Kiss of the White Bird


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Chapter 4


If there should rise suddenly within

the skies

Sunburst of a thousand suns

Flooding earth with beams undeemed-of,

Then might be that Holy One’s

Majesty and radiance dreamed of!

--(Gita 11:12)

In the winter of 1986, every time I turned around, I heard someone talking about this book Autobiography of a Yogi by Parmahansa Yogananda. I decided to purchase it and see what all the commotion was about. My heart raced as I read about Yogananda's spiritual journey through India. He spoke about yogis’ self mastery over matter and the poignant meeting with his guru, Sri Yukteswar.1 But what moved me most of all was his deep love and yearning for the Divine Mother. I couldn't put the book down and devoured it within two days time.

In the year 1920, Yogananda came to the United States to fulfill his destiny to disseminate yoga and to teach men and women about God Realization. He indeed fulfilled his destiny by founding Self Realization Fellowship in 1925. The organization has since expanded throughout the United States and the world. Yogananda was a prime example of what he taught. Through meditation he reached enlightenment, which in sanskrit is called Samadhi. He became one with the Divine, at the same time retained his personal identity to help humankind. It is reported that twenty days after his death, his body was in perfect preservation. There are those who believe it is still that way.

Filled with wonder, mixed with apprehension and excitement, I drove down to Ananda, a church based on Yogananda's teachings. I wanted to attend a Sunday service to get more of a sense of what his teachings were all about. The church was located in one room of a very small office building in Palo Alto, California. The room couldn't have occupied more than 300 square feet and was packed with rows of gray metal folding chairs. In the front of this simple room was a beautiful altar, draped with lavender silk and decorated with two bouquets of red roses, pink carnations, purple Iris, and yellow and white daisies. On the altar stood framed photographs of Yogananda and his lineage: Babaji Krishna, Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Sri Yukteswar--all of whom I recognized from reading Autobiography of a Yogi. There was also a picture depicting Jesus Christ.

Because of my phobia of crowds, I sat in the back next to the door. The service began with a prayer to all the masters. We then sang the most beautiful and heart warming chant to Divine Mother, written by Yogananda called, “May Thy Love Shine Forever.” I felt everyone in the church was singing from his or her heart, and I was overwhelmed with emotion and the love for God.

A plain-looking woman dressed in a long white robe came onto the platform and delivered the Sunday service. A friendly man sitting next to me whispered in my ear, "She is the head minister and her name is Asha." She spoke quite softly, but yet, I was able to clearly understand her. She read a poem from the book Whispers of Eternity by Yoganada called, "I adore Thee in the language of love." 2

It moved me so much that my heart ached, and tears ran down my face. I did a lot of crying in those days. I had such a feverish yearning to experience God.

After service, I was able to meet with Asha. The first thing that blurted out of my mouth was, "I want to find God!"

Asha brushed her wavy brown hair away from her face and looked at me intently. With her soft gentle voice she replied, "The way to 'God realization' is through meditation."

Asha then went on to tell me about the meditation course she taught every Tuesday night for six weeks. I immediately signed up for the class and began the following week.

Because I have such a difficult time being with crowds, I wasn't able to meditate with the group very well, but was able to learn the techniques and meditate at home by myself. After a short period of time, I was able to taste the experience of a calm mind and found no greater gift than feeling the Divine presence within me.

A few months later I felt a profound calling to dive more deeply into this study. I had this feeling that I was going to move to the Ananda Community, where one lives and breathes Hindu/Yoga philosophy. At the time I had a very good job selling Medical supplies for Baxter Travenol, a major medical manufacturer, so my mind would chatter on: “You have this great job with great pay. What is your family going to say? What about a career, and your future?”

One afternoon I was waiting to have lunch with a pharmacist that I did business with, and who was also a personal friend. I sat at a round white table on the patio outside Sequoia Hospital's cafeteria, letting the warm rays of the sun beat down upon my face. I found myself deep in reverie. In my daydream, I found myself shopping, buying long casual dresses, and dangling earrings that one would wear in the country--that one would wear at Ananda! This was in total contrast to the black three-piece suit, white buttoned up blouse, and studded pearl earrings that I was wearing that afternoon. Dreamy eyed I watched my friend, Sharon approach me dressed in her white pharmacy garb, her jet black hair pulled back neatly in a barrette. When she sat down, I began telling her my feelings about my daydream. "I don't know how this is going to happen Sharon, but I feel I am going to be moving to Ananda." She looked at me with this knowing smile.

Later that same afternoon, I had an appointment with my boss, Terry. I was back in reverie as I drove to Lyon's restaurant to meet with him. As much as I liked Terry, I wasn't looking forward to discussing business with him, because my mind was on Ananda. I walked in and he looked the way I felt: grim and distressed. I sat down and we ordered coffee.

Without hesitation, like he wanted to get it over and done with, Terry said, "I don't know how to tell you this."

Kidding, I said, "I'm fired," never thinking I would really be out of a job.

He wasn't laughing and continued, "Because of the merger with American Hospital Supply, Travenol is having a huge lay off...and we have to let you go." Terry was so upset and concerned, but I was joyously dancing inside. My depression totally lifted. I felt guilty not letting him in on this, but I was too self conscious to tell him that I wanted to move to some esoteric commune somewhere in the hills. Not only could I now go to Ananda, without the guilt of quitting such a good job, but I also received a severance package that would get me through the next few months, while I was deciding on my future at Ananda.

Terry and I walked out of the restaurant, and before I got into the car, he gave me a warm hug and said, "If I can help you in anyway, let me know."

In my mind, I said, “Terry, if you only knew how much you've helped me.” As soon as I drove off, I could hardly contain myself and grabbed onto the steering wheel saying, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" I immediately drove to the church to tell Asha. A problem did come up though.

She said, "You first need to do a two month postulate program before the community will consider accepting you into the village." The other problem was Josie. They did not allow dogs. Still there was no doubt in my heart that I was supposed to go Ananda. Once again…I would just take one step at a time.

I decided to see if I could sub lease my cottage, so I wouldn't have to pay rent while I was gone. And more importantly, to find someone that would be willing to take care of my best friend and beloved dog, Josie. As soon as I made that decision, a young woman came into the church, and we began talking. Lo and behold, she was looking for a temporary living arrangement just like this one.

Another problem was that I had to give up my company car, a new white on white Oldsmobile, Cutlass. I wanted to go up to Ananda that weekend, because a new postulant program was beginning. I was rushed to find an affordable car. I looked in our local newspaper The Country Almanac and found a car that I felt might be suited for me. The owners, an Italian couple from the old country drove this old mustard colored Audi with a huge dent in the right fender to my home for me to see and test drive. They were asking $1200 but accepted my $800 offer. The banks weren't open, and the owners wanted cash. I was talking to Lois, my landlady about my situation when a strange look came upon her stoic, always-composed countenance.

She said, "How odd, my other tenant just gave me his rent in cash, which he has never done before--and it is $800!

I completely packed my car and was very excited to begin my journey, until I looked into the sad eyes of my dog. Looking at Josie was like a thorn that penetrated deeply into the immense joy I had been feeling. She had been my faithful companion for fourteen years. We were inseparable. She went to work with me, went on social engagements with me, and even traveled with me by plane to Florida, when I went to visit a man I was dating. I felt like I was committing adultery. God was my new lover, and I was being unfaithful to her. But the calling to Ananda was just too great. I had to go.

I was moving from Woodside, California, an elite suburb 30 miles south of San Francisco. Living in Woodside was so luxurious that even the ladies restroom at the local gas station was sparkling clean and was decorated with fresh red roses, a full length mirror, and even a box of soft Kleenex tissues. I was moving to the secluded hills of Nevada City, California, which I knew to be just as beautiful, but definitely not luxurious.

I traveled on Highway 80 going east through Sacramento. My new/old car was pretty dirty, so I stopped in Vacaville to have it washed. As I sat in the car with the massive black brushes scrubbing and polishing, I felt like I was washing away the old and preparing to birth a new beginning.

After the car was dry, I got back on Highway 80. I glanced at my rearview mirror and saw the ominous sight of flashing red lights from a Highway Patrol car. I looked at my speedometer. I was going 75 mph. Spontaneously, I prayed, "Please God, not now, not when I'm not working. I can't afford this expense right now." My heart was racing as I simultaneously began to slow down. I cautiously looked into my rearview mirror again. To my surprise, he went right past me. It was as if I had become invisible. My heart settled back into my chest, I took a very deep breath, and thanked God. I said, "Never again will I speed." (I lied in a moment of great stress.)

Throughout the drive on Highway 80, I was having a lot of trouble with the car shaking and groaning. It finally conked out three and one half hours later, just as I turned up Tyler Foote Road and drove up the rocky, very dusty driveway of Ananda’s meditation retreat. It was quite apparent that I was supposed to be there and stay for a while.

The first thing I noticed when I got out of my car was the serenity that permeated the air. It was saturated with the perfume of the Divine Mother. The tall Evergreens were flourishing on this land that seemed to be enfolded in a backdrop of exquisite silence. Even the rustle of a few leaves and the sparrows singing harmoniously seemed to be a part of this calming silence.

I stood there and took a deep breath to bring all this quiet beauty into my being. I took advantage of this warm spring day and walked around exploring what was going to be my home for at least the two months. I loved the homemade wooden signs that pointed the way to the modest cabins that the members of the community built. The first cabin I came to was called Dharma, which in Sanskrit means right conduct in one's life. The cabin was quite small and rustic as were all the cabins, but it was captivating. I could sense that everything built here was created with genuine love and devotion. Everything was devoted to God.

I then proceeded to one of the outhouses. With some apprehension, I opened the brown wooden door. To my amazement, it was just lovely. On a small shelf above the toilet was a vase filled with yellow daisies, and placed next to it was the book Divine Romance written by our guru, Parmahansa Yoganda. I never thought the experience of an outhouse would bring me such joy. I was so happy to be at Ananda.

Now that I checked out some of the territory, it was time to meet with Anandi. She would be my personal minister and teacher in the postulant program. I slowly walked to the main living area of the meditation retreat. It was a large, round shaped, rustic building with a balcony that surrounded its perimeter. On one side there was a long wooden bench and chairs and a small round wooden table. That is where I found Anandi, exactly where she said she would be, when I talked with her on the phone the night before.

We had only spoken briefly, but I felt like I knew her and was excited to meet with her. Anandi is tall and slim with short brown hair, slightly curled under. Her eyes are a soft brown. She wore black loose fitting slacks and a multi colored blouse with flowers on it. Like most of the people at Ananda, including myself, she wore brown Birkenstocks. Twenty-six years later, I still own my much-loved Birkenstocks.

Anandi greeted me with a warm smile and said, "Welcome. How was your trip?"

I sat down and briefly went over my excursion, and my situation regarding my car.

She said, "Why don't we go inside, and I'll give you the number of an auto mechanic. Then I'll show you where you will be staying."

The common living area consisted of two large, very old beige corduroy couches and two large wooden tables, where we would be having our meals. There was one black rotary telephone that everybody shared. She found the phone number of the mechanic, but I decided to deal with the car later. She took me to the kitchen that had a primitive feeling to it, but yet it was quite modern. It had two large white refrigerator/freezers, one on either side of the room, and a large white stove opposite a large wooden table, where people at the retreat alternated in preparing meals. I would be one of them and that was to be an experience in itself, because I am certainly no cook. Above the sink there was a good number of cabinets where dishes and glasses were stored. In a hallway off the kitchen, there were open shelves lined with giant jars of various grains, legumes, and rice.

Anandi took me outside and walked me down a flight of stairs into a cellar, where they stored organic vegetables and fruits. Having lived in a tiny cottage and maybe having two carrot sticks and an apple in my refrigerator, this was wondrous. I loved the ambiance of this cool dark place.

She then walked me to the bathing area. There was one shower and an old bathtub placed on a platform. Next to the tub was a large dark brown heater that ran on propane. Since there was no electricity on the property, she showed me how to light the kerosene lamp. I thought to myself, “No electric rollers. It's definitely going to be the natural look.” I didn't care; I wasn't there to look pretty.

Now it was time for her to show me my personal living area. We walked along a narrow path and nestled between two large oak trees was my new home, a sky blue, one-person tent. It was perfect. I loved it. Before Anandi left me so I could settle in, she said, "The other members of the postulant program will be coming shortly, and we're all to meet on the deck at 5:00. We will then go on to the temple for meditation."

5:00 o’clock would be coming soon, so I began the process of setting up housekeeping. I walked down the dusty path to my car, which luckily wasn't too far away, because I certainly couldn't move it. I dragged out my suitcases and slowly carried them over to the tent. The first thing I did was take out Yogananda's photograph and my sacred objects to place on the altar that I began creating. I placed them on a small table to the right of my yellow foam mat that was to be my bed.

“Now,” I thought, “What do I do with my clothes? If I leave them in my suitcase, they will be all wrinkled, and living out of a suitcase doesn't seem very “homey” to me. Ah! ha! The trees will be my closet.”

Since my clothes were still on hangers, I simply took them out and hung them on the various branches. The trees became part of my personal residence. I walked over to the dining area and borrowed a rainbow colored fold up chair from one of the cooks. I placed it in front of the tent, placed a couple of Yogananda's books next to it, and I was all set. My home was complete.

5:00 o’clock had come. The day was cooling down. I grabbed my light blue sweater and proceeded to the deck off the dining room. I could see Anandi with seven other people: three men and four women. The peace I was feeling began to subside. As much as I wanted to meet and be with others who were on the same path, my phobia of crowds was beginning to kick in. My body became tight and I experienced intense pain from the muscle spasms that started in my neck. But more than that, the emotional pain from not being able to be truly present with others, was like a dagger in my heart. But absolutely nothing was going to stop me from doing this program and devoting myself to God  nothing!

Anandi began the introduction. The first people she introduced were Bob and Carol, the only couple in the program. They were in their early twenties and looked like they came right off the farm. We then met Donna, who came all the way from Texas. She was gifted with the most extraordinary singing voice that would leave me spellbound. Then there was Lauren, a redheaded man who was an old timer with Ananda. He was there for support and always offered a helping hand when I was trying to learn to play an Indian instrument, called the harmonium. We were then introduced to Martha, a woman who lived near by and was very involved with Kinesology. And there was Ted, a handsome man in his early thirties with pitch-black hair and sported a thick mustache. He was absolutely captivated by Yogananda. Lastly we met Margot, a heavy set woman who acted like she was a devoted disciple, but I had my doubts. Intuitively, I felt she was there mainly for the security of a community rather than seeking communion with God.

After the introductions, we followed Anandi to the temple. The temple was a huge white tent in the shape of a dome. Anandi opened the plastic door to the entrance. After we removed our shoes, we silently walked in. Even though I was shaking from the phobia, I still felt the peace and holiness of this sacred temple. The altar was set up beautifully. It was draped simply in a white silk cloth, colored by freshly picked red roses, blue and white carnations, and yellow jasmine. Placed in the center were pictures of Yogananda and his lineage. There was also a small statuette of Shiva, the Hindu god who is the destroyer of delusion. The candles were glowing and the air smelled of sandalwood incense. We bowed to the masters' pictures and took a seat. We had the choice of a chair, meditation bench, or a variety of colored pillows. I chose a bench. Closing my eyes, I began to go within.

We began mediation with a prayer invoking the presence of all the masters. Anandi then played the harmonium and lead us into several chants, including Om Namo Shivaya, meaning “I bow to Shiva, destroyer of delusions," and a chant written by Sri Kriyananda, the founder of Ananda, that went like this: "When I Awake I'll see Thy face…When I awake I'll see Thy light…" Chants help one to deepen and quiet the mind before the actual meditation. I found chants to be the doorway to my heart.

During meditation, I felt my entire being engulfed in a flowing river of light. My heart was so raw and open that I felt I contained no skin. My energy field felt like golden arms of light wanting to embrace all of life. As we left the temple, I found Anandi and embraced her in silence. No words would come to my lips to express what I was feeling. At the same time I was experiencing ecstasy, I was still feeling the forces of the phobia--the tightness of my neck and the uncontrollable shaking of my body, but I kept it in the background.

In retrospect, I was very naive when I stepped forth on this path. I assumed everyone in the temple was experiencing the Divine with the same blazing fire that I was. It is not until our meditations are being discussed over a lunch of stuffed potatoes, that I find out I was wrong. It confused me. I later asked Lauren, "How could they not have felt the tremendous energy and love that was emanating from the temple?"

He gently said, "It's not emanating from the temple, but from within you." I continued to have blissful meditations, but at the same time, the phobia seemed to be getting worse. It took me many years to find the correlation.

We were taught to meditate at the third eye, which is the energy center between our two eyes. I realized years later that I was too wide open in this center. Not only was I able to receive Divine grace, but I was also picking up other vibrations as well that weren't so wonderful. Meditating at the third eye would also shoot me right out of my body. At times this was euphoric, but what could I really do with it? I felt half here  split. My feet weren't on the ground. Being naturally sensitive, and being out of my body, compounded the phobia issue, because nobody was home. My body was screaming for its owner  me! In time, I would see that I had to sacrifice this temporary euphoria in order to come into the fullness I am presently feeling in my life. The phobia of crowds still waxes and wanes like the moon, but I would say it has improved 50% since I started meditating from the heart center. I now receive God in a much more centered way--leaving me feeling grounded and whole.

At dinner, as before all the meals, we would all hold hands and chant. At times, it felt like I was part of a Broadway musical play. I was caught up in it, and singing made it appear that there was no darkness in the world. After we had our fill of scrumptious Potato Mushroom Curry and Chappatis, an Indian flat bread, Anandi went over our daily schedule, which included what days we had clean-up.

I took a short walk after dinner and meditated in the temple, before I went to bed. Even though I was comfortable in my tent, I tossed and turned. I always seem to go through a bout of insomnia when I start something new or am in new territory.

At 6:00 a.m. the wake up bell (gong) rang seven times. I grabbed my towel and went to the bathhouse to clean up before our morning Sadhana (spiritual discipline).

At 6:30 a.m. we gathered outside the temple for fifteen minutes of "energization exercises" that Yogananda had developed. These exercises were basically tensing and relaxing muscles and directing energy into these parts. We were taught that the medulla oblongata, which is located at the base of the skull draws in energy from the universe. At that point we were to direct the energy into the different parts of the body. At first I felt absolutely ridiculous putting my body, in what seemed to me, distorted positions and making my muscles vibrate. I especially felt ridiculous when we got to one exercise that entailed tapping on our heads with our fists and saying, "Awake my sleeping head, awake!" But then it became commonplace, and I began feeling the energy surging and, indeed, the body awakening. We were taught the more we can generate energy, the better our yoga practice would be. I would do anything to improve my practice.

At 6:45 a.m. we gathered in the temple and did one half hour of Hatha Yoga, which are yoga postures or asanas. The purpose of asanas is to awaken every cell in the body and brain, so it can receive energy from the universe. Asanas can also release blockages that we may have in the body. In doing the postures, it is important to change our state of consciousness to a more inward meditative state, so that yoga becomes like a "spiritual dance," as I heard Swami Kriyananda say at one time. I loved doing asanas--feeling my body stretch and limber up in preparation for deeper meditation.

At 7:15 a.m. we were ready for meditation. We began with 10 to 15 minutes of chanting and then we would silently meditate until 8:15 a.m.

At 8:30 a.m. we had breakfast in silence. I enjoyed the silence because it helped me maintain the peace I was feeling from meditation. There was a large table by the wall in the dining room where a breakfast buffet was waiting for us. I have a huge appetite in the morning and the smell of eggs and toast was alluring. After we held hands and sang a chant of blessing, we lined up and helped ourselves to breakfast.

After breakfast Donna, Cheryl, and I had clean up. We were now able to start talking. It was actually a lot of fun working in the large rustic kitchen. Donna cleaned up the dining area. I washed the dishes in soap and Clorox bleach, while Cheryl dried.

At 10:00 a.m. we once again gathered in the temple and discussed Hindu philosophy and the guru/disciple relationship. One of the prerequisites for being in the postulant program was to agree to be celibate for one year. Married couples were the exception. I thought, “No problem. I am giving myself to God.” It would take me years to come to the realization that under all of my devotion was a defense against life. And what I thought was transcending the body was really an escape. Although this was healthier and not life threatening, it was no different then when I tried to commit suicide and when I was addicted to drugs. They were all ways for me to escape the pain of living in a world in which I felt I did not belong.

At 12:00 p.m. we had a thirty-minute meditation before going to lunch. Carol, a pretty woman with short blond hair lived at the retreat and prepared our lunches. She was a great chef and made wonderful innovative vegetarian meals. One of my favorite meals was her sesame macaroni salad made with kidney beans, peas, and large black olives with a variety of herbs and spices. Her corn bread was to die for.

After lunch we had a couple of hours to study and begin reading a book entitled The Path: An Autobiography of a Western Yogi by Swami Kriyananda. Swami Kriyananda was a direct disciple of Yogananda and founded Ananda in 1968. He originally lived at the retreat, until he purchased land ten miles across the highway on Tyler Foote Road, where it is now considered Ananda village and community. Some of the members of the community live in lovely homes made of redwood that are quite modern, and others dwell in rustic T pees.

Ananda's guest facility The Expanding Light is in the village. Right after I joined the church in Palo Alto, I attended several weeklong conferences at The Expanding Light on natural methods of healing and more advanced meditations. There is also a wonderful little market in the village called Masters Market, an auto mechanic (where my car stayed for one month, until he finally gave up and I had to take it elsewhere), a nursery, and washer and dryer facilities.

At 4:30 p.m., before our evening meal, we all met at the temple to again practice energization exercises, hatha yoga, and meditation that lasted until 6:00 p.m. When we felt confident in doing the exercises, we all took turns in leading the group.

This program was pretty much standard for five days out of the week. On weekends there was a two to three hour group meditation in the morning, but it was up to us if we wanted to participate. I found it too difficult to be with a group that long in one stretch, so I would meditate at the same time they were, but by myself. One of the residents at the retreat was kind enough to let me use his two room home for meditation.

I was about two weeks into the program when I received my first lecture from Anandi about my "disobedience." When I was at the Expanding Light (before I started the Postulant program) I had been formally trained and initiated into the practice of Kriya Yoga. Kriya yoga is a form of meditation in which one uses the breath. The goal is to do 108 kriyas at a sitting, but I was instructed not to do that many until my instructor advised me to do so. My instructor would periodically check my practice and would tell me how many kriyas I could do. He told me to do sixteen twice a day, but I was doing more. I slipped one day and told Anandi I was doing thirty-six at a sitting. This sweet woman went into a rage. I couldn't believe it. Her brown eyes were on fire and she said, "If you want to remain in the Postulant program, it is mandatory that you obey the rules!" She was furious and continued: "I've always been a little concerned that you may be too independent to be a community member."

I convinced her that I would not disobey again and that I was really sorry. And I was sorry, because being at Ananda and devoting myself to God meant everything in the world to me. Did I discontinue doing thirty-six kriyas? Well, not all of the time. I just couldn't wait for enlightenment that I thought Kriya Yoga could bring me. Also, in the back of my mind was the thought that Kriya Yoga would free me from the pain of the phobia.

The days were always full, and before I turned around, a full month had passed. I spent the little free time I had in the temple meditating and playing around with the harmonium. I really needed an instructor to help me play it properly. Anandi recommended a woman who lived at the village, so I called her and was able to get a lesson the following Saturday. My car was still in the shop so Ted gave me a lift over and Susan, my instructor would bring me back to the meditation retreat when our lesson was over.

We drove over the rocky and very dusty road to the village. The energy is so different at the village compared to the meditation retreat. Even though it also carries a peaceful ambiance, I could always sense the feeling of more activity, even on the days when it appeared silent. Susan lived in a small cluster of homes on top of a hill overlooking a valley. She was a tall slim woman around twenty-five years old and wore her blond hair high on her head in a ponytail. She was very pretty, and I was told quite a talented singer and musician. She brought out her harmonium and went over all the keys with me. She showed me how to use the keys in conjunction with the bellows. I was having a hard time with the keys, because my fingernails were too long. I really wanted to play the harmonium, so I asked Susan for a pair of scissors to cut my nails. In one fast swoop I chopped off all my nails. My fingernails were no longer important to me. No longer wearing make up, abstaining from sex, and cutting my fingernails was the last symbolic gesture of burying the feminine. Of course, I was not aware of this at the time.

I learned to play the harmonium quite easily and Lauren was always there to help me when I was ready to learn a new chant. Sometimes when I couldn't sleep at night, I'd go to the temple in the early morning hours and chant to God and rest in the silence until dawn.

One morning, about 2:00, a woman I had never met before entered the temple. Under candlelight she looked to be in her late 20’s, very pretty, with long brown hair that she parted down the middle. I wasn't feeling well, so I was laying down in front of a photograph of Yogananda, because he brought be comfort. She glanced at me and sensed that it was okay to play the harmonium. As she played, she chanted devotional songs with such sensitivity and beauty, that I was overcome with joy. About thirty minutes later she came over to me. Speaking softly we introduced ourselves and shared stories about how we came to Ananda. Her name was Niva. She was a single mother and had a little girl of seven who was asleep in her cabin a few yards away. She was having some personal problems and couldn't sleep that evening either. When I told her I wasn't feeling well, she offered to place her hands on my stomach and channel energy to me. I accepted graciously and felt the soothing warm heat emanating from her hands enter my body. After a while I started feeling better. I then had her lay down, so I could channel energy to her. It was so peaceful--two women healing each other in sacred space.

That evening Swami Kriyananda came to the retreat. We were close to completing our program, so Kriyananda wanted to meet with us and join us in meditation. Kriyananda exudes power and gentleness at the same time. He has a very kind face and a relaxed manner about him. He is an author of many inspirational spiritual books and writes beautiful and poignant chants. He is also gifted with an unusual and harmonious singing voice. I was exhausted from being up all night, and I didn't know how I was going to meditate, because I felt like a zombie. But I remembered something in class that Anandi had said, "If you want to develop a certain talent for something hang around that person or even a picture will be sufficient, so you can attune yourself to that energy."

I decided to try that with Swami. I went into meditation and attuned myself with him. I could hardly believe how great I felt afterwards; it was as if I had slept for eight hours. I later saw Swami and was so high from this experience, coupled with my nervousness of being around people, I could hardly talk. I could sense that he thought I was a little off and this embarrassed me. I was embarrassed a lot of the time at Ananda, because of my nervous tics and jerks. This was a battle I had to fight and try to ignore day in and day out.

On Sundays we would leave the retreat and go to the morning service at Ananda's community church in the village. There were always large gatherings of people. I could sense that people were looking at me and wondering what was wrong with me, because my head was shaking and jerking out of control. There were those who asked in concern. Words can not describe the emotional and physical pain I was in. But the yearning for God was stronger, which gave me the strength to endure it.

My stay at Ananda was truly an enriching experience--living and breathing God. But at the same time, something was missing and I couldn't quite pin point it. I would not come to an insight of what it was until some time later.

During my stay at Ananda, I would take daily walks in the wooded hills that surrounded the retreat. The air was saturated in peace. All I could hear was the singing of sparrows and sometimes the chirping of a squirrel…and always in the background wonderful pristine silence. I always felt more at home, alone in nature, than I would with my peers at the retreat. I had been hiking to the same place for over a month now and made friends with three deer--two bucks and one doe by offering them pretzel nuggets with sesame seeds. They adored them. The deer radiated such exquisite grace that I was always in a state of awe in their presence and appreciated their friendship. It would take me some time to realize that nature is really where my sacred temple is--where I feel closest to God.

One afternoon, Anandi and her husband Bharat, who was also a minister, lead a poignant ritual called the Festival of Light, which entailed singing special songs just for this occasion and parading to the altar for a blessing from the ministers. I was overly phobic that day and was just too overwhelmed with the pain of being in a group, so I left.

I was very distraught about this, so I escaped to the hills. In a flash of time, I seemed to have stepped into another dimension. Everything around me came alive in brilliance  like a thousand fireflies lighting up a dark sky. The life force in everything intensified  in the rocks, even the tiniest pebble, the evergreens, the ferns, the clouds, the sky--all of nature. Tears were streaming down my face, because the elements were calling me, but I didn't know how to receive them. I didn't know how to break through the invisible wall that I somehow placed between us. I sensed they were one, but I could not perceive at that time that I was just as much a part of them as the unity I witnessed in them. I felt such loss and extreme pain as I experienced this profound phenomenon. Worshiping God outside of nature, as the element of air somewhere out in space, had disconnected me from nature in the fullest sense, and much later I would discover, from myself.

I went back to the retreat and decided to call Mike, the second mechanic that was now working on my car. It was going on two months and neither mechanic could figure out what was wrong with it. We were baffled. I dialed and after about seven rings Mike answered. "Mike, this is Laura. Any luck yet?"

He answered, "You're not going to believe this. Your car ran out of gas."

"What!" I said.

"The gas gauge shows 1/4 full, but it was stuck. There is actually no gas in your car."

I had to laugh and thought to myself, “This is certainly going to be the most expensive gas I'll ever buy.” I said, "I'll have someone drop me off tomorrow to pick up the car."

"That's fine," Mike said and hung up.

I was still feeling upset about the experience I had in the hills, so I went to the temple to meditate. During meditation, I realized I was not to live at Ananda, but I was to prepare to travel to India. Even though I loved the idea of going to India, I was disturbed by this message, because I really thought God wanted me to live at Ananda. To make sure this wasn't my ego making this decision, I consulted with Anandi. I told her about my meditation and she immediately felt this was the right decision. It didn't surprise her. She felt community life was not the path for me to God realization.

I then realized that the car was a metaphor, that this part of my life was over, and that my journey was taking me down another road.

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