Class instructor Dr. Kapila Castoldi is a particle physicist and head of the Sri Chinmoy Centre of Ann Arbor. Kapila has taught meditation classes for 25 years. Below is a description of how she found meditation and of her classes.
A tale of two worlds: science and spirituality
It all started on a hot summer afternoon in 1980, when I was asked if I would like to go to the United States for a month, to investigate the possibility of a collaboration with American universities. Little I knew that this would be a major turning point in my life. As you may imagine, this month became thirty five long years dedicated to research and the teaching of physics, but also (and primarily) to spiritual growth.
Leaving Italy meant leaving behind my family and the ancient culture and traditions of my country to embrace a new, young country, full of vibrant energy – the perfect ground for the exploration of new possibilities and of a new way of life.
Not long after I came to this country I stepped into a meditation class offered by the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Chicago. As I began to practice the meditation techniques, it felt as if I had at long last found what I had been looking for all my life.
As a young girl I had dropped out of the Catholic Church, as I did not feel any affinity to it. For several years I just focused on my studies, moving progressively farther away from religion, to the point of declaring myself an atheist during college years.
I guess I had to cross an ocean to be able to find what I was missing: spirituality. As I was gradually going through Sri Chinmoy’s writings, I found the answers to questions that for so long had been left unanswered. I also found his music compositions very soothing and relaxing.
Yet my mind would often fight against all this. How can a physicist become involved in spirituality? The answer came through a book – Quantum Questions by Ken Wilber – that I picked up at the campus bookstore in Berkeley, while visiting for a conference: all the major physicists were spiritual people, including the demigod Einstein.
Reassured, I kept going. Eventually I met Sri Chinmoy in New York, the place he called home for over 40 years, until his passing in 2007. The impact of this meeting was very profound. I actually felt that we knew each other already.
In the course of time Sri Chinmoy helped me considerably, deepening my spiritual practice, giving me guidance and encouragement when needed. Eventually I began to look at him as a father. For 30 years now I have been walking along the Path that he threaded. I am totally amazed at the transformation brought about in my life by his teachings.
Even more amazing is that this work is still in progress. This process of transformation will never end. In time it becomes deeper, it touches deeper and deeper parts of my being, bringing to the fore more and more awareness of all the layers that make up a human being.
As a token of gratitude for what I received, for over two decades I have been teaching meditation classes. These are offered free of charge in the spirit of service to the community. The idea being that, like prayer, meditation is everybody’s birthright – no charge should be applied to its teaching.
In my classes I cover basic meditation and breathing techniques, but also expand to describe what I call a Meditative Lifestyle. As our being is composite of different layers, or sheaths, there will be a different form of meditation for each of these layers. Thus exercise brings physical excellence and health to the body, and as such it is a form of meditation for the body; engaging in creative activities serves to release stress and bring to the fore dynamism in our vital or energy sheath; spiritual music and readings nourish and illumine our minds; and meditation opens the inner gateway to the soul and the power of the spirit. Sri Chinmoy encouraged and stressed the importance of this holistic approach to wellbeing and happiness.
We also discuss another aspect of meditation: once the constant chatting of the mind has been quieted and the restless vital has calmed down, quite naturally we begin to access our inner being and its voice can be ‘heard’ or perceived. On the one hand this inner voice brings direct guidance from our soul – we no longer need to ask others what to do: the wisdom of our own soul has all the answers. On the other hand the process of self-discovery begins. Once we get a glimpse of this inner space where true joy, peace and happiness can be found, we want more of it, like a child who has his first taste of honey. This is when we begin to notice that certain aspects of ourselves are keeping us from experiencing more of this. Gradually we become ‘observers’ of our actions and reactions. Through this lengthy process we begin to get rid, like weeds, of unwanted aspects of the self and gradually become a transformed person – loving, compassionate and fulfilled.
With those who are interested, I usually continue to discuss basics of the ancient Indian philosophy that is at the basis of our meditation practice.
From Physics to Spirituality to Ayurveda
In the following I will summarize how my interest in Ayurveda developed.
The field I was trained in is Particle Physics, the search for the ultimate blocks of matter. Along with this, I have always had a deep love for Astronomy, and eventually discovered a deep interconnection between the two, the infinitely small and the infinitely large, the microcosm and the macrocosm. Although I worked as an experimentalist, my interest in Physics has always been more at the philosophical level. In time I realized that I would not be able to find the answers to my questions within Physics, or at least, not yet. I had to look beyond and this eventually led me to metaphysics and spirituality. In time I discovered that my questions were already answered thousands of years ago at the intuitive level by the Vedic seers through their meditations. Now science is beginning to answers some of these questions experimentally, in very small steps.
I believe that Vedanta applies to the modern world, just like it applied to ancient times. Things have changed only on the surface, mostly due to the fast paced technological development, but the questions that each of us carries deep inside have not changed. They may simply go unheard, because of the loud noises that surround our modern life. It is through the meditative process that we can quiet our minds and tap on this wisdom that lies deep inside us.
After a few years of meditation under the guidance of my spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy, I realized that the true practice of deep meditation requires that we prepare the ground for it by working on our mind, emotions, and our body. In spirituality the body is seen as a ‘temple’ that hosts the inner being and allows it to be manifested here on earth. That’s when I became aware of Ayurveda. Eventually I met Kumudini Shoba, an Ayurveda practitioner from Seattle who is also a student of Sri Chinmoy. Over the past twenty years she has not only helped me maintain good health, but has also taught me quite a bit about the philosophy behind Ayurveda. You may check her website, Service-Plants.com
For the past two years I have introduced a new class on ‘Ayurveda and Meditation’, based in part of Kumudini’s introductory book on Ayurveda . Click on the tab ‘Our Classes’ to find a description of this class.