We are now experiencing interesting times with our world enduring a pandemic that demands extraordinary measures and brings social and economic turmoil and hardship. More recently we find ourselves in the throes of reckoning with the persistent, systemic racism in our society. Paramhansa Yogananda predicted a time like this. He called it a necessary purification and purging of humanity’s greed and selfishness. He gave us a general idea but few details of what this cataclysm would look like, so we especially need to attune to Divine guidance to find our way through it.
Can Seclusion Skills Help Us During Times of Isolation?
I was on a spiritual retreat several years ago in my seclusion trailer at a beautiful natural location. I had just finished the morning’s long meditation. It went well and I felt much like my normal self but a bit fatigued from the long inner effort.
The thought came to me to share every moment with God as I got up to prepare the Vitality Beverage which is a part of Yogananda’s Nine-Day Healing and Cleansing Diet. So I got up slowly, trying to feel Divine Mother’s presence in my thoughts, Her energy in my arms and legs and so on.
Soon She and I together were grating the carrots necessary for the beverage. While experimenting with my grating techniques, it occurred to me that I could either drag the carrot across or push it across the grater. I inwardly asked Divine Mother which way She preferred, being thorough in my sharing.
Immediately an answer came, clear and pure in a vibration I have since become better at recognizing: “Sudarshan, I really don’t care how we grate the carrots.”
Oops! I felt really silly for bothering Divine Mother with such a trivial question but elation grew in me too: I got an answer! I think this is real!! So, gently and carefully I shared other thoughts and questions and soon it seemed Divine Mother and I were having a pretty good conversation. True, clarity and purity were gradually diminishing and the thoughts were getting more familiar, like what goes through my mind normally. Yet the experience still seemed good and I went with it.
Soon enough though, I noticed that Divine Mother was saying things that I did not think Divine Mother would really say. In a flash, the realization came that my mind could be making up the whole thing! I was mortified, embarrassed, and deeply disappointed (mostly in myself but a little in Her too). In that instant, I stamped my foot on the floor, gazed powerfully into the spiritual eye, and demanded with tears in my eyes, “Divine Mother! Is this really You, or is it just me?!”
Immediately the clarity and purity returned stronger than before, and these wonderfully compassionate words entered my mind: “Oh, Sudarshan! It’s partly Me and it’s partly you, and as you progress on the spiritual path it will be more Me and less you. And that’s just fine!”
My tears of shame turned into tears of joy and I spent a long time after that in cheerful peace.
Of course, I must consider the possibility that this experience was a delusion, but a growing number of similar experiences over the succeeding years are piling up circumstantial evidence that something very special is indeed going on. Previously unknown pathways of higher consciousness seem to be opening and widening.
Seclusion is the price of greatness.Paramhansa YoganandaYogananda highly recommended the practice of seclusion. He said, “Seclusion is the price of greatness.” Swami Kriyananda urged us to take a week of seclusion yearly and more if we could. I was inspired by their words and began this practice soon after moving to Ananda Village in 1976. Many Ananda members took seclusion regularly in those days and still do. Kriyananda returned from his seclusions glowing with inner light and vigor and shared with us many stories of deep inner communion.
Seclusion is a time to send our inner explorers into unknown spiritual territory.
I have often thought of seclusion as a time to send our inner explorers into unknown spiritual territory so they can return to tell all our inner citizens of the wonders they have seen, the joys they have felt, and most importantly the transformations they have experienced. Then in our regular daily meditations, we can revisit those new realms and make them our own. Thus our yearly seclusions can bless us all the days of our lives.
Skills Clarifying Attunement
The skills we develop from seclusion can help us clarify attunement that we need at this time. Social isolation gives us similar opportunities. Yes, there is misunderstanding and disharmony these days. But beyond that, people are also discovering a greater sense of togetherness, of concern for and solidarity with others, and gratitude for the things in life that really matter — such as true friendship, sincerity, kindness, and appreciation of the Divine in each other.
What has brought this discovery? Perhaps we now realize that we took our former togetherness too much for granted, though I suspect there is more to this phenomenon. I think that together we are approaching the discovery of our truest spiritual reality as well.
Yogananda taught that each of us is a unique and deeply beloved part of the whole of Divine consciousness. This manifested in his especially sweet and intimate relationship with Divine Mother. They had deeply meaningful conversations. She answered his questions and he even argued with Her as we may sometimes do with a dear friend. They were secure in their love for each other.
Perhaps we now realize that we took our former togetherness too much for granted.
Yes, it is a bit scary to have such a close friend who is also omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent! But when you ask Divine Mother about it, She doesn’t say portentously, “Behold my magnificence and bow down in awe!” Rather She says, “Don’t worry, Dear Beloved! You’ll soon get used to it. What I am is also your true nature and your Divine destiny — the eternal truth of what you are. Receive it and grow into it! Let’s be friends.”
Realizing this truth is both the simplest thing you have ever done and at the same time the most supremely difficult thing you have ever done! It’s easy because it is based on the fundamental truth of who and what we really are. All people in the world are a part of this truth and I believe this helps us feel close to each other in perilous times. It’s difficult because we tend to use our powerful Divine natures and infinite resourcefulness to become extremely skillful at hiding the truth from ourselves! It takes much hard work to gradually retrain our minds and hearts to commune effectively with Divine Mother and receive Her vibrations of grace. These blessings incrementally but powerfully transform our consciousness and return it to its home in the Divine. Seclusion attracts these blessings.
Applying the Lessons of Seclusion to Today’s Challenges
How can we work with feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness while we practice social distancing? Try thinking about others who are lonelier than you! Make a list of friends you haven’t connected with for a while. Set aside an hour on your calendar each week for calling, Skyping, FaceTiming, or Zooming with them. Work your way through the list over the months ahead. Focus on giving. The joy you receive will come of itself. My wife and I have been amazed at how rewarding this practice has been for us and at how grateful people are that we reach out during the pandemic.
Also, missing seeing many dear friends at Ananda Village, I sometimes make a date to meet someone outside on a breezy hillside nearby. We drive or walk separately to our rendezvous, sit about ten feet apart with the air not blowing directly from one to the other, and put on our masks when someone else walks nearby and when we are walking together. I’ve learned in seclusion that another soul and I can communicate at any distance, especially if we are both consciously feeling that our attention is communing with God first, then with each other as parts of God. I’ve recently found that an air hug can convey a satisfying depth of connection when done from this perspective.
Be sure your spiritual practices are regular. I guarantee you that, no matter how much resistance you might feel about prayer, yoga postures, Energization Exercises, meditation, chanting, or reading inspirational writings, you will find they have vastly more benefits than imagined, when you simply go ahead and do them anyway. In seclusion, we have the chance to experience reluctance and resistance, time to work through it, and clarity to see beneficial results. That discovery empowers our efforts.
Regularity in the practice of your meditation techniques is also extremely important. Because the energy you put out, even reluctantly, will build on itself over time, until the vitality is strong and durable. Practice meditation as you have learned it, with as much focus, attention, and love as you can muster. Check on ananda.org for a refresher if you think you need it. Don’t worry if you think you are failing or that the job is too big. Actually, the job is enormous but you are also a spectacularly powerful Divine Being. This means that you are equal to the task whether you think so or not!
Pray for others at the end of your meditations and keep a list of those who need prayers, so that you remember them. In seclusion I’ve found that sometimes I have an unexpectedly strong connection with a particular person when doing concentrated healing prayers for them. Occasionally I’ve later called them or their caregiver and asked if something important was going on at the time of my prayer. Sometimes they’re amazed at how I knew about their special need! I didn’t, but God did and He must have given me a hint. This may have happened with you. If not, it most likely will if you persist in your inner efforts routinely and support that perseverance with consistent seclusions.
Take seclusions regularly! Times of lockdown or sheltering in place are great chances to get in the habit. For 30 years I attended a three-hour meditation every Saturday morning. It’s been a spiritual anchor for my week. During the pandemic, I’ve retired to my seclusion trailer in our back yard for this. (Doing this in a dedicated holy place is usually more focused than in an area where you do other activities.) Once a month I take a seclusion morning there to spend half a day reading, journaling, meditating, and praying. This anchors my month. Now I often receive inspirations that help me immeasurably in challenges I face, especially during the pandemic.
Many folks are now creating mini-retreats like this in backyards, on rooftops, and in other under-used spaces. Just a small, simple screened space with a few plants and a simple water feature can be your own special holy place.
Spiritual Readings and Recordings
Read or listen to Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda. Their consciousness flows through their voices and their writing. If you do not already, subscribe to Treasures Along the Path (archived talks by Swami Kriyananda). Or listen to freely offered recorded talks on that site. Tune in to these teachers’ vibrations even more than their words. The vibrations’ power will uplift and transform you. The teachings offer a bonus cornucopia of handy hints that really work.
Connect With an Ananda Minister
Connect with an Ananda minister near you or online. If you do not have a spiritual advisor, now would be a good time to establish such a relationship. When you have questions, be sure to ask. Try to gather perspective on what is happening now in the world on a deeper level and strive to find your place in it. This is an example of how our current troubles are providing us with real opportunities for spiritual growth.
Be a Warrior of Light
Kriyananda and Yogananda often spoke of a negative force that strives mightily to keep us enmeshed in materialism and keep us away from the spiritual focus which can set us free. At this time especially, that negative force is not so much trying to make us unsafe, lonely, or sick (these are temporary), as it is trying to divide us and make us not trust each other — thus pulling us into negativity that potentially sabotages us for many incarnations. This has always been a favorite strategy of the forces of darkness. Divisiveness is strong in the world now, and Ananda residents and spiritual seekers everywhere are not immune to it.
At Ananda, we see ourselves as Warriors of Light who are together fighting a very real battle with that negative force which is cleverly and powerfully trying to defeat us. Specifically, when your friends or dear ones express divisive or defensive consciousness, try calmly to meet it with healing Love and harmony. Help them to see a higher perspective and be an example of that for them. If you allow yourself to react in kind, the forces of darkness will score a victory for that moment, at least. Truth and Light will prevail in the end, and your inner work through your spiritual practices is supporting that Light and that victory for yourself and for us all.
To support your inner work and that of others, you are welcome to join spiritual seekers around the world in Ananda’s Campaign for World Healing, with a brief online talk and Healing Prayers every Thursday at 8am PST.
Kriyananda said that conflict, as we are seeing now, naturally occurs when our world moves from one Yuga (an era of consciousness) to another. Purification is necessary to move into an age of higher awareness and to leave behind the old forms that no longer serve us. This is fascinating, and a search on ananda.org about the Yugas will yield this video and many more resources for further investigation. Even a cursory understanding of larger perspectives can give us a breadth of consciousness to help us discover purpose and expand hope in this time of change.
I must add that almost certainly you will discover great resistance to your efforts at inner communion. I don’t say this to discourage you but so that you are properly prepared. Don’t worry about obstacles, either within yourself or from others. Simply keep putting one foot in front of the other. By doing so, you will gradually develop great power and inexorable determination which will be stopped by nothing and cannot possibly fail. It doesn’t seem like a glacier is moving when you are standing on top of its ice, but its relentless flow nevertheless has the power to remove mountains and cast them into the sea.
You might also be interested in a booklet I wrote: Seclusion – Practicing the Joyful Art of Sharing Quality Time With God, where I provide a simple framework for successful seclusion. The booklet is available from me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May your inner life be blessed and may it lead you to joy and success in every phase and every challenge of your life.
More information and how-tos can be found in the articles below.
Lessons in Meditation
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