Touched on the Heart

[Listen to Asha read this story]

(Told by Carolyn Denslow Riffle)

It was always hard for me to be on this planet. Awareness of my own imperfections, and how those imperfections hurt others, caused me to suffer intensely. I had been diagnosed as clinically depressed. It was a cyclical thing and sometimes I had to take prescription drugs for it. Because of the depression, I’ve had some pretty serious problems in my life.

I always felt I wasn’t okay, that somehow I needed to justify my existence. Before I came to Ananda for the first time, I worked for a nonprofit organization, where I thought I could really do some good in the world. The job became my purpose for being on Earth. But then one of my depressions hit. It affected the way I worked and I got laid off.

Eventually I got over the depression and off the drugs they'd given me to cure it, but I felt like I’d lost everything. I was into yoga, and had been meditating on and off for years, so I decided to take the Yoga Teacher Training Course at Ananda Village. I didn’t know much about it, but a friend had taken the course and said it was great. So I registered and sent in my money.

After that, I stumbled onto a website that described Swami Kriyananda as a terrible person. I was shocked and scared. My yoga teacher had also recommended the course, so I asked her, “What about all these stories?”

She had never met Swamiji, and didn’t know any more about him than I did, but she offered this reassurance: “Don’t worry, he lives in Italy now.”

* * *

Soon after I arrived at Ananda, I bought Yogananda’s book, Scientific Healing Affirmations, with his picture on the cover. I put it on my nightstand where I saw it every morning and evening. I was intrigued, and wanted a better picture of him. So one afternoon, about two weeks into the program, I decided to walk over to the boutique at Crystal Hermitage and get one.

I got lost, and eventually bumped into two people I’d never met before. Although I didn’t know it at the time, one of them was Swami Kriyananda, who had just returned from Italy. He directed me to the Hermitage and I got my picture.

On my way back, just outside the Hermitage gate, I ran into him again. By now I had figured out who he was. This time, he asked me a few questions. “Where are you from? Are you enjoying Ananda?” That sort of thing. He was very kind and very gentle. Not at all like the man described on the website.

Then he asked, “Have you ever meditated in the Crystal Hermitage chapel?”

I told him, "No, I haven’t."

“I think you should,” Swamiji replied.

I said something noncommittal and started to walk away from the Hermitage.

“I really think you should meditate now,” Swamiji said. His voice was light and there was twinkle in his eye, as if to say, “It is just a suggestion; you decide.”

So, to be polite, I turned around and went back to the chapel. There was no one else in there. I sat down to meditate. After about ten minutes, I suddenly felt a finger touching my heart, inside my body. It was palpable and I knew it was Yogananda.

At the same time, I was lifted into the light, and flooded with the knowledge that it is okay to be on this planet. It didn’t come to me in words, it was just the feeling that I don’t have to justify my existence, I don’t have to work for the organization that fired me, I don’t have to do anything. I can just be who I am and that is enough.

In that moment, a cloud lifted from my life and it has never come back. The cycle of heavy depression ended. It was gone.

* * *

Easter was a few days later, and Swamiji gave the service. He was so inspiring it threw me for a loop! I couldn’t reconcile all the stuff I had read on the internet with Swamiji as I was experiencing him.

One thing he said really impressed me. He referred to the enormous debt Ananda had accumulated defending itself against the SRF lawsuit, which was still threatening Ananda’s future.

“In the long run, though,” Swamiji said, “it is not all that important whether or not Ananda survives. What is important is how we handle ourselves through whatever tests God sends us.”

There was so much integrity in the way he said it. He was talking about his life’s work, and he was ready to let it go rather than give up dharma.

I thought to myself, “I can’t know what happened in the past. I have to go by my own experience. I trust this man standing in front of me and I am willing to accept him as my teacher.”

Soon after, I became a disciple of Yogananda, and eventually moved to Seattle and joined the Ananda community there. When Swamiji came to visit, I told him about the healing I had received from Master in the chapel.

“If you hadn’t suggested it,” I said, “I would never have gone into the chapel to meditate. I was already walking away when I saw you.”

“I remember,” Swamiji replied. “I didn’t know what it was, but I felt something in you.”

I shudder to think what my life would be like now if I hadn’t listened to him.

“Thank you, Swamiji,” I said to him. “You were a perfect instrument of Master. It was pure grace.”

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