Showing posts with label Expanding Light Retreat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Expanding Light Retreat. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Can Meditation Make You Happier?

This year's "Spiritual Renewal Week" ( at the Expanding Light Retreat (located at Ananda Village near Nevada City, CA USA), has for its theme, "Finding Happiness." Numerous speakers will share thoughts on many aspects of the increasingly vital topic, "how to find happiness." It just so happens that "Finding Happiness" is the title of the movie about Ananda's worldwide network of intentional communities, but it also presents to us in these days of great uncertainty, countless lifestyle options, and turmoil, a timely AND timeless subject.

It is difficult to keep up with the published studies on the effects of meditation on the brain, the mind, the body, and general "spirits." But the question is worth asking: "Can meditation make you happier?"

My favorite answer to these types of questions is, "It depends......on you!" Let's start by saying meditation can help you become calmer. Being calmer allows you to be clearer in both emotions and thoughts (two sides of the coin, I'd say). Being calmer allows you to make choices about your response to stress or anything that might make you UNhappy or LESS happy. To activate this potential, you have to make the effort to retain that calmness sufficiently well enough to use your will to remain even-minded, and to choose your response rather than react. Rather than bite someone's "head off," you might take a deep breath and remaining calm, patiently explain your thoughts. Etc. etc.

But meditation can take us deeper than simply remaining "mindful" and calm. There are stages of meditation and much of what's taught under the stress reduction category of "mindfulness" is just an entry level stage....unless practiced "longer and deeper," that is. Other techniques (combining attitude, feeling, intention, and the technical aspects of the deeper meditation science) can accelerate the depth of your meditation. But not merely mechanically. There's more to it than mere mechanics.

Many prior blog articles have explored aspects of meditation but for this blog, on finding happiness, let me say that a deeper experience of meditation partakes of the nectar of true happiness directly, without intervention of thoughts, intentions or techniques. It's like taking a bath or shower; standing under a weightless waterfall of joy and peace! Experiencing a form of happiness that is not circumstantial and not conditioned by any outer situation, one "knows" a joy that slowly begins to percolate through one's body cells and consciousness. Bit by bit, day by day, the bubble of happiness permeates your thoughts, attitudes and actions and, by so doing, magnetizes to you even greater opportunities for joy, for gratitude, for service, for self-forgetfulness..........for lasting happiness.

It would be fair to ask whether this deeper experience requires a belief system, a faith ideal, or any form of religious or spiritual affiliation or inclination. I want to say "Yes," but, in fact, it does not. But, which came first, the "chicken or the egg?" The one can lead to the other and vice versa. I cannot say for sure that deep and regular immersion in this state of consciousness can remain always a subjective experience with no intuition about God or "other" arising, but let me say, rather, that the search for meaning (and what is meaning if not happiness) will ineluctably, inevitably and indubitably lead us to the "truth that shall make us free." I think that's all I need to say because each soul's path to truth (and what is truth if not God) is unique and is his own. I can speculate but, no matter.

I will say this, however, those souls who intuitively are drawn to seek the "other" (as I have frequently commented upon in other blogs), who are open to the presence of God, Christ or the masters, in whatever form, and have an innate devotional awareness will have in place an important piece of this thing we call "truth." That's as much as I can say.

So, yes, meditation can help you find the wellspring of happiness that is, as we often say at Ananda, "within you."

I believe some of the key events are video streamed on the internet. Classes begin Monday mid-morning, August 18. See the link above for more information.

Blessings to all,


Friday, December 6, 2013

Seclusion is the Price of Greatness: My Week, and How & Why to Do It!

I have just completed my annual week of seclusion. By seclusion I mean a personal and private spiritual retreat in prayer, meditation, study and silence (both outward and inward). It was Paramhansa Yogananda (whose teachings I follow as a disciple) who uttered the words which are the title of this piece: “Seclusion is the Price of Greatness.”

So, yes, I had a “great” seclusion! Ok, that’s a funny. By “greatness” I suppose Yogananda (PY) must have meant many things but for me I see that in this time spent alone with God and Guru, the greatness of one’s spirit are “made manifest.” When one’s only task is to “go within,” one has the opportunity to feel the vastness of Spirit that lies behind the mundane details and preoccupations of daily life.

Is it easy? Is it fun? Well, no, and no. There’s a lot more than just “joy within you”. One must combat desires, restlessness, aching limbs and back, gnawing hunger, withdrawal symptoms from one’s minor vices, and on and on. There are fears, too. As PY put it, “the soul LOVES to meditate but the ego hates to meditate.” There is a fear of losing oneself in the inner silence; there arises sudden and inexplicable “needs” to do housework, to get up from meditation and adjust the curtains, or to cook something one has never bothered to make (or even liked) before! Demons of regrets and self-judgment rise to slay the peace of meditation. They must be grappled with and the best solution is to call upon God and guru and to remain steadfastly calm and focused at the spiritual eye. One must refuse to yield to their portrayal of your self as unworthy or unfit for spiritual freedom and upliftment.   

Yet, for all the obstacles, there come meditation periods when grace kicks in, thoughts mysteriously retreat into silence, and the inner light of joy dawns like the rising sun in summer! Deep and long prayers to the guru, by visualization or inner feeling, bring floods of peace and wisdom-insights. Calmness, deep and abiding, descends into every body cell like invisible healing rays of divine life. Life bubbles up like a spring of crystal clarity, with eyes seeing the world afresh and anew.

During seclusion I can chant without having to keep in rhythm for others chanting with me. I can go into deep whisper chanting; single-note chanting, off-key, on-key but all welling up as if the words were never sung before by anyone except perhaps my guru, and my teacher, Swami Kriyananda. If I awaken in the middle of night I can sit up and meditate without disturbing anyone!

This last week’s seclusion is the first to take place for me after the death of Swami Kriyananda last April (2013). He feels more present now because he is freed from the confines of his frail and elderly body.

Most years I bring one deeper book of Yogananda’s or Kriyananda’s to study from and find inspiration. This year I felt to dispense with reading except a little light reading (about the history of India) to give my mind a period break from the intensity of meditation and inner silence.

In my seclusions (which I have taken each year for a week since, hmmm, the late 80’s) food is greatly simplified. I used to do strict fasting but that puts more attention on the body and feeding it than a simple, light, fresh fare. Food is fortunately for me not much of a distraction, as I have never been a cook. In seclusion and at home I use my Vitamix blender which easily combines fresh fruit and vegetables for rapid and painless consumption. I also steam some veggies but minimize carbohydrates (avoiding bread or rice), eliminate sweets, and use few spices. I still have my morning cup of coffee.

In some past years I come into seclusion very tired and spent from intense activity. Not this year, fortunately. At such times it is not uncommon to need one or two days of rest before commencing more seriously longer periods of meditation. Concentration in meditation is “hard work, but good work!” This year I felt a touch of fatigue, mostly mental, but I also felt the effects of detoxing as I began my lean fast of wheatgrass and other green-healthy yummies after Thanksgiving feasting. This past quickly, however.

During seclusion I have the opportunity to go much deeper in my yoga practices: a daily stretching routine, for sure, but, more importantly meditation. This includes various pranayams as commonly taught and the particular ones emphasized by Yogananda and my teacher. The most important of these is kriya yoga, for which there are several levels of kriya. I can take the time to explore, go deep and go beyond all techniques into silence. I have the luxury, too, born of the depth and time and space of seclusion together with guru’s grace to practice as inwardly guided. Perfect stillness steals upon one at the most surprising moments. The end of any given exhalation may be blessed with perfect stillness of breath and mind into One.

Alone with God, the day (indeed, the week) is yours and His. I find, therefore, that I follow a natural rhythm of concentration and relaxation, both in meditation and in calm, inward activities between meditation periods. Such activities include going for a run, doing yoga stretches, splitting wood and tending the wood stove (it’s quite cold this year here), preparing and having my simple meals, showering and even taking rest breaks. I follow the inner movement of energy and thereby establish a natural pace that isn’t forced or apt to create inner tension. In meditation I can alter techniques and even suspend them if I sense the approach of the King of Peace.

This year I’ve been especially inspired to focus on Yogananda’s presence and that too of Swami Kriyananda. Asking each for guidance at various points during meditation and throughout the day. I do this by silent, inner dialogue or prayer; or, other times, by visualizing their image in silence, wordlessly asking for guidance or for the feeling of their presence. While this is always a part of any disciple’s sadhana (“spiritual practices”), for me this year it taken front and center place.

I have returned home now, today, Friday, December 6. For days with temperatures below freezing the mountains with a carpet of fresh snow, and Mt. Baker, were in their glory. At dawn and dusk, they’d be wreathed in pink and red hues, as if to “reach up for the heights!” I have been blessed with two special graces in this week: both very private, but both fundamental to my life’s unfoldment. I pray that I can carry them forward as a permanent grace.

So, how do you take a seclusion? Well: one day at time? I suggest you start at home with a morning (or a few hours) of meditation, prayer and study. Chose a time when no one else is around. Do this once or more during the year. As you feel, expand into a whole day and then, later, into a weekend.

In addition, go on retreat with others at least once a year (twice a year is better). On retreat you get accustomed to deeper spiritual practices and maintaining an uplifted consciousness. Some retreats are silent retreats and these are very helpful. (Here in Seattle all of our retreats are silent retreats.)

If you try to bite off too much too fast, you might crash and burn. By this I mean that the mind (and body), unaccustomed to sensory deprivation, will rebel and you might find yourself plopping down and reading a romance novel, sitting at the computer surfing the net, binging on junk food, or otherwise becoming discouraged for not feeling any inspiration, or being able to meditate deeply etc. etc. Build your seclusion muscles naturally and gradually because outer and inner relaxation is the key to success.

Most yogi-friends who I know don’t take their first real seclusion sometimes for years after establishing the daily habit of meditation and adopting a yogic lifestyle (usually vegetarian diet, plus fellowship with like-minded souls, selfless service to the work of yoga and so on).

In addition to having spiritual reading material, plan to do some journaling, too. Meditate in bite size chunks so as not to exhaust the brain and nervous system, or to create aches and pains in the protesting body joints.

Should you take seclusion at home? Only if that’s your best choice. In principle and practice, best to get away from your usual environment. Find a place that is sacred and dedicated to meditation and devotion. Ananda’s retreat centers (near Assisi, Italy, Pune, India, and Nevada City, CA) have various ways to accommodate retreats (including classes, workshops and training) and personal retreat or seclusion. Recently, the Ananda Meditation Retreat near Nevada City re-opened for personal retreat and private, personal seclusion. Here in the greater Seattle area on Camano Island, we have a Hermitage (a single family home) dedicated and available for this purpose. As a result of having the Hermitage so near to the Ananda Community in Lynnwood, WA, many more members have begun the practice of taking seclusion than ever before.

The “greatness” PY speaks of has, as I said initially, many levels of meaning. When we are too much around others, too much involved and identified with our work and family, we lose sight of the innate greatness of our soul (and that of others!). Most people on this planet have never been alone for more than a short time. So, for some it can be daunting even to think about. The price of greatness is to know that we are never alone, for God is always with us, within us, and all around. The price of knowing is seclusion. The opportunity for seclusion is privilege and a grace. Embrace it!

Your very Self,

Swami Hrimananda!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Back from Spiritual Renewal Week Annual Retreat

Dear Friends, 

Padma and I have returned from Spiritual Renewal Week refreshed and recharged and ready to greet a long list of "to-do's". We, too, perhaps like you, are slightly reluctant to bid adieu to summer just yet. Maybe this next, Monday (Labor Day), we can enjoy the day as a day of rest and simple enjoyments with friends. 

Every year we and many others from the Ananda Sangha in the greater Seattle area fly or drive to Ananda Village near Nevada City, CA. Hosted by the public retreat there (the Expanding Light,, we enjoy a week of classes, yoga, meditation, good conversation, delicious vegetarian meals, sunshine, starlit nights, concert, kirtan, play, walks in the forest, cooling breezes, and inspiration from within or without! People come from all over the world for this annual event. There are Ananda centers, communities, groups and members across the globe. To see so many gathered together, chanting, meditating, sharing meals and inspired entertainment, and seeking inspiration together is itself rejuvenating and inspiring.

Generally the key talks of Spiritual Renewal Week eventually get posted by or the at some point, [here's the link: } What made this year (Aug 16-25) special was that Swami Kriyananda left this earth just a few months ago. Since the founding of Ananda, this was the first "S.R.W." without him (at least somewhere on the planet). Hence the week was dedicated to his memory, inspiration and ever living spirit. It was well attended and especially so from the Seattle Sangha. There were about 24 of us from the Seattle area. 

One might have expected that the week would have had a pall of unspoken sadness, owing to Swamiji's passing. Instead, there was, at times (early morning or late at night), only the pall of distant forest fires. Ironically, the whiff of smoke reminded many of us more of Delhi, India (on a good day), than of the ever present summer threat of forest fire in the Sierra Nevada mountains and hills of northern California. 

Instead, we felt Swamiji's presence even more strongly as we came together as his spiritual family blessed and guided by Paramhansa Yogananda. Swami Kriyananda is now free of the burden of his aged body which, despite its troubles, he transcended so gracefully with the power of divine bliss. During that week, the only moment I felt something "missing" was the Monday night outdoor concert. In past years, Swami used to always be present and lent a vibration of inwardness. That vibration was there but he wasn't there in the usual way. The feeling passed quickly, however, for the music itself, composed by him, lifted us on the wings of his living spirit.

The main feature of each day are the morning classes. Two or more speakers (on Wednesday, there were eight) share inspiration on the day's topic. The general theme was lessons from Swamiji's life. Sub topics such as discipleship and creativity and kriya yoga were special features. All of the speakers shared stories from their experiences with Swami Kriyananda: poignant, humorous, or inspired. Padma and I heard some stories from "old timers" and friends that we'd never heard before! There were afternoon workshops, three levels of kriya initiation, walks on the ridge (which looks to the west across the great central valley of California), engaging conversation, and much more.

Padma and I stayed with our daughter, Gita and her husband, Badri, and our two grand-dogs! Gita is pregnant and due in a few weeks! A newlywed couple live there also so the house is a busy and fun place to be. 

Summer at Ananda brings generally warm to hot weather. The nights are generally cool. Even the day's heat, if any, is softened by cool summer breezes, shady trees, and gentle forest paths. Somewhere in August the weather begins to shift toward hints of Fall. Overall, it was delightful, in fact.

Every morning Padma and I attended the in-Community meditations at Hansa. The meditations were deep, quiet and filled with God's presence. We participated as blessers in one of the kriya initiations, and each of us were among the featured speakers during the morning talks (she on Friday; I, on Saturday).

Personal retreats and seclusions have their benefits but there's no substitute for the power of what we call "satsang," or the fellowship of like minded truthseekers. There is a power, a joy, and a celebratory sense of divine presence and connection that emerges from the events. It tends to build day after day. At Spiritual Renewal Week it culminates on Friday night with the kriya ceremonies and reaches a peak of celebration with outdoor Indian banquet and starlit entertainment which follows the banquet on Saturday night.

Maybe you can attend next year! Look for it on the website of!

Joy and blessings to you,