“While flying back from a marriage conference in California, my husband and I opened the in-flight magazine to an article that said, ‘Who would consult the Hare Krishnas for anything?’” says ISKCON Grihasta Vision Team educator Krsnanandini Dasi.
“It was like a slap in the face, a mockery to all Srila Prabhupada’s sacrifice, to the science of love that he gave us. And right then and there, we set ourselves a challenge that one day everyone will come to the Hare Krishnas and say, ‘Look at your children! Look at your communities! You have such wonderful marriages and familes! How do you do it?”
To this end, the Grihasta Vision Team (GVT) has done many things: provided counseling services; written a book, Heart and Soul Connection; offered seminars at many ISKCON festivals; and established a website, vaisnavafamilyresources.org, that offers many helpful articles. All these support their motto: “Healthy Marriages. Happy Families. Strong ISKCON.”
One of their most exciting efforts is their annual Couples’ Retreat, held at the Gita Nagari farm in Pennsylvania and now approaching its fourth edition this September 16th to 17th.
So far, around sixty couples have participated in the retreat, some multiple times. They’ve picked up communication and conflict resolution skills, learned that they’re not alone in whatever challenges they face, and had a chance to connect and network with other couples.
Arcana siddhi Dasi and Karnamrita Das facilitate a group activity
Overall, the retreats have aided more healthy attitudes ISKCON-wide about marriage and family, showing that they should be a priority in our community, that affection is not a dirty word, and that the grihasta ashram is a good place to grow in Krishna consciousness.
This year’s retreat is expected to draw 20 to 25 couples to the natural beauty of Gita Nagari from all over the East Coast of the U.S. and beyond, to bring them “closer to Krishna and each other.”
It will be facilitated by three GVT marriage and family educator couples: Krsnanandini and her husband Tariq from Cleveland, Arcanasiddhi and Karnamrita from North Carolina, and Chintamani and Jagannath Pandit from Gita Nagari itself. All have at least twenty years of experience in the fields of marriage and family education and couples’ therapy.
Every morning of the retreat will begin with the couples chanting japa together and attending a short Bhagavatam class on the topics of marriage and family.
During the day, they’ll do many interactive activites. Couples will be asked to take a nature walk and bring back items such as a leaf, rock or bark that represent the past, present and future in their relationship. There will be exercises designed to teach acceptance of how your partner is different from you. And there will be an exercise called “Intimacy,” with the subtitle “Into me see,” where couples will ask each other questions that will open up a lot of closeness and heartfelt feelings.
Another interesting exercise will be turning the phrase Trnad Api, from the famous Siksastakam verse about humility, into an acronym, and talking about how to practically apply it in marriage.
Couples gather at the GVT Retreat in 2015
“Our acronym for Trnad Api goes: T for Tolerance, R for Respect, N for Natural living, A for Appreciation, D for Devotion and dedication, A for Acceptance, P for Purity, and I for Intelligence,” Krsnanandini explains.
There will then be a fire sacrifice in front of Sri Sri Radha Damodar in which couples will write down and burn some of their marriage “anarthas,” or “unwanted things.”
On the last day of the retreat, the GVT Marriage and Family Educators will make themselves available to consult one on one with individual couples.
“Finally, we’ll have couples recommit to another year of healthy marriage,” says Krsnanandini.
As laughter is the best medicine, the retreat will also include skits and interactive roleplays on marriage and family in ISKCON with professional comedian Yadunath Das and his wife Beth.
Couples’ accommodation at Gita Nagari will be included in the retreat fee, as will the typically delicious and healthy prasadam, prepared using milk from the community’s protected cows. Throughout, couples will also get the chance to relax, spend time with other couples, and network – an element that is very rejuvenating.
Those who have participated in previous GVT retreats say that they have given them a stronger sense of commitment in their marriage, more skills to maintain those commitments, and a stronger appreciation for the institution of marriage itself as important for not only individuals but also our community.
“You’ll notice the religions that are spreading quickly are the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses,” says Krsnanandini. “And that’s because they give a LOT of attention to marriage and family. At every stage, they have youth activities, single activities, support systems, and mentors. And people need these things so much that sometimes they come just for them. We’d like to see the same in our movement – I think that when our families become more and more solid, this movement is going to take off like anything.”
“And that,” she concludes, “Would be a great offering to Srila Prabhupada for ISKCON’s 50th anniversary.”
Please register for the GVT Couples Retreat before September 1st to get the Early Bird discount here: http://vaisnavafamilyresources.org/register/
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