The Joy of Living in Community: An Interview with Melody West
September 20, 2011
Q: What inspired you to come live here?
A: I’d never seen anywhere else a large amount of people dedicating their lives to God. I saw the results happening here that I had longed for in my own life. I could see the joy in their eyes and in their lifestyles and attitudes. For the first time I had some good role models.
Swami Kriyananda’s writings and talks showed me that life has a purpose much more interesting than the selfish endeavors that are mostly pursued in this world. He showed me that walking the spiritual path meant to develop my own creativity; to express God in my own unique way according to the highest principles.
I had a lot of energy that I wanted to direct into something meaningful. In Swami’s talks he said that in return for one’s effort, concentration, and devotion to the path, they receive a greater sense of peace, love and joy. He showed us happiness comes from within and doesn’t depend on external situations.
In my time at Ananda Village I saw that this movement is really a light for the world. The people at Ananda have developed endless ways to share truth and to help others become truly happy; I was certain that I wanted to be a part of that.
A: It starts off the day focusing your energy in the right direction. Energizing the body, setting the intention for the day, thinking of God and serving God in others — these generate attitudes of selfless service in everyone, which in turn brings a lot of blessings.
It is a process of letting the ego take a rest and setting aside personal desires to serve something greater than oneself. Allowing oneself to become receptive to what is trying to happen; finding the highest way to serve each new situation. Praying to the gurus to guide our thoughts and actions fills our day with a very special grace that everyone can feel. It’s a beautiful thing to experience and an even more beautiful thing to see others around me experiencing it.
I’m finding that there’s great joy in self-improvement, and to have the support of others with that same goal is helpful and inspiring. It was much more difficult on my own — it’s hard to want peace if nobody else is trying to develop it around you.
Q: What does Ananda offer young people?
A: A spiritual environment that supports our highest ambitions and an atmosphere safe from negative influences that we can often be affected by in this world.
We are surrounded by role models who are living Yogananda’s teachings. They started when they were our age, so we have these wonderful examples of what we can become if we dedicate ourselves: deeply calm, wise souls who are very happy and content. Ananda life is a lot of fun but we are also very serious about the spiritual path.
What I love most is how the older community members welcome the young adults to take on projects which express and develop their own creativity. There’s very little sense of hierarchy. People of all ages lead meditations, kirtans (group chanting), and other events— and the whole community supports it.
The people who have lived here for a long time are passing their skills onto us each day: building, gardening, cooking, leading yoga postures, welcoming new guests, supportive leadership, spiritual marriage, maintaining a harmonious family life, and raising children in a spiritual environment.
Q: What is the most inspiring part of Ananda?
A: When we have ceremonies dedicated to our line of gurus, gathering at the temples and expressing our devotion. Those are the times when I’ve felt the deepest blessings and joy. It amazes me to see how many people love God and their devotion uplifts me and helps me to love God more.
The deepest part of Ananda to me are the Kriya Yoga ceremonies because they remind and inspire me to strive for the highest goal of Self-realization. Spiritual Renewal Week is a very uplifting time because all the people from all the communities gather for satsang (spiritual fellowship) and inspiration. My family and I would always come to Ananda during this time before I lived here because it gave us the push to continue with our spiritual practices.
Q: Can you give me an example of the support one receives when they live in a spiritual community?
A: Whenever someone is ill or injured, the entire community is notified and countless people will come to help that person with meals, finances, friendship, and any other needs. For example, one of my friends was talking on a phone during a storm and a huge tree fell through their roof right in front of him. He told his friend on the phone that he had to tend to the tree in his living room and hung up. Within five or 10 minutes, several community members arrived to rebuild the roof in the snow. That night, he and his wife were able to remain in their home, warm and safe.
Q: How would you describe community life to others who had interest in coming here?
A: We live in an uplifting environment with natural surroundings where the people lead peaceful lives centered around a daily practice of meditation.
There are deep friendships here because we serve and meditate together every day with the common goal of harmonious spiritual growth. Whether we’re directly spreading the teachings of yoga or working at the community market, we’re all in it together and respect each other. I’m not saying Ananda is perfect but striving every day to express God’s beauty in all that we do is the closest thing I’ve found!