Thursday, November 28, 2019

"Coop" Sharing - A New and Not New Paradigm

(I wrote this Thanksgiving evening before leaving on seclusion. I didn't post it anywhere beyond the blog. Ananda is a cooperative movement both in spiritual terms -- "cooperation with grace" --- and on the human scale of cooperative living, serving, and sharing, including cooperating with nature and all living things. Though one doesn't seem to hear much these days about the more formal structures of "coops," the attitudes of cooperation are part and parcel of American culture and in strong evidence everywhere in the world where people take the initiative in respect to issues, needs, and causes larger than their own. I feel to share what I hope is an upwelling of conscious cooperation, whether informal or formal. Linked to divine attunement, it, together with simplicity and a recognition of the need for inspired, supportive leadership, is the single most hopeful trend for a better world.

As tragic are milestone events in American history as 9-11-01 and hurricane Katrina, and more recently fires and intentional power outages in California, each of these has and is contributing to an awakening of the need for individuals to take the initiative to band together to find scalable solutions for problems larger than ourselves.)

Friends of ours from Ananda Village, Omprakash and Prem Shanti Rider, were here at Ananda Seattle this week for Thanksgiving.

Omprakash has been a lifelong supporter and organizer of food coops. An opportunity arose recently at Ananda Village to start a food coop when the former Master's Market (convenience store and cafe) in "downtown" Ananda Village was forced to close for financial reasons after many decades of operation. 

When it did, Omprakash waited to see if anyone younger or newer might leap into the breach of the opportunity which most residents were sure would be taken. But the market remained closed for three months until Omprakash felt inspired to re-open it, not as a community-owned retail business but as a food coop.

Coops--food, agriculture, buying, residential, etc.--have been around a long time in American history. They reflect well the American experience and "can-do-together" consciousness. 

In much of the twentieth century and into the current century, coops of all types have languished in the face of efficient, well-funded, highly profitable corporate enterprises. Worker-owned businesses are now nonexistent or few.

I think that is going to change. I think that HAS to change. Efficiency and profit are not the only criteria for success. Happiness, fulfilment and satisfaction are also important aspects of whatever service or product is made, grown, re-sold, marketed or built. 

Food coops are perhaps the most resilient and visible coops in America. Despite the big box grocery stores and the efficiency of agribusiness food growing, food coops continue to appeal to those who want a human face and human touch to their food. 

Ananda in Washington effectively operates coop models in its thrift store (Living Wisdom Thrift and Gift); at our farm (Ananda Farms), in the residential community (Ananda Community, Lynnwood), and even to some degree in the East-West Bookshop of Seattle. None of these are formal or legal coops but all of them, including Ananda Blue Lotus Temple and Institute of Living Wisdom, are dependent upon volunteers and donations even as each of them also earn their "keep" through the services and products they provide.

Recently, Zach and Hailey Abbey co-sponsored a meeting on Camano Island to ask like-minded friends whether and who might be interested in forming a food coop and buying club on or around Camano Island. It was standing room only!!

While nonprofits including churches might want to view themselves as cooperative undertakings, and largely this would be true insofar as they depend on donations and volunteers, many lack cooperative management or leadership. Nonetheless, all but the largest national or international organizations, or those dependent mostly upon government grants, have the elements of hands-on, locally sourced operations with a cooperative spirit. 

Virtually all large organizations (governmental, charitable, research, medical, political etc.) are increasingly viewed with suspicion or scepticism. Questions arise over whether they are self-serving or pandering to outside interests.

It seems obvious to me that idealistic, creative, bold, and energetic people gravitate to independent enterprises. 

The so-called "Share Economy" is a kind of coop model. We share cars; houses; information; advice; references; recommendations; tools; you name it. We homeschool our children and have homeschooling groups. 

The model of brick and mortar educational institutions are groaning under the weight of endless regulations and expectations of parents, teachers, administrators, and the public; there are safety issues; concerns about violence; there's an increasing awareness of special needs children; racial, ethnic, and cultural differences; there's the out of control cost of education under the traditional classroom and administration model. 

Coop education models can include homeschooling blended with shared group and virtual resources. These offer hope for expanding educational opportunities beyond those who can afford it or who are willing to borrow against their lifetime earnings.

The top-heavy energy industry is in serious question or decline, its costly infrastructure out of date or decaying. The need to generate energy locally is increasingly accepted and desired. To do so would require a cooperative enterprise of various stakeholders.

Food growing is one of the most fertile cooperative ventures with many options, a variety of evolving models, and blessed with rapid growth.

Co-housing has been slow to take off, mostly, I suppose because funding remains a speciality of certain lenders. Mortgage lending falls off the cliff once one departs from the traditional funding of single-family homes. There long has been, however, a small but established infrastructure for coop apartments in the eastern part of the United States.

Condominiums have enjoyed more stable funding sources but condos are riddled with construction problems and uncooperative owners and tenants. Condos lack the cooperative spirit of co-housing.

Ananda has urban apartment communities but they are based on renting an apartment complex. Even if the owners are Ananda members, there remains a firewall of potentially conflicting interests between ownership and residency. This model puts financial results first but hopefully, this will evolve in time. 

Lastly, zoning and building codes remain a stumbling block to any creative residential enterprise.

Nonetheless, tiny homes and shared living arrangements are slowly blossoming owing mostly to economic pressures. 

Home-sharing finds its most robust expression in temporary vacation or travel lodging in VRBO or AirBnB. But this trend is also rife with controversy and doesn't address long-term residential needs.

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," is considered by Ananda members and Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, the patron saint of communities. He predicted that someday they would "spread like wildfire."

While I hesitate to jump on the image of "wildfire spreading wildly" (especially in California), I do welcome the prediction and I believe it will, in fact, happen, though maybe not very soon.

But the watchword for the future survival of humanity and the rest of the planet's inhabitants is clearly and necessarily COOPERATION! Linked to cooperation is simplicity, lest cooperation becomes diluted by merely legalistic contracts.

Also linked to and even a necessary balance to cooperation is leadership. While Ananda was founded by Swami Kriyananda--a strong, clear and yet sensitively supportive leader--future communities and coops will necessarily be more level in order to fulfil the coop ideals. 

Swami Kriyananda's training of us in leadership went counter to what was, at that time, the consensus dogma of intentional communities.

Strict consensus has shown itself to be impractical. It paralyzes creative and inspired directions. There is no substitute for the skills and role of leadership. But what we learned from "Swamiji" is that leadership is a role just like, but not more important than, any number of other crucial roles. It should emphasize service to others and to the goal of the enterprise, and not service from others or special status.

A coop model does not have to insist on consensus decision making. The Ananda experience shows that cooperation in a supportive leadership environment can result in a version of consensus that might be called "energetic." At Ananda, we've evolved an approach we describe by asking "what's trying to happen here?" Leadership listens; asks; serves; and shows the flexibility that expresses respect for the process and everyone involved.

Given that the age we live in emphasizes personal liberties, selfishness can result unless there is a balancing emphasis upon cooperation. Cooperation with nature; with other people and nations; with God and with universal, human values. 

Rebelling against established authority may be necessary or the dharma of some, but those of creative goodwill, energy and courage can instead direct our efforts to work cooperatively with others to live in harmony with Spirit and Nature.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Swami Hrimananda

Friday, November 15, 2019

Newly Discovered Tips for Meditators Who Want the Monkey to Mind

Newly Discovered Tips for Meditators:

I should add: "newly discovered" for me! I stumbled upon some things I'd like to share. (Even if, there's nothing new under the sun of wisdom.)

1. One's heart rate needs to be slowed before the monkey can relax. A very simple breathing exercise will help: breathe through the nose using a long slow and smooth breath. Let the exhalation be slightly longer than inhalation. Let the breath flow continuously without pauses at the top of inhalation or at the bottom of the exhalation. Of course, there are numerous traditional pranayamas to use also but you do need to know how to use them properly. The most important clue for the success of pranayama is the quieting of the heart and slowing of the breath rate. Some techniques produce a sensation of coolness; others, of warmth. But if your heart is beating faster after the exercise than it was before, then you'd better let that one go or learn how and when to use it correctly!

I have learned that controlling the heart is more than just mechanics. Conscious intention and awareness are very important. Try this exercise: when calm and with eyes closed, "intuit" the experience of breathlessness! Look up and open your mouth with a soft, one-second intake of breath. Hold that pose and feel the heart. You can also stop and calmly fix your gaze on any object with your mouth slightly open and your eyes "wide" (see number 3 below).

When meditating, try to feel, intuit or imagine space in the body. Our body is 99.999% space (scientists tell us). Then expand that awareness out and around you further and further. Notice if your heart rate drops!

2. Try relaxing the tongue during meditation. Let it relax and slide gently and just slightly back into the mouth. It may help to open your mouth just slightly. The tongue is what we talk with. Even mental self-talk can stimulate the nerves in the tongue into readiness to speak! As the tongue, so the mind. As the mind, so the tongue.) [Of course, the gold standard is to place the tongue into Khechari mudra. but that's another and a longer story.]

3. Position of the eyes. No doubt readers of this article already know to position your eyes upward, gazing gently through the point between the eyebrows. In the yoga tradition, this is called Shambhavi mudra. This alone helps greatly with quieting the self-talk. Implied in the experience of Shambhavi mudra is a little-known effect: dilation of the eyes. Try this little trick for dilating the eyes. Lift your gaze with open eyes. Hold your arms out at eye level with the index finger on each hand pointing to the ceiling. Slowly move your arms apart from each other to the furthest points where your eyes can still see both upraised fingers. Notice if this doesn't quiet the mind instantly. After you find this gazing position, close your eyes and begin your meditation as usual. (You may have to do this several times during meditation or for a few days or weeks to have it become natural. P.S. The eyes should never "cross.") 

Why does this work? My understanding goes something like this: the analytical mind tends to keep the narrative going when we are looking at ONE thing. But the feeling or observing part of the mind overrides the analytical brain when simultaneously viewing two or more objects. (A picture, being worth a thousand words! Two pictures, two thousand!) 

In the practice of the Hong Sau technique, we are given the instruction to keep the gaze upraised behind closed eyes while feeling the breath flowing up and down in the nostrils. These two focal points constitute TWO objects being observed simultaneously. While this is true, the dilation technique I think is more sustainable, especially for new meditators. 

Try the dilation method (without necessarily using the arms) even during the day (probably NOT when driving a car) and see if you don't experience an instant quieting of heart and mind, and relaxation throughout the muscles! This can be done simply by becoming aware of what is at the edges of your peripheral vision when looking at any one point in front of you, especially with eyes slightly raised.

4. Re-think the Ajna chakra (6th chakra) at the medulla. We are taught that the spiritual eye (point between the eyebrows) is but a reflection of the 6th chakra which is located at the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain (and in the back of the head). For this purpose, let's exclude the crown chakra (the Sahasrara) viewing it as not being a chakra but, being instead, the transcendent consciousness of the soul (which, let's face it, is somewhat aloof). 

Therefore, experiment with viewing the medulla as the final chakra at the top of the spine. Focus your attention during meditation in the medulla with the idea that it is from the medulla that you are gazing up and forward to the point between the eyebrows. Visualize this, as I do, as the "theatre of the soul" gazing up at the screen where the inner light may appear.

A new technique I learned for feeling the position of the medulla goes like this: sit up straight in meditative posture. While keeping your head level, rotate your head side to side (not too far to either side) back and forth four or five times. Imagine that the head remains centered, rotating to the left, back to center, and to the right in a continuous motion seated on a small post, the thickness of your thumb and located just inside the back of the head above the neck. The area that you feel from this exercise you may consider to be the medulla oblongata (the seat of the ajna chakra).

Therefore, during meditation, center your attention in the medulla. This will help keep your head level (chin level). Too many meditators tilt their head back (lifting the chin) while straining to place their energy at the point between the eyebrows. See if this re-focusing of your attention at the medulla helps ground your meditation, keeping you in the conscious mind even while your upward gaze indicates that you are receptive to the superconscious mind. Too often we focus so intently upon the forehead that our head tilts up and we get "disconnected" from the rest of the body and the other chakras. The result is that we are tempted to mentally drift away or maybe the monkey mind feels free to leap about and do cartwheels and handstands on the stage of our attention. 

Another way to express the effect of the head tilted upwards at the chin, is that this "pinches" the medulla (Ajna) chakra and chokes off our connection with especially the heart. The heart holds one of the keys to quieting the monkey mind. When the heart is calm and at rest, so follows the mind. Think of one of those perennially contented souls one meets here and there. No surfeit of mental agitation have we!

Refocusing your awareness to the medulla will require some practice and reorientation. Ultimately it really isn't a change from making the spiritual eye your focus but it is, in fact, more natural since the ego is said to be centered in the medulla. Until the ego is lifted up out of itself, moving naturally forward to the spiritual eye, the ego is the one practising meditation!

5. The tingles! A sign to look for as you go deeper in meditation (as your heart rate decreases), is a tingling sensation on the surface of the body (the skin). Perhaps your hands, resting on your thighs, begin to feel heavy, even warm. Perhaps your upper body has an energy or tingling feeling all around. Or, perhaps your lower lip feels different (as if the blood is draining away from it). It is no coincidence that yogis often meditate without a shirt. The shirt, by touching the body, interferes with the awareness of this sensation. 

In its initial stages, we actually feel MORE sensitive (just as when you have sunburn or a rash you may not want to wear a shirt). As prana is drawn into the center of the body, certain sensations result. They are somewhat similar to falling asleep except that we can't notice them because we are "falling" asleep! These can include becoming suddenly aware of tension or aches and pains. Other symptoms might include sudden itching, tickling in the throat or nose, yawning or swallowing compulsively (though these also have other sources for their appearance). 

But the "tingles" is a sign to you that you are internalizing your awareness and the prana is following your attention inward. Put another way, these sensations are not problematic but natural. However, this doesn't mean every meditator will or must experience these sensations.

Well, that's it for now. Try some of these and let me know what you think. Just remember that we are all a bit different. Not every technique works the same for every meditator. 

Inhale, exhale, "stop, look, and listen!" (Here comes the train of peace gliding soundlessly down the tracks of your mind.)

Swami Hrimananda, the
Not (yet) wandering sadhu

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Yogananda's Predictions of Coming Difficult Times: True or False?

I have written before on this subject and Swami Kriyananda has both spoken and written on this subject many times. So this article is NOT a recitation of Yogananda's predictions. 

Instead, I would like to address some common objections to these prophecies.

1. Predictions aren't set in stone. True! Swami Kriyananda would always say as much but his opinion was that, to-date, the awakening of consciousness and the concomitant change in human behavior seemed to him insufficient to completely mitigate the predictions Yogananda made (between 1948-1952). How can we view events in our 2019 world and feel confident of positive changes?

2. Bad things are ALWAYS happening. Yes, this is also true. But this fact alone doesn't mean the specific predictions Yogananda made won't ALSO come true.

3. Why is it religious groups are consistently predicting "end times?" For one, Yogananda didn't predict "end times," only difficult challenges in the world. In fact, he said that after a long period of warfare, we would enter a long period of relative peace. (Besides, don't some people think the "world's going to end" if they didn't an invitation to that party?)

4. Sceptics aver that religious groups (or their leaders) make these predictions to keep the faithful in line, fearful, and unquestioning. I suppose this could be the case but as a hypothesis, it's difficult to prove and surely can't apply to all cases for at least two reasons unrelated to any motivation: 1. Predicting the future is always a risky business, and/or 2. As pointed in #2 above, BAD THINGS happen all the time. As to motivations, some people are, in fact, motivated by fear; fear is part of the human experience and, as such, it has its place. 

So let's explore #4 in relation to #2: why are the "faithful" often being warned of bad things when bad things are always happening anyway?

And, whereas Paramhansa Yogananda DID make certain predictions, it is not by any means super-clear that any of those predictions have come true. I'm going to focus on just two of his predictions: 

#1: America would suffer a depression far greater than the Great Depression of the 1930's. and....

#2: He stated with great vigour: "You don't KNOW what a cataclysm is coming."

I don't think any of the recessions that have taken place since 1930's could possibly be greater than the Great Depression, right? 

On the other hand, there have been innumerable natural disasters around the world, not least of which would be the Asian tsunami of 2004. But none of these seem to me to qualify to fit Yogananda's intent on one of two counts: 

1) When Yogananda gave that warning, he was speaking to an American audience and none of the many hurricanes, fires or earthquakes in the USA would seem, in my view, to qualify for the level of intensity that Swami Kriyananda related to audiences (he, being present when Yogananda made that statement, at least once, if not several times). 

2) If the intensity of Yogananda's emphasis on cataclysm was intended to be global, we certainly haven't had anything of that magnitude yet, though there is fear building worldwide that the cumulative effects of climate change may, like a tsunami, reach just that intensity in the upcoming decades. 

It is curious to me that Jesus Christ is quoted as making similar prophecies. In over two thousand years one could argue that none of his predictions came true, or, alternatively, that all of them came true at some time or place or another! (See Luke 21; Mark 13; Matt 24)

In the Indian epic the Mahabharata, Krishna warned of a coming age of un-virtue and destruction. The Pandavas, his chief disciples, left their palaces and traipsed up into the Himalayas to escape these inevitable changes. 

Absent global catastrophic events, we are left with the fact that BAD THINGS are always happening. Thus until such catastrophic events occur we might at least content ourselves with exploring the #2 objection that BAD THINGS are always happening AND why then are avatars are ALWAYS predicting them? 

What if there are two levels on which the predictions of these saints are justifiable? The one is personal: are not people in general and devotees specifically apt to have great tests and challenges in their lives? Aren't such likely to be tempted to follow ideologies or lesser leaders who are false? Besides, what seems catastrophic to me might be nothing to you but it IS to me! All the ills human life is heir to happen to a great many people but when they happen in the lives of the devotees their faith is tested that they may see the depth (or lack) of their spiritual mettle. 

The second relates to groups of devotees: aren't they likely to be persecuted or encounter social or political opposition; or, great difficulties such as betrayals of trust or apostacy? Are they not likely to see taking place around them injustice, deprivation, wars, and calamities? Not a few religious adherents in modern times have turned away from the "heavens" to toil on earth for humanitarian goals. For this, they receive many worldly kudos but there can be, for some, a hidden trap.

Yogananda's warns of this trap in "Autobiography of a Yogi," writing in Chapter 45: "Refusing a monotheistic love to God, the nations disguise their infidelity by punctilious respect before the outward shrines of charity. These humanitarian gestures are virtuous because for a moment they divert man's attention from himself, but they do not free him from his single responsibility in life, referred to by Jesus as the first commandment. The uplifting obligation to love God is assumed with man's first breath of an air freely bestowed by his only Benefactor."

The same can be said of political or social activism. Devotees can be discouraged, frightened, distracted or energized away from the spiritual path by the endless woes and material concerns of human life. 

Hasn't history shown repeatedly that evil can spin a web of lies, disguising itself as good, enticing devotees, spiritual leaders, and churches to support dictators, slavery, wars, prejudice, or exploitation in a form that could be called the "anti-Christ?" (that is to say, "anti-Christ-consciousness)

Thus, even if BAD THINGS are always taking place, a saint may warn of them because they are challenges to the faith and equanimity of devotees. Is not the warning saying, in effect, that the "joy and inspiration you may feel in my presence or in your spiritual life will be challenged someday by things that happen to you or around you?"

When I think of Jesus' words of warning (about troubles, persecutions, false teachers, natural calamities) to his disciples I consider that they did not know at the time that they would be founders and missionaries of a new religion. That new religion was going to be tested year after year, decade after decade, and century after century by the persecutions and, later, the temptations of power and the betrayals of heresy and apostasy. There would be many false prophets and teachers; many wars, dictators, and spiritual leaders vying and competing. 

That Jesus is quoted as saying "this generation shall not pass away" before he will come a second time can be viewed on a personal level in the lives of his direct disciples and on a general level to all disciples of any generation. The power of the living Christ can be seen or felt by the spiritual eye or "I" (the kingdom within you) by those who remain faithful to the "spirit and the truth." 

Was, then, also, Yogananda saying the same thing to those of us who are his followers? Do we not see all around us catastrophes, suffering, betrayals, exploitation, violence, and evil? Are we tempted to lose hope and faith? To feel anger, fear or resentment? To abandon spiritual work and practices in favor of saving humanity? To be concerned for material things more than our soul's love for God?

Who among us, today, does not feel this country (America) has not only lost whatever "greatness" it may have had but has also betrayed its founding ideals as epitomized by its elected leader(s), surely an "anti-Christ-consciousness" embodiment(s) if there ever was one?

This isn't fear-mongering on the part of Yogananda (or Jesus or Krishna etc.). It may be dramatic, stark, or, for some, fear-inducing in its language and imagery, but to me, the message goes something like this: "Don't put your faith in making this world perfect. It is a school, merely. Yes, do what you can to make it a better place but focus on your love for God and your love for God in all." 

The function of a school is to give examinations and to help students pass them and move on. So, yes, you will see hardship and suffering but hold steadfast to your faith and love for God. If this world were perfect, who would seek God's love? Are not the imperfections of this world the necessary inducement for us to seek the "truth that shall you free"?

Returning now to the two predictions of Yogananda that I cited above, who can say with confidence that wholesale financial collapse in America is impossible? (Did I read the other day that the national debt of America is $23 TRILLION?) Who can say that a major catastrophe (asteroid, volcano, earthquake, pandemic, world war) is impossible? (Almost daily I receive postings about possible catastrophic asteroids or super volcanoes.) 

The primary reason for contemplating such possibilities is not fear but to warn us not to fall asleep in our spiritual efforts. It's not necessary for the most ardent devotees but helpful for those who are new, weak or discouraged. Given that bad things are always happening, why not heed Krishna's immortal words: "Get away, Arjuna, from my ocean of suffering and misery!"

Added unto us with the love of God we can "be the change we seek in the world" with far greater effect than only toiling in the vineyard where the grapes of wrath are grown. Ultimately, then, it CAN be a both-and but walking the edge of the steep path between the outer and inner worlds takes great spiritual agility.

As the scripture of the street puts it: "Just sayin'"

Swami Hrimananda