By Lisa Stewart

"What is the first act of life?" asks spiritual teacher, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. "The first act is breathing in, and then we cry. The last act is breathing out, and everyone else cries. In between is our life."

Honored by the president of India with the title Yoga Shiromani (supreme flowering of enlightenment) and a featured speaker at the United Nations' 50th Anniversary celebration, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the founder of the Art of Living Healing Breath Workshop and the Sudarshan Kriya (healing breath) technique.

During this recent visit to Southern California, he spoke about some of his work.

Awareness: What is spirituality?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Just being natural. We think spiritual practice means something very serious. You sit and do something, have a long grim face. The grimmer the face, the more spiritually evolved the person is. Naturalness, growing in truth, growing in that inner beauty and silence - that is spirituality.

Awareness: How can people become more aware of the spiritual in daily life?

SSRS: The sun cannot be seen if the grass is not transparent, if the windows are not open. Being grateful helps you to clean your windows. Doing some practices - meditation, breathing, pranayam - also helps you to clean the windows, remove all the stresses and feel wonderful from inside. One of the techniques that is taught in the introductory course is Sudarshan Kriya, where you go into your breath and all these patterns and discover that you are pure joy. You say, "Oh! This is what I am!" Once you have a glimpse, you see everything is changing, and you'll be able to be in that state. The breath has a great secret to offer. Because breath is the link between body and mind, if you attend to the breath, you can quickly get over negative emotions.

Awareness: How can we be more loving and better friends to people in our life?

SSRS: What do you want from your friends? You know, you can be with your friends and not say a word, and get into ecstasy. You can understand each other perfectly well just being in silence. Words are very shallow. The day we realize words are incompetent, we have gained some depth in life.

You may have heard many seminars on love, and what happens. Talking, talking, talking - "love unconditionally," "love everybody." A lady in Los Angeles once invited me for lunch. This lady gave workshops on love, and she had been divorced three times! She felt so miserable. There was so much tension in her. I said to her, "Why don't you just sit within yourself, meditate, keep some silence, and experience that you are love. You are made up of a substance called love." Transcend the words, then love appears. True intimacy is to take for granted that you are intimate. Don't make an effort to convince the other person that you love them, and do not doubt, even a little, whether they love you or not. Take it for granted. Do you know what happens? Even if there is no love, if there is some doubt, all that disappears. This is the secret.

Awareness: We understand you offer programs in prisons.

SSRS: Our volunteers have given several programs in India and in the U.S., and many of the prisoners tell me they are glad they are in prison! They say if they hadn't been in prison, they would never have learned this knowledge and felt this kind of freedom. The prison populations would be reduced if we could bring this wonderful knowledge to more people.

Awareness: What is the best way to handle people who are resistant to spirituality?

SSRS: It's all one Being, one life. If some other people have their own concept, let them enjoy. Why force them to believe what you think is right? You tell what you want to convey and if they don't accept it, just smile, be with it. There is no need to argue. Argument is an indication that your faith is just a belief, it's not really an experience. See? Argument cannot bring knowledge. Just give a smile, and that one smile is enough to blow whatever concept they have. Let people take their own time to come up. You don't have to force anybody. "Okay, today you believe, you understand what I am saying!" Not necessary. By stuffing like that, no one will understand anything.

One of the qualities of enlightenment is to tolerate ignorance. Otherwise an enlightened person could not live in this world, because he knows everybody has this substance inside and yet they are keeping a long face. This is intolerable ignorance for an enlightened person. But still he is patient, he smiles, and waits for every body to bloom on their own.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar will be offering a four-evening series of talks and meditation, January 27-30 at 7 p.m., at the Miramar Sheraton Hotel in Santa Monica, and will also be at the Irvine Marriott at 7:30 p.m. on February 2. (Suggested donation for these events is $10 per night.) In addition, he will lead sessions of the Healing Breath Workshop being offered January 31-February 3. For more information, call (310) 820-9429 or (714) 493-4574. These programs are offered through the non-profit Art of Living Foundation.

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