The lights went out.

It was about 5:00pm when we realized that the Internet wasn’t working. The quiet humming noises in the background were silenced by the power outage. Wind speeds had been over 40 miles per hour. We had just had a strong gust come through Laurel Valley.

My husband, Yogesh, and I decided that we might as well go for a walk outside and wait for the power to come back on before returning to our work.

We exited the main building of Ananda Center at Laurelwood from which there is a vantage point of the retreat buildings, the scenic valley, and the rolling green hills of the property. Though heavy winds howled just moments before, all was calm. The cloudy sky opened to introduce glimmers of sunshine.

As we began our walk, we noticed David and Miriam — the directors of the center — sitting quietly in an unlikely spot, gazing out on the scene before them. They seemed to be having a meditative moment together, so we quietly walked passed them down a path we hadn’t yet explored (having only moved here two weeks prior).

At the end of the path and to our left, our gaze met a row of cherry blossom trees, whose branches and flowers were now gracefully scattered upon the verdant grass. Considering the strong winds that had shaken them, there was no question as to why many of their blossoms and branches had fallen. Directly below and spanning across to our right, there was an altogether different sight. Large pieces of metal roof littered the ground. My husband and I, pausing, asked ourselves, then one another, Is this leftover roof from the recent flooding and storms? Just weeks ago, a roof from one of the major buildings had been peeled off during a storm! It took us a moment to realize that what we were looking at was another roof that Divine Mother had newly removed for us.

As we stood there, first on the scene of shambles, we heard sirens in the distance. The fire department was en route, and so were the devotees that help to lead the many facets of Ananda Oregon’s work — Pavani and Vajra of Ananda Portland Community, Nayaswamis Daiva and Gangamata, the spiritual directors, and Yudhisthira, the center’s onsite administrator.

Daiva and Gangamata had just witnessed a tree at the foot of the property snap in half, in turn falling across the road and taking an electricity pole down with it. This, of course, was the cause of the power outage. Live electricity lines and pine tree debris covered a large portion of the street. And now there was this roof!

By this point, David and Miriam had also joined the group — quietly gazing at the wreckage. Yogesh and I realized that the reason we had sensed their deep solitude when we first passed them was because, moments prior, they had been near the roof as it lifted high overhead, crashing down where Miriam had (just minutes before) asked if she and David could practice qigong. Instead of standing in the area where the wreckage now lay, Miriam had heard Divine Mother tell her to listen to David when he suggested moving to a different spot — which turned out to be just out of harm’s way.

The sirens in the distance came closer as the Gaston Fire Department crew arrived. Their first priority was to help search for any harmed people beneath wreckage. Next, they shifted their attention to securing the area of live wires. The sheriff had already arrived and set up blockades on the main road where the splintered tree, cracked pole, and dangling wires remained across the asphalt.

Those of us who were gathered immediately set our minds to the question, “What needs to be done now?” Daiva asked for volunteers to go to Home Depot for emergency lighting (i.e. lots and lots of flashlights and lanterns). David and Miriam immediately set aside what had just happened and offered to go. Daiva then turned to Yogesh and asked if he would come help clear the debris, as the tree was part of the center’s property, and would need to be removed from the road before traffic could flow through. PG&E hadn’t yet arrived on the scene, but would assess it and make it safe for us to clear the debris by deactivating the power to the wires.

By then, more of the center’s interns had joined in — offering their hands in service to what had happened.

Paramhansa Yogananda often spoke strongly of difficult times ahead — a “terrible cataclysm” and a depression much greater than that of the 1930s.  Swami Kriyananda took Yogananda’s predictions very seriously, and made it a part of his life’s service to his guru to create communities, as a solution to such times.

More recently, Ananda’s spiritual directors have made the call to join in daily prayer for world peace and harmony, and to hold a space within our communities where, during times of need, people can come and receive support and solace.

Spiritual communities such as Ananda’s, inspired by Paramhansa Yogananda’s vision of world brotherhood colonies (described in his original Autobiography of a Yogi), can serve as an example for others seeking a way of living that provides meaningful and lasting solutions to life’s challenges.

A friend and long-time astrologer named Drupada recently told Ananda leaders that, astrologically, the time between March and September would have a strong energy of conflict, indicative of war and strife in the world. For those with an inner life, however, he said it could be a very growthful time — a time to learn, as Yogananda stated, “to stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds.”

It felt like those of us at Ananda Center at Laurelwood were experiencing a small preview of Drupada’s predictions. It was March 1st after all.

As we all sat together in the dimly-lit retreat café that evening — picnic food laid out on the table, and flashlights directed toward the ceiling, all that could be heard was laughter and divine friends chatting. There was a deep sense of joy underneath it all, permeating the room. No one was complaining about the lack of power. No one was worrying about the cost of the damages. All were peaceful and positive. The community was working together to find solutions for what was abreast in the moment: lighting, clearing the debris, and ensuring someone would remain on hand as a first responder throughout the night.

Not only was it a chance for those of us already together to feel a deeper sense of connection, it was also a chance for us to connect with the surrounding Gaston community. While Yogesh and I stood watch for PG&E’s arrival, several neighbors came by to check out what was going on, to see what the cause of the power outage was, and to be together in friendship.

There was a husband and wife who live just up the road from the center, named Gordon and Margie. The friendly couple were part of the nearby 7th day Adventist community, and went to Laurelwood Church. (The land of Ananda Center at Laurelwood once served as a campus for 7th Day Adventists, and the community surrounding it has been home to these church members for over 30 years). They came over and greeted us warmly. As we left, they even invited us to “come over anytime.” We felt their sincerity.

In addition, there happens to be an environmental engineering crew, Stratus Environmental, residing directly across the street from us. From about 8:30 to 10:30pm, volunteers from the Ananda community worked alongside Stratus Environmental crew to clear the road. People acted quickly and cheerfully. It seemed that only one thought was at the forefront of their minds: We’re all in this together, let’s help one another.

It felt like exactly the kind of world brotherhood of which Ananda is meant to be an example: not only acting to unite with the Self, but also acting as a channel to unite with other souls; to break down boundaries; to see connections, despite outward differences. 

Yogananda said that one day these world brotherhood colonies would “spread like wildfire,” and Swami Kriyananda emphasized their importance as a solution to the troubled times we are entering.

It seems the spark that is Ananda will ignite, first as small flames here and there, through little moments like the one we experienced on March 1st. People will experience the power of this way of life first-hand — through the calmness of Ananda members in these situations; through their caring and inner joy. They will watch us and see how we react. Some of them will see that we hold an answer to life that is beyond technology, beyond material efficiency — a solution that is lasting, for it comes from within you and me.