This journey displayed the universality of all paths to God but also my love for the path laid out by my Guru Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple Swami Kriyananda. I was being sent to Los Angeles to help at the Conscious Life Expo Feb 11-13, 2011. It also felt like a good time after being gone for two years to return to Santa Barbara to thank the spiritual teachers I had studied with during the four years I lived there.
Right away upon arriving in Los Angeles, or what some people call Lala Land, I went straight to the Conscious Life Expo. With the Ananda LA staff, I entered through the beautiful hotel lobby being greeted by the sound of a wonderful violinist and an Egyptian queen and king on stilts. The beauty of this welcome was a little hidden behind the many people chit chatting, the extra chairs strewn around, and the flyers completely covering the pretty marble counter tops.
We made our way past even more flyers and people to our booth with a huge photo of Paramhansa Yogananda. Many people came by just to look at his photo. One woman came by, bowed her head to us and, while pointing at Yogananda's photo, said, "This is the real deal, unlike anything else here."
I got a brief opportunity to walk through a few booths before Swami Kriyananda was giving a talk. One woman had me sit on a charcoal pad saying it would take care of all my physical and emotional troubles. Then another lady put audio headphones on my head to share a visualization created to erase the karma of the past five days. There were the magnetic bracelets that could balance you out or a necklace made from lava rock. You could get a photo of your aura taken and wear the photo pinned on your shirt all day. Or you could have someone draw your soul. Of course there were essential oils, crystals, and many other healing devices. I remembered trying many of these inventions in the past only to find temporary superficial changes.
While walking over to the room where Swami was speaking, I passed many signs leading to a guy who gazes at you and takes all of your problems away. Finally I found Swamiji. It felt so comforting to see his face. His gaze made me forget about all of my problems. The first thing he said was, "I am not here to give you a quick fix." And then I was lost in the deep joy of watching him share spiritual teachings with the audience.
While in LA I visited the former Bodhi Tree book store which sold products of all spiritual paths. On the same token the gift shop at Michael Beckwith's church, Agape, also sells everyone's teachings. I walked down the hall at the church and found the main sanctuary. Everything, the chairs, the carpet, the walls, were that plum agape color. On the walls surrounding the whole room were large ethereal paintings representing many different religions. The hall was huge with maybe a thousand chairs. The janitor stopped his work to find out how long I have been going to the temple. It took a while to get him to understand that I go to a different type of temple 8 hours away. His voice echoed in the empty hall while he asked with big eyes if thousands of people attend those services like they do here. I smiled inwardly and responded "Yes, worldwide there are thousands." His main source of inspiration appeared to be the numbers of attendees. My draw to Ananda has been based on the inward feeling in the heart.
In Santa Barbara the first stop was a class with the Buddhist teacher who first taught me meditation. Everything he taught that day matched the same principles I have learned at Ananda. As he spoke I could look around him at the photo of his guru and felt his guru smiling at me. After the class I got a chance to speak to the teacher. As soon as he found out I am living at Ananda Village he pulled me aside to express what a joy it is to fully live your life for God regardless of your path.
There is also a Swami living in Santa Barbara whom I studied with while living there. I got to stay with him in India as well. At the time I knew nothing about how to act around a Swami. I finally got up the courage to ask a question and he replied, "I have a lot to teach you." Those were the last words we spoke.
He was leading a full moon meditation about an hour from where my previous meeting was. I had to rush the drive over there to make it on time. The Swami had not arrived yet when I got there. I quickly found the bathroom down the hall away from all the people. There was a knock on the door just as I was finishing. I opened the door and there was the Swami. In a half whisper he said the nickname I used to go by, "Tali" as if I was a long lost dream reappearing in front of him. I pranamed him and then moved out of the way so he could use the bathroom as he had a long drive as well.
I found a seat on a floor cushion near the front. Once again the teachings he spoke seemed to agree with Ananda's teachings. And the photo of his guru sitting next to him was smiling at me just like the Buddhist one did. A simple, calm, happy smile.
After about three hours of talking, meditating, and answering questions he said he would bless those who were still there. He would eye each individual to have them come up. He looked at me and said "Tali." Once I knelt in front of him he took a moment to meditate. He looked as if he was channeling a message with his divine powers. Right before giving me the blessing he asked, "Your official name is Avital now?" He pronounced my name correctly which many people do not do even after hearing my name a few times. I had this underlying feeling that was his way of acknowledging and accepting the path I am on. Many students of Swami Kriyananda put their trust in him to choose their spiritual name. When I asked Swami Kriyananda, he suggested I go by my full name Avital instead of my nickname Tali. That felt like getting the blessing of a spiritual name from my spiritual path.
During his talk he had let everyone know he was doing an introduction in a couple days to Kriya Yoga, one of the most powerful meditation techniques. Then he added he is the only person to give Kriya in the U.S. the way the Guru Lahiri Mahasaya taught it.
I lingered to the very end to soak up as much time in the presence of this great man as possible. After everyone was gone he approached me and asked me "What?" Without realizing it beforehand I actually did have a question. All of a sudden I asked him about his statement that he is the only person giving Kriya in U.S. He replied he is the only person he knows of giving it like it was done in the Himalayas. I asked about what Yogananda taught at SRF. He said that was a watered down version of it. Then he walked away as if to give me a chance to think about what he said.
Always wanting the best, it would normally be in my nature to want to get the rest of the Kriya Yoga techniques from this master of yoga. However, that, in a way, would be a betrayal to my guru. When I took discipleship with my guru I put my trust in his wisdom and support being all that I need. Whether or not I had a watered down version of the technique, there is a power much greater than the technique itself. I always felt once I established a relationship with my guru and brought that sense of devotion into my meditation practice, much more transformation began to happen in myself and my life. (Since then I have discovered our techniques may appear to be watered down only because we spread out teaching the techniques over time rather than teaching it all at once.)
I went back to my car to leave. Whenever I start my car, my Ananda music automatically starts playing. And with that I felt at home again. And I was very ready to go home but I had one more stop on this journey planned and needed the rest it would provide.
There is another community started by someone who was at SRF with Swami Kriyananda. I was excited thinking I would feel at home there. The people there are very sweet. They spoke of their love for their community just as Ananda members do for Ananda. Yet it was more different from Ananda
than I expected. By this point I was really ready to put some ruby slippers on, click my heels together three times, and recite "there is no place like home."
The beauty of this journey was to see many other wonderful true paths that have a great impact on its participants. It was great to see how much appreciation there is for so many paths. And magnificent to see that one's path is chosen by what vibrates within their heart.