I was never much of a twenty-something. My overwhelming need for independence didn’t push me into the club scene, but instead down the aisle at the age of twenty. And it didn’t land me in the local bar, but instead at a lawyer’s office, buying my first home at the age of twenty-one. It didn’t drive me to partying, but instead to the town hall, lobbying for a permit to start my own home business at the age of twenty-two. The more “typical” behaviors of one’s twenties just never appealed to me. Looking back now, I think it’s because I had things to do, and places to be, and no time to waste in getting there. I didn’t understand where I was going, just that I was going somewhere. Fast.
So when I turned thirty, all I felt was relief because now–finally–my age fit my life. Sitting here today, I laugh, knowing I wouldn’t have been quite so eager to leap into my third decade had I known what was waiting for me. But since I was blissfully spared the foreknowledge of future events, I innocently (cheerfully) charged right in.
Laying the Groundwork
My relief was short-lived, however, since I wasn’t even given a full thirtieth year before things started to (rapidly) fall apart on me. Again, in retrospect, these seemingly grave misfortunes were busy laying the groundwork to finally bring my life together, but I couldn’t know that at the time. A routine wisdom tooth extraction led me steadily (and blindly) into the void of panic, and a decade of pain stretched out before me.
It didn’t take me long to realize that my solutions weren’t going to be easy ones, and not finding any answers outside of myself, I took to searching within. In the middle of such deep and dark despair, meditation was my only relief. It was during one of those desperate, panic-induced meditations that I felt my first glimmer of hope. My only glimmer of hope. On a good day, meditations offered me a moment’s peace, but on a very good day they offered me a brief but overwhelming surge of soul-bursting joy. It would flood my whole body, dissipating all fear. And there was no question in my mind; I had just come face to face with God.
I had two goals during those endless years. The first was simply to survive, and to somehow heal my broken nervous system. But the second was what truly kept me going: I resolutely determined that I would find the source of those sporadic and random surges of joy. It seemed wholly unrealistic (and impossible), but somehow, someday, I would find God.
So Could I
My search was severely limited and my options few, since on many days I couldn’t even make myself leave the house. But there were books–books were always an option–and so I read. A lot. Just one book after another, searching out a teacher that recognized this place of overwhelming joy and could tell me how to get there. My reasoning was that if others had found that secret doorway, then so could I.
I tried everything that seemed like a possibility, and even some that didn’t. Sometimes I would find clues that God had left, like the Law of Attraction and the discovery of an ego. Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth was a critical turning point for me–a real wake-up call. But with the turning of the very last page, I realized he still didn’t have the answers I sought, but was only here to point me in the right direction. And kindly force a flashlight into my desperate hand.
Now I Knew
The first time I remember reading about a guru, and really understanding that they were an actual thing, was after I started digging into Ram Dass. When he introduced me to his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, I was struck with the realization that this is what I’d been searching for; what I needed was a guru. One of my very own. Initially, I was hoping it could somehow be the orange-eating Neem Karoli, mostly because it meant my search would be over. But alas, while I loved him, the connection that I intuitively knew should be there, wasn’t. He was a teacher for me, but not the revered guru. And so, my search continued–but at least now I knew what I was searching for.
The search wasn’t a quick one; it took countless pleas before I managed to convince God that I was completely serious. When the disciple is ready, the guru will come. And over a decade later, I was finally, finally ready. And the guru came.
It was during the summer of 2015 that God finally put the key into my hand: Autobiography of a Yogi. With no understanding of why, I was instantly drawn to him. Although, to be perfectly honest, at the time I wasn’t even sure that he was a he. And the name Paramahansa Yogananda did nothing to clear up the mystery. All I knew was that I was mesmerized by his photo. I remember walking through the kitchen, holding up the book, with an Isn’t he the most beautiful human you’ve ever seen? The girls laughed at me; just Mom on another one of her spiritual binges. But, inexplicably, he glowed. Couldn’t they see that? (Later they did.) His wordy ways thrilled the wordiness in me, and I read his book with eyes-closed, fingers-crossed hope.
Finally, here was someone who knew of that place. But with that exhilarating realization, there also came another. Repeatedly throughout the book, Yogananda teased me with the promise that God could be mine…but only with the help of a true and enlightened guru. Which, quite frankly, made me furious, because I didn’t have a guru. Why would God create a door directly to Her, but then make it impossible for people to open? How was I, in the quiet corner of Connecticut, going to find a (insert multiple expletives) guru?
And even though I wanted one–had been wanting one–the whole concept felt completely unattainable. Travel plans to India definitely weren’t in my future, and eventually I put the book down in pure frustration. And anger. I was pretty ticked off to be led this close, only to be disappointed once again. So I shoved the book back into my bookcase, unfinished, and continued my search.
I can laugh about it now, but at the time, there was nothing funny about it. It’s only in retrospect that I can see there was more work to be done before I was ready for what a guru would ask of me. First came the physical prep, and in the autumn of that same year I got sick. Really sick. It lingered for many months, and later Jordan told me she was convinced it was the end of my road. In hindsight, I figure it was the burning off of massive amounts of karma in preparation for the choice I was to soon make.
My physical cleansing merged right into my emotional cleansing. I had finally hauled myself out of panic just a year or two before, only to fall down another rabbit hole. This one was pretty miserable, too–the “small” matter of losing my faith in humanity. I looked around me at a world overflowing with greed, avarice, and selfishness, and I couldn’t imagine having to spend the rest of my days living in a place so dark. Every breath I took only served to remind me that somewhere, animals were being cruelly tortured and murdered. That children were suffering without cause or reason. That humans were being oppressed. That our planet was being ignorantly destroyed. Every second was someone’s worst suffering. I was living in a world where money talked; a world of me, me, me. And I couldn’t see a way out of my own tortured mind.
I felt pretty beaten down, on all fronts, and I was infecting the family with my hopelessness. So, just before the start of the new year, I made a decision. I would take a year-long sabbatical; 365 days of near solitude. I would see no one beyond the girls and Scott. I would fulfill no societal obligations and I didn’t care a whit about meeting expectations. One year to seek (and hopefully find) answers. Not everyone liked my plan, but I couldn’t care about that. I had the support of Scott and the girls; this was a matter of survival. And sanity. I knew I was drowning, and I also knew enough to try and save myself.
Just days before my sabbatical began, I accidentally found myself with another Yogananda book in my hands–The Yoga of Jesus. I’m not sure I would have bought it had I realized that he was the author, but eventually my brain made the connection. And since I really enjoyed the Jesus book, I reasoned that maybe I should give Autobiography another try. And so, in the very early days of 2016, I did.
And this time I realized what I wasn’t ready to realize the first time around: God had finally sent my guru. And with that, my spiritual sabbatical–and perhaps one of the most pivotal years of my life–had truly begun.
But what did that even mean, accepting a guru? What exactly was he asking for? And what exactly did he have to offer? More things to try, only to discard several months down the line? 2016 was a year about getting serious, no more wasting time. Was he legit? Could I trust him?
There was only one way to know, so with eyes wide open…I took a giant leap of faith.
Guru ~ a self-realized master. One who knows (through experience) his oneness with God and is therefore qualified to lead others along the same path Home.
I dove in, unhesitatingly. Just teach me, I begged. And so he did, selflessly giving me all that he knows. He offered me the steps and the techniques, outlined in a several-year series of lessons, but it was up to me to do with them as I pleased. I could invest a little, and receive a little. Or I could invest more, and receive more. Or I could invest a lot…and receive God.
Nods of Approval
It turned out that accepting a guru was a pretty big deal; one doesn’t change gurus like one changes shoes. If you accept a guru? You accept a guru. And you remain steadfast until that Divine Goal is reached. But even realizing the seriousness of it all, I understood right away that he was mine. A connection was already there, and making that choice was easier than deciding what to have for dinner. Yogananda already was my guru, and likely had been for millennia, and my soul recognized him the second he reappeared in my world.
Besides my heart screaming that it was so, there were other indications that Yogananda was the perfect fit for me. So many of the things he was teaching me were habits that I’d already formed: daily meditations, diet, structure and routine, applying reason, being creative, introspection, movement. Thinking and more thinking. Certain other spiritual paths that I’d looked into meant discarding some of my favorite things about myself, but not Yogananda’s path. In fact, some of my strongest traits were ones that he praised. It was nice that I felt those initial nods of approval, because the firm reprimands weren’t far behind.
There were just as many, if not more, parts of myself that were absolutely not praiseworthy. That first year was a constant battle between an extremely loud ego (that thought it knew everything) and an extremely quiet soul (that actually did know everything, but was all too often ignored.) It was tough; the growing pains were real. Old habits were dumped, new habits were formed. Basically, I handed myself over to Yogananda with a (slightly fearful), Here–fix me. And, wasting no time, he did.
But as grateful as I was, accepting Yognandaji came with its initial struggles, because I hate being told what to do. Especially if it’s going to mean pain. Just leave me alone and I’ll figure it out on my own has kind of (always) been my belligerent motto. And here was someone telling me not only what to do, but how to do it. In the beginning, there were so many ego-crushing things I wanted to resist. (And actually did resist for as long as I could.) But Yogananda never, not once, asked me to blindly believe in him or in his teachings. He never once asked for my devotion without solid proof. (As if the love in my heart wasn’t proof enough.) He’d hand me something with a, Here, try this and then decide. And with that, he somehow made the choice all mine.
His teachings often mimic those of Jesus, as do the words of all enlightened masters. Love thy neighbor, love each other as I have loved you. Choose kindness. Give selflessly. See the God in everyone and everything. And so I started living his words, experimenting and testing. And the more love I gave? The more love I got. And the kinder I was? The kinder people were in return. The more I shared with others? Well, the more God shared with me (and the happier I felt). The more I lived his teachings, the more I liked myself. And the world started to sparkle even less, and God started to sparkle even more.
Shut Up Already
But it isn’t all sparkles, and it isn’t all joy. In some ways, this path is a really easy one for me; there’s nothing more natural (to my soul) than seeking God. And honestly, there’s nothing I want more. But in other ways, this path isn’t an easy one, because there’s nothing more unnatural than telling my ego to shut up already. I actually think that seeking God is the hardest job I’ve ever had, or will ever have. And that comes on the heels of raising children, which until recently I thought was hands-down the hardest job I’d ever have. The world is constantly there, falsely sparkling, working as hard to distract me from my goal as I’m working to reach it. It won’t succeed, though, because nothing I’ve ever found in this world can compare to those joy-surges. But some days the battle can be exhausting.
But mostly, when I think about my guru? I feel love. Just abundant, unceasing love. When I see his face? Love. When I hear his voice? Love. When I read his words? Love. It doesn’t matter if I’m good or bad, selfish or giving. There’s just this unending river of love that flows from him. I can feel his approval and I can feel his disapproval. I can hear his praise and I can hear his reprimands. In my scared moments and in my confident moments, I reach for Guru. In my happy moments and in my angry moments, I reach for Guru. And the more I trust him, the more I grow.
There’s so much more than I can fit in a post. Things like all of those questions I’ve been asking for a lifetime, finally answered as soon as I ask for clarity. The answers arrive in creative ways, but it always leaves me a little awed that all I had to do was ask. Or how he sends encouragement when I need it. How he gives me a rest when I’m completely worn down. Or points me in the right direction when I’m lost.
Passing the Course
In sum? A guru is the greatest of all teachers, with one and only one subject to teach–the art of finding God. If I follow his sadhana, his spiritual practices, then I’ll pass the course. If I hold steady through the disappointments and the dark nights and the discouragement and the hopelessness? Then I’ll pass the course. Without fail, I’ll. Pass. The. Course.
And while the the road to God is selfishly about me, it’s not at all about me. It isn’t so much what I want, but what do God and Guru want? I’m in a constant mode of would Guru approve? Every line I type passes through the censor of Yogananda’s teachings. And every time I act from my small and selfish self, I can feel it now. This contraction. This quiet turning of my back to God and what She wants from me. So is it hard, this path? Some days, yes. But is that truth, or just my ego complaining (again)? Because what’s hard about making choices that bring increasing happiness and peace and contentment? Yeah, Ego, that’s what I thought. Shut up already.
So I’m forging through life now with my own personal little army. Jesus is holding one hand, Guru has the other, and God is just smiling down on us all. It could be terrifying with all of those omniscient eyes watching me, because I screw up more than I like to admit. But somehow it’s not scary at all–instead it’s safety, and strength, and comfort.
And I know, without question, they’ll walk this walk with me, no matter how many steps it takes. No matter how many lifetimes I struggle through. And who can survive this world–this life–and all of its worries and woes, without an army of love standing guard? More importantly, who would want to?
Jai Guru. Jai Ma.
Have a happy, happy week friends. Much love and many blessings ~ Melinda
(For more in my spiritual series, please visit here)