A Guidepost for the Aspiring Saint
Like many devotees, I am challenged to deepen my attunement with God and Guru. Two years ago, responding to a suggestion made by Nayaswami Jyotish during a talk, I decided to memorize Paramhansa Yogananda’s poem “God, God, God” and to recite it daily as a way of deepening my attunement. The poem appears in Yogananda’s book of prayers and poems, Whispers from Eternity.
Memorizing anything has always been very difficult for me. When I was growing up, my anxiety about memorization played out in a recurring dream about having a part in a play and being afraid I wouldn’t be able to learn my lines. At the end of the dream, when I showed up for the play, I didn’t know my lines.
Even so, I eagerly embraced this new opportunity for deepening my attunement. Yogananda encouraged his disciples and followers to stay connected to him after his passing by reading selections in Whispers from Eternity. He writes, “When you are no longer able to talk to me, read my Whispers from Eternity. Eternally through that I will talk to you.” Since my attempt to memorize “God, God, God” was in keeping with Yogananda’s advice, I felt confident that he would support my efforts.
Steps toward memorizing the poem
As a first step, I created an easy-to-read copy of the complete poem — an “at-a-glance” visual aid. Next I wrote out each of the ten stanzas on separate flash cards. My plan was to memorize the poem, one stanza at a time, no matter how long it took. I was determined not to have any time limit for the project.
During the first week of trying to memorize the poem, I read my “at-a-glance” copy of the poem at least once a day. Wherever I went, I carried with me the flash card with the stanza I was then memorizing. Throughout the day, I practiced repeating the words without looking at my copy of the poem. I taped a laminated copy of the complete poem on my bathroom mirror. Often, I would stand in front of the poem and read it aloud or recite it while taking a shower.
Each morning in meditation, after several rounds of deep breathing and a brief practice of the Hong Sau meditation technique, I would silently repeat the stanzas I’d already memorized, and then recite what I could remember of the new stanza. Since the poem describes a flow of daily activities, visualization became an important aid in memorizing each stanza. If I was having difficulty remembering all the stanzas, visualizing the daily activities described by the poem would help bring the forgotten stanza to mind.
The poem has also been set to music and is often sung at Ananda services. I learned to play the musical version of the poem on the harmonium and sometimes listened to recordings of it sung by Swami Kriyananda and another Ananda member. I also listened to a recording of Yogananda reciting the poem. Because Yogananda substituted the words, “God, Christ, Guru,” for “God, God, God,” I also mainly used “God, Christ, Guru” when memorizing the poem.
What joy this project brought me. All in all, it took me about a week to memorize each stanza. It took several months before I could accurately repeat the poem without asking myself which verse came next. From that time forward, the process of reciting the poem brought with it a deeper awareness of God and Guru.
Setting a daily precedent
Once I was able to recite the poem fluently, my heart became much more engaged in the process. I was able to feel the meaning of each word and stanza as I recited it. I could feel myself rising from “the depths of slumber” and ascending “the spiral staircase of wakefulness.” I could feel myself becoming more awake, and then calling to “God, Christ, Guru.” As both heart and mind became more engaged in the meaning of the poem, it became easier to set the precedent of calling upon God and Guru at regular intervals throughout the day.
The poem addresses nearly every daily circumstance that occurs in a normal human life. Rather than rising each morning and moving in the direction of thoughtless habits, I can now move in the direction of “God, Christ, Guru.” When I “break my fast of nightly separation” from God, I can do this thinking “God, Christ, Guru.” Instead of getting caught up in mental planning, I can focus “the spotlight of my mind” on “God, Christ, Guru.”
Does my life at times feel out of control or topsy turvy? Yogananda gives the answer in the stanza that reads, “When boisterous storms and trials shriek and worries howl at me, I will drown their clamor, loudly chanting: God, Christ, Guru.” Reciting this stanza helps to reassure me that my little world will soon right itself again. All I have to do is to call upon “God, Christ, Guru!” Because I repeat the poem so often, it has frequently enabled me to find solutions to new challenges.
Overcoming anxiety and fear
I am prone to anxiety, which often gets expressed as restlessness and difficulty quieting my thoughts. Growing up, I responded to a challenging and unbalanced home life by trying to fill every moment with activity and distraction. I was often in restless motion, unfocused, and anxious. Calming my mind and embracing a state of peace and quiet have been huge challenges for me. Even with the yogic techniques, I’m not always able to quiet my thoughts.
Now, when I call “God, Christ, Guru,” I feel an inner response from the Guru that brings a sense of calmness and quiet. When I can concentrate fully on the poem, not only with my mind but also with my heart, I am able to rest in the security of the Guru’s presence. Knowing that I can always tune into Yogananda’s presence when I recite the poem dynamically has made me more accepting of a state of peace and quiet, and more trusting in the divine presence.
Since I was young I have had a deep yearning for God. Though raised in the Christian faith, when I found Yogananda, I felt Jesus handed me into his care. The yearning I’ve felt for God and Guru can be so intense at times that I’ve sometimes had difficulty bringing it under control and focusing it. Reciting this poem calms and settles that intensity of feeling. I can put words to the deep yearning of my heart; doing so calms my mind and enables me to speak to Him silently through the words of the poem.
The constant repetition of God’s name has sometimes resulted in a profound sense of joy and security. At such times, any decisions I need to make become unimportant. All that matters is being uplifted into His presence.
The most important benefit
Reciting the poem at the start of every meditation has given me another way to focus my mind and open my heart. The poem has also become a great tool for regaining focus if, during meditation, my mind begins to wander. Just as my meditations have deepened from focused repetition of the poem, so also has my ability to gain insights into any dilemma or problem I might be facing. During my times of quiet, when I am attuned to the Guru’s presence, I sometimes hear his silent words giving me guidance and direction.
The most important overall benefit of reciting the poem, however, is an ever-deepening attunement with Yogananda. When I focus on the words of the poem, I am also focusing on Yogananda, who wrote this poem as an expression of his own deep devotion. I can feel him as I recite the poem, especially his determination that “through life’s storms” he “will drown their noises” and always remain focused on God. Yogananda has spiritualized these words and imbued them with a palpable sense of his own deep commitment to God.
Thus this poem is a guidepost, a starting place for the aspiring saint on how to live every moment and day in attunement with God and Guru. At some point along the pathway of incarnations, Yogananda became Self-realized. Through his grace, and our will power and determination, we too can become Self-realized. My new confidence in my own divine potential is the most important benefit of reciting this poem every day for the past two years.
God, God, God
by Paramhansa Yogananda
From the depths of slumber,
As I ascend the spiral stairways of wakefulness,
I will whisper:
God! God! God!
Thou art the food, and when I break my fast
Of nightly separation from Thee,
I will taste Thee, and mentally say:
God! God! God!
No matter where I go, the spotlight of my mind
Will ever keep turning on Thee;
And in the battle din of activity, my silent war-cry will be:
God! God! God!
When boisterous storms of trials shriek,
And when worries howl at me,
I will drown their noises, loudly chanting:
God! God! God!
When my mind weaves dreams
With threads of memories,
Then on that magic cloth will I emboss:
God! God! God!
Every night, in time of deepest sleep,
My peace dreams and calls, Joy! Joy! Joy!
And my joy comes singing evermore:
God! God! God!
In waking, eating, working, dreaming, sleeping,
Serving, meditating, chanting, divinely loving,
My soul will constantly hum, unheard by any:
God! God! God!
Surana is a Brahmacharini and lives and serves at Ananda Village. Among her other responsibilities, she enjoys teaching meditation and yoga postures to beginners. She has previously lived and served at two other Ananda communities.