About ten years ago, when I still lived in Portland, I wistfully imagined life at Ananda Village as one of simplicity and ease, where the stresses of ordinary life ceased to be. A year later I got to know people here a little better, and once met a teacher walking from Hansa Temple to the Expanding Light, holding a box of Cheerios. Seeing my inquisitive gaze, he took out a handful and cheerfully said “lunch!”
Our lifestyle here is one of intense service and activity, balanced of course by meditation. Many of our jobs can’t compare with the stress level of trading on Wall Street, but are nonetheless challenging in countless regards. Our own family life with a three year old can often complicates things further, and offers us daily choices of how to respond.
Bad days happen to everyone, but how do bad days look to people on the spiritual path? My own experiences growing up led me to believe that the only way to respond in such times is to vent, to be miserable about everything. Perhaps you have seen a bumper sticker: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!”
The fact is, we all have a small part deep within ourselves that first asks “how should I be about this?” It is that tiny voice, sometimes buried deep within and overpowered by our immediate reactions, that is the key to our choice of reality.
Many years ago at a summer camp I worked with a woman who smiled all the time. I soon realized that her smiles were not genuine – she confessed to being trained to “put on a happy face” despite a conflicting internal consciousness.
I am eternally grateful for the people here at Ananda whose outward appearance can genuinely match their internal reality. Does it mean that everyone is happy all the time? I remember my first meeting with an Ananda minister, when I asked “are you in bliss all the time?” He smiled ever so gently, and honestly replied “not yet”.
In a way, our spiritual progress is measured primarily not by overcoming huge “karmic bombs”, but by the daily barrage of tests that give us the opportunity to hold on dearly to God’s living presence in our lives, to raise our consciousness and energy to accept the realities of life all around us.
I laughingly remember my first “test” of holding on to bliss. I was very new on the Path, and was diving deep in meditation, and was so sure that I could maintain my consciousness that I must have put out a challenge to Divine Mother. That night I went to the laundromat, and to my horror after opening the washer, could not find 3 of my favorite socks. I checked everywhere for my beloved socks, but they were irretrievably gone. I returned home, heartbroken. So much for my first test. Socks.
Sister Gyanamata, the most advanced woman disciple of Yogananda, when faced with a huge oncoming test replied: “Lord, change no circumstance in my life, CHANGE ME!” May we all be granted the wisdom to respond with such strength and grace to the mounting challenges of life on earth.
I’ll leave you with a recording of Swami Kriyananda singing “The Non Blues”, which is it perfect song for how we can choose to look at the world. Most poignant to me are these lyrics:
Now it ain’t that I don’t know what grief is:
This ol’ heart has had it’s full share.
But grief’s one thing, and complainin’ another,
Why multiply grief with despair?