I do not recognize who I was before coming to Ananda.  Who I am after Ananda, I love. I am actually excited to face the future with this new person, but I am getting ahead of myself. I spent two weeks in the Ananda Ashram Karma Yogi program and eight weeks this summer in the Karma Yoga Internship program – and boy, what an internship it was.

I came to Ananda from Texas after watching the movie about the community, Finding Happiness.  I was a reporter myself, just like the main character.  I quit my job to come to Ananda and I used the internship program as the last class I needed to get my bachelor’s degree.  I had thought the internship program would be intellectually based but for me it was a deeply spiritual trip.  My internship experiences encouraged me to find out what direction in life I was headed, ask questions about who I am, and try to figure out where it was I actually wanted to go.

I made a lot of friends who would often have to stand right next to my tent and play music or shake my tent to get me up for our group morning sadhanas. All of the interns sleep in tents at the campsite called Hiranyaloka, high up on a hill that overlooks the treetops. I loved doing my yoga asanas outside early in the morning watching the sunrise paint the trees in golden yellow hues that brought out shades of purple in the shadows. I would say that this is my favorite spot at Ananda, despite the bloodthirsty mosquitoes that seemingly traveled in hoards on a mission to devour small children.

After the morning sadhana, we have breakfast and then we do two, three-hour work shifts at various places in the Ananda community.  I have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people working at the Crystal Hermitage, Communications Department, Master’s Market, Expanding Light Retreat, and the Meditation Retreat. It was such a blessing to be in a work environment where everyone was so grateful to be of service.  There were many heart-to-heart conversations – gems that will remain in my heart forever.

After our shifts, we had different classes – Raja Yoga – Superconscious Living classes, kirtans, satsangs, and meetings. As you can see, the intern program is not for the faint-hearted introvert. We flew at a fast pace all the time.

In this way, I learned that I could push my body and my mind above what I thought I could do. My energy was always uplifted by doing something productive – cleaning a dish, digging a trench, or practicing meditation. I did not waste energy or time. This is something I do not want to stop. At the same time, I learned that I had the will power to say no and take a step back to retreat to my tent when I needed some personal space.

Everything here was designed for me to grow! I became a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda.  Trimurti Motyka, the Spiritual Director of the program, led the ceremony and I am now on the path to getting Kriya.

I would need to write a novel to describe everything I have learned and done in the program. Instead, I have pared it down to a few essential tools and vital experiences.

Nifty Tools That I Learned

“Aumming”– Who needs duct tape or super glue when you have Aum? Raking near a wasp nest? No worries, just Aum and chant the wasps into peace. A broken oven? No worries, Aum the flame to light. A headache? Poison oak? A broken toe? Car with defective breaks? Okay, maybe I did not use Aum for all of those things but you get my point. The energy behind chanting Aum is amazing!

The birthday song – The song lyrics we sing for birthdays end with, “Master’s blessing on you”. I plan to use this version from now on, as it is a beautiful way to support the ones you love and send them blessings for their highest good.

The goodbye chant – Saying goodbye is hard, but it’s easier if the goodbye is acknowledged and the parting filled with love. I felt I could honor those leaving and comfort them (and myself) at the same time with this song we sing when people are leaving.

The Peace and Harmony Prayer – Need to soothe road rage or need help with a difficult relationship? This prayer works miracles. It also shows how everything can be spiritually enlightening if you are willing to change your perspective and attune with the gurus.

The meal prayer – Why do we Aum only once after this prayer instead of three times like in the other prayers? The food is really good here! Plus, some of the interns are amazing chefs!

New Experiences

Ecstatic Dance – This was a special class outside of the internship program given by a teacher in the community.  My initial fear of awkwardness was soon overwhelmed by self-love as my heart chakra opened wider. I had to stop halfway through the dance and run to the restroom to cry. I had put myself into so many boxes. I had skipped the dance the previous month because I did not know the steps and I was afraid of doing them wrong. How free it felt to just move with the energy and the rhythm. How freeing it was to be able to express yourself in any way you choose after removing the shackles of “correct/incorrect-ness,” the weights of judgment, and the confining ropes of fear of self. I cried for myself and I cried for the world. It felt to me that people put themselves into so many boxes, wrapping themselves in yellow tape and dogmatic black and white doctrines that their lights can’t be seen.  I am determined to let my light shine, to express myself freely with love and respect towards myself and others.  I now feel that ‘nothing on earth can hold me’ (a song lyric by Swami Kriyananda). I am the Soul and only the Divine writes my rules.

Meditation – I did not meditate regularly or even very often before coming to Ananda and now I do not know how I ever managed without it. I have LOTS of energy and meditation helps me to focus my energy, be efficient and productive. Plus, the love that I feel from God and the Gurus of this path during mediation is incredible. I realized that my old desires and actions had been actually been fueled by my desire to connect with God. I pray for the day when everyone is filled with this same love and knowledge.

Living in a tent with the bare minimum – I was nervous about living in a tent, but I actually loved the connection to nature that I gained. I also liked not having all of my spices and fancy cooking ingredients with me as it taught me to be more creative. Every meal was an experiment. Once I was in the middle of making banana bread when someone ate the last two bananas. I ended up using zucchini instead. I also substituted coconut oil for butter, honey for sugar and salt instead of vanilla. It actually turned out great!

Actually enjoying church service– I am from the backwoods deep-fried bible belt of East Texas. I was force-fed hellfire and damnation along with a nametag “sinner.” I had balled that nametag up along with the rampant hypocrisy and placed that chip on my shoulder. Over the years, I named the chip grudge, fear, guilt, and anger. I directed those ugly feelings at God, then at devotees, and finally at myself for putting them on my shoulder in the first place and not knowing how to let them go. The Sunday Service at Ananda allowed me to loosen up enough to see the Truth. The Truth was that I felt uncomfortable at my old churches because I did not see my spiritual path in that same way. I decided to give myself permission to be okay with choosing a different path to God and I gave up my judgment towards those who I felt had judged me. I cannot find that chip anywhere anymore.

Making friends again – Before I came to Ananda, I did not have friends – just my jobs, school, and a relationship that needed to end.  I was so closed off that I did not find anyone who wanted to grow spiritually in the ways that I did.  At Ananda, I made some very close friends who have helped me grow spiritually. I never realized how important it was to have a spiritual group of friends but I am so grateful to have them and their support.

Crying and not feeling the need to hide in shame – Somewhere down the line, I stopped allowing myself to feel my feelings unless my ego judged it to be politically acceptable, which seemed to be never.  There were many healing moments at Ananda that culminated in tears and so many comforting hugs and hands that reached out for me. I have been so blessed.

After a while I noticed a change within myself. I had more confidence and my energy was more grounded and I used it in a more productive manner.  This whole trip seemed to be about me learning self-worth. I am too valuable to keep myself in unhealthy relationships, black and white boxes containing lazy grudges, and a victim’s mindset.

I won’t go back to who I was. I cannot. I want more out of life. I want to be uplifted every second of the day. I want to be one with God in everything I do – every second.

Thank you, Ananda for being my stepping stone and for pulling me up so that I could change my life, my relationships, my decisions, my job, and my heart.  I am starting to see my inner light again and I cannot wait to share that light with the world.

I pray for courage every day that my actions reflect my worthiness and my love for myself and Divine Will. Thank you, Ananda, for loving me!

You Have All of My Love,
<3 Stephanie

11 Comments

  1. Wow, Stephanie, what a beautiful article! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences so well. Made me want to cry a bit too! Joy to you~

  2. Beloved gurubai sister, I am so happy that you have found us! How funny that you lived our movie, “Finding Happiness” in your own Stephanie way. Truly, the journey is the same for us all as we sing our different song to God- unique and one- all at once. I had some of that banana bread that you left at Yogoata, and it was yummy! I saw it on the shelf, and allowed it to sit for a day so that the girls could eat it. When they left it there, I had a small bite, and then devoured the whole thing- it was that good. Thank you for the gift of being amongst us. Joy, Virani

  3. It was a pleasure getting to know you Stephanie. Thank you for sharing your journey both in person and in your beautiful words here. Jai Guru.

  4. Really beautiful article, Stephanie! You are a great writer. Glad that you are having such a wonderful experience and are tuning in so well into what Ananda can offer. I’m sure you’ll have a bright future and it has been great connecting with you!

  5. This is a fabulous article, Stephanie. It makes the Ananda experience real. Congratulations on escaping into a better version of yourself — and for sharing your insights with us.

  6. Wow, Stephanie. This was fantastic to read. You write so well and are so full of love and enthusiasm.
    Welcome to the family!
    I’m so glad you experienced what all those of us who live here have.
    Thank you for sharing, great soul!

  7. I am so happy to read this wonderful telling of a wonderful experience for you. I know that you will take this with you along with your wonderful light everywhere you go from here. Much Juju for your next journey from a fellow yogi whom also learned more than words can speak from every one In the community and especially those in the program. Namaste

  8. Lovely write-up! I was Ananda’s first college intern in 1981. A wonderful six months! Dave 541-270-2442 8/30/19

  9. Stephanie, welcome to the family. Thanks for sharing your experience. Aum… :)

  10. Stephanie,

    What a wonderful article! We were so blessed to have you helping us at the Crystal Hermitage. You are the poster child of how, after an ice cold drink of electrolytes one can come back to life.

    friends forever,
    Sundara

  11. Thank you for a wonderfully written article and for sharing the many things you experienced during the Intern program. I think many people who are seeking a better life can benefit from your experiences.
    In joy, Parvati

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