Learning to Love
How can we love? I’m grateful to Swami Kriyananda for helping me deepen my understanding of this essential point of the spiritual path.
For years, after I moved to Ananda in 1976, I felt painfully self-conscious at group gatherings. I wanted to fit in, but I didn’t know how.
The place where I felt most uncomfortable was at “Swamiji’s” – in Swami Kriyananda’s home. I would arrive and would always immediately feel scattered, unstable, and un-centered.
In time, I stumbled across a “technique” that I found I could use to break free of the terrible tension of self-consciousness that gripped me whenever I was in large crowds. Having arrived at Swamiji’s, I would immediately find an empty seat and plant myself firmly there. I would then choose one person in the room and begin to pray for them.
At first, the prayer would be mechanical. I prayed that the person would be blessed to have more health, love, strength, wisdom, and joy. As I repeated the prayer over and over mechanically, I would begin to expand on each part – for example, praying that they have the love of true friends, that they be able to love others with a free and open heart, and above all that they grow in devotion, love for God. Eventually, I would begin to feel actual love for the person. And in that love, all tension and self-consciousness would vanish. Then, invariably, someone would come and sit beside me, and we would have a wonderful conversation.
This “method” worked well for a long time. Then, one beautiful summer day, Swamiji invited the community members to come to his place for a pool party. Because I love anything to do with water and swimming, I immediately staked out a corner of the pool, where I practiced my secret technique. And, as usual, it worked wonderfully. At that point in my spiritual life, I felt that I had begun to make real progress in opening my heart, and I was rather pleased with myself.
Later, we gathered on the patio while Swamiji talked and joked with us. At one point, he was speaking about writers, and how they tend to be shy and retiring. He said, “Look at Rambhakta, he doesn’t say much, but he can put it in writing.”
Well, I suddenly felt intensely self-conscious. Nevertheless, I turned to Nayaswami Asha, who was sitting nearby, and murmured, “I guess he’s giving me permission to be the way I am.” (That is, to be a quiet person, and not the “life of the party” – so long as the inward attitude was expansive and loving.)
Swamiji was sitting at the opposite end the patio, and in a loud voice he said, “What did he say?” To my intense embarrassment, Asha repeated my words loudly for all to hear. Swamiji didn’t say anything, but smiled kindly.
When it was time to leave, I found that I was completely drained of energy. The struggle to keep up my prayers had exhausted me. I was distressed to realize that when we left, we would have to pass right in front of Swamiji, who was sitting by the only exit. In my mind, I drew a mental map of the grounds, seeking some secret back door that I could escape by, and not finding one. When we were in front of him, I muttered something banal, “Thanks for having us,” and staggered away.
In fact, I had begun to suspect that my grand theory of opening the heart by praying for others was somehow flawed. It was one thing to sit and pray for one person – but how could I pray for twelve, or seventeen, or twenty-five people, all of whom posed unique challenges when I encountered them, possibly within a short space of time?
The realization that my method was cracked made me grit my teeth. What was the answer? Must I learn to pray for people in some other way? Must I become, somehow, a more loving person generally? Did I need to learn to “channel” God’s love?
I at last began to understand the answer through some advice that I received from Nayaswami Asha. Tyagini Ishani and I were having some difficulties in our relationship, and one day I went to Asha for her help. I told her that, whenever some disharmony arose, I could always “solve” the problem by driving in the car and chanting for an hour and a half until I felt God’s expansive love opening my heart.
Asha, very quietly, almost reluctantly, said, “If you could go to Divine Mother in the moment…”
What a wealth of wisdom! From then on, if I felt some disharmony rising like a black cloud on the horizon, I found that if I summoned all my energy and consciousness and prayed with my total being, “Divine Mother, I will do anything to create harmony in this situation! Please guide me.” – that the “answer” would always come. By restraining my personal emotions and giving my heart to Divine Mother to be guided as She willed, harmony invariably prevailed. There was no formula, no mantra, and no ritualistic prayers – all that was required was a simple, sincere cry of the heart.
Dealing with the “relationship issues” became a model for finding guidance in other situations. When meeting new people, dealing with business clients, or in social situations, I found that I only needed to ask, “Divine Mother, show me how to behave.”
In time, I realized that Divine Mother is not a remote, impersonal “problem-solver,” but that She is kind, sweet, and loving, and always prepared to help her children. I also realized that there was a place, in the deepest part of my heart, where I could meet her in a completely childlike way. All that was required was to be willing to set my little ego-self aside and come before Her in total simplicity. It also helped tremendously to practice the meditation techniques of our path, particularly Kriya Yoga and the OM technique.
I’ll share a story that shows how that practice has helped me in “real life.”
I had chest pain last Thursday, and on Friday morning I drove to the emergency room of the local county hospital. The hospital is a huge facility where people of low income can get help.
After some initial tests, I spent seven hours waiting to be seen by a doctor. Which was fine, as it turned out, because it seemed as if Master was giving me a lovely seven-hour meditation. I sat in the waiting room, which was large and full of other patients, and closed my eyes and did deep, slow Kriya Yoga breathing while I prayed, “Divine Mother, let’s set Rambhakta aside for today and give Your love.” And before long, I began to feel Her love and joy for all the other people who were waiting. That love was coming through the deepest place in my heart.
Something that surprised me was that a great deal of love went to a young gangbanger. He seemed to be a leader type – he certainly had the “command” bearing. He was a white man in his twenties, and he was there with his Latina wife and two daughters. (How did I know he was a “banger”? Well, the tattoos definitely told a tale…)
At one point, I told him, “I’m an old monk and I pray for everyone. It makes me feel that they are friends.” It was very impressive how courteously and sincerely he responded. I wondered, later, why I hadn’t been able to say more of what I felt – to tell him, for example, that the Divine Mother’s love for him and his family was boundless! – and that She would always “have his back,” if he was in trouble and needed to know what to do. But I realized that perhaps Divine Mother only wanted to pique his curiosity, and that the real weight of Her message to him would come without words.
For the rest of the day, each time I went back into the heart, Divine Mother was there blessing others. And in the following days, in meditation after meditation I felt Divine Mother giving that man and his family more and more of Her love. In fact, she seemed to be more interested in him than in some of the other people who were sick, though I felt Her bless others also.
I thought it was because he had energy and was caring for others – his daughters were happy and well-behaved, his wife seemed loved and respected, and he was the soul of dignified self-restraint. Whatever his past, present, and future, Divine Mother was always at his side, in the most tender, loving way.
At one point, he turned and talked with a young Latino gang member whose face was badly beaten-up, and gave him strong advice and encouragement. Later, an amusing thing happened. He was trying to get his smallest daughter to sit in a chair, but she wasn’t having any of it. She then fell down on the floor – it looked deliberate – and started crying. He immediately picked her up and in a wonderful daddy way distracted her and made her laugh, walking around the room with her on his shoulder and talking to her. I thought, “Oh, Divine Mother, You really are looking out for that man, teaching him through Your presence in the women in his life.” It was very sweet.
All day long I kept going back inside and just felt more and more of Divine Mother’s love going out to people. It was a double lesson, because my mind was far from focused or steady, yet my heart was able to be filled with Divine Mother’s love regardless.
It reminded me of a time when I was young devotee and did something that I wasn’t entirely proud of. That evening in my meditation, I prayed, “Divine Mother, I guess You’ll just have to accept me the way I am.” Instantly, I heard Her motherly, bustling voice: “I am not interested in your faults. I am interested only in your continual improvement!”
Over the years, Swami Kriyananda helped me understand that there are many ways to open our hearts – through devotion, through service to God’s work, and through giving God’s friendship to others. I’ve realized, particularly, that is very important to stay close to the “big pipes” through which Divine Mother is sending Her transforming grace to all; namely, to keep the presence of the Guru in our hearts, but also to be in places (like the Ananda temples) where Her vibrations are particularly strong.
I’ve also come to understand that the love I feel when Divine Mother uses my heart to love others is not coming from Her directly, but through Her instrument, my Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, who is an expression of Her being. As I said in the beginning, I am profoundly grateful to Swami Kriyananda for his ever-present guidance as the Guru’s perfect instrument.