Showing posts with label retreat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label retreat. Show all posts

Friday, April 2, 2021

A Very "Good Friday" - Easter Reflections Retreat

The Friday before Easter Sunday is traditionally considered the day of Jesus' crucifixion so long ago. Growing up in a devote Catholic family Good Friday included going to church between the hours of noon and 3 p.m. to recite the Stations of the Cross.

Roman Catholic churches typically had along its side walls seven plaques on each side: each illustrating and commemorating an incident told in the Bible of an event that took place on the day of Jesus' crucifixion beginning with the judgment that he was to be crucified and ending with his burial. The total "stations" are fourteen and a priest, accompanied by an altar boy, would go from station to station recounting the incident and offering prayers as the congregation followed along.

The crucifixion is THE symbol of Christianity and its message. Christianity considers, by contrast, Jesus' resurrection as simply miraculous. The former being relevant to our salvation and the latter being proof of Jesus' stature as the "son of God!" 

Contemplation of the suffering of Jesus for our sins has inspired numerous great saints such as St. Francis who was the first saint to receive the stigmata: the wounds of Christ on his body. I believe the Catholic Church has recognized perhaps several hundred cases of the stigmata. The two most famous cases in the 20th century are Padre Pio (southern Italy) and Therese Neumann (Bavaria, Germany). 

So before we blithely dismiss the Christian emphasis of the crucifixion at the expense of its concomitant victory in the resurrection, we should at least consider its meaning to us here and now. That meaning is deeply relevant but not wholly complete. The teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda on the life of Jesus Christ reveal deeper and more universal meanings than can be owned by any religion or sect.

Jesus came into his human life free from the compulsion of past karma (aka "sin"). He was what in India is called an "avatar." His mission changed the course of history but it also brought salvation (soul-freedom in God) to "as many as received Him." An avatar has the power to uplift countless souls who "receive"  his teachings and vibration into their souls. By this measure, therefore, it is not wrong to say Jesus died for our sins. But the extent to which our sins are actually forgiven depends on us and the depth of our "receiving."

In the case of Padre Pio, for example, his attunement to his guru was so deep that Jesus' wounds appeared on his body. This doesn't mean that the stigmata is the sole indicator of salvation (fortunately!). But neither should it be dismissed as fanatical. 

Swami Kriyananda was inspired to write the Festival of Light while taking seclusion in Italy back in the 1980's. It was there that the profound, poetic, and uplifting message of the new dispensation of Self-realization flowed through him via his attunement and dharma. In one sentence the Festival states that "whereas in the past pain and suffering were the coin of man's redemption for us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy."

This one sentence brings into focus the relationship between the crucifixion and the resurrection. The crucifixion represents a reminder for us to be willing to calmly accept what life brings to us while the resurrection reminds us that "joy is the fruit of love for God." This latter quote is taken from the sentence in the Festival of Light that follows the one above. The complete sentence is important. It says: "Thus may we understand that pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God.

Humanly speaking who can avoid flinching upon contemplating the pain and agony of Jesus' crucifixion? One of the first great debates in Christianity was whether Jesus, as the son of God, experienced ANY pain! Yogananda stated that Jesus had the power and consciousness to rise above the bodily pain but choose to experience pain as part of his sacrifice in taking on the karma of many. Jesus' greatness, Yogananda insisted, was more in the forgiveness he asked of God the Father on behalf of his self-styled enemies than even for the resurrection of his body (a feat that Swami Sri Yukteswar and Lahiri Mahasaya both showed after the death of their bodies). At one point Jesus is said to have cried out to his guru, Elias as he experienced a kind of "dark night of the soul" wherein his otherwise unbroken connection with the Father was temporarily taken from him. Jesus was willing to go even past the point of his "knowing" of cosmic consciousness for the sake of the salvation of other souls.

But, that was his choice. But for us now the payment in pain has been exchanged for joy. For we can better now understand that joy is what comes of divine attunement and that pain is of the ego, attached to the body. Ours is a deeper understanding for which large swathes of humanity are prepared to receive. St. Francis, though racked with pain, even raised the dead and died with the joy of a song of praise on his lips! As true and great saint even in the darkest period of the Middle Ages St. Francis experienced Christ as joy not sorrow. Padre Pio, too, though his body and mind suffered greatly by his attunement with his master, his spirit was one of great love for people and joy in the contemplation of God, Christ and the Holy Ghost!

The resurrection is the necessary corollary to demonstrate outwardly that joy is the fruit of accepting our trials with equanimity and faith. "Thy will be done!"

Tomorrow, Holy Saturday, online from 10 a.m. to 12 noon we will review the Stations of the Cross and see their application to the soul's long journey through time and space to the Redemption. It's not too late to register on our website

Friday, June 23, 2017

Is Your Sun Shining?

The Summer Solstice is here and the sun is shining bright and warm, pouring energy upon us! Brother Sun wants us to be healthy, happy, and grateful for the many blessings that flow to us from our Father-Mother-Beloved Friend: God!

Ask yourself: "What am I radiating outward into the world? Is it happiness? Is it melancholy? Disappointment or fatigue? Love and acceptance? Am I pouring the sunshine of my soul into my work, family, my body, and into my prayers and meditations? Into my yoga practice?"

Summer is the season of outward activity. But inasmuch as the world is always busy, let us also see this outward-bound tendency in its form of getting "out" from the daily grind and being rejuvenated and refreshed by the sunshine of nature: water, sky, wind and sun! 

It continues to surprise me how many people do not think to take a break from their daily routine. Many never take a true vacation: meaning something more than a weekend or day here and a day there. For those of high ideals and energy, vacation isn't a luxury, it is a necessity, for it can provide the distance out of which comes inspiration as well as refreshment. It is a form of non-attachment (to daily duties) and non-attachment is the key to success. Vacation is as much a requirement for success as work. (It isn't, however, equal timewise! Just as hours of sleep are not equal to hours of activity!)

For meditators, there's another form of a "vacation." And, NO! This doesn't mean to stop meditating for a week or so! (Ha, ha!) Indeed, quite the opposite. Nor does this "vacation" substitute for the more traditional one of R&R. 

Devotees need to go on retreat at least once a year. Long term meditators need to take personal and private seclusion time, also once a year. Call retreat and seclusion, a "vacation" from ego and an immersion in soul rejuvenation. Retreats are generally taken with others and may or may not have a program element of learning and deepening some aspect of one's spiritual life or practices. 

Seclusion is personal and private and therefore always in silence. In both cases longer, deeper, and thirsty meditations are sought. So also is time to go deeper into spiritual inspiration from reading and study. Sometimes fasting (usually partial) is helpful as is journaling and being in nature if possible. 

It is summertime for sure. So, I hope you, too, will get out into nature for a hike; camping, boating; relaxing by a river, lake or the shining sea! Drink in the sunshine of divine energy pouring through the sun. 

Since time immemorial the sun has been a symbol of divine energy and presence in the lives of countless peoples everywhere. In our society, those who study the past often say that ancient peoples were “sun worshippers.” Isn’t that view but an assumption? Why should we make that assumption? Giving peoples of the past the benefit of intelligence, we might just as easily assume they viewed the sun as an outward manifestation of God in creation: just as St. Francis did, calling him, Brother Sun!

Paramhansa Yogananda taught that “the sun is a symbol of the spiritual eye.” One who has never had the deeper experience in meditation of the spiritual eye (at the point between the eyebrows) might assume that depictions of the spiritual eye were but symbols of the sun. But Yogananda is saying that it is quite the opposite. Indeed, the appearance of the spiritual eye in meditation in no small way resembles the after-image of the sun! The physical sun of our galaxy is a manifestation of the the divine sun at the heart of every atom.

Let us view our Brother Sun, then, as a divine emissary which in objective fact and in subtler metaphysical truth brings to us life, creativity and energy. Every time you feel His warmth and absorb His healing rays, think of our Heavenly Father who gives us life and health.

As Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad Gita:

If there should rise
Suddenly within the skies
Sunburst of a thousand suns
Flooding earth with beams undeemed-of,
Then might be that Holy One’s
Majesty and radiance dreamed of!

May you be a sunshine of joy to all,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Meditation Reflections: What I Learned in Seclusion Last Week

I just returned from my annual week of private, silent seclusion. We are blessed to have a home on Camano Island, the "Hermitage," that we make available to other meditators, friends, and family. My week, weather-wise, was very dark and dreary, rainy but unusually warm for this time of year. Perfect, in short, for long meditations. Sunny days would have been, hey, just awful!

I wanted to share with excerpts from a note I wrote to friends here in Seattle about my seclusion experience.

“As the years go by, a week's seclusion gets shorter and shorter. The more inward, God peace-space comes back and envelopes you like a warm and comfortable old sweater; or, like sitting on a couch with an old friend, sitting in silence, content just to be together. 

Among the dear friends I was fortunate to have a reunion with included:

1. Eating very little and mostly fresh and uncooked. My mind cleared, my heart slowed down, and my meditations stayed focused and sweet.

2. Exercising a little bit every day is refreshing, relaxing and blesses one with contentment. 

3. It is easier to feel the invisible presence of God in the expansive vistas of nature. (At the Hermitage one looks out over the bay, Port Susan, and up onto the high volcanic peak of Mt. Baker at 10,781')  

4. Practicing slowly and deeply one's meditation techniques is like re-learning to chew your food slowly and consciously. They really work when you concentrate, with devotion!

5. Having the time to pray to God in the form of one's guru, especially with a picture or painting, makes God’s presence more real and personal. 

6. Getting perspective on your life. One's responsibilities continue to be important, at least to oneself, though hardly to anyone else and certainly nothing to the vast universe that surrounds and inhabits us; but, yet, somehow, you know things will work out. "I'm not indispensable. I'll try my best.” In all things "karma rules" while the guru's grace over-rules. Both, indeed, are far more true than most of us are aware. 

7. Opinions are like trash: useless and best disposed of quickly. Listen, observe calmly, consider both sides, but odds are most people, including myself, are wrong most of the time, and,..........well, who knows what is true, anyway.........instead, stick to the task at hand and don't overreact. Simply BE....."you have to be Present to "win" (to know)." A word of caution: apply this counsel primarily to your own opinions!

8. When the conscious mind isn't needed, dump it; instead, train your mind to chant (silently or aloud) whenever your conscious mind isn't needed in what you have to do at that moment. Lift your vibration with prayer or mantra or japa. Nothing else is important. You won't remember your thoughts from two minutes ago, so why pretend now they have any real value?

9. Attunement to God (through the guru) is everything. Nothing else is important by comparison. We cannot find happiness anywhere else; peace, anywhere else; success, anywhere else. Feeling His presence is everything. If I die tomorrow this world and its problems and my duties and my problems are gone, at least for me, for the time being. But as I awaken, my vision grows, my heart expands, and the power of God working through me increases. Only then can I be or do anything worthwhile.

10. Everyone is entitled to their craziness. Leave them alone and not judge, unless they are causing trouble to others, and you happen to have both the duty and ability to do something about it. Otherwise, let them be and appreciate their highest potential as if just waiting, hidden, in the wings of their heart to fly out and surprise you.

11. As the world around us seems to get crazier and more unbalanced, be careful that it doesn't affect you, as each of us, too, have our own craziness to deal with. It's very easy right now to think that the whole world is in line at Disneyland for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. So get God attuned, stay positive and avoid gossip like the proverbial plague. Imagine the worst to come and turn to God, within, and to God in selfless service without (in the world around). “There’s no getting out alive,” I like to say.

12. Ananda's worldwide spiritual directors, Jyotish and Devi Novak, have just returned from India inspired towards longer, deeper meditations. It would be wise for us, too, to take advantage of this holy season and prepare ourselves to be ever greater instruments of peace and healing to others in need. 

Oh, and, go on retreat or take a seclusion! See if your wise-old-friends come back to be with you and to render comfort and spiritual aid."

Until we "meet" in seclusion again!

Swami Hrimananda


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Fall has Fallen Upon Us! Let's Celebrate the Equinox!

So called "modern" man has lost touch with the seasons. As if to prove it, our pollution of the environment has caused the seasons, moreover, to spin out of control, crazily, disturbing traditional weather patterns.

Nonetheless, here in the greater Seattle area, Fall has come! The trees are turning to their Fall colors, bright yet hinting at nostalgia or self-reflection. The sky is mostly gray, with periodic drizzles, hardly worth even the wearing of a hat.

Having for so many years experienced the height of Fall while in Frankfurt, Germany, accompanying Padma to what was her annual trek to the international Book Fair (on behalf of showing [mostly] Swami Kriyananda's books to publishers in other langagues), I receive memory-born glimpses of the colorful trees, the ring of mountains (hills) surrounding the city, bright blue skies alternating with Seattle-like drizzle, the beautiful city park next to the home we stayed, the Fall trees lining the railway tracks that took us to and from the Messe each day......even the fresh, brisk air.

I have come to appreciate, however, in more recent years that Fall is somewhat different for those in the harvest mode. Not yet quite reflective or nostalgic, Ananda Farms staff on nearby Camano Island are busy with the harvest which must get "in" before the weather turns more seriously Fall with hints of Winter!

I suppose each season has at least two, perhaps three, subsets: early, mid and late. Early Fall is characterized by the so-called "Indian summer" of warm days and cool nights. These are sometimes a refreshing change from the unceasing heat of summer days. This is the time of active harvesting, and is a kind of extension of the active nature of Summer.

Consider, too, that school begins in Fall. Early Fall finds millions making key decisions: people move, change jobs, change or enter into new schools, projects start up and summer vacations come to an end. Fall has a quality of beginnings, too!

As a child I recall my own dismay for the undeniable fact of actually welcoming the reappearance of school, even of the familiar routine! Yes, we tend to need structure just as we also need free play!

Mid-Fall includes the October height of Fall colors and the clear transition of nature into withdrawal. The leaves turn and fall; the summer plants drop and wilt, frost may appear in the early mornings. The pace might slow a bit (or, at least we drop into our routines) and the period of reflection begins.

Late Fall might be touched by an early Winter-hinting storm or two but we have been pushed indoors now. This is a great time for Thanksgiving and personal reflection. Being driven indoors symbolizes our coming back together from our "going out" of being outside (in the fields of activity), on vacation, travelling or just being so busy as to not have time to connect.

This is the time of year when I have been blessed to take a week's seclusion at the Camano Island Hermitage (house) which was acquired for this purpose and is shared with many friends.

Fall, perhaps more than the other three seasons, represents for me the "tense and relax" cycle of activity and reflection. Nonetheless, this yin and yang is experienced in all four seasons. For example, the intensity of activity of summer is balanced by vacation and nature. Spring awakens our energy to break out of our routines and get outside: our reflective nature now moves outward into appreciation of nature, beauty, life, and diversity. Winter, while obviously indoors and inward, is yet also a time of deep focus upon our work and life's dharma.

Still, Fall is "my" season, for I was born on a Sunday, October 1st, 1950, and I shall soon be 65 years old! Hard to believe. 65 is the new young, right?

Some days I feel that I've "seen enough" of this world and I want only to be free of the unceasing play of desires, fears, self-identities, success and rejections. I think of the song my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, wrote towards the end of his life: "I don't want to play any more." This feeling (and the song itself) is not a rejection; nor is it sad, either. It is an affirmation: a hard-won affirmation, I might add. I feel the tug of omnipresence, the infinity of God-consciousness.

Other days, the sweetness of pure friendship, the joy of deep meditations, the loveliness of nature, and the diversity and amazing scope of human creativity and inventiveness, are endlessly inspiring as if God has incarnated in so many forms.

I hope for each of us that we commit ourselves to personal soul-time this Fall. Time for reflection. Time for taking retreat or personal seclusion. Life is short and our habits are so deep that too often we live like zombies wandering at night thirsting for life but devoid of joy.

The "Christ" within us yearns to be harvested, but the old habits born of the past must first be shed like Fall leaves. Oh, they might take a "Custer's last stand" by glowing brightly just as you intend to withdraw from them, but fear not, Fall they will as you reach up to pick the harvest of self-reflection in the form of inner, divine joy.

Right about now, mid-September, the night and day are poised in equilibrium. This is an excellent time to feel the growing stillness that is now accessible and which alternates with the intensity of daily activity.

Fall into Joy,

Swami Hrimananda

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,


Monday, August 19, 2013

Why take a retreat?

I am here at Ananda Village, near Nevada City, CA, for the annual week of Spiritual Renewal. There are about twenty of us from Ananda in the Seattle area. Overall attendance I don't know but for the major talks and events there are two to three hundred (or more) people. There are guests and visitors from around the world.
A week-long retreat was a tradition begun by Paramhansa Yogananda during his years of teaching from his headquarters in Los Angeles during the Twenties and Thirties.
Each morning, Monday through Saturday, there are talks by different Ananda teachers from communities around the world. Most days there are at least two speakers, sometimes an entire panel of speakers.
Afternoons offer workshops or tours or quiet time while evenings bring such activities as a concert, a play, a kirtan, an Indian banquet, and kriya initiation (for those eligible).
For those of us who are not, strictly speaking, guests on retreat but members returning  "home," it's like a reunion. We do have some business or planning meetings, but mostly it is reconnecting with friends and getting up to date.
I cannot over emphasize the value of such retreats, no matter what one's role in the retreat might be.
Retreat differs from seclusion in that seclusion is private and individual. Seclusion is also entirely in silence. Retreat is often with others, although the hybrid is personal retreat which takes place like a semi-seclusion in the midst of other retreat activities.
At Ananda's Expanding Light Retreat you can come for a specific program or on personal retreat, tailored to your own needs and schedule. You can also come on "work exchange".
Many, including myself, get more recharge from retreat or seclusion than most vacations (where you are traveling, in hotels, airports, cars, surrounded by crowds, and over eating etc etc)!
If you want a true recharge for body, mind, soul, I recommend a retreat!  Seclusion is generally best for those with a strong meditation and prayer practice, and who are comfortable yet energized spiritually being completely alone. Thus retreats are the place to start and both are very helpful, indeed, absolutely necessary.
As Paramhansa Yogananda put it, "Seclusion is the price is greatness" and this includes retreat.
Reference Ananda's west coast retreat: We have retreat centers also in central Italy (Umbria, near Assisi), and, in India (in the hills outside Pune city).
Joy to you,
From Ananda Village!

Swami Hrimanananda

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Price of Greatness!

When you examine the lives of many whom the world upholds as noble and history-making, you soon find that they endured, indeed sought and accepted, their own need to remain apart from "the maddening crowd" of popular opinion. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed -- we think of the mountain top, the cave, the lone Bodhi tree! Gandhi, Martin Luther King -- all great men and women kept their distance, as it were.

Paramhansa Yogananda, famous for his life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, put it directly in saying that "Seclusion is the price of greatness." For those who are sincere in spiritual seeking, the tradition well established is to go on retreat at least once a year or a pilgrimage perhaps once in a lifetime (Jerusalem, Varanasi, Lourdes, etc.) Couples, too, should find time apart, in reflection and silence.

Writers do it; scientists do it; politicians do it. Why don't you?

When I managed the Expanding Light Retreat in northern California I recall meeting a retreatant who said that she'd never been apart from family all her life: from childhood right into marriage and children. She'd never been alone! Imagine! Well, don't.....because that's true for most everyone on this planet.

If you want to be good at what you do; if you want to be the best you can be; if you want to make contact with your, own higher Self; if you want to "find God;" if you are seeking soul freedom; all of these......Krishna  says in the Bhagavad Gita: "Get away from my ocean of suffering!" To have perspective of any sort, you need distance.

I just returned from my annual week of personal retreat which we call seclusion. It is a time alone: in prayer, meditation and mindfulness. There are periods of spiritual reading and journaling. During times of necessary tasks, such as meal preparation, one strives to remain in silence and in mindfulness of the eternal Present. Talk nor see anyone, if at all possible. Write notes, if you must.

I have been doing this for perhaps twenty five years: once a year for a week! It's not enough, really, but it's good enough. It's "hard work" but "good work!" I can't say it's life changing but it is a tune-up and a wake-up time to what's important.

I am 62 years old and came of age in the heady days of Haight Asbury, Monterey Pop Festival, and the Summer of Love. I was there, just like Forrest, Forrest Gump. I thought a lot of things were going to change. But you know, they didn't, really. I thought Vietnam was the "war to end all wars (of imperialism)." It didn't. I thought sexism was out the window and men and women were equals and friends. Not true. I thought peace and love was in; it isn't.

I can pass as pretty cynical but that's not really my point. My point is "the only way out, is in!" I do, in fact, think the world's consciousness is expanding toward a better place, but very, very slowly and with two steps forward; one step back.

We don't live very long nor do we know the "time or the place" of our departure. So, what's important? Is the love and family everyone talks about at holidays? Well, sure, why not? But most families are a bit nutty and usually more than a little broken. So, sure, if you're into that, fine. But it certainly isn't the reality for much of the planet. And if your family is really together, what about the one next door? See my point? You just never know, do you?

Our only "greatness" and success in life comes from the degree to which our selfishness expands into selflessness. That's it, really. Sure, I could say that this goes all the way into the Infinity of God's love, but if that doesn't mean much to you, maybe I said enough to begin with? But that expansion of consciousness cannot occur if the "trivial preoccupations of daily life" become the great mountains that you climb. "For wisdom, too, man has a hunger." (quotes from Yogananda's autobiography)

Yes, travel and education help give perspective, but these are more intellectual or in the moment. There's another aspect to perspective and it is the ages old dictum: "Know Thyself" or, as I prefer to put it: "Know Thy Self." "Whom am I?" "What is my importance, if any, in this life?" "My duty?"

Great sages of east and west say that to know thy Self is our only real duty because from this comes an understanding of right action. Are you your body? Personality? Social class? Race? Gender? Well, of course, not, but then "Who am I?"

Why, nothing, of course! That's the point. Nothing means everything and everyone. That's the point. Abstraction is the greatest gift to mankind for in it we see ourselves as our neighbor, not just our families, our nation.

A daily practice of meditation will help you make contact with the consciousness within you that precedes all the junk that you currently think is "you." Meditation can soften the heart, open the mind, and release your fixation on the body as your reality. Many powers of "mind over matter" have been demonstrated. Indeed, too numerous to bother to mention. There are people who have been documented to live without food or water for decades; to raise the dead; to be entombed for long periods and be revived; walk on water; fly; bi-locate and so on. You get my drift.

Science, too, tells us that reality is far from what it appears.

So, what's taking you so long? Get with it. Get out of it. Wish your loved one(s) "adieu" and take a retreat. Make sure you don't spend your whole time "chopping wood and carrying water" however. Make sure you are can be still for periods of time; and, alone. You'll find it's no picnic, at least if you are honest.

If you are not ready, and why should you be, then go to a real retreat facility where others are doing more or less the same. This is not only good in itself, taking some classes, doing some yoga or equivalent, but it is also a bridge to the real deal when you are alone and I mean really, really alone. That's why most people can't meditate: they are afraid of the dark though they'll never tell you that.

I dare you: once in your life face the abyss of unknowing, stripped of the comforts and preoccupations of daily life that assure you that you are alive and well. Buddha did it for real and for eternity. Can you do it for a short time? You don't need a mid-life crises you just need awakening to the Real.

Nayaswami Hriman

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On the Value of Silence

Today about forty friends returned from a weekend retreat in the country (north of Seattle). This is an annual meditation and yoga retreat held in silence. Padma and I have led this retreat for some fifteen years. Each year some who come have never experienced a retreat, what to mention a silent one, but all, despite any prior concerns, report what a welcome experience and cleansing it is to be in silence. Silence here means not merely not talking to one another, but being mentally quiet, mindful and, according to one's temperament, devotionally focused within while walking in the woods, during meals, and, of course, during the meditation and yoga sessions.

Why is silence so reinvigorating to the spirit? Yogis such as Paramhansa Yogananda, have long compared meditation to the nightly state of sleep. Sleep refreshes us but doesn't have a lasting transforming affect because in sleep we rest in the subconscious mind. But everyone, upon waking, knows how he slept. The peace and enjoyment of sleep is due in part to the freedom we feel from the burden of the body, its compelling needs, ego identity, gender affirmation and so much else. In sleep, we return to a state where we are free.

In meditation we strive for the state of super-consciousness in which we not only retain but expand our consciousness even as we transcend the narrow confines of the body, senses, and ego identifications. Hence its affect is transforming because we can clearly remember this state and can consciously live in and draw from it intuitions, inspirations, and peace during our conscious activities.

Thus silence of mind, though not itself a superconscious state, nonetheless, brings great calmness to the emotions and nervous system, clarity to the mind, and opens the door to inspirations from superconsciousness and a blissful awareness of our divine, higher Self.

I selected for this year's retreat theme the suggestion to the retreatants that we practice the Presence by reflecting on the idea that God is watching us at every moment. Not, of course, in an invasive or nosey way but in a loving and wisdom guiding way. The image that prompted this inspiration comes from India where one sees idols covered in "eyes" or pictures of just a pair of eyes. Yogananda's beautiful poem, The Two Dark Eyes, is a tribute to Divine Mother through the eyes and form of his earthly mother.

Haven't you suddenly turned around on some unknown instinct to find yourself face to face with someone who is looking at you? Now, in human terms this isn't necessarily a pleasant thing, but that initial feeling wakes us up, as it were, to the presence of "Another." It is this feeling that I invited retreatants to hold, but in a divine way. That God, or guru, is ever with you, watching over you, ready to offer guidance, comfort, or companionship.

There is a recording of Yogananda's voice in which he tells the story of St. Anthony. The charm and the power of Yogananda's voice are impossible to convey on a blog, but it remains with me even as I write this. After Satan threatens to destroy St. Anthony and tries to convince Anthony that there is no God and that Anthony's forty years of prayer and fasting were for naught (if only Anthony would worship Satan.....), Jesus appears in the nick of time to banish Satan. St. Anthony asks Jesus where he had been all those (forty) years of Anthony's desert solitude, and Jesus says, "Anthony, I was always with you. I am the same with you always.”

God is always with us. It we whose thoughts and desires wander far from Him. A noted chemist once came to Swami Sri Yukteswar (Yogananda's guru) and insisted that there was no God. Sri Yukteswar commented, "So, you haven't isolated God in your test tubes?" Sri Yukteswar suggested the chemist try an unheard of experiment: watch his own thoughts for a full day and then he would wonder no longer at God's absence.

Thus it is on retreat or in personal seclusion that we have the opportunity to be mindful of our thoughts and to continually re-direct them in silent searching for the two lost dark eyes of Divine Mother. Try this for a week: imagine looking over your shoulder, or looking up, periodically, to catch a glimpse of One who is watching out for you, who is awaiting your interest, love and attention. Yogananda once charmingly put it this way: God has an inferiority complex because He thinks no one loves Him!

Throughout Yogananda's popular book of poems and "prayer-demands," "Whispers from Eternity," he uses poetic phrases to the effect that God hides behind nature, behind the smiles of friends, behind the energy of our activities, the intelligence of our thoughts, and the power of our emotions. God is the nearest of the near and the dearest of the dear.

As mental illness might be said to a fragmentation and discontinuation of our self-identity causing us to fail to act consistently and appropriately, so superconsciousness might be said to be the state wherein our consciousness remains unbrokenly self-aware. So, look again! God is right there with you. God is seated in your heart! Be a seer and see the truth that shall make you free!

Try it for one week: money back guarantee!

No longer (officially) in silence, Nayaswami Hriman