Ananda Family News

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Spirit and Nature Hike

Guest post by Amy M. Photos here.

Imagine a perfect day walking through sunny, green hillsides bursting with wildflowers...
Imagine stopping at a beautiful stream, fresh from the previous day’s rainstorms...
Now imagine doing that perfect walk with seventeen of your gurubais...

Add in singing “O God Beautiful” at the stream, playing nature games along the hillside walk, and you have a small taste of the imaginative and soul-full offerings that Saiganesh and Vinny provided for us on Saturday’s nature hike in the Sunol Wilderness Area. We left our cellular reception behind and entered into the realm of Divine Mother, in her springtime finest. Poppies, lupine and other wildflowers abounded. The area named “Little Yosemite” lived up to its name, with huge boulders to climb and scamper on while the river rushed around them, especially swollen by the previous week’s rain. The nature games—including some of Bharat’s and new ones inspired by John Muir—helped us to connect to a lineage of reverence for nature, for humankind’s integral placement within nature, and for how nature always gives us more than we expect. We stopped for snacks, for meditation, for game-playing, for expansive views, to let other hikers pass, and just to marvel in the play and beauty of God’s wondrous creation… beyond all imagination of expectancy!

More hikes coming up on May 31st and August 9th!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Flowering Prayers

Last Friday we honored the anniversary of Paramhansa Yogananda’s mahasamadhi, a great yogi’s final, conscious exit from his body. Along with music, the evening featured several readings from Yogananda’s writings including, of course, his maha-poem, “Samadhi.” One new element was that everyone present received a card on which was written one of Master’s “prayer demands,” from his book Whispers from Eternity. We then got to write our own prayers on the back, and offer them at the altar.

Perhaps you wondered what became of those cards after the ceremony? Amy M. and a small team of volunteers took them, along with the rose petals from the ceremony, to the corner of El Camino and College, and buried them at the foot of the Ananda church sign there. They then did some repairs on the rock wall, and planted new flowers above the prayers. Now every time we walk by, we can imagine our prayers blessing the sangha and the community, and see Master smiling back at us through the flowers.

Our joyful gardeners and the newly-blessed prayer flowers.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

New Saturday Service for Families

On February 1st we held a very special, family-friendly, Saturday “Sunday” Service. More than just a Sunday School, it really was like a miniature “grownups” service: suitable for all the children of various ages, and still enjoyable for even the non-parenting adults who showed up to be part of the fun. We had a number of families there, including about 12-14 kids (it’s hard to tell; they move around a lot), and there was a very good balance of energy. The children were all free to get up and be interactive, and they certainly did, but it never lost focus or got out of hand. No small accomplishment!

The hour-long service included sing-alongs with hand motions (to “Oh God Beautiful” and “All the World Is My Friend”), spiritual story-time, drawing/writing/coloring offerings to put on the altar, and even a remarkably safe fire ceremony (with a thorough explanation of how sacred fires are different than anything you might have at home). Everyone stayed enthusiastic and engaged right through the blessings at the end, and on to the snacks out by the playground afterwards. (You can find a few more photos here.)

And guess what? We’re going to make this a regular thing! First Saturday of every month, so if you have a family, know a family, or just generally approve of the concept of families, come join us for the next one at 10am on March 1st. We’d love to get more parents (and eventually even older children) involved in putting these on, too. If you’re interested, get in touch with Julie or the sangha staff.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Day at the Farm with Jyotish and Devi

We were blessed this weekend to have Nayaswamis Jyotish and Devi, spiritual directors of Ananda Worldwide, visiting us in Palo Alto. In addition to enjoying Sunday Service with them, we took them on Saturday for their first visit to Ananda Valley Farm.

Lahari and her team masterfully transformed a seemingly ordinary greenhouse into an uplifted, uplifting temple, sattwic and calming, with beautiful plants everywhere, and no matter where the eye went there was an altar waiting to raise your consciousness. Divine Mother played Her part as well by providing us with an exquisite day — sunny skies, perfect temperature, little wind.

Jyotish and Devi were very moved by the beauty and peaceful vibration of the farm, and both gave talks that focused on the land. Devi remarked that “if I had two bodies, one of them would be right here.”

She went on to share that nearly every senior Ananda member had worked in the garden, under the tutelage of Haanel Cassidy. She was new to Ananda when she began working in the garden, and after years of college and mental busy-ness, it was the garden that brought her experiences of deep mental calmness and peace. Though she sometimes found at night, when meditating, that instead of seeing the spiritual eye, she saw endless rows of baby carrots (well-weeded, of course)!

Jyotish also spoke about how it is necessary to spiritual life to gradually slow our vibration, in order to experience the Divine (which is free of vibration, in its pure form). Living in the Silicon Valley is a little like living in your office — not something we want to be continuously immersed in! The farm offers a nearby respite from the faster vibration of urban life, where we can come to replenish and renew ourselves, and draw closer to Spirit.

Both of them encouraged us to keep our consciousness focused on the Divine as we moved about the property, now and always. It seems none of us could ever be on that land in the same way after their talks. We were all feeling blessed from the outset with this land but they added an element of grace and power to it all.

We then blessed the farm with the installation of a murti (similar to the one recently arrived at the temple). The sculpture of Paramhansa Yogananda was carried around the pond in a procession, accompanied by chanting, and touching all of the corners of the pond in a ceremony such as one might see in India. Once he was in his final place, rose petals and blessings were offered by all.

Then, back into the greenhouse for a beautifully laid out and really scrumptious farm lunch — a gourmet sandwich bar. The grand finale of the day was a reception line with Jyotish and Devi, so that everyone had the opportunity to meet them, share a few moments with them, and receive their blessing.

You can see many lovely photos here, and there’s also a short video that includes a slideshow and some footage of the procession.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Happy New Year

New Year’s Eve at the temple began with a long meditation and a Pilgrim Vow initiation — always an auspicious way to herald a new beginning. Then during the service itself we held an extended purification ceremony in which we each got to offer ourselves and our aspirations for the new year up to God and Guru. It was a very personal and inward celebration, and all the more so for its contrast with most of the other celebrations going on around the planet at that time! You can see a few photos here.

On the day after New Year’s, East West Bookshop closed for its annual Inventory Day, inviting numerous friends and volunteers over for a joyful work party. In addition to getting an accurate tally of the merchandise, we also took the opportunity to clean, organize, or throw away anything the could possibly be cleaned, organized or thrown away. Doesn’t it look like fun? The store positively glows now with the fresh infusion of energy.

Sunday January 5th was the 121st anniversary of Paramhansa Yogananda’s birthday, but we went ahead and began the festivities on Saturday night. The best birthday present to give to our guru? Ourselves, naturally. And so everyone who has taken any step along Ananda’s particular ray of the spiritual path had the opportunity to reaffirm their vows and support others in their reaffirmations. (A few first-time initiates slipped in to the Sadhaka and Sevaka vows as well.)

Then at Sunday service the next day we celebrated a birthday gift, as it were, from Master back to us. We’ve just acquired a beautiful statue of Yogananda, done by an Italian sculptor named Sandro da Verscio, with personal guidance from Swami Kriyananda. Master has a completely blissful smile on his face as he meditates, and his presence shines through the statue so clearly that it’s a breathtaking joy to behold. At the end of service, the entire congregation came up to the altar to shower it with rose petals before it made a procession down the aisle to its more permanent home in the foyer. Isn’t it lovely?

Many blessings to all in 2014 — and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Post-Christmas Roundup

The final lap of our annual Christmas marathon began with our all-day meditation on Saturday the 21st. Some additions to the altar this year were some items of Swamiji’s — a shirt and a pair of slippers that he wore in the last days of his life. These were in the right-hand niche, where they will later have a more permanent installation, and they were the source of much inspiration and devotion for everyone gathered there. More photos of the day are here.

Our caroling expedition around the neighborhood the following evening was a delight, as usual. This year we even absorbed a few neighbors into the group as we made our way around the Monroe loop. These included three small children with plastic trumpets, who provided an enthusiastic fanfare for the end of each carol.

Our Christmas Eve service came next in the ever-alternating Christmas dance of inward and outward energies. This beautifully devotional evening comes across well in the photos, but to fully appreciate them requires a vivid imagining of the exquisite music by a small ensemble and several soloists.

And then finally, Christmas Day. The family service was a glorious pageant full of angels, shepherds and kings of all sizes, and we got it filmed this year, so you can watch the entire thing here. And if you enjoy the photos, you can even peek backstage for the costuming and some outtakes.

The Christmas banquet had more tables full of people than we had days of Christmas, so we had to double up on the seven swans a-swimming and a few others just to get through the song. The entertainment also included a brand-new play, written by Marilyn and involving 12 actors, a director, a pianist, a sound technician, and the baby Jesus. It was quite a production! (Cliff's notes version: Santa and baby Jesus do indeed manage to share some Christmas cheer with a number of folks who very much needed it. Two thumbs up!) And, as a final number inspiring us all to help clean up, the three wise men were paid a return visit by a king of a different sort. (Okay, so we didn’t look remotely like Elvis, but we did our best.)

Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pre-Christmas Roundup

Ah, December... that magical month when there’s just too much fun to keep up with. In case you’ve managed to miss any of the recent goings-on, we’ll catch you up here before we get started again this weekend.

A couple of Sundays ago we enjoyed a post-service lunch of our traditional veggie chili and cornbread, and then a post-lunch choir concert. In addition to many of our Ananda Christmas standards, we also had a rousing medieval Alle Psallite (in Latin and German both), and an Ave Maria (in Russian) by Rachmaninoff. There are a few photos here, lots of mp3 recordings here, and we even managed to get a fun video of the men’s ensemble singing Riu Riu Chiu.

Last week we enjoyed the Bay Area theater premiere of our Finding Happiness movie. We rented the Aquarius Theater in Palo Alto for a Wednesday night and a Saturday morning showing, and had about 400 people total come see it. (Photos here.) Some of the crowd was “us,” of course, but there were also many new people, as well as many friends and family who didn’t really know much about Ananda. And many positive reactions from people as they left the theatre, from smiles to tears (the good kind). Tons of people bought DVDs for Christmas gifts, and one new person walked out and registered for 3 classes, including the 12-week Raja Yoga class. A very successful debut all around!

And finally (for the moment) we had our Members’ Christmas Parties over the weekend. Two potluck evenings at Chela Bhavan enjoying the three S’s of the spiritual path: sweets, savories, and songs. (Did I get that right?) Photos are here.

All caught up? Ready for the next week? See you soon at the all-day meditation, the caroling party, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day!

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