Twenty million people! That’s the population of the Greater Los Angeles area, we were told recently when we visited friends and Ananda centers there.
For one of our satsangs, in Torrance, the center leader asked us to talk about how to find spirituality in big-city life. I thought you, too, might be interested in the thoughts we shared that evening on the challenges faced by city-dwellers and some of the spiritual solutions to them.
Distraction vs. Focused Attention
Driving on big-city freeways is an experience in itself. It’s almost overwhelming to deal with the long commutes, the speed of the traffic, and the constantly flashing billboards screaming (as a friend of ours once humorously put it), “Eat me. Buy me. Take me home!” The mind gets scattered in a myriad of different directions, and even after arriving at your destination, it takes an effort of will to get focused again.
This is no small obstacle to achieving peace of mind, but the opportunity is also there: to keep the mind more concentrated on whatever we’re doing. Build up the habit of attentive awareness in everything you do—talking with a friend, working on a project at your job, going for a walk. While driving, listen to something uplifting—beautiful music or an inspiring talk—and give it your attention.
The more you make the conscious effort to concentrate, the more will you find yourself actively and rewardingly engaged in every area of your life. And the greater will your ability be to go deep in meditation.
Self-Interest vs. Self-Giving
The forces of competition and self-interest are strong in any large group. Even lab rats turn on one another when placed in overcrowded tanks. The seeming cold indifference in a big city may lead us to think, “If I don’t look out for ‘Number One,’ how will I get by?”
The opportunity here is to counter the pull of self-interest by consciously finding ways to serve and to give to others. We have a friend in Los Angeles who would give her daughters a small weekly allowance, and then (at their request) drive them to an area where homeless people lived, so that they could give their money away.
Find ways to help others, even at your own inconvenience or loss. Keeping the heart open to those in need frees us from preoccupation with the demands of our limited self. Ultimately we realize that God alone is the provider, and that the more we give, the more we are given. Self-giving also leads us to experience a loving connection with all of life.
Self-Indulgence vs. Self-Control
Big-city life offers many dark pathways that lead to overstimulation of the senses, even to the point of self-destruction. Master set up his headquarters in Los Angeles, and lived there for nearly twenty-five years. He would sometimes walk up and down some of the seedy, bar-lined streets in order to bring light and upliftment to the poor souls there trapped in addictions.
The opportunity for us here is to examine our own life and find areas where we lack sufficient self-control. Take up a challenge with the thought, “I will practice inner discipline so that others may follow my lead and develop self-control in their life.”
When you’ve improved in one area, take up another challenge, until you begin to see that you—not old habits or karma—are in charge of your life. What freedom comes with this realization!
Downward Emotions vs. Uplifted Feelings
The sheer number of life stories and struggles in a big city can create a fog of hopelessness and despair. Especially now with economic and political uncertainty rife—and with the possibility looming on the horizon of even worse to come—it’s easy to be pulled down into negativity.
To counter this tendency, we should strive energetically to keep hope and joy foremost in our minds. One of my favorite quotes of Master’s is, “Life is a battle for joy every step of the way. May I fight to win the battle on the very spot where I now stand.” These words have stood me in good stead through many a difficult situation.
Once you choose joy under all circumstances, you begin to find that joy is your constant companion.
In sum, finding God in big-city life comes down to this: In each of life’s circumstances, choose the highest and best road to follow. And use all of your strength and commitment to stay the course.
Remember these words of Yoganandaji: “There are no obstacles, only opportunities.” Your very effort will uplift those around you, whether you live in a big city or a small ashram. Then you become, as Swami Kriyananda used to say, “part of the solution, not the problem.”
In divine friendship,
Listen to Devi as she reads the blog, then expands on it, often adding special behind-the-inspiration stories and answers to common spiritual questions. Subscribe to the podcast or download the audio recording by right-clicking here. Or listen to it here (11:03):
Beautiful and guiding article.loved it.I am trying to do it in own small ways and when I do I feel so much happiness within me that I could do such small things but the receiver is very happy and that smile is very precious than whatever small thing I did.
In Divine Love and friendship,
Thank you all soooooo much I feel the LOVE!!!!!!
Earlier I joined Kriya Yoga class from Gurugram Center and from that day I am doing Meditation daily. Now I am staying in Bangalore. And wanted to come to stay in your Ashram at Ranchi and Uttarakhand for a week for meditation, there is fixed time whenever you will allow me to stay there, I will come.
Please tell me the charges and procedure to book to stay there.
Praveen Kumar Sharma
Thank you so much
Thank you so much for these beautiful and inspiring words. This is what we need right now to stay in our strength and let our light shine.
With love in Master
From the Netherlands
Beautiful advice – Thank you Deviji🙏
Thank you for sharing this wisdom with us. The wisdom that comes through you. 🙏🏿
What a beautiful outlook on life and so practical for this complicated world. My favorite : “Once you choose joy under all circumstances, you begin to find that joy is your constant companion.” Thank you.
Wonderful way to respond to life in the city. Living in a big city I have found the quiet time (early morning and often at night when many people have gone to sleep) are the best times for meditation and to move into inner peace and silence. Makes the hubbub of the day more tolerable!
Joy to you, Devi
God bless you Deviji. Thank you for your wisdom, strength and love which you share so freely with all.
This really stood out to me: “The opportunity here is to counter the pull of self-interest by consciously finding ways to serve and to give to others.” Thank you for a wonderful article!
This was a good post. It helped to understand my feelings and experiences in life a bit better.
You brought back memories of my former life in NYC … whoa.
Thank you for this blog. It is not an easy experience to live in a big city; and even so, I am thankful for the time there growing up because I can appreciate all the more how much I have in this opportunity now. I am so grateful for the serenity, simplicity and joy of living in community in CA.
Jai Guru!! Jai Ananda!!
Thank you for this wonderful reading! It’s just what I needed to be reminded of today. I no longer live in a big city, but life can get hectic at times. Remembering that I can always get quiet, and just be present ~ anytime! Be well, Devi
Thank you for this wonderful blog, very apt for people like me in big hustling citie. Beautiful points to remember and follow. “.. finding God in big-city life comes down to this: In each of life’s circumstances, choose the highest and best road to follow. And use all of your strength and commitment to stay the course.”
So grateful Devi जी,
With love and deep gratitude
very value adding; in brief, I practice: help ever, hurt never
Dear Devi ji,
Thank you for your wonderful message. It will show us the path towards positive thinking As you were a student of cultural anthropology ( some 55 years age), you understand the problems of varied residents of a metropolis, even the misery of slum/street dwellers. May God bless you with good health and strength for serving the needy population
Thank you for this beautiful reminder.
Blessings and Love,
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing…..
Dear Nayaswami Devi Ji,
This is wonderful! Thanks for sharing the valuable tips and guidance.
It is needed in these times. And thank you for sharing this affirmation from Master “Life is a battle for joy every step of the way. May I fight to win the battle on the very spot where I now stand.”