Little did I know, that first day I arrived at Ananda Village—July 4, 1969—that my real education and, in fact, my real life was about to begin. Twenty-two years old, I had just finished college. Up until then I had basically spent my whole life listening to teachers feed me facts, figures, theories, and formulae. Though I’d excelled in my studies, I was weary of the kind of education that was imposed from the outside, never even scratching the surface of what I really wanted to know.
This was now to change very quickly. As I listened to Swami Kriyananda impart the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, a new understanding of life started to unfold within me. It was as though a door opened in my consciousness, and I began to realize how much there was to learn: about myself, about the nature of reality, about the true purpose of life.
It wasn’t only the subjects that Swamiji addressed, but the way he taught them: seeking always to awaken the innate understanding within each of us. Later he explained that all true wisdom is smriti, or memory, and that an enlightened teacher tries to help his students remember what they already know within themselves.
I remember an early talk in which he posed the question: “What lessons are we supposed to learn in this great school of life?” What a wonderful question, and what wonderful answers he gave: “How to be happy in yourself”; “How to get along with others”; “How to be helpful and not harmful in the things you do and the way you treat others”; and “How to be calm when the world seems to be falling apart around you.”
Swamiji went on to say, “All of these will help you to attain that state of centeredness from which you will be able to rise to your highest vibration.”
So, how do we know what our particular lessons are in this lifetime? They will, of course, be different for each one of us depending on our karma. Here are some guidelines for identifying them:
1) Look at issues that come up repeatedly and that leave you unsettled or unsure of yourself. What is the common thread?
2) Find areas in yourself that tend to produce disharmony with others. In which situations are you unable to see others’ realities?
3) Be aware of the times in which you feel you are compromising your integrity. In what areas of life do you allow yourself to lower your standards of behavior?
4) With honesty, bring to the light things that you try to hide from yourself, from others, and from God. Why don’t you trust that God sees and accepts you exactly as you are?
After considering what you came to learn, here are some tips to help you handle your “lesson plan”:
1) If a problem arises repeatedly, as soon as it begins to assert itself, get centered and take control before you get caught. Be proactive, not reactive.
2) Visualize yourself handling the situation in a calm and effective way. Marathon runners often visualize themselves crossing the finish line with a specific time goal in mind. See yourself successfully passing your life tests.
3) Commit yourself to learning your lessons and to changing. It took a long time to create the problems before you. Now put out the time and energy necessary to overcome them.
4) Examine your inner strengths to see how you can use them to support the areas where you need help. Build on your successes, and you’ll gain confidence along the way. And
5) Perhaps most importantly, pray for God’s grace to help you understand your karmic lessons and to give you the inner clarity to learn them well.
Don’t feel overwhelmed by how much you may need to learn. We’ve been placed in this “great school of life” to find joy and freedom from all limitations. Know that the Divine Teacher has been silently, lovingly, unceasingly drawing out your own innate wisdom to help you pass all your tests.
Swami Kriyananda wrote: “When troubles beset you, seek both their cause and their solution in yourself. . . . Don’t upset yourself with life’s complexity, but seek the divine simplicity of oneness with God’s joy.”
At the end of the day, what are we supposed to learn? To love. To trust. To find joy in everything. Then will we be able to say with simplicity, “I have learned what I wanted to know. Now I am ready to go home.”
With God’s love and joy,
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