Every time I drove by the Ananda church, I felt drawn. There was a sign by the door that said something about a church of self-realization. How could anyone drive by and not stop? How could anyone not want self-realization? Whatever it is that some people have that keeps them from constant curiosity for life and for meaning I do not have.
I am a sucker for any opportunity to know and understand life on a deeper level. Not only the knowing that scientific information provides. Not only the understanding of material processes and sub-processes of biological functioning. Fascinating as that is, it does nothing to bring one towards an understanding of why we are here and who we are. How do we derive meaning, how do make sense of life, where and who the heck are we?
I think the influence of Eastern religion combined with my life long search for identity had left me with a sense that there was something I needed to know, or some psychic shift that needed to happen to bring me at last to a place where I felt like I belonged in my body, and my body belonged in this world.
So, one day I stopped and went inside the Ananda church. This was mind you, pre-internet, before the days of Wiki, in which you could get some sort of explanation for who a particular groups was so you could, from a distance, decide the future of your relationship to said group. But, back then, the only option I had was to walk through the door, and find out for myself what Ananda and their idea of self-realization was all about.
Ananda is the Sanskrit word for joy. The first thing I learned about Ananda was that they offered classes on meditation and yoga. Their style of meditation is serious and intense. No ten minute quickie here. I was drawn to it though. I learned to breathe deeply for the first time in my life. Full on breathing, from deep in the diaphragm. With some practice I increased the length of meditation time from 15 minutes to hour, then to several hours. At first I felt an inner calm that I had never felt before. After some time I began to feel revitalized, energized in a way that I hadn’t felt in years. Four months prior I had quit smoking and drinking any alcohol, changed my diet to vegetarian and quit caffeine.
It may well be that all of these changes contributed to the abrupt emotional states that I started to experience. Before there was enough time to halt the process I was emotionally free falling into a deep well of intense feeling. I started to experience a range of emotions that I had not felt since childhood, if then. It was as if the psychic flood gates were opened and there was no way to keep my emotions at bay. I wept deeply, uncontrollably every day for about a year.
No amount of control on my part could stop the whirlwind that I lived day to day. So, I dived in, and tried to go with the flow. What did this strange new place want from me? Self realization? What is that anyway?
So, I began to ask the Ananda people what it was that they were aiming for, what is self-realization? More importantly, how will I know when I have it, or am it? Hmm, curiouser and curiouser. If you’re not there now, how will you recognize some state of being that you don’t have? Maybe I am self realized now! Nah, self-realization sounds so grand, and grand I was not, I was a psychic mess!
Well, what was happening to me needed to happen. It’s probably true that not everyone who practices this form of meditation will experience the intensity of emotion that I did.
But, just in case, I wouldn’t recommend deep and frequent meditation to anyone who wasn’t willing to commit to going through a long tough emotional ride, but I have no regrets, and still to this day, I know how to breathe.