for ISKCON News on May 25, 2012
My husband Partha dasa and I are members of the Grihastha Vision Team (GVT). We recently travelled from our home in the devotional community of Saranagati Village, Canada to the Nova Gokula community in Brazil to facilitate a three day seminar, Strengthening the Bonds that Free Us, designed by the GVT to fortify marriages in ISKCON.
Participants ranged in age from 16 years old up to those in their late 50’s. Many couples attended as well as singles of both genders looking to gain skills for their future marriage. Enrollment was cut off at 50 attendees due to space limitations, so unfortunately some applicants were unable to attend.
Several engaged couples had been waiting to get married, as they had been instructed by their guru, Danvantari Swami, that before he would sanction any more marriages for his disciples, they needed to have premarital education. He has been discouraged by too many divorces amongst devotees, and is insisting that they obtain the skills necessary for dealing with the inevitable challenges that happen when couples need to negotiate their differences. He was instrumental in our being invited to Brazil.
Vaisnava Krpa devi dasi and Gopali devi dasi worked hard to make all the arrangements for the seminar. Everything including a 100 page student’s manual and accompanying power point presentation needed to be translated into Portuguese! Teaching through translators was a new experience for us, but the audience was very enthusiastic and patient and the translators were expert. It was a new learning curve for me, but it gave me a chance to think before I spoke.
The course is based on The 12 Principles and Values Behind a Krsna Conscious Marriage http://vaisnavafamilyresources.org/content/12-principles-and-values-behind-krishna-conscious-family-life formulated by the GVT from Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. The course begins by having students in break out groups apply these principles to various scenarios that grihasthas encounter. Using this foundation of principles and values, the course progresses through various chapters on preparation for marriage, gender differences and roles, communication, dealing with finances, parenting skills, intimacy and affection, conflict management, and balancing all ones various duties with one’s spiritual life while making a contribution to society.
One communication skill taught, is humorously titled, ‘Finding the Pony’. It encourages spouses not to focus on the ‘stool’ dumped upon them when their partner is frustrated, but rather to focus instead on their partner’s need and respond to that- by looking for the source of the frustration or the ‘pony’. For example if you come home late and your wife berates you for never coming home on time, you can focus on her need to spend some quality time with you, instead of being irritated by the criticism. Then you will feel valued by her and can address her need.
Later, when we visited the temple in Rio de Janeiro, we found that students had shared what they learned with others. One husband related to us that he had been asked by his wife, to ‘find the pony’ when she was complaining she needed help to clean the house. She needed support for trying her best to make a pure and clean home environment for their upcoming guests-my husband and I. Thanks to our hosts, both for the lovely visit and for practicing a compassionate skill that had been shared by a student.
During the course, separate groups of men and women got quite uproarious when we gave them the opportunity to choose some things that they really wanted the other gender to know about them. I won’t tell you their points, so it’s fresh for you when you take the seminar, but I will say that wherever in the world we go, the points are very similar.
During the parenting session, students sat in different areas according to the style of parenting they had been raised with and had heartfelt discussions on how this upbringing has affected them in their life and has influenced how they themselves now parent. This helps couples to understand why they and their spouse deal with their children in different ways and they are then able to negotiate with each other to learn more effective ways of raising their children.
We often get comments from students how much they appreciate the various group discussions and how it helps to bring them closer together.
At the end of the seminar, groups of students summarized what they had learned. They also enact a pantomime of one of the 12 Principles and Values behind a Krsna Conscious Marriage for the rest of the class to guess. I had no idea Brazilians were such enthusiastic actors! Their pantomimes were very elaborate, well executed, and often hilarious. While watching, the whole class would break into spontaneous applause, form their hands into a heart shaped ‘mudra’ and then the front row students would raise their arms and bend backwards, starting a ‘wave of appreciation’ like those seen in soccer stadiums, which would then continue down the rows of students seated in their chairs. I have to admit it was rewarding to see the students so appreciative of what they learned in the seminar. If the number of Face Book friend requests we got after the seminar is any indication, I would say the seminar was very favorably received.
After this course, we also did a mentor training seminar for long term happily married couples wanting to learn the skills of mentoring newly engaged devotees.
The GVT aims to encourage all of ISKCON to develop the culture of premarital education before weddings are done in our temples. We want to support strong lasting marriages for all our members, not only perform ceremonies. We have been undertaking this premarital education in Canadian temples for the last 8 years and couples report the skills have been very helpful to them throughout their marriage. We hope the centers in Brazil will be the next to institute premarital education.
After leaving Brazil we attended the GVT’s annual meeting, where we developed our new tagline: Happier Couples. Healthier Families. Stronger ISKCON.