It was in the late summer of 1967 that I first visited the land that was to become Ananda. August is hot in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains of Northern California, and we had spent all day working hard. I was part of a little group of Swami Kriyananda’s students who had come to help him build Ananda’s first structure, a small geodesic dome that was to serve as a temple.
At that time, Ananda communities were only a future dream for Swami. In this first year, he was simply trying to create a forest retreat where people could get away from their busy lives to learn and practice the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.
We had spent the day trying to erect the dome from thin wooden struts covered with plastic, but we were about to discover that the material we were using was too light for a building of this size. Just before sunset, the building began to sag, then suddenly collapsed at our feet in a pile of fragments. There was nothing to be done but have a light dinner, meditate, spread our sleeping bags out on the bare ground, and go to sleep.
In the morning I heard Swami murmuring to himself, and assumed that he was trying to come to terms with the disaster of the day before. But as I listened more closely, I could hear him repeating over and over, “Ah joy, ah joy!”
It had a profound effect on me, because at that moment I realized that Swami Kriyananda actually lived the truths he taught. Our moods can be under the control of our mind. Joy did not depend upon pleasant circumstances. Like the air we breathe, it simply was there, and we could choose to feel it or ignore it.
Some nine years later a fire destroyed virtually all the houses in our fledgling community. As one response, Swami Kriyananda and a merry band toured the United States on what we called the “Joy Tours”: programs filled with music, classes, and laughter. A slogan used during those tours was, “Joy is the solution, not the reward.” Again, it was a statement that we can choose to respond to misfortune either by expanding into joy or contracting into suffering.
The simple phrase, “Joy is the solution, not the reward,” holds the key to a happy and successful life. Live with joy. Claim it as your divine birthright. Don’t wait for anyone or anything to make you happy. If you cede that power to anything outside yourself, you also give it the right to make you unhappy. Or worried. Or angry. Or everything else you don’t want.
I learned a great lesson that summer morning in 1967, and again after the fire. Joy is a choice. It is something I try to choose at the end of each meditation and whenever I can throughout the day. When I do, I gain the power to smile at problems and laugh with life.