Part 1: In UK
Yesterday marked my one year anniversary since I moved, from Los Angeles, into the spiritual community of Ananda Village, in the foothills of Northern California. This is the story of how that happened.
It all probably started with this Facebook post of mine, of June 28, 2013. It read:
The moments we’re realizing that we’re all just one, that we’re actually sharing and feeling every laughter and pain every person that we know in our lives is experiencing, everything becomes so simple, so peaceful. Everything becomes okay… Anxiety, jealousy, hate, depression, and all those things seem to wash away so quickly.
Now that I’m writing this, I realize something incredible. You have to realize that before this date, I had never shared any posts like this before. I wasn’t into sending words of inspiration or wisdom to anyone. This sort of thing was simply not in my consciousness! It was so out of my character that, as you see in the picture, my friends were joking with comments like “Are you about to achieve nirvana?”
The incredible thing that I just discovered is that I had started reading the Autobiography of Yogi book probably a few days before this post. I hadn’t even gone more than a few pages into it, and in the beginning I was not even becoming interested in it. I was quite suspicious about what I was reading and why I was taking my time reading it.
But something deep in my being was shifting, quite ahead of my own conscience and mind noticing it! I must have had a hint of expansion in consciousness from the little ego self towards the Infinite, to have shared a message like this. I wasn’t using psychedelic drugs. From somewhere deep inside me I have always felt that those aren’t the way. What Yogananda said about his Autobiography of a Yogi was that “he put his vibrations in it.” His vibrations had apparently been working on me, on the very first few days of reading it, even though I had no idea I even liked what little I had read from the book at that point!
Now some context. I shared this post from UK, where I was visiting my buddy. I was supposed to be in Morocco that summer, with my same buddy, to visit my then girlfriend and tour the country. I shared in another blog that Divine Mother had finely orchestrated this period of my life. A few weeks before my soulfriend had sent me an email from Morocco to tell me she felt it was time for us to go separate paths. Naturally, it wasn’t appropriate for us to keep our travel plans to visit her country. So I had extended my stay at UK with my buddy.
Though I was still feeling hurt by the unwanted separation, I was having a peaceful and expansive time in UK. I didn’t do much. Just read, meditated (had just picked it up inspired by my soulfriend who had done the same), and hung out with my friend. What was happening was that I was beginning to get out the black hole of my mind, which had been violently spiraling for some weeks, trying to figure out all the “why”s. Now I was having a taste of feeling the light. And lightness.
Part 2: A Book with Vibrations of a Master
And so I made it back home to Los Angeles, with a feeling that something was opening up in me. An expansion was occurring. I couldn’t wait for the moments to resume reading the Autobiography of a Yogi book. I can’t remember how fast I finished it; must have been a few days or weeks only. I remember texting my sister telling her that “it is the first book I’m crying my way through.” I hadn’t cried before in my adulthood; maybe once or twice that I can remember. What was happening to me?
You see, life had never made much sense to me before, in my whole thirty some years in this lifetime. It’s just that I had made a habit of forgetting all that was wrong by focusing on a goal I had set my mind to achieve, and waiting for times when things were well and happy. Then I would forget the sufferings and tell myself maybe it’s not so bad. Until the next time life showed its scary side, that is. And then crash again…
But that’s no way to live, my friends, I see now that I have learned a different way to know and go about life.
At the beginning I read the miraculous accounts in that book with suspicion and I wasn’t sure if this book was going to be any good. But soon something shifted in me. Somehow all intellectual resistances and barriers seemed to wash away, and I knew, from a deeper place, that what I was reading was the truth. It was the vibrations of the master which were working on me, transforming me from inside out.
And so Autobiography of a Yogi answered all life for me. It felt that the things I was reading in that book weren’t unknown to me before, I had just forgotten them. Hearing them, all at once, I remembered with my whole being that I had known them as the truth, beyond mere intellectual understanding.
That book told me that miracles aren’t against nature. It’s just that there are deeper subtler laws underneath the physical ones that the common science just hasn’t caught up with. It told me that life itself isn’t the purpose. Rather, it is a show of light and shadow for the purpose of entertainment and more importantly soul awakening from life. To see beyond all the seeming world. Yogananda, the author, used the image of the person in the cinema, tracing back the projector light beam to its source in the back of the room, while everyone else is mesmerized by the drama unfolding on the screen. It told me not only of esoteric knowledge, but about the practical and scientific yogic technique of Kriya yoga meditation, which was brought from the ages specifically for people from all walks of life, not only yogis in the caves, to significantly speed up their spiritual progress towards Samadhi, the state of being one with God.
Part 3: Back in L.A.
As I picked up my life back in Los Angeles, just having devoured the Autobiography of a Yogi book, I found my perspective on every aspect of life renewed.
Yoga isn’t about stretching on a yoga mat; that much we’re just catching up with in this modern world. But Yoga also isn’t just about the state of oneness with the cosmic consciousness either. It is an art and science which works at every level of existence, from mundane to the absolute Infinite. A perfected yogi perfects existence from the physical and material, energetic, and mental levels, all the way to the topless top.
No days felt the same as before. I had just finished graduate school at UCLA and started a job, two blocks from campus, which was an opportunity of a lifetime. My career mentor, who is a pioneer in the field of Computer Science, had gathered a handful of eclectic international computer and design researchers, secured an exorbitant amount of government and private company funding, and told us to work on whatever projects we wanted. I was being paid outrageously well just to show up and do what was my hobby and would do for free. I came up with cool research work to bring ideas from the field of artificial intelligence into the field of programming languages. Got papers published and presented them internationally.
But do you remember when you were a kid, when perhaps a toy you really liked had to take the back seat or stay in the closet, because you had just gotten a shinier one from your favorite uncle? This is what was gradually happening to me. My newly found passion, yoga and meditation, was fading in from the backdrop, making my cool awesome job and awesome projects to aid humanity rather drab looking, as each day passed by.
After searching online for Yogananda locally, I had come across a meditation class from a group called Ananda in West Hollywood, which claimed a connection to Yogananda. Curious, without looking much into who this group was, I just showed up for the class.
By the time I had finished the Autobiography of a Yogi book, I knew about the concept of disciples and devotees of a guru. But it hadn’t occurred to me that, in this present day, many many more souls, just like me, right here in my city, must have been affected by the same book and guru, and formed a community. It turned out that they had.
I never forget the moment as I entered the door of the private house, which was at the time serving as Ananda’s LA ashram. As I entered in, a man, which I knew later to be Narayan—one of the directors of that center—seemed to me to push away other people from a far distance just to approach and greet me. His greeting was so friendly and naturally kind, that for a moment I wondered “do we know each other?” And although perhaps not in this life, it did and always does feel to me that we have been friends, perhaps gurubais (devotees of the same guru) in past lives.
This is how Ananda, and that group of people I met, felt to me that very first day I visited that large Los Angeles suburban house: Home. And everyday after that (and I kept going more and more often) whether there or later in other centers and finally at Ananda Village, it has felt the same to me: as a soul’s home.
I say soul’s home also because now it’s clear to me that I was inwardly guided there. Here’s a side story.
Soon I learned that Ananda is a community of disciples of Yogananda, which was formed in the late 60s by an American direct disciple of his called Kriyananda. Yogananda, who left his body in the 50s, had established his own organization, which is called Self Realization Fellowship (SRF), with a headquarter right there in Los Angeles, of all places. Ananda was formed a decade or so after Yogananda’s passing, as a separate organization. SRF, being Yogananda’s official and original establishment, is still more well-known to the world than Ananda.
Before I knew any of this, when I wanted to pick up the audiobook of the Autobiography of a Yogi on audible, I saw that there were two versions: A more popular orange cover one (later I found out to be one released by SRF) and a blue cover one. The orange version was narrated by Sir Ben Kingsley. The blue version by a fellow named Kriyananda. Now, in my head, I thought “Hmmm, Ben Kingley is a cool actor, but that second guy sounds Indian, so maybe this version is more authentic!” Only later, half way through the book, I discovered that the audiobook was read by Kriyananda, not an Indian but an American man, and a direct disciple of the guru Yogananda. By listening to the Autobiography of a Yogi, not only was I tuning into Yogananda, I was also attuning to his disciple who was meant to be my spiritual guide, through his voice.
Although the reasoning in my head was false, I believe a deeper force guided me to connect with Kriyananda, who founded the Ananda communities. Similarly, although I lived in Los Angeles—the headquarter of Yogananda’s SRF establishment—seemingly through happenstance I ended up going to a meditation class offered by a small Ananda group in this city. This, also, was not a coincidence. (There are none.) A guru’s guidance was at work to bring me to my spiritual home and family.
Part 4: Trees
One of the sweetest, most potent paragraphs in the Autobiography of Yogi for me is when, after years of disheartenment upon losing his mother at the age of 11, the young Mukunda (Yogananda) finally hears the solacing voice of Divine Mother:
It is I who have watched over thee, life after life, in the tenderness of many mothers! See in My gaze the two black eyes, the lost beautiful eyes, thou seekest!
“Her words brought final healing to my suppurating wounds,” Yogananda tells us. He speaks of a “final” healing, not the kind of temporary alleviation from pains, which most of us seek and experience. Rather than the passive and evanescent waiting-to-see-if-ego-is-satisfied kind of healing, it becomes “final” with the power of active and utter conviction and internalization of this truth.
And it was with these words of Divine Mother, through the writing of my guru, that I felt I was in turn brought final healing from the separation I had suffered from my love. I understood, deeply, that what I missed was present right within me. I just have to close my eyes at any time, tune in, and the sweetness that I felt she exuded is right here for me to feel. That is because the source of all is accessible from within. Individual souls are just channels and reflectors of that which we seek.
And so my goal became to feel and expand the love I felt to everyone and everything, rather than caging it in for some event in the past. With the help of meditation that was now part of my daily routine, I started to become alive, and awake.
One time I discussed my story with Narayan from Ananda LA center, and he told me to do something which was already happening: “to expand that love to all. That is, to God.” It was the confirmation I needed.
I just let it happen. There is nothing we need to do to feel expansive love. Because our deep nature is that! Rather we must stop doing the things we do that cover that up, like mental restlessness and wanting things, wanting love; expecting or looking for love, rather than feeling it and giving it.
And so gradually I was able to find presence in the moment, which is the most precious thing one can find in this world, something I had lost touch with since I was 18.
My walks to work along ordinary Los Angeles residential landscapes became the most beautiful part of my day. Most of all, I fell in love with the trees. Many trees I had not even noticed in the past, even though I had walked the same route for months. I started to feel their presence as I walk passed them. Sometimes I talked to them, and felt Divine Mother hidden right behind them.
I snapped a lot of photos of some of these trees. Here’s a video I made that features some:
And so my walking commutes to work became longer and longer as I would stop often to commune with the trees and flowers. And I got to work later and later in the morning! That was the beginning of an end.
Around this time, for the first time, an English (not my native language) poem came to me. And then I wrote more. Here it is:
Mother Tree Sau
This dawn, I bow to you Mother Tree Sau!
What vastness, what poise, what depth, what wisdom.
What selfless grandity!
Are you not the grand deputy of Mother Divine?
Oh, are you not Mother herself,
humiliating human mind in each corner of the planet?
Are you not Love itself, infinite-bound?
Rooted in no thing, branching into everything?
Season fell. You reflected its beauty in perfection.
An owl came. Your love changed not.
An owl went. Your love unchanged.
A vulture came. Your loving embrace unchanged.
Did you count their feathers?
Did you ask the bird’s origin?
Did you hide a branch?
Did you save the best for last?
Did you say I offer myself only on weekdays?
Did you not listen to their tunes?
Were you lost in thoughts of lost fruits? departed lovers?
Were you counting your years?
Longing for the perfect spring to come at last?
Did you lose sight of your Being to the flashes of light and shadow?
Were you perchance forgetful, some day, of your force of life? love?
Maybe another palm could give you fresher leaves?
Did you deny the existence of Sun? Sky?
Perhaps you were unsure?
Was your gaze ever lowered from the Sun?
Salutations forgotten to better dreams?
Did you protest the grotesque winds of time in rage?
File a petition for seasons?
Did you part to find your self in a land of better scents?
Did you wish for summer in snow?
A fall breeze in summer’s scorching sun?
Did you keep count of daily visitors?
Pale away in loneliness?
Did you not shine brighter of greatness in seclusion?
Was sky uninviting one afternoon?
Did that day come when perfection was too much? uninteresting?
Did you have to take a day to work your darkness?
Did an unfortunate work of circumstance,
not prevent you from reaching your perfect Self?
Part 5: Path of Kriya
Having found my guru and my spiritual home and family at the Ananda center in the city of Los Angeles, I participated in every class and event offered there and sucked in every book they had available around the teachings of Yogananda. My source to the guru was Swami Kriyananda, Yogananda’s direct disciple and founder of Ananda communities, and the voice on the Autobiography of a Yogi audiobook. I learned that Swami had left his body only a few months before I had walked into the Ananda LA center for the first time.
Nevertheless, I felt a deep affinity with him, with his voice, with his writings, a connection likely made in past lives. I got to know Swami by immersing myself into everything by him that I could get my hands and ears on; and there is a lot! He produced hundreds of books, songs, chants, audiobooks, audio lectures, and so on. But Swami never taught his own stuff, never positioned himself as the guru. His was a mission to channel to us his guru (Yogananda)’s essence of teachings and consciousness as clear and untouched as possible.
Swami for me is the channel through which I could draw from the consciousness of my guru. His expression seems to me, and to a whole lot of other Ananda devotees around the world, the most simple, most crystal clear, and most pure. Swami’s own autobiography—The New Path—is such a delight to read. Many times reading that book I felt he was describing my own experiences and predicaments in childhood, adolescence, and adult life.
Ananda offers a series of classes called Ananda Course in Self Realization, which is now also available online. These are: 1) Lessons in Meditation 2) The Art and Science of Raja Yoga 3) Discipleship and 4) Preparation for Kriya. Simultaneously the student also works on building a steady daily meditation practice, working towards 1.5 hours a day.
Swami’s book on Raja Yoga is a gem of a book for any student of yoga, whether interested in this particular path or not. I joke that:
I cannot stand this book. Because I can never get myself to read more than one paragraph at a time. I get so uplifted and excited about the very first paragraph I read, and then I cannot help myself putting the book aside to go and share the text with friends on Facebook, etc.!
The 3rd and 4th courses are only taken if, by that time, the student feels strongly that he/she belongs to this path and Yogananda is his/her guru. Usually after about a year, the student can take Kriya Yoga initiation, receiving an ancient meditation/pranayama technique that Yogananda received through his lines of gurus.
Kriya yoga, more specifically “The Kriya Yoga of Lahiri Mahasaya of Benares”, isn’t just some technique to learn by watching a YouTube video. It has to be properly bestowed upon through the spiritual soul-connection of guru and disciple. Only through attunement to the guru, its real powers come to life. “Kriya yoga plus devotion,” Yogananda said, “works like mathematics. It cannot fail.” But when that connection is truly made, Kriya starts to transform every aspect of one’s life. A lot of times after receiving the Kriya initiation, as the guru is willingly invited to take charge of one’s life, changes and transformations start to come more and more quickly and frequently. Peoples lives turn upside down, always in ways that are good of the soul.
And that’s what happened to me. Around October 2013 I took discipleship to my guru, and in November 2014 I had my Kriya initiation. A tsunami of changes was soon to come my way.
Part 6: A Thing Called Devotion. A Thing Called Finding God
After finding the Ananda center near my home and discovering that the magical Kriya Yoga that Yogananda talks about in his Autobiography is actually available to receive, in this day and age, and even nearby my home, I naturally dived in head-first. I finished the Meditation and Raja Yoga classes and deepened my home meditation practice. As soon as the next two classes were available, which are Discipleship course and Preparation for Kriya, I completed them too, all in about 6 months.
Narayan, the LA director, invited me to sign up for the upcoming Kriya initiation. I did enthusiastically. But soon he came back to me to tell me I should wait, realizing that I had only started this path for a few months. Normally one year of practice is recommended for receiving the Kriya technique. He told me that, somehow, it felt like I had been with them a much longer time.
It did feel that way to me too. This is how it feels when you “come home”. It’s the same feeling when you meet a friend that you just seem to mix so naturally with, as if you’ve known each other for ages.
So I waited for taking Kriya after finishing a year. But some expansion was happening seemingly at a very fast rate within me. Kriya or no Kriya, meditations and Yogananda’s teachings and Swami’s explanations seemed to be taking me on a jet pack, straight up.
Above all, what was happening was that I was developing devotion. I was beginning to feel Divine Mother more and more in a real sense. My heart was awakening to her unceasing unconditional love, behind every moment of the day and night.
Chanting is a big part of our path. Yogananda called it “half the battle”. I had picked up a harmonium, and now chanting myself and listening to chants was a regular part of my day. Chanting is a supreme tool, because it immediately gets you out of the head, straight into the heart. And then you have no trouble feeling the present moment.
As I was getting tastes of those sweet moments of feeling the love for the Divine Mother well up in my heart, I felt that this must be what they mean by “finding God”. Finding God, in fact, is a simple thing. My guru said:
“God is simple. Everything else is complex.”
To be with God, to a worldly consciousness may sound an abstruse, religious, or even uninteresting thing. To many spiritually minded people, on the other hand, finding God may remain something entirely unattainable and mental. But the truth is, if you ever had a moment of utter presence in the moment, a full spacious consciousness uncluttered by any nagging desire, need, or want, a sense of pure joy not sourced from the transitory sense pleasures, at that moment you are being with God; or perhaps have come much close to it.
I think finding God is not so much a matter of striving, because that implies time and future. Rather, it is a matter of willingness, which can be summoned at this very moment. That is, willingness to let go of the mind’s idea that you are in need of something and incomplete. To drop it all and feel, right this minute, that you are wholly complete in God’s Joy and free of any need or want.
And so I was coming to realize what the expansion of consciousness feels like; what devotion feels like; what spiritual advancement feels like. I was becoming convinced that it must not be about techniques: whether you know this technique or not, or how good you are at it, is the breath held at the right count, or how many times a day or how long one meditates.
Now I had swung to other side of the pendulum. More than a year had passed, but I didn’t really think about receiving Kriya anymore. The well of devotion felt depthless and it felt good to be in the middle of a dive in it. I didn’t seem to need anything else.
But it was Narayan again who now came to encourage me to take Kriya. True. Devotion is utterly important, he said, but the technique is also necessary to lift us and keep us lifted.
“Kriya Yoga, plus Devotion, works like mathematics. It cannot fail!”
Yogananda said. This way he gave me my enthusiasm back to receive initiation into the Kriya Yoga technique. Later on, after initiation, I learned that not only the Kriya technique has incredible transformational power, but Kriya itself is not limited to the technique. It’s a holistic way of being. It encompasses the entirety of the life of a devotee: body, mind, and soul. Physical, astral, causal.
Part 7: Tasting My Soul’s Potential
Something other than devotion was happening in me. Apparently finding presence and true contentment in the moments bestows numerous gifts.
As I felt my consciousness expanding within me, being more awake to a reality behind and untouched by the drama unfolding daily in front of my eyes, more detached from the physical plane, I noticed the physical realities around me started to shift also.
At work, the energy around me seemed somehow more elevated, enlightened. The conversations I had with my coworkers seemed more dignified, more uplifted. Everybody seemed to respond to me in a new way. My interactions with my family felt the same way: uplifted.
I had heard of this concept, made famous by Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” But I had always thought of it as a motivational thing. I didn’t know that you could experience it so tangibly! Before, I had interpreted it more to mean “Do you part.” But it is actually telling us “Change and the world will change.”
Another blessed thing that was coming to me around the same time was a newfound creative flow. It felt like some huge gate of creativity, clogged up for a long time, had just been reopened. At work, out-of-the-box, inspired ideas were coming to me, leading to interesting lines of research. Poems started to pour into my mind. I got inspired to start translating the Autobiography of a Yogi into Persian. And so on.
Before, getting things done meant effort, force, and struggle. But the way all this was working was completely new to me.
This is how my first poem, which I shared before, called “Mother Tree Sau” happened. One day the thought came that I wanted to write a poem about trees. I didn’t sit down immediately to think hard on the first line. I just left the thought. What I now understand I was doing was broadcasting my intention to the universe to manifest a poem, without going any further. Another day came, when I found myself with an inviting, anticipating feeling to write that poem. My mental state wasn’t “I really want to try and write a poem today”. Rather, it was more like “It feels like this is the day I’m going to write that poem.” So with a calm excitement I went to the Profeta Cafe near UCLA which has a charming outside terrace. I walked there; I didn’t drive. I didn’t bring my laptop; I brought a fresh red notebook and a nice pen. I got my chai latte. And so, line after line the poem seemed to write itself in front of me. There was no struggle. Less thinking. More feeling. More tuning in and listening.
And now I’m writing this blog in the same way. Over the past few days there were moments when a thought came to my mind to talk about some story in the next blog, or that the next part will be about such and such. I jotted them down, then move on with my daily tasks. Today I came home with a joyful anticipation, a subtle knowing that the next part of the blog is happening tonight. I don’t go on Facebook or check my emails during this time. Don’t want to waste inspired creative time going into tasks that are passive and consumption-based. Instead, I turn off my wifi. Put my phone on airplane-mode. I burn an incense, open up the laptop, and start writing.
Interesting ideas and expressions started coming my way day by day. Around this time, my friend Keshava, who’s a yogi-artist among other things, offered a class at the Ananda center on the subject of art and creativity, drawing from yoga teachings, along with his acting material. It was meant to be a workshop to help artists find more creativity. I remember I especially enjoyed this class series. I had never thought of myself as an artist; I am a computer programmer after all. But being in the company of existing artists, and being under a sort of creative spell at the time, just the idea of it made me feel and think out of the box. Made me open up to possibilities more. Maybe I am an artist!
I was also growing along another line. I had started snapping nature photos on my commutes to work, and started to share inspirational bits, what I had realized from the teachings of this path, with my friends on Instagram and occasionally Facebook. Again, I was feeling something larger than myself was happening. I felt that my friends were responding to what I shared, because somehow they were able to feel my feeling behind what I was sharing; that it was sincere and powerful. When I come in a position of inspiring uplifting others, I feel as if from somewhere deep in my soul that my life purpose is being fulfilled.
It was soon after taking Keshava’s class, that, one night, yet another big idea dropped into my head. Maybe the biggest one of all.
Part 8: Master Says: “Open Your Heart to Me, And I Will Enter, And Take Charge of Your Life”
Dharmadevi and Narayan (whom I call my spiritual “mom and dad”) who run the Ananda LA center saw my head-first devotion to this path and soon gave me responsibilities there. I would lead some meditations and chanting here and there, and eventually started teaching meditation classes.
I was also in the middle of a creative spell then. I had started translating the Autobiography of a Yogi into my native language Persian, and now started organizing a group book study and weekly class around it. Because of the intimate time I had spent on almost half of the book, translating it page by page (something very time consuming as I had no prior experience), I had a lot of personal thoughts and impressions to share, and thought others must also.
A side story:
In the “New Path” Swami Kriyananda recounts a story told by Yogananda. “When I applied to the Maharaja of Kasimbazar for permission to transfer my school to his Ranchi property, he called in several pundits to test my knowledge of spiritual matters, since the request involved a religious institution. I could see they were all set for a theological bullfight, so I turned the tables on them. I said, ‘Let us talk only of truths we have actually realized. An ability to quote the Scriptures is no proof of wisdom.’ I then asked them a question for which I knew there was no answer in any text.”
The question Yogananda had put in front of them was to indicate the centers in the human body that correspond to the four aspects of human consciousness: mind, intellect, ego, and feeling. Nobody knew it because it wasn’t written anywhere. He informed them (and us) that “mind (Mon) is centered at the top of the head; intellect (Buddhi), at the point between the eyebrows; ego (Ahankara), in the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain; and feeling (Chitta), in the heart.”
Now, that I was consciously on the spiritual path, I came across more souls on the path, and so I started to observe common behaviors and tendencies, to me as well as others. I had noticed that our perceptions and understanding of the teachings can be very fragile and superficial. We may all be reading and praising the teachings, sharing beautiful quotes of the great masters, nod and clap as we hear spiritually uplifting truths. That part we’re good at. But when someone takes a closer look, those teachings often don’t quite make it through in the way we live our lives, in our day to day stuff. This happens when realization and internalization of a truth isn’t quite there yet, deeply enough. I may go chanting “I am Spirit. I am AUM” all night, and tomorrow may find me moping about “someone being mean to me” or “nobody loves me!” or “what if I die alone?”
Well, all this is quite OK. That’s why it’s a spiritual “path”. It’s a process and directional.
Anyway, I felt inspired to try this on Yogananda’s own book. I wanted to share mine and hear other people’s personal reflections and understanding on the text.
Our book study turned out to be amazingly uplifting and lasted for longer than a year. This was the first time (and it’s been happening since) that I got to experience what it means to let the divine (through my guru) work through me. I would pray for that to happen before each class. And then what was happening during each class was that it would evolve and uplift all of us in ways I could have never planned or thought possible.
Quickly the meetings became experiential. I was led to incorporate visualizations and meditations into our discussions. For example, we would bring to mind a scene described in the text, such as Yogananda as a young boy meditating with Swami Pranabananda, and visualize ourselves, as a child, meditating in front of that saint, soaking in the powerfully luminescent vibrations of that master in meditation.
People would describe powerful experiences they were having from visualizations such as this, that I had myself never planned, or was even capable of experiencing myself! That’s when you know something bigger than you is in charge!
“The instrument is blessed by that which flows through it,”
it is said
And if you have ever experienced being an instrument of the divine, serving others, you know what my feeling was when I left these classes in the evening. Blessed joy, to my core.
I never did finish my translation work. Since I’ve moved to Ananda Village, about a year later, I haven’t been able to find much time for it. An interesting thing, though, is that my book study class, which covered one or two chapters a week, went exactly as far as I had translated the text, that is, half way into the book. It makes me think perhaps all that translation tolls was more for me to get well versed and prepared to teach this book.
Part 9: A Message in the Car
I was now living two parallel lives. One was my continued life from before–my family, my field and career, my hobbies like learning French and watching foreign movies. And the other was my newly found spiritual life–daily and weekly meditations and classes and services at the Ananda center, the yoga and meditation practice, and the yoga teachings of my guru and his direct disciple Swami Kriyananda; basically the life of a disciple of Yogananda.
I lived my double life like this, reserving day times and weekdays for the first life, and mostly evenings and weekends for the other. Although I was in a beautiful state of mind at this time and I had great harmony between my two lives, in a way it was becoming disconcerting, as interesting ideas related to writing and yoga were coming to me to pursue, but I simply did not have any time for them.
One night, as I was driving through the Los Angeles freeways, yet another cool spiritual project idea came to me. Then I immediately remembered that I simply had no free time. That’s when all of a sudden a voice in my head said:
“Maybe you should make time!”
The bomb that the voice dropped in front of my face was the suggestion to quit my day job, to make room for all else that seemed to want to happen.
It felt so notably not coming from my own mind, because that thought wasn’t in my consciousness at the time and appeared out of nowhere. Also abrupt, big changes like this aren’t really my style. My nature is of content, lazy type, not so stoked about changes, moves, etc. That’s why it felt like a bomb. And it felt like it was dropped from the “above.”
But have you had times when a decision presents itself to you, when it’s not so much a matter of hard decision to make: “Oh Gosh! What should I do? Should I do it or not do it?”, but rather feeling like the decision is already made: “Holy Shucks! I’m going to have to do this!”
That’s exactly how this proposal that dropped in my head in the car felt to me. It surely felt scary, as it was telling me to leave a job which I loved and was a once in a life time kind of opportunity. But I think the key thing indicating to go ahead was that, above the scariness was a calm expansive feeling of freedom. It felt like the unthinkable possibilities were now were given permission to make a little appearance in front of my eyes, beckoning me forward.
Was my guru behind this stunt? Absolutely. He had lovingly arranged before for my human-love attachments to set loose, and now he was onto cutting a few more cords to prepare me for the next level for soul’s journey into higher planes.
Talk about divine planing. While it felt like a big decision, to be without a job wasn’t as scary for me as it would have been for an average person of 34. I had no personal relationships and dependents. God had led me to stay away from marriage and kids. I had saved a lot of money from receiving a salary many times larger than my single life expenses. I also had no mortgage to pay. I had resisted, beyond my own common sense, my family’s pressures to buy a house instead of renting. I have not consciously done this. It was the divine planner who had arranged my departure from my job to be as smooth as possible.
After calming down from the shock, of mostly the excitement of having free “day” times to dedicate to my personal projects, I consulted Narayan and Dharmadevi. They heard me and gave me a supportive response, indicating that there were more possibilities for me to serve at the center.
And now I had to face the hard job of talking to my boss–my beloved career mentor who had tremendous faith and hopes for my work. Alan is a man who doesn’t easily take no for an answer, and whose expansive mind never ceases to impress. When he came and joined me at a cafe table where I had been awaiting him to have a meeting, his first sentence was: “OK, what should I say yes to?” That’s how lenient he had been with me.
But I explained to him that my request wasn’t like that; that I had been delving into yoga and meditation more and more, and now needed to take the next steps and could not resume my job.
Alan: “What is it that you want to do?”
I wasn’t shy in my response.
Hesam: “I want to help raise humanity’s consciousness.”
Now, bless this soul. He didn’t raise an eyebrow. Instead, once again he surprised me with his openness and creative mind:
“That’s awareness. Right?”
“Why don’t you create a curriculum to bring awareness to kid’s school education?”
This was totally unexpected. This had nothing to do with my job there; I was researching programming languages. Alan even offered to pay me to take this time off and work on my own stuff as I would be exploring ways to think about awareness and education. He was asking me to stay in my job, to work on an entirely different field related to my new interest.
Though it sounded amazing and unheard-of, somehow I felt deeply that I really needed to cut the cords all the way, if I am to fully open to the awaiting possibilities. Never mind that I didn’t even know what those possibilities were, besides my little writing projects and Ananda center activities. I felt like even if I stayed one day a week, even if I got paid a little bit to support me to keep going, that would hold me back from freely opening to what’s coming, from fully embracing the creativity flow that seemed to want to come through.
And so I took a 6-month leave from my job, but quite certain that I would not be wanting to go back. With my new found time, I started taking on more responsibilities at Ananda LA, and dedicated more time to my own projects.
I believe that it was the daily meditation practice, that I had built by that time, that enabled me to hear my inner voice that night in the car.
Many of us have a tendency to fill our everyday with activities, planning every hour block on our days. Maybe we fill that life is too precious and no time should be wasted.
But sometimes more can be accomplished by doing less. If we fill our weekdays and weekends like that, we will never be in the calm place to be able to listen and hear our inner guide, who knows our soul’s longer-term plans. Now that would be a real waste of time (and lifetime).
Part 10: Unspoken Revelations
And so one Monday morning I woke up, with the sweet realization of my new freedom: “I don’t have to go to work today, or any day!” Let the soul-call begin!
Having a lot of free time, I resumed my half-started writing projects.
During this time of outpouring of creative inspirations, I had a thought to read the Quran, in my newfound light of the teachings of yoga and my guru. Yogananda gave interpretations of the Christian Bible in a book called “Yoga of Jesus” or “Revelations of Christ”. It is an awe-inspiring read, in how far its interpretations are from the common understanding of the teachings and sayings of Jesus Christ and his disciples, as you might commonly hear in churches around the world or read online. (You may get a taste of Yogananda’s interpretations by also taking a look at some commentaries Eckhart Tolle has about some Bible passages in his two books: A New Earth and Power of Now.)
Yogananda also wrote interpretations of the the Rubaiyat, a book of poetry by Omar Khayyam, the famous Persian poet that was part of the Muslim tradition. But he never touched on the scripture of Islam, Quran.
Let me give some background. I grew up in Iran, during the current Islamic regime, which has a policy of shoving the religion of Islam (of course, a superficial and misguided expression of it) down the throats of its citizens and especially children. In school Quran was a mandatory class in any early grade, though interestingly they never seemed interested in teaching its essence or true teachings. Mostly superficialities were stressed: “are we pronouncing the Arabic words properly?” “How many chapters have we memorized?” And so on.
Naturally, most of the kids like myself, even if we had pious and religious inclinations, wanted nothing to do with it. And that’s why although I grew up having Quran as a constant subject of study, I had never actually read any parts of this scripture. Plus, Quran is in Arabic, and I didn’t understand Arabic, nor did I have any interest in reading its translation to Persian.
But now, decades later, on the other side of planet, my life projection had brought me back to a place where I found myself interested and curious to read the Quran.
As I started reading an English translation of the Quran, I was invigorated to see numerous references that seemed to be talking about subtle spiritual truths. Looking from the light of the teachings of yoga, some of the interpretations by the pundits and translators seemed literal and unenlightened.
I remember I was especially moved (and cried) as I came across a passage that seems to reference the third (spiritual) eye. In a chapter named “The Star” (the name itself signifies the spiritual eye, both symbolically and literally: a five-pointed silvery white star can be seen in deep meditation behind closed eyes at the point between the eyebrows) we read:
Chapter 53: The Star
By the star when it goes down,
Your companion, Muhammad, has neither gone astray nor has erred…
It is only an Inspiration that is inspired…
endued with wisdom for he appeared in stately form,
While he was in the highest part of the horizon,
Then he approached and came closer,
And was at a distance of two bows’ length or even nearer,
So did Allah convey the Inspiration to His slave.
I think to a yogi, it is not too difficult to see the reference to the prophet going into a deep state of meditation by taking his gaze upward (“highest part of the horizon”) and focusing at the spiritual eye (“distance of two bows’ length or even nearer”, as “two bows length” is most likely referring to the two eyebrows).
Well, this is my read. Quran interpreters take “he” to mean, not the prophet, but his angel Gabriel, approaching very close to the prophet to convey God’s message.
There are a few places in Quran when God is training Muhammad what to say, as doubters would be calling him a fake and accusing him of making up the words. The scripture says “Ask them to write something like these words if they can. And they never can.” And I really felt this, reading many parts of the Quran. It is a powerful text. (Although there are certainly places that seem out of place and make me wonder if they couldn’t have been added or modified later on by others for their own motives.)
Quran is a unique scripture, in that it is known to be a direct word of God, and spoken by Him in a first-person narrative. Other scriptures that I know of have actual authors (who were clearly channeling the consciousness of God). Disciples of Jesus wrote the New Testament part of the Christian Bible. Vyasa wrote the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita. But Muhammad, who manifested the Quran, didn’t have an education and could not read or write.
During his midlife, while living the life of an ordinary man, he would go to seclude in mountain caves for days. (Interesting to me that no teacher of Islam or Quran ever seems to be interested to know what he was doing in a cave where Quran was first revealed. Of course he was meditating! That gets conveniently left out from religious teachings.)
And one night a voice came to him and said: “Read!” While shaking, he responded that “I am not one those who can read.” The powerful voice came again: “Read!” and he responded the same as before. This repeated a third time, when the voice said: “Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created all that exists.” And thus Muhammad started reciting words. He would memorize the revealed words, and when he was with his literate companions, those words would get written down. This is how Quran was written, all revealed, in parts, during his lifetime.
I finished reading the Quran a couple of times, and wrote down notes whenever I came across spiritually revealing passages. What’s going to come of it, I don’t know yet.
Chapter 55: The Most Gracious
He created man.
He taught him eloquent speech.
The sun and the moon run on their fixed courses exactly calculated.
And the herbs and the trees both prostrate to Him.
And the heaven He has raised high, and He has set up the Balance.
In order that you may not transgress due balance.
And observe the weight with equity and do not make the balance deficient.
And the earth He has placed for the creatures.
Therein are fruits, date-palms producing sheathed fruit-stalks.
And also corn, with its leaves and stalk for fodder, and sweet-scented plants.
Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both deny?
He created man from sounding clay like the clay of pottery.
And the jinn did He create from a smokeless flame of fire.
Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both deny?
He is the Lord of the two easts and the Lord of the two wests.
Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both deny?
He has let loosed the two seas meeting together.
Between them is a barrier which none of them can transgress.
Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both deny?
Out of them both come out pearl and coral.
Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both deny?
And His are the ships going and coming in the seas, like mountains.
Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both deny?
Whatsoever is on it (the earth) will perish.
And the Face of your Lord full of Majesty and Honour will abide forever.
Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both deny?
Whosoever is in the heavens and on earth begs of Him. Every day He exercises His power.
Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both deny?
We shall attend to you, oh two beings,
Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both deny?
Part 11: Yoga Teacher Training at the Expanding Light Retreat, Ananda Village
I don’t intend to disappoint anybody, but I have to report that soon the nature of human mind caught up with me. Having left my job, I obviously had a lot of time on my hands. Yet, somehow, I soon began to feel again that my days were passing too quickly and that I was not finding enough time to do as much as I wanted. Sure, I had taken on some more responsibilities at the Ananda Los Angeles, leading daily meditation sessions, etc., but still not all that much more than before, when I also had my day job.
Well, if you ask me, this is just more strong supporting evidence to the claim that “time is an illusion.” Noticing a feeling of disappointment, I soon caught myself from going that route. “Acceptance of what is” is one of the fundamental steps to advance on the spiritual path. Indeed, Swami Kriyananda defined “suffering” as “the result of wanting things other than they are”. So I reminded myself not to get caught up with the judgmental box of “how many units of work did I get done today” and to just “stay with the flow”, one day at a time. “Respect the process.” Clearly I was in some kind of transition period. But towards what?
My mom once expressed her view, out of motherly love, of my situation: “Hesam has been in school or at work non-stop since first grade. He deserves a break.” She was thinking, or hoping, that this was just a phase I was going through.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, my period of responsibility-free days didn’t last too long. After a couple of months, one day Narayan and Dharmadevi–the directors of Ananda LA–just in passing mentioned that it would be good for me to take the yoga teaching training (YTT) at Ananda Village. That way, I’d be able to lead yoga sessions, in addition to meditations, at our center. That same night I was signed up and all set to go to Ananda Village for YTT during the summer of 2015.
It’s amazing how intricate and elaborate Divine Mother’s plans work for every single one of us. But it’s more amazing how often we forget that. We tense up about things, and go back thinking that we’re in charge. In retrospect, going to YTT at Ananda was just one step in a longer-term divine plan. But could I have ever seen what was happening, or else planned things out myself? Would I have been able to easily attend a month-long YTT program if I had a full-time job? Would I have ever, in my mind, thought of attending YTT as a way to step into Ananda Village for a longer-term stay? Not at all. In my head, I had quit my job to work on my writing projects. In retrospect, that really wasn’t why. In my head, I was now going to YTT to be able to teach yoga at Ananda LA. It is evident now, that also wasn’t the reason why.
This is how the process of
“Master says, open your heart to me, and I will enter and take charge of your life”
is experienced. I did not really know the underlying reasons for the steps I was taking, but I was whole-wholeheartedly opening up to the divine flow that was inviting me to let it take me for a ride, without resistance or personal ambitions.
That summer I arrived at the Expanding Light, which is the yoga and meditation retreat inside Ananda Village. Although ours was a program for Hatha Yoga teacher training, it soon became apparent to all of our group of YTT students that it was not really about yoga, or teacher training. Underneath those, it was a process of personal transformation.
The first two weeks were tumultuous, to put it mildly. We had a mostly young group of high energy (and high in emotion) souls. It is not uncommon to get people who are at interesting energetic periods in their lives at the retreat, because it is easier for those in some sort of life transition and in-between positions to attend a whole-month program like this.
Also Ananda Village and Expanding Light are designed to be and act like a bubble, with a very different kind of energy than that of the outside world. A highly spiritual energy is in the air; people are so kind and happy; we sing and pray before meals. Because of this serenity and purity, the environment starts to also act as a mirror. So the outside is calm and supportive; now what’s going on inside of you?
Coming from the society, this change could be too sudden for some. People are used to keeping their focus so much out there, unto the restless world, that might actually not notice how restless and in need of attention their inner life is: their thought patterns, emotional reactionary energies, mind-chatter, and so on.
All this, plus a lack of fulfillment of some unnoticed societal addictions, like the desire for having cell-phone reception everywhere (which is not in abundance out here) could be too much for a few visitors.
But to everyone else who withstands a little cleansing transition, the beauty of the soul soon starts to emerge. You could actually see this shift in their faces, after being at the Expanding Light for a few days. Their eyes start to shine brighter, beautiful smiles start to appear. It is all due to a feeling of inner freedom and joy, reconnected with through the supportive environment here, that too often gets lost and forgotten in the hustle of bustle of life in society.
So during the second half of the YTT our group energy harmonized, as the beautiful souls shook off their initial spiritual dust that we came with. It was a once in a lifetime experience and a truly happy time.
I cherish many moments in my YTT program. Every morning we started our classes by singing together Patanjali’s second Yoga Sutra:
“Yogas chitta vritti nirodha.” (Yoga is the neutralization of the whirlpools of feeling.)
While most of my other fellow students were new to Ananda and not on a serious spiritual path, I had been part of Ananda and a Kriya meditator for some time. It felt good and so reassuring for me to observe how I handled myself during this process. While many were appearing to go though emotional ups and downs, I seemed to be fine, or at least coasting on smaller tides! I was living the teachings and they were working! Thank you, Master. Yoga is the neutralization of the whirlpools of feeling.
Once at the end of one week we had a sharing circle, when we talked about how we were doing. Everyone was talking about their challenges and victories. To pass the turn to the next person, we were passing a little Lord Ganesha (elephant-headed god) statue to one another. I remember when my turn arrived I just couldn’t think of anything to say but sing the Ganesha chant that was in my head. So I just led the group to a call-and-response chant of “Ganesha sharanam sharanam Ganesha” (I surrender to you Ganesha). It felt so uplifting, to be in a position of uplifting others.
When you connect with your inner contentment and joy, there is really not all that much to do or say. In our deepest reality, there are really no problems or lacks to speak of, just the joy of God.
“There is nothing to do, but to sing in joy of God; but if you like to do something else, do it only from that state of consciousness.”
I had an experience of meeting a soul friend in our YTT group. After a couple of interactions, I noticed something interesting about my energy around a girl from Slovenia. Typically, we keep some kind of energy wall of protection, resistance, tension, curiosity, or judgment around us when we’re interacting to another soul. But I was utterly comfortable and natural around her. It felt like we were seeing and talking to each from inside-out. We talked with no energy walls between us—a pure soul-to-soul meeting. She felt like an old friend. At the end of YTT, when it was time to say goodbye I didn’t hesitate a second to tell her “I love you” and she responded with her beautiful smile “I love you too.” It wasn’t a romantic sentiment. There wasn’t a shred of personal agenda or desire in it; pure recognition of two souls, deeply connected from past lives, perhaps as brothers and sisters.
Another empowering event for me during this program was my interaction with another soul. With her, though I also felt a soul kinship, it was a bit muddled up, because of a feeling of physical attraction from my part, and some left-over cloudiness and restless energy from a recent relationship she was shaking off. I hadn’t really spent time with any girls since the separation from my girlfriend of a few years back. I didn’t feel the need or interest. But, now, I felt confident enough to try to be expansive, not push away, and hang out with the opposite sex, but without getting into personal binds.
With the grace of God I succeeded. On one of our very first times spending time I explained to her my situation, my physical attraction and my lack of interest in entering into anything romantic. Because of that defining moment, our friendship has bloomed into a beautiful mutually supportive soul friendship.
Part 12: Dabbles into Yoga Teaching
One of the things they told us at the Yoga Teaching Training was that, if we wanted to take up teaching yoga as a profession, we needed to develop specialties and build a private clientele. So I returned to LA determined to find opportunities to teach. My service at Ananda LA, including the yoga classes, gave me ample blessings, experience, and benefits, except for a monitory one.
I quickly became aware of the daunting challenge at hand. Although there are plenty of studios around, they all seem to be full with teachers. There just doesn’t seem to be that many yoga teacher positions out there. Plus, there are these Southern California girls and boys, with those gorgeous and bendy bodies, who’ve been doing Yoga since the age of 5. Why would anyone want to hire a computer scientist, bearded, middle-eastern man of 35 years of age, who has only picked up yoga since a couple of years, and has no resume to show?
But I knew I had a special ticket. I was a devotee and steeped in a true spiritual path. And, Ananda Yoga isn’t your typical Hatha Yoga “learn to bend it” kind of class. It’s a spiritual practice. It uses postures, along with mental affirmations, only to assist one to connect with and direct the currents in the subtle energetic spine and body, which exist at a deeper level than the physical body.
So I made a little online profile and looked for private teaching opportunities. I also did the gorilla tactic of walking from one yoga studio to another, just to drop my resume, whether they were looking or not.
One of the things I had noticed during my YTT at Ananda Village was that, due to having a little experience being on the spiritual path, I was being naturally positioned in situations were I played the role of a counselor to some of my YTT friends. I seemed to be doing that well. Something larger than me would take over. When I reflected on it, I noticed it was because life had given me essentially similar situations that my friends were now experiencing, so I could relate to them, yet I also had walked past those difficulties victorious, so I could also speak to them from a place of strength and real example.
So I thought why not also advertise spiritual and personal coaching along with my yoga services.
Opportunities were scant. No studios got back to me. But I did get a couple of private students worth telling you about.
Interestingly, the first private teaching opportunity I got turned out to be more of a life coaching job, than a yoga and meditation job. My client was a man who had said was suffering from IBS, and on long-term disability. When I first met him, I thought “what did I just get myself into?!” He was walking and talking slowly, seemingly from sever depression, supposedly caused by not being able to work for a few years due to physical illness. I soon learned that his doctor had him on Vicodin, the addictive pain killer, for a car accident he had had some four years earlier. It was a sad thing to be looking at.
I thought to myself “what can I do for this man?” Then I decided I could just do some yoga and meditation with him. I was horrified when he responded he had already tried a yoga teacher. I gasped. There goes the only thing I thought I had in my pockets to offer! What now?
That’s when the divine grace flowed into me.
I got up, sat right in front of him, and told him: “I wish there was something I could teach or give you to fix it all. But the truth is, this is all in your hands. It is you who has to decide to get well. To act. I’d be happy to share with you some techniques and practice with you and encourage you along the way.”
I think he must have felt that call to be a sincere effort to help him. He accepted to receive my help.
I met him for a couple of months. One of the things I had learned, was that meditation isn’t the best thing for someone who’s depressed and has no energy. What he needed was to move. To move energy. So I walked with him, and I taught him Yogananda’s Energization Exercises, which are designed to will and draw prana (energy) into the body. I was taken away how receptive he was to these exercises, which are odd, to say the least, for someone new. He practiced them faithfully every day, he told me. I tried affirmations with him as well.
Another, funnier episode was my student from Santa Monica beach. I got a call from a guy who wanted me to come by, in an hour’s notice, to his house, because he desired to do yoga with a sunset view. So I went. I walked into a mansion near the beach. I was led into a backyard, sure enough, with a magnificent view of the sunset and the beach. Yoga music was playing in the background. Then walked in two big tattooed guys, one white and one black, and a big dog. My friend wanted me to teach him and his friend yoga.
So I did what I knew. One unique thing about Ananda Yoga practice is that the teacher leads the students in each posture, and asks them to mentally repeat an affirmation, which frequently includes the G-word (that is, God). As you know, thanks to years in the dark ages and dogmatic and backwards forms of religion, most of us share a certain allergy to the word. I didn’t know how they’re going to react.
So I led them into warrior II and repeated the affirmation “I joyfully manifest the power of God”, inwardly praying to God that the guys don’t kick me out of the house at any minute!
With the grace of God, they didn’t. They seemed to have enjoyed the peaceful, spiritual yoga session and even paid me some extra for the lesson. He never called me back, though!
But in the middle of this spectacular natural scenery, as well as hilarious, a computer scientist teaching two football player-size guys yoga, I couldn’t help but ponder Divine Mother’s sense of humor in all this. What did she have in store for me and where were all these humorous situations leading to? I was used to receiving a direct deposit of thousands of dollars every couples of week. Now I was driving in LA traffic for hours and put myself in the most uncharted situations for me, to receive $20 for a lesson. I had no choice to play along and inwardly laugh.
Not more than a few weeks had passed since my return from Ananda Village, when I saw there was now a meditation teacher training happening. Having become a certified yoga teacher, it only made sense to become a credited meditation teacher as well, if I were to continue this profession as a yoga and meditation teacher. So I signed up again and were to return to Ananda Village the next week.
Part 13: The Power of One Man’s Words
I found myself back at Ananda Village, not more than a couple of weeks after I had left it, having finished my yoga teacher training. It was the end of Summer 2015, and this time I came back to get my certification as a meditation teacher.
By now I had come to know most of the sublime teachers at the Expanding Light retreat. I had noticed, from classes I had before, that I seemed to be receiving much more that what was being said by the teachers during classes in the temple. For instance, when Nayaswami Diksha was teaching a class, I noticed I tended to go sit right in front of her at the front row. For me, it didn’t really matter what class it was or what she was saying. No matter what, I felt pure vibrations of light and love, emanating from her right into my consciousness.
This is what years of dedicated deep meditation and devotion to dharma (God’s truth) does for you. Your whole being becomes a dynamic transmuter of the energies surrounding you.
Needless to say, having Nayaswamis Diksha and Anandi as the teachers for the meditation teacher training (MTT), I had a blessed and blissful program. You can see my enthusiastic testimonial here:
I remember a curious thing I felt during this time. I had been in spiritual circles long enough by then to hear many times when people refer to knowing people from past lives. I had always considered it as a cute thing to say or great story to tell. But with our MTT group I was really feeling it. We had known each other for only a week, but I was feeling as though I had known these souls all my life. I could tell, even foretell, their subtle tendencies, their strengths and challenges. How could that be? Their eyes were familiar beyond explanation.
This is around the time when a subtle shift was happening in my mind. I was beginning to at least open up in my mind that these things aren’t talked about because they’re fascinating stories to spiritually-minded folks, but because they’re likely to be true.
Past lives of souls have a strong magnetism of their own. The soul, from the very beginnings of its choices of when and where and in what family and what circumstances to incarnate, moves along according to its past connections and spiritual progression. So when a group of 15 people from all over the world or country participate together in a program, a usual mind would just attribute that to pure happenstance. But I had a strong feeling that something much larger than we see or know is at play; many incarnations were at play; so many crossed soul journeys were at play, all to bring us at this point of time and place together.
At a different time I was experiencing a bizarre deep energetic friction with somebody at the retreat. We had no conflicts whatsoever, that I knew of. But for some reason the minute that person made an appearance I felt a dark heavy weight of repulsion and gravity fill all the space between us. One afternoon we were sitting at the dining table, including that person. Later on, another (intuitive) friend of mine, who wasn’t necessarily even aware of any friction I was feeling, had tears in her eyes. I asked the reason. She told me that she was seeing, in her mind, dark and dramatic past life episodes that I had had with that person.
Experiencing episodes like this was making me open up to the possibility that “maybe this stuff is true.”
A most life-defining moment for me, during the MTT program at Ananda Village, was a conversation exchange I had with someone, lasting about 3 seconds.
During my times here at the Expanding Light retreat, I had noticed a group of people on a different program called Karma Yoga. The “Karma Yogis” lived in the retreat on a longer term periods, doing the hard jobs of cleaning and maintaining the retreat. Now that was something I didn’t understand. I told myself “I’m learning how to be a yoga teacher, while they are learning how to wash the dishes. Why would anyone in their right mind want to do that?”
The person in charge of the Karma Yoga program was Nayaswami Trimurti. I didn’t know Trimurti very much; we had just said hello a few times. But one time, during that defining moment, as we were having a short conversation, he told me “maybe you’re going to come back here and do Karma Yoga.” Now, I thought nothing of it and probably told myself in my head: “Yeah, right!” But to be polite I casually responded: “Yeah, maybe.” and left.
Long behold, one month later, not only was I back at the Expanding Light to do the Karma Yoga program, but I was here to live indefinitely! But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves in the story. I’ll tell the rest later.
Later on I experienced again the manifesting power of Trimurti’s words, first hand, more than once. This is also what years of dedicated deep meditation and devotion to dharma (God’s truth) does for you. Your words become binding on the universe!
Part 14: Written in the Stars
During my second visit to Ananda Village, when I was being trained to become a yoga teacher, I took a few hours off from our busy full-days schedule to see the village astrologer. Now, I’ve never been interested in astrology or readings or psychics or anything of that sort. It’s just that so many people had told me about this amazing astrologer living at the village and insisted that I have a session with him.
If people hadn’t described his appearance, I would have been really surprised when I walked into his office, a separate room next to his ranch house a few miles outside Ananda Village. A tall large-build white American man doesn’t quite match the image one might have when going to see a Vedic (Indian) astrologer.
I entered his office still quite unsure about astrology and what I would be hearing from him. But when I walked out of his house, some two hours later, I was thinking “OK, this stuff is real!” There was no question in my mind that (true) astrology is real, powerful, and absolutely necessary to know. I was pondering how beneficial and even life-changing it would be if everyone heard about their astrological chart and its significance in their lives.
I had an image for an astrology or psychic reading session like “In two years you will fall ill and in three years you will meet someone and have three kids…” Not at all. You see, like many other longtime devotees of the spiritual path of Kriya Yoga here at the village, he is simply a wise, in-tune-with-masters soul who gives you sage advice. Except, he also happens to be an adept astrologer, with attunement to Swami Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda’s guru and master of Vedic astrology, so he personalizes that wise advice specifically based on your chart, and the particular life period (Dasha) that you might be in. He won’t give you predictions. But he can give you tips and suggestions and cautions based on your chart and life-cycle that you are or will be in.
I had always imagined that astrological horoscope means that the time of the year when we’re born somehow affects our characteristics. For example, if you are born in a summer month you might be high-energy, and so and and so forth. But now I learned that it’s actually backwards. The soul, through past incarnations, already has a momentum of accumulated tendencies, ambitions, specific energies. So for its new reincarnation, it chooses a particular time and space and positioning of the stars, which is most conducive to and compatible with the magnetism of those energies.
So it’s not that those who’re born in Libra months (September-October), which I’m in, get a certain common temperaments that we can recognize, but that those souls who do so already have certain temperament and energies in common with each other, which are compatible with that time of the year and the certain arrangement of the stars and planets. Those factors determine at what age you go into what characteristic period of your life, which is a very significant thing.
Why should the positioning of distant planets matter to a soul reincarnating on earth? Well, actually the solar system, in fact, is an outer reflection of an inner solar system that we have within us. The particular energy centers in our astral body (which is a layer below our physical bodies, containing our emotions, tendencies) are reflected in the energies of the outer planets. The particular arrangements of the stars and planets as a whole carries a unique energy climate which can actually be experienced based on subtle shifts in individual and global energies. Obviously I have to leave it at that. I’m no expert and this is deep stuff! But it’s shocking to the bone to ponder the correspondence of the outer and inner universes.
Many things that my astrologer reflected on from my chart were astonishingly familiar. Based on my rising sign, I’m an inward person, and likely a follower of meditation in past lives. But a fascinating thing that he told me was that, at age 30 I had entered an 18-year Dasha (period of life) where I have a strong presence in the house of relationships. Relationships here doesn’t imply romantic ones, but simply a tendency to reach out outwardly to others. It felt really true. Despite my introverted nature, in my thirties I have become more outward and expansively busy. Wanting to become a teacher and write are examples of that. Interestingly, I also experienced my only romantic relationship right at the start of this Dasha, way too late for anybody’s standards!
Also it was interesting to see the effects of the nature of this life-period on my meditations. I was going through a period when I saw, despite my best intentions, I often had difficulty meditating calmly and deeply. My energy was more directed outward. I was charged to go and do creative stuff. So he gave me an advice, for this particular period of my life, to focus on quality instead of quantity for my meditations. But he stressed to me that, I needed to regularly go inward to tune into Divine Mother, and our masters, so I can then be able to serve others effectively.
He talked with me about many aspects of my chart. But what was most reassuring to hear him tell me was that my chart is one of the path of yoga, of inwardness and seeking the Infinite, yet also one with strong characteristics reflecting wanting to reach and serve others. He told me without having a certain arrangement in my chart, I wouldn’t have left a high-paying job to pursue this path.
He also gave me a range of dates where he said I would have a very expansive period. Well, he was right again. Over that one-year period, my life shifts accelerated and culminated in leaving Los Angeles and moving into the spiritual community of Ananda Village.
And I’m still on the spin!
Part 15: The Final Cords Come Loose
I came back to LA after finishing my meditation teacher training at the Expanding Light retreat of Ananda Village. Little did I know, in a month I would be returning there, once more, this time to move there permanently. Here’s how that flowed.
I was spending part of my days sitting in my favorite cafes, sipping my chai tea, working on my own writing and translation projects. I would spend a few hours a day at the Ananda LA center, leading yoga and meditation sadhanas, classes, and group studies. Late afternoons I would go to my local park to do my yoga practice in the nature.
I was also putting more effort towards finding yoga and meditation teaching jobs. I was going from one yoga studio door to another, leaving my yoga resume for their consideration. I just did it, even though I felt it would be quite a stretch, given my little experience, if any one of them would be interested to offer me any jobs.
I have always had an affinity for a certain laid-back energy of Southern California. I went to graduate school in LA and my job was there. And now I had found my spiritual circle and home in this city. So the thought of ever leaving it never crossed my mind. Why would I do that? But this was the time Divine Mother started Her preparatory work to nudge me out of this city.
I was quite content with the prospect of daily life that I had in front of me. Yet one thing didn’t quite feel right. Although I had earned enough savings to go about for a couple of years without any income, it was a bit unnerving to be spending $3K a month (my rent alone was $2K) while earning close to nothing. But I went along. This was clearly an important transitional period.
I also started to feel subtle shifts related to my engagement with the Ananda center. As I mentioned before, there I was running a book study on Autobiography of a Yogi that had been well-received and going on for longer than half a year. But then the directors mentioned in passing about a chance of replacing the book-study with a seasonal event. I was confused a little. Why would we want to stop a gathering which has been and continues to be so uplifting to me and many other participants?
Well, that wasn’t enough for me to get the clue. So Divine Mother sent another shift my way.
By then I had become somewhat of a right-hand for Narayan and Dharmadevi (the center directors), filling in for and assisting them in classes and organizational duties. I felt responsible for various roles I was playing. Around this time we got news that one of the brother monks from Ananda Village was going to come and live in LA and help out at the center. Soon he was teaching classes and helping out in many of our activities.
With the book study closing and our brother monk around, serving full-time at the center, all of a sudden my presence didn’t seem all that important! It was around this time that I received yet another life-altering guidance in a flash.
I can’t recall where the idea came to me. It may well have been while driving, my usual place of inspiration since a major part of life in LA is spent in the car. A voice in my head told me: “It is well and fine for you to take time to work on these writing projects that you’re doing, but why don’t you move somewhere where you wouldn’t be burning your savings at this speed?”
It was an epiphany. Now that my role at Ananda LA didn’t seem all that essential, Divine Mother had cleared out every little thing that tied me to living here. I could be living in some rural place, where rents are much lower. If anything, being somewhere quiet will be helpful if I am to write. Plus, I could be teaching yoga and meditation anywhere.
Well, given where I had spent a lot of my time in the past few months, it would not be difficult to guess which place came to my mind; I could be living in a room in Narayan and Dharmadevi’s house near Ananda Village (where I had stayed on my earlier visits), where I had the satsang (circle of spiritual friends and community) but also the privacy and quiet to work on my writing.
During a group seclusion in a new retreat house Ananda LA had acquired in Twenty Nine Palms, CA, I shared my thoughts with Dharmadevi and Narayan. Seeing the secluded house in the desert there and thinking about the possibility of someone living here, I told them I was thinking about leaving LA and moving into Ananda Village, but also saw myself coming out here in the desert.
Dharmadevi and Narayan kindly listened and were fully supportive on my decision to leave. They said living in the desert retreat was a possibility, but recommended going to Ananda Village, because of the spiritual preparation and growth that I would be getting there. Dharmadevi said it would be fine to stay at their house, but told me something that totally won me over. She said Swami, if he was there, would tell me to go to live in the village, as a proper resident. That would mean going through the Karma Yoga program (as it is the first step in the membership process there), to do the real immersion, as opposed to live somewhere in the vicinity of the community, as what I was imagining. Both Narayan and Dharmadevi, many years ago, had done the same process and lived in the village for many years, before being sent to LA to serve as directors here.
And so I had heard the truth. Immediately I felt in my heart that it was the right step to take. I thanked them and thanked Divine Mother for shaking the LA house for me and nudging me to move to Ananda Village, where the next step in my soul journey was to unfold.
So I signed up for the Karma Yoga program, starting in November 2015. That’s when I recalled Trimurti’s words that he had told me on my last visit there: “Maybe you’ll come and do Karma Yoga here.” I’ll be darned! Here I come Trimurti!
An interesting thing happened then. Just on the same day I decided to move out of LA and come live at Ananda Village, I got a call from one of the yoga studios. They wanted me to do an audition for a yoga teacher position! I’ll be darned, again!
This was Divine Mother’s way of saying the job offers weren’t happening because She had a different plan for me, yet at the same time, since I had put energy into it, I still received an offer. Well it was an audition for a Vinyasa flow class, which I wasn’t even trained in. But still, it was nice to see the confirmation that the result of putting out energy is energy received.
How often when things aren’t going as we expected or planed, we later find out that they were exactly going the way they needed to. They go even smoother when we learn to acknowledge and gladly surrender, in faith, to the larger divine plan and timing.
Part 16: I Come Home
On November 1, 2015, I arrived at Ananda Village for the third time within the same year, this time to call it home. I was to start the Karma Yoga program at the yoga and meditation retreat here for three months, to start the process of becoming a community resident.
What is home?
One of devotees at Ananda remembers an encounter with Swami Kriyananda, as told in the book “Swami Kriyananda As We Have Known Him”:
Swamiji happened to be visiting again and had bought a little present for me. When he handed me the present, he looked into my eyes and said, “Never forget where your home is.” When he said “home,” I knew he meant more than the place called Ananda. He meant, “Home is Master. Home is God.”
Just recently, Devi, who serves with Jyotish as the spiritual directors of Ananda, was making a similar comment on their return from a long trip visiting our communities in Italy and India. She said that she was so happy to see the radiant eyes here at Ananda Village, being reminded where her home is. She meant the Joy in their eyes.
Home isn’t a physical space. It is a place where soul rests, having discovered that it has found its path to absolute peace, joy, and love. It’s a place of intuitive perception, unrelenting contentment, and ever-new joy, unaffected by passage of time, movement in space, or circumstances coming one’s way. It’s when you know nothing at the level of outer reality really matters, save that which helps souls awaken from it.
I had found my home the minute I had stepped through the doors of the Los Angeles home which used to be Ananda center’s ashram. Sometimes my relatives ask me “so when are you going back to your job?”, or “to live near your parents?” I answer them “This is my home here.” They will probably take that to mean I want to stay in this location, at Ananda Village in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California.
Well, that’s not up to me. I am free in my heart to be where I need to be. Where I’ll be serving my guru, that is my home.
By now I have lived here for a little over a year. I can’t tell you how good it is to call the spiritual community of Ananda Village my home. I would have never understood what it is like, when living in the city all my life. Imagine going camping in the woods with your family for a weekend. Except, we’re a family of 200-300 people, living here all year, every year. And we’re not together because we happened to land in the same neighborhood or be born in the same family; our different journeys brought us here together because we share the same ideals, of plain living and high thinking, and above all have the love of the same ray of divine light in our hearts. Awwww, Thank you Swamiji, forever, and forever!
In the next part, I’ll share with you my experience as a karma yogi at the Expanding Light retreat.
Home Is A Green Hill
by Swami Kriyananda
Home is a green hill, home is a wind
Blowing betrayal far, far away.
Home is the knowledge heaven is near,
Home’s the end of the fray.
Home is my heart’s land, home’s where I am;
Nothing can dim the light of my soul.
Home is forever, home is today,
Home’s a heart that is whole.
Often I dream that life is a play:
Laughter forever, and skies never gray.
But when I’m silent, freed from all care,
I discover my home’s everywhere.
Home is a green hill, home is a wind
Blowing betrayal far, far away.
Home is the knowledge heaven is near,
Home’s the end of the fray.
Part 17: You get Bigger by Forgetting Yourself
I had talked about a certain “lightness” that I had felt, for the first time, in my late teens. I was 18, a senior in high school, a dreaded year in Iran because at the end of it we had to take the infamous nationwide aptitude test to be able to get into public universities. Only the top 0.1%, or whatever it is I don’t know, would be able to get into a place or major that they actually wanted. In fact, so much preparation was necessary to succeed, that I had to quit school half way in the year, in order to be able to use the gained commute time back and forth, to study without interruption.
Now you might read this and think that must have been the most stressful year of my life. Quite the opposite! What was it about this year that took me into a place of lightness, deep calm, inner peace, and presence in the moment?
Looking back I think it was the simplicity of it (one purpose and nothing else to look to) that brought me the joy of being in the present moment. It was deep concentration on the one and only task at hand, and lack of nothing else that was going on in my life. I had one worry in life and that was my task of preparing for the exam at the end of the school year. Nothing else. I wasn’t thinking “I must bring balance to my life” and add a variety of entertainment, fun, relationships, good other books to read, this or that to my life. Nothing at all. One thing and one thing only.
“Simplicity”, “One-Pointed Concentration”… Hmm that sounds familiar.
Oh yeah, that’s the spiritual path! Those are key qualities when seeking enlightenment, to reach God.
I had also mentioned that I quickly lost that feeling of presence and joy, not able to grab hold of it again until my thirties. Soon after succeeding to get into a top university, I was to immigrate to the States with my family to restart college and life here. Like everybody else, I lost myself in the land of desires and accomplishments, identifying myself with my physical, emotional, and intellectual possessions. Joy wasn’t really a part of it. Long lost. Goal was lost in the name of busyness for the sake of busyness.
In the beginning parts of this blog, however, I shared how life experiences brought me to my guru, who helped me back to a state of inner peace and joy.
When I moved into Ananda Village, I had to serve for 3-months as a “Karma Yogi” to start the process of becoming a resident. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was curious, but didn’t think much of it.
As it turned out, I soon was to experience the most joyful times of my life!
The program was simple. Get up in the morning. Attend yoga and meditation sadhana. Have a class on yoga. Go bless the kitchen. Then do my daily shifts washing dishes, mopping the floors, vacuuming the lounge, or taking out the trash. Then attend the evening sadhana and maybe an evening program like another class on discipleship, or maybe a chanting or kirtan music session. Repeat this every day for several months.
Then the joy came knocking on my inner doors again. People were talking about my “joyful presence” here. Joyful? I had never thought of myself exactly as the face of joy. If anything, before I would describe myself as a person of constant heavy thinking, occasionally melancholic, mildly depressed at times.
What is it about cleaning toilets that was making me joyful?
Thinking back, again I believe we come to the same keywords: “Simplicity” and “One-Pointed Concentration” on God, as the doer of action, as the goal of action, as everyone we meet. Karma Yoga is practicing the truth that “we are not the doer.” It is “God serving God.”
Watch Swami Kriyananda (disciple of the great yoga master Paramhansa Yogananda), in this short interview, replying without hesitating a second, to the question “What’s the most important thing you’ve ever learned from Yoga?”:
Now watch Mooji (disciple of a disciple of the great yoga master Ramana Maharashi) speak of the same truth:
The Karma Yoga program, especially the simple tasks, gave me an opportunity to forget myself. What do I mean by “myself” here? That’s the ego: my mind, my thoughts, my intellect, my identifications. That’s when my true nature, which is Love, Light and Joy, was allowed to come to the surface.
God is not much farther than that.
“God is simple, everything else is complex,” Yogananda said.