Spiritual life is not about achieving

This morning I am thinking about the enormous emphasis here in the US on achievement and success. We are culturally conditioned to be achievers. I have a notebook on my desk. On the cover is printed,” Make It Happen!” Almost all of us are trying to juggle tremendous workloads with family and other obligations. On top of that we believe we have to hustle to make our dreams come true. Our lives become a never-ending hive of activity and yet we feel we must push harder to Make It Happen. Many of us also bring this attitude into our spiritual practice. That’s unfortunate because spiritual life requires a very different mindset. We need to drop this mind of achieving something and live right here, right now, living the life we have instead of the one we think we ought to have. We cannot plan our spiritual progress nor can we achieve it. Our focus needs to be on the Divine in every moment that unfolds. Instead of focusing on our self we believe to be imperfect, we need to focus on the Self that we are which is by nature perfect. That’s our true nature. We don’t have to achieve it because we already are that, no matter how imperfect we feel. You might ask, “Are we not supposed to improve ourselves? To become kinder, more selfless individuals?” Yes, but we must examine our minds. Our spiritual life is aimed at encountering the Divine not trying to make our ego-based self perfect. The point is to lose the intense grip we have on our small sense of me and mine. It’s a losing battle if our basic belief is “I’m not good enough.” Our spiritual practice becomes about being good enough to “realize God”, our big achievement. Instead, we wind up reinforcing that ego-based, not good enough self. WE CANNOT ACHIEVE GOD-REALIZATION. We need to step out of our notion that, with enough hard work, we can cause this Divine revelation to happen. In Vedantic terms we are ALREADY That. That’s the craziness of this maya-based thinking; we believe that we have to achieve something that we already are! Our spiritual life is to be lived and not practiced. Does that make sense? I like the Zen term ‘no-mind’ to describe the basis of our spiritual outlook. Right here, right now, with the gift of your own life just as it is. Then, as the story evolves, go forward, step by step, without any thought of achieving some future enlightened state . Take every opportunity to drop the mind of me and mine, and instead, see the Divine everywhere.

Ridgely’s 2019 Retreat Season Draws to a Close

We are at the end of our scheduled retreats for this year. Our regular class on Sunday at 10:30am will continue until snow and ice compel us to close the retreat, usually later on in the year or even in January.

We would like to thank all our local friends who have helped us this year. These wonderful volunteers have helped us with puja and retreat preparations, transportation, outside property maintenance, and have acted as extra staff members when we have hosted large groups of visitors.

We would also like to thank all our friends who have donated  many food items and household equipment to the retreat. We have a group of friends who have acted as our long-distance shoppers, procuring any items that are difficult for us too get in this rural area. Much appreciated!

And, of course, we would like to thank all our donors. As you may know, Vivekananda Retreat Ridgely is not financially supported by any other organization. Funds given by our donors enable us to keep the retreat up and running, to make capital improvements on our buildings and surrounding 82 acres, and also make it possible for us to offer all our programs free of charge, a rarity in today’s world! We could not be doing what we do without you, so THANK YOU!

Retreat w/Swamis Sarvadevananda,Tyagananda, Atmajnanananda Nov. 15-16 Guidelines for Spiritual Life

Ridgely’s annual board meeting brings the benefit of being able to hold a retreat with these three sadhus. Swami Sarvadevananda is the Head Minister of the Vedanta Society of Southern Calif. Swami Tyagananda is the Head Minister of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society in Boston. Swami Atmajnanananda is the Resident Minister of the Vedanta Center of Greater Washington. Here is the schedule:

FRIDAY, NOV. 15 7:30-9pm Session 1 Swami Tyagananda


9:30-12 Swami Atmajnanananda


1-3:30 Swami Sarvadevananda

The overnight spaces are all filled for this retreat; we don’t limit the number of day visitors. All are welcome to attend all or part of this retreat.

On Equanimity

Problem solving works best when done, as the Bhagavad Gita says, when we simply act without expectation. Ridgely has just finished going through several weeks of malfunctions and breakdowns, aided by a few days of endless severe thunderstorms. We occasionally have weeks like this, where there’s a new problem every day. This time we had tech equipment failures, electrical issues in the Manor House, we all got a stomach bug and then a bad storm blew over some trees and huge limbs. One of those trees crashed down and took the Casino power lines and phone line with it. It seemed like every day one of us was dragging ( or chainsawing) huge tree limbs off the road.

In our rural area the solution to problems such as these is not always straightforward and never happens quickly. It  involves a lot of waiting around for the next step to happen. I find the best way to approach a week like this, is A) DON”T REACT WITH A LOT OF COMMENTARY and thoughts about what SHOULD happen. B) to ask yourself, “What is the next action needed here?”  Out here, dealing w/downed power lines involves a negotiation w/the local power company. Our houses are too far away from the main poles and therefore they have no responsibility to deal with a problem like this. They did replace the power lines this time. The week before they refused to deal with the power lines at the Manor House. You never know. The point I’m making here is that entertaining a lot of internal negative commentary only makes the job harder. In the end you end up with a lot of stress. Then something else malfunctions and you say, “OMG what NOW!?!” Under stress many of us tend to lose our motivation and become discouraged.

So, next time you are in the midst of an extended set of challenges, try focusing without commentary on the next action needed….and the next and the next. It’s definitely one of our Ridgely sadhanas! And it works!! I’ve been doing this for 15 years and can attest to it! When Problem Solving

Fall Events at Ridgely

Friday, Oct. 4 Informal retreat with Swami Ishtananda 10:30-4

Swami Ishtananda , Head Minister of the Vedanta Society of St. Petersburg, FL, will be visiting Ridgely with a group of St. Petersburg friends during the first week of October. The beginning of October usually is also the beginning of the gorgeous display of Fall foliage in the Northeast. For that reason we have decided that, weather permitting, we will have an outdoor retreat/pinic/walk at one of the local lakes. If the weather is not good, we will hold the retreat here at Ridgely. We will post more information in the October newsletter. If you are interested, please call or email us to register.

Two Pujas/Traditional Ritual Worships

Sun. Oct. 6 Durga Puja 11:00am
Sun. Oct. 27 Kali Puja 10:00pm-5:00am

Here at Ridgely, these 2 traditional pujas are the only ones usually celebrated by the Vedanta Societies which do not fall in the winter months when snow and ice compel us to close the retreat. Since worship of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda are always included as part of these larger worships, we celebrate them all in the Fall.

Durga Puja: We celebrate the goddess Durga with a 10-item worship, homa fire and prasad.

Kali Puja: This is our elaborate all-night puja for Dakshina/Shyama Kali, the same form of the Mother worshipped by Sri Ramakrishna. This is the same format followed by the Vedanta Society in Hollywood, similar to the one performed at Belur Math. For this worship we perform the traditional Prana pratishtha, the summoning and invoking the special presence of the Mother in several ways but focused on the murti, the small image of the Mother that ordinarily stays in our shrine room. After the worship She is invoked once more in the homa fire. During the final part of the puja, special presence of the Mother is allowed to return to the Formless.

Offerings: For both Durga and Kali Puja you may bring offerings to be included in the ceremony. Special restrictions apply: 1) all offerings must be new and unused. 2) flowers offerings-please do not enjoy the flowers before the Mother. 3)food-WE WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO PREPARE OR HEAT UP ANY FOOD OFFERINGS IN OUR KITCHENS. Please bring all food offerings already prepared from home in containers that have never been used for eating. If you are making food for offering please do not taste it. The idea here is that the Mother should be the first enjoyer of all offerings. Possibilities for offering : food, flowers, perfume, incense, cosmetics, clothing, jewelry.

Musical Offerings: We always encourage our musician friends to lead bhajans and kirtan. As many of you know, we don’t plan the music; it is very spontaneous and depends upon the singers who attend the puja.

All are welcome to attend all or any part of these 2 pujas. Please note that, during Kali Puja, anyone who wishes to rest after the ceremony is over will be accommodated. This is the one night where we waive our restriction on children under age 17 staying overnight at the retreat.

On Stories

Stories. This one word can mean so many things. Stories are the way we assign meaning to the experience of our life. They can be helpful or destructive. All stories are absorbed and retold by the ego, therefore, in Vedantic terms, they belong to the realm of Maya/delusion. We can sort stories into the categories of Vidyamaya, stories that help us in our spiritual life , and Avidyamaya, stories that hinder us and create suffering. Ultimately, everything we think is a story. We need to have a way of distancing ourselves from those stories and analyzing them. We believe so many stories, in fact, almost everything that pops into our mind, but are all these thoughts true? That is why , in Vedanta, viveka-awareness of thoughts, and vichara-the ability to analyze them, are the main practices. We have to find a method of questioning everything we think and feel. We must learn to question every thought:is this true, is this helpful, is this causing me misery? I know that I am always writing about this; it’s so important! You might say, “I’m a bhakta, a devotee, and I don’t care about this jnani stuff!” I would remind you of the assertion made by Sri Ramakrishna. Paraphrased, it says bhaktas have no use for anything that comes between themselves and God. That implies that there is enough detachment and awareness to actually know what comes between yourself and God! If we don’t practice the questioning of our thoughts, we will surely be in the grip of old destructive patterns at some point, or swept away by someone else’s stories.

Stories can also aid us in our spiritual life. Stories about the lives of the wise can serve as inspiration. I’ve been inspired by the teachings in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna for almost my entire life. Stories told in the scriptures can become the basis for deep reflection. I often return to several of the stories told in the Upanishads.I love Satyakama who learns about Brahman from the natural world, Nachiketa who learns from Death himself and, of course, Yajnavalkya who dares to take away the prize offered by King Janaka to the wisest. Stories are not all destructive. But, friends, please choose carefully!

Two Upcoming Retreats Aug. 3-4 and Aug. 31-Sept. 1


We are happy to welcome 2 sannyasinis from Sri Sarada Math, India to Ridgely in August. Sri Sarada Math is the women’s independent monastic organization founded by the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1954. The sisters in the West are not part of Sri Sarada Math but we always have maintained friendly relations and are very happy when sisters from India come to visit and give teachings. This time we have agreed on a collaborative retreat on the Four Yogas of Swami Vivekananda. Over the weekend, each one of us will give a session on one of the four yogas. Here is the tentative schedule:

Saturday, August 3
10:30-12:30 Pravrajika Divyanandaprana: Jnana Yoga
1pm lunch
2:30-4:30 Pravrajika Shuddhatmaprana: Bhakti Yoga

Sunday, August 4
10:30-12:30 Pravrajika Gitaprana : Raja Yoga
1pm lunch
2:30-4:30 Pravrajika Bhavaniprana: Karma Yoga

All are welcome to attend all or part of this retreat. There is no fee for day visitors. If you wish to stay overnight SIGN UP NOW! Right now we have 4 spaces in the men’s house and 4 in the women’s house. They will go fast.

We need people who will volunteer to organize and cook lunch for this retreat. This will enable Shuddhatmaprana, who usually cooks for all our retreats, to actually attend the entire program. If you would like to volunteer, please contact her: 845 687-4574.


We are happy to welcome Swami Yoagtmananda, Head Minister of the Vedanta Society of Providence, for his annual retreat here at Ridgely. This year the subject will be the spiritual poetry of Hafiz, the 14th century Persian poet.

Here is the schedule:
Saturday Aug 31
10:30-1 Session 1
1 Lunch
2-4:30 Session 2

Sunday Sept. 1
10:30-1 Session 3
1 Lunch

All are welcome to attend all or part of this retreat. The overnight spaces for this retreat have all been reserved. If you wish to be placed on the waiting list for an overnight space, please email or call.

June 13-15 Retreat w/ Swami Sarvadevananda Amritabindu Upanishad

Swami Sarvadevananda, Head Minister of the Vedanta Society of Southern California (which also includes Ridgely), will be visiting from June 13 to 15. He will give a retreat on the Amritabindu Upanishad. Here is the schedule:

June 13 7pm satsang
June 14 10:30-4:30 3 sessions on the Amritabindu Upanishad (lunch included)
June 15 10:30-1pm Final sessions on the Upanishad followed by lunch

All are welcome for attend part or all of this retreat. There is no charge to attend as a day visitor. If you wish to stay overnight please apply via the email application on this site. You will find it in the visit section.

May 4: Retreat on the Meaning of Puja/Traditional Ritual with Pravrajika Gitaprana. 10:30-4:30

Ritual plays an important role in every religious and spiritual tradition. It is a way to link the individual seeker with Divine Reality in a particular setting, using an established ritual structure.
In India, the ritual usually is called ‘puja’ and has been practiced in various forms for millennia. Over this vast amount of time puja, in addition to serving as a focus for devotion, has come to include layers of nuanced philosophy and what might be called ‘yogic technology’ for lack of a better term. Puja in the Hindu tradition centers around the idea that the infinite, all-pervading Divine, the source of all being, can choose to appear in one particular place, and image when invoked/requested by the one who performs the puja and the ones who attend.

There are many kinds of puja. In fact, in the wonderfully eclectic and inclusive Indian spiritual tradition, there are many ways of doing the same puja! In this intensive we will be talking about the puja associated with the Divine Mother. We will talk about the power of mantra and the sound universe, the subtle forms of divinity known as yantra/mandala, the 2 very powerful meditations that are part of the puja, and the order and meaning of the parts of the puja. We won’t be teaching you how to do it yourself as that usually requires formal initiation by a qualified teacher. Please come and join us if you are interested in entering into the world of the Divine Mother and her worship.

Here is a more detailed program for the retreat:
Puja Retreat The Play of Form and Formlessness

Each session to begin with a meditation from the puja 1. Dhyana Mantra 2. Bhuta shuddhi 3. Manasa puja

1st session-The Divine Mother the the multiverse-the setting for puja
SRK-Brahman and shakti not different
Emanation from subtle to physical
Mantra, Yantra,Murti: vibration from subtle to physical
Sacred Space and Purity-the concept
Creating sacred space
Mudras/sacred hand “language”

2nd session- As above, so below
The idea that god can be present in a special way-prana pratishtha
The connection between subtle world/forces and the body
The goddess invoked in the altar of the body- chakras and nyasa

3rd session- The Queen of the Universe in heart and home
Invoking Her presence
The actual worship of the Mother
Manasa Puja Worship of the Mother in the heart
Calling the Mother into the Image
The Offerings
She returns to the formless

If you wish to attend this retreat as a day visitor please register by sending an email or calling us. Email: info@ridgely.org Phone: 845 687-4574

If you wish to register as an overnight guest please go to ridgely.org and fill out the overnight application.


As of Monday, March 25, the retreat will is open to day visitors. On April 1 we will resume taking overnight guests. If you are coming as a day visitor you must call us first to make sure we have someone available to give you a tour. This is a residence and a retreat center, not a museum. You need one of us to take you on a tour through the buildings. We are happy to do that. Please be aware that we do most of the work here ourselves and do not have someone always available tours at any hour. We need to work them in with our other responsibilities.Please call us in advance.

If you would like to stay at the retreat overnight, you will find the online application in the Visit section. Please be aware that we do not allow children under the age of 17 to stay overnight at the retreat. Please send us your application or call us to make a reservation at least 5 days in advance.

We look forward to seeing you here at Vivekananda Retreat this year!