The final chapter of Paramhansa Yogananda’s spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, finds him walking with his dear friend and first American disciple, Dr. Lewis through his Encinitas Hermitage grounds. Dr. Lewis asks about a construction project underway on the far side of the grounds and Yogananda begins to describe his vision for world brotherhood colonies:
In these beautiful surroundings I have started a miniature world colony. Brotherhood is an ideal better understood by example than by precept! A small harmonious group here may inspire other ideal communities over the earth. —Paramhansa Yogananda (Original Autobiography of a Yogi edition from 1946)
Oh how his words, set firmly in the ether, have begun to blossom before our eyes. I don’t know if I can do justice to my experiences of living in community. Having been born at Ananda Village, a spiritual community based on Yogananda’s teachings, I have the perspective of a child. Returning as an adult and raising my own two children here, I suddenly see things through the eyes of my own parents. From both perspectives, this place is heaven. I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts from each point of view for anyone interested in what it’s like to live in a community like Ananda.
Why kids love spiritual community:
1. Everyone is your friend. I mean everyone. Meditation and the path of self realization softens the edges of all of us. Looking around, I see a community brimming with inspiring people who are always refining themselves, becoming their best. Part of the softening is the love that begins to flow from your heart to everyone equally. Young, old, new, seasoned – yogi’s don’t pay much attention to the outside. It’s the inside that counts and in that we are all instant and lifelong friends.
2. You learn to be happy; not just because you got a new toy. You learn to be happy in your heart because you see it all around you. You see how people are living in their highest expression as much as they possibly can. You see adults humbly, joyfully working together. You see that two cars, two kids and a big house do not bring happiness. You see how service to a greater good brings meaning into your life.
3. You learn to be still. I don’t mean “kids should be seen and not heard” still. I mean, you learn to meditate, to find Spirit in nature, to open your heart through devotional chanting under a big full moon.
4. Your friends are for life. I cherish my friendships from childhood here. My Ananda kid friends understand me in ways that no one else can. Whether this becomes their path as adults or not, they “get you” and the value of your shared experiences are priceless.
5. Adults are awesome. There are no Mrs’ or Mr’s in community. Just beautiful souls trying everyday to become saints. Adults share their knowledge freely with you. They don’t talk down to you; they talk across. And although you may experience a few teenage years of being annoyed with the grown ups and their big smiles and cheesy chants, you will see pretty fast that they are awesome. That these grown ups are genuine, good people. Kids know these things. They feel it deep down and no one can shine it on for kids.
Why parents love spiritual community:
1. God is everywhere. This is true of the entire universe, but when faced with the daily duties of diapers and tantrums and peek-a-boo, it’s easy to forget. It’s easy to get completely absorbed in family responsibilities and wake up one day to the thought, oh yeah, I think I wanted to do something big in my life…what was it again? Oh yeah, FIND GOD! Geez. At Ananda, reminders of God are everywhere and inspiration for the search for inner freedom is as abundant as the deer and the red clay.
2. Play dates = Satsang. This is ‘da bomb, as they say. There is really nothing like taking your kiddo to see her BFF who happens to be the son of devotees. So while the kids cavort, you get to talk about your creative new ways to get sadhana time, as well as the usual conversation points of sleep issues, food issues and the latest kid phobias. Really, I sound a little glib, but this is a priceless gift from Divine Mother to have families with a common spiritual focus to spend time with.
4. A big, wonderful spiritual family. Living in spiritual community with your nuclear family means that you get to expand into a much larger spiritual family. Tulsi and Jay have 200 aunties, uncles, grandmas, grandpas and cousins. In fact, that’s what they have at Ananda Village, but Ananda is much bigger than one community and they have that nearly everywhere they go! Having experienced this myself, I can say that it is the BEST. Love is pouring out to you at every turn: when you get groceries at the Market, swing by the mail room, visit the dairy or go to school. Everyone genuinely loves and cares about you. As a parent, it is incredible to know that your child is feeling Divine Mother’s love through so many caring hearts every single day. What a precious thing.
5. Magic is in the air. I know this from growing up here, but as a parent it is so sweet to watch how the wonder and magic of life is cultivated and protected here. Children are encouraged to find their own voice, to believe in the wonder of the universe and to explore it all for themselves. They are empowered to change the world for the better, to reach for their highest potential and to grow grow grow.
All parents know that you can give a child a good foundation and from there they must take their own path. Attachment to the outcome is not only pointless, but painful. As a parent of small children here at Ananda Village I am ever grateful for the opportunity to provide a foundation built on the vision of Yogananda for a better world. A vision of harmonious simple living, from which true happiness springs from the heart.
Tulsi and Jay chose a birth with yogi parents. With or without children, I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to live in such a rare haven.
May Yogananda’s suggestion that harmonious communities spread across the world come to be in our lifetime!
(Many photos are taken by the incomparable Barbara Bingham!)