Q: Brindey, when did you first become aware that you were attracted to alcohol?
A: Both my mother and father were alcoholics, so from a young age I was aware of the pitfalls. When I was eleven, my aunt let me have a sip of a martini and right away I wanted more.
My mother abandoned the family when I was six. My grandmother, who helped my father take care of my younger brother and me, died when I was 11. My brother was sent to a catholic boarding school and I was placed in a foster home on Long Island. My foster parents provided the essentials, but I never felt loved or a part of the family and I yearned to be reunited with my father. The day I realized my father would not be coming to take me home with him, I took a bottle of whiskey from the cabinet and drank it straight, got drunk, and passed out!
I would live with this foster family until I graduated from high school. I felt more like a maid than a part of the family.
Q: Was religion or spirituality part of your early upbringing?
A: Yes. I was raised Catholic and was always very attracted to the mysticism of the saints, especially the ones who suffered for God but didn’t want anybody to know.
Q: How did you first learn about Ananda?
A: I was 24 years old and living in Sacramento and had become friends with Durgadas and Jayanti, who were part of Ananda. By this time, I was separated from my husband and I had a terrible problem with alcohol. I could not stop drinking though I wanted to very much.
After one particularly heavy episode of drinking, Durgadas located me at the home of a friend and insisted that I go up to Ananda Village with him and Jayanti. When we arrived, Swami Kriyananda was conducting a wedding in the temple at the Meditation Retreat. Around his neck was a beautiful garland of white and red carnations.
The three of us were sitting in the back. I looked up at Kriyananda as he was leaving the temple and, at that very moment, one of the white flowers in his garland fell at my feet. I knew it was a sign of hope. I picked up the flower and brought it home.
Q: After that experience, did you become involved with Ananda?
A: Yes. My husband and I reconciled and we both began attending the meditation group that met at Durgadas and Jayanti’s house. The first time I saw Durgadas pronam (bow) before the altar in his home, I felt such a joy rising in me that I could barely contain it. I couldn’t believe anyone could feel that much joy. That was in 1975. A year later my husband and I moved to Ananda Village.
Q: Did you have a problem with alcohol when you lived at Ananda Village?
A: I drank periodically during my entire six years at Ananda Village. Sometimes I was sober for eight months; sometimes for a year. But there were times when I would escape to Sacramento for two or three days and get drunk. I did every thing I could think of to quiet this monster, but I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it, not even to Swami Kriyananda, even though I felt his support and unconditional love.
Q: When did you leave Ananda Village?
A: My husband and I left in 1981 and moved to Stockton, California, where we started an Ananda Center. However, almost from the start, I was battling alcoholism. We soon ended our marriage. Until I could stop drinking, I felt I had to put Ananda, my Guru, and the spiritual path in the background. For me, being a disciple meant I had to be perfect. At that point in my life I thought I was terrible, no good – unworthy. That’s when I turned to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Q: How did AA help you?
A: Although AA did not work for me right away, I was able to do the one thing they urged: I kept going back.
At AA I found acceptance, unconditional love, and a place to belong during a time when I was at my worst. I always knew that if I was having trouble staying sober, any one of these people would drop everything to help me and, in fact, did so on more than one occasion. I was introduced to the spiritual guidelines followed by AA, which little by little took hold in my mind and heart.
Sometimes I was able to stay sober for a year, or even for two years, before relapsing. But it took a solid decade, until 1991, before I was free from this disease.
Q: Was there any single event that marked a turning point, after which you never drank again?
A: Yes. I “came to” on Feb.22, 1991 and realized to the core of my being that all I needed to do was accept the gift of sobriety and say YES to it and to life and God would take care of the rest! On that day I found the inner strength to accept God’s love without reservation. From that time onward, it did not matter to me who loved me or didn’t love me. I never wanted to be drunk again!
But though I knew the battle was over, I also knew I had to play my part and not be presumptuous. I still had work to do. I went back to AA meetings – and listened.
Q: So you continued with AA after that?
A: Yes, for seventeen more years. My spiritual life took the form of fellowship in AA. I spent my free time at AA meetings and functions. I also took the AA “message” out to hospitals and other institutions where there were people who needed AA. And I served as a “sponsor” or counselor for a number of women. I found great joy in helping others in these ways.
Q: Were you ever tempted to start drinking again?
A: I was tested but not really tempted.
Q: Can you explain the circumstances?
A: Yes. I’d been sober for four months when I learned something that brought up all of my unresolved feelings about my mother. My normal pattern would have been to get drunk. Very soon after, however, I was in a car accident and my ribs were so badly hurt I could hardly breathe.
As the paramedic pulled me free of the car, these words went through my mind: “How important is it? Your life is the only one you can do anything about.” And I knew it didn’t matter what my mother had done. Her life was none of my business!
Those two thoughts shifted something in me. Suddenly I became more receptive to God, and to His answers to my prayers in whatever form those answers came. Still, it would be seventeen more years before I returned to Ananda.
Q: I’d like to skip ahead a bit. I understand that you were living in Las Vegas, Nevada when you reconnected with Ananda. What took you to Las Vegas?
A: I originally went to Las Vegas to see my father, but I was still drinking at that time. After I stopped drinking, I stayed in Las Vegas and was able to find work there.
Q: What work did you do?
A: I first worked as a saleswoman in an exclusive dress shop. Then in 1993, I took a job in a casino as a “floor person,” and eventually became an assistant supervisor. I loved serving people in general and my work in the casino was customer service; toward the end it was more like “soul service.” Most people who go to casinos are not very happy. My job became an opportunity to find a way to give a smile, and to treat each individual as the most important person in that moment. It was good work for me, and gave me stability.
Q: How did you find your way back to your spiritual path?
A: I was in a second car accident! ¬That was in April of 2008. I was taking 7 or 8 different pills for a medical condition, and there were certain side effects. One day, while driving, I blacked out a few blocks from my home. I hit a curb and missed a guy on a bicycle by inches.
It was my wake-up call. Immediately I began meditating again, starting with 15 minutes a day and then gradually longer. I also started attending the SRF meditation center in Las Vegas on Thursdays and Sundays. I truly felt the accident was Paramhansa Yogananda’s way of saying to me, “It’s time.”
I started writing Swami Kriyananda and received some wonderful letters from him, encouraging me. For the first time in 22 years, I visited Ananda Village. It was wonderful to connect again with Swami and my spiritual family. Swami made me feel as if I’d never left!
Q: I understand you also connected with Nayaswami Vijay in Las Vegas and that the two of you started a Las Vegas Ananda center. How did that come about?
A: I learned from a close friend at Ananda Village that Nayaswami Vijay, who had been serving at the Ananda center in Gurgaon, India, was back from India and living in Henderson, an arms length away from me. I knew Vijay from my early years at Ananda and I emailed him.
He and I met a few times and became reacquainted. Then, seemingly from out of the blue, on Mother’s day 2010 I had the inspiration, “I want to be a renunciate.”
As a nayaswami, Vijay was already a renunciate. I called him that very day and learned that he’d also been trying to contact me. He said he woke up that morning knowing that a house he owned, and had been trying unsuccessfully to rent, was meant to be an ashram house and he invited me to live in it.
Q: Did the two of you start an Ananda ashram center?
A: Yes, we did. I moved into the house and Vijay and I worked shoulder to shoulder for two and half years. We had rooms for students and friends who wanted to come and stay for a while. Vijay offered classes on meditation and I would sometimes lead sadhana. We were a small group but we always felt God and Guru’s blessings on our work.
Vijay helped me in so many ways: to pay more attention to things, to be conscious of everything around me, and not to be “airy fairy” and passive. He gave me no slack. Soon I felt a huge shift in my energy level, consciousness, and inner experience of God.
Q: Why did you decide to return to Ananda Village?
A: In August of 2012 Swami Kriyananda spoke with Vijay and asked him to sell everything and return to India. I had the option of going to India, but it seemed better for me to move to Ananda Village. Swami agreed. I retired from my casino job and moved to the Village, December 16, 2012.
Q: What’s it been like coming back to Ananda Village?
A: When I had first lived at Ananda Village I had the sincerity and the desire to know God, but felt I had nothing to give. When I came back after twenty two years, by the grace of God and Guru, I felt there was something inside me to give.
Since being back, I’ve had the inspiration in meditation to teach meditation to recovering alcoholics – people who have recovered to the point that they’re not relapsing. When I wrote Swami Kriyananda about the idea, he wrote back to say I had his blessing. He wrote, “Not only do you understand these people but more than that, you know what they can become as a result of meditation.”
As a first step I’ve put up a website called “Higher Power Blog: Holistic Conscious Recovery.”
Q: Could you summarize in a sentence or two the basic message of your website?
A: The essence of the message is that it doesn’t matter what form your delusion takes. Whether the delusion is alcoholism or something else, the best way to transcend it is by experiencing oneness with Spirit. Meditation is the way to attain that realization.