I remember feeling a little desperate in the fall of 1992. We had volunteered our home in Santa Rosa to hold Sunday services, kirtans, classes, and other gatherings for our Ananda meditation group.
That house had been a real blessing. It not only had rooms for everyone in our family but it also had a large sunroom in the back that we used for our little temple. It was now, however, time to find a larger space for the group.
We had been driving up and down the streets for months looking for signs of someone moving so that we might be the first ones to claim it. We would get the newspaper every day and search the rental ads for listings. Ads we also placed seeking a rental turned up nothing. It was a very competitive rental market and nothing came of those efforts.
Then one day as we were driving down Humbolt St., an older tree-lined street near the center of town, we saw a woman putting up a rental sign in front of a two-story Victorian house. Not only was it exactly what we needed and wanted but the walnut tree in front of the house had been planted by Luther Burbank himself in 1916! Yogananda dedicated his Autobiography of a Yogi to Luther Burbank, so it was a sure sign for us that Master was in charge. We rented the place on the spot!
We had learned about the walnut tree from Rose, a 91-year-old woman who lived a block away. She told us that in 1916 the mayor of Santa Rosa had built the house we’d rented. She was l6 years old at that time and had watched Luther Burbank plant the walnut tree in the front yard during the dedication of the house.
The dedicated temple in our new home was not particularly attractive or magnetic but our meditation group certainly was so we continued to grow and flourish. Gary and Nalini Graeber became our primary ministers and they, along with other ministers, came down from Ananda Village to lead workshops, kirtans, and Sunday services.
Nalini was essentially our divine mother hen. She stayed in constant touch with us from the Village — coordinating the ministers, speakers, and special guests who came to visit us.
I cannot begin to express how transformational all of this was for my family and myself. A core group of devotees contributed their resources and energies to what was trying to happen and we created many new divine friendships with our burgeoning and expanding meditation center.
Every Victory Invites Another Battle
There was a downside — our miracle home had now become too small. What were we to do? It was one thing to look for a place to live but looking for a place to house a center, which inevitably was our next step, was quite another.
Everyone in our core group worked nine-to-five jobs. We only had blocks of time during the weekends to chase down listings and that was getting us nowhere. (This was in the time before computers and Google!) We needed to find a safe place that everyone could agree upon. It needed to also be affordable and have parking and appropriate zoning. At first, it just did not seem to be trying to happen.
We were never disheartened. We understood that we had what we really needed — Master’s Grace and his tools. We used affirmations. We continued to Energize, meditate, sing, and pray together. The Graebers and other ministers continued to make their 360-mile round trips to our home for the next two and a half years.
The energy finally began to shift when Patricia London, a devotee from the Village moved to Sonoma County. She had more flexibility in her schedule than the rest of us and was able to help a great deal in the Goliath search for our new location. She spent the next several months looking at various properties for us.
First, Patrica would scope out potential sites to see if they met our basic criteria and needs. If it did, she would call one of us and have us check it out as well. The next step was to arrange a core group gathering at the property. The group would meditate on how it all felt and then meet and discuss the next steps.
Finally in the summer of 1993, on the 100th anniversary of Yogananda’s birth, we found our center in an office complex in the Coddingtown area of Santa Rosa. From the moment we knew we needed a center until the day that we found one, took us more than nine months. We clearly would not have secured this miracle without Patricia’s commitment and support.
The property we found had a space for a temple, a reception area with a little boutique, and a side room for meetings and administrative work. We rented that space for the next ten years. During that time, Swami Kriyananda came and visited with us and gave a weekend of lectures and a Sunday service.
In the end, we just never would have been able to manifest what has become the Ananda Santa Rosa Center and community without the Divine Friendship and dedicated services of so many great souls, including our divine, sweet friend Nalini who passed away one year ago at the time of this writing (In fact, on the same date as I write this). There are few gifts greater than the divine friendship of those like her.
Subsequently, there are many lifelong devotees that emerged from the Santa Rosa Center who now live in various West Coast Ananda communities. These devotees include Gitabai Heater, Bob Stolzman, Doug Stone, Miriam Rogers, and myself at the Village; Rick and Christy Johnston in Seattle; and my children Aaron and Rose Atwell, who live and serve in the Sacramento and Mountain View communities respectively. Jai Guru!