Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Does Satan Exist? Do Demons Exist?

Having just returned from a visit to the shrines of St. Francis and other saints in Italy, I am “inspired” to ask this question: Do demons exist?

From what I understand, a great questioning took place during the 20th century among Protestant theologians, ministers and members regarding the core beliefs of the Christian faith. Without wishing to explore the history of Protestantism, let us simply say that the rationally-minded skepticism of the 20th century found expression among religionists to the point of questioning all of the miracles of the Bible, both New and Old Testament. The existence of Satan, likewise, was among the debates. So pervasive was the skepticism among ministers that the self-described “modern mystic, Frank Laubach, conducted a campaign among ministers to remind them to even mention God in their sermons!

Catholics were not permitted most of these questions but even amongst them, in the form of what I believe is called, “scholasticism,” questions were raised. In the life of the famous stigmatist, Padre Pio from southern Italy, for example, Vatican hierarchy sought to question, ostracize and distance themselves from what some felt were medieval and superstitious beliefs in miracles such as the stigmata, the devil, bi-location, psychic powers, levitation and so forth. Catholic hierarchy was sensitive, reactive, or influenced by the thinking and the accusations of Protestants, what to mention science-inspired rationalism, and therefore were eager to hush up claims of miracles so that Catholicism could be seen as a rational and appropriate in the 20th century world of politics and “‘isms.”

Paramhansa Yogananda, a world teacher from India, lived in this same 20th century. In his teachings he stated that the saints are true custodians of truth, not the bishops or theologians, or worse. The great saints of east and west down through the ages (including the twentieth century) testify to the existence of evil as a conscious Force that can sometimes take on human or individual appearance.

I contend that whether evil is personified as outside oneself or “merely” a projection of the subconscious mind, the difference is not as significant as one might imagine, at least not to the person “imagining” it! I say this early on so that we don’t get into a sparring contest over “how many angels fit on the end of a needle.”

Human incarnations of evil can perhaps be recognized in the form of great evil-doers such as Stalin, Hitler or serial killers who inflict suffering intentionally and repeatedly, even wantonly. Metaphysically or ethically, at least, are these people not, in effect, human incarnations of the overarching consciousness of evil? The other side of this coin might be viewed in the long-standing religious teaching that the greatest of saints and saviors are considered direct incarnations of God! On a lesser note, we sometimes refer to special people as “angels in disguise!” On a deep level, humans sometimes reveal that we do understand that each of us is an incarnation of a greater spirit than what our physical form, our habits and personality might suggest.

Turning now to mental illness, such as schizophrenia, multiple personalities, and other forms of extreme mental illness, (adolescence count in this?), it seems just as plausible to at least consider these illnesses to be the result of possession by disincarnate entities as it is to puzzle it out medically, behaviorally or environmentally, doesn’t it? Even if mental illness can be traced to aberrations in the brain, are these aberrations the cause, or the result? It’s not as if modern medicine has been all that successful in finding wonder drugs for mental illness! Maybe something else is going on?

I just read, moments ago, that Pope Francis sent an encouraging message to a convention of exorcists, thanking them for their important work and acknowledging that their case loads are growing rapidly in today’s stressed and extreme world!

How about drunkenness or drug addiction? At least in more extreme cases, doesn’t it seem as though the person is not himself, to put it mildly? Unrecognizable, in fact? Yogananda taught (and I don’t imagine only he did so) that in bars and other places (proverbial “opium dens”), “ghosts” hover to find bodies to inhabit in order to have a taste of sensory experiences. Yogananda was not alone in warning people from trance channeling or, worse yet, parlor seance "games." I personally know of a case in which a person went too far into using a pendulum to help him become a medium. In time he lost his job, his marriage, his health and his mind -- to whom?

James van Praagh, “ghostbuster” and author of “Ghosts Among Us,” seems to be a credible witness to the presence of disincarnate entities who, for various reasons, refuse to leave us and move on to the “other side” in order to continue their journey. He has found ways to help them detach. His description of such entities, their motives and behavior match, in most respects, that of Yogananda's experience.

We can speculate at length but we might also at least consider the testimony of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Yogananda, St. Anthony of the Desert, Padre Pio, many others, and even Martin Luther (who threw an ink pot at the devil — the spot is still on the wall in his room): Satan DOES exist and can take a human form. The essence of evil is not a person with cloven hoofs, a red suit, and a pointy tail, however, but a Conscious Force that has the power to take any form or no form.

Such witnesses of evil incarnate or disincarnate are people who, themselves, demonstrated power over material objects; psychic power (seeing at a distance; knowing the future; bi-location; levitation, even, in some cases, raising the dead) and more. What do we think of that supposedly scientific attitude of inquiry that dismisses such testimony on the basis of an a priori assumption that the evidence must be false simply because they can’t replicate it?

For all the impotence of modern medicine to treat extreme mental illness with drugs, why not consider what indeed might be an obvious, if alternative, explanation? If so, and applying appropriate techniques of exorcism (not just rituals) but the power of an intuitive person, to work with the “victim,” might not equal or better results be found?

It is my understanding, derived from the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, and from things I have heard my spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, say (or write) that the reason most of us have no commerce with demons is that we are not worth their time! We have our own demons of desire, anger, revenge, lust, jealousy and so on —already within us, so to speak. Indeed, the teaching as I understand it is this: when our spiritual consciousness is so advanced that we come close to achieving Self-realization, the delusive force of “maya” takes note and takes human form in a last ditch effort to dissuade us from dissolving forever our identification with our body, our ego, and the world of matter over which maya rules. Thus Jesus was tempted with having dominion over the world, and power over the angels (disincarnate entities, however benign), and power of matter (stones into break).

The reason most humans do not encounter demons of anger, lust, revenge (etc.) attempting to dance upon our soul’s grave is that we simply don’t have sufficient mental energy and psychic sight to call such to appear before us. We are neither terribly bad nor exceedingly good to matter much. We don’t warrant a visitation! We are not yet royalty, you might say. 

Our physical brain is the accepted seat of intelligence. In raja yoga, we practice techniques of breath and mind control (the two are inextricably linked!) which effectively raise “energy” to the brain (re-directing it, as it were, from the body, the tissues, and the senses). By stilling the natural turbulence of our thoughts and related metabolism, caused by the constant interaction with the world around us and the mind within us through our senses and our ego-directed fears and desires, we can “raise our energy” (and consciousness) from identification with body and ego to a higher and more subtle level of awareness.

Just as a child, becoming an adult, outgrows the interests and preoccupations of childhood, so too the adult — striving for maturity — accepts an ever expanding awareness of the world in which we live. We are concerned about wars and poverty in other parts of the world; we read about Ebola and terrorism as threats to our world. The yogi, by raising his energy within, to the inner world of consciousness (sans tangible objects and personal emotions), becomes increasingly aware of the subtle realities of consciousness and the forms taken by consciousness. This can include not just a subtle awareness of divine realities but also lesser forms, including such beings that are traditionally given names as angels, devas, or demons.

As the soul gradually expunges from its aura behaviors that are sense and ego affirming, subtle forces and beings and states of consciousness become increasingly apparent and real to us. Lest you dismiss such a description as being hallucinatory or self-deluding, I can say with assurance that to achieve such a level is to have the power to accomplish material goals far more effectively than the average person. Psychic power and sight are not debilitating but empowering. The mind rules matter. Intelligence and genius have more power not less.

If I have forever banished from my consciousness inclinations to be competitive, angry, or sensual, I begin to experience states of consciousness as preexisting their manifestation in one form or another. Lust is a universal state of consciousness that beings, including human, experience from time to time. If I have worked to overcome this particular tendency, I may find that in the final stages of my looming victory, lust incarnates in either human or a subtle form as part of my last temptations. The magnetism of my efforts (my karma) might attract to me some final opportunities to either re-affirm it or expunge it forever. The form of temptation might come as a person, or, if by this time, I live almost exclusively in the subtle atmosphere of consciousness, it may take the form of an apparition of one sort or another. Besides, you don’t have to be a saint to become aware of the fact that sexual desire is “all in the mind” anyway! A cow in its pasture happening upon the centerfold page of Playboy Magazine is going to walk right by it towards the greener pasture beyond it.

If good and evil exist in human form, then, according to metaphysical precepts, they preexist in subtler forms. All that exists already exists in latent form or else it could not come into form.

Fortunately for us, we need not fear the appearance of the Great Deceiver any time soon. But, sufficient unto today are the demons of temptation and habit within us. When the time comes when we are soon to merge into pure goodness, we will certainly be tested then, too. At such time, we must not imagine our reason or will is sufficient to outwit the powers of darkness. We must call upon God and guru with faith, even if, temporarily, our inner sight goes dark. It is only a test. It might be the final test! 

Thus while St. Anthony of the desert (in Egypt) was being attacked by demonic forces, he called upon God and Christ to save him. Though they failed to appear at his call, the evil One was nonetheless vanquished by his faith. Anthony, when Jesus finally appeared to him, asked Jesus “Where were you when I needed you?” Jesus replied, “Anthony, I was always with you!” 

Faith, you see, is the ultimate test. Before our moment of final victory, it is our faith that must, at last, be tested. All else is taken from us, even the consolation of God’s presence that has otherwise grown steadily in our soul’s evolution. This final test is the true "dark night of the soul." We must give up everything, even what might seem our very existence and consciousness, even (seemingly) what we have come to rely upon as God's protection in that final test. Our choice to enter into God's bliss must be an act of complete self-offering: given freely and dynamically. Jacob's being tested by God to sacrifice his own son is a metaphor for this final act of faith.

Like St. Anthony, we will discover that we have never been separate from God, for God is all there is. “God alone,” as Sister Gyanamata (advanced disciple of Yogananda) put it.

So, yes, demons do exist; angels do exist; saints exist; God exists! We have nothing to fear but let us be, as Jesus counseled, “Wise as serpents but harmless as doves.”

Blessings of Light,

Swami Hrimananda

Friday, October 24, 2014

At La Verna, St Francis asks: Must Devotees Suffer?

So, now we come to my last blog installment on our trip "In the footsteps of St. Francis." We come, at last, to his hilltop retreat, La Verna, in the Tuscan hills. Two years before his death, St. Francis, while on retreat there, received the wounds of Jesus Christ upon his body. He was undertaking a forty day fast when he had an intense vision in which he simultaneously experienced compassion for the suffering of Jesus on the cross AND great love for Christ and joy in the experience itself. After this, his body was left with the five wounds (feet, hands and side) of Christ. Francis was the first in history to receive this "grace" known as the "stigmata." At another occasion, Jesus Christ appeared to Francis in the flesh and sat with him upon a rock and conversed.

For these, and other, sacred events in Francis' life, La Verna has been a place of pilgrimage for eight centuries. Right before his death and as he left La Verna for the last time, he assigned to the brothers the duty to hold La Verna in perpetuity as a sacred place in memory of the blessings received there.

We pilgrims have been progressing deeper and deeper into our souls on this trip: first the fun and inspiration and amazement of Rome and Florence. Then to Assisi, to Ananda, and to the shrines there. And now, in our final days on this trip, we had two nights on these sacred grounds. The two nights allowed us to dedicate an entire day in silence, unscheduled, that we might individually go deep in prayer, meditation and contemplation. It is here that the metal of our journey's intention would be burnished in the flame of devotion and inner communion. It was to be here that the stigmata of our spiritual efforts would be imprinted upon our hearts, tested in the crucible of inner silence.

I cannot, of course, speak for other individuals in this but for those who saw the opportunity for what it was -- the apex or focal point of concentration for the intentions of our pilgrimage  -- it was a golden, if intense, time. Perhaps some did not find it necessary, but surely some felt hovering over them the reflection of St. Francis' life in the mirror of our own. His complete, indeed radical, commitment to God cannot help but expose our own to inner review.

Another challenge hovers, too: must we, also, carry such a cross of self-abnegation to achieve Self-realization? Does the spiritual path truly call us, require from us, exact from us such human deprivation as we see in the lives of St. Francis, St. Clare and many others? In such a place where God met man, where the "Word was made flesh, where heaven came to earth, the question begs an answer and anything less is evasion. The gauntlet of our life's purpose was thrown, as it were, in our face, on this mountain of spiritual aspiration.

Amusingly, however, visitors are conveniently offered a shield from this inner questioning by the disingenuous fact of large quantities of excellent food served daily -- as if Francis had complained of his treatment there (while fasting) and the monks felt they needed to make amends to all future generations. A bar, too, graces the dining room where not just coffee but alcoholic drinks can be ordered, along with a pleasing selection of candies, chocolates and goodies lest one's retreat be too great a cross to bear! Amazing, eh? "Reality runs up your spine," to quote Elton John! (The Franciscans evidently outsourced the operations to a commercial establishment.) At times, the din in the halls and dining room rivaled the Colosseum! Strange, eh? I even saw an upstairs room marked "TV Room." In another room was a vending machine for coffee and espresso.

But we pilgrims didn't come all this way to duck and run. We were not inclined to evade the shadow of the cross. Our strength, however, lie in the "joy of seeking Him," the joy of meditation. We had already been meditating frequently and deeply together and individually throughout the trip, at Ananda and in Assisi. Our joy level was both our shield from self-delusion and our sword of inner awareness.

What means the Christian (over) emphasis upon suffering, crucifixion, and pain? Is suffering the hallmark of the Christian life? Hmmmm: Is not to live, to suffer? Did not the Buddha discover that life for all beings was marked by disease, old age and death? Can anyone escape this three-fold suffering? No! But suffering is not the exclusive mark of a Christian: millions suffer and not because they are truthseekers! [I won't deny the teaching, however, that one who, to the degree of his earnestness, seeks freedom in God, will, by choice and by the necessity to overcome past, bad karma and pay for the "pearl of great price," attract tests necessary for purification.]

In former times and according to a view of history which Paramhansa Yogananda taught (having received it from his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar), the time of Jesus Christ and the centuries which we call medieval times represented a low point in a long and recurring cycle (some 24,000 years) of consciousness on this planet. This relatively dark cycle (or "yuga") is called (in India), the "Kali Yuga." In this cycle, the general run of humanity cannot perceive subtleties beyond physical appearances. Buildings are large and made of rock, built with human hands, by slaves. Social mobility is non-existent. Authority is absolute. Humans identify themselves only with their physical bodies and thus imagine that if there's a heaven they will go there in their current physical bodies, forever an ego and separate from God, strumming harps and praising Him for an eternity!

God responds to human needs according to the capacity of our "eyes to see and our ears hear." Thus, in an age of such relative dark consciousness, Jesus' body had to be resurrected as a sort "ultimate" proof of his divinity; the penultimate mark of sanctity became the incorruptibility of the saints' bodies; physical suffering came to characterize the spiritual life. To be spiritual required rejecting family life in favor of a monastery; it required celibacy and living in poverty under strict obedience. One would practice all manner of physical and mental austerities such as self-flagellation and self-abasement to suppress sense temptations and root out any ego-active tendencies.

These attitudes and practices no longer inspire sincere seekers of truth, devotees of God, and servants of humanity. Fact is, and using, as we must, St. Francis as an example, he was a saint of great joy, as, indeed, are all true saints, east and west. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was (and is) loved by all because he loved all as children of God. Even Jesus Christ, so often depicted as a "man of sorrows," could not have attracted a large following with a sour and somber attitude. "A sad saint is a sorry saint, indeed" said Francis de Sales (a Christian saint). Or, as Teresa of Avila put it, "A sad nun is a bad nun!"

"What comes of its own, let it come" Paramhansa Yogananda counseled. In this new age, called the second age, Dwapara Yuga, an age of high energy, intelligence, and expanding consciousness, it is happiness (joy) that we seek. We see our potential; we have faith in ourselves, and in the future (because we are in now an ascending cycle of consciousness where things can only get "better," or so we are wont to affirm). It is joy that inspires us. And yet, when pain, disappointment, failure, suffering, or death touch us, as they must at some point, our joy, if it is true and of the Self, will allow us to remain "standing amidst the crash of breaking worlds."

The test of the crucifixion, of human suffering in general, is whether it crushes us, or whether we can transcend that temptation by remaining even-minded, cheerful and calmly holding on to our faith in the goodness (God-ness) that lies at the heart of all creation, and of all circumstances. Easier said than done, I grant you, but this is not only a test of spiritual path but it is the only way to live and remain sane!

The ability of the human spirit to contend with and transcend suffering, defeat and challenges of all kinds is the greatest witness to our own, innate divinity. THIS is what the saints (and others) can model for us. During Kali Yuga the spiritual aspirant was tested "by the cross." But for us now, "the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy." (Quoting the Festival of Light ceremony used at Ananda temples and centers at Sunday Services.)

We can, therefore, honor and celebrate the victory of Jesus' resurrection (the power of love) over hatred (crucifixion & death), the victory of martyrdom (a test of faith and courage) over persecution (misunderstanding), and the attainment of perfect joy in the midst of troubles because we know that "joy is the fruit of love for God." We may, now in Dwapara Yuga, be motivated not by the courage and strength to endure difficulties in the imitation of Christ, but for the bliss and joy inherent in God and in the superconscious state of our soul. For this we undertake the discipline of meditation, the willingness to serve high ideals selflessly, the commitment of living simply and with self-control, and a life of prayer and devotion. But for all of that, so, too, will come tests and trials. In pleasure or in pain, we remain: even-minded and cheerful!

Oh, gee, did I mention La Verna, yet? I'll plop some pictures into this soon, but let me return to earth with some descriptions. La Verna is somewhere between Assisi and Florence in the Tuscan Apennines, at about 4,000 feet altitude on the flanks of Mt. Penna. It's not difficult to get to but you're talking winding country roads, beautiful countryside, and not too far from a nearby autostrada. I doubt there's public transportation to it, but we had our rented vans, so I don't really know.

The complex of buildings and facilities, though somewhat hidden in the lovely forest, is surprisingly large. I was told of another complete complex of buildings with lodgings apart from ours. But ours is at the center of the important chapels and shrines. These buildings are of stone and are of a monastic origin and design. Labyrinthine hallways, with arched ceilings in the gothic style, weave to and fro, with staircases going up and down and all around; courtyards appear from nowhere, whether inside the four walls or outside. There is a maze of rambling and mysterious rooms, many with locked, heavy wooden doors, closed to our natural curiosity but open to our fertile imaginations. Nuns and monks can be envisioned darting furtively in and out of secret rooms, setting, as it were, the stage for a classic Agatha Christie novel! One is prepared to hear voices from locations untraceable. Add a heavy dose of fog and, all in all, it's quite a place!!!!!

There's a patio, plaza or piazza outside the mini-Basilica that overlooks the Cosentino Valley, which at our visit, was beginning to unveil the lovely colors of Fall. Overlooking that valley, as if to remind, chastise, or inspire the villagers below, stands a very tall, but stark, wooden cross. The basilica has a number of lovely art pieces by Andrea della Robbia. Adjacent to it is a small chapel (St. Mary of the Angels) which, in a vision, St. Francis was told by the Blessed Mother to build. He was given its dimensions which were exactly the same as that of the tiny chapel of the Porziuncula near Assisi. Its walls contain the choir seats for monks and nuns: there are no pews. I meditated there, and we as a group, several times. It is very still and deeply precious.

The most sacred spot is the Chapel of the Stigmata. It encloses the rock on which Francis received the stigmata. The rock has been covered by glass to prevent pilgrims from chiseling pieces off of it! A slightly hidden room off to the side contains within it a jutting segment of the actual rock. If you are bold, you unhook the rope and try the latch to see if it's unlocked, going inside to meditate and pray. The Stigmata Chapel also has the wooden choir seats along the sides. This is where you want to meditate, for sure! I, and others, found, that despite there being plenty of visitors and retreatants on the grounds at large, one could meditate there all by oneself for, say, an hour or more with no one else there! I cannot begin to describe that experience but I prayed for the strength to remain unceasingly in self-offering to God's presence and will in my life; and, to go ever deeper towards God's love and joy that I might share with others as I have received.

On the outer perimeter of the Stigmata Chapel are tiny cells (now tiny chapels) where various saintly monks had once lived. One door leads out along a rock ledge perched high up on the edge of the rock on which the building sits. It winds around the outside wall giving spectacular views before returning inside through an almost secret chapel. Fortunately, there is a hand rail but it's a straight drop down to the forest below! It is positively and stunningly breathtaking.

A long covered hallway protects pilgrims walking from the basilica to the stigmata chapel. It has murals depicting important events from Francis' life. Along the wide passageway there is a tiny doorway that opens into an inner courtyard of giant rock formations. The path leads a few yards down under some of these huge boulders to a spot where Francis was known to sleep. A grate has protectively been placed upon the spot: again, to protect it from relic hounds. But, wow, the energy there is enormous and the silence is as thick as the rocks themselves.

Across from the basilica doors and down some slippery stone steps one finds another, somewhat primitive domed chapel -- the Chapel of Mary Magdalene -- maybe twenty feet in diameter; a few crude wooden chairs have been placed in there. The stone altar contains, under glass, the stone where Jesus sat, in the flesh, talking with Francis! Like: wow! We had two group meditations there and I meditated there on my own as well. It's almost, well, spooky, especially late at night when the wind is howling!

If you follow the steps past the path to this chapel you go down amidst another group of gigantic rocks called the Sasso Spico: the Projecting Rock. Here is a place where Francis prayed and meditated. One time, while meditating on the passion of Christ, it was revealed to Francis that the dramatic rock formations and chasms of La Verna were created at the time of Jesus' crucifixion as indicated in the New Testament: "the rocks split" (Matt: 27:14). Who knows, but as many believe that there are on the earth "power spots," it is not so difficult to imagine that La Verne was destined to attract and hold the sacred vibrations of St. Francis' spiritual glory. A simple wooden cross marks the spot, under the overhang of an enormous rock, where Francis would pray.

When I was there, I saw no one. With the wetness of fog and drizzle dripping off the rocks and ferns, I settled in for a very deep meditation where no footsteps or outer sounds dare intrude!

I did find some free time to hike up Mt. Penna through the forest. This is more primitive, though friars did meditate and live up along parts of this, too. It is a solitary walk, very peaceful and entrancing in its colors of green, brown, yellow and red; its carpet of leaves, its ancient, gnarly roots, intertwining the path like some aged and great snake.

On our second night, after dinner (when we broke our silence to share a little bit), a storm descended upon us with blowing, cold fog and rain. Fog hugged the outdoor lights and the feeling of antiquity and mystery came upon the place like a kind of "Twilight Zone," a kind of alternate universe without tick, tock or clock. I attempted to brave the elements and find thrill in the the storm by going out after dinner for a walk but with the wind and rain, blowing sideways, I could barely stand and my thin Fall apparel seemed to melt into my skin. I meditated briefly at a tiny chapel lit only with candlelight but as I had heard stories of being locked out of the facility and having to stay outside overnight, my "second thoughts" returned me to my room. The whole place was "dead" silent. All had returned to their rooms after dinner.

Early the next morning we were supposed to meditate in the simple stone chapel of Mary Magdalene with the rock where Jesus appeared but the storm was so intense, the fog so thick, that we decided to move the morning meditation to the chapel St. Mary of the Angels. After breakfast and after checking out, we were going to allow ourselves more time to be there but the weather was so inclement that we packed up the vans and headed south to Rome.

By late afternoon we were at the seacoast of Ostia (near Rome and the airport), relaxing in the warm, humid Mediterranean air, watching a glorious sunset, before having dinner outside at the waterfront under the stars: pizza, salad, pasta and laughter born of open hearts. All in all, we were refreshed in body, mind and soul! It was difficult to contrast the morning wind and fog with the afternoon beach weather and view.

Thank you for hanging in there with these articles. Stay tuned for future pilgrimages! Here, then are some pictures!






May the stigmata of your victories over delusion be your badge of soul-honor!
Nayaswami Hriman

Thursday, October 23, 2014

St. Francis Walks On Ahead....

In the last article we left off visiting the little chapel, the Porziuncula, near the town of Assisi. The two other primary sacred places we visited where the hillside caves of Eremo delle Carceri, sometimes pronounced L'Eremo, and, the church of Santa Chiara.

I went twice to L'Eremo. It's up the steep hillside of Mt. Subasio, accessed quite near the north gate of the town of Assisi (the gate whose road leads uphill towards the Ananda Center and Community). It's so high up that you look down on La Rocca, the stronghold and fort that towers over Assisi.

L'Eremo was one of the places for prayer and retreat that St. Francis and his brothers used. There are rock formations and mini-caves that the brothers used. The still existing dens are marked with signs showing which of the famous brothers used which cave. Now there's a complex of stone buildings, of course, but the whole area is saturated with vibrations of peace and light. It's heavily wooded but over time there are paths, but once off the mostly level main boulevard walking path, the paths down into the canyon and to the stone huts and caves are very real hiking paths.

It is incredibly peaceful there and much easier to meditate for long periods, uninterruptedly, than anywhere else. There are surprisingly many people who stroll the grounds as the place is famous but if you don't mind a few people walking past you while you are meditating (and you stay off the main, wide walking path), it's really worth it. Here, for this article, words fail to convey the intensity in meditation and the joy I felt there. I have some pictures, but they, too, fall rather short of the mark.

Let's simply say that for those who are serious about prayer and meditation, L'Eremo is a MUST.

This blog system is not picture friendly, so I'll just plop some down right here:


The other spiritual hotspot is the church, Santa Chiara. It has two distinct features: St. Clare's body lies "in state" there, and, the cross (originally from San Damiano) that "spoke" to Francis is displayed there. This church is normally crowded but if you're lucky you can hit a quiet moment. The line down to the tomb can long, hot, and slow and you get a few seconds to look at the body on display. If you step back out of the line you can stand there a few minutes to pray if you like, but you're likely to get bumped.

Upstairs in a side chapel hangs the special cross and it's easier to sit in a pew there and pray and meditate, though there's plenty of movement all around you. I enjoyed going there twice but I didn't stay very long though I certainly felt uplifted. I lucked out on my second visit and the place was virtually empty. I rushed downstairs and prayer before the body without being hassled. I prayed for the strength and purity of intention and resolution that Clare so obviously radiated and felt very uplifted.

Across the main plaza tourists frequently visit the ancient Minerva Temple from Roman times. It was long since converted into a church. I can't say there's any super-special vibration there but it certainly is beautiful, artistically-wise. I did sit and meditate for a few minutes and it is very peaceful in there. It was, of course, there during Francis' life and so I assume he prayed there, too.

Wandering the streets of Assisi is a trip in time and space itself. Enjoying a meal, a coffee, or a gelato along the ancient narrow cobblestone streets is well worth it. A few photos to share which include the Minerva Temple/Church inside and out.


I want now to share with you the inspiration felt at Ananda itself: high above the town of Assisi. When members of Ananda visit another Ananda community outside America (say, Italy or India) one discovers that even if we don't speak the same language, you feel instantly at home. The Temple of Light is where most meditations take place and we participated in various ones, plus a Sunday Service, plus Padma and I "officiated" at a marriage vow renewal ceremony for two of our pilgrim friends. Here one can meditate without the cross-currents of tourists and the vibrations of others, even in prayer, for the vibration of Catholicism is very strong in Italy. So here, at Ananda, we were truly at home and uplifted in the vibration of kriya yoga, Self-realization and our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda.

The absolute highlight, meditation-wise, however is the former home of Swami Kriyananda. It's about a kilometer from the main Ananda Il Refugio complex and just off the road along a tiny tree-lined lane. This is where he lived, sometimes many months at a time, and, where he died, April 21, 2013. In his bedroom and on his bed is the robe he was wearing the morning he left his body. His tiny meditation room is just off the bedroom, as is, of course the adjacent living room and dining room. It is all lovingly preserved the way it was on that day in April. He named his home, "Seva Kutir." This is Sanskrit and means roughly "A Home Dedicated to Divine Service."

I believe we had four meditations there. We'd take turns being in the bedroom or in the living room. It is here that the unique and heartfelt vibrations of our chosen spiritual path and line of preceptors can be felt most strongly and purely, especially in the form of calm, clear joy. Some pictures below:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

St. Francis - Ahead of His Time, and Still Here!

Wednesday, October 8, we arrived by train from Florence to Bastia, one train stop short of the town of Assisi, Italy. Rented vans took us "up the hill:" around the outer periphery of the charming and beautiful town of Assisi, and out the "north gate" at the top of the town. The road, SS 444, winds its way up the hills that coalesce into a mountain, around and behind Mt. Subasio upon whose western flank the town of Assisi clings.

The terrain is eerily reminiscent of the Sierra Nevada foothills around Nevada City/Grass Valley, CA where the first Ananda community was established. Night was falling as we climbed higher and higher up the mountain. At the top, the road levels off, though still curving around, before descending the other side into another valley. Along the ridge, then, sits Ananda Assisi: a retreat center and intentional community, with affiliated businesses (both community and personal) and private homes strung along SS444 in both directions.

The central feature and gathering place for Ananda Assisi is the former hotel building, Il Refugio. Here guest registration takes place; a book and gift store exists, guest rooms on several floors, an outdoor cafe and gazebo, ancillary administration bungalows, and the main feature, though hidden from the road, is the Temple of Light where meditations and classes are held.

We arrived for a late dinner which is taken in silence until about half way through. Announcements are made in Italian, with some concessions made for groups our size for English speakers, and other languages (Russian and German, esp.) as required. Peruse, if you like,

After dinner, our vans took us further along the road (what, less than one mile?), to our accommodations: a rented facility called Il Ritero ("the retreat"). On both sides of the main two story rock building, are strip-like hotel bungalows (four or five simple units in one "strip"). These housed most of us. They are clean and simple. Bathrooms there are curious: when you shower it wets the entire bathroom, toilet, bidet, sink, your stuff.....everything! Not sure why this cultural nuance, but it seems pervasive and tenacious, all reason and convenience aside.

Padma and I were housed in a lovely little duplex a few hundred yards from the main center and across the street. Two or three others were even closer in a large 3-story building named "Brindaban" (the name of the town in India where Krishna lived).

The next morning, Thursday, a weekly 3-hour meditation took place (and every week) beginning at 6 a.m. It's followed by breakfast in silence. Bread, toast, fruit, oatmeal, butter, peanut butter, and jam, with tea and coffee and milk, comprise the typical fare. We got pancakes that morning, as I recall, in addition!

The rolling hills of Umbria alternate forested areas with areas of cultivation and pasture. In the Fall, hunters emerge from towns in the region to hunt. Thing is, they bring their own birds in cages; let them loose, and then, in manly fashion, shoot them. Retrieved by their ever faithful hounds, they, no doubt, return home proudly displaying their courage and skills.

With or without seasonal hunters, the hills are alive with beauty and serenity. There can be no doubt that St. Francis and his band of brothers walked these hills chanting God's name. There is no doubt that this land is blessed by the descent of grace into human form. It lingers in the soft breezes, in the warm sunshine, in the flashes of lightening and the crashing of  thunder, in the powder blue and happy yellow flowers that spring up on their own all around, and in the deep silence of the still night air.

In May, red poppies appear and populate fields throughout the region. Quaint farmhouses dot the hills, with pretty little gardens and stately trees in attendance. Broad panoramas of hills and distant mountains leap out at you as you round a turn in the country road that hugs the hillsides lovingly.

Our first outing was to the giant Basilica of St. Francis which dominates the western end of the small town. A sharp contrast to Francis' simplicity and lifestyle, it nonetheless is a focal point of devotion for millions.
Three stories beneath its frescoed ceiling is Francis' tomb, and that of several of his closest brothers. It's been called into question whether his body is there, but I find that kind of doubting unhelpful. If for no other reason than the devotion of millions, I found meditating there in the pews very peaceful and uplifting.

We had an official tour given by a Franciscan priest from New Jersey. We used the headsets that tourists and their guides use. His humor was extremely irreverent but even he could not obfuscate the spiritual vibration of the relics, art, and sanctity of the place. It was interesting that he wove his theology into his patter but used phrases like "making good decisions" in life (ergo, going to heaven) and "finding happiness!"

By pre-arrangement, he took us outside the public areas and into the rooms of St. Joseph of Cupertino. Joseph was a simple, humble and, I believe, all but illiterate priest who lived about a century after Francis. His story is quite remarkable and his claim to fame is the fact that he often was seen, publicly and by crowds, to levitate in ecstasy while attempting to "say" Mass. But with our intellectual tour guide, our stay there was rather limited. We sang a song together and had a few moments of silence. [Many years ago, Padma and I were able to go into those rooms with Shivani Lucki and meditate there on our own for a much longer period of time. A few days later, our pilgrims traveled by van to Joseph's home town where his incorrupt body remains on display.]

On our way up the hill back to our vans, we stopped at a very sweet, pleasant, shaded and wholly genuine outdoor cafe for capucchino. Then back to the Ananda Center for lunch and a tour of Ananda. The tour took us to the Inner Life offices and warehouse a few kilometers past the center and down the mountain in a tiny village; to the offices of the publishing house for our books in Italian, to the art gallery and workshop for several resident artists, to a member-owned organic farm (just like ours on Camano Island), and more. As much as I am tempted to speak of the Ananda community and center there and their years of dedication and the growth of it against all odds, I think I'll stick to my subject (yes, for a change!).

That evening after dinner, we were treated to a concert of music by their choir and some musicians. Many key resident members were away at the time of our visit, being just after the intensely busy summer retreat season, but they rousted enough voices to charm and inspire us. Music, like Italian cuisine, art, and countryside, has a mellifluous, light and harmonious quality that is its very own. I liken it to what happens when you buy the excellent Italian coffee and bring it home to America. It's good, but can never quite taste as good as it does in Italy. So, too, the songs they sang were familiar to us all (composed by Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda) and our choral groups do a wonderful job here, too, but's not the same.....

The next day we went back to the town of Assisi to the convent of St. (Sister) Clare, called San Damiano. In St. Francis' time, it was a run down church where he prayed and where the crucifix came alive and Jesus spoke to Francis saying, "Rebuild my church!" (Now that same crucifix is to be seen in the town of Assisi at the church there dedicated to St. Claire, called, surprisingly, Santa Chiara!)

I may be speculating here but to me, and I'm sure to others, Claire was to Francis as Teresa (of Avila) was to John of the Cross: each a reflector to the other in a relationship as pure and as inspired as any such could ever be. The poignant and touching story of Clare, a beautiful teenage girl born of a prominent and wealthy family in Assisi (like Francis himself), being inspired by Francis' conversion and total dedication to Lady Poverty and his guru, Jesus Christ, secretly leaves her life of luxury and pleasure to follow Francis. They were obviously, in a sense, "spoiled rich kids" of the town and of course knew each other. Francis, formerly, the party guy in the town, was naturally well liked and well known. But, as is true in the life of many saints, both east and west, these two souls, born by past spiritual karma into position and opportunity, were but disguised saints whose "coming out" had to wait for the right moment.

The famous scene where Francis, surrounded by the very few brothers who had at that early stage come to follow him (also, upper class "boys" like himself), cuts Clare's beautiful hair in a symbolic but very real act of renunciation that is like no other. Artists down through the centuries have been inspired to depict this life-changing and archetypal event which touches us on a deep level. Her sanctity and her spiritualized love for St. Francis is one of the all time greatest stories ever told. Francis rarely permitted himself to express his feelings to her outwardly but there is no doubt of their mutual feeling, depth and purity. (I'm not here to tell their story, so I must move on).

But I say this because the spiritual power of the old convent and its utterly stark and intense simplicity, expressive of the seemingly harsh life the sisters lived there, is like pure light and crystal clear water, untainted by anything merely mortal or mundane, even if all that is tangibly left speaks of their life of material lack. The vibration of God, unseen but powerfully felt, pulses from the very stones.

Another spiritual power spot is the Porciuncula, the second little chapel that Francis and friends helped restore. As is well known, a large Basilica was built over the top of it and while not commenting on the incongruity of it all, it does protect the chapel from the weather. It's hard to get a seat in the "toy" chapel but it is well worth whatever wait is required. Swami Kriyananda, Ananda's founder, praying there many years ago, felt intense sweetness. In prayer he asked St. Francis, "How is such sweetness possible?" The answer he received was "by never judging." Whew! It is also the place where Francis died and a place where many events of his life took place. It, too, is not to be missed. And after an hour or two of prayer and upliftment, you can reward your efforts and share a gelato across the street with St. Francis looking over your shoulder -- sweetly.

Well, let's take a break, shall we? We'll return to Ananda and to Assisi in our next installment.

The blessings continue and the main reason I write these is so I can "go back!"

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum - A Tourist in Rome (& Florence)!

I grew up in Monterey, CA, a well known (and well deserved) tourist destination. As a teenager I could spot the tourists a mile away: in the summer, they were the ones wearing shorts and T-shirts. They didn't realize that Monterey in the summer (used to be) like Mark Twain's famous lament about San Francisco: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."

I have traveled around Europe and Asia in my life but always on my own and rarely with any distinct agenda, nor yet a tour book, relying instead on whim and fancy and the fates. Until this trip to Italy in October I had never played the official role of tourist. And, you know something, it was fun and very helpful. Our little group (just under twenty) were guided around Rome and Florence by official tour guides who wore a little microphone and hung a sending unit around their neck while each of us wore a receiver with an ear "bud." Thus we could walk the noisy, crowded streets of Rome, or enter a hushed church or museum and the guide could talk softly or normally and each of us could hear the guide just fine--even if we were standing some 20 or 40 feet away, separated by another tourist group using the same technology!

Our guide in Rome is both a professional tour guide AND a member of Ananda Assisi. She was energetic, thoughtful, articulate with just the perfect charming Roman accent, and very knowledgeable, replete with lots of fascinating historical anecdotes. She was also a Roman by birth and clearly viewed her heritage with a quiet air of dignified national pride. Our guide in Florence was a born entertainer and also very informative and personable.

Though I have been to both places before, I found this experience very enjoyable and, at my age, being herded about town as a marked tourist, was no longer a threat to my fragile self-sufficient image! In fact, I recommend it. Given that I would never bother to read tour guide books anyway, even if I did, I can't imagine walking around these places with my book in hand trying to correlate the object I am looking at with its description in a book!

We stayed at a convent quite near the Vatican. It was large, clean, beautiful, quiet and there was even Wi-Fi! It was perfect for our needs. Our group would meditate together in the morning in a special room provided for us before having breakfast and getting in our vans to go "touring." Weather was warm (sometimes hot) but essentially perfectly enjoyable. Our first stop was Santa Maria della Vittoria, an eye-popping baroque and beautiful church near the Termini Train station that houses a marble statue by Bernini of the angel piercing the heart of St. Teresa of Avila. It is exquisite. It was a last minute suggestion from one of our members here in Seattle and well worth it. We had a scheduled stop, also, at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where the body (but not the head) of St. Catherine of Siena lies in state. We couldn't really meditate at either but we could pray and be still for a short time. It was worth it.

We also did the requisite tour of the ruins of the emperors' palaces and a sidelong glance at the imposing Colosseum, though the latter was overshadowed by the attraction of a delicious pizza lunch across the street. We also had a driving tour of various (ancient) hot spots along and around the Tiber River. A walking tour past the ruins of the forum(s), the Arch of Constantine and a stop at the incredible Pantheon/church.

The next half-day was St. Peter's, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum. All were sardine packed and trying to look straight up at the ceiling of the Sistine has its downside (on your neck, principally). But to say it isn't impressive you'd have to be a zombie. St. Peter's starts off with the side niche containing the heart opening, soul-inspiring Pieta by Michaelangelo. Words simply cannot convey the visceral impact of this inspired work of art. Michaelangelo was only 22 years old when he sculpted it from Carrara marble he personally selected from the mountains. I feel inadequate to offer anything more than inserting the photo image below. Much has been written--historical, artistic and religious--about this almost unbelievable creation which is so alive, so fraught with multiple levels of feeling, both sublime and heart wrenching.

There's little point saying much about St. Peter's itself. Yes, it's impressive, and I mean that sincerely. The power, the wealth, the inspiration, the world-view that could have enabled the creation of such architecture and such works of art that are housed in the Vatican--it simply staggers the mind and dwarfs the pedestrian and merely functional creation of the latest smart phone.

That afternoon we boarded a modern, sleek fast train to Florence and a few hours later found ourselves ensconced in the heart of Florence in yet another convent: not quite as nice but very serviceable and where we also had our own meditation room!

I asked myself: what will become of these great buildings and art works in a few hundred years? A thousand years? All of the architectural treasures here bring in millions of tourist dollars and create a world-wide magnet. But can the objects themselves last "forever?" Do not the millennials find such things a bore? If not now, what about the next generation, or, five generations from now? Will these be abandoned in the future like the great cities of ancient times? Perhaps. One thing you can be certain of is this: they will be digitized. Long after they have crumbled due to indifference, shrinking national budgets, earthquakes or floods, plagues or wars, they will exist in the virtual reality of Digital City. Someday you will virtually walk the narrow cobblestone streets of Florence, or peruse the Uffici museum, gaze at the marble David and gawk at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.....from your home.

I suppose I could list out the many places we visited in Florence, but . . . . . . google "Florence"......

I enjoyed the monastery of San Marco: the monk cells with the frescoes by Fra Angelico. The history of the Florentine ruling families (e.g. the famous Medici family) and their endless intriques in medieval and very unstable Italy. The Uffici is simply an overwhelming collection of art: no one should have to view that much art in less than 2 hours. All in all, well worth the visit.

I had excellent meditations in the monasteries we stayed at both in Rome and in Florence. Our group coalesced quickly and harmoniously. The food we had at the hand (mouth?)-selected restaurants made us feel like royalty....about to pop!

Now, on to our real destination.......the footsteps of St. Francis.....stay tuned...


Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Footsteps of St. Francis - A Perspective

A group of Ananda members from Seattle, WA have just returned from a two-week visit to Italy. We saw the sights of Rome and the treasures of Florence, but these were but introductions to the deep spirituality which is their true source and the greatest treasure of Italy and of humankind: "the Word made flesh and dwelt amongst us."

So much has been said about the impact of St. Francis on religion and culture that I feel in awe of even attempting to share any insights. As a fact of history, St. Francis mobilized and inspired thousands of people in the direction of a profound and deep spirituality (many becoming saints like himself). His use of the vernacular, the language of the Italy of his time, and his love and embrace of nature, is said (by those more knowledgeable than me) to have sown the seeds for the Italian renaissance. Over a thousand years after the life of Jesus, he was the first to recreate and reenact, for devotional purposes, the birth of Jesus. In one simple event in a small village, he single-handedly birthed one of the most profound and inspired traditions of Christendom: the Nativity!

While ancient Rome was, itself, a colossus of genius, brute force, and sheer energy, it is not really the cultural treasure of Italy today. After all, most of it is in ruins. Nonetheless, I came to feel that for Italians, and Romans especially, they are understandably proud of their ancestral tradition and history of the glory of ancient Rome. Surely this memory has inspired some of Rome's offspring to heights of glory and genius. (Yes, Mussolini attempted to imitate it, too, for sure!). I can't say that the "glory of Rome" resonates deeply with me but any objective measure of it at its height is impressive by any standard.

Thus it is that I believes the echoes of that former greatness continued to emanate from its center in Rome far into the medieval and renaissance periods. What happened, historically, was that the fading glory and strength of the Roman empire was given over by Emperor Constantine to the fledgling Christian religion. The Church thus inherited the erstwhile power and glory of Rome, even if much reduced, indeed, on the brink of collapse, but Christianity re-enabled that power into a new form and for a new era of history.

The brilliance of the classical periods of Greece and Rome is found in its foundations in logic, reason, and appreciation and devotion to the human experience and psyche, both body and mind. While far from religiously spiritual, the classical times had a strength and beauty of its own. Indeed, so much so, that by the height of the Italian renaissance and against the pressures of the Protestant revolt, the Catholic Church itself was accused of paganism because it supported great works of art that depicted characters and gods and goddesses from the classical period and, shockingly, featured the human body in all its (unclothed) glory.

(An aside: To those of us who view human history in the light of the theory of the "Yugas" as revealed and re-interpreted by Swami Sri Yukteswar in his abstruse tome, "The Holy Science," we see that during the classical periods of Greece and Rome the power of the pantheon of the gods had become mostly an empty ritual. Belief in gods was on the decline as human consciousness was steadily losing its power of subtle perceptions beyond physical form. The old time religions devolved into superstitions and myths, the power now faded into empty, even debased, rituals and time-worn customs.

To replace the gods, humanity, or those few with integrity and insight, only had human life as a measure of our potential. What arose is what we might call today "secular humanism." This included the Stoics and the emphasis on ethics and morals based on human reason. The decline of human awareness, according to the yuga theory, reached its nadir around 500 A.D. -- about the time of the last Roman emperor. The libraries of learning and knowledge from past ages were purposely destroyed out of fear, ignorance and disdain for their seeming uselessness. Then began the slow ascent, first through the Dark Ages, then medieval times onto the Renaissance, the Protestant revolt, the age of exploration and so on. The cycle reached its parallel, though ascending rather than descending, with the Greek and Roman secular humanism during the so-called "Enlightenment," the Age of Reason which occurred roughly around the time of the American and French revolutions. In the ascending cycle, such a stage in the growing awareness of human consciousness would be a natural result of the Renaissance and the age of exploration during which human thought and the natural world became legitimate and inspired objects of man's growing self-interest. Medieval mysticism and heaven and hell began to lose their lustre in part as deep thinkers, and later, whole generations, lost faith in the practicality of their reality, such a loss being catalyzed in part due to the excesses of church institutionalism. For a marvelous and eye-opening explanation of the yugas, visit:

Returning now to our subject, it occurs to me that the Roman genius and energy was reborn by divine decree (blessings, in other words) in the flowering of Christianity which replaced the Roman empire. Unfortunately, it would long be tainted, as if even by physical association, by the Roman legacy of seeking power by conquest, beauty in grandiose architecture, ego affirmation and sensuality.

The transformation of the Roman legacy into essentially a religious and spiritual one was something I felt as I walked the streets of Rome. My sense was for a new-found appreciation of the spiritual influence of so many saints (and martyrs) through whose sacrifice and consciousness the failed Roman empire was transformed into the spiritual heart of Christendom and which effectively moved its center of gravity from Jerusalem to Rome. The presence of saints Peter and Paul, alone, would have endowed the ancient city with the blessing of being an "eternal city."

As Buddha was a Hindu, Jesus was a Jew. As Buddhism left India and went east, Christianity left Palestine and went west. Such was the divine will. Rome became the center of Christian energy and remains so today. As we are witnessing a mini-renaissance in the Catholic Church under Pope Francis, purposely taking the name of St. Francis ("rebuild my Church"), so we can see at work the continuation of the promise of Jesus that to Peter he gave the keys to the kingdom on which to build his church which will stand to the end of time. (How well it has carried out its commission is, of course, debatable, but the Catholic Church is still here and is in fact experiencing yet another renaissance of sorts. That Paramhansa Yogananda gave a more metaphysical and more personal interpretation of Jesus' words doesn't necessarily negate a more outward interpretation if not taken too literally.)

Padma (my wife) pointed out that Yogananda taught that Jesus appeared to the prophet Babaji and asked Babaji to send someone from India to the west to resurrect the personal practice of inner communion using the art and science of eastern meditation. To St. Francis, then, Jesus appeared with a similar message, "Rebuild my church" by the personal "Imitation of Christ." In one conversation, one of the pilgrims wondered if, in fact, St. Francis was himself a reincarnation of Jesus. Francis had twelve disciples; he was the first to receive the stigmata (wounds of Christ); he imitated the life of Jesus literally; raised the dead. Well, anyone, idle speculation, to be sure.

Thus it was that on this journey, I found it "easy," perhaps obvious, to ascribe the genius of the Italian Renaissance (in art, sculpture and architecture) to the spiritual power and transformation of consciousness that St. Francis initialized. Further, it seems to me that Francis' appearance on the scene was a continuation of an essential vibration of greatness that stretches back, albeit taking a very different form, to Roman times. Francis' greatness was entirely spiritual but its ramifications created echoes, like waves, emanating outward from the initial shock of omnipresence, resulted in, literally, a renaissance of human consciousness. Each aspect of this being understood in the larger context of the devolution and subsequent evolution (upward) in human consciousness.

It was appropriate, therefore, that our little pilgrimage begin with a tour of the cultural treasures of Rome and Florence. On those treasures, I have little to say or to add, as art, for art's sake, is not an area of great personal interest. That I was as floored, awed, and inspired as just about anyone (ought to be) by these great works, I attest and confess, but beyond the general shock into speechlessness that many experience, I have nothing to add!

So, now we will go onto Assisi in the next the footsteps of St. Francis.......taking a far more personal and spiritually oriented tone..............and away from the more grandiloquent tone of this first "perspective."


Swami Hrimananda

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

Hi! I've been away nearly three weeks in Europe: two weeks in Italy, visiting Rome and Florence, and then on pilgrimage to the shrines of St. Francis and to the Ananda Center in the Umbrian hills above Assisi (home of St. Francis).

While I would like to share about my trip, I wanted to share briefly about book I read (a birthday present from my daughter and son-in-law): "My Stroke of Insight: a scientist's personal journey" by Jill Bolte Taylor. See

I don't want to take the time for a book review but it contains several aspects of interest for meditators and, indeed, everyone and anyone. Yes, for starters, it's a handbook on the medical aspects of a stroke. One of its great contributions is to help both patients and caregivers to understand how to deal effectively with a stroke. In this contribution you'll find insights on dealing with emotions as well as practical techniques.

Metaphysically, however, Jill uses medical and scientific language to gently approach the sphere of spirituality, prayer, God, and oneness. As the book nears its conclusion, she advances more boldly into these realms, but always keeping some distance. I suppose she doesn't want to offend anyone and I suppose she wants to make it accessible and helpful to (almost) anyone. She does a good job at this, too!

She follows the accepted scientific protocol of assuming the brain produces consciousness, or at least avoiding challenging that assumption! She never really addresses who this "I" is that perceives and records the dramatic effects of her stroke and her recovery. So from the soap box that I stand on, it is less than satisfying but I accept that she has another soap box and it invites to the same platform: we are One!

So, I highly recommend the book for just about anyone. I'm one who finds, unpredictably, a certain flutter of nausea from some medical facts, so for parts of this, I had to pause and return to the book at certain points. I marvel at how anyone could undergo a stroke with such recollectedness and I can't help but wonder how much of the experience was reconstructed, but, no matter, it is a good read from a number of angles, so I highly recommend it.

Blessings to you, and on to our pilgrims' journey: "In the footsteps of St. Francis."

Swami Hrimananda