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Interview with Rohini Ralby

From an early age, Rohini Ralby was committed to finding the best teachers in every field she pursued. Originally from the Boston area in the USA, she completed her undergraduate studies at Washington University in St. Louis and earned a graduate degree at Mills College. While at Mills, she began an intensive study of Tai Chi Chuan and subsequently ran her own school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while also earning a degree in acupuncture and studying Chinese calligraphy and Alexander Technique.

In 1974, she met Swami Muktananda Paramahamsa and remained a close disciple until his mahasamadhi in 1982. Over those years, she served her Guru in different roles, including his head of security and his personal appointments secretary. Muktananda, affectionately known as Baba, taught Rohini spiritual practice one-on-one daily for years. In the four decades since Baba left his body, she has devotedly lived that practice. 

Since 1990, she has shared it with students all over the world. In 2012, with Bancroft Press, Rohini published Walking Home with Baba: The Heart of Spiritual Practice, an introductory guide to the inner practice she learned from Muktananda and continues to share. Living the Practice: The Way of Love is the first of two books that collect Rohini’s shorter writings in both prose and verse and some of her paintings, organized thematically so readers can locate, read, revisit, and contemplate her teachings and reflections.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
When I was young, I was a very successful athlete and highly trained dancer. My Master’s degree at Mills was actually in dance. I was trained in improvisation and choreography. I communicated different techniques, such as ballet or the modern dance of Merce Cunningham and Alwin Nikolais, purely and without any “accent.”

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you shortly? Any new project you’re working on?
I am working on the second volume of Living the Practice, which is subtitled The Way of the Warrior. It explores more aspects of spiritual practice and, like the first volume, includes some of my paintings, poems, and prose reflections. It is slated for publication in 2023.

Q.3 When did you decide to write Living the Practice?
I decided to write Living the Practice around when I started writing poetry and posting my poems rather than prose for my blog entries. It became clear that I had put much of what I had shared about spiritual practice into my writings so far, as well as into my paintings, and it would be appropriate to collect and share them in the form of a book that delves deeper into the actual work of spiritual practice.

Q.4 What’s the difference between being religious and being spiritual?
Religions are defined sets of doctrines and belief systems that express themselves in ritual and community. They are unavoidably somewhat exclusive; this is not necessarily bad, as religions provide the framework for deeper growth. Spiritual practice is universal; it isn’t specific to one creed. 

If you go to the heart of any real spiritual tradition, you will find the same practice. The vocabularies and conceptual frameworks differ, but the core practice is the same. The authentic texts on contemplative practice all say the same thing. The practice I learned from Baba actually underlies and informs all religions.

Q.5 What do you want readers to take away from your book?
People do not have to abandon their religion or daily lives to pursue the real spiritual practice. Embedded in our lives are all the lessons we need, and the Love that underlies everything is always and everywhere available to us.

Q.6 What were some of the challenges you faced when you started writing?
My writing tends to be aphoristic, so communicating to a larger audience in a more discursive way is not natural for me. It was something I had to work on.

Q.7 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
I have written three books so far. The first, A Spiritual Survival Kit, was privately published in 1992; my reading of it is now available for free on my website. 

My second book, Walking Home with Baba: The Heart of Spiritual Practice, was published by Bancroft Press in 2012. That book remains very important to me, as it combines introductory instruction in spiritual practice with stories of my experiences with my Guru, Swami Muktananda. None of what I do would be possible without him. 

My third book is Living the Practice, Volume One: The Way of Love. I can’t say I have a favorite, as all my publications come together to form one larger book, which started with the most introductory teachings and continues to evolve and deepen.

Q.8 What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
 Love your Self. Honor your Self. Meditate on your Self. God dwells within you as you. My Baba said that.

Q.9 Your work is highly influenced by Swami Muktanand’s teachings; any specific reason for that?
From an early age, I looked for the Ground of Being. This led me to many amazing teachers. Each teacher handed me off like a baton to the next. Before I met Baba, I had very powerful experiences. 

When I practiced Tai Chi Chuan, I experienced great peace and depth, but everything returned to “normal.” I wanted the experience I had practicing Tai Chi all the time and not to be at the mercy of any external activity. Muktananda both gave me that experience and guided me on maintaining it no matter what my external activity might be.

Q.10 What were your feelings when you first saw the cover of the finished product?
I was so happy and excited to see the cover. The cover is a combination of my painting and my poetry, and I worked hard with a student who is skilled in design to get it right.

Q.11 Does your family support your career as a writer?
One hundred percent.

Q.12 What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?
Basically, whether I am painting, writing poetry, or writing prose, I am saying the same thing from the same place, deep within. It always amazes me how the same experience can be expressed in so many different ways.

Q.13 What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I take very little time off and fit my writing into my larger work schedule.

Q.14 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
Because of where my writing comes from, I feel like it is being dictated, and I must be a great listener to get it correct.

Q.15 What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
I would say two things make it stand out. On an immediate level, the way it brings prose, poetry, and painting together to communicate spiritual practice is unusual. 

On a deeper level, Living the Practice stands out because it does not market spirituality as something that is easy or as something people can just fit into their lives as they are; it reveals spiritual practice as something that transforms and informs every moment and is disruptive to all our ideas about ourselves and our lives.

Q.16 What would you share with folks skeptical about reading Non-Fiction?
Just as those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it, those who don’t read nonfiction miss out on so much of the wisdom that the world provides.

Q.17 Who edited your book, and how did you select them?
My husband, David Soud, edited my book. He is a published scholar with a doctorate in English from Oxford University. My sons Ian and Aaron Ralby, who also have doctorates and are highly accomplished, helped edit the book as well.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
I would like to meet Socrates to listen to the questions and the answers.

Q.19 As an individual, how much do you grow spiritually? How was your life before you delved into this subject?
On meeting Swami Muktananda, my life completely changed. Before meeting him, I had glimpses of a deeper life but no way to stay with it. Since meeting Baba, who I am and who I thought I was are completely different. Experientially, there is a quiet and a Love that informs my vehicles of energy, emotions, mind, thoughts, and body.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
For me, writing is only one expression of the inner journey I began very early in my life and has taken me places Baba alone opened to me. My writings began as aphorisms and then became narratives and essays but have evolved now mostly into poems because the point is not to explain things but to share actual experiences. Poems are what come up from within now.

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