Interview with Swathimaa,
Spiritual Leader & Founder of Shivaloka
Interview by Mariah Ernst for I-Magazine, published in the Nov 2012 issue
I-Mag: What is your background? Where were you born, what was your experience growing up, what lessons (positive and negative) did you garner from your parents and extended family?
Swathimaa: I was born in Berlin, Germany. My family still lives there. My parents were really supportive. They let me make my own decisions. I had a great deal of freedom. When I was 16, I quit school and left to travel the world. Thinking back on it, it’s kind of amazing they let me leave so young. I don’t know if I could do that if I had a child. But, for me, it was a great gift. I was free to follow my heart. And, it taught me responsibility.
If there was a negative to growing up that way: at times, I made bad decisions, took some stupid detours, ones I could’ve avoided, if I’d had more guidance or ‘boundaries’. But, independence was thrilling. Life was all about possibilities. Mistakes were just part of the process. They never really deterred me.
I: When was the first instance you could remember wanting to know more about our connectedness? Did you have any influences of religion when you were younger?
S: We were living in Damascus on top of a hill and every night the prayers from the mosque in the valley below cradled me to sleep. I was only 3 or 4 years old. I was too young to put it into words at the time but I remember vividly going into trance states a few times, where I couldn’t move my body. I was conscious and experiencing this thick-like-honey energy descending over me but I had no idea what was happening. Years later, once I started a strong meditation practice, I remembered this experience. Going into trance in meditation a state when you are connecting, ‘downloading’ cosmic energy.
As far as religion goes, my family didn’t influence my personal beliefs in that way. They didn’t try to impress their views on me. That probably made me more open and receptive to other channels. Later on, I realized spirituality was a better fit for me than organized religion.
I: Did you feel a restlessness to travel when you were younger?
S: Oh yeah. In my teenage years, travel was like a wide-open adventure. But, by my mid-twenties, I felt like I was wasting my time, not going anywhere. There came a point where it was too painful to not know and live my true purpose, I couldn’t bear distractions anymore, it was time. That’s when everything started.
I: What have you learned from traveling?
S: A lot about myself, in terms of what I could handle, how adaptable I could be. I learned a lot about people. But, once I met my teacher in India, Sri Kaleshwar, the real journey began. He brought me face-to-face with the soul that is me and showed me what I’m really capable of.
I: How did you come to Bali?
S: I’d been living in Hong Kong where I had opened a spiritual center. But, Hong Kong is very urban and frenetic, energetically. So, I started taking students on retreats to beautiful nature places around Asia. But when I came to Bali, I was hooked. Bali offers so much.
I: How did you start Shivaloka? What is it all about?
S: I was teaching meditation practices and needed malas for my students. Malas are prayer rosaries to count the recitation of mantras. In India, they are mostly strung with a very special, energetic bead called the Rudraksha. It’s a seed from a holy tree and recognized for its spiritual powers. Holy men and women have been wearing them since thousands of years. While I was living and studying with my teacher in India, I learned a lot about natural power objects, like rudraksha. They are a “short-cut” to receiving divine energy. They’re not all alike; and, even though they have an inherent power, it remains virtually dormant unless it is activated. The subject intrigued me so I researched it.
You can buy Rudraksha malas almost everywhere in India. Many are fakes, made of seeds carved to look like rudraksha. Others, even though they’re real, feel flat, energetically. For some people, selling them is just a business. For others, they’re symbolic, like a traditional thing, created with good intentions. But, if you don’t have the deeper spiritual understanding and techniques needed to unlock the full power of these objects—or any ‘power’ object—you’re sort of missing the mark.
My teacher taught me the difference. After studying with him for 5 years, one day, this internal direction came, ‘create Shivaloka’. I started to design & empower what I call ‘sacred soul jewelry’. You can feel their power when you touch them. And, you can see the effects in your life when you wear them. For me, it’s a perfect way to touch people’s hearts through beauty and energy and a way for them to receive powerful spiritual blessings.
I: What have you learned from Shivaloka?
S: It’s important to protect the authenticity and integrity of your work. When you’re helping people or introducing—in this case, reintroducing—a powerful, positive energy in the world, it’s natural you’ll encounter great challenges, including people who want to hurt or stop you. You have to recognize that these are a kind of test and handle them in a beautiful way.
I: Personally, I’m a rusher, I always feel a pressing need to get things done. How can we relieve ourselves of this existential anxiety and other daily distractions?
S: Hey, there’s nothing wrong with going fast! The problem is the anxiety. Acceptance is key. It makes it possible to be present, in the moment. We’re usually not. We get caught up, stuck in our minds, thinking, worrying about things in the past or the future. It really disturbs us. I found the only cure for my own crazy monkey-mind was meditation. Along the way, it transforms you. You can handle pressures much more peacefully and respond with clarity. Going fast is no problem.
I: A lot of people chat about needing to do x,y, and z in order to work on themselves and feel good. What if we could incorporate acceptance and joy and having fun in every moment, whether we’re working a cash register, running errands at the bank, or stuck in traffic. I’m inspired by the Balinese, who seem to possess these qualities. Doesn’t spirituality mean accepting human absurdness and being able to laugh and love at every turn, in every moment of our lives, no matter if we’ve been eating our vegetables and mediating or not?
S: Sure. An accepting nature, like the Balinese have, produces a kind of blissful detachment. Many people misinterpreted this quality as naiveté or being ‘simple’, in the derogatory sense. But, it’s a core part of living a spiritual life. I admire how the Balinese receive most adversities with a smile. It’s definitely something we Westerners can learn from.
I: What is spirituality to you? How would you describe a higher power, or oneness?
S: For most of us, being in the body, our focus is primarily on the physical. ‘Oneness’ seems too intangible because ‘Oneness’ transcends the body. To experience it, you need more tools than just the body. Spirituality is a set of tools that offer ‘Oneness’ or ‘Enlightenment’ as a direct experience & deep understanding. But, practicing ‘spirituality’ isn’t the sole ingredient in living a spiritual life. When everyone’s happiness becomes your happiness and everyone’s suffering becomes your suffering and you know how to relieve that suffering, that’s a spiritual life.
To me, a ‘higher power’ means exactly that: divine power or ‘shakti’. Shakti means both soul power & divine power. When you build your soul power to a certain level, through meditation, you start to experience and recognize the divine nature of it…of yourself. It doesn’t have to take long to realize you are your higher power.
I: I see you spent a lot of time in an Indian Ashram, what lead you there, and what did you stay for?
S: It was time. And, my guru pulled me there. What did I stay for? To serve a bigger purpose than my ego and false desires. To heal myself and then learn to heal others. To study the most mind-blowing spiritual knowledge available on this planet. To see the Divine physically manifest in front of me with my own two eyes.
I: Have you ever found inspiration in Christian teachings? Alain de Botton also just wrote a great book called “Religion for atheists,” which addresses this.
S: I have a very strong connection to Jesus, but not in the sense of the Christian church. Jesus came to India and lived there to an old age. There’s proof, evidence of this—scriptures, written in ancient palm leaf books, that I’ve seen with my own eyes, which tell the real story. He gained his miracle abilities in India. For sure, it’s different from what we’ve been taught. I hope this isn’t offending anyone. But, it’s true.
Within the community of Indian saints, Jesus is recognized as the greatest spiritual master ever born. He did unbelievable things. He accepted and received whatever negativity came to him with a beautiful smile. Just like the Balinese. (smiles) His real legacy is coming to light, again, today. Read, “The Real Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ,” by Sri Kaleshwar. The historical proofs are there.
I: What are we all so afraid of?
S: The truth. Isn’t that a beautiful illusion? We don’t trust it. The thing is, there’s something darker in us than fear. It’s Doubt. Doubt kills our inspiration and distracts us from recognizing truth.
I: What prevents people from living their highest potential?
S: Belief systems. Five hundred years ago, Western civilization believed the world was flat until someone proved them wrong. How did he do it? By direct experience and knowledge. ‘Belief’ relies pretty heavily on judgment, misjudging, and prejudging, not discernment. Direct experience and understanding are better. The Divine is beyond belief but not knowledge.
I: Will you stay in Bali for a while?
S: I don’t want to predict the future. But, I’m happy here now.
I: What is your take on many of the common expat complaints and difficulties in living here? What can people do to harmonize?
S: Be kind and patient. Be generous but smart. And, learn the language.I
I: What do you think is so magical about Bali? Have you had any supernatural experiences here?
S: There’s a lot of magic here, more than Westerners realize. Most people don’t know the spiritual roots of Bali. Bali was the king of the demons—a big ego character—who at one time ruled the world. Vishnu overthrew him with a brilliant trick. Bali recognized Vishnu’s greatness and was so humbled that he became a devotee. In turn, Vishnu gave Bali ‘heaven on earth”, this island. It’s why the Balinese worship Ram and Sita. Ram is an incarnation of Vishnu. Bali’s an amazing sacred power spot. You can feel it, if you open your heart and look in the right places.
I: What’s next for you?
S: A trip to Europe to spend some time with my family.