A Retrospective: A day spent at the San Francisco Ashram

January 17th, a most auspicious day – Swami Vivekananda’s blessed Birthday

I arrived at the San Francisco Ashram in mid afternoon with the sun shining but still a chill in the air. Walking in the front door always reminds me of going home, a familiar smell and a warm welcoming feeling. Knowing that the shrine room is just below me sends a wave of love to and through my heart.

Today is my first class with the children and I am excited, shy and really looking forward to it. I feel that I too need the children’s class and want to soak up the teachings that I know will be presented in a simple way.

Annapurna is the teacher today and there are four lovely little minds greeting us. The children were shy and slightly awkward as is the case with any first day of school.  Introductions were made and laughter broke the awkward stillness. ch.shrine


Water Game: Looking through the Children’s eyes
The class started with all of us sitting and standing around the dining table. There was a large bowl of water in the center representing the Atman.  We were given articles of different shapes that represented the differences in all of us – shape, color, size, thoughts.  We all tossed our articles into the water, but the water did not change. They became one with the water. The children all wanted to participate and were energized by the water game. “What? We are all the same,” their eyes spoke.

Candle Ritual
We prepared to enter the shrine room for the next teaching. We were asked to walk quietly and with respect and proceeded down the stairs (the altar is in the basement in the San Francisco Ashram).  We were all truly transfixed by the beauty of the altar.  

Fire is always fun and not generally allowed on one’s own when one is 4 or 6. They felt safe with us as we supervised this beautiful teaching with lit candles. We sat in front of the altar in a semi circle, respectful, not placing feet or back towards it.  There was one large candle representing the Divine Mother, and smaller ones representing the many forms of the Mother. We placed our candles together into the main candle, making One flame, and seeing that we are all one. We pulled our candles out and put them together with one another, making two into one, then back again into the large candle/Divine Mother, seeing that there is no difference between our flame and the Mother’s Flame. By concentrating on the Divine Mother Flame we become One.  As we pulled our flames together I witnessed concentration amongst these beautiful little minds.

SF Kids FocusCrystal Teaching
Moving away from the altar, with the lights now turned up, we prepared for the next teaching. We could tell that the children were ready. “What is next,” they seem to be saying? Crystals were then given to each child, and their eyes lit up with delight. The word soul was spoken, the word mind was spoken, the word Atman was spoken. These were new words for these beautiful little minds. By placing the clear crystal, representing the Atman, next to a blue shirt it reflects blue, take it away and it is clear.  Then, by placing the crystal next to a red shirt it reflects red, take it away and show it to the light and it is clear. The crystal did not change. All beings are to be seen as the crystal when it is clear. No one is better than another in the light of the Atman. Rapt attention was given to this teaching by these beautiful little minds.

Meditation lead by and with Babaji
To be in Babaji’s presence and to have him lead these beautiful young minds in meditation was truly a gift. Babaji, with his gently spoken words explained how to breathe: “Breath in deeply and hold. Now exhale deeply and hold.” We all repeated this together in unison five times. “Now back straight, and sit peacefully and quietly for 5 minutes. Clear your minds and do not open your eyes.” Not a child opened their eyes except for me. I had to take a peak at this divine moment with all sitting in front of the altar in different poses. Some with bent backs, some with heads slightly bent, some with eyes tightly shut and so determined not to open them. Afterwards, Babaji commented on how one boy appeared to meditate like a Sufi, head resting on his right shoulder, eyes tightly shut, back ramrod straight. As we came out of meditation the aura in the room was one of light in these beautiful little minds.

ch.prasadDid these little minds hear Annapurna’s words? Do the words penetrate? For certain I saw the spark in the eyes in all of them as they listened intently with more concentration then I have seen in some adults. These are universal teachings, and in Babaji’s words, “It is all for their own highest good.”


We all partook of Prasad in the dining room and enjoyed the end of the afternoon together. The children left happy, and had truly enjoyed the teachings.  We were all grateful to Annapurna for her time spent with these beautiful little minds. We all look forward to meeting again in the very near future.

Evening Puja

Now the children have gone and it is time to prepare for Swami Vivekananda’s Puja. Flowers are brought forth and are scattered over the entire table. The evening meal is being prepared by Bhavatarini Ma. I ask for a task and am requested to help in creating a beautiful garland for Swamiji’s  Puja. The purification of each bloom of the garland, one bloom at a time, goes forth.  Three times they are gently bathed in sanctified water provided, three times the mantra is said for each bloom – with 24 blooms total. This was not only a purification of the blooms, but in itself was purification for myself before creating the garland and entering the Puja. What a delight to sit with my sangha sister, Vandaniya, creating this beautiful garland for Vivekananda, her ailing hands patiently teaching me and guiding me along the way.

In the midst of the scent of the flowers and the aroma’s wafting in from the kitchen, I pulled my chudder around my shoulders and allowed it to engulf me. Searching for my mala beads, I located them.  I know the prayerful touch of the beads even in the dark. Now ready to descend the stairs to the shrine room, a holy place in all of its calm. Ready now for Swami Vivekananda’s Puja.