“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is that simple. It is that difficult.” ~Warren Bennis.
Friday, March 2nd, 2012 marked the beginning of the second annual Senior Leadership Spiritual Weekend (SLSW) for the national senior leadership of the Hindu Students Association (HSA). The National Officers and Board Directors came together in Austin, Texas for a three-day spiritual retreat, which was led by Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami and Sannyasin Senthilanathaswami of the Kauai Hindu Monastery.
Soon after HSA began, its Senior Leadership came to the realization that in order to effective Hindu leaders, they could not let their spiritual growth be stifled. HSA takes on numerous projects in a year and all of these are led by its Senior Leadership, all of whom are young professionals. Among the numerous meetings, conference calls, projects and events, personal growth and development often take a backseat. In an effort to ensure that that all these demands to not hinder the leadership’s Hindu learning, HSA’s Senior Leadership engaged in this annual spiritual weekend. HSA also makes an effort to incorporate spiritual learning in its weekly calls with its members and branches.
This Senior Leadership Spiritual Weekend commenced with a scrumptious welcome dinner where the attendees engaged with the Swamijis in discussions about lessons learned from the past year and what they hoped to gain during this weekend. The participants received personalized notebooks from Sannyasin Senthilnathaswamiji. The notebooks outlined lessons, exercises, inspirational quotes meant to serve as a guide for the weekend’s agenda- the individual and interpersonal growth of the Senior Leadership as young Hindu leaders.
Saturday morning began with a revitalizing Hatha Yoga session with Senthilnathaswamiji. Realizing that students and young professionals may not always be able to take out too much time for yoga, Swamiji instructed participants on a few poses that one could do every day that would only take ten to fifteen minutes. He spoke about the importance of preparing oneself for mediation and explained that by controlling ones awareness throughout the day one’s actions can become Yoga.
Following Yoga and some breakfast, Satguru Bodhinathaji spoke about spiritual unfoldment. He likened this process of natural and spiritual unfoldment, which in Sanskrit is called adhyatma vikasa, to the life of a lotus. Although the lotus seed begins in the mud, its roots gives rise to a stem that reaches up through the water into the air. From this stem evolve the buds that grow into flowers, which open their petals to the sun. We all start out in the mud, which is our instinctive mind. We then evolve into water, which is the intellectual mind, by becoming a thinking person, who has rational thinking and control over their emotions. The next is spiritual unfoldment, the stems growth from the water into the air. This closed bud knows that God is out there, but has no direct experience of Him. To open this bud into a flower, we have to consciously strive. Satguruji then talked about the importance of character building in this path of spiritual enfoldment. Saturgurji walked the participants through workbooks with simple character building exercises that could be incorporated in day-to-day life. After a short break, the next session delved into an overview of Hindu Scriptures. Satguruji talked about the Vedas and the Agamas and their significance in today’s world; the difference between shruti and smriti; the nature of Bhagavad Gita; and the other types of texts considered sacred by Hindus.
These informative and uplifting sessions were followed by a picnic lunch at the Zilker Botanical Gardens. At the lunch, the HSA members had the opportunity to engage in one-on-one discussion with both the Swamijis over a scrumptious vegetarian meal. The rest of the day continued with a dynamic discussion on effective and harmonious leadership guided by Swami Senthilnathaji. The group discussed their strengths and weaknesses as individuals and as a team over the past year. Swamiji spoke about fundamental elements that contribute to a successful team as well as efficient and productive decision making and communication processes. The day ended with an informal dinner and discussion with both the Swamijis.
Sunday began another session of Hatha Yoga and meditation. The participants with Senthilnathaswamiji performed a short set of asanas learned during the preview day. Senthilnathaswamiji then guided the group into meditation. After the invigorating yoga and meditation, Satguruji talked about the difference between God, Gods and the Soul. He spoke about God and the relationship of the soul to God in Vedanta philosophy and the concept of deities from a diversity of traditions. Following this session, Senthilanathaswamiji spoke about being effective leaders, balancing work and personal challenges, and reducing stress and increasing the emotional rewards of work and working relationships. The weekend ended with a lunch in the company of the Austin Hindu community.
As the weekend came to an end, everyone left invigorated and uplifted, with renewed zeal for the year ahead. SLSW reinforced the fact that in order to effectively guide and lead, one needs to learn and continue down a path of knowledge and growth. SLSW accomplished its goal of helping the HSA leadership learn more about Hindu Dharma and develop spiritually.