Service Is Joy

[Listen to Asha read this story]

(Told by Peter Van Houten, M.D.)

When I first came to Ananda, I thought the only thing a devotee needed to work on was the depth and quantity of his meditation. I was surprised at the emphasis placed on serving others. “Service is joy,” Swamiji often said. Frankly, I thought he said that to give those who couldn’t meditate something else to do.

I took a break between medical school and my internship to spend a year at Ananda Village. During that time, I worked hard on my meditation. A beginner in Kriya Yoga does 14 repetitions, twice a day. The recommended maximum is 108. I quickly worked up to the maximum.

Just before I left to start my internship, I spoke with Swamiji. I was shocked when he said, “During the next year, keep your practice to 36 Kriyas twice a day.”

The internship turned out to be far tougher than I expected. Two interns quit early and for the rest of the year we were short-staffed. I worked 80-100 hours per week. Toward the end, I was so sleep-deprived, whenever I sat down, or even stopped moving, I would immediately fall asleep.

When the year ended and I moved out of my apartment, I noticed a dark spot on the wall next to where I sat to meditate. I realized it was where my head rested when I sat to meditate but instead slumped over and fell asleep. In that whole year, I don’t think I meditated longer than 15 minutes at a time. It was humbling. Thank God Swamiji had encouraged me to diminish my Kriya practice before the year began.

During the internship, I was so stressed and exhausted, when I took care of patients, I did a lot of praying. “Dear God, please don’t let me hurt this person. You have to help me.” Often, then, the right treatment or diagnosis would come to me. At the end of my internship, even though I was hardly meditating, I felt closer to God than I ever had before.

When I returned to Ananda, I felt I needed to start over from scratch with my meditation. I was doing 14 Kriyas a day and not going very deep. So I was astonished when Swamiji said to me, “I think you should do 108 Kriyas twice a day, starting now.”

It took me a while to understand his advice. Gradually I began to see that success in meditation isn’t just a matter of calculating the hours. You also have to have the right attitude. Before the internship, I didn’t understand the importance of balancing meditation with service. It wouldn’t have worked just to tell me. Swamiji had to guide me to learn the lesson through my own experience.

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