Swami Kriyananda writes that what we judge in others we will have to experience ourselves. This is how God teaches us compassion.
Before becoming pregnant, I was meditating at least two hours a day and teaching 12 – 15 yoga postures classes a week. I was the San Francisco Ananda meditation group leader. Now, with two young children, I was doing none of that.
Before my first pregnancy I ran into a yoga teacher who told me that since the birth of her first child, she had given up teaching. I noticed she had also gained weight. My words were consoling, but thoughts were judgmental: “I would never be like that!”
I visualized myself not only as the dedicated and loving mother, but also the practicing yogi, and resolved to be teaching yoga classes six weeks after giving birth, as slender as I was before pregnancy.
I was slow to accept that the birth of my first child was changing my life more profoundly than I had expected. My attempts to get my spiritual practices back on track ended in frustration. I was also gaining weight.
Reality slowly sank in. Late one night as I was up once again rocking my beloved child, my body and mind tired from lack of sleep, I made a decision that changed my life.
Dealing with guilt
First I had to come to terms with my guilt over having judged the other yoga teacher, and to let go of trying to live up to an impossible standard. I realized that holding on to preconceptions about what I should be doing was making it harder for me to deal with the challenges of the moment.
I was then able to accept that life was not the way it used to be, and would never be again. Period. For me, this was a huge and positive step.
Finding a middle ground
Still, I couldn’t just put my spiritual practices on the shelf. Surely there must be a middle ground. What could I do in my current circumstances? Holding a baby, rocking in a chair, I couldn’t meditate but I could chant AUM at the chakras. I tried it and it worked.
Then and there I decided that each day I would always find ways to deepen my attunement with God and Guru, no matter how modest. At the time, I had no idea how profound this decision was.
Prayers of gratitude
Caring for young children can open our hearts and expand our consciousness. It’s an easy and natural way of increasing our devotion to God, if we offer our heart’s expanded love up to the Divine.
When my heart overflowed with love for my child, I would try to tune into the spark of the Divine within him. I offered prayers of gratitude to God for entrusting this soul to my care. Thus began my practice of conversational prayer, which I did regularly throughout the day.
After starting this practice, I was blessed to feel my heart opening to God and all of life. To this day I continue to thank God for the many blessings in my life, especially the blessing of my husband and children.
An opening toward inner freedom!
Swami Kriyananda has said that when we react emotionally to a flaw in another person, it’s because we haven’t come to terms with the same flaw in ourselves. Many things upset me, but I had no clue as to how they mirrored my flaws. As I went about my daily tasks, I began to observe my reactions and ponder my motivations.
In time, I saw the subtlety of this teaching. Someone might say or do something I would never do. But on some level my thoughts were in sympathy, or I was holding onto a fear or misconception that tied me to that behavior.
By constantly reminding myself that I had the power within me to control how I responded to situations, I trained myself to think before reacting emotionally. Whenever I “blew it” and reverted to old habits, I would review the situation mentally and visualize how I might have responded differently, and how I would respond in the future.
I found this practice enormously beneficial. I now have fewer “buttons” and those that remain are much less volatile. What an opening toward inner freedom!
A change in consciousness
One day, with my son in a stroller, I found a treasure at a used bookstore–an out of print edition of The Master Said by Paramhansa Yogananda. Two sayings in particular were of great help.
The first saying is so simple that it’s easy to underestimate. Yogananda says that keeping our attention focused at the point between the eyebrows throughout the day will greatly speed our spiritual progress. I loved this advice and began to focus my attention at the spiritual eye as often as I could.
Right away I felt the positive effects. I thought I would never forget to place my attention there for at least a good part of every day. “Simple” does not necessarily mean easy.
I was shocked one day when I realized I had gone through the entire day, and most of the previous day, without focusing at the spiritual eye. Eventually I placed notes in various places around the house as reminders. It’s a habit that needs to be cultivated, but the benefits are enormous—more energy, a change in consciousness, increased intuition, and greater attunement with Yogananda.
Increased focus and clarity
In this same book Yogananda counsels us to “routinize” our lives. I knew that regular routines were important for babies and children, and I was trying to establish them, but it was a foreign concept. My life had been one of constant change, new projects, and candles burning at both ends.
Yogananda’s emphasis on routines motivated me to establish them and to work on sticking to them. It was well worth the effort—not only for the focus and clarity it has brought into my life, but also for the overall calming effect it’s had for the whole family. Although I still struggle with consistency, my energy is much more focused.
A new way to serve
I went back to teaching six months after the birth of my first child. Instead of teaching several classes a week, I taught one mother/child class. Gradually I taught a few more classes, but with the birth of my second child, I again stopped, this time without expecting a quick return.
Even though the desire to serve others through teaching is strong in me, I was more and more content to stay home and serve God through my husband and children.
I’ve always loved the story Swami Kriyananda tells about an Indian sadhu who achieved great powers, but was led to two souls more highly advanced spiritually than he. One was a wife who had attained that state by serving her husband, the other a butcher whose path to God was caring for his elderly parents.
Serving my husband and children are the roles God has given me at this time. The more I play these roles with deep attunement, the more I am able to please Divine Mother. Tears come to my eyes when I think of the love and grace she has given me over these years.
It has taken me eight years to re-establish a regular meditation practice. I would never have sought these alternative ways to deepen my attunement had I regained my regular meditation practice sooner. I continue all of them to this day.
Nicole DeAvilla-Whiting lives in Marin County and teaches Ananda Yoga in Marin and at The Expanding Light guest retreat at Ananda Village.