for Opening to the Psychic within
- Doing a project work on Understanding oneself through the Mother’s symbol
- Special sessions of reading of the book ‘The Mother’ by Sri Aurobindo was taken up, to understand and make a start in imbibing the Psychic discipline in one’s life.
Course Facilitators: Shivakumar, Priti and Srinivas from SAFIER, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry
Knowing Oneself and Knowing Others
An introductory session of ‘Knowing Oneself and Knowing Others’ was taken up in an innovative way by Priti. The participants discovered their innate strengths and were led to an inner journey where they were made to reflect on diverse aspects about themselves.
Journeying with the Mother’s Music I
The Mother’s organ music was played and the participants were asked as to what they felt after listening to the music. The participants shared their feelings. Shivakumar later on explained that music is like a movement and it arises from a specific region which is the world of music and it has the capacity to transform oneself. Thus listening to a particular type of music which has a calming effect can be a wonderful practice to enable entry into the psychic space.
Integral Yoga & Vision of AU - The bigger Picture
Integral Yoga makes life & all its aspects complete, Purnam. Thus an understanding of Purna Yoga which is a life enhancing yoga and not a rejection was taken up. Shivakumar explained that spirituality is that which completes life, makes it perfect. He further explained that the focus phrase here is: ‘jodna hai, todna nahi’. This can include anything and everything from man management, material management and anything which can control life’s energies.
He elaborated the need to work towards the perfection of our body, emotions and thoughts by getting in touch with our deeper self. The discovery of this deeper Self, our Psychic Being, will help complete our life. The approach leading to this discovery which can complete life is Purna Yoga i.e., Integral Yoga, and in the field of education, it can be through Integral Education.
On Integral Yoga – I
The sessions on Integral Yoga taken up by Srinivas, were designed to help the participants develop a foundation in Integral Yoga. The focus of these sessions was three cardinal aspects of Integral Yoga:
Karma Yoga: How to work with greater attunement with the Divine, while subordinating one’s ego to the larger purpose.
Four Powers: Wisdom, Strength, Harmony and Perfection – Sri Aurobindo explained these four principles are involved in the micro and macro development of humanity. As we cultivate them in ourselves, we develop an “integral” personality.
Psychic Being: The principle of psychic being is central to Integral Yoga. Finding our divine essence allows us to work from a robust and stable inner space that provides us unerring guidance in our life.
The details of the first session is provided below:
The Mother, Chapter V: Essentials of Karma Yoga
This session entailed a detailed study of the 5th chapter of the book “The Mother” by Sri Aurobindo.
The chapter, dealing with “The Divine Worker”, focusses on the psychological approach needed to convert work into a means of inner progress. The first steps in this process entail: leaving personal ambition out of the choice of work that comes before us, working diligently while recognizing that each individual is an instrument for the Divine and lastly, realizing that one can only do one’s best but cannot fully control the outcome of the efforts.
If each individual works with these three principles at the forefront of one’s consciousness, it would lead to greater personal satisfaction and better team work.
Group Project on the Mother’s Symbol
In order to delve deeper into ‘Knowing oneself’, Priti introduced the aspect and importance of having symbols in our life in the light of Sri Aurobindo, and then a deeper insight in to the Mother’s symbol was taken up with reference to the central power, the four powers, the twelve qualities and its reflection in one’s life. This was later taken up as a mini group project to deepen one’s understanding of the Mother’s symbol over the next two days.
Yogic exercises were taken up over the next two early mornings by Priti to enable the participants to get prepared for the day. The practice started with the chanting of OM and Sri Aurobindo’s Gayatri mantra. Some basic yogic stretches to relieve constipation were introduced and Surya-Namaskar was taken up for enhancing energy in the body so that the body gears up as a support to the mind and emotions throughout the day and also starts awakening to its own unique capacities.
Journeying with the Mother’s Music II
This beautiful practice of letting the Mother’s music enter into the parts of the being and awaken to its higher possibilities and starting the long day of sessions by settling into a state of peace was taken up by Shivakumar as continued from Day 1.
On Integral Yoga - II
The details of the second session taken up by Srinivas covered the following:
The Mother, Chapter VI: Four Powers
Sri Aurobindo describes Wisdom, Strength, Harmony and Perfection as four great powers that stood out in front, during the course of evolution of humanity. In his social philosophy Sri Aurobindo explains how these aspects were critical to human development. The development of these four aspects in one’s own personality or in an organization leads to well-rounded development.
In this session, each participant was asked to examine their own working style and their personality to recognize which of these four aspects is prominent and which aspect he or she would like to develop further for a more balanced personality.
Awakening of the Physical Awareness
The session on the awakening of Physical awareness which was led by Priti created a joyous ripple amongst the participants. The participants realised that when their body consciousness was awakened, they could do a lot! The session was challenging because one had to focus on catching and throwing the sticks in silent communication. This gave rise to a deeper feeling that one has to take care of oneself and others as well, for any activity to be done harmoniously. The participants learnt that the body has the capacity to adjust according to the environment and situations when it becomes aware and receptive. Strength and awareness of the body increases when it practices ‘stillness’, was another insight from the activity.
Art of Sleep & Rest
Srinivas took up a session on ‘How to sleep or take rest’. This is an art that has not been a part of any school or college curriculum but is very much required in our day-to-day life considering our busy schedule. The interrelation between the three parts of our being (body, vital, mind) was discussed in order to get the best sleep. If the three parts quieten down, only then can one sleep properly. All the participants were asked to lie down on the floor and experience the same through a guided process of relaxing the three parts.
Controlling the Vital: Anger & Irritation
In this session taken up by Shivakumar, an exploration was taken up to question ourselves and analyse the trigger points of anger & its milder forms: irritation and annoyance. Integral Education offers a wonderful way to control the emotional energies which pull one down. This session gave an idea as to how one can get rid of one’s anger and irritation, how to calm oneself and not to put blame on others and introspect one's own emotions and problems. It was a process of knowing oneself better and utilising the practice of becoming conscious and exercising control in order to utilise the emotional energies in the best possible and harmonious manner, which will be very helpful in the collective space.
The participants were given time to deepen their understanding on the Mother’s Symbol by reading some material given to them and exploring themselves along with their groups, so that they can present their understanding on the last day.
Uplifting the Vital
After dinner, the participants and facilitators got together for an informal sharing of poetry and songs to experience another side of the Vital which helps in the collective harmony and uplifts the atmosphere.
Yogic exercises were taken up by Priti in the early morning to further deepen the awakening of the body consciousness.
Journeying with the Mother’s Music III
On the final day of the retreat, Shivakumar started the sessions with the practice of listening to Mother’s music in stillness. The participants were guided to become still like a mirror by invoking stillness in all their parts, so that Mother’s music could make a profound meditative impact on them.
On Integral Yoga - III
The details of the third session as facilitated by Srinivas covered the following:
The Psychic Being
In Integral Yoga, the identification and development of the Psychic Being is considered to be the cornerstone of spiritual development. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo have repeatedly enjoined sadhaks to “interiorize” and then work, so that all interactions, emotions and thoughts would have the imprint of this deeper consciousness. Truth, Joy, Beauty, Generous Gratitude, Divine Love, Surrender are among the attributes associated with the Psychic Being. As the psychic being emerges to the front there is a spontaneous harmony that becomes possible.
A meditation session on the Psychic Being was also conducted.
Group Project & Presentation
The project presentation by the two groups brought out outer and inner explorations, delving deep into decoding the Mother's symbol. The participants expressed how they applied the three principles of education when they were doing the project. The presentations were beautiful and gave a deep insight into the enthusiastic participation and emerging clarity of understanding in the participants.
Awakening to the Light Within
Shivakumar facilitated a session where the participants got so engaged in the activity that they forgot everything outside. They got totally involved with the activity with the flame, they became one with the outer flame. In this meditative process, the participants also learned to befriend one of the elements of nature - ‘Fire’ by just paying undivided loving attention to it.
Writing an Aspiration and Offering
As a sacred closure to the three-day workshop, all the participants gathered around a flame and concentrated on it. With the wish that all the participants move to a higher consciousness and are able to live the vision of the University, the Retreat concluded with an ardent aspiration to walk the path of Integral Education.
Conclusion, The Way Forward
After the three day-retreat and a very insightful time spent together, the participants were motivated to take up reading of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother as an aid to furthering their understanding of Integral education and its approach in their professional and personal life. Many of the participants expressed an aspiration to come to Puducherry for another advanced retreat to enhance the Integral yoga approach of living in their everyday life. The general preference was more for an offline interaction which everyone unanimously agreed was a more powerful medium of transference.
Feedback by Participants
When the participants were asked at the end of the workshop ‘What stood out for them or what they liked the most about the workshop’, this is what some of them had to say:
“The sessions were very beautiful, but at the personal level I need to apply and work on my own self to understand its connection.”
- Juhika Bhanjadeo, School of Liberal Arts
“Integral Education is the preparatory stage, I believe, which gives a sense of being guided, as a confirmation of right actions. I liked the sessions on reading Integral Yoga and explanations on them.”
- Avinash Engineer, School of Design
“The session on knowing ourselves through the poem and art appeals to me a lot as it gives me the opportunity to explore myself.”
- Dr Shilpi Sharma, School of Law
“The retreat gave me an opportunity to step back, helped me in bonding with colleagues and learn moredeeper about values.”
- Dr Priya Rajkumar, School of Liberal Arts
“The special session for me was awakening to light within. Offline is preferred mode. Every 6 months we should have similar retreat programs. Sometimes away from the campus and sometimes on campus.”
- Sushant Bharat Singh. School of Liberal Arts