What Comes Around

DOES TALK OF DEATH MAKE YOU A LITTLE UNEASY?

Most people look for ways to change the subject.

Everyone since childhood has been aware of death, but as long as we’re alive, death is that which happens only to others. We tend to ignore its presence until, in failing health, we end up cramming for peace of mind just as we crammed for exams in our school days.

What are we afraid of, a sudden plunge into the vast unknown? No doubt about it. Catering to our anxieties, we press for material comforts, financial cushions, career titles, and countless other ego-driven rewards. What could be less prudent? Comfort and ease invite the very attachments that extend our delusions. They prevent us from dealing with why we are here and in what condition of spirit we will depart.

Death is entered in nakedness, alone. We are swept into its realm, unsupported by the props that reinforce who we think we are: our families and friends, our collected things, our self-definitions. Death reminds us abruptly that we are not, and never were, the portraits of ourselves that we project.

Our masters have counseled us that patience is the shortest route to God. In hearing this advice, however, we seem to interpret patience as procrastination. Instead of using these precious years to probe and embrace the inner, eternal wonders of our being, we are apt to spend them, in large part, chasing visions of permanence which ever and again dissolve. Until, that is, we perceive that our days are few. Until we are anxiously cramming for our final exam.

I hold in my hand the everywhere neverlasting.
I see in my head the dance of changing forms.
Now is what there is,
And then it is gone.
Now is what there is,
And then I am gone.

The trouble is, it is death instead of desire that people dread. We fail to see the connection, that dying is mostly a function of dying for more. To want is soon to need, and as need demands, one devolves from free spirit to slave. We long to be happy, yet so many of our emotions, beliefs, and behaviors lead us astray of the goal.

Thankfully, though, after lifetimes of getting it wrong, we start to get it right. We begin to look inward for answers to the meaning of life and death, and as we do, we redeem death of its dark disguise, discovering that its purpose is to show us how to live. The peace we long for comes from letting go of our worldly attachments. That is the lesson of death, and we don’t have to wait to die to gain its reward.

Jesus, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, said: “He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” In today’s language: He who persists in his ego’s self-interest is destined to remain in delusion, losing the chance to move beyond its material limitations. Delusion dissipates only as one overcomes the pull of such desires, breaking away from his tether to selfish pursuits. Then does he reap the ultimate freedom of divine reunion with God.

In the ending lines of his beautiful prayer-poem, St. Francis of Assisi takes us back to the truths we tend to forget. He beseeches the Lord to “make me an instrument of Thy peace,” concluding:

For it is in the giving that we receive;
It is in the pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in the dying that we are born to eternal life.

What are we afraid of, a sudden plunge into the vast unknown? Not if we get to know it while we are here.

ABOUT NAYASWAMI SURENDRA

Nayaswami Surendra manages Ananda’s Temple and Teaching Center, serving the greater Portland area. As a Lightbearer and previous resident of Ananda colonies in Seattle, Palo Alto and Pune, India, he is pleased and honored to share with us his wealth of teaching, counseling and leadership experience.

Dare To Be Different

Acts of bravery, important discoveries and extraordinary events are celebrated by all. But who bravely celebrates with enlightened awareness his own many mistakes? More often we greet them with moodiness, denial, excuse, embarrassment or even self-defense.

A mistake should be an overture to progress.

We grow as we correct what fails to work. Yet, as everyone knows, the reversing of slips and faults can proceed at a snail’s pace, on the global level especially. Witness, for example, today’s frequent eruptions of ethnic and religious strife. “Fails to work” would seem to be the objective!

Ours is an era that cries aloud for a new, inspired expression of unity and understanding. Cultures, countries and individuals oppose one another on the basis of entrenched beliefs, unwilling to perceive as artifice the dogmas and details that hold them apart. To see these divisions for what they are—vanities and adversities born of ego—is a step in the right direction, but problems that are solved in the mind alone are problems that stay unsolved.

More and more we have turned to science for answers to issues that tend to reveal its intrinsic limitations. Science is committed to facts, empirical data and material reality. It is hardly the genie that will grant us an end to such overt mistakes as greed, bigotry, war and abuse of the precious resources that sustain us.

What, then, can make the difference?

What can bring us together in ways that capture the heart and stir the soul?

Meditation as a spiritual practice, far more than merely a remedy for stress, offers an inner experience that enlightens and changes lives. Further, it kindles a feeling of oneness that heals and dissolves the grievances that divide us. Who, after all, having tasted the sweetness that deep meditation imparts, would prefer the bitter menu of conflict and despair?

Consider, too, that meditation bridges the gap between peoples of different faiths. As a form of self-offering, it is nonsectarian, ecumenical, and uniquely individual. Indeed, it fulfills the purpose of all religions, for the aim of meditation is divine communion.

While none of us imagines that meditation will suddenly acquire universal acceptance, its power to free us “from dire fears and colossal suffering” is manifestly clear, especially in spiritual communities such as ours. Our good fortune in being drawn to Ananda is a gift of quintessential grace. As Swami Kriyananda would say, without exaggeration, what we are doing at Ananda is the most important work on the planet today.

The chances are probably nil that any of us will see an end to the glaring social and political mistakes that keep getting recycled. Nor does this early age of energy, Dwapara Yuga, promise major advances in global consciousness either. But thankfully with meditation, we can learn to “stand unshaken” amid the crashing of old, faulty designs and patchwork repairs. And we can make those post-Dwapara advances here and now.

Years ago, on one of the last days of my Meditation Teacher Training at Ananda Village, we studied 25 ways to bring meditation into daily life. For me these captured the ultimate objective: to live its inner experience from minute to minute, regardless of where or under what conditions. I emphasize those 25 ways in the classes I teach today, but I also add a 26th: Appreciate your mistakes, honestly and free of judgment, as a means to moving beyond them more quickly, correctively, gratefully and joyfully.

The craziness that characterizes much of today’s news stems from people’s adherence to old, incompetent logic when it comes to addressing recurrent ills and disputes. Never has this logic succeeded in creating what everyone wants: peace, prosperity, and a life unfettered by dogmas and decrees. The obvious will continue to lie unnoticed, or at least un-acted upon, by those in political command, which is all the more reason that we should “dare to be different” by deepening our sadhana in these tumultuous times, and by meditatively practicing Sister Gyanamata’s prayer: “Change no circumstance in my life. Change me.” It works.

Even A Little Practice of Meditation…

…”Will free one from dire fears and colossal sufferings.”

Says the Bhagavad Gita. Blessed promise.

I recall first coming to meditation thirty-five years ago. I came because, no matter how hard I tried to get the details of my life arranged to remove stress and anxiety, it never lasted. And it seemed that the harder I tried, the worse things got.

A friend suggested that “what I was looking for, I would find inside myself.” Odd, but she was quite calm and relaxed with life, no matter what it threw at her, so I considered that she might know something worth investigating. In addition, I was struggling with what were increasingly becoming “dire fears,” and could feel “colossal sufferings” always looming just around the bend. I felt driven to find some solution.

She also suggested that I read Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda—which turned out to be a great idea! I couldn’t put it down, though I didn’t know what to do with much of what I read—many things remote from my personal experience to date, yet filled with joy and wisdom and wholeness.

First forays into meditation, guided by the teachings of Yogananda, would have been comical if they hadn’t been so layered with the intense need for respite from the churnings of my mind and mental habits.

Five minutes in stillness seemed an eternity.

I squirmed inwardly, if not always outwardly. I recall reaching 15 minutes and celebrating at how much progress I had made. I was stunned by the tricks of the mind that would arrive to distract me—such as, after just a few minutes of watching the breath, I would realize an immediate and somehow compelling need to make a telephone call to someone who I had comfortably not been in contact with for years. Right. And that was the least of the ruses.

I persisted because, right from the beginning, I began to feel something (often only after the meditation) which I realized was outside any experience I had ever been able to access, something precious. I would feel somehow calm(er), more relaxed. Nothing outwardly would have changed, but I was not as anxious or driven by my circumstances. I began to feel a joy that I could not tie to anything, yet which felt natural and deeply satisfying.

Learning on my own, through written lessons, was trying at best. It took enormous will to practice twice daily, though that was the strong encouragement (regularity, I read, was more important than length of time). Anything, and often everything, contrived to keep me otherwise engaged.

Seeking the Way

I studied clues for success—regularity, setting alarm clocks, creating a space for meditation alone, using special helps like wool blankets and different seating arrangements and on. All of these things helped, but I was still missing a critical element to the success I was seeking—a supportive environment.

I found that many of my friends didn’t understand my new activity, and if I didn’t develop friendships that enhanced and supported my efforts, I would easily slip into other patterns. I began to look for others who were exploring the inner life, who were struggling with the same issues (for, yes, everyone struggles to develop and sustain meditation much like the commitment to regular exercise) and finding similar benefits and joys.

Gradually, over time, my capacity to meditate began to develop into a regular rhythm that became ever more satisfying. The struggles began to diminish as the anxieties and restlessness of my mental habits began to change into broader experiences of connection with life. “Dire fears and colossal sufferings” began to disappear in the presence of inner peace and calmness, wisdom and understanding, and the capacity to choose patterns and behaviors that are more satisfying.

Thirty five years later, I can say that the promise of the Bhagavad Gita, discovered so many years ago, has proven to be more true than I ever could have hoped.

Give Me a Light to Light My Way!

Just Having to Deal with It

We seem to be getting many opportunities to deal with all kinds of situations. Like the weather. The first couple of snow storms…yay! But after too many snow-days later…ugh! Then there’s that pressing feeling that makes you wonder if it’s ever going to get back to normal.

Many of the teachers from our Living Wisdom School live in our Ananda community. We also have a handful of students too. Several times, during the snowy weather, the teachers willingly offered to have group study time in our community center. The chance for a bit of normalcy and structure in week. Great souls!

It feels like these days of weather have shifted our idea of what a normal winter is here in the NW. Reminding us, that maybe we really aren’t in control of it all! Of any of it, really.

When an entire city is stuck indoors, one realizes that these situations are beyond our sphere of influence. Way beyond, as the snow and ice has shown us. Wishing won’t take it away. And sometimes neither does a shovel.

Is There Something that I Can Do?

A dear friend recently talked about having a “sit-down-type of talk” with God. “Let’s come up with some solutions to these issues,” she was saying. (Nice! I love this image actually.) And interestingly enough, the reply she got was not to solve or create or correct, but rather…Just…Let…It…Go!

I too have had similar realizations throughout my 50 years, though mostly as an adult. Not everything has a solution. Not everything is mine to fix or change or start or finish. Sometimes it is only about letting go. (Feel free to sing it out!)

“Change no circumstance of my life: CHANGE ME.” —Sister Gyanamata

This could be one of the hardest things to do. Let go. When you are a person used to problem-solving or crisis management. Let go.

And it is not only about detachment but finding that inner place of attunement that opens those doors, or parts those veils, to a deeper truth or reality. It is all from the divine. It is only temporary.

All of This Is Temporary

We have a choice in this lifetime, how to react or respond to situations/people/crises/ideas. What if we choose peace and joy? Choosing to be centered and calm. Supportive. Loving.

Choosing to access the light of the divine that is shining through us at every moment. It’s always there. We only need to keep shifting our consciousness and opening more and more deeply to it.

I and Other

Life is a dance.

You’ve heard that before. Every moment offers a new set of rhythms and flows to interpret. Sometimes the dancing is done with beauty and grace, and sometimes it is not. The question is, in this tango of the intertwined, who is the one who leads when the tune is called?

In the ballroom of human relationships, the pairing of the impulsive ego and its more conscientious partner, the super-ego, is always an interesting match. Attunement and mutual trust is required. This, however, is not achieved when the ego is determined to take control. Unfamiliar with when, why and how to make all the right moves, it can quickly turn the tango into an ungainly tangle instead. As comic relief, this can be entertaining, but not in a way that serves the choreography or composition.

I have often been amazed at how many of us, myself included, still find it hard to surrender the floor, even to one who knows better. The little egoic self, it seems, would rather appear in command than allow another to steer who could skillfully lead the way. “Other,” as opposed to “I,” is often viewed as a threat to “my” self-existence and self-image.

“Other” and “I” are frequently at odds in matters of perception especially.

At times, for instance, we have all been afraid of the dark, fearing that it was hiding something, an “other” that was out to get us. As children, in bed at night, we may have even imagined an “other dressed to kill.” Fueled with adrenalin, our thoughts raced like stampeding horses, and turmoil churned inside us. Later, in the light, we saw what we could not see at the time – “other in familiar attire” or “no other at all” – and we heaved a sigh of relief.

Now that we are much older, what we tend to fear most is a darkness more subtle and pervasive. In the shadows of our imagination, monsters of a different sort are apt to gather. We worry that we could lose what we treasure most, especially the ones we love, our mental abilities, and our physical health. Maybe we worry, too, that death will find us unprepared to meet it. In such a state of mind, we fail to see that instead of trying to get us, something or someone in this worldly experience is trying to get us out!

Ultimately, our dance of life needs to be led by the “Other” who can guide us to its final bow, the one who is our true partner in God. It is he, the Guru, in spirit and in truth, who is ready to guide us gracefully into the bliss of becoming the dance itself.

Truly, there is no darkness, no stumbling, and no fear when we can surrender fully to that Other’s lead, when we make the attitudinal shift from egoic pre-occupation to Self-awareness.

A true story in a mere eleven sentences captures the essence of this lesson more eloquently than any treatise could. “This year began badly,” wrote Sarah Hawk in her journal. “One day I woke up and started having seizures. They got worse and worse. It looked like a brain tumor, but it turned out to be epilepsy. Serious epilepsy. Now I am on medication for the rest of my life. It makes be clumsy. It makes me forget things. It makes me throw up.”

Sarah slumped into a pall of self-pity. She stopped dancing altogether. And then in a single, Other-inspired epiphany, she turned the whole experience right side up. “Now I realize this was a great year. It was the year I didn’t get a brain tumor.” What Sarah got instead was a deeper love of life and all that it offers. With understanding and acceptance, she transformed her disease into the gift of a new, more expansive “I,” and it took her to a place within her heart and soul that radiates peace and light.

Life is a dance. You’ve heard that before.

Paramhansa Yogananda Shares a Christmas Message

A Christmas Message from Paramhansa Yogananda, December 1950

My Christmas wish for you this year is twofold: that the consciousness of Christ be manifest in you through deep meditation, and that your exemplary actions will persuade others to abandon their evil or worldly ways and become spiritual.

Both meditation and action are necessary or the spiritual path, for they contribute toward individual and mass evolution.

It is not God’s will to develop spiritually in a selfish way, i.e., without extending help to others who are suffering. So remember always to render service to mass evolution, while seeking the Father through regular practices of deep meditation.

The more one develops spiritually, the deeper becomes his or her love and compassion for humanity. Accompanying love and compassion is the desire to uplift humanity from the throes of ignorance and war and the consequent suffering they bring. However, you must remember to make God first in your heart always.

The Father will not be content with second place!

He must reign first and foremost in the most tender center of your being—your heart. Through His blessings and grace alone are you able to develop and help humanity emerge from its ignorance.

Meditate regularly and practice Kriya Yoga faithfully with all the concentration of your mind and the intensity of your heart. On Christmas Eve meditate for many hours in the presence of other devotees. Dedicate this extended meditation to the achievement of the love of God and the attainment of World Peace and Brotherhood among all nations.

Share your gifts (material, mental and spiritual) with the less fortunate on Christmas. This will make your holiday a real one. The gifts need not be expensive but practical ones: durable clothing (new or used) for those who need it, canned and dried foods for people who find them difficult to obtain in their countries, a friendly visit to the physically afflicted, a word of comfort to the depressed, and spiritual manna to those who are seeking the love of God. You can help distant as well as local people in these ways.

Be ambitious for God.

Keep seeking Him through meditation and keep working for Him. This will give you the spiritual emancipation you are seeking. Christ and the great ones showed through exemplary living that it can be done. So follow their footsteps quietly and humbly. God bless you always. May your every day become a Christmas of ever-new joy, love, peace, and wisdom in God and the Gurus.

With deepest blessings, Paramahansa Yogananda

And from the Ananda Portland Temple and Teaching Center, its staff and ministry: We wish you a blessed Christmas. May the blessings you receive during this sacred time of year, reach far and deep. And continue throughout the upcoming year. May the Light of the Christ-consciousness shine upon you and yours. In Joy and peace.

Christmas Miracles

What Child Is this?

Sitting at my computer, I was looking for inspiration, Christmas music (classical and peaceful!) playing and the lighted tree standing before me. What occurred to me is that there are so many blessings during this time of Christmas, it is hard not to be inspired.

I began to think back to my pilgrimage in Israel, remembering walking in the Ancient City, Bethlehem, Nazareth. Of seeing all of these sites where Jesus was; sites that I have heard about yearly during my 49 years of life.

We visited the well in the village of Nazareth, where Mary went daily to fetch the water. The Archangel Gabriel appearing to her there at the well. He appears to her again at her home. Confirming for her that she is to be the mother of the Son of God! Wow, I am humbled by this child.

For unto us a child is born…this son is given.

To think that this young woman, a girl, was worthy of birthing this Babe. She stood strong when she knew that the village would rise against her, them knowing that she could not possibly be pregnant in any proper manner. She stood strong. She stood in perfect faith.

She heard from angels.

She believed. She traveled. She believed. She was the mother of the Son of God. She believed.

There are so many blessings in this time. I try to remember that when I hear Jingle Bells again and again. I try to remember it when I get cut off driving somewhere, or I have to purchase one more thing…it’s there. The Magic, the Grace and blessings of this time. I believe.

Peace. Joy. Light. Love. May the Light of the Christ-consciousness shine upon us.

It’s Time to Stop the Mind Games

The mind is a tricky business.

You catch something out of the corner of your eye and, depending on your state-of-mind, you could have yourself believing all kinds of things about what you thought you saw.

A person can lose an arm or leg for any number of reasons. And yet they will still feel its presence. Whole, unharmed. A phenomenon called “phantom limb.” Powerful.

Yogananda repeatedly reminded us, sometimes in very strong words, of the need to flood our minds with Truth. So that everything we speak “must represent not only Truth, but some of your realized soul force.” Realized soul force! It is within you.

It stems from the Divine.

Belief in ourselves, in our ability, must be clear and strong. For disbelief could in fact magnetize failure. Is the negative thought being more powerful than the positive thought? The thoughts we “habitually entertain” will lead us one way or another!

We are asked–guided really–to turn to God in all things, no matter how grand or how small. Bringing the Divine into whatever we think, do or will means we are participating with God. Thus bringing us more closely in harmony with Divine Will. Divine Action. Aligning ourselves with Divine Law.

It is through this harmonious play with the Divine, that the opportunities we seek are created. Thoughts being universally rooted, not individually. Words being crystallized thoughts. And our actions being guided by the Divine.

I will reason.
I will will.
I will act.
But guide thou my reason, will and activity to the right thing I should do….

Make us Transparent, that Thy Light may shine through us.

Whispers from Eternity, Paramhansa Yogananda

The sunbeams of Thy love shine equally on all the members of Thy cosmic family, whether prophet, hero, villain, tiny moth, or me. It is our own fault if we make ourselves opaque by our own mental and emotional dullness. Teach us to wipe away the dirt of error from the windows of our understanding.

Our arms are weak for the task, owing to our long inner spiritual resistance. O Master Cleanser, lend power to our efforts, that we may wipe away every last spot that clings to our minds, obscuring our transparency and preventing free entry to Thy light. Oh, make us fully clean again, invisible in our egos because transmitting only visions of Thy beauty, which lies within us.

It’s A New Year of Being In the Moment

I am realizing how great it is to start over. It’s a new year thing, right?!
Of course one of my favorite things to do at the beginning of the year is the annual choosing of the new calendar. Spending 10 minutes trying to decide on which one, landscapes or flowers, well, more like 2 hours. A fresh calendar without any markings! Think of all the possibilities.
It feels as though there are many of these types of decisions to make in January. So many of them appearing to be time/schedule sensitive, or related to. Interesting.

FUTURE

As humans we are so bound by time. And to push back, we are constantly trying to manipulate it. If I could just get in one more errand. Have to be there by… Oh just a few more minutes…
[Ever notice how nothing stops time like a good snow storm! Especially if the power goes out. That quiet calm that seems to blanket the world. Creating a fairyland.]

PAST

Doesn’t it feel like time works against us more often then not? As last year truly slipped away with barely a trace. And at 48 years, it’s making me start to wonder, where have they all gone?
There is so much to entertain us in this world. And then some! Pulling us further out. (Trust me, I love a good movie…speaking of which…Star Wars, oh boy!)

Be In The Moment

Living in the moment takes practice. It seems as though it should be easy, and yet, our attention is geared or pushed toward maya. Thus missing an opportunity for a life lesson, or a gift of grace from the Divine.
These lives we have are very much worth living, connected, consciously. Being in the moment is just that, really, living consciously. Using our divinely guided intuitive knowing.
This year feels as though it’s less about pushing one’s self and more about being. Less and less people are making resolutions and exclaiming more about “being easy” or gentle with themselves this year.
And maybe that’s a good thing. Slow down a bit. Take that moment to enjoy the light reflected in the ice. The twinkle diamonds on those leaves. Feel the sunlight on your cheeks. Appreciate the smile of a friend. Offer that smile to a passerby. Time to be.

Be in the moment.

Discipleship to the Guru

I took my discipleship vows to Paramhansa Yogananda in 1996. We’re coming up on twenty years pretty soon!

When my hubby and I took our vows, here in Portland those many years ago now, I had a deep feeling of “Oh, this again.” I was not surprised. Nor did I feel elation.

What I did feel was peace and reassurance.

While we were in California this past March for the dedication of the Moksha Mandir, we were able to see the movie The Answer.

In the movie, which is based on the book The New Path and the life of Swami Kriyananda, he (then J. Donald Walters) jumped on a bus and headed across the county. Starting in the Mid-Atlantic states, all the way to Southern California. This happened the day after he finished reading the Autobiography of a Yogi.

I don’t think that Swami Kriyananda had any sense of “What is this about?” “What does this mean?” “Discipleship?” More that, I believe, “I need to be that!”

Dedicate my life to God through this Master of Self-realization.

After getting off the bus, Swami Kriyananda, made his way to Mount Washington. After waiting and wondering if in fact, he would even see Yogananda in person, Swami Kriyananda was given permission to see him.

Yogananda reminds Swami Kriyananda that the only reason he allowed this interview, was because Divine Mother told him to. Setting the stage of knowing that all the decisions and choices that Yogananda made are divinely guided.

Then Swami Kriyananda knelt before Yogananda, asking to be made a disciple. Yogananda gazes so deeply into his eyes, and asks for Swami Kriyananda’s unconditional love.

How often in life does one ask you for your unconditional love? What a blessing to be reminded of our true nature. Our divinity. Because truly it can only be by divine right to love so deeply and purely.

I think what struck me after watching this movie, was the realization that as Swami Kriyananda knelt there asking to be made a disciple of Yogananda, he did this for all of us! Swami Kriyananda opened his heart to Master and asked him “to enter and take charge of his life!”