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Finding Happiness

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.

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

Hi! I've been away nearly three weeks in Europe: two weeks in Italy, visiting Rome and Florence, and then on pilgrimage to the shrines of St. Francis and to the Ananda Center in the Umbrian hills above Assisi (home of St. Francis).

While I would like to share about my trip, I wanted to share briefly about book I read (a birthday present from my daughter and son-in-law): "My Stroke of Insight: a scientist's personal journey" by Jill Bolte Taylor. See

I don't want to take the time for a book review but it contains several aspects of interest for meditators and, indeed, everyone and anyone. Yes, for starters, it's a handbook on the medical aspects of a stroke. One of its great contributions is to help both patients and caregivers to understand how to deal effectively with a stroke. In this contribution you'll find insights on dealing with emotions as well as practical techniques.

Metaphysically, however, Jill uses medical and scientific language to gently approach the sphere of spirituality, prayer, God, and oneness. As the book nears its conclusion, she advances more boldly into these realms, but always keeping some distance. I suppose she doesn't want to offend anyone and I suppose she wants to make it accessible and helpful to (almost) anyone. She does a good job at this, too!

She follows the accepted scientific protocol of assuming the brain produces consciousness, or at least avoiding challenging that assumption! She never really addresses who this "I" is that perceives and records the dramatic effects of her stroke and her recovery. So from the soap box that I stand on, it is less than satisfying but I accept that she has another soap box and it invites to the same platform: we are One!

So, I highly recommend the book for just about anyone. I'm one who finds, unpredictably, a certain flutter of nausea from some medical facts, so for parts of this, I had to pause and return to the book at certain points. I marvel at how anyone could undergo a stroke with such recollectedness and I can't help but wonder how much of the experience was reconstructed, but, no matter, it is a good read from a number of angles, so I highly recommend it.

Blessings to you, and on to our pilgrims' journey: "In the footsteps of St. Francis."

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How to Pray for Yourself and Others - Part 2

Part 2 – How to Pray for Yourself and Others

What do YOU pray for? A friend recently bemoaned a circumstance where she felt stuck and trapped. I said, "Well, why didn't you ask (for help)?" Her reply was, "Well, I'm not supposed to ask (spiritually speaking, that is)." I said, "Listen, you've proved yourself by a lifetime of dedicated service and self-sacrifice. The help you need is not for you only personally, but for the work you are doing as part of Ananda and part of a team. So, of course, you should ask."

So, what to do? When should we pray for help for ourselves and when, not? This is clearly very personal. There is no one or right answer. Yogananda counseled that the highest prayer is to pray for God to come to us and for us to share God's presence with others (I'm paraphrasing a bit.) This includes the prayer of Jesus, "Thy will be done." (Sometimes stated as "Thy will, not my will.")

We should begin each day and each project with a prayer that we be divinely guided in all that we do and say. Swami Kriyananda's formula could be stated another way: pray for those things, material or spiritual, that will help us serve and grow spiritually. Take, for example, a case of ill health......if by becoming healthy again, you can better meditate and serve a divine work, then pray for that (while prefacing your prayer with "Thy will be done.").

This formula works also in respect to purifying and transcending material desires. To use another example: if you have a habit of buying things that you don't really need and if you find it difficult to curtail this habit, then try shopping for others who are in need, or for a spiritual work that you otherwise support. Giving money to an inspired spiritual work is an excellent and karma-transforming way of dissolving karmic blocks around money. And you know something? The best time to be generous is when you have the least to give! Same with illness: that's the best time to think of others (using common sense, of course). When the body and ego is most inclined to withdraw into fear or suffering THAT'S the best time to affirm a larger reality. By that affirmation (which is, itself, a kind of prayer), your expanding sympathies and awareness can magnetically draw to you what you need. Remember Jesus' words: "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, ....., and all these things shall be added unto you."

Let's say you are out of job. That's the best time to volunteer, to help your family, neighbors, friends, church, school or community. If you are inclined to pray for a job, why not see the fact of having a job in terms of allowing you funds for an annual retreat, or to support a spiritual work, to go on a pilgrimage. Try to expand the horizon of your self-interest to include Self-interest, in other words. Visualize your employment as a means of serving God in others and as an act of devotion. (I believe that the tragedy of homelessness and street beggars is not so much their lack of food and shelter (not difficult to obtain in America, anyway), but the inability (or lack of interest and awareness) in being creatively engaged in serving others.)

How about, then, praying for others? You've perhaps heard it said that "A cure is not a healing." (Or, is it the other way around?) You might pray that your friend be cured of cancer but if the cancer has its roots in some negative behavior pattern, there may be no healing and the cancer may reoccur if the lesson hasn't be learned on a deeper level. (Or, whether the disease reappears or not, the negative pattern may continue.) Put in an opposite form, one sometimes hear of cancer or AIDS "victims" coming to an understanding that, despite their illness being labelled terminal, they feel healed by the opportunity to pay attention to more important things (usually relationships, personal or divine) in their lives. There's nothing like a life-threatening circumstance to put into proper perspective the details of our lives and our self-involved habits of thinking and acting!

When we pray, then, for others we should send the prayer-energy with the thought that the energy itself contains the intelligence to bring about the best results. Don't, in other words, try to "wish for" or visualize specific physical results but send, instead, the intention/energy of your prayer to the higher knowing faculty of that person (their soul, in other words) so that the best and spiritually optimum outcome be the result. Do you see the difference?

As suggested in my recent article on karma (good or bad?), the burden of disease or suffering isn't necessarily "bad" or "good." Our response to it determines whether we respond with faith, hope, and even-mindedness or something less.

It is not my purpose in this article to teach a specific healing prayer technique, but I will share a simplified version of a powerful technique taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. Sit up and calm yourself of any anxious or fearful emotions. Meditate at least a few minutes. Concentrate behind closed eyes by focusing on the "point-between-the-eyebrows" in the forehead: this is the psychic "broadcasting" station of will power and the mind. Visualize the person*** in need (by form, by name, by feeling) at that point. Surround him (her) with radiant light (blue, white, or gold). Rub your palms together briskly creating a sensation of warmth in your hands. Raise your hands facing outward and chanting AUM (aloud, preferably) three times, send the healing vibrations to your friend or loved one. Try to feel that the healing energy is not yours, but enters your body at the base of the brain (medulla oblongata) as a result of your action and intention. Imagine that this healing life force energy (prana) enters there and descends the spine through the arms to the hands and thence outward into the subtle realm of light and thought (astral and causal spheres) directly to your friend's subtle body of light and intelligence.

*** If praying for yourself, visualize the injured or diseased parts as whole and well, or the trait or delusion you wish to transcend in its positive manifestation.....

Returning to prayers for oneself, the highest prayer could also be in the simple form of "Reveal Thyself, reveal Thyself." "Come to me." "I seek Thee that I might share Thee with all."

Do you know the story of the man who presumed upon divine protection when he ignored the shouts of the mahoot (elephant driver) to get out of his way because the elephant was rampaging? He found himself trampled nearly to death! Bruised and bleeding, he prayed and asked God, "What happened? Why didn't you protect me?" The Lord answered saying, "I tried to warn you through the shouts of the mahoot! Why didn't you listen?"

Like my friend, therefore, see God in your life's circumstances, friends, enemies, and loved ones. God can speak and guide you in many ways but until we learn to "listen" to His voice through others, we shouldn't presume that He will speak to us directly. It is OK to ask for help, but do so with a childlike expectation that He listens and will come to your aid. Also, however, ask with the willingness to accept what God sends to you, understanding that perhaps that help will come to you in some unexpected form. Do what you can to improve your health, life, and circumstances in ways that are reasonable and appropriate, but accept, in any case, your troubles, trials and difficulties with equanimity and faith in the ultimate goodness of God coming to you through life's adventures.


Swami Hrimananda

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What may I pray for? Myself? Others? - Part 1

Part 1 - Stories

Admittedly, most "praying" people wouldn't think twice about praying for their own needs. After all, "there are no atheists in foxholes" as the saying goes. When in crises, even non-prayers find themselves praying--sometimes making promises if they can get rescued from their crises.

Reminds me of a joke about an Irishman who is desperately looking for a parking place because he's late for an important meeting. He prays, "Lord, if you can find me a parking place, I'll stop drinking." Suddenly, he sees a space opening up, and he prays, "Never mind, Lord, I found one!" (I think that as a child I probably reneged on a few prayers, too!)

My teacher, Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013) describes a kidney stone attack one Sunday morning. He was doubled over with pain but refused to pray for himself, but he was scheduled to give the Sunday morning homily. As the time for the Service approached, though shaking with pain and unable to move, he had the inspiration to pray, "Divine Mother, if you want me to give the Service and not disappoint those who have come today, you'll have to do something about this."

Suddenly and in a flash, the pain vanished. While formerly he was too much pain to even speak, he found that when he went to do the Service he was in too much bliss to speak! And, as he pointed out, it was not because the pain had gone but because of the joy of Divine Mother's caring response. Later he reflected that perhaps She approved of his prayer which was directed on behalf of others!

In his book, "Awaken to Superconsciousness," he tells this story but then adds that he wouldn't expect to hold most people to such a high standard in respect to their personal needs, fears, and desires. Once, when he was a young monk, he had the thought of "wouldn't it be nice" to taste one of those Swiss chocolates he remembered from his childhood growing up in Europe. (This was in the early 1950's when Swiss chocolate wasn't common in American stores.)

What was "sweet" was that on or around his birthday that year, a box of Swiss chocolates showed up from someone who could not have known it was both his birthday and his wish for them. With joy, he shared them with his fellow monks. When God rescues us from fatal harm, well, you can "kinda" expect that, but when a small desire is fulfilled in a way that only God could have known about and fulfilled, well, that's especially touching.

I have tried to live my life in this spirit, though I freely pray for liberation and freedom from delusion. This desire, too, must be fulfilled, Paramhansa Yogananda said! I also pray that if I must reincarnate again, that I find my guru and spiritual path quickly before delusion swallows me up again (or at least delays unnecessarily my journey to Self-realization).

There was a time in the early years of my life at Ananda Village in California, when I felt it was time to move on from the administrative work I was doing at the fledgling community. I wasn't sure what form the next step would take but I had reached the point where no opportunity for change was presenting itself. Given that, at the time, there wasn't anyone else obviously capable of taking my place, it seemed (to me) that I was stuck for a long time to come.

My dilemma was that I didn't want to "ask for myself" or to cause any hardship to the Community. In his famous Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says "what is ours will surely come to us." Thus I was hesitant to speak up for myself to anyone, feeling that if Divine Mother wants me to serve in administrative functions for the rest of my life, well, I guess I'd better embrace it and be happy about it!

Then one day in the 1980's when Padma and I had traveled to our center in Italy (we were with Swami Kriyananda, Ananda's founder, on Ananda business), I felt to share with him my feelings on the matter. We were having a quiet lunch together in Rome at a friend's house and were soon to part ways: we back to California and he on to another leg of a lecture tour. He nodded sympathetically and seemed to agree that a change was needed but nothing was decided or even put into motion as a result. But, interestingly, after that conversation, there soon appeared on the scene a new member who had the precise credentials needed! I had simply stated my case, as it were.

A year ago I had a sudden paralysis of my right hand. It was disconcerting at first. I didn't know what it was or whether it was short-term or permanent. After my initial shock, an inspiration came to me: "This must be my guru's grace!" An improbable thought, perhaps, but it was more than an affirmation: the thought rang with truth.

From that point forward and though I did all the exercises and therapies suggested to me, I let go of any expectation of recovery. It was no "mere" inconvenience. I do constant typing (emails, compositions, planning, etc.) but was limited to one finger typing which for me, as a lifelong very fast typist, was excruciating. Many ordinary tasks were impossible. With my limp hand I'd constantly send objects flying across the room. In my frequent classes I couldn't play the harmonium and had to ask for help. Yet help was there, without any need for me to seek it.

For weeks while struggling to carry on my ordinary activities and conceal, as best I could, my disability, I kept affirming "Guru's grace." Then after six weeks long weeks and only one day before my annual seclusion I found I could move my fingers sufficiently to play the harmonium once again. Within a week or two the paralysis disappeared!

Part 2 - Continued in the blog article: How to Pray for Your Self & Others

Swami Hrimananda....praying that you'll read the next one......:-)