Interview with Karen Mander by Aron O’Dowd.
Welcome to another edition of the kriya yoga newsletter interview. We’ve got an amazing individual as usual. Her name is Karen Mander and we now welcome her to share with you her experience. Were you always interested in spirituality or did you stumble across it like many of us do?
I think in hindsight from a child I was always very spiritually oriented and aware of other dimensions, but this really deepened for me from my late 20’s.
And were your parents into spirituality?
Not particularly, although dad had a deep affinity with India, having worked there for a period of time and he was a very loving and peaceful soul. We had the usual sort of English church baptism and exposure but nothing significant.
What was your childhood like? Tell us where you grew up and what it was like.
I grew up north of Birmingham in a little town called Sutton Coldfield with two sisters and a twin brother. It was a happy childhood and good schooling, lots of sport and friends but I often felt lonely and was drawn to experiencing life outside of the suburbs so I embarked on a long period of travelling after my university years and later, moved to London. The rest of my family stayed put so I was always a little bit of the outsider.
Are you the oldest or youngest in your family?
I’m in the middle. I’m a twin. My twin brother is no longer alive so I have two remaining sisters.
So when you went out travelling where did you go?
I spent 6 months in India which I absolutely loved and it felt so much my spiritual home. My best friend and I spent much time in the Himalayas and Kashmir– heaven on earth – and we then moved down to Delhi, and spent much time in Varanassi living by the ghats and then moved to the temple cities of the South, Kerala and finally to Goa. I’m talking about 30 years ago when travelling was very different eg. there wasn’t even a hotel at Goa so we stayed in huts on the beach. Everything was very magical and felt safe and we met many beautiful people along the way – the world was a different place and less busy back in those days. I also travelled through France and Spain picking grapes and working in cafes and had an extremely interesting time in Morocco, travelling with a film maker in the Sahara Desert. I also spent time in Hong Kong and China and the Far East. In later years I learnt to scuba dive and have been lucky enough to explore what is beneath the ocean in many beautiful countries – Egypt, Israel, Thailand, Burma etc. I have been extremely fortunate to see some of the most magnificent parts of the world before they have been compromised, including the opportunity to walk the Inca trail and Machu Picchu.
Tell us a little more about India?
It was different to anything I had experienced elsewhere – but we found a pulse of kindness, of acceptance and of people living in the now, which I think profoundly affected me on a deep level of being. It felt like the whole of life in one place and time.
How did it feel like home to you?
At times it was very difficult as there was much poverty alongside such treasures and there was much death alongside abundant life, and it was not easy to travel the vast distances unless you could learn to accept and live in the now. Sitting on the banks of the Ganges and seeing the belief and faith in the water was very moving and tangible even though it defied western rational thought. I felt very close to the divine mother at that time, even though I had not yet opened up to kriya yoga. For me, it was like God on earth but also the whole ambit of humanity – its glory as well as its mess. I loved the vast sense of the divinity of nature and the worship of the mother; I also felt this in Africa – again I think because of the vast unfolding of life in front of the eyes.
Amazing and is this when you discovered kriya Yoga?
No, it wasn’t really until my 30’s. I was practising yoga in a very western style as a physical form of exercise but I did enjoy it. I wasn’t really exposed to the philosophy of yoga in those years but I went on a yoga holiday to Spain and met a reiki healer who was also a disciple of Yogananda, I was very drawn to him and during a healing he told me that he had received a message for me with the word KRIYA and he felt it was very relevant for me. He was not a kriya initiate or aware of kriya yoga himself. The healing was very profound and the energy of it was so strong it stayed with me for 3 days. On returning to London I discovered that there was an initiation programme being offered the following week – so I saw it as a direct sign to go along. It was all rather unfamiliar to me but I did trust my intuition.
I was initiated by Swami Sarveshwarananda, a French monk and long term disciple of Gurudev Hariharananda and the initiation was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I pictured my soul unfold within a bright star in a blue and golden light and I felt somehow connected to a bigger picture of reality which was, of course, the spiritual part of my life. It was a powerful synchronicity following from that time in Spain and I have learnt over the years to really listen and trust these inner promptings from the inner life of Kriya and the Masters.
Yeah, it’s fascinating how it starts with a disciple or someone connected and how it all comes in.
Yeah, it was a bit like, “Come on Karen, you know it’s about time you woke up. Get on with it.” And it was odd for me because it was also so familiar; it gave me a context for my spirit in the here and now of the physical.
So I started going to programs when I could and I kept up my practice at home and I continued to have some very significant spiritual experiences and incredible feelings of lightness and peace.
But, as I progressed with my practice I was also faced with the inner terrain of my karma which over a period of 10 years was actually very challenging. However, I had the knowing that kriya and the masters were actually accelerating the resolution of my karma and I had the faith that it would pass if I kept my faith.
Wow, and in those 10 years did you stick to your practice even though you were experiencing such challenges?
Yes. Yes, I did. I had a very strong sense that I was being guided through those challenges with the help of the masters. I had many experiences of direct intercession which though subtle was very obvious; for example I would find my way to a person I felt could help me, and would instantly see a picture of Yogananda on the wall… I knew that I would be looked after if I continued to listen and trust.
I had some severe health challenges but at the same time was running my own successful business – so the day to day life was shored up by the energy I found through kriya and I had the finances to continue to do what I needed to do. I felt like the masters were holding me like a mother would hold a child and interestingly, I later became involved with helping women to connect to the divine mother, through their experience of childbirth. Sometimes there is conflict for women to experience their spiritual unfolding through a male monastic lineage, but if found that the experience of divine love was beyond gender and this is something I try to help women to discover for themselves – that the feminine side is a movement within. As the mother gives her love to her children, the masters do the same with their “children” and for me, the practice of kriya yoga is in essence the practice of unfolding divine love to life.
Through my health challenges I developed a tumour in my womb which caused me to bleed very badly, but I knew I would not find resolution through traditional western medical practice. The guidance through kriya was strong and steady but did require courage and resolve. I knew I would come out the other end of the karma and I was given everything I needed. Every healer I went to had some connection to Yogananda, Christ …. unbeknown to me in advance. Myself and my now husband, Simon, experienced many divine interventions during that period of time, of which I am extremely grateful.
In the end instance, I required the tumour to be removed and I had a full body blood transfusion which was quite a low point for me, but at the same time I was receiving massive amounts of guidance and support. It was a real sense of you know this is just something you’ve got to get through and it’s actually going to be absolutely fine. We were both in deep prayer throughout and received a series of what would be considered highly unusual intercessions along the way, with direct instructions from the masters! It was as if they were talking to us from the spiritual realms.
Western medical advice was in complete contrast to what I was experiencing within and it was quite a battle to keep on track; I was advised to have a hysterectomy but I refused as I felt strongly that it was my destiny to experience childbirth. This was considered impossible or at the best a million to one chance for me!
Through my kriya practice, Simon’s help and the divine support of the masters, I recovered from the operation swiftly. 3 years on from the operation I experienced the final resolution of any remaining karma. I lost my twin brother to cancer and I had what I can only describe as a sort of near death experience with him. I felt life and death extremely close – a bit like stepping out of a car door! When I returned to my body, I had a strong sense of new life within me and I went for a scan, which confirmed that I was pregnant. There had been no prior indication. It was a bizarre experience in many ways but also very real – as if the karma of the process that I had been through was very related to my twin brother dying and the release into new life again. I was now a first time mother at the age of 45, had experienced a major operation and the death of a beloved brother, all in a short space of time but, I guess God’s time is never the time of earth!
So I decided to sell my business and put my energy into the grace of the gift of pregnancy. A buyer was found quickly and I was released from any obligation to the new business – another act of miraculous grace! Simon and I had time to plan for the birth in quiet peace.
I felt that it was very important for me to have a homebirth and to have a really sacred experience but it was difficult to find a midwife as they considered this high risk. There was much fear but I knew I was safe and protected. My pregnancy went way beyond what it supposed to do within safe pregnancy guidelines but in the end, our son was born at home, peacefully, quickly and without any pain. Simon delivered him into life as the midwife didn’t make it; the labour was very short! He was born in his own membrane without my waters breaking – hopefully free of karma! For me, childbirth was an incredibly divine experience, sacred and beautiful and I felt my child help me as a complete soul in his own right. I felt the masters very near, He was a large and healthy baby and I reflected that we actually know very little about the incarnation of life, we just have to allow it and trust it.
I also felt my brother travel into a peaceful place and that he was completely held within this. On some level I felt that he had been a child lost to me and that my now son had healed the loss and the grief. He is a great blessing to our current lives.
I went on to set up a company called “breathe to a better birth” to help women experience the divine, spiritual experience of childbirth, free of fear and how to heal the trauma of the womb.
Did you have an experience of Gurudev Hariharanada?
Yes, I went to see him in Miami shortly before he died and this was a great blessing for me.
What do you recollect?
I felt very peaceful there and instead of looking for miracles, I just enjoyed the quiet, simple peace of the ashram. It was really lovely just settling in and seeing the ordinary pleasure; even at that age he was in his wheelchair and he was still tending to the garden and enjoying the nature and living a simple life and I think for me that simplicity is important because we are so often searching and fixing in the world. I feel that we can do much with a life of kriya and prayer by just showing kindness to each other, compassion and community.
If there was one piece advice you could give someone looking to start KRIYA yoga or thinking about continuing their practice what would it be?
I would say keep it simple. There is beauty in the techniques and the practice without yearning for more; everything unfolds in good time. When I have aches and pains it’s because I haven’t been sitting down to do my maha mudra or my life is out of balance, it’s all there in one teaching.
One of the most difficult things to do is to stop questioning and stop procrastinating so try and make the practice a very enjoyable part of life instead of wishing for something more. Kriya is a complete health system as well as everything else and that is enough, let alone all the support we get from the masters. For me it’s best to presume to know nothing and just deepen into the practice with faith and acceptance, much like a child looks to his/her mother. The mother/father will always step in when you need support but you have also to do your bit to take charge of yourself.
It sounds like you’re well on your journey and it’s so fantastic to hear what you’ve done and been and continue to do; where are you in your journey today?
Well, I think I am far more surrendered these days and happy in the now. I am open to the flow of life and I try not to think it too much. I realise that I know very little. Childbirth gave me an experience of the incarnation of life through my body and made me realise that life itself is miraculous. Kriya yoga and the masters accelerated that for me tenfold so I just keep diving in and breathing and being open.
I moved out of London into the countryside to be nearer to nature. We have a beautiful home in much land which we share with others and hopefully this can be opened up to kriyavans on retreat, God willing.
I was also lucky enough to further my birth awareness work by teaching midwives in a leading London hospital last year, before the pandemic hit. I think there is much healing needed for women to connect with the beauty of the sacred gift of motherhood as there is for the sacred partnership of shiva/shakti in union – but it is happening now – and I think that we can find it through a sincere practice of kriya. I think we are all part of a miraculous journey with all of its twists and turns and I think its important to keep hold of that when life gets a bit hard.
I do see some kriyavans looking a little bored or disconnected sometimes and I would say – look into the eyes of a baby and you will see the most incredible beauty that is here in life and look into the eyes of the masters and they will show you that there is beauty both in life and beyond humanity; that is the gift of kriya. Let’s not waste it.
Karen, I want to say thank you so much for taking your time out of your day to tell us about who you are and what you do.
It’s my pleasure thank you. It’s been lovely to meet you and maybe we’ll meet in person at some program somewhere in some part of the world.