Education for Life: Look for the Light

A Simple Concept

Essential to the spiritual path and a part of our beginning meditation instruction, we learn to relax and focus on the light. It’s amazing how trained our minds are to look for problems and how our culture, especially educational culture, often supports this focus. Something about that has never felt quite right.

I never felt like I was being my best self as a teacher even if I was able to clearly identify and understand a problem in my classroom. It often left me feeling overwhelmed, like there were always more problems and never the time or resources to handle them all. A feeling all too familiar to the average teacher.

When I finally found Education for Life (EFL) and took my first class, my first thought was, “Where has this been all my life?!”

What really resonated with me was how the other educators talked about children. They considered all aspects of the child’s being and were not only willing but determined, to see the very best in each child. Even the “difficult” ones.

Our assignment between sessions was to “look for the light.” As our instructor explained it, we were to look for moments of “child-likeness” in our students. Moments of natural excitement, enthusiasm and joy.

I quickly found that the more I looked for it, the more I found! I began to enjoy teaching and see and enjoy my students in a way that I never had before.

Focusing, on the Light

When focusing on the light, somehow the problems seemed more manageable. I felt more energized and connected by seeing what was working and what we were doing well. I even found ways to use those strengths to solve some of our problems. Finally, I’d found an approach to education that could show me the way to bring the wisdom of my yoga and meditation practice into my teaching!

Since then I’ve had the privilege to teach at Living Wisdom School (LWS) Portland. That one simple technique of looking for the light has allowed me to become more curious and open to learning from whatever was unfolding in my classes, rather than trying to control the outcome.

I’ve learned more about EFL and how to work with energy in the classroom. How to help each student balance and develop the four main aspects of their being: body, feeling, will and intellect. And it turns out, my class feels much more peaceful and connected as a result.

This Is Education for Life!

When I talk to people about EFL, especially non-educators, there’s a sense of “that’s nice but not for me” that tends to come up at some point. 

Couldn’t we all benefit from looking for the light in this world? Focusing on solutions and seeking the very best in each other and ourselves?

This approach to education really is for life and our mission at LWS Portland is to share this with as many children, families and educators as possible in the hopes of creating a better world!

To find out more about our school, Education for Life and our expansion project visit Living Wisdom School of Beaverton.  

Erin Vinacco, an educator for nearly a decade, has had the opportunity to work with students of all ages and abilities through various non-profits, community organizations, and public and private schools. Erin found Ananda in Rhode Island, then in 2016, moved west to join the Living Wisdom School staff.

She fully believes in the Education for Life approach with its practical application of universal spiritual principles. And is enthusiastic about sharing these uplifting teachings with everyone, to aid in contributing to a better world.

Erin also serves on the development committee for the new LWS Building Expansion Project and offers teacher training, parent education and community outreach.

Relationships 108, and Meditation

OR HOW TO FIND TRUE LOVE

How’re you doin’ in the relationships department? (Read through to the end, I have a point.)

Guys: Are you really listening to your partner? I mean, are you so interested in their point of view that you completely forget your own? Do you follow their advice? Can you let go of the next thing in your head that you want to say, just drop it; and be in the present moment with your partner?

Ladies: Are you walking your talk? Following up on what you promised you’d do? 100% trusting & supportive, without any need to correct or criticize? Do you embrace self-correction, rather than self-blame?

How much are you personally expressing these qualities:

  • Humility
  • Receptivity
  • Appreciation
  • Kindness
  • R-e-s-p-e-c-t

Do you share everything? Is every moment a creative delight, rather than just familiar routine?

Now, go back and re-read those questions but this time, thinking of God as your partner.

MEDITATION IS A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, WITH OUR HIGHER SELF.

Who’s doing the talking in our meditation? Are we really listening to God’s advice? Are we acting on that advice—applying all our focused energy?

This relationship is about connection, not ideas. It’s about devotion, keeping the home fires burning.

How do you wish with all your heart that your partner would be, for their highest good? That’s exactly how God feels about us!

Get calm enough in meditation to let the voice of God inspire you, fill you, thrill you.

“I am never really lonely for anyone. Only for God. If my consciousness is raised the tiniest bit, so that the Self-the radiant denizen of my inner being-seems so much as a hair’s breadth nearer to me, all sense of isolation leaves me.”
—Sister Gyanamata

“I take this sacred vow: Never will I lower my love’s gaze below the eyebrow-horizon of my constant thoughts of Thee! Never will I turn my uplifted inner sight away from Thee! Never will I let my mind dwell on anything that reminds me not of Thee! I will disdain the nightmare of ignorant behavior. I will court all dreams of noble achievement: those of love, kindness, and understanding, for they are Thy dreams.” —Paramhansa Yogananda

In the Sway Of Peril’s Way

Do you love to shop?

It’s no wonder that so many people do. In this modern world of amazing gadgets and gizmos, of got-to-have-it doodads and devices, our eyes are assaulted daily with alluring goods to have and to hold.

Shopping today is America’s national pastime. Department stores, brand stores, and malls have become our culture’s popular destinations for their feast of tempting consumables. In our collective consciousness, needing has been overrun by the habit of wanting. “Shop ’til you drop” is the motto of some, who wear it like a badge to be admired.

Fashion, too, is sold with enormous appeal, as if it were the Holy Grail of social acceptance. We have become a nation of fashion conformists. Although our choice of furnishings, outfits, and accessories may appear to us to be unique, the greater truth is that Madison Avenue tells us what is “in”, and we choose from the choices it gives us. In total, its array of genres, colors, types, models, facsimiles, and styles is patently staggering, which enables the impression that we are not like everyone else.

Someone once noted humorously that fashion is that which “goes in one year and out the other,” but that hardly deters a great many folks from climbing aboard the train to trendy persuasion. America’s economic health is fed by and large by money spent as latest fashions prescribe.

Is this bad? Does it make us wrong?

In a deep sense, yes, it is and it does. That is not to say that a person who loves to shop is bad, but shopping just to shop, or to be on a constant lookout for the next impulsive purchase, is time spent without meaning or personal growth.

And worse, it is a misdirection of love. Energy and vitality flow out of us with every material desire we express. It is not surprising to observe that shoppers who shop to shop, spending their love like largesse in dreams or pursuit of unneeded possessions, often have less of it to give to others and to God.

Each of us likes what we like, and owning things of quality and utility is highly practical. The only question is, how often are those items put to use or properly enjoyed? Are they operated, handled, worn, driven, applied, maintained, and valued as their quality and utility would merit? Or do they live in closets, drawers, shelves, sheds, garages, or in plain sight, seldom remembered except as part of one’s cache?

I do not exclude myself from wanting things that I do not need. Things of beauty, refinement, comfort, and convenience provide a source of pleasure that does no harm. For the sake of our love, however, it is crucial that we discriminate between having enough and too much. When simplicity crosses the line to excess, our spiritual vitality suffers the effect.

Temperance is love. Prudence is love. In cultivating them, our love expands, and with it a joy that acquisitions and fashion cannot match.

We Let It Go. Now, We Let It Be!

Spiritual Principles

Letting go is the spiritual principle of detachment, really. Allowing yourself to release the hold on things or ideas, of the way it should be, or past situations, hurts and more. Let them go.

And then there is the next best spiritual principle of surrender. Let it go, then let it be. (aahhh…A Beatles tune to this one, I think.)

There are so many times in life, for many of us more often than not, that we need to work hard with this one. Surrender, like detachment, requires spiritual effort. It is not a passive act, but one that uses strength and courage.

Where have we heard this one before? Oh, I know!! Be calmly active and actively calm. Wise words from Paramhansa Yogananda.

Calmly Active Action

Can you be calmly active and actively calm? Can you maintain this state doing the things you want or need to do? The law of karma is one of action. But is inaction correct? Is passivity right? As with everything, surely, it depends. Action is best when it comes from a calm center. This allows us to hear our intuitive guidance.

We do seva to forget the self– and to act from the calmer Self-. It is about allowing Grace to flow, and then service will flow too. When we are calmly active, we are able to access that intuitive place within us, that aids in a more real experience.

Master. Guide my thoughts. Will. Actions.

Actively Calm Center

Actively Calm is our meditation stance. We use our willingness and power to remain open and receptive, active. We sit with strength and determination. It is not a passive posture. It is the state of open, receptive calmness and with engaged willpower.

We are, after all, demanding the presence of the Divine!

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.

You Can Change Your Life by Changing Your Magnetism

I Used to Mentally Label Magnetism as “woo-woo”

Grounded, practical, real—these are words I would be inclined to use to describe myself and those spiritual teachings that I am attracted to. Magnetism, or some strange spiritual power of attraction, didn’t fit my down-to-earth mentality and therefore was condemned to the woo-woo category.

But luckily, my hasty judgements are often revoked and as I tried to live the practical teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, the truth about magnetism began to sink in.

What explained the circumstances, people, and opportunities that came to very particularly to me? The law of karma helped me to see how the whole system works in a harmonious and balanced way. But what was really going on when things happened in my life that didn’t happen to my neighbor, or my friends, or even those in my own family?

Why do some people obviously have more power and energy than others, and what was that amazing “something” that pulled me to want to spend time with Swami Kriyananda? He was loving and kind, of course, but that wasn’t enough to explain the powerful pull on my consciousness when I was near him.

Magnetism! It’s not magical or woo-woo, it’s actually a very scientific and grounded concept.

Science and yoga tell us that everything is energy and energy vibrates.

And, if everything in this physical reality is energy, and energy is always moving, something must happen when all that energy tries to move and go somewhere.

Where does it go and why does it go there? Some energy is attracted to me and my life—some energy never seems to show up in my life. So some kinds of energy are drawn to me and some kinds of energy are repulsed, or at least, not drawn to me.

Wow! Could I change my magnetism and could that change my life?

We are offering a 4-class series, to explore these truths about magnetism, and delve more deeply into these concepts. Our guide will be the new book from Crystal Clarity by Naidhruva Rush, Change Your Magnetism and Change Your Life.

How Reasonable Is Reason?

Reason Driving Development

Hundreds of years ago, as we slowly emerged from the Dark and Middle Ages, reason became the engine for driving our development. From the 17th century onward, great strides were made in the sciences and mathematics. Modern philosophy was born, based on rational thought and logical methods of discovery. Rene Descartes declared from inspiration, “I think, therefore I am,” and we found in ourselves an expanded sense of self-worth and capability. We began to explore beneath the surface of what was apparent.

As old ways of seeing our world gave way to brighter ideas, reason was viewed as the means to solve whatever might be improved. And anyone could apply it. Reason was not restricted to a favored caste or upper class. To paraphrase Paramhansa Yogananda, the thoughts that lead us to reason are universally rooted. We access them according to our level of consciousness, regardless of our social station in life.

Unfortunately, however, reason comes with a weakness. It depends on us to agree that what is reasonable is the same for all, which it never is. Reason tends to be fluid. People see it in relation to their own ideals and conditions. Hindus, Muslims and Catholics, for instance, might find a number of each other’s religious views to be out of step with their own “reasonable” beliefs. And needless to say, the degree of difference can lead to all sorts of trouble, even war.

Reason Is a Fabulous Tool for Helping Good Things to Happen

If kept from the taint of egoic interference. We need reason to get from point A to B, to get value for what we spend, to get wisdom from what we experience, and just to get through the day. But reason follows feeling, which can lead it into peril.

Overindulgence in a favorite desire, for example—like eating too many sweets or buying more goodies than we can really afford—is going to result in being sorry that we didn’t stop at a reasonable point of enjoyment. We are all reasonable people, but I dare say not all the time. Delusion continues to outwit us until we learn self-control.

So, the Question Becomes…

Is there any other tool that is more reliable than reason at discerning what works and what doesn’t?

Meditators know of such a tool, which is intuition. But it comes with a caveat too. If you are going to act on intuition, you have to be sure it’s the real McCoy and not just what an underlying desire wants it to be?

Can reason lead us to intuition? It is not, after all, an intellectual process. But in one sense, yes it can, and Yogananda gave us the perfect prayer as we strive to acquire it. “I will reason, I will will, I will act; but guide Thou my reason, will and activity.”

Intuition is a two-way interaction. Our part is one of self-effort and surrender. We offer to do our best in whatever we pursue, taking care to evaluate what is right and dharmic to do in the first place. Then we ask God and Guru to show us the way, surrendering to them the result of our efforts, whether or not we manage to succeed as planned. Reason, combined with self-offering, thus becomes an invitation to bestow on us what reason alone cannot: access to higher guidance.

Everyone wants to be happy. We literally spend our lives in pursuit of that one goal. But who can keep it from drifting away? One moment we have it, and the next it is gone like sand through a sieve. Tune in to your intuition, the masters say. Stop looking under every rock for clues that reveal where to find what you are seeking. Those clues are right inside you, where the Source of them is waiting to show you the way. Tune in and listen. Intuition is there. God is there. Bliss is there. We should be there too.

Your True Nature is to Fly Like an Eagle

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in Florida this year. Some for pleasure, but this last time not so much. My mom and stepdad have both had a major turn in their health. And both on the same day!

So I came down to visit. And ended up staying longer. Becoming nurse, medical liaison, chauffeur, cleaner, dog walker, gardener. Basically, whatever was needed, just trying to help them on this long and frustrating road to a hopeful recovery.

Every afternoon, while they napped, I would sit on a lounge on the lanai, with a Golden Lab on my lap. Taking a bit of time to relax and recollect myself before the next appointment, meal, dog-duty. Enjoying a spot of quiet.

Looking up into the sky, I noticed a large bird. I thought it was only a TV (Turkey Vulture). Then it dipped down and flew directly over head, giving me a good look. It was an eagle. A Bald Eagle at that, seeing those white telltale markings. Hearing its distinctive call.

I watched it fly around, the power of this bird. Its wings spread wide. The grace of its flight. And it stuck me, What would it be like to fly like that?

Then it occurred to me that we can fly like that! That our true nature…our soul nature…is to soar! Catching all of those perfect currents that carry us up and up.

Is this the eagle’s true nature? To fly. Ignoring any obstacle in its path, like another bird testing it or finding that next great current. The eagle just flies, higher and higher.

We too, like that eagle, are made to soar. The true soul nature is to fly high on the currents of vibration and Christ-consciousness. Not be tethered to this earthly-plane with its worldly issues or even worldly ideals. But to know true freedom. To live in ever-lasting pace and joy!

So, fly eagle. Fly.

The Incredible Me!

Nothing blows me away more than the realization of who I am.

I don’t mean “me” as a set of self-definitions; I mean that now and forever, this being who occupies the corpus that I presently carry around, is someone that only I can be. There is no option here. I cannot trade my consciousness, my karma or my future with anyone else. For better or worse, I am who I am for the whole of whatever awaits me. When I think about that, especially when my deficiencies are on display, it’s rather disconcerting.

Are you ever struck by that awareness too? You are you, a consciousness for all of eternity, and there’s nothing you can do about that except carry on.

I suppose there is some consolation in seeing that we are like everyone else. But in likeness is where the resemblance ends. No one else can know what it is to be me, nor am I always sure of this myself.

Eastern sages tell us that all of this world is a dream. Yet, the dreamy point of view that you and I possess… well, it just isn’t the same. We interpret according to our own specific desires and predispositions, many of which have doubtless been hauled forward from past incarnations. Each of us may be inching toward a consciousness of unity, but our progress continues to suffer the millennial delays of our delusions. Here, again, though we tend to self-obstruct in similar ways, I have my own unique manners and methods, and so do you.

Within this universal dream, human nature is, for me, its most fascinating feature. I love how people get so wrapped up in their personal notions of what is what, and what each what implies! Rarely do we pause to consider, as Yogananda affirmed, that “Circumstances are always neutral.” It is only our reaction to them that gives them a particular charge. And this, of course, is what causes us to careen out of control, into labyrinths of unpaved, hard-scrabble karma.

Few lessons are as hard to grasp as this one

…that how we see the world and its goings-on says nothing about them and everything about us. Society has thrown its full weight behind the idea that circumstances are either pro or con, and it has trained us to judge whatever we perceive, to develop likes and dislikes, and to seek satisfaction in pursuit of material and egoic fulfillment. But in truth it is these reactive conclusions that condemn us to every suffering we accept.

As long as we adhere to society’s pro-or-con criteria, we are bound to wind up worshipping

our mistakes. Only at the quiet center of perception, in the stillness that is the altar of God, does suffering disappear. There alone, in the moment, is where worldly desires and attachments are given no time to establish roots, and where freedom awaits.

Okay, so you’re not there yet, and neither am I. This is the downside of coming to grips with being the one and only you that is you. By degrees, though, we are all in route to the same blissful summit. Our mission is simply to keep climbing, calmly active and actively calm, with the aim of owning our delusions and desires along the way.

Although we cannot inhabit each other’s mind, at least not precisely, and although we are ultimately in this dream alone, the lessons we have to learn are entirely the same. After all,

we are cut of the same cloth. Our destiny is One. In the end, which Yogananda described as endlessness, our ties to this contentious adventure will dissolve, and we will discover that we are more than we ever imagined. With courage and good cheer, let us carry on.

Of Time and the River

Every once in a while, when my biorhythms and higher awareness seem to be in sync, I am able to pierce the veil of events that is otherwise known as my life. Stepping aside mentally, watching the flood of sensory data that ceaselessly rushes in, I am witness to the brilliant salesmanship that I perform on myself to maintain my belief that it’s all real. In a word, my world is a-maze-ing!

Not to be presumptuous, but is your world any different? If not, then welcome to another round of dealing with its strangeness. Ours is the riddle of existence, yet unsolved.

Heaven knows, there has been no lack of divine intervention to correct this condition. Ascended masters and their enlightened disciples have often returned to earth on missions of mercy, intending to guide us home to God’s embrace. It is our task merely to crew the worthy vessels they provide, and they, as God’s helmsmen, will pilot us over the ocean of our delusions to the shores of Bliss. But only by fits and fussing, it seems, do we take unto ourselves their wisdom and ways. Frequently we bail out in fear of leaving behind the flustering lives we have known.

An aide to our fears and misdemeanors of habit—in particular our wanton pursuits of sensory pleasure—is our obsession with time. Though we prize and flex our free will, we are, on the whole, slavishly obedient to the rule of the clock. Its advancing hands are reminders to us of desires yet unfulfilled, of distances yet to cover, and of deadlines and pressures that do not abate. Every second marks the loss of whatever was here just a second ago, and except for the pain and suffering that our ignorance demands, we fret over its passing. In moments of higher consciousness, we vow to practice letting go of what is already gone. And then we find another reason not to.

Granted, it serves us to think of time and place, to measure distances traveled, to pause and reflect before pushing ahead. Without this capability we wouldn’t remember birthdays, appointments, important projects, where we parked the car or how to drive it. Still, our reliance on timeline perspective often renders us helpless to break away from unproductive patterns. Instead of striving to develop intuition, we exaggerate the merits of memory, style and routine to give our lives meaning. But what do they mean? Where is the spiritual progress in these worldly fixations?

To make matters worse, memory is merely a form of approximation, less and less dependable as time goes by. Do you really remember yourself as a kid? Chances are, that person belongs to the ages, accessible only in snatches of recollection. Even the immediate past is barely impressive. Who were you a moment ago? Who are you now? By the time the answer comes, there has been a molecular change.

Philosophers and poets have often used the metaphor of a river to represent the miracle of life: ever flowing, never the same. And so it is for us too. It is only in our habit of clinging to the past, or of looking to the future for what is still out of reach, that we succumb to repetition and immobility.

Like the trillions of physical cells that sustain us, we, in our minds, need to keep moving as well. Into the present. Into that placeless place of constant fluidity. Into the liberating experience of non-attachment. When moving in this way, the lure of our senses begins to lose its grip, and we begin to discover ourselves as we truly are, as beings of divine light. This is how we open the door to a quintessential interior world that is blessedly and transcendently un-a-maze-ing.