Yogananda was once asked how much free will do we have. His response was, “Our free will exists to this extent: to think of God or not to think of God.”
In this seemingly simple choice lies the path to inner freedom: The more we attune our individual will to God’s will, the more we free ourselves from karmic compulsions.
In the summer of 2014, I befriended one of the students in the Ananda Yoga Teacher Training at The Expanding Light, and we spent some time discussing spiritual matters. This training program is life-transforming for many students, and the young woman was very sensitive and quite receptive to Ananda and Yogananda’s teachings.
Toward the end of her stay she became anxious about leaving to return to her home in a big city. During meditation she prayed desperately to Jesus (she was Catholic), asking how she would be able to leave this heavenly place of Ananda. She heard Jesus’ voice answer her: “Stay Close to ME.”
When she shared this with me, I was very touched by the power of Jesus’ simple and wise counsel, and for a few months I kept repeating these words.
Later that year, I faced a challenge that needed a solution. I analyzed it and then prayed to Yogananda for help. The next morning, as I awoke I heard in my head the first verse of the Psalm of David (Psalm 121) sung to Swami Kriyananda’s melody:
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth.”
I heard it sung in Hebrew, my mother tongue. And it kept playing in my head for a whole month. I looked up Psalm 121, memorized all 4 verses in Hebrew, and mentally chanted them daily, riding on the wave of my Guru’s response to my prayer.
During that month, my husband Gyandev and I led a week-long yoga retreat in a secluded resort, near the ocean in Costa Rica. While there, I took a daily walk on the beach, morning and afternoon, reciting the Psalm of David.
On the last night in the resort, I had a dream. In the dream, I was living at Ananda Village. All of my worldly belongings since childhood were stored in the basement of a large home in a different area of Ananda.
There was a huge fire in the house where my things were stored. After the fire ceased, I went there and saw that the house was still standing, but everything in it was burned to ashes.
As I walked through the rooms in the large basement, I knew exactly what had been in each room: my bed, my clothes, my jewelry, my favorite antique wall hanging, all the pottery that I had made, etc. To my surprise, I didn’t feel any sadness or remorse for the loss. Instead, I felt a sense of freedom.
As I entered the room where all my pottery had been displayed and now all that remained was ashes, I felt only the heaviness of matter and its old energy for me.
In the dream I realized that God took all the things that chained me down to the material world so that I could move closer to Him.
I felt light and uplifted. Then I started to feel that a tree with its long roots was being pulled out from the base of my spine up through my heart. The pressure woke me from the dream.
It was the middle of the night. I could still feel the sensation in my body of the tree being pulled out.
A few minutes later, I experienced a sense of relief and freedom.
As I became lucid, I realized that God had released me from some seeds of earthly and emotional attachments. For the past 25 years I have been practicing self-offering and purification. I feel that adding His guidance of “Stay Close to Me” to my practices deepened that inner purification and attracted His grace.
Swami Kriyananda gave this visualization to help purify oneself daily:
“Make it a point, every night before you fall asleep, to check the feelings in your heart. See whether any burrs of attachment still cling there, affixed by the desires you may have awakened during the day. If you find any such ‘burrs’ there, mentally build a fire and cast them into it. Watch with a smile of relief as those burrs burn to ashes.”
We want to add to our daily meditation our self-offering and constant purification, that we may gradually dissolve our worldly attachments and get closer to God.
“Psalm of David,” composed by Swami Kriyananda and sung by Chaitanya Mahoney: