Rhythms and Weekly Satsangs
Family life is easier, in general, when we have some daily and weekly routines. It’s okay to break routines – but nonetheless, it is still good to have them. These might include bedtime, homework, chores, meals, brushing teeth, and more. Personal styles will differ with this, so I don’t want to define the concept too much; but family harmony is enhanced when there are some clear guidelines, without being rigid. If you find yourself nagging about the same things every day, consider moving in the direction of stronger routines. Then the power of habit contributes to family harmony.
In earlier chapters, I mentioned several things to help awaken spiritual energy and devotion in your children, such as prayers and spiritual stories, etc. All of these things, plus family meals, help to make up the daily rhythms. Even if you can’t manage to do anything else, these things can be of enormous help to your child, if you are sincere and loving. Your child learns that you deeply value these things.
It is comforting to know that Paramhansa Yogananda said to his students, “If you do 10% of what I say, you will find God.”
And sometimes he would say, “If you do 5% of what I say, you will find God.”
And, seemingly, to give strength to even the most faint of heart, he said, “Even if you do only 1% of what I say, you will find God.”
Now, it is worth mentioning that he actually wrote a very great deal, so when you consider 10% of that – it would be quite an accomplishment. And even 1% of his teachings or writings, if sincerely applied, would be transformational. For instance, one time in answer to an overly intellectual visitor with persistent, mind-bending theological questions, he firmly replied, “Love God!”
If we could deeply apply that one teaching to “Love God!” we would indeed find God!
But even if right now we can only apply a little bit of these teachings, we will feel an increase of God’s grace of joy or peace in our lives, and we will want more of it. And thus the initial spiritual act or commitment, though small, may be the turning point in the direction of our union with God. Thus, even the 1% helps us find God, eventually. He didn’t say how long it would take…just that it would happen. So, this isn’t meant to be a ticket to simply skate by. Each soul, and each family, can simply remain open to whatever next step will bring them more soul deepening, and inner joy.
“Even a little practice of this inward religion will free one from dire fears and colossal sufferings.”
— Bhagavad Gita
Very early on in our family life, when our daughter was very young, we decided to take our children to at least one satsang, or spiritual event every week; however, there were no spiritual events geared for families at that time at Ananda Village. The best bet, then, was to go to a kirtan, a time of spiritual chanting, and sit near the back. I’d stay for a while, and then take my daughter out if she got restless. The basic rule of thumb, one learns, is to set it up for success. If she became too restless, I’d simply leave. When I started this practice, she was about 18 months old, and she loved it. The man leading the kirtan was “Nitai,” and as we approached she would say, joyfully, “Go Jai Jai Titai!” (Some of the chants use the word “Jai,” which means inner victory.)
However, sometimes a child, though restless, wants to be allowed to stay. In such cases, we’d still take our child outside, saying that it required quiet behavior to go back in. There was no pressure on the children to conform to a standard that was beyond their capability, because we were also prepared to go home peacefully. If they agreed, we’d go back in, but sit in the back, in case we had to step out again. We considered this a training phase for the child to learn how to behave in a quiet environment. (This process could be applied to any environment where quiet behavior is required.)
Later on, for a good 10 years or more, my husband and I taught Ananda Sunday school, and we also helped lead special Sunday Services geared for families. These things made it much easier for families. And, in general, it seemed helpful to have some events where the families participated together in spiritual events. In other words, the process was important, as well as the content. If the same content was covered and yet there was never this shared spiritual experience as a family, it did not seem to have the nearly same degree of spiritual benefit to the children. I will go into that more deeply in a later chapter.
Our Elder Son, Peter
As I mentioned earlier, for several years we had something at Ananda called “Family Sunday Service” every Sunday. It was geared for the kids, complete with simple skits to illustrate the teachings and sacred stories. Our son, Peter, was the perfect age when these began, but once he was in junior high school, he still preferred the “Family Service,” and was not transitioning to the regular Sunday Service. We were all doing too good a job, in a sense.
The question finally resolved itself. For reasons I won’t go into here (but perhaps in a later chapter) the Family Sunday Services changed from every Sunday, down to once a month. When this change occurred, I told Peter that we wanted him to go to regular Sunday Service with us, every Sunday. He was about to start going to the public high school, and his reply was classic, “You want me to do WHAT?!?”
I repeated myself, and said that he could substitute another spiritual satsang, if available that week. (Our daughter, Krishnabai, liked variety, and would often comb the Ananda Villager Newsletter for ideas on alternate satsangs; many are available in a spiritual community.) Otherwise, we said, we wanted him to come to Sunday Service. He was aghast. He had become used to the service geared for kids, and thus thought that he would not relate to the regular Sunday service. See what I mean about, “too good a job?”
Anyway – we went back and forth on this with quite a bit of vigor. Finally I said, “Listen, if I did not see to your secular education, the cops would be at my door. The schools provide the education, but ultimately it is my parental civic duty to see that you are educated. Likewise, I see it as my parental spiritual duty to see that you at least get a rudimentary spiritual education. High School is 5 days a week; Sunday Service is only an hour and a half.”
Being firm helps matters. We repeated this “discussion” the following Sunday. I finally said, “If you are really against it, then please give me a solid plan of how you will do one hour of focused spiritual study each week.”
Peter was a “go with the flow” kid, and sought the path of least resistance. He said, “Oh – it’s easier to go to Sunday Service.”
And so it was. I considered it a minimal way to accomplish the goal of “spiritual education.” The ministers bring in many interesting elements into their talks, such as history, news, humor, science, and the concept of universal religion. It offers much to the developing mind of a teen. So, despite his initial protests, I felt it was far and away in his best interest to have him there. Most of my devotee friends would have caved during the above discussion. One said, “Well, I don’t ask my son to go to Sunday Service, but if he ever asks me a spiritual question, I answer it, and we have a good talk.”
To each his own, but as we sat there with our son each week through his 4 years of high school, I was struck by how many times his eyes lit up with interest (despite his outward demeanor of nonchalance) with something the minister said. I was also struck by how many times he laughed freely at the jokes. Ananda ministers teach with joy, and with depth. Watching this, and knowing my son, I thought to myself, “I can imagine that maybe he would freely strike up a spiritual conversation with me about once a year, but this way he is getting a little spiritual watering each week. It is answering questions that he would never even think to ask.”
I made no other demands on Peter except that he sit up in something that could pass as “straight.” This happened as he approached his 6′ of height, and he would stretch back in his chair in a nearly perfect oblique angle. I said, “Right angles, Peter; a 90 degree angle at the knees and at the seat…Attendance, and right angles, that’s all I ask.”
He complied with that simple request, though I had to remind him sometimes. It’s all part of Sri Yukteswar’s (guru of Paramhansa Yogananda) simple teaching: “learn to behave.”
Our Youngest Son, David
Our kids are spread out in age, 13 years, actually. So, by the time David was age 5, there were other parents leading Ananda Sunday School. We saw this as an opportunity to take a well deserved break and go to regular Sunday Service, while David went to Sunday school. However, he declared that he didn’t want to go to Sunday school unless we taught it. Oh my! (Looking back, I recall he idolized Peter, who is 8 years older, and David always seemed to want to “catch up” to Peter.)
I explained that we needed a break from teaching Sunday school, but we would be happy to help out sometimes, and wouldn’t that be nice? No – he didn’t want to go unless we taught it every week. I said that wasn’t going to happen.
He then said, “Well, then I want to go to Sunday service with you.”
My reply, which I belatedly realized was counter to everything I tried to do with my kids, was, “Oh, no, you don’t want to go to Sunday Service. You’ll get bored.”
We went back and forth with this and I even repeated it, until I caught myself, and wondered, “What kind of message am I giving him?”
To clarify, I did not mean that Sunday Service at Ananda is boring, but I did feel it would be boring for a 5-year-old boy. The service lasts 90 minutes and includes an opening prayer and chanting (so far, so good) followed by a meditation (15 minutes) and then a reading and affirmation. Then comes a talk that is not geared to hold the interest of kids. The service ends with the “Festival of Light” which lasts about 25–30 minutes.
I told David that if we brought him to Sunday Service, then he would have to “learn to behave” in that environment. We would start with shorter segments, but he needed to behave quietly and respectfully while we were there. He agreed. My husband and I decided that we would take turns leaving early, whenever it seemed that David had reached his young limit. (I also thought that he might change his tune and decide to go to Sunday school with his friends, after all. But I would now leave that up to him.)
The first few Sundays we only kept David there for the opening prayer and the chant, and then went outside for a while. Later we came back in for the Festival of Light, which includes lots of music and imagery, as well as multiple times of moving around (standing, sitting, going up for a blessing). Movement is important for a 5 year old who may feel challenged with sitting still!
Somewhat surprisingly to me, this went well. David remained consistent in his desire to do this with us. Our next step was to see if he could sit quietly during the meditation. We did not require that he meditate, or even look like he was meditating, but he did have to be still and quiet. We taught him some of the basics of meditation, and I told him that he could try looking at the pictures of the Masters on the altar, while feeling love in his heart.
This went pretty well, but sometimes he was a bit restless. He responded well if I put my arm around his shoulder, lovingly. This connection calmed him, and I think he appreciated that quiet contact. Gradually, over the course of that first year, David also learned to sit through the minister’s talk; I assumed most of it was going over his head. He was a very intelligent child, but he was only 6 by this time. One day at the dinner table, David piped up, as part of the conversation that was going on, “Master meditated on a tiger skin.”
Well now! I recalled that had been a very brief aside in a story 3 months prior at Sunday service, but this was an attractive piece of information for a 6 year-old boy! That was our first indication that he was actually listening. It wasn’t necessarily the most pertinent spiritual knowledge, but since David still liked the arrangement, we continued.
Progress is not always linear, and there were many times when David struggled with restlessness in this process. One Sunday, when my arm was around his shoulder, I moved my hand over to the center of his back, on the upper spine, between the shoulder blades. This seemed to have a more calming affect. And sometimes, during the minister’s talk, I would place my fingers up slightly above the nape of the neck, at the medulla oblongata. This was very helpful; he became calm and attentive. In the process, I felt that the vibration of my own calmness and inspiration was shared with David via the direct link at the medulla oblongata.
Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The lips and tongue comprise the mouth of man, because this is where we eat in a physical way, but the mouth of God is the medulla oblongata, inside the hollow point at the base of the skull. This is where we receive the divine energy that truly sustains us, and it is this flow of cosmic energy that Jesus was referring to when he said “every word.”
—The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, by Swami Kriyananda
Paramhansa Yogananda states in his writings on “The Second Coming of Christ” that all language is a manifestation of AUM, and that languages communicate the thoughts and feelings that are universal to humankind. This is in the section on the miracle of Pentecost when people of many languages each understood St. Peter’s speech in their own tongue. He said that the power of AUM was so powerful in St. Peter, and in all of the disciples that day, that the vibration of AUM transmitted his thoughts and words to all of them, in their own tongue.
I believe this principle is at play in the story I shared about the medulla, because it was deeper and more immediate than the times when I put my arm around his shoulder, etc. (A family friend, a single mom, also discovered this was very helpful for her active son when he attended service with her.) As I listened to the minister’s talk, I was feeling calmly inspired, and this feeling was transmitted through the touch at the medulla. Prior to this touch, the words were going over David’s head, and so he did not have that feeling of inspiration, and thus he was restless. But with my touch at his medulla, that feeling of inspiration was shared, and he was able to listen calmly and receptively to the talk. It seemed to put him on the same wavelength.
I do want to be very clear: this touching at the medulla is not a form of behavior control, nor do I think it would be effective that way. For what it transits is your feeling. So – if your feeling was meant as behavior control, as in, “I want my kid to be still and I learned this technique in some yogi book somewhere…” your child will feel that and will probably swat your hand away, or squirm away from you, etc. And he will be right in doing so. But, if it is done as a form of loving support, to help the child share in the experience, he will welcome it.
It has served us well to have this simple family rule of going to at least one satsang per week. It eliminates fights. The kids knew what to expect, and even when we bent the rule, we didn’t eliminate it altogether. And the kids learned to work with it. I remember one Sunday morning when our youngest, David was age 10, piped up, “Can I go to Purification today?”
I was surprised to hear him ask such a thing. Purification is a spiritual ceremony at Ananda, involving 2 mantras, and long periods of prayerful silence. I couldn’t fathom why my 10-year-old son was asking to go to this. What was this sudden interest in such a quiet and still ceremony?
I finally put 2 and 2 together. Purification Ceremony starts at 10 AM, and Sunday Service starts at 11 AM. David was an avid fan of the King’s basketball team, and a game started at 11 AM, and he wanted to be home to watch it! I was amused that he had learned the family ropes well enough that he didn’t even bother pleading with us just to skip Sunday Service, free and clear. Instead, he thought it through, and asked to go to Purification as a substitute. I was also amused that he hadn’t breathed a word of why he wanted to do this (so he could watch the King’s game). Of course, we said yes, and he was happy with that. In the future, whenever he asked to go to Purification, I took it to mean there was another King’s game playing early that day.
At other times we would allow David to choose one of Swami Kriyananda’s talks online; these talks are fairly short, yet beautifully deep, with a good balance of reason and devotion. Swamiji starts each one with a prayer and a mantra. Sometimes, when we simply need a “Sunday off,” we will watch one of these, and end with a healing prayer. If I did not have the blessing of living right here at Ananda Village, I would use this online resource regularly for my family.
This all gives variety, but there is value in being in a room with other devotees chanting, and meditating, so we prefer that our son joins us for Sunday Service most of the time. The talks are interesting and inspiring. It can broaden the perspective of kids’ minds in their teen years, a crucial period for spiritual choices and development. As the years go by, I’ve come to feel this was one of the more important spiritual choices we have made as parents, and it is simply part of the rhythm of our lives.