The Grihastha Vision Team (GVT)—a group of professional marriage and family educators and therapists deeply dedicated to the health of devotees in relationships—will be offering a first to the devotee community of North America this November 19th.
Their new monthly teleconference call will give devotees the chance to talk to relationship experts from the safety and privacy of their home, for no more than the price of a normal long-distance call.
The most pressing, embarrassing, or heart-rending relationship questions are all welcome at the new call-in “talk show” – nothing is taboo. The option to use an alias or anonymous identity should be especially freeing for those devotee who feel anguished, yet have been unable to unburden themselves for fear of ridicule. Of course, callers’ questions and the GVT panelists’ answers will be audible to everyone on the call, allowing callers to benefit from the association of many other devotees, and to gain perspective from the comments of others facing similar issues.
“We chose Forgiveness as the topic for our first call, because it’s such a powerful problem that needs to be resolved and dealt with,” says GVT director Krishnanandini Dasi, who will be co-facilitating the call with her husband Tariq Ziyad; both are Certified Family Life Educators and long-time counselors to devotees.
“Many members of the GVT work with couples and familes in our individual practices, and it’s amazing how many people are struggling with forgiving their partners for things that have hurt them in the past,” she adds. “So we want to help devotees with forgiving others, receiving forgiveness from others, and moving beyond the hurt into healthier relationships.”
Krishnanandini and Tariq’s fellow panelists on the one-hour inaugural call will be married couples Arcana Siddhi Dasi and Karnamrita Dasa, and Uttama Dasi and Partha Dasa. For the first ten minutes of the call, kicking off at 7pm EST, the panel will introduce themselves and explain the Grihasta Vision Team’s mission on the format of the conference. Next there’ll be twenty minutes of discussion on the month’s chosen topic, followed by twenty minutes of questions and answers. During the last ten minutes, the call will be summarized and panelists will give callers contact details and information on other useful resources.
“We plan to hold consecutive calls on the third Thursday of every month,” Krishnanandini says. “Since forgiveness is such an extensive topic, we will revisit it for our December call. But we’ll also discuss many other topics in our upcoming calls, including communication skills that create healthy relationships, parenting, how to resolve conflict, how to have balance in spiritual and household duties, how to set goals in family life—and other topics suggested by callers.”
The conference call is just one of the GVT’s available resources for healthy marriage. They’ve also conducted a survey on Devotees’ Attitudes Concerning Marriage, created a course called Strengthening The Bonds That Free Us, helped people find suitable devotee spouses, and created pamphlets (downloadable on their website) about chanting, relationships, choosing a spouse, and the twelve principles and values that make a healthy Krishna consciousness family.
“We also indentify healthy Vaishnava couples who are willing to work with others, and train them in different skills so that they can mentor couples in their community or circles,” says Krishnanandini. “And coming up soon on November 21 and 22, we are holding a Couple’s Weekend retreat in Alachua, Florida.”
Not everyone is able to access all these services, however, which is why the GVT have begun their conference call as another avenue of access. “We’re pretty excited about it,” Krishnanandini says. “We hope that devotees will utilize it as an opportunity to gain skills and to share with others.”
The GVT believes that such resources are important to ensure that married devotees do not feel alone. ISKCON’s past—and even, to a degree, its current—social structure has often seen sannyasis (renunciants) deal with householder issues. And while doing their best, they still speak from their own, sannyasa, perspective.
For obvious reasons, this is rather ineffectual—especially when considering the kind of real relationship issues the GVT has dealt with recently: “A major issue for devotee married couples has been how to work with the idea of sex,” says Krishnanandini. “How to balance their commitment to spiritual life with the honest reality of where they are.”
What devotees need, suggests the GVT, is experienced, dedicated devotee householders—who know how to navigate and negotiate the grihasta ashram in an honest way that still has people making progress in spiritual life.
Some married devotees have had more serious issues than the attempt to balance relationship realities and spiritual life. There are those who have had affairs, while others have struggled with pornography. Many devotees, however are afraid to talk about these very real challenges because, as Krishnanandini says, “devotees are simply supposed to chant Hare Krishna and their lives will be sublime.”
“Rather than struggling quietly, we need to have honest conversation with people who are serious about spiritual life and about finding real spiritual solutions that work,” she explains. “That’s where the Grihasta Vision Team’s mentor couples, courses, website, and this conference call come in. We want devotees to have options; we want to give them practical solutions.”
Assisting devotees in finding solutions, of course, are the powerful spiritual principles and discipline they’ve been given by Srila Prabhupada. As Krishnanandini points out, accepting the husband or wife as a gift from God, seeing oneself as a servant of one’s partner, and working together as a team towards the same goal, creates a synergy that brings far greater results than two separate individuals could produce.
“A husband and wife work together and help each other with their crises,” she says. “In a marriage, one partner may be struggling with something that the other is not. If the partner who’s not struggling says, ‘You’re weak and degraded, and I’m not suffering from that problem,’ that’s a recipe for a frustrated and sad marriage. But team spirit and cooperation, while utilizing spiritual principles, bring hope for relationship success.”
The GVT especially likes to quote Rupa Goswami’s six loving exchanges between devotees: Offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one's mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting prasada and offering prasada—exchanges that are also important in creating a healthy married life.
Ultimately, the Grihasta Vision Team is encouraging devotees to use the principles of Krishna consciousness to become real team players in marriage; to help each other to grow, and to raise children that are healthy and happy.
“Eventually we would like to see ISKCON marriages and families become examples for the larger society,” says Krishnanandini. “We’d like to see people come to ISKCON and say, “Wow, you have beautiful families and beautiful children”¦ and you’re dedicated to God! Tell us—how do we do that?”
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register for the GVT’s inaugural public teleconference call and get the dial-in number and access code. The call will take place on Thursday, November 19, 2009 from 7- 8 PM, Eastern Standard Time.
Keep up to date with future conference call times by subscribing to the VFR newsletter on the GVT’s homepage at www.vaisnavafamilyresources.org. You can also find further information about the panelists, and the efforts and initiatives launched by the Grihastha Vision Team at this site.
Private, personal consulations for couples are also available from GVT members’ private practices, including phone consultations. For more information, contact the Das-Ziyad Family Institute at email@example.com or the Grihasta Vision Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: If you miss the conference call, you can listen to a free play back by calling (712) 432-0211 and entering the access code 761698#.[ counseling ] [ family ]