Q. Mangala, for more than 30 years you have been a Nurse Practitioner. As a devotee, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced in bringing your service in health and healing in alignment with your spiritual goals?
A. Years ago, I discovered that one of my biggest challenges as a nurse was attachment—attachment to the person I was serving, and also to my role as a caring professional. My first big awareness of this came when I found myself in tears because I was unable to be present at the childbirth of a favorite patient. This was in the 1970s, long before I came onto the spiritual path.
Q. How and when did you come onto the spiritual path?
A. In 1984, after hearing an Ananda minister, Asha Praver, give a talk in Seattle, Washington on “How To Bring God into Every Moment of Your Life.” Her talk affected me profoundly, especially in helping me see how much I yearned for a spiritual life.
At the time, I was teaching nursing at the University of Washington School of Nursing and also seeing patients. After hearing Asha discuss the eight aspects of God, especially peace, calmness, love, and joy, I realized that what I most loved about teaching and nursing was being able to express these divine qualities, and helping students and patients express similar qualities.
Q. As you studied Yogananda’s teachings and began to meditate, were you able to bring those qualities more into your work?
A. Yes, and I was discovering that when attuned to the divine qualities, one’s energy becomes more deeply healing.
Q. You mentioned that attachment has been one of your biggest challenges. Have you been able to resolve that?
A. I took a big step toward resolving it when I made the decision to leave for a desert retreat, even though a friend had suddenly become severely ill, with the possibility of dying. I was then living at Ananda Village (I moved there in 1987), and I worked as a Nurse Practitioner at the nearby clinic founded by Dr. Peter Van Houten, an Ananda devotee.
Q. How did this decision help you overcome attachment?
A. This woman and I were very good friends and I was also one of her caregivers. So it was natural for me to want to be with her during her crisis. At the same time, she had been through several such medical “crises” previously, and she always came through them just fine.
The situation forced me to introspect and try to figure out what was the dharmic or “righteous” decision—to stay, in order to be part of her support team, or to go ahead with my plans to take time off and nurture myself with a much-needed rest.
My first inclination was to stay, because staying seemed so obviously the right thing to do. But the thought kept coming that I was attached both to being with her, and to my image of myself as a good friend and caregiver, and that for my own spiritual growth, I needed to go.
So, after much agonizing and trying to tune into inner guidance, I decided to go as a conscious act of non-attachment and faith that God was the Doer and fully in charge. I also believed I would be an even stronger part of her support team while away because I would have much more time to meditate and pray.
Q. Ultimately, did you feel you made the right decision?
A. Ultimately, yes, but I had a great deal of self-doubt about it for some time. My friend died while I was away, which was very difficult for me. I so deeply regretted not being with her when she died that it wasn’t easy to break through my emotions and see how my leaving might have actually been good for both of us. Only after a lot of meditation, prayer and soul-searching was I convinced that I really had made the right decision.
I felt my friend’s presence very strongly the whole time I was away, and I know my prayers and visualizations reached her. Spiritually, this experience was an important turning point in my learning to trust my inner guidance, to trust God, and to trust the power of prayer.
Q. Being able to help people from afar is the foundation of Ananda’s healing prayer ministry. Was this your first experience of the truth of this teaching?
A. I was part of the healing prayer ministry and believed this to be true, but in this situation I was actually able to experience that it was true.
Q. In this experience with your friend, you resolved a potential conflict between your role as a nurse and what was right for you spiritually. Have you faced that potential conflict in other situations?
A. Many times! There was another big lesson around this issue involving this same friend who died. When I first learned of her diagnosis with a very serious and usually fatal illness, I wanted to mobilize a community support system to assist her in coping with her illness. My training as a nurse had taught me how important this was.
Swami Kriyananda, however, told her that she shouldn’t share the diagnosis with any more than the few of us who already knew. This surprised me, but at this point in my spiritual development, I knew enough to accept that Swami Kriyananda’s inner attunement with the Divine was likely to be more “right” than my “professional” knowledge.
Months later, I was able to see the wisdom of his guidance. He had wanted my friend to become strong enough in her acceptance of the diagnosis, and in her commitment to make it an opportunity for spiritual growth, that she wouldn’t be weakened by the fears of others.
Q. How might others’ fearful thoughts have weakened your friend?
A. My friend had been told that she probably had only about eighteen months to live. She was frightened and in shock, and her aura was weak, which made her susceptible to becoming even more ill from the negative, fearful thoughts of others.
After taking a few months to become stronger in her mind and in her attunement with her Guru, she was able to share her situation with others without their fears weakening her resolve to fight as a spiritual warrior. By giving full energy to her spiritual practices, she lived another ten years with vitality and joy.
Q. Have there been other experiences that strengthened your faith that God is fully in charge of our lives?
A. It’s been a major recurring issue for me. A key situation involved a devotee who was dying of cancer and came with his wife to live his last days near Ananda Village—to be in the vibration of other devotees. Toward the end, the man’s wife was having difficulty coping with his physical needs and his impending death.
One day, while driving back to the clinic after changing his dressings, I prayed to Paramhansa Yogananda: “Why can’t you just take him? He’s ready to go!” In that moment I “heard” a response, “But what if by staying in his body a few more days his soul could be liberated?” Immediately I retracted my request!
From then on, I’ve had a much easier time accepting that God has a plan, and that the only appropriate prayer in situations involving peoples’ lives and health is: “Thy will be done.”
Q. Can you share any other instances of where you came to see that God was “in charge” when it wasn’t immediately obvious?
A. I learned another aspect of this truth while treating a woman at Ananda Village who had sustained a severe injury to her leg. As the doctor and I were cleaning the wound, which was very deep, I apologized because our efforts were obviously increasing her pain.
She looked at me very seriously and said: “About a week before the accident, I dreamed that I had lost my leg. I know that it’s only by Guru’s grace that instead of losing my leg, I got this nasty wound. I’m very grateful it wasn’t worse.”
I’ve always remembered this dramatic demonstration of how much worse things could be if it weren’t for God’s grace, and how easy it is to forget that a loving God is in charge and taking very good care of us, even if it doesn’t seem so from our limited perspective.
Q. Currently you are serving as director of the new “Lifestyles for Radiant Health” program at the Expanding Light at Ananda Village. How does this tie into your efforts to integrate spirituality and health?
A. Ultimately, the course enables participants to see radiant health as a bridge to spirituality. Yogananda says that the highest level of healing is spiritual, and involves opening to God’s presence within.
For this, there are no better tools than those Yogananda brought: Energization Exercises, meditation techniques, affirmations and visualizations. These same spiritual tools also enable us to achieve radiant health on all levels—physical and mental as well as spiritual.
Q. You’ve offered the program twice now. How have people responded?
A. Participants have loved the course for how it empowers them to move to their next steps in radiant health of body, mind, and soul.
Q. It seems, then, that this course is very much in alignment with your spiritual goals?
A. Indeed, it is. It brings me great joy to help others awaken to their soul natures. And for some people, the doorway to that awakening is their health.