by Deborah Charnes
I’ve always been enthralled with India. In 2011, I spent a month there. That wasn’t enough. In the last few years, I wrote about many tours to India, all with people I know and respect. There wasn’t a one that didn’t pull at my soul. So, how can you choose between so many wonderful options to embrace spirituality? Now I’m ready to open my heart to embrace spirituality through Embrace the Grace: Sacred Journey to Divine India.
If you want to embrace spirituality, join me on a very intimate tour. January 19-31, 2019. I’ll be both a participant, and the resident yoga teacher.
Here’s why I chose to embrace spirituality on this Sacred Journey to Divine India.
Embrace Local Culture and Hospitality
First, Embrace the Grace allows participants to experience the depths of India. See the real India. Through your eyes. But also through the lens of your heart and soul.
Large chain hotels and oversized tour buses turn me off. One of my fondest experiences in India was what should have been a short road trip. It was 14 hours. My tuk tuk driver spoke no English. But I understood him. When he offered me a chai, that meant we were stranded. I showed little grace when I got to my “resort” after wading through mud with my suitcase. Yet, the next morning I recognized the journey was unforgettable.
Furthermore, Embrace the Grace is led by two women that I have known for several years. They are positive, vibrant, spirited twins that want to share their love for the culture and spirituality of their homeland. As part of the tour, participants visit the twins’ parents in their Delhi home.
“Spending time with family is one of the most important elements in the trip because it gives people the warmth of being genuinely loved and personally cared,” says Shivani one of the twins.
“100 percent of people/friends we talk to or meet are struggling/looking for some personal attention, happiness and solace…when our friends have stayed or spent time with our parents, they experienced the true joy, love, gratitude, experiencing the need of making immense sacrifices for a higher principle. It is very eye opening for them to feel the need of selflessly caring for someone without any expectations or rewards. People in the west are more into Give and Take; Use and Throw, what is in there for Me? But when they experience someone opening their doors to welcoming them with genuine feelings, their hearts are transformed.”
Embrace Spirituality–Regardless of Your Religious Affiliation
India is a highly spiritual land — for people of all faiths. Embrace the Grace takes you to a majestic Baha’i temple and the mosque complex of Qutar Minar. Among sacred Hindu sites are, Vrindavan/Mathura and the Yamuna River.
“We will explore yoga’s timeless philosophy which can be applied to all religions and belief systems, bringing us all to a place of unity within diversity,” explains Shivani.
One of the magnets for me is four days at the International Bhakti Yoga Retreat. Bhakti is the branch of yoga I can’t live without. I travel every year to Bhakti festivals. In 2019, I’ll go a bit further. What better place for Bhakti than an award winning eco retreat center in India inspired by Radhanath Swami.
Radhanath Swami is a native Chicagoan, like me. I’ve written a number of articles based on his workshops. His extraordinary autobiography, “The Journey Home,” about his becoming a Swami in India, reads like an Indiana Jones story. Not surprisingly, it was made into a feature film.
One of last year’s attendees called the twins’ tour a once-in-a-lifetime trip. She was “humbled to experience Radhanath Swami’s daily classes for hours, followed by dancing in bliss in kirtans. The amount of spiritual growth that came from this trip was unparalleled.”
Embrace Seva or Karma Yoga
Moreover, Karma Yoga is essential for me. It was engrained in me many years ago. Karma Yoga, or seva, is selfless service. Giving, expecting nothing in return. However, I still get so much in return. In fact, for the last eight years, I’ve practiced karma yoga in Mexico and Central America. That’s one of the things that turns me on about this trip.
Embrace the Grace includes three seva opportunities. One is at a school. Another, a hospital. The third is a free meal program. All are non-profits I whole-heartedly support.
Sandipani Muni School in Vrindavan provides free education, books, supplies and uniforms for underprivileged girls. Educating the families and communities on the merit of education versus child marriage is also part of the school’s role, since only one in 100 girls in rural India completes school.
For 25 years, Food For Life Vrindavan has focused on providing free meals, education and skill training and medical help to thousands of young girls. School children are fed clean, nutritious meals, free of charge, and there are also programs to serve needy families, widows and the blind.
The third entity for service will be the Bhaktivedanta hospital in Mumbai. Its aim is to provide high quality holistic medical and spiritual health care to people, regardless of their financial situation. Among the free services offered, Bhaktivedanta conducts health care screening of more than 12,000 children annually. A mobile eye camp served 45,564 patients and performed 4,650 cataract surgeries in one year, alone. In rural communities, 200 hospital health camps screened 50,000 people and treated 10,000.
Embrace Spirituality via Colorful Customs
Embrace The Grace features a beautiful celebration at which hundreds gather to pluck petals from 2,300 pounds of flowers.
Radhanath Swami explains that people from around the world are “sitting around the same little baskets of flowers, plucking petals, irrespective of what status, caste, sex or economic bracket we came from. Despite our incredibly amazing differences we are one in our love for God, in our compassion for each other, and in our appreciation for each other.”
In the evening the petals are showered upon temple deities as the crowds sing devotional music (kirtan). Then, for the finale, guests deluge each other with the flower petals.
“This is going to be very intimate and transformative,” says Shivani. While there may be hundreds at the festival and the retreat, this spiritual tour will be for a very small group.
The twins will share their knowledge and passion, non-stop. Plus, morning sessions of breathwork, meditation and hatha yoga can be tailored for the participants needs and preferences.
“We will have fun, long-lasting relationships/friendships and simultaneously explore the true wealth and potential that lies within all of us. This journey is meant to expose us to a newer dimension of reality beyond the myriad of roles that we play in our day-to-day lives. This journey will provide us with a strong foundational rhythm that connects us beyond the mind, the materialism, and the distractions.”
Embrace a Superb ROI
Finally, this all inclusive trip costs what some pay for airfare, alone. It’s so affordable because it’s built upon seva. You get airfare, meals, accommodations, ground and regional air transportation, two full-time guides, plenty of workshops, and hatha and Bhakti yoga for about $1,500.
Plus, there’s plenty of time to save up your money. This incredible journey designed to awaken you to embrace spirituality isn’t until January of 2019, but spaces are almost full.
Weigh the benefits of a ski trip in the mountains, museum hopping or sunning on the beach, versus a spiritual tour. This is a no brainer. Embrace spirituality. Transform your heart, and your life. The value is immeasurable.
In closing, Shivani says, “You will dive deep into the culture and lifestyle of the path of yoga that guides us towards God through love, devotion, prayers and meditation.”