Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Intolerance Born of Life Experience & "Mature" Years: Future of Ananda Communities

The very first Ananda community (near Nevada City, CA) is approaching fifty years of existence. Those of us who came in their twenties are, well, do the math.......yes, in their seventies (more or less). But with the power of yoga and divine grace, we're still kicking and going strong!

Think back, my friends, to the craziness some of us brought to Ananda Village in those years. Skinny dipping, gardening in the nude, serial relationships, food and fasting fads, infatuation with passing spiritual teachers, and on and on. "Lord knows" what else our founder, friend and spiritual guide, Swami Kriyananda put up with. 

He looked through us to our souls' potential. No doubt he saw that for some they would stay a short while while others have been part of Ananda ever since. Yet I suspect many surprised him whether they left or stayed! We've all seen friends, good people, come, and go.

Are we finding, now, that we look askance at the attire (or lack of it), the chatter and the talk, the self-righteous opinions, and the goofiness of some of the young ones who arrive at our communities now? Do we see justification for our coolness in the fact that some do not stay very long? Is that fact perhaps due to our coolness toward them? 

Do we wonder to ourselves whether we should offer the "advice" that life is stern, work hard, stay in line, listen to me? Worse yet, do we actually say it? (Why, are WE bitter for having sacrificed "so much?") In so doing, are we simply manifesting the generational disconnect that has existed since time immemorial?

In case you are on the edge of your seat (still), yes I think we are repeating that same intolerance born of life experience. From whence does this sternness come? 

Still on the edge of your seat, no doubt? Let me tell you, then:

When you've seen people come with high ideals and leave discouraged, not understanding that they didn't or couldn't give it their all, or couldn't find self-acceptance, or couldn't see that their criticism and complaining was hurting them more than the issues they claimed were at stake.....you can't help but want to warn new ones about how difficult the spiritual life is and how precarious is our divine attunement and right attitudes. 

It is natural to want to remind newer ones that sometimes falling off the spiritual path can cost (as Yogananda once mentioned in respect to at least one of his disciples who left the path) many lifetimes before the former spiritual zeal returns that one has left slip so nonchalantly from one's grasp.

We cannot help but see how thin a line it is between the magnetism of playing with the fire of desire versus the fire of devotion and self-offering: the same energy but a different direction.

So, sure, we have our reasons and they are good ones, too, except for one important fact: finger wagging doesn't work. It wouldn't have worked with us, either. We were fortunate that Swami Kriyananda was a wise, spiritual father. He looked toward eternity and saw the perfection of our souls.

And another thing: we don't want to see destroyed by ignorance or lack of awareness or loyalty all that we have worked for most of our lives in establishing these spiritual communities. We don't want to simply hand them over to neophytes who have yet to deepen their commitment through the fires of trials and tribulations (as we have had to do).

So, sure, we have our reasons and they are good ones, too, except for one important fact: it doesn't work! (Am I repeating myself already?)

The solution is to abandon the false perception that comes with the age of physical body and the accumulated experiences of one's present life. Dividing the community into camps of "old" and "young," "leaders" and "followers" is to put a pall of spiritual death upon the very life we all aspire to lead and to share. 

Learning from one another; openness and receptivity; serving, praying, meditating, and playing together. Creating bonds of heartfelt appreciation and respect through listening and calm sharing.

A new member has to go through the "dues paying" of listening, paying attention, learning, struggling and growing; of holding at bay his or her opinions in a state of readiness to learn from the wisdom of experience; the older member has to stay present, awake, listening, avoiding the know-it-all tendency, staying conscious and respecting the ideas and insights, questions, needs and realities of the newer member.

Swami Kriyananda left for us these guidelines for our personal and organizational lives:

  1. "People are more important than things." This is the main one that applies here. The "things" at stake are our view, as leaders and the older generation, of what constitutes spiritual attunement from outer appearances. The people part is the wisdom to give others the time to mature and grow in grace and wisdom. Not to judge others by outer appearances or by lessons yet to be learned or by lessons which are theirs, but not ours, to learn. Compassion and wisdom!
  2. "Where there is dharma, there is victory." We will only be "successful" if we honor what it is right and true, no matter at what cost to ourselves personally (well, within reason!). "What's trying to happen here" is the question Swamiji taught us to ask ourselves when change, or pressures to change, show themselves.
We need to be people-centric not form-centric. All organizations, including intentional communities, churches, and yoga centers, are subject to change in their outer forms and expressions: whether in growth or in shrinking; in material success or acceptance; or, rejection. 

All organizations -- like all organisms -- have an innate impulse to thrive and grow. There's nothing wrong with that if the intention is to serve, share, and grow spiritually in the process (rather than for money or public acceptance and acclaim).

We need to "err" (if indeed "err" it be) on the side of acceptance, tolerance, and growth. Our only measure can truly be our personal spiritual growth in the process, and, the spiritual growth of those whom we serve and accept as community residents or center members.

Swamiji would say, from time to time, "It's not the WHAT, but the HOW!" If we make a group decision that runs the risk of diluting our spiritual attunement but we do it with the intention to serve, welcome, and be open to share with others, we will likely find that Divine Mother will see to it our efforts and errors will be mitigated. As Krishna promises us, "To those in tune, I will make good your deficiencies and render permanent your (spiritual) gains."

When I think of all the craziness Swami Kriyananda tolerated, or all the risky ventures and projects that he, himself, undertook in the name of serving our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, I am inspired and hope that those who lead this great and good work will carry on in his spirit and in his name.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda