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Region 5 - Summer Retreat

Sai Always Inside: Form to Formless
22nd – 24th July 2011

As the hazy early morning sun smiled down through the trees, gently warming the devotees gathered, the purifying sound of 21 Omkars filled the Lake District, resounding off the surrounding hilltops, and penetrating down into the nearby waters… We were all ready and

Purpose of the retreat

Following on from the success of last year’s regional retreat, Region 5 were keen to continue holding its annual summer retreat in the Lake District. Back in November, we had decided to hold Swami’s 85th Region 5 Birthday Celebrations on the theme ‘Form and Formless’. At that time it was decided that this would be an ideal theme to continue developing for the 2011 summer retreat. Little were we to know what was to unfold over the coming months. It was clear however to us all that now, more than ever, how fitting and important this topic was.
After months of planning, the various centres and groups of the region came together for a truly memorable, charged and uplifting weekend. Worries about the forecasted heavy rains were quickly dispelled as Swami had once again provided us with sunny blue skies throughout the weekend! 120 devotees attended – not only from region 5 but also from London, Leicester, Norwich, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
A set of six workshops spread across the weekend took us all on a journey that started with the ‘Form of God’ exploring the importance and symbolism behind God’s many incarnations. Participants were then encouraged to think about the ‘Form of Man’ this time exploring our own physical and spiritual attributes. Leading from this, our focus turned to allow us to see the divinity in the Lord’s beautiful creation of nature that surrounded us all in the breathtaking and serene location of Langdale. On Sunday we started to concentrate on moving towards the Formless – initially exploring how we can see Sai within ourselves, then seeing Sai in everyone and everything and ultimately moving beyond that to truly formless worship through the techniques of light meditation and maypole meditation. Throughout the weekend, inspiring bhajan sessions enhanced and heightened the vibrations, creating a spiritually charged atmosphere. We were also honoured to have as our guest speaker Patrick Kettle from Glasgow Sai Centre who shared with us in his humorous style his personal experiences of how he came to know Swami.
We have provided below a brief summary of our workshops so that you too can share in our journey from ‘Form to Formless’…

Form

Why is the Form important? What can we LEARN from the FORM OF GOD? The form of God is there to guide us and be an example to us. Greater Manchester Sai Centre organised this workshop that explored images showing the Form of Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, Laxmi, Durga, Saraswati, Jesus and Krishna. We discussed what we can learn from the images of these Forms and the attributes it symbolizes.
Swami says, ‘Images illustrate, amplify and make clear. Joy comes to man, not through the form itself, but through the relationship established with the form. The best way to improve in spiritual practise is to acquire Knowledge. While doing form worship, enquire about the form and its significance. Why that form? What does it teach? Then use the Knowledge to enhance Bhakthi and contemplate on God more’.
We went deeper to discuss how the LIVES of the Forms we discussed are an EXAMPLE to us on how to conduct ourselves on our life journey. Importantly, many of us have had the unique and golden opportunity of having the Darshan, Sparshan and Sambhashan (vision, touch and discourse) of a LIVING God – Sathya Sai Baba. So this aspect of the Retreat on the Form was important to share these special and personal experiences with one another and also to understand what we have learnt from this privileged opportunity that has had an impact on our lives which we can pass on to future generations.
The Formless God assumes ALL forms…use the Form to realise the Formless.
- Sathya Sai Baba

Form of Man

To the common man, the Form of Man is limited by his physical, spiritual and intellectual vision, and the emotional experiences which formulate his judgement of the Human Form. However, in many of Swami’s teachings we are guided by His infinite wisdom, and He tells us that we are much more than that.
Isle of Man Sai Group delivered a thought provoking workshop that highlighted that there are greater more subtle and stronger aspects to the Form that for most remains hidden and unseen. Although most will travel through this life, in this human form, we will very rarely have the opportunity to enquire into the true aspect of this being.
It is well recognised that the Living “entity” is NOT the body itself, but that which is beyond the body, yet within. This knowledge has been given to us by Swami. This entity is the true Self, the SOUL, the SPIRIT, a Reflection of GOD or The ATMA. It is the one that transcends birth and death.
The FORM exists on THREE major planes: Physical, Subtle and Causal. These levels are revealed as spiritual awareness matures, through practise and time. As each layer is peeled away, a more pure, stronger and subtle inner is revealed. Removal of all the Veils of Maya associated with this physical and material world, reveals the beautiful and peaceful truth, of the ATMA.
We are truly fortunate to be able to think and enquire beyond our mundane existence and research into the truth of our heritage. The taking of Human Birth is but one step of many before, that leads us to this stage of enquiry. It is a sacred mission, one open to everyone, without exception.
Through personal one pointed Sadhana (spiritual practices), this search for the Truth of the FORM is confirmed to be achieved, Swami has given His word. Through the practise of the various Forms of Yoga, Self-realisation (knowing the Self) or even a glimpse, is possible.

God in Nature and Creation

In the most beautiful setting at Langdale, a very apt location for the Region 5 retreat, Newcastle Sai Centre took the opportunity to take everybody outdoors but at the same time enjoy Swami’s teachings in the greenery around the youth hostel. We called it “the nature walk” and it turned out to be the most natural workshop as it was very informal and interactive. Moving from “Form to Formless” is not very easy but with Swami’s guidance anything is possible. Integrating the forms of bhakthi with Nature, which is pregnant with the Divine all around, was the purpose of the workshop. It began with a very entertaining role-play by the youth (Mukunda and Vijay) during which they introduced the forms of devotion to everyone. We set out in four groups and the facilitators led the groups to their respective stations to experience the forms of devotion. They talked about the significance, a few stories and examples from everyday life related to each form of bhakthi. It was a very enjoyable experience for everyone as we could experience the glory of His creation and His teachings.
The nine forms of bhakthi are 1. Sravanam – Listening to the glories of the Lord 2. Kirthanam – Singing His glories 3. Vishnusmaranam – Chanting His name and remembering Him 4. Padasevanam – Serving His lotus feet 5. Archanam – Worshipping Him 6. Vandanam – Paying obeisance to Him 7. Dasyam – Considering oneself His servant 8. Sakhyam – Considering Him as the best friend 9. Atmanivedanam – Total Surrender. During the Sravanam exercise we decided to listen to the creation of God by shutting all other senses which enabled us to appreciate subtle things like rustling of leaves, chirping of birds etc. Kirtanam was really enjoyable as we could experience Nagarsankeertan in the woods. For Vishnusmaranam, Padasevanam, and Archanam, we set up a little altar under a tree and practised each of them. For Vandanam we placed a cross on a nearby hill and paid obeisance to it by prostrating from the garden. By doing this we realised the importance of cutting the ego (as the cross signifies). For the last three forms of bhakthi, we thought of examples of revered devotees such as Meerabai, and we shared our own spiritual experiences. The best thing about this workshop was the interest and enthusiasm of the members in the groups, demonstrated by their active participation and contribution.

Formless

On Sunday the focus was on the Formless aspect of Swami. Workshop organisers from Lidget Green, Leeds and Halifax Sai Centres/ Groups created an inspiring session that allowed us to visualise Swami inside us through concentration and contemplation.
Why visualise Swami's Form when we are trying to achieve the Formless? Swami has said that it is difficult to visualise the Formless without visualising the Form first. There are four stages to achieving the Formless: i) see Sai inside ourselves, ii) see Sai in everyone (living beings), iii) see Sai in everything (non-living beings), and finally iv) see Sai as light, love, energy i.e as something formless and omnipresent. This session was trying to achieve the first stage: seeing Sai inside ourselves.
A visualisation exercise was conducted using different pictures and videos of Swami to focus and feel Swami, not just to see His form. Everyone was asked to focus and concentrate on a photo of Swami for a minute, then close their eyes and contemplate the image in their minds. Video clips were also used and comparisons were made between the pictures and videos as to which medium helped the individuals to really 'feel' Swami. This exercise was further facilitated by the use of darkness, music, incense, Swami's perfume, and candles.
The purpose of this workshop was to ensure that the devotees always had a way of feeling Swami inside them, as at a time where Swami is no longer with us physically we need to feel Him more than ever within us as a source of constant divine support. All we needed to do was look within our hearts and there Swami was!
Sanjay Vaja from Manchester organized the next workshop on Samadrishti (seeing Swami in everyone and everything). Through an open discussion, he took us through exercises to see Swami in everyone else in the marquee. He then discussed ways to see Swami in everything else as well like the chair etc. This was followed by an interactive discussion about the challenges we face while trying to see Sai in everyone and everything. The workshop developed themes and ideas that had been generated at last year`s retreat that had specifically been themed on Samadrishti.
Lastly the retreat ended with concurrent workshops – participants were given the option of experiencing the formless Divine as light through light meditation led by Patrick Kettle from Glasgow Sai Centre or as higher consciousness using techniques from Phyllis Krystal workshops such as maypole meditation led by Neil Bisarya from Ormskirk Sai Group.
We truly thank our beloved Swami for all that we learned throughout the weekend and for working through us as His instruments in creating a weekend that proved invaluable for all present. We pray that He continues to guide each of us on our spiritual journeys until we meet again at the Region 5 Retreat 2012!

Region 5 Retreat Planning Team