Let Us Lift Up Our Hearts

As I write this, I have just downloaded the boarding pass for my flight to California, and — barring any new decisions by our government or my airline — I’ll be on my way tomorrow (Thursday). And, when you read this (Monday), I expect to be on my way back home.

We all know about plans, however. “Man plans, God laughs” and all that. The fact is, plans aren’t carved in stone. They’re subject to disruption (“course correction”) at any time…it’s the universe’s way of keeping us on our toes. The opportunities to practice staying open to whatever comes, even welcoming it, are just so abundant!

Sometimes, the disruption turns out to be just a blip. For instance, on my last flight to California, the plane was packed with people and pets, as per usual. At about 10,000 feet altitude, as it was readying to complete its descent to the airport, the pilot got on the P.A. system and announced that we couldn’t land yet because of an “extensive” earthquake that was taking place down below. In sync, all of us craned our necks to look out the windows and many of us (not me) pulled out their cell phones to contact people on the ground. The woman next to me, a California native, said that in all the years she’d been flying she’d never experienced something like this. And what the heck did “extensive” mean? We couldn’t see any evidence of damage from our perspective; even more perplexing, however, was that we had no further information about what was going on. So we all sat in the plane while it circled, striking up conversations with fellow passengers and — for some of us, myself included — holding private conversations internally.

Finally, the pilot came back on the P.A. system. He informed us that now the runway had to be examined before we could land; we still were given no information regarding what we would encounter when we landed. Before long, however, he’d been given the go-ahead, and everyone cheered as the wheels hit the tarmac.

Happy ending this time. But here’s the thing: that earthquake got no media coverage, there was absolutely no damage to be seen, and no one I spoke with on the ground even knew it had happened. Was this all a dream? Whether it was or not, the experience provided a wonderful opportunity to examine my own faith and think about how I could best handle a disruption, of any magnitude.

Will there be any blips in my next travel experience? These days I’d say it’s likely. What form will they take? It’s anyone’s guess. Can I be ok, or — even better– be of service, even if it’s just to smile or hold a hand, if the disruption is greater than expected? I hope so. The first line of Swami Kriyananda’s Festival of Light begins, “Let us lift up our hearts.” That is my goal, no matter what comes.

This week, our inspiration comes from Swamiji himself, about overcoming and transcending the obstacles that we have placed in the path between our souls and God. I hope that you will find it – and all the other offerings that are available to you — uplifting to your heart.






C-c-c-c-control (with apologies to Bowie)

(In case you’re wondering: This week’s title was inspired by two of David Bowie’s most famous songs, “Changes” and “Space Oddity.”)

It’s only been a few weeks since my last trip, yet I’m due to fly to California again later this week for my second visit with family this year. This time, an additional family member is also flying in, and together we hope to increase the effectiveness of our assistance to our loved ones in need. The plans were made before we became inundated with news of the Covid-19 virus, so naturally, our fingers are crossed that our plans are not scuttled at the last minute. However, if they are, then we’ll deal with it. We’ll take the appropriate precautions and be mindful of our hygiene….That’s the God-centered aspect of my mind talking.

The anxiety-centered aspect of my mind has also been talking. The questions seem to usually take the form of “What if such-and-such occurs?” So many possibilities to worry about! My imagination can conjure up some pretty unpleasant scenarios– not only regarding my health, but that of my more fragile family members and all the others around us. These are the times that remind me of how little control I really have over the course that life’s circumstances may take (see, I still think I may have even a little control—it’s a hard habit to break).

So what can I control? My commitment to finding inner freedom. My choice to remain on the path of Self-realization. The continuation of my efforts to increase my attunement to my Guru (in particular, with meditation). My decision to keep moving toward the light, even when the darkness of fear seems ready to swallow me up.

This week, when I find myself going down the path of worry and fear, I will remember that my Guru’s love and the power of meditation will bring me back to the path of faith and joy. I will also read these words from Paramhansa Yogananda:

“Don’t take life so seriously. This world is a terrible place, there is no safety here. But what are we to do? We must stop taking life so seriously. Delusion can be overcome by holding steadfastly to one philosophy: everything here is nothing more than God’s motion picture. Don’t make a fuss about anything. Whenever you worry, remember, you are deepening the cosmic delusion within you. It is your own dreams that frighten you. In every form of sense experience you must remind yourself, ‘IT IS A DREAM!’ So don’t be attached to the passing dreams of life. Live for God and God alone.”



Read All About It

By now it’s likely that you have heard or read at least something about the new virus, COVID 19, making its way around the world. There is certainly plenty of talk out there. And, if you’re like most of us, you realize it’s very important to have trustworthy sources to guide your decision-making in matters of, well, everything!

Particularly in matters of health and healing, Ananda is blessed with two esteemed members, both ministers at Ananda Village, who have dedicated their lives to bringing the teachings of Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda into their vocations. This week we feature two articles to help us understand the science and use our teachings to be most effective during this challenging time. The first is Coronavirus Update by Peter Van Houten, M.D., founder and Medical Director of the acclaimed Sierra Family Medical Clinic. Following that is Prayers for Healing the World of a Viral Crisis by Mary Kretzmann, Director of the Ananda Sangha Worldwide Healing Prayer Ministry.

In addition to the articles, however, we’ve got plenty more to share with you. First up is a new affirmation for our wonderful Living Wisdom School. There’s a beautiful new building that is yet to be completed, and many more young souls to be given a start at life that we “oldsters” could only dream of. Help us manifest the expansion of the school, and of Education for Life in the next generation.

In two Sundays (March 15), we look forward to the annual visit from Nayaswamis Pranaba and Jyoti, along with Mai Lee and Anna Preston, who will share all that Ananda is doing globally to uplift souls and consciousness on nearly every continent. Be prepared to be inspired and energized!

Keep reading and you’ll learn about our next Learn to Meditate class series beginning tomorrow, and the choir’s visit to our sister sangha in Seattle at the end of the month to sing Swami’s Christ Lives Oratorio. There will be some non-choristers traveling there also—the more the merrier! And don’t forget our video of Sunday’s service featuring guest ministers – and former Portlanders – Dambara and Manisha.

Wishing you a blessed week.

Home Improvement

Laugh if you must: my spiritual “aha” this week came from an online house-for-sale posting in my neighborhood. No, I’m not in the real estate market; the post caught my eye because something about the house looked vaguely familiar. Then, as I read the address, it hit me: I used to live there.

But oh, what a few changes can do to the look and feel of a place! Thanks to the numerous photos included in the post, I could see that the house had received extensive renovations since I had, for a short time, called it home. Clearly it had changed ownership, perhaps multiple times. Over the years, the owners had installed new roofing, siding, and yard treatments– and that was just the exterior. The inside had also been completely updated, from floor to ceiling and throughout every room. The transformation that had taken place at this address was nothing short of miraculous.

Yet, what really changed here? The consciousness. Someone had made the decision to invest time, thought, money, and talent to improve this residence, bringing in more light, making it structurally more sound and visually more appealing, and ultimately, making it more valuable in market terms.

I thought about the process involved. This was more than just a few coats of paint and new kitchen counters; it was a complete overhaul. It most likely didn’t happen all at once, but in stages. It probably included some “oops” moments along the way, maybe even had some moments of the owner thinking, “I had something different in mind.” It probably required more time, talent and money than originally planned. And, the finished product — nice as it is — likely will require further maintenance and repairs over time in order to remain functional, comfortable, appealing, and valuable.

Perhaps we too are like this house. Maybe our “owner” (guess Who?) created the blueprint for our lives in such a way that to make true progress on our spiritual journey would require paying attention to what needed an overhaul and becoming willing to make the investment of our resources to achieve that transformation. Our journeys are incremental, and probably involve a lot more effort than we’d expected (as well as numerous stumbles along the way). Even the finished product – our life — may look different than what we’d originally planned– and it’s not really even the finished product. Still, if we have been diligent, sincere, and willing, the improvements we have made will have resulted in more soundness of character, more appealing (magnetic) energy, and more joy expressed in the world.

Unlike the house, however, our market value is infinite.




Come to Me!

“Master, come to me…”

Recently, these words from a song I first heard 30 years ago were running through my mind as I began to prepare for my morning meditation. As with many of us, it is always comforting to imagine myself in the presence of my Guru. I have a favorite image of Yogananda on my altar that I like to gaze upon frequently, and often I carry on conversations with him, whether through writing or prayer. Especially when I’m struggling with some aspect of life (and there always seems to be something to challenge me), calling upon his loving-kindness allows me to relax.

What happened this particular morning, however, was a bit different than expected. As I sang, “Master, come to me,” I clearly heard him reply, with loving authority, “Come to me!

Immediately, the image of myself as a toddler came to mind, and I reflected on this crucial stage of human development. As a baby moves from simply crawling to learning to take steps, at first she wobbles a lot, falls frequently, maybe even cries in frustration. Often her parent is cheering her on, holding arms outstretched, ready to receive her. It takes her repeated effort — fortified by concentration, determination, motivation, and encouragement — to achieve the sought-after goal—walking! Baby’s first steps: it’s a joyous occasion in families around the world. Then, soon enough, all that effort becomes second nature to the youngster, and walking becomes running, jumping, and all the other motions that define us as bipeds.

Like that toddler of long ago, I too am learning to take steps—just of a different sort. These steps are the ones toward Self-realization; yet the same qualities of concentration, determination, motivation, and encouragement are still key to my efforts. Our gurus promise that the more – and more intently — we practice, the more the steps will become second nature and the closer the goal will become. In the meantime, I look to Master’s symbolically open arms to catch me when I falter, pick me up when I fall, and embrace me when I succeed. He has never let me down.

A Glimpse of India

During my recent visit to California, a delightful opportunity presented itself—a family “field trip” to see a Hindu temple located just half an hour from home. Did I want to go see it? Of course! Not having been to India (thus far), or to any Hindu venues, I was more than curious.

What little I know of Indian culture and the Hindu faith has come primarily through Ananda. Our Ananda temples evoke the spirit of India in their architecture; we employ ancient Sanskrit symbols, words and chants in our services and personal meditation practices; we study and follow the teachings of Indian yogis; and in many cases our homes include devotional altars, Indian furnishings and art. Ananda’s Raja Yoga course, descriptions of others’ experiences in India, and my own limited interactions with Indian practitioners of Hinduism have also contributed to my appreciation for this ancient way of life. Now I had a chance to experience it.

And so I did. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Chino Hills is the centerpiece of a huge complex that also includes a visitor center, an exhibition hall, a store and café, community and youth centers, and extensive landscaped grounds. It’s built from Indian pink sandstone and Italian marble, each stone piece entirely covered in intricately hand-carved figures, both inside and out. The interior columns and domed ceilings (also covered in carvings), the marble inlay flooring, and statuary throughout the mandir are awe-inspiring in their scope, precision and beauty. The visitor pamphlet indicates that over a million volunteer hours were given to the creation of this wondrous edifice.

It was the palpable presence of devotion, however, that truly inspired me that day, and still does. As I reflected on the dedication required to bring this living monument to Hindu spirituality and culture into being, I realized: This is Love in action. And, I realized, this is the vibration our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, was born into and brought to us in America. This is the context of Ananda, of our particular culture, faith, and way of life. Of course, I had known it intellectually; now I knew it intuitively. This is what we are about. We are more than our buildings, more than our books and practices: we are about putting Love into action in all that we do.

Like Dr. Seuss’ Grinch — whose heart expanded at the sight of the residents of Whoville singing joyfully despite all their Christmas decorations and gifts having been stolen (by him) – my own heart felt expanded just being in the presence of so much devotion. I realized, too, that being led to Ananda, to Yogananda and to the hard yet joy-filled work toward Self-realization has been the greatest gift I could receive.

Throughout the BAPS mandir is a quote by its founder: “In the joy of others, lies our own.” May our own love, joy, and devotion help lift all whom we meet.



The Authority Issue

“Question Authority.” When I first saw that statement on a car’s bumper sticker back in the early 1970’s, I didn’t understand its context—but I liked it. I was young, chafing under my mother’s strict rules for behavior. The idea of being able to challenge her authority (even if it was just in my own mind) was quite appealing. No one really likes someone else telling them what to do, do they? Like many of us, I developed a conflicted view of what authority was and confusion about when it was “good” or “bad” to follow it.

Years later, I heard the assertion that, in fact, we all have an “authority issue”– except in this case, the real issue is with the authority of God Him/Her/Itself. The original authority problem then informs all of our other authority problems. Ouch! It’s pretty easy to see, though, isn’t it? In this world of delusion, we all have these egos that believe we are separate from God, that we are self-determining beings. Our delusional small self is at war with God’s genuine author-icity.

Another challenging concept for the ego is obedience— I know this! I have been reading from the Spiritual Diary, a collection of daily inspirational thoughts compiled from Paramhansa Yogananda’s writings and lectures. As it happens, this past week’s theme for the daily readings was obedience.

In each case, I was reminded of the famous statement made by Sri Yukteswar to his young disciple Mukunda: “Learn to behave.” How can I hope and aspire to return to God and become free of the ego if I don’t follow the guidance of the masters of Self-realization; if I don’t accept the discipline from my guru as he accepted it from his guru; if I don’t try to obey God’s laws instead of the ego’s laws? It’s a daily practice, with lots of stumbles along the way. What’s the alternative? More “authority issues” await my choice.



It’s True!

“Joy is within you.”

When I first saw this statement at Ananda, I so very much wanted to believe it. I had heard it was so, and certainly there were times throughout my life that I had experienced deep inner joy. But to really know this truth, repeated over the ages by avatars and saints everywhere, as a constant reality: that eluded me. Today, the knowledge I long sought is becoming more solid within me, though it seems a slow – and very imperfect – process of moving from hope to belief to certainty. Any progress I can claim is thanks in part to my own efforts in meditation, but more so from the grace of God and Gurus.

Now I can also thank an alert reader of The New Yorker magazine. Just this past week, a gurubhai showed us an article he had read that introduced the term anandamide. Wow! Intrepid researcher that I am, I just had to find out what this compound was—and if it was real or not. And off I went to the Internet to search it out.

Well, my friends, it is real. According to that vast storehouse of knowledge, Wikipedia, anandamide, discovered in 1992, is the common name given to a fatty acid neurotransmitter which is derived from the metabolism of an omega-6 fatty acid (I’ve omitted the lengthy chemical names for the sake of brevity). And, says Wikipedia, “The name is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means ‘joy, bliss, delight’, and amide.” “Joy is within you” ain’t just a saying.

According to scientific studies, the naturally-occurring anandamide within us generally occurs at very low levels because it is easily degraded by an enzyme, also naturally-occurring. However, anandamide is also present in chocolate and cannabis. Yep. That euphoria some might crave from ingesting chocolate or other mind-altering substances? Maybe we’ve been after the additional anandamide. Scientists are pursuing possible therapeutic strategies for inhibiting the enzyme that ordinarily degrades it, so that its levels would rise naturally.

As scientific inquiry continues to catch up with the wisdom of the ages, what I’d like to see is a study of the levels of anandamide found in meditators. It can be no coincidence that those who have dedicated their lives to deep meditation have such blissful demeanors. I believe that, if measured, it’s possible the anandamide in many of our saints and sages would have been found to be unusually plentiful.

“Joy is within you” would become an indisputable fact.



New You, New Me

It’s a wrap! “The holidays” are over. After all the gatherings, ceremonies, and exchanges of cards and gifts, we’re putting away all the Christmas regalia, ready to reclaim our living rooms and workspaces. We’ve celebrated Paramhansa Yogananda’s birthday and welcomed three new disciples into the family. Thank you to all who helped make the holidays at Ananda Portland joyful from start to finish.

Now we get back to our regular lives—but not before setting some resolutions, or, if you prefer, intentions. A quick perusal of the headlines of the supermarket tabloids offers several familiar themes: Lose 10 pounds in a week! Find the man/woman of your dreams! Improve your sex life! Cure your headaches with [fill in the blank]!

For yogis, the resolutions may look more like: Increase my meditation duration/frequency/consistency/quality! Get back to doing yoga! Read more spiritual books! Take more seclusions! Achieve Samadhi!

Now, whether you engage in setting resolutions or not, the fact is that most of us want at least something about ourselves or our circumstances to change. However, as Surendra reminded us on Sunday (see below for the video of his talk), wishful thinking will not make it so. Or, as others have said, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

How fitting, then, that Swami Kriyananda, in his Affirmations for Self-Healing, chose “Success” as the first week’s theme. There’s lots of advice available in the world about how to be successful in life, love, work, relationships, etc. What Swami and Master (and all of our Gurus) teach, instead, is how to be successful in our quest for God-union. Transcending our limiting beliefs and behaviors is not generally an overnight job; we’ve got work to do to attain freedom from the ego, and even the most committed resolution-maker will eventually falter.

So, may I be so bold as to add a few thoughts of my own to the Divine wisdom given us by our Gurus and teachers? Perhaps something here will help you in your efforts.

Make it known. Tell God what it is you hope to achieve—out loud and/or in your journal. Tell a minister or other spiritual advisor. Tell a friend whom you trust. Make a visual representation of your goal. Record yourself stating your intention and play it back on a regular basis. Plaster post-it notes with affirmations on your mirror. The universe hears us. Our egos do also—and often find fascinating ways to impede us. Repeat your goal frequently. We need to keep our inner nay-sayers at bay.

Make it realistic. Don’t be like one of my favorite cartoon characters, LuAnn. In a recent comic, LuAnn proudly posts a 20-item list of New Year resolutions on the family fridge—none of which are written down. Instead, as she explains to her skeptical father, the first item on her list is “Improve my memory.” Then, when he asks what the rest of the items are, she can’t recall even the second one.

Make it fun. No matter how many times I joined gyms to improve my physical fitness, I stopped going to them within a month—I found them to be all work and no fun! Perhaps if I’d had a buddy – and we’d both been sufficiently motivated – my efforts, sincere as they were, would have brought more long-term practice and success.  One thing I love about our seva days at Ananda is the comradery that develops among the participants—even when we’re working on cleaning drains or other not-so-fun tasks, there is lightness and joy that transcends the grime and gunk.

Celebrate any and all progress. Years ago, I participated in the Artist’s Way program created by Julia Cameron. A key part of the program is the uncensored writing of three full “Morning Pages” every day, first thing in the morning; the practice was designed to clear our mental clutter to allow creativity to blossom. Like most in my class, I was completely dedicated to this practice for the months during which we met regularly, and I loved the results.

Then, at some point after our regular classes were completed, I skipped a day of writing. And later, another one. Others also admitted to not keeping up the practice like they had. The running joke was that when we’d bump into each other at the store or on the street, we’d each automatically confess the inconsistency of our Morning Pages. At least we could take comfort in knowing we weren’t the only ones! Did our confessions inspire us to get back on track? Not really. Perhaps if we’d re-framed the conversations to share how many days in the past week we had written our Morning Pages we could have found more motivation to continue and re-commit to the practice.

Whatever we hope to experience in this new year, let us ground that hope in a renewed openness to God and His plan for our spiritual awakening. Ananda is here to support our intentions and our efforts.



…And Around We Go Again

“Fast away the old year passes / Hail the new year, lads and lasses!”

Welcome to the last few days of the decade! We hope that your Christmas holiday was a blessed one. What did you do to replenish your inner Light and nourish your soul? I love hearing about the different ways my gurubhais spent this time re-connecting with the Christ Consciousness within. A special treat for me this year was attending the Christmas morning meditation at the Temple. It was a simple event led by Surendra, with recordings of beautiful music, a brief audio clip of a Christmas greeting by Yogananda, and, of course, ample time for meditation.

As Rose shared in her talk yesterday (see video below), the Christmas season often turns into a bit of a let-down after all the concerts are over, gifts are unwrapped and goodies are eaten. How can we sustain that open-hearted joy and goodwill day after day, once our “Christ-Consciousness training wheels” (a new term coined by Rose) are removed on Dec. 26? Watch the video for Rose’s insightful and inspiring thoughts on the matter.

For devotees of Yogananda, the holiday season continues for a few more days, as we celebrate the 127th anniversary of his birth on Sunday, Jan. 5. Join us at the Festival of Light service, when we’ll commemorate Master’s incarnation on Earth and celebrate our own discipleship to him; it’s sure to be a moving experience. (2020 will also mark the 100th anniversary of his arrival in the U.S. to begin his ministry here—stay tuned for ways we will be celebrating that happy event!)

A new calendar year can inspire hope and anticipation; for some, however, it can also be a time of apprehension. Experiencing joy in all the aspects of daily life requires discipline, perseverance and commitment to right action. And certainly, sometimes there is no more right action than… sitting still. For this week’s inspiration, we present a light-hearted yet wise post about just that, via Tyagi Jyadev.

This next year, let us join together in supporting one another in our efforts to go deeper into bliss, and further toward Self-realization. Together we are guaranteed to succeed!