BAPS Hosts 8th Annual Women’s Conference in Chicago


Bartlett, IL: When we think about moving forward in our lives, many of us think of the journey we have taken and the steps we plan to take.  Often, the path to move forward is influenced by the way we approach life and what influences the decisions we make.  What are the most important qualities that influence our decision and affect our progress?  In fact, it involves a simple formula to help us all move forward:  compassion, perseverance, and forgiveness.

As women in the 21st Century, we often are faced with the question, “Can we have it all?”  Or how can we handle a work and life balance among various other roles that women have such as a mother, daughter, sister, or professional.  On March 14, 2015, over 450 women gathered at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Bartlett, IL to participate in this annual event, now observing its eighth year.  The annual conference is inspired by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, in an effort to highlight the empowering role of women to move forward in their lives and to ensure their spiritual growth as they overcome life’s challenges.

In the opening presentation, Ms. Jesha Thakker, a radiation therapist from Michigan, examined why compassion is so important in our lives and why practicing it helps us to look towards the future.  She explained, “Many of us think that compassion drains us, but I promise you it is something that truly enlivens us.”  She encouraged the audience to “seek to find ways that you are similar and you will automatically feel a bond with another person.”  It is compassion that helps us to feel and see love and happiness within ourselves and others while facing struggles.

Another integral quality to living forward-thinking lives involves the quality of perseverance.  Ms. Sneha Dixit, founder of VA Cosmetics and a Master Makeup Artist, touched the audience by sharing personal memories and circumstances that changed her life and how she persevered through them to become a successful entrepreneur as a single mother.  She recounted that though there were hurtful moments, “Painful memories can be carried and kept to build upon new peaceful beginnings.”  She explained research on the “growth mindset” as an antidote to defeatism and depression.  She described that such a mindset, “interprets challenge and failure not as a signal to throw in the towel, but as a natural, healthy part of human growth and achievement.”  With a growth mindset, when one feels stuck, one chooses to, “solve the problem in front of you and not all the problems that surround you.”

As she described her life story, she shared new insights and lessons learned from her experiences:  “Let go, be vulnerable at times and be yourself.  Let happiness be your light that guides you to smile- knowing you are not alone and that God is with you.  And when you do not feel it, look to the ones you love and the ones who love you to help, to carry you, to guide you and to transform you from your pain.  Discover that you can take care of yourself and you can persevere.  We are all heroes within ourselves.  It is a mistake to judge yourself and others.  Instead help yourself and others achieve goals – share what we learn with our community and family so we can all continue to grow, heal and learn.”

By practicing compassion and preserving through difficulties, one can move forward, but one cannot achieve peace and success until they reflect on their past and learn to forgive.  In delivering the closing speech of the conference, Mrs. Vina Patel, (Phd. in Chemistry) described how forgiveness did not simply mean to forgive and forget, but also to wish well for others.  Often grudges and personal ego deflect us from forgiving others, but we “have to see forgiveness as a gift to ourselves and not to someone else.  The truth is that until we let go of an unpleasant situation with the other person and realize that it is over, we cannot move forward in our lives.  In order to live fulfilling lives, forgiveness gives us the power to achieve our dreams. It allows us to live the rest of our lives in peace and happiness and to see divinity in those around us.”

Ms. Ami Gandhi, Executive Director of the South Asian American Research and Policy Institute in Chicago, and an attorney passionate about advocating for minority and immigrant communities, discussed how moving forward as individuals also impacted our progress in our community.  She discussed awareness and education outreach on issues such as immigration reform and gender gap in South Asian American communities throughout Chicago and the Midwest region. Moved by the gathering at the conference, she said, “This conference is an inspirational example of how communities can make a big impact in the world by having a safe space to talk about difficult issues and bring up these conversations with our family and friends and find specific ways to change our lives.  It helps our society when women are empowered through various organizations, we benefit socially, economically, and politically when we get involved.”

After the conference, attendees also enjoyed the opportunity to network and share their perspective on the talks of the day.  Members of the audience gained new perspectives and ideas to move forward with their goals.  Roopal Chand, enjoyed how motivational this conference was for attendees. “I learned I need to have compassion for myself and others so we can all have a fresh start to our lives by practicing these three qualities.”  Poonam Desai, a college student majoring in Biology, attended the conference to learn how to move forward in her life without looking back.  By attending, she learned to persevere through her struggles by sharing her thoughts with women of different ages and backgrounds and learning through their experiences.  Added Dhara Thakkar, “in an often male-dominated society, it is nice to have women come together to share their similar stories and circumstances.  It promotes everyone to achieve their goals, no matter where life takes them.”


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