Regional Retreat 2023 Summary

Ever-Present Sai – SSSIO Region 3 Memorial Day Retreat
Fruitland Park, Florida May 26-28

The retreat began on Friday of Memorial Day weekend with registration and check in to the Warren Willis United Methodist Camp and Conference Center in Fruitland Park, located north of Orlando, FL.

As devotees arrived at the peaceful, picturesque venue, they were lovingly greeted by the retreat coordinating team preparing to spend the weekend with Sai. The Friday evening program began with spirited bhajans and heartwarming personal experiences by Barbara Jahn (Orlando, Fl), Vasuki Dakshinamurthy (Raleigh, NC), Sudha Balasubramanian (Fort Lauderdale, Fl) and Vijayshankar Sharma (Atlanta, GA).

On Saturday morning, devotees gathered together for Omkars, suprabhatam, vedic chanting, meditation and nagar sankirtan. After a nourishing breakfast and
bhajans, Brother David Yoder, our Region 3 president, welcomed the devotees.

Sister Menaka Persaud, the MC, introduced the first speaker, Brother Harish Naidu, SSSIO USA National Council President. Brother Harish received his higher
education in the USA (master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering SUNY, Buffalo, NY). He is active in the technology sector and is currently Chief Product and Technology Officer at Vacasa. In his talk, Brother Harish described his personal journey of self-transformation with Sai. Reminiscing on his and his families’
experiences in the divine presence, he emphasized how Swami’s teaching points through grace sculpted his life. Brother Harish stressed that our yearning for
spirituality and Swami’s love is why we are all here. He shared several examples of Swami’s love and empathy. We were left with a message of when we focus on Swami, His full attention is on us.

The next speaker, Sister Lakshmi Vyakaran, was introduced to Swami at the age of 9. Attending Balvikas in her formative years was crucial in initiating her spiritual journey. She is currently serving as the National Women’s Coordinator of SSSIO USA and coordinating the Sri Sathya Sai National Peer Enrichment Group initiative. Sister Lakshmi is an education specialist who works with children on the autism spectrum. This expertise has provided her with the skills to conduct online SSE classes for children with special needs. Her presentation focused on our spiritual make-up which is a combination of the three gunas or qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas. We should strive to be more sattvic in all aspects of our lives. She spoke of happiness which we all desire, but it is fleeting whereas Ananda is everlasting happiness. Selfless service is crucial to help us reach this state of Ananda. She inspired all with her stories of Swami intermixed with teachings and described how to experience the ever-present Sai.

After lunch, there were stimulating concurrent workshops with Sister Lakshmi, Michele Hammerton and Dr. Vijay Chundi.

Sister Lakshmi’s workshop, “Women, the beacons of nations”, began with identifying and understanding the qualities and inner powers of women based on Swami’s teachings. Participants learned that women are repositories of energy, role models of patience, sacrifice, fortitude, and compassion. Meaningful discussions followed to help recognize the “inSAIde” powers of women.

In her workshop, “Holistic Living-Nourishing the mind, body and soul”, Sister Michele described several asanas and demonstrated the technique to the group. Participants then practiced what they learned. Sister Michele led the participants to incorporate yoga techniques to help improve overall health and well-being with the ultimate goal of union with our dear Lord Sai.

In the exclusive young adult workshop, “Practical Living in Today’s World”, Brother Vijay asked the young adults to form several groups discussing real life scenarios. The young adults discovered meaningful solutions to these current day challenges and presented them to their peers. In the end they realized that the answers come from within if we inquire to our inner Sai with sincerity and love.

After a short break, there were two additional concurrent workshops led by Robin Gellner and the Young Adults.

Sister Robin’s workshop on “Sai Parenting” was informative for parents and teachers alike. The workshop focused on Swami’s five human values and incorporating them in parenting techniques. After dividing into five groups, the attendees discussed Swami’s human values pertaining to communication, awareness, connectivity, and family time.

“My Ever-present Sai-Using divine techniques for self-transformation”, was the interactive workshop led by the Young Adults. Participants worked in small groups with a YA facilitator. Each of the groups played several rounds of the popular game chutes and ladders with a spiritual twist. Each “player” discussed with the group a technique of sadhana or self-transformation. It was a creative and fun approach to sharing our spiritual sadhanas and experiences.

A summary of the service projects from the region was presented by Dr. Ajoy Kumar, the regional service coordinator. Participants from the different workshops also reported on the discussions. Melodious bhajans were followed by dinner. Devotees then gathered by the lake for a campfire filled with unison singing, spiritual stories and divine experiences. As the sun set, the SSE children along with their teachers and parents paraded in with several posters depicting Swami’s teachings and
inspiring art.

Like the previous morning, Sunday was brought in with morning prayers. After breakfast, devotees participated in a tree planting activity, as part of an initiative to plant and nurture one million trees around the country by Swami’s 100th Birthday in November 2025.

After bhajans, Vijay Chundi, MD, a neuroradiologist, spoke about a few of the divine lessons he has gleaned from Swami. Brother Vijay worked in Swami’s hospitals and has taught the radiology residents at Swami’s super specialty hospitals in India for many years. Swami guided him and his family and he shared valuable lessons from the divine. He mentioned that Swami accepts us as we are but wants us to improve on the spiritual path. Swami’s acceptance of us does not mean He
approves of our current state. We should ask ourselves as Swami often does: “What do you want?” Brother Vijay then shared how we should live in the world with a spiritual outlook all the time by practicing constant integrated awareness and gave examples. He stressed, as Swami did, that we are not the body but the immortal spirit or Atma and that the ever-present Sai is inside and all around us, all the time. Swami is always with us, and He wants us to be happy. Happiness is union with God!

The SSE students presented a beautiful selection of songs and a thought-provoking drama based on the story of Abou Ben Adhem, the Sufi mystic and Muslim saint and his interaction with an angel of God. The audience was left with a valuable lesson that loving our fellow beings in turn makes us worthy of God’s love.

After lunch, there was a panel discussion moderated by Sister Anu Venkateswaran. Questions from the audience were discussed and answered by sister Lakshmi and brothers Harish and Vijay.

The finale for the retreat was an inspirational YA offering to Swami on how the ever-present Sai touched each of the young adults. These offerings were unique and included artwork, poem recitation, personal story narration, guided meditation and bhajan singing. This moving presentation demonstrated the young adults’ sincerity and love for our beloved Sai. Brother David Yoder concluded with parting remarks which encapsulated the sentiment shared by all who attended. The weekend was filled with Swami’s presence and divine love as we all experienced the Ever-Present Sai.