I went to work for Swami Kriyananda in 1968, and my first day was an absolute disaster! But, like many disasters, it makes for a good lesson and a good story.
I had been helping Swami with small tasks at his evening classes as a volunteer for many months. Then he asked me to quit my job as a social worker and become his assistant, and after a couple of weeks of indecision, I agreed. This is what happened on the first morning of the first day.
I arrived at Swami’s small apartment in San Francisco to find that an old friend of his was visiting him. Adano Ley had been a center leader from the days when Swamiji was in charge of the center department for Self-Realization Fellowship, and they had grown close.
After greeting them and chatting for a few minutes, I was ready to get to work. Also present, sitting at a small table in the living room, was a woman who occasionally helped Swami with various projects. Our job that morning was to send out a mailing announcing a new class series.
After greeting her, I asked, “Do we have a mailing list?” I was somewhat surprised to get an angry retort back: “None of your business!”
Being relatively young and foolish, I persisted. “Do we at least have a list of names?” Again, an angry answer was flung back at me: “That’s my job.”
By this time Swami and his friend, Adano, could see where this was heading. Being men of wisdom and discrimination, they quietly repaired to the kitchen to have a cup of tea — the kitchen being the only place they could go and close a door.
The explosion wasn’t long in coming. After a couple more questions from me and a couple more angry retorts from her, she shouted, “I can’t take this anymore. I quit!” and stomped out, taking care to slam the door as she left.
Well, you can imagine my chagrin and embarrassment. It had taken me less than an hour to completely destroy Swami’s office scene. I was sitting there, red from embarrassment, and dreading having to tell Swamiji what had happened. It turned out there was no need for fear. As soon as the coast was clear, Swamiji and Adano emerged from the kitchen and, to my amazement, they were both laughing so hard they could barely stay standing. Swami looked at me and said, “Thank you. I didn’t know how I was ever going to get rid of her.”
My career as his assistant had been quick to hit bottom, and from that point there was no way to go but up. Over the next months we worked together on his many projects: printing and distributing books, advertising and giving classes, correspondence, finances, and, soon, the beginnings of what would become Ananda.
One lesson here is that things are often not what they seem. God sees through different eyes, and what appears like a disaster to us is, if not cause for amusement, at least a part of His lesson plan. He is much more interested in our growth than in our comfort. As Swami Kriyananda occasionally put it, “God’s purpose is not to make our mud puddle of delusion more comfortable to play in. It is to get us out of the mud puddle altogether.”
Ultimately, whether we succeed gloriously or fail disastrously, we should feel that it is God playing His drama through us. The next time a minor humiliation occurs in your life, remember these wise words from Paramhansa Yogananda: “Father, teach me to perform all my work only to please Thee. Let me feel Thee as the electricity of life, moving the machinery of my bones, nerves, and muscles. In every heart-throb, every breath, every burst of vital activity, teach me to feel Thy power.”
In bemused surrender,