Take a Deep Breath
Thursday, July 5, 2007
The guru comes to Washington and sleeps on the floor, as is his wont.
He tells a joke about the folly of material things and giggles and is asked why he smiles so much.
He answers with a question: Why don't others smile more?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, in town from his ashram in Bangalore, India, for a U.S. tour, combs his wispy hair and smoothes it over one shoulder. He reports that he had oatmeal for breakfast. "With Tabasco," he adds impishly.
Shankar believes that rhythmic breathing exercises, combined with yoga and meditation, can bring people inner peace, and he has been teaching this formula to millions since he discovered it 26 years ago during 10 days of silent meditation.
How did this discovery come to him?
"You write a poem, you don't know how it comes to you," Shankar says.
He is seated with nine followers around him, though he might not call them that. ("Followers?" he once said to a reporter, turning around. "There's nobody behind me.") They are from all over the United States -- some are volunteers, some are staffers for his nonprofit, the Art of Living Foundation, which only recently acquired this beautiful old embassy by Meridian Hill Park as its national headquarters.
Most are dressed in white. They laugh when he says something clever or elliptical or cleverly elliptical, which is much of the time. As in, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, what do you read?
"Mind," he says. "And spirit."
His voice is soft and high, the tenor of young boys and old men. Though he sleeps sometimes two or three hours a night, he says, he doesn't get weary. (Well, actually, what he says while grinning is: "Do I look tired?") He favors expressions like "if mind is kite, breath is thread," and "knowledge should be used as soap, for cleansing."
Also, "truth is always contradictory."