Me? Live in a tepee? In the early years of Ananda Village, before we had the resources to build houses, we looked to the Native American culture for solutions in creating homes. Someone found a book about how to make Sioux tepees, and seeing this as both doable and within our limited price range, we didn’t look back.
Off we went into the forest (with permission from the Forestry Department) to cut down tall, slender trees, called lodgepole pines, for the tepee poles. One member, Sadhana Devi, got huge bolts of canvas, and sewed the “skins” for about a dozen tepees: a monumental effort!
I lived in a tepee my first winter at Ananda; it was a wonderful experience. The tepee adequately, if not completely, protected us from rain and cold, and offered a feeling of oneness and integration with nature. To enjoy the wind, I created a wind chime by sewing bells onto strips of cloth which I tied to the tops of the tepee poles.
One crisp fall morning I had a memorable experience. It had been raining hard all night, and after finishing meditation, I lifted the canvas flap covering the tepee’s opening to see what the weather was like. The clouds had dispersed, the sky was clear, and the nearby mountains were blanketed with mist.
I opened up the book I was reading, Saint Francis by Nikos Kazantzakis, and the first sentence I saw surprised me: “The mountains were blanketed with mist.”
Then I heard the wind moving through the trees outside. The next sentence read: “The wind began moving through the trees.” My curiosity now aroused, I thought, “This is very odd.”
As the wind continued, I could hear the little bells tied to the tepee poles tinkling overhead. Curious to see what would happen next, I continued reading: “In the distance, St. Francis could hear the tinkling of bells.” With mounting amazement, my eyes fell on the next words: “St. Francis knew that these bells warned of the approach of a leper.”
Quickly I snapped the book closed, thinking, “That’s it: I’m not ready for the lepers!” My part of the story ended there, but St. Francis’s was just beginning.
In medieval Europe, lepers carried bells to warn people of their approach. Though Francis was filled with great devotion for God, especially in the form of Jesus Christ, he still had a few human foibles. One was an abhorrence of lepers. As this disfigured man approached, Francis’s first instinct was to run away in disgust and fear, but something held him back. As he looked at the poor leper whose face and body had been eaten away by the disease, Francis was overwhelmed with pity and compassion.
Instead of running away from the leper, Francis ran towards him, embraced him, and kissed his ravaged face. In that instant, the form he held in his arms was no longer a leper, but his beloved Jesus Christ. The moral of the story: When we embrace our fears, we find God’s presence hidden there.
Whatever fear you are now facing—spreading disease, financial uncertainty, political turmoil—try to see the divine Presence behind it. God is coming to you as that particular problem to help you overcome your fears. Accept it willingly, even joyfully if you can.
Swami Kriyananda gave us a good tool for dealing with our fear. When faced by any crisis in life, he wrote, “mentally form a ‘worst case scenario.’ If some project I’ve contemplated seems to contain the possibility of failure, I’ve tried to visualize and accept that possibility, asking myself, ‘Can I bear such failure with an even mind? Yes, I can! because my happiness doesn’t depend on anything outside myself.’” With practice, you’ll get to the point where whatever happens, you can remain undaunted. At the end of every test, if we embrace it, we can find courage, joy, and deeper faith in God.
This was St. Francis’s lesson to us when he embraced the leper. And Paramhansa Yogananda gives us this prayer: “When fear or anger or any kind of suffering comes to me, I will view it as a spectator. I will separate myself from my experiences. At all costs I will endeavor to retain my peace and happiness.”
Wishing you courage to face your challenges,