Twenty-six married couples have been invited to participate in the Grihasta Vision Team’s first ever Couples’ Retreat, entitled “We’re In This Together,” from June 7th to 9th this summer.
Couples of any age and any stage in their marriage are welcome to the retreat, which will be held at the peaceful and scenic Gita Nagari, ISKCON’s 350-acre farm in Port Royal, Pennsylvania.
Explaining that the theme of the retreat is to “be in this together for Krishna,” Grihasta Vision Team member Krishnanandini Dasi encourages devotees to take this chance to “tune-up your marriage,” “prioritize your relationship,” and “reconnect with your spouse in a deep way.”
With the Grihasta Vision Team behind the retreat, participants can expect quality. The team is a dedicated group of devotee couples spread out across North America, who have committed themselves to strengthening marriages and families in ISKCON through workshops, seminars and online resources.
Most are senior Prabhupada disciples and have been in healthy marriages for over twenty years. They also possess a broad range of professional credentials between them—they are certified family life educators, psychologists, and social workers.
“We came up with the idea for this retreat at our last annual meeting in New Vrindaban, West Virginia,” says Krishnanandini. “We wanted to see how we could best serve the community of Vaishnavas in a practical and relevant way.”
Couples are asked to come to the retreat with an open heart, and to make alternative arrangements for their children, so that they can focus on Krishna and each other. Each couple will be provided individual sleeping quarters at Gita Nagari’s recently remodeled accommodations.
The retreat will begin on Friday evening at 5:00pm with a dinner for incoming devotees, followed by a welcome and introduction, during which the theme of the day will be outlined.
“Each day of the retreat will have a different theme, and the first day’s will be connection,” says Krishnanandini. “Srila Prabhupada came to destroy impersonalism and voidism. Sometimes, in today’s Kali Yuga environment, we all get a little too impersonal. So we wanted to highlight making spiritual connections in loving ways.”
Next, there will be several activities, which, like the entire retreat, promise to be highly interactive.
Married couple training in Brazil
First up will be a Meet-n-Greet. “Before they leave for the retreat, we’re asking each participant to pack three to five items that represent who they are, without letting their spouse know what they’re bringing,” says Krishnanandini. “Then at the Meet-n-Greet, you’ll reveal them, and we’ll get to know why certain items represent you.”
Next, couples will play a fun marriage game, with questions about each other and prizes, followed by a prayer circle. The prayer will include a poem by Krishnanandini that will help couples focus on the work at hand, and that will be recited every evening of the retreat. Focusing on devotion to Krishna and the basic elements of a healthy marriage, it features the refrain “we want to get better together.”
Meanwhile the theme of Saturday, the second day of the retreat, will be appreciation.
“My godbrother Vaisesika Prabhu gave a talk recently wherein he explained that when you have a heart of gratitude and appreciation, it opens you up for so much mercy from Krishna and all the acharyas,” Krishnanandini says. “And when you’re not grateful, it closes the door. So we wanted to focus on appreciation: appreciating Krishna, and appreciating your spouse as a gift from Krishna.”
The day will begin at 9:00am with morning yoga, followed by The Yoga of Listening with senior devotees Anuttama Das and his wife Rukmini Dasi.
“Listening is the fundamental basis of any real communication or connection,” says Krishnanandini. “So that will be a very deep exercise, where couples will be guided in how to listen to one another.”
Next, another married couple, Archana Siddhi Dasi and Karnamrita Das, will facilitate an appreciation exercise.
“Often, especially after being married for some time, we may take our spouse for granted,” Krishnanandini comments. “So this exercise will help participants really be aware of what it is that they appreciate about each other.”
An hour-and-a-half break for lunch will follow, giving couples plenty of downtime to spend together.
Illustration at the married couple training at Brazil
When they return, participants will take Marriage Reflections with Krishnanandini and her husband Tariq. The facilitators will ask a series of questions that will allow couples to reflect deeply on their marriage, such as: “What are some of the things you do for your spouse, and your spouse does for you?” “What are five gifts your spouse has given you?” And “If you were to leave your body today, what would your spouse say about you?”
Next, Chintamani and Jagannath from Gita Nagari will lead a Meditation and Prayer workshop. Participants will search within to further deepen their appreciation for their spouses, as well as for Krishna.
This will be followed by a massage demonstration workshop, in which a therapist will show the couples how to massage each other in simple ways to relieve stress.
Finally, the day will wrap up with a “lovework assignment,” during which couples will go for a walk together around Gita Nagari and find three items that represent their marriage—past, present and future. The next morning, after breakfast, they’ll share their items.
The theme of Sunday, the final day of the retreat, will be compassion.
“Each theme flows naturally into the next,” says Krishnanandini. “You get connected, you appreciate, and then that opens you up to having compassion for your spouse. After all, Lord Chaitanya is the epitome of all compassion, so we wanted to end the retreat on that note, evoking the spirit of Lord Chaitanya’s mercy and praying for more compassion for ourselves, our spouses, and the other people in our lives.”
The day will begin with yoga, followed by the Core Hurts workshop, which will guide participants in how to address and let go of wounds from the past.
“A lot of times what stops compassion is hurt,” Krishnanandini explains. “So by letting go of past hurt, you can move forward with compassion in your marriage, in your life, and in your connection with the Lord.”
After lunch, long-time married couples Uttama and Partha and Mantrini and Tamohar will present the Five Love Languages workshop, based on the concept popularized by Dr. Gary Chapman.
A group photo of some of the facilitators and participants at the Grihastha course in Brazil
“The five love languages are words of affirmation, quality time, giving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch,” says Krishnanandini. “We may have more than one love language, but we usually have a primary language we use to show our love. And if you don’t understand your spouse’s love language, there might be a lot of miscommunication and hurt. So it’s important to know them.”
Next, couples will get twenty-five minutes to write a letter to their spouse, which Krishnanandini will mail for them one month after the end of the retreat, as a way of following up.
Finally, participants will share what they got from the retreat and what commitments they’re making in its wake, in a special closing ceremony.
“We pray that couples will leave this retreat feeling more loved and loving, more connected, more appreciated, and more compassionate towards each other and everybody else,” says Krishnanandini. “We pray that they’ll have more skills to resolve conflict and communicate better, and a have greater sense of why Krishna has brought them together.”
For these reasons and more, Krishnanandini encourages devotees to attend the retreat.
“Often as devotees, we think that our marriage and family life is secondary to our spiritual life,” she says. “But we understand from Prabhupada and the scriptures that as a grihasta, your marriage is your spiritual life. So we want to help people make their marriages refreshing, rewarding, educational and fun. So much so that when people see ISKCON devotees’ marriages, they’ll want to be a part of our society simply because our marriages are so nice.” Please visit http://vaisnavafamilyresources.org/ and scroll down the page to register for the 2013 Couples Retreat at Gita Nagari.