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While visiting a spiritual community in northern California called Ananda (meaning “Joy”) an investigative journalist armed with a fair amount of skepticism and a dash of curiosity discovers that the key to finding happiness comes from within and that when you change, everything changes.
Friday, July 25, 2014
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Consciousness can only be examined by consciousness. While the effects of thinking or states of emotion can be detected and even measured by instruments or seen by consequent actions or words, only consciousness can experience thought or emotions. Consciousness per se cannot be separated from self-awareness. In turn, self-awareness cannot be separated from the awareness of feeling. It may be very calm feeling and it may be very subtle at first.
Imagine being in a deprivation tank and having no thoughts but being vibrantly self-aware. Or, imagine staring at something until all thoughts cease and you are left only gazing ahead of you. At first, you might describe your awareness as being without feeling or emotion. Meditators can experience this and may call it "emptiness" or the void. Prolonged resting in such a state will either cause one to lapse into a trance-like state which is blankness (not advised!), or, there enters into the mind, whether imperceptibly like a rising tide or crashing upon you in a giant wave, an ocean of joy. Whether having entered no-thing-ness (short of a trance) or into bliss, either way, the meditator returns from the experience refreshed, relaxed and vibrantly energized.
We have a more limited experience of this each night in sleep. Sleep is closer to the trance state, however, and thus has no ability to change our consciousness or our life for the better. Nonetheless, without the rest of nightly sleep states we could not function in this world.
Ultimately, a saint or sage is one who increasingly unites the inner and the outer until “what you see is what you get,” meaning a person who is clear, pure, without self-interest, self-giving, wise, and gentle yet strong. At the same time, what you see is no-thing, for purity of mind can only be “seen” intuitively. In the presence of a saint, a skeptic might come away wondering what the saint's "angle" is, for we can only see extensions of our own consciousness.
But for those who gaze at the stars, or at the nobleness of true love or self-sacrifice, or the mystery of life and can intuit the presence of God, this feeling of awe and admiration gives rise to joy just as this joy gives rise to praise and to knowing that "Love is the Magician!" (The title of Swami Kriyananda's favorite musical composition.)
Friday, July 18, 2014
So much is said and scientifically proven about how meditation brings relief to overburdened and stressed-out people, that meditation teachers and long-term committed practitioners are inclined to ignore or even deny stress.
It's also true that we DO in FACT handle stress with greater ease and, even more to the point, committed meditators are, by definition, likely to be committed to lives of selflessness, self-offering, self-sacrifice and creative, engaged service. As part of the Ananda worldwide network of communities, meditation and yoga centers, schools and much more, our ethos is precisely one of spiritual growth through joyful, creative service.
In holding, therefore, high ideals that include serious commitment to meditation (both in time and in depth and devotion) as well as engaged, cooperative and creative service, one is naturally living outside one's comfort zone. Most Ananda members who are employed in various occupations and services are engaged in activities for which we had no formal training or prior experience. We are generally working in industries and workplace environments that are unfamiliar to us. Some of our teachers and others are frequently travelling.
Such a high energy lifestyle naturally produces clinical stress. Like the "Peter principle" in which each person is said to rise to his own level of incompetence, those with high ideals stretch themselves to the boundary of comfort and stress. Our spiritual practices and values provide tremendous energy, grace, and creativity (in accordance with our efforts), but spiritual growth necessarily, indeed, by definition, is designed to smash the boundaries and self-imposed limitations of the ego and sub-conscious (our past).
Consider, therefore, that metaphysically speaking, we yogis are striving to "unite with the Infinite!" That's a tall order, to say the least. Is it stressful? Not by definition, of course, but to the extend our sincere and committed efforts include a sense of "doer-ship" then, yes, there will be the likelihood of stress symptoms. The challenges of our intention and efforts are a necessary and integral part of what can help demolish the ego-principle in favor of a flow of divine power and grace. (Easier stated than achieved, however.)
Therefore, symptoms of stress, especially upon the body, are by no means uncommon among true spiritual seekers. Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, lived past his mid-eighties and never stopped writing, lecturing, travelling, counseling and meditating. In his later years, his body was wracked with the results of offering it ("Brother Donkey," to quote St. Francis) on the altar of service and devotion. It showed, in short, all the symptoms of clinical "stress." But, and here's the difference, he was so much in bliss that there were times he could hardly function.
Some people believe or might argue that a true seeker should always be in balance, joyful, happy, contented, and at peace. Well, then, I see you haven't really tried to "find God!" Not only does God not clear our path to Him of any brambles, but sometimes it feels like He is throwing rocks at us. We call these rocks "divine tests" and we (aren't we?) thankful for them!
In fact, however, as one advances spiritually it is true that INWARDLY, in the midst of the "crash of breaking worlds," a true yogi (devotee) can remain centered, calm and at peace. But it is unrealistic to expect that this is always going to evident on the surface of the body and to the sight of the casual observer. One who is in samadhi may sometimes resemble, outwardly, one who is asleep, but the difference is more than "night and day."
Perhaps one way to view this issue is to note how quickly you recover from stresses. Even spiritually advanced souls might have bouts of irritation, anger or temptation. But a fleeting thought or desire is a far cry from falling, however temporarily, into delusion and committing some serious act that is "adharmic." Having a rough day, but recovering one's peace and inner joy level by the end of it is a good thing. It's relative to one's own path and journey. We can't be measuring ourselves everyday. Like a child with his height marked on the wall by his parents, you can only do that every six