Monday, May 23, 2022
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Peacemaking in turbulent times

From Art of Living Bureau of Communication

From being a lofty concept hijacked by an esoteric group of seekers, spirituality has come a long way. More people today are looking to learn practices like meditation, breathing and yoga to achieve mental clarity, calmness, and to access their inner lives. As mental health disorders rage through this country with more than 20 crore people reportedly depressed, spirituality has much to offer. An important contribution in making spirituality available to everyone, beyond religious, caste or geographical differences, has been made by spiritual gurus like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who has touched the lives of 450 million people worldwide through his teachings, programs and philosophy of life that seem to have a universal resonance.

As the world grapples with unprecedented mental health consequences of the pandemic which has hit at the very psyche of humankind, creating fear, anxiety and uncertainty and waywardness, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who turns 66 this May, has been one of the few spiritual leaders actively engaging with millions of people, including the stakeholders in the crisis, the frontline workers, helpers, health professionals, businesses, industry bodies and the general public by way of doing both-providing material relief and extending mental comfort through free online meditation sessions that so far have 27 million participants globally.

The Beginning

In 1982, he went into a 10-days silence in Shimoga, where he cognized Sudarshan Kriya (SKY), a popular rhythmic breathing technique that 450 million people world over vouch for. It came to him as poetry, he said. The practice became the centerpiece of his programs taught world over in 156 countries. His first batch was a group of engineers and doctors, who reported feeling well-rested, energized and a sense of calmness they had never experienced before. In dealing with depression, researchers from NIMHANS postulated that SKY was as effective as the established anti-depressant drug imipramine and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi reported that SKY and Pranayama sessions reduced serum cortisol levels – an indicator of stress. In a country with more than 20 crore people suffering from depression, spiritual practices taught by him came as strong hope for non-invasive forms of healing.

He founded The Art of Living which grew into one of the world’s largest volunteer driven organizations over the next few decades, working in the field of education, trauma and disaster relief, stress mitigation, environmental conservation, and conflict resolution. As part of its covid-19 relief work, volunteers of the organization provided 75 million meals in India for 2.5 million families and distributed 500 tons of essential relief material to affected families. In the US, volunteers distributed 25,000 PPEs and led trauma relief workshops for frontline workers and healthcare professionals. Under the ‘iStandwithHumanity’ campaign launched by Sri Sri, the organization reached out to over a million and a half daily wage workers and migrant laborers stuck in different parts of the country with food material, medical supplies and sanitizers. The organization opened a national helpline to help people tackle anxiety and grief. With an objective to support the healing and recovery in the long term, the organization also launched a helpline to help those undergoing severe mental distress and physiological symptoms in the absence of alcohol, drugs and other substances.

Even in matters of resolving tensions, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been creating space for dialogue, employing and emphasizing the need for spiritual values, at times even on the political hotbeds of conflict - be it the Colombian civil conflict where he is known to have convinced the FARC rebels to take up non-violence or mobilizing a gathering of 12,000 Kashmiris during a state wide shut down, to start a grassroots civil society movement against ‘gun culture’ or bringing together 67 major insurgent groups from seven states of Northeast India on one platform to begin a new chapter in reconciliation and development.

On the outer and more manifest level, his scope of work entails everything from river rejuvenation to prison rehabilitation to trauma relief and education.

• Reviving 49 dried rivers across the country benefiting 34.5 million people in 12077 villages.

• Over 8,00,000 inmates in 65 countries have undergone the prisoner rehabilitation programs.

• Started in the wake of farmers’ crisis in 2012, the organization’s zero cost farming training has reached 22 lakh Indian farmers in all the states of India

• His organization runs projects to raise awareness about hygiene, and build community leaders in rural areas, having trained over 2,30,921 rural youth with a reach of 40,212 villages in India.

• Planted over 81 million trees in 36 countries and 26 Indian states

• Developed over 1000 model Gram Panchayats, 62,000 + toilets and 1592 bio-gas plants built

• 90,200 hygiene camps and 27,427 medical camps were conducted benefiting 12 million people.

• 702 Free Schools are giving education to over 70,000 children in far flung areas, 90% of whom are first generation learners.

• He launched the national Drug Free India campaign witnessing the participation of over 1 crore students apart from the support of 90 eminent personalities from the field of entertainment, politics, sports and academics.

Power of Connection

Sri Sri has found global acceptance across a wide political spectrum, working continuously with people on all sides of a conflict, the victim and the perpetrator, the law enforcer and the outlawed, sometimes drawing flak for it from vested interests, but seldom hindered by it. In Kashmir, Northeast India, Ivory-coast, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Colombia, Middle-east among other places-Sri Sri has created safe spaces for dialogue to flourish, in spite of stiff uncomfortable resistance. He is known for his caregiver approach to mediation which finds trust among stakeholders. During the Covid-19 pandemic to combat fear, stress and anxiety Gurudev launched the world meditates campaign and personally conducted online guided meditations twice daily touching the lives of millions by bringing solace and keeping hope alive.

When the war started in Europe, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was one of the first humanitarian leaders to address the issue. Under his guidance and inspiration, Art of Living volunteers started relief work in 9 countries surrounding Ukraine. The teams helped to evacuate, host people, find shelter for them and provide medicine, food, transport and assistance to cross the border. More than 5975 people were given shelters. 32617 meals were provided, a 24x7 helpline was started to connect with people stranded in the war torn regions. More than 22,342 people were given mental health counseling. “This is the time to look after the welfare of the entire globe, I hope the leaders do realize to keep aside the point of contention and come together for some sort of consensus and resolve this issue”, he said.

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