for ISKCON News on June 21, 2013
At their annual meeting held on June 10th and 11th in Gita Nagari—ISKCON’s 350-acre farm in Port Royal, Pennsylvania—the Grihasta Vision Team discussed a number of exciting plans and initiatives to help ISKCON marriages and families in the coming year.
The Grihasta Vision Team is a dedicated group of devotee couples spread out across North America, who have committed themselves to strengthening marriages and families in ISKCON through workshops, seminars and online resources.
Present at the meeting were long time married couples Jagannath Pandit Das and Chintamani Dasi, Karnamrita Das and Archana Siddhi Dasi, Tariq Ziyad and Krishnanandini Dasi, and Partha Das and Uttama Dasi—who just celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary—as well as Praharana Dasi.
All possess a broad range of professional credentials between them—they are certified family life educators, psychologists, and social workers.
Meeting from 10am to 5:30pm on both June 10th and 11th with a break for lunch, the team began by discussing their first ever Couples’ Retreat, held in Gita Nagari from June 7th to 9th.
Twenty-one devotees attended the retreat, including four facilitating couples and six couples from the larger ISKCON Community.
The Retreat, entitled “We’re In This Together,” sought to help couples tune up their marriages and connect with their spouses in a deep way.
A devotee couple participates in the retreat joyfully
It included fun marriage games and seminars on reflective listening, appreciation, letting go of past hurt, and the Five Love Languages, as well as practical workshops on massage and yoga.
At their meeting, the Grihasta Vision Team debriefed each other on the retreat and discussed the feedback they received from attendees.
Overall, attendees thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from the retreat, finding the facilitators “a fun-loving and mature group” and the mood “non-judgemental” and “conducive to sharing.”
“I liked the course because it gave my husband and I effective tools to use during our times of hardships and disagreements,” wrote one participant. “But even more so how to affectionately love myself and my husband while remembering to keep Krishna in the center.”
In their meeting the Grihasta Vision Team also discussed constructive criticism they received and how to improve the retreat for future events.
“Every single one of the couples asked us to do the couples retreat again next year,” team member Krishnanandini Dasi says. “Most of them said the only problem they found was that we had it at the same time as the New York Ratha Yatra festival. So a lot of the couples that would have come didn’t because of that conflict.”
Thus the second annual Grihasta Vision Team Couples’ Retreat will be held in September 2014 in Gita Nagari. Focusing on the topic “The Transformational Potency of Loving Relationships,” it will include themes of friendship, humility and compassion.
The Team also discussed what they will offer when they appear at the International Leadership Sanga in Mayapur in February 2014.
Devotee couples spend time together in the peaceful surroundings of Gita Nagari
The ILS is an annual event designed to keep middle-tier ISKCON leaders inspired, that drew 600 devotees from all over the world last year. There, the Grihasta Vision Team hopes to present their signature course Strengthening The Bonds That Free Us, which covers all the various aspects of grihasta (family) life, from spiritual practices, to finances, parenting and much more.
They also hope to offer their couples’ mentoring course, in which healthy couples are trained in how to be mentors to others. In addition, they will present The Four Strategies for Strengthening Families.
“One strategy is to identify opportunities to help single devotees find appropriate compatible spouses,” says Krishnanandini. “The next is to encourage premarital education and make it available for couples. Another is to promote activities which will bring about more cohesiveness between married couples, so that they don’t feel alienated. And the fourth is to offer sessions for men only and women only.”
For the Grihasta Vision Team, appearing at the ILS is an important move.
“We really want to go there and have a strong presence,” says Krishnanandini. “Because we want to reach out to the international community of devotees, to let them know what resources and help is available.”
The GVT also discussed their long-delayed book Heart and Soul Connection: A Devotional Guide to Marriage, Service and Love, which is now in its editing stages. And they talked about how they could get it ready in time for the International Leadership Sanga.
“We also talked about developing a course specifically for men,” says Krishnanandini. “It would be about how to get married, how to deal with a family, how to understand the nature of women—what they need and want—how to integrate and balance both spiritual and physical responsibilities and duties, and finally fears and insecurities about relationships.”
Another important meeting topic was fundraising and marketing. Currently, all GVT members pay the same retreat fees as attending couples, and pay their own way for expensive trips around the world taken solely to offer their seminars to devotees. So they hope to find someone who can spearhead a fundraising committee to support these efforts, as well as to provide scholarships for devotees who cannot afford their courses.
Another future goal for the Grihasta Vision Team is adding several young couples as members—social service oriented individuals who have a heart for the work and may have qualifications as psychologists or counselors.
“In the future we’d like to see at least one couple in every ISKCON community who is a trained and mature resource for other couples in the community,” says Krishnanandini.
At their meeting the GVT also planned articles for upcoming issues of their quarterly newsletter, assigned members to update and modernize their website, and talked about developing a book on parenting in Krishna consciousness.
Overall, after the meeting they’re feeling glad to be a part of the Grihasta Vision Team, and positive about the future.
“Srila Prabhupada wanted us to have stable, healthy families, and to be happy,” Krishnanandini says. “And I love having the opportunity to do this service for him. We’ve been doing this for over ten years now, and we’re beginning to see more devotees become open and ask for help. And I think that’s a good sign.”