New Devotee Relations Dept. at New Vrindaban Aims for Happy, Healthy Devotees

By Madhava Smullen

A brand new Devotee Relations Department was officially established in March 2014 at the ISKCON New Vrindaban community. The new department is headed up by Sukhavaha Dasi, who joined ISKCON in New Vrindaban back in 1974 and has lived and served there for many years.

Sukhavaha holds a degree in social welfare from Penn State University, and has taken courses on leadership, leadership training, and compassionate communication. She’s also the author of the book, Revealing the Heart: The Practice of Compassion.

Sukhavaha dasi

Sukhavaha dasi

Her vision for the new department includes supporting devotees to grow and mature in the ways they relate to one another (hence the name “Devotee Relations”), as well as providing care and support to the community by empowering devotees to care for themselves.

“To me, it’s the difference between feeding somebody, and teaching someone to grow a garden so they can feed themselves and others,” she says.

The department’s new home, a house with four rooms and a kitchen located just across the road from Sri Sri Radha Vrindabanchandra’s temple, will undergo renovations this winter.

Sukhavaha hopes to turn it into a “holistic center for mind, body, spirit and emotions” by spring 2015, complete with sauna, exercise equipment and spaces for life coaching, energy healing, cooking classes, as well as medical care by visiting and local devotees in the health field.

As well as these ongoing services, the Devotee Relations Department will hold one-off courses. Sukhavaha is currently completing her pilot course, “Empowered Empathy,” to a small group, with a second run open to the whole community to begin Tuesday, October 14th.

She is also planning two weekend workshops in spring and fall 2015, entitled “Healing the Pain of Childhood Wounds,” which will be facilitated by professional psychologists. The workshops will be offered to second generation devotees free of charge, including dormitory accommodation and meals.

For the more long term, Sukhavaha aims to train devotees as mentors for those living in the temple. This mentoring system will provide care for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of devotees.

She also wants to inspire devotees to create and lead a network of small groups that will provide support for different areas of life, such as men’s, women’s, parent’s, and health groups, as well as a book club.

“In small groups, you can feel safe and comfortable enough to be yourself and express yourself,” she says. “And the power of them is that you can get nourishment and support from the other devotees, and learn from one another.”

Although the Devotee Relations Department is new and yet to develop a team, other individual devotees, like Lilasuka Dasi, have been doing their part to assist devotees in various ways. Sukhavaha hopes to train other staff in the future. But it’s something she expects to be a gradual process.

“I’m not in a rush just to throw something together, if it would be counterproductive or fall apart,” she says. “I want to very organically and methodically create structured systems that are sustainable over time.”

In the meantime, devotees who have already taken her coaching or Empowered Empathy workshop are encouraged by the results and returning for more.

Sukhavaha is delighted. “I love to see happy, healthy devotees,” she says. “Not just on the surface, but on a deep level, from the inside out.”

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