If you are wondering if there is a place where you can physically find Yogananda Seva (YSO), there is! It is located just steps from the SRF Encinitas Ashram and Retreat Center, around the corner from the SRF J Street Chapel and two blocks from the Encinitas Temple in downtown Encinitas.
The confluence of many diligent volunteer efforts from all over the world gave birth to the Yogananda Seva offices in August 2019. The newly-renovated, 1,100-square-foot space, consisting of two larger open offices with a smaller conference room in between, previously served as a conference room and offices for some of the SRF Encinitas monks. The monks’ offices are now on the second floor. The SRF nuns’ offices are located adjacent to the Yogananda Seva offices.
Plans for the YSO office came together in a matter of months soon after the space was offered to Yogananda Seva by SRF Mother Center in August 2019. The SRF Planning & Building Department installed warm and inviting vinyl flooring that looks like wood. The SRF Maintenance Department in Encinitas painted the walls a comforting cream color. An Encinitas Kriyaban donated two oriental rugs, beautiful mirrors, a coffee table and plants. Other devotees donated large-screen TV’s for tele-conferences. A friend of SRF who recently closed his business donated much of the office furniture—the light wood desks line the walls of the Yogananda Seva headquarters and comfortable chairs can be rolled around a large conference table to flexibly accommodate meetings of various sizes. A devotee made beautiful framed calligraphy art posters of Paramahansa Yogananda’s poems for the walls. And an SRF Kriyaban from San Diego skillfully helped hang these and other devotional SRF photos throughout the space.
Yogananda Seva’s innermost office also houses an area for private conferences. This inner office was formerly used as a temporary chapel for monastic-led meditations when the SRF Online Meditation Center first began offering monastic-led meditations in January 2020. Another area hosts the current office space for the SRF Online Meditation Center as well as an open area for meetings and collaboration.
“It was a surprise to us to be offered this space,” said Yogananda Seva Co-Executive Director Pat Conahan, an SRF devotee since the 1970s who was previously an SRF employee and former law enforcement officer. “We were going to start looking for a space when Brother Chidananda’s suggestion of using the space near the ashram came in. It is amazing how right it feels.”
In non-pandemic times, when devotees come to serve, there are extra desks where people can work. Prior to the pandemic, devotees from all over the world came to volunteer at the YSO offices and spent a week or more serving. Before the temporary closure of the YSO office to outside visitors, I (the writer of this article), stopped by the office in March 2020, and met a devotee from Michigan who was staying at the SRF Encinitas Retreat and working in the Yogananda Seva offices to fill positions for Italian-speaking online meditation leaders and ushers. A staff member was preparing for a monastic-led meditation. Another part-time volunteer stopped by to talk about her efforts to welcome new volunteers to YSO, matching their skills and talents with programs and projects. Other staff members were meeting about upcoming projects. It was a thrill to see the activity of Master’s lay disciples working together and I look forward to when the office is open to visitors again!
Although a small number of Yogananda Seva staff still currently use the office safely by working in separate areas in the large space, devotees’ homes around the world have turned into virtual YSO offices as progress on a plethora of Yogananda Seva projects has continued via Zoom and other technologies. Such projects include the continued expansion of the SRF Online Meditation Center, the Young Adult Sangha, the Lay Disciple Intentional Community Forum, Online Harmonium and Kirtan Training, Lay-led Retreats, and the Elder Forum.
Other infrastructure teams support Yogananda Seva’s overall program operations with an international group of volunteers. These infrastructure teams include communications systems support, translations, digital and technology support, and supervision of overall operations. This network of infrastructure volunteers collaborate in their YSO home offices from states and countries around the world. For example, volunteers from the United States, England, and India discussed how to best serve the YSO community’s informational needs at a recent YSO newsletter meeting. An Online Harmonium and Kirtan Training group has been working on videos to teach devotees to play the harmonium and is exploring ways to create online tutorials about repairing your harmonium at home. The Elder Forum has been holding focus groups with remote participants around the world in several languages. The list of accomplishments in the 14 months since the August 2019 opening of the Yogananda Seva offices is truly impressive. The up-coming to-do list looks even more impressive.
“The story of YSO is just beginning,” Pat commented. Co-Executive Director David Stember echoes his enthusiasm: “The vision for Yogananda Seva is potentially very large because you can now serve SRF/YSS from anywhere in the world.”
If you are interested in volunteering through Yogananda Seva, please visit yoganandaseva.org/volunteering.
“What we’ve come to realize as the greatest value and promise of Yogananda Seva is in offering devotees around the world more opportunities to serve their Guru,” Pat said. “Many devotees have never had that opportunity before. And their gratitude and their sweet devotion to guru-seva is heart-touching and makes us very grateful to be involved in Yogananda Seva.”