Fixing the Cracks in Our Consciousness

Durga Smallen (Nayaswami Durga) works in the Seclusion Retreat kitchen, 1974. Click photo to enlarge.

Many years ago, in the very beginning of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda built a house at Ananda Village. If you visit Crystal Hermitage today, you’ll find many structures in addition to the simple geodesic dome that Swami built in 1971. But, at the time, there was only that single small dome. It was divided into a living room, a tiny bedroom, and a kitchen, and it was extremely simple, because money was scarce, and it was built with the most basic materials.

In the early days at Ananda Village, it rained sixty inches in the winter. There were constant torrential rains, and whenever it rained the dome would leak like a sieve. They had tried to weatherproof it by spraying the outside with an industrial plastic foam, but because the dome was constructed of many triangular wooden struts, it would swell during the day and contract at night, which caused innumerable cracks.

From the start, Swamiji’s proposal to the carpenters had been, “Put an umbrella over it.” But it was an expensive proposition, at a time when our funds were limited, and it would be fifteen years before they could finally put up the “umbrella.”

And in the meantime, Swamiji’s firewood was kept under the house. There was a trapdoor in the living room floor that you could open to go down and get wood, and whenever it rained we would lift the trapdoor and sweep out the water.

Swamiji would sometimes tease us about attitudes that we might be inclined to take too seriously. If he saw that we’d be capable of laughing at them, he would make a joke, so that the next time we were tempted to fall into that attitude, we would remember the joke and it would be easier not to take it so seriously.

He would jokingly wail about how sincere he was in trying to fix the leaks. He would lament that he was being so good, and he was trying so hard, and he meant so well, and yet God was ignoring his efforts.

Swami Kriyananda’s dome, 1978 or 1979. Click photo to enlarge.

Of course, it didn’t matter how sincere he was, because the there were holes in the roof, and the simple fact was that the rain would come through, so it wasn’t a question of whether God loved him or not.

This is something we all face on the spiritual path. We’re so sincere, and we so deeply want to achieve the lofty goals we’ve set for ourselves, but there are holes in the roof of our consciousness, and until we can fix them, they will continue to stand in our way.

All of the things that have happened to us have created a certain construct in our consciousness. And there’s always a solution, but it isn’t going to be offered just because we’re nice, or because we’ve decided to plead with God until He takes notice and He’ll bend the rules and fix it for us.

There will always be obstacles that will challenge us to put out maximum energy to change ourseles, and to align our consciousness with God’s will.

In 1981, Ananda purchased a 40-acre plot of land that, because of its shape, made a logical extension to the property we already had. But when we tried to get it incorporated into our master plan, we faced tremendous opposition from the neighbors and the county planning director, and we decided that we’d had enough, because the people who had no sympathy for our cause had always had too much influence over our destiny.

There was a woman in the community named Dallas Atkins who was an attorney, and she realized that the only entity smaller than a county that had control of its own land use was a city. We were a just a tiny rural community with about 600 acres and maybe 150 people, but because the law is a matter of logic rather than common sense, Dallas discovered that we qualified to be a city. So we went through a very intensive eighteen-month process to try to incorporate our community.

We began calling ourselves Ananda City, spelled “Siddhi,” which means “divine power.” I was to be the mayor, and from the moment we started the project, Ananta McSweeney began calling me “her Honor, Madam the Mayor.” Ananta and his crew would be working in the garden, and when he saw me coming he would yell out like a town crier, “Her Honor, Madam the Mayor!” and he’d get his people all lined up to salute me.

We had lots of fun with it, but it was a crazy time when almost everyone in the area was opposed to what we were trying to do. At the end of the process, there was a hearing with about eight hundred people that lasted from seven at night until two in the morning, and everyone was against our incorporation effort except us.

It was a very interesting experience, to be so sure of what you’re doing, and to have everyone else disagree. It’s called persecution, and it’s a marvelous experience to have, because it forces you to ask yourself very deeply why I believe what I believe.

Am I just doing this because it’s the way the river is flowing, and it’s easy? And now that there are obstacles in the way, am I going to go off in some other direction?

We got to do it all over again in our Palo Alto community from 1994 to 1998, when we faced a huge lawsuit and everybody was telling us that we were deceived and confused, and that even though we thought we were doing a good thing, it was only because the people who were tricking us were so clever that we didn’t understand.

It’s not a joke when that kind of persecution comes, because the weight of it goes right inside you and forces you to examine your most deeply held beliefs. And to the extent that you’re relying on external confirmation to validate what you’re doing, it forces you to turn around and go deeper and deeper into yourself.

Now, the karma of persecution is not the same as personal karma, and this is an important point to understand. Personal karma is when you’ve acted contrary to the divine law, and the divine power is intent on pushing you back into harmony with the law.

Personal karma helps us balance the record and pay off our karmic debts. But persecution is when you’ve been doing everything right, but God sees that you need to develop greater strength. So it’s not a question of correcting our personal flaws, but of welcoming the opportunity to become stronger.

When we were being attacked in the 1990s, someone at Ananda proposed that we have a “day of atonement and introspection.” And Swami said, “Absolutely not!”

He was very emphatic. He said, “This has nothing to do with any of us personally. This is a challenge to our commitment to being Master’s disciples, come what may.”

The difficult karmic trials that we face in our lives are always offering us basically the same opportunity. They are challenging us to dig deep and find out, “Who am I? What do I believe? Do I love God? And, if so, why? And what is the basis of my faith?”

There’s a gap that God is trying to push us across, to deepen our faith and find an inner strength that will be able to stand firm even in the face of powerful opposition.

We are blessed to be living in a prosperous country where our lives are relatively easy, compared to the parts of the world where there are constant wars and famine and a complete lack of opportunity. We’re relatively comfortable, but in one way or another, if there’s anything that we’re relying on outwardly for our security and our sense of meaning, and if we’re deeply sincere in our seeking, God will keep raining into the cracks of our consciousness until we can find a way to go deep in our souls for shelter.

Narayani Anaya spent the last ten years of Swamiji’s life constantly in his company. She saw a very different manifestation of his consciousness than he had shown to us for most of his life. Before that time, he had presented a persona that was more like the rest of us, in the sense that he was actively engaged, and he had a dynamic personality, and he kept a facade of involvement with the world. But during those last years, especially after Narayani entered his life, he began to release all pretense, and he turned over to her essentially all of his need to relate to this world, and he cut the tethers and allowed his consciousness to go free.

What was very interesting was that the more he stopped pretending, the more simple and childlike he became. Narayani’s book, My Heart Remembers Swami Kriyananda, tells such a sweet story about this period, and how, whereas for most of his life there had been constant comings and goings, he now began to be more solitary and to isolate himself from people.

He said, it’s because I’m so much in everybody’s consciousness, and I’m too sensitive, because I can feel all that they’re going through. He said, and it’s more than I can bear a great deal of the time. So he asked Narayani to protect him during this period, which he referred to as a transition.

We spend a great deal of our lives protecting ourselves from our own tender hearts. We build up so many diverse personalities as a shield against the world. We become clever, or we become highly effective, as a way to cope with the outside world, and when things come at us that are too much for us to handle, we just put out more energy in the same direction. And these are the “thwarting cross-currents of ego,” that Master spoke of, and that keep us from knowing God.

There are so many aspects of our nature that we’ve built up to try to hold the world at bay. And, of course, we’re living in a world, a great deal of which we don’t want to take into ourselves.

When I moved to Ananda in 1971, I lived in what is now called the seclusion retreat. It was an extremely isolated small plot of land, and even today it’s very isolated, but forty-eight years ago it was stunningly remote. It snowed a great deal in winter, and we didn’t have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and many times we couldn’t get out. There was no electricity or telephones, and no way of communicating with the outside world. And it was bliss.

After perhaps six months of hardly ever leaving the property, I had a tremendous sense of increased energy, and I realized that I had spent my entire life since my childhood protecting myself.

I was a well-adjusted person, but I was always protecting myself, because the vibrations of the world were not the same as my own. And as we go about our daily activities in these environments that may not be entirely hospitable to our high ideals, and as we take jobs and go to restaurants and walk down the street, our psychic shield becomes so habitual that we no longer realize it’s there.

Living at Ananda for those first months, I slowly became aware that this was not a place I wanted to resist, but a place that I wanted to absorb. And so the protective shield of which I’d barely been aware began to melt away, and all of the energy that I’d used to keep a protective bubble around myself was suddenly freed.

I lived in that protected environment for about sixteen years, though not always in such extreme isolation, until I was asked to come to Palo Alto and help start a center here. And although this area is hardly purgatory, it is a cauldron of extremely mixed vibrations.

When I came here, I rented a little house, and the landlord sent someone to mow the lawn. And I remember looking out the window and seeing this person and being so startled because I didn’t know who they were. It shocked me, because I’d become so used to feeling that anyone who came into my space would be someone I knew and whose vibrations I was compatible with.

It’s wonderful to have the experience of living with like-minded people all the time, but it isn’t enough just to be a delicate flower. I spent a great deal of my life being proud of how delicate I was, and how spiritually sensitive. But there came a time when I realized that it wasn’t a divine quality, to be always judging everything else as inferior, and to think that my refined nature was too pure to be touched by anything from the outside. I realized that it’s the opposite of spiritual, because the masters don’t hold themselves aloof. How would we feel if Paramhansa Yogananda were to come here and begin saying that you’re not worthy, and you’re not worthy, and you’re not worthy.

Swamiji said, “Of course you’re not worthy!” He said, “Just assume it.” And the astonishing thing about the love that God wants to give us is that we don’t have to earn it, or wait until we can be good enough to receive it.

It isn’t a question of getting good enough. His love is always there. It’s ours, and what God is asking of us is that we learn to let down our guard and allow Him to love us.

It’s a paradox, isn’t it? Because that’s what we’ve always wanted. We have an unbearable longing to be loved. Unbearable, because it’s so fundamental to our nature. And through all these lives, that primary desire has been disappointed endlessly.

The last book that Swamiji published was a novel by Marie Corelli that he rewrote. It was called The Life Everlasting, and it was an extremely romantic story that she’d written about a hundred years ago, about a man and a woman who, through many lives, had finally come together and found the perfect love. And in the end they went aboard his yacht and sailed off into the sunset, just the two of them, forever.

Swami said, “That sounds more like hell to me than heaven.” But the story was beautiful in many respects, and he decided to rewrite it. He called it Love Perfected, Life Divine. It’s a very interesting book, and it’s beautiful to see how he spiritualized those romantic feelings and lifted them onto a higher plane of understanding. Instead of sailing off to be alone with each other, the young couple commit themselves to helping others, which is a much more expansive way to end the story.

I remember a conversation I had with Swami, long before he began rewriting that book. He said, “Every desire we have before God-realization comes, it must be fulfilled.” It’s something that Master also said, and I’ve found it more than a little terrifying to contemplate that every desire we have must be fulfilled, or else we’ll just keep wanting it.

God is our all in all, but if we still desire these things, they will distract us, and we’ll need to find out, through our own experiences, whether they can make us happy. And only then will we be able to recognize their limitations and let them go.

Those desires will not be magically ripped away. We have to recognize, very patiently, that we don’t want them anymore, and that we can happily let them go.

Swamiji said, “The deepest desire in people’s hearts is to be loved.” He added, “Not merely impersonally by God, but personally by one other human being.”

He said, “God would not plant that desire in our hearts, if He didn’t also intend to fulfill it.”

And then he talked about soul mates, which is a very subtle aspect of the spiritual path. Master mentioned it on just one occasion, because he knew that if he dwelled on it, no one would hear anything else he had to say, and their whole focus would be on trying to fulfill the desire for a personal kind of love.

He talked about it in the context of his interpretation of a Bible verse, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9) The church has interpreted it to mean that you shouldn’t get divorced. But Master’s interpretation was very different. He pointed out that everything in creation is dual, including the soul, and he said that each soul has its dual partner, and that before liberation can come we must unite our soul with its mate. But, you see, human love and physical passion are the exact opposite of that perfected divine love.

Human love is always affirming differences, and trying to create unity in the wrong ways. Perfect love comes to us when we are finally able to come to peace at the center of everything, and when we’re no longer leaning and pulling and searching, but we’ve come to a state of complete, accepting, comfortable surrender to the truth that God would not give us a desire that He didn’t intend to fulfill.

Now, think how deeply centered we would be, if we really knew that. How much of our energy do we expend in reaching out? Aren’t we always reaching out?

When I observed Swami at the end of his life, he was so unprotected, because there was nothing left to protect.

Earlier in his life, he had a tremendous work to do, and he was deeply concerned that he might not have the power and determination and discipline within himself to do what Master had asked of him. So there was always an aura about him of having to drive forward.

It wasn’t that he was rejecting everything else, but he had to be deeply focused. And once he saw that the great work was done, there was nothing left to protect, and he was so tender about all the little things that he could see that people were still wanting.

In my own spiritual life, I found that I had to train myself very strongly to be tough. There were so many conflicted feelings, and so many things to worry about. And despite the first blissful cycle at Ananda when I was able to let go and feel so free inside, there was still so much that I felt I had to protect. I could only allow a certain amount to come into me, because there were so many perceived threats, and so much anxiety. But observing Swamiji at the end, he was just nothing in his little human self, because he was one with God, and whatever God might send, it was all the same.

Swami told us repeatedly that Master had said this would be his last life, at the end of which he would be completely free. And he had often said that he would never be coming back.

I remember sitting with him in a restaurant. The news media were full of some awful thing that had happened, and I said, “Sir, when you incarnate again, and we have to come back here with you, would you wait until a higher yuga? Could we come back in a higher age?”

And even though he was always very courteous and refined, on this occasion he said very emphatically, speaking with a mouth full of sandwich, “I never intend to come back!”

But toward the end of his life, he said, “Why would I care? He said, “What difference would it make? Wherever God wants me to be, that’s where bliss would be.” And he added, “How could I even have an opinion?”

We create our karma by having opinions – “likes and dislikes” as the Bhagavad Gita calls them. I like this, I don’t like that. This is pleasurable, that isn’t. This is hard, this is easy, this is good, this is bad, this is right, this is wrong. And in the end we find that none of it really matters.

The mystery of karma is the enormous gap between our deep inclination to have an experience of God, and the eons that must pass before that experience finally comes to us. It’s so confusing, because we are so deeply sincere in what we believe we want, and yet it never quite comes out the way we’d hoped.

If God wants us here, then that’s where we’re meant to be. Swami would talk about how it doesn’t ultimately matter if you suffer, and I could never understand it. Suffering, pleasure, pain – what difference does it make? I would try so hard to understand, but I couldn’t, because it mattered so much to me whether there was suffering or not. But I got a little glimpse of that truth in the end. And, really, it’s all just waves on the ocean, and whether the wave is up or down, it matters only as long as we’re clinging so hard. But from the perspective of Infinity, and of the broad ocean, it’s just the tiniest ripple.

This is the consciousness we’re going toward, and nothing less will do. It’s a state where it’s fine if things go well, and it’s fine if things go badly. It’s pleasant if they do, and unpleasant if they don’t, but in the end it’s all just a speck in the ever-present ocean of the infinite consciousness.

At a time when Swami was extremely unwell, someone asked him, “How do you feel, Sir?” He said, “Compared to eternity, just fine.”

It’s a very helpful answer to remember. “Compared to eternity, I’m fine.” Because that’s where we’re destined to go.

God bless you.

(From Asha’s talk during Sunday service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on November 26, 2017.)

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