BY SWAMI CHETANANANDA
I started practicing meditation in Manhattan, on 10th Street between 3rd Avenue and 4th Avenue. This was In 1971, when Lower Manhattan was a war zone. It was crazy. You could get mugged taking out the garbage. In fact, one of the guys who lived there did get mugged taking out the garbage. Unfortunately for the mugger, he was a retired goalie for the LA Kings. It just didn’t work out well for him. He ended up wearing the garbage can home, his head punched through the bottom of it. That was the kind of place it was. There were fire engines all day and all night, and very rowdy noise in the street.
Rudi always told us this is wonderful, because it really gives you an opportunity to practice meditation. It gives you the opportunity to practice staying focused no matter what. So we did, and that was our life in those days. I bring that up because this week, with Justice Kennedy resigning, and the circumstances of his resignation, it seems to me that not only is the America we knew over, the America we hoped for is completely wasted, and the America that is coming is really impossible for me to comprehend. Things are changing very fast and very intensely. The world is changing. Personally, our lives are changing. All of this change usually makes us totally insane—that’s what it’s done to the rest of the world.
All of this craziness gives us the opportunity to practice. It makes more urgent for us the opportunity that we have to find our heart, and to find our soul, if you want to use that word, which is our energetic core. We have to hold our connection to that Unimaginable Possibility in the face of every kind of crazy, upsetting and frightening stuff. Then we can release the things about this life that we’re so attached to. We can release our ideas about what our wants and needs and desires and goals are, and allow a much deeper alignment to happen between our soul and our heart and our mind that will express our life in unimaginable ways.
A few years ago I was in India, visiting a particular place that I go there that I am connected to, and the reason I go there is to do some special practice, sitting every night in the same temple all night. On this trip I had a room at some distance from the temple, and I was sitting on this little veranda, in guest house. I was looking out and doing my practice, and it dawned on me, so clearly, that everything is actually one thing and that thing is aliveness, living-ness. I could say it was the Goddess; the Goddess is living-ness, aliveness. Everything is aliveness, and everything is completely interconnected.
In our understanding, surrender means dissolving the barriers between our heart and mind and soul and that aliveness which is the essence of this entire world. That is our practice: to dissolve those barriers that we put up, those tensions that we sustain and to discover the aliveness. In that aliveness, we will also find our own continual reinvention. Rudi, my teacher, would use the word “rebirth.” Through our practice, we become more simple, more loving and more light. It may not change the world, but it will certainly change the lives of all the people that we care about, and that’s enough. That’s amazing.
So as we go through all this craziness—and, trust me, it’s barely started—let ’s remember that the forces that are underneath all of this destruction can become extremely positive for those people who can connect to and flow in that energy. It’s our fears and our desires and our opinions and our judgments that block us from that experience of alignment that can lift us, within ourselves and within our circumstance, to an ever more refined experience. So let’s practice letting it go, whatever it is, whatever it was.
My experience is that there’s only one life on the planet. We are all each expressions of that life. We don’t have separate and singular lives. Like the leaves on a tree, we are expressions of the tree of life, manifesting on this planet. So, when people ask me, “Where do we go when we die?” I say we don’t go anywhere, because there’s no place to go. Our life mingles again with the life of the whole and becomes renewed before it is re-expressed again.
In the meditation hall at the Movement Center there are various statues and images. All of these statues and paintings are my life story. Each thing has a powerful meaning and a powerful place in my life. All of those images, as well as all the art that was ever created in all the different traditions of Asia, really speaks to one thing. It speaks to the one life, and it’s trying to shout out to us that whatever was that was profound and deep and rich and extraordinarily beautiful, and wise and powerful, from the ancient saints and all the ancient teachings…whatever it was, it still is. These objects are here to remind us that, if we find our hearts and find our soul, we’ll stop fretting and crunching our brains and find the depth within ourselves. It’s not easy, it takes work, and we’ve conditioned ourselves to something so completely opposite that. But if we find it, then all of the abundance that is represented in the art is available still in the atmosphere and will flow into us and flow into our lives. It will flow into the people whom we share our lives with and extraordinary things are possible. So, going forward, getting tangled up in all this insanity is completely useless and there’s no need to worry about dying, because we’re all going to do it. What we need to worry about is living joyfully, celebrating life in the ways that we can, the ways appropriate to our circumstance as we move through our day.
One of the really nice things about going down into our kitchen here in the ashram is that I go down in the kitchen and see our lives being celebrated every day. It’s fantastic! Celebrate your lives. This insanity that we are being exposed to, which could go on for another 15 years before it settles down, gives us a wonderful opportunity to practice. It will make us very much stronger.