Living Wisely, Living Well
by Swami Kriyananda
In Living Wisely, Living Well, perhaps more so than in any other of his books, we the readers feel our spirits lifting up on the waves of blessing flowing through Swami Kriyananda’s words of guidance for each day of the year.
An inspiring life lesson
The story behind the book is in itself an inspiring life lesson. Kriyananda set out to complete the first edition, titled Do It Now!, in one day, ending his labors at about three o’clock in the morning. But before he could begin editing it, he had to undergo heart surgery, and was ordered by his doctors to take the entire next year off to recuperate.
Instead, preparing this book (and others) for publication made his “year of rest” the most intensely active year of his life. Even the day of the surgery itself Kriyananda worked. The day after the surgery he, incredibly, “blew away the post-operative mists” and continued his work, staying with it until the book was ready for publication. So enthusiastic was he about the result and wanting as many people as possible, and as soon as possible, to read the book, Kriyananda gave away the first 5,000 copies without charge.
Now fourteen years later, Do It Now! has metamorphosed into Living Wisely, Living Well — a much revised and greatly expanded new edition, the fruit of Kriyananda’s “continued growth in the insights it expresses.”
In his introduction, Kriyananda explains that the “sayings in this book consist of lessons I myself have learned in life, whether by experience or through trial and error; sometimes by deep pain or disappointment; many times through an inner joy almost unbearable.” He concludes with this exhortation: “I ask you, as a favor to yourself: Buy, beg, or borrow this collection of thoughts…..keep it on your nightstand or in your meditation room. Read from it every morning, and ponder, throughout the day, the thoughts expressed. If even one saying should spare you some of the pains I have experienced in my own life, I shall feel amply rewarded. For whatever tests you face or have faced, they will likely resemble some that I, too, have known.”
A focusing practice
My own approach has been to read the day’s selection when I first wake up in the morning – a time of great receptivity. I try to carry the thought and vibration of the reading into the ten-minute walk through a forested area of Ananda Village to Hansa Temple and our community morning meditation there. The meditation leader reads the passage at the conclusion of our time together – another very receptive time.
During the ten-minute walk home, I try to bring Kriyananda’s guidance into focus for the activity of the day. And during the day – at rest points, such as midday meditation and lunch, quiet times at work – I revisit the reading, check in on how I’m doing, and try to reconnect if activity has pulled me away from centered awareness. This focusing practice becomes the more heart-opening when I can feel, behind the words of guidance themselves, the loving presence of Swami Kriyananda, in Nayaswami Devi’s phrase, “a wise impartial friend”—one who wishes only our own joyful freedom from all darkness and delusion.
Freedom from all darkness
To a recovering English major like myself, the book’s title – Living Wisely, Living Well – recalls the tragic speech of Othello, driven by jealousy to murder his chaste and innocent wife Desdemona:
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Now set down aught in malice: Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well.
The serious seeker reads such a tale and learns the price of emotional excess, of attachment and despair. He feels the tragedy of waste—human potential brought low through flawed perception.
The wonder of Kriyananda’s book is that, without denying or ignoring the reality of suffering and tragedy in human life, his real thrust is entirely practical and positive—how to find freedom from all darkness. He takes the lessons learned from a life spent in careful observation of himself and others, and extracts from them guidelines that can transform the life of anyone who will practice them faithfully and with an open heart.
A favorite spiritual memoir of mine is The Way of the Pilgrim, the personal account of an anonymous nineteenth-century Russian pilgrim, who, hearing in a Russian Orthodox church service, the text from St. Paul—“pray without ceasing”— devotes his life to understanding and practicing this simple instruction. We the readers follow his journey deeper and deeper into joy and freedom.
May it be the same for each one of us with Living Wisely, Living Well. Read and practice the daily lessons. If one strikes you deeply, as St. Paul’s words did the Russian pilgrim, stay with it, make it your spiritual practice, and follow it to the divine reward that comes with its perfection.
Lessons for the New Year
Since we are entering the season of Christmas and New Year, I wanted to share those particular readings, to whet your soul appetite for the wonderful journey that lies ahead.
For Christmas Day: “The teachings of Jesus Christ, and of every great spiritual master are as fresh, true, and alive today as when they were first declared. Truth never changes with time. Its expression may vary with fluctuations in human understanding, but love, wisdom, and joy are eternal realities. There is no need to ‘pound your pulpit,’ emotionally. All that anyone needs is the awareness that truth, as taught in all true scriptures, is forever one. Our souls come from God, and our divine assignment is to merge back at last into Him.”
And for New Year’s Day, capturing the very essence of the practice of “living wisely, living well”: “Resolve difficulties by raising your level of consciousness. Keep your mind focused at the point midway between the eyebrows: the seat of superconsciousness.”