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: