In October 2013, accompanied by my father, I left the peaceful environment of Ananda Village and traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit my grandfather, who had recently suffered a stroke. My father’s sister, who lived in Charlotte, was overseeing the situation, but my father also wanted to help care for my grandfather and to support him during the healing process.
I saw the trip to North Carolina as an opportunity to return the support my father had always given me. It was my father who had given me Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi at a time I was struggling to cope with life’s challenges. The book brought me onto the spiritual path, and eventually led me to Ananda Village, where I now live. My father supported me in my decision to live in a spiritual community, and in many other ways.
The beginning of the conflict
Ten or eleven years earlier, when my grandparents’ health began to decline, they decided to move from Tennessee to Charlotte, North Carolina to be closer to my father’s sister. They had considered moving to California where my father was then living, but could not afford the much higher cost of buying a suitable home. Over the years, my father visited his parents in North Carolina and they also visited our family in California.
After living in Charlotte for about eight years, my grandparents sold their house and bought a house in a senior living complex near Charlotte known as Aldersgate, where, for a monthly fee, they received meals, housekeeping services, and in-house health care.
However, a point came when my aunt decided, without consulting my father, that my grandparents needed to reduce their monthly expenses. Her solution was to move them from Aldersgate to a South Carolina retirement community, which provided no meals or care. My father was hurt and upset that his sister had made this decision without consulting him. The first he heard about it was during a phone conversation with his parents.
Even though my grandparents’ new home was only a 35-40 minute drive to my aunt’s house, moving to South Carolina was very hard on them. They were now 89 and 90 years old and suddenly living in an unfamiliar area. About a year after the move, my grandmother fell, broke her hip, and while hospitalized, left her body. Eight months later, my grandfather had a stroke and was hospitalized. As noted above, my grandfather’s hospitalization was the event that brought my father and me to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Emotional hurt and distrust
The distrust and tension between my father and aunt had been building long before our visit. My father still had strong unresolved feelings about his sister’s decision to move their parents to South Carolina without his consent. Upon arriving in Charlotte, it was obvious that there were many unresolved issues between my father and aunt, including my aunt’s sense that, after my grandmother’s death, the full weight of the responsibility for my grandfather’s medical care and living situation rested on her shoulders.
During my first days in North Carolina, I often found myself in the crossfire of emotional hurt and distrust between my father and aunt. Although my grandfather was now facing serious health and financial challenges, their unresolved feelings toward each other made it difficult for them to agree on how best to help him.
The negative energy between them was strong, and I wasn’t sure I had the strength to face it. I brought to mind Paramhansa Yogananda’s advice to be “even-minded and cheerful” and “to stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds,” which were helpful reminders of the attitude I should hold. Even so, each time there was an argument, I found myself taking the pain into my own heart. When anger was directed toward me, it took all my energy and will power not to react.
A prayer for right attitude
In meditation, I prayed for the right attitude toward the situation, and suddenly remembered the prayer that God gave Sister Gyanamata, Paramhansa Yogananda’s foremost woman disciple, when she experienced apprehension over an unavoidable challenge: “Change no circumstance in my life. Change me.”
During this stressful time, I also felt the inner guidance to practice Yogananda’s Peace and Harmony Prayer.** I would first visualize our family in light, and then repeat for one minute, “Lord, may we be filled with peace and harmony.” I said this prayer several times throughout the day.
The next morning, while practicing the Energization Exercises outside in my aunt’s garden, I noticed a nature friend peering up at me from the sidewalk. It was a little frog! He looked exactly like the little frogs I often saw at “Babaji’s Cave” at Ananda’s Meditation Retreat.
Encouragement from Babaji?
Whenever my father visited me at Ananda Village, we would visit Babaji’s Cave and there be greeted by a loud chorus from the frogs perched on the walls of the cave. Many frogs also live around the pond just above the cave, and the sudden appearance of visitors would send them splashing into water. Since my first visit to the cave, a simple “Ribbit, ribbit …” reminds me to chant “Babaji, Babaji.”
As I finished the Energization Exercises, this little frog seemed to stare up at me with encouragement and love. Despite the hot morning sun, the frog remained on the nearby sidewalk for the next thirty minutes. It seemed as though Babaji himself was reminding me that he was always with me, and encouraging me to draw on him for strength.
I was also reminded of the story in Autobiography of a Yogi about Babaji’s disciple, Lahiri Mahasaya, who was about to leave his Guru’s cave to return to Benares. Babaji told him, “There is no separation for us, my beloved child. Wherever you are, whenever you call me, I shall be with you instantly.” Standing in my aunt’s garden, I felt the truth that the great ones are always with us, giving us strength and guidance.
“Give thanks unto the Lord”
When I began to meditate, right away I heard a buzzing bee circling my head. Looking around, I noticed a beautiful sign in the flowers behind me which read, “Give thanks unto the Lord.”
In that moment I realized that my father, aunt, and I needed to be grateful for the opportunity to grow in God’s love during this time of challenge and, in that spirit of gratitude, to share His love with one another. That day I again practiced the Peace and Harmony Prayer, visualizing all of us in the light. I repeated the prayer several times.
Thereafter, I noticed important changes occurring. Within myself I became aware of a new ability to take things more lightly, and not to become hurt when my aunt and father raised their voices with each other, or with me. It seemed that I had been blessed with a new level of strength. I was also able to talk to my father and aunt separately about their disharmony – and it helped. My father, especially, was very appreciative.
My father and aunt started making a greater effort to get along with each other. Each one told me privately of trying to resolve the disharmony between them. Both of them were optimistic that all the longstanding family issues could be healed, including the experiences leading up to the recent conflict.
A wave of God’s love
By the end of the trip, harmony was restored. My aunt even told us that she looked forward to our next visit. It felt as though a wave of God’s love had gone into the heart of each of us, and healed us from the inside out.
My grandfather recovered from his stroke and lived for several months before passing away in February, 2014. During the months before his death and later, when planning for his funeral, my father and aunt were able to work together harmoniously. After the funeral, my father stayed in North Carolina to help my aunt close down my grandfather’s affairs. Occasionally there were challenges, but overall their feelings toward each other remained very positive.