Many years ago, when I first came to live at Ananda Village in California, it was very easy to be detached from material things, because we had none.
We had a few homes, and we had a little temple. And for many years I lived as a nun in a tiny travel trailer. If I stretched out my arms, I could almost touch both walls. I would take four steps to sleep, meditate, cook, or sit and eat. I never had dinner parties, but I was perfectly happy.
I had everything I needed, and it comforted me not to have anything, because it meant that I didn’t have to struggle with attachments.
When we had nothing, the question of material desires never arose. Why think about it? And a certain reality began to grow in me – that as long as I didn’t have material things, it meant that I was spiritual.
It was an illusion, because there was no question of my having actually renounced the world. I was living in a dream.
And then, by a series of events, David and I married, and we needed a place to live. The area around Swami Kriyananda’s house had tiny cabin on it, very old and ugly, and Swamiji invited us to come live next door to him – which, of course, was something highly desirable.
He asked if we could live in this little cabin. And so David and walked into the cabin, and we immediately knew it wasn’t a wholesome place for us to live.
So Swami said, “Well, build a house there.”
There was a hidden purpose behind his saying this. We didn’t have money, so Swami said, “Why don’t you travel and lecture, Asha, and then you can earn the money.”
I never would have done that. But it was his way of picking me up by the seat of the pants and throwing me out into the world. So I started the work of traveling and lecturing.
Then we had to build a little house. And my husband is a very energetic man. And he has taught me a lot, because he doesn’t break the world up into pieces. He doesn’t see material things, non-material, spiritual, non-spiritual. He just emits energy. And that’s what I learned from him: that it’s all energy, and if you live in a nice house, fine, and if you live in an ugly house, fine – it doesn’t make any difference to him, because it’s all just energy.
So Swamiji asked him to build a house. And David has a very refined artistic sense, and so of course he started designing the Taj Mahal. And I finally had to say, “Honey, I don’t know what incarnation you think we’re living in, but it’s not that wealthy one, I promise you.”
So we whittled the house plans down to a sensible size, and now the house we built is a guest house at Ananda Village.
It’s a charming little house. But I had an enormous emotional attachment, of all things, to being impoverished.
Most people have an attachment to owning things, but my attachment was to being poor. I had made up this little dream that said “As long as I’m poor, I’m spiritual.”
As long as people could come to my trailer and say, “How can you live in this dump?” I could say, “See how spiritual I am.”
This was not an inspiration from God. It was an emotion that I had built up around my life. A peculiar one, but every bit as binding as if I had been attached to material things.
Meanwhile, David felt, “Swamiji wants us to build this house, and as devotees it behooves us to reflect the beauty of God. There is nothing particularly spiritual about having nothing. In fact, it can be a sign of not putting out enough energy.”
So I created a backup emotional plan, which is that we would build an ugly house, and it would be perfectly clear that I couldn’t possibly be attached to the house because look at how ugly it was.
David put up with that for a while, and then one day he said, “If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way.”
That was when I began to realize: “What’s this really all about?” I was pretending that it was a divine feeling because it was about being poor and spiritual. But I had moved away from genuine intuition and from Swamiji’s guidance, and even away from my own common sense, because my emotions had constructed this self-enclosed reality and I wasn’t able to see the whole picture.
So I eventually just put down my little dream of being a poor renunciate and erased it. I didn’t work on the house very much, because I wasn’t interested. But I chose the wallpaper and a few other little things, and I began to discover that it was fun.
“Well, Divine Mother, here we are in the wallpaper store, a place I never expected to go, and there’s all this wallpaper.” And what kind of wallpaper reminds me of a feeling of happiness? Because when you’re looking at beautiful things, these are reflections of the heart.
When we come at life with too much reason – “That’s cheaper” – or “We don’t want that, because our neighbors have it” – we cut ourselves off from our core.
This is what David taught me. “What is life asking of us right now? How can we make whatever we’re doing, whether it’s building a house, making lunch, raising a child, or teaching school – how can we make it a true part of the feeling of the Divine that is with us all the time?”
Then every little piece of our life begins to vibrate with that reality, and we are able to live in our truest feeling nature, in divine awareness. And yet we aren’t caught up in self-generated emotions that can easily take us away from God.