Recently I had the privilege of talking to Bhanu Narasimhan, a distinguished social change enabler and spiritual teacher from India, while she was visiting the International Center for Meditation and Well Being in Boone, North Carolina. An elegant, dynamic woman, Bhanu has impacted and inspired many around the world, providing guidance on humanitarian projects and bringing a social transformation during the last 35 years. Be it leading the International Women's Conferences or working for girl child education, Bhanu has brought together women leaders for a meaningful dialogue to explore how every woman can play a role in amplifying the message of peace, harmony, and service to society.
Spirituality and Woman Empowerment
I wanted to understand why spirituality and woman empowerment were central to her work. She said, "A woman can be a catalyst in creating harmony. She can play a big role in contributing to social development and needs to feel empowered and equal to a man from within - this is not something that has to be given to her. We recognize this need for inner strength and self-respect and teach valuable relaxation techniques such as Sudarshan Kriya and meditation to women from all spheres of society. We have to connect to the source of energy within us to feel empowered and once we experience inner joy, we can share it with others in the world."
I asked her to share more about the role of spirituality and how it can bring positive changes in influencing one's life and others. "Spirituality is all about uplifting human values and restoring inner strength and confidence. Human values like caring, sharing, truthfulness, integrity, honoring life, broad vision are core to spirituality. We inspire and empower women to come to the forefront and take more responsibility to nourish these values." Giving the example of the women's conferences, she explained how they consistently support girl child education through the 'Gift a Smile' program of the Art of Living and women empowerment through VISTA India.
Sharing specific instances, Bhanu explained how Ambika, the illiterate mother of a young girl sent her daughter to the farms and had never dreamt for an education for her. Today, her daughter loves to ride the big yellow school bus that comes to take her, and 2500 other children to the school. She wears clean uniforms, is well nourished with the nutritious mid-day meals provided at school, can read and write, meditates every day, and wants to become an architect.
In another instance, Anushree is the first in her family to have a formal education and has become an Ayurvedic doctor. It is a rare phenomenon for a first generation literate to become a doctor. Priyanka from the same school became the first female metro train driver in Bangalore city. More than 400 free schools spread across remote locations in India provide holistic, human values based education to 39,220 children and have been successful in shaping their life, unaffected by their backgrounds of poverty, illiteracy or domestic violence.
Similarly, the women empowerment activities led by Bhanu include VISTA India, a 20-year old institution that empowers women - mostly those who are illiterate, abused or in poor health. This initiative has brought self-esteem, confidence and inner strength in rural women along with providing them skills training to earn money. "These women who were very shy and covered their faces with a veil are now seen sharing their dreams and ideas with others. They drive auto-rickshaws, run post-offices, design garments; they've empowered themselves without rebelling, getting agitated or accusing someone else of robbing their power," said Bhanu. She emphasized that empowerment is not just economic independence. Real empowerment enables a woman to deal with any circumstance or situation with confidence and an unshakeable smile.
The Butterfly Effect
We live in a world where many are suffering from pain and despair, as they are affected by terrorism, destruction, anxiety and depression. I queried Bhanu on the influence that each of us could really make to bring a favorable change. She drew my attention to the "Butterfly Effect," and flagged how every little thing has an impact on the Universe because we are an integral part of the Universe. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state can result in large differences in a later state.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a global humanitarian and renowned spiritual leader often says, "A butterfly fluttering wings in South America has an impact on the clouds hovering in China. The perfection in microcosm brings perfection in macrocosm. Today, when world is caught up in fear, tension, mistrust and terror, it is high time we invoke positivity through our actions and impact the world consciousness." Bhanu called out that when harmony prevails in the elements of creation, there is peace and happiness, and each one of us can contribute to achieving this state of harmony.
"The Butterfly Effect- Everything Matters" is the theme of the upcoming women's conference that explore how ethical leadership is crucial to societal progress and the need to create a spirit for commitment to caring for the planet. "The microcosm and macrocosm are closely connected and we cannot neglect anything. Every intelligent woman needs to take an active role in taking care of the environment and creating a peaceful planet," she reinforced.
The Definition of Success
Success means different things to different people. Traditionally, we've been guided by money and power as the barometer for success. "What does success mean to you?" I asked. "Whenever you do something that is natural to you, that means you have succeeded. The important thing is that you don't lose your smile. When you are so passionate and connected to your work, you don't feel tired or depleted. You retain your inner joy and it's only when you have then only you can share with others. For an undying smile, you need to have peace and strength within. And that's why spirituality comes handy."
Bhanu calls out that yoga and meditation are no longer a luxury for an individual. Meditating every day for a few minutes is critical to being in the present moment, which is very valuable. She pointed out that spirituality meant attending to oneself first because only when one is strong, one is able to lift up others. However, in the process of making others happy, if one gets burnt, it is not a wise thing. "By managing one's own mind first through meditation, you can improve communication. And life is about communication and dynamism to solve problems."
I spent only a few minutes with her but left greatly inspired with her beautiful mind and heart. Her presence echoes love, compassion, abundance, simplicity, freedom, wisdom and service. Most of all, she represents a woman committed to leading a change, urging other women to tap their inner strength, step up and trigger the butterfly effect to serve our beautiful planet Earth.