Home » Spiritual Development

Learning to Love

by Nayaswami Seva
Summer 2012 20 Comments

From a young age, I wanted to know the purpose of life. What was it all about? Why was I born? I know that many people today ask the same questions, often after seeking answers in all the wrong ways, just as I did.

A long dry period
Before I found the spiritual path my life could be described as “a long dry period.” I never understood why people were so enthusiastic about growing up, going to college, marrying, raising children, and being successful when everything ended in death and forgetfulness. It made no sense to me. Only those few individuals who had an important history-making mission seemed never to die, but lived on in history.

Since I found myself living in a world I found incomprehensible, I tried to make the best of it. I went to a junior college, got a job, and then moved to California. With a college classmate and her sister, I drove cross country from the East Coast and finally ended up in San Francisco. It was 1957. I was 23 years old.

I loved the city of San Francisco and eventually obtained a stable, well-paid position as the accountant/bookkeeper for an architectural firm. I was still looking for true, lasting happiness. For a while, since there didn’t seem to be any alternative, I thought I would find happiness through outward experiences. But I eventually saw that I wasn’t finding any answers. Life still made no sense to me, and as far as I could tell, people were going no where.

Finally I find a lifeline
One night I became so discouraged that I swallowed far too many aspirins. In the midst of sickness and numbness, I called to God to help me. This was the first time in my life I had ever called to God. I was shocked to realize that I even believed there was such a Being. But God answered my prayer. Soon after, I went with a friend to a lecture in San Francisco given by Swami Kriyananda, who introduced me to Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings, which gave me answers that made sense. Finally, I had a lifeline.

At the time I didn’t understand that when we start on the spiritual path we don’t change overnight. We don’t suddenly become joyful, even-minded, and all-forgiving. We take all of our unresolved karma – emotions, conflicts, and blocks – with us. I now had spiritual teachings and a guru to guide me, for which I was grateful beyond words, but I had no idea how many major challenges lay ahead.

After meeting Swami Kriyananda in 1967, I visited the small Ananda community as often as possible, while continuing to live and work in San Francisco. In 1970, I quit my job and moved to the Ananda Meditation Retreat, where the Ananda community first started.

Later I became part of the monastery at Ananda Village, which grew in time to close to a 100 people. The main value of the monastery was in giving many of us the opportunity to deepen our attunement to the spiritual path before we were drawn into other aspects of life — marriage, child-raising, or very demanding jobs.

I was already in charge of Ananda’s finances when Swami Kriyananda asked that I also oversee the women’s monastery. Being in charge of the finances put me in touch with nearly every aspect of the community. I conferred regularly with Swami Kriyananda and, for a year or so, served informally as overall community manager.

Completely at loose ends
In the early 1980s my life changed completely. The monastery fell apart – nearly all the monks and nuns got married. Since I remained single, I no longer had much contact with the people I’d been close to in the monastery. Increasingly, householders or married couples began leading the community. Around this same time, two people with accounting training and experience that far exceeded mine moved to the community, and it was only natural that they would take over my job.

Without a real job, and struggling to understand what work I was supposed to do, I was completely at loose ends. My self-esteem took a nose-dive. Looking back, I can see that everything that happened was divinely orchestrated to give me the challenges I needed to grow spiritually. God had a plan for me, complete with many new, and different, experiences.

Since there was no longer any work for me at Ananda Village, I was asked to go to Italy to help with the Ananda retreat just getting underway near Lake Como in northern Italy. I was there for nine months. During the colder months there wasn’t much to do. When not working as a cook’s assistant, I knitted sweaters, scarves and gloves.

Upon returning from Italy, I was asked to become co-director of the new Ananda center in Portland, Oregon. My time in Portland was a mixed experience. My first year included teaching, working as a waitress in the Ananda restaurant, and looking for a location at which to start a church. We did find a good location and the Ananda Portland church soon got underway. After a year, however, there was a change in co-directors and, once again, I found myself having my role cut back. My role was now limited to teaching, which was never my strength; I did not do well as a teacher.

Confused about why my life had taken this new turn, and feeling somewhat depressed, I returned to Ananda Village after two years in Portland. Since no other work was available, I took a job as a medical assistant at the nearby clinic, founded by an Ananda Village resident and physician. I was also strongly encouraged to seek professional counseling. Going into counseling and working in a job I would never have chosen for myself were big tests for me. But Ananda was my whole life and I wanted to cooperate, so I decided to give both a try.

Pulling out of my slump
In counseling I realized that I had always wanted to serve — to serve people and God, and that it really didn’t matter whether my outward service was “important.” I realized that it had actually mattered to me that my service be “important.” I could now see that my deepest desire was to go beyond ego, not to get trapped in my emotions and wrong attitudes.

The other important realization was that unless I wanted to sink into bitterness and despair, I needed to love. I chose love over anger, frustration, and depression. Truly, it was the only choice possible. Since I felt no love in my heart, I prayed to my Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, and asked him to love people through me. I hoped thereby to learn how to love. Having these goals, which were clearly God’s gifts to me, began to pull me out of my slump.

I had experienced a big breakthrough in consciousness, but it wasn’t the end of the process. Many lessons followed, some of them very painful. Changing oneself is a long-term process, but with each step I was becoming happier, the journey was getting easier, and I found it easier to meet the tests with the right attitude.

Making the commitment to serve God and Guru through the work I was doing at the clinic — work that was not overtly spiritual — helped me understand that even a leaf, as it says in the Bhagavad Gita, is pleasing to God if offered with love and devotion. In  times of upliftment and joy, I realized how important it was to make the commitment to meditate and do Kriya Yoga every day. Kriya helps to burn up the karma that draws us away from God.

Looking at the world with love
Looking at the world with love, I began to see situations differently. People no longer hated me! (They never did, but I’d thought so). I could now see why people acted the way they did, and this understanding opened my heart even more. Asking Yogananda to love people through me eventually became such a joyful experience that I was able to love those who were negative, unbalanced, or using the spiritual path for selfish ends. Perhaps most difficult of all, I even began to see and love the Divine within me.

I learned not to let anything — no judgments or negativity on my part, and no one else’s negative attitudes toward me — pull me down. I now understood that people who disliked or misjudged me had their own karma to work out. Their thoughts and actions were not my concern.

As I understood relationships more deeply, I became more joyful in my interactions with people. Joy was creeping into my being, opening doors to expansive new experiences, and helping me understand the spiritual teachings more deeply. During those years I shed a lot of old karma. And I learned not to let anything interfere with my dedication to finding God in this lifetime.

Becoming a different person
I have come to see that to take up the spiritual path in earnest is to shed everything we think of as ourselves, all our desires and plans. When we give up our plans and surrender to God’s plan for us, we find true happiness. In that state of consciousness, hatreds and judgment can’t exist, human love doesn’t exist — only God’s love and what He wants of us. God’s plan for all of us is that we learn to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. As we do that, we become the person He intended us to be.

Nayaswami Seva, a founding member of Ananda, serves as a Lightbearer at Ananda Village. Since 1995, she had been an integral part of the staff of Crystal Clarity Publishers at Ananda Village.

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20 Comments »

  • Carol says:

    Great article! Beautifully written, and courageous — with much heart.

  • Durgadas says:

    Dearest Seva. Joy to you always.
    In Master, Durgadas

  • Tricia says:

    Dear Seva,

    I can see from the number of responses to your article that you definitely have struck a similar chord in so many of us. I really enjoyed your account of your spiritual life’s journey and I too take comfort from your trials and your victories. How beautiful! I am so happy for you in your spiritual progress, and although you may not know who I am, I will always remember your loving smile which you so freely give, whenever I visit Ananda Village.

    Jai, Guru!!

    Tricia

  • Brindey says:

    Dearest Sevaji, This is the first time I have ever known you to talk about yourself. Any time I have had the blessing of sharing with you, you have always been gracious and never did you bring it back to your “self”. Thank you for having the courage to keep standing back up! Thank you for your dedication to God, Guru and Swamiji!, for your friendship in God, for your honesty and for telling me that “everyday you too had to choose the right way to live” I was so amazed when you said that to me. Some how I was under the impression at the time that you just made the decision 40 years ago and that was that…..OM,. Shakespeare said somewhere in his writings….”Oh the gift He give us to see ourselves as others see us”
    Love,
    your little sister,
    Brindey

  • jivani says:

    Dear Sevaji,
    Your words aer just what I needed to hear. Thank-you dear soul

  • Surana says:

    Sevaji – thank you so much for sharing yourself – what an example you are and have been. You must know how the Divine shines through you – even during times of challenge. Now that you are again overseeing our little group of sister nuns at Ananda Village, I have the great privilege of observing and benefiting from your gentle and quiet yet forceful determination to live our teachings. Your steadfast example of our practices keeps me going through my own ups and downs. Your resulting attunement with our gurus and our Swamiji makes me want to share your space all the time. The love you have given me during my recent and life-changing health challenge is a gift from Divine Mother; she gives through your hands and heart. With a full heart and with deep devotion to the Christ in you, I thank you, my kind and loving friend. Aum

  • jackee says:

    Thank you for sharing of yourself as a real-life example of change. My faith is re-energized, and my willingness aglow.
    -Much shrubbery and greenery to you.

  • Susan Pisor (Gore) says:

    Dear Nayaswami Seva,

    Thank you for sharing your experience with learning to love. For many years I’ve caught myself asking ‘why I have to do something’ or thinking what I’m doing isn’t ‘important enough’. Your article is comforting and gives me something to refer to and be uplifted by next time my thoughts head in that direction!
    With Love,
    Susan P.

  • Laura Hermann says:

    Thank you, Seva, for sharing your personal journey. “When Thy song flows through me , then life is sweet”. You have been attuning yourself to the song of Divine Love which is impersonal, not conditioned by likes & dislikes. It is especially sweet & one we all need to learn.
    Namaste, Laura

  • sharon says:

    Dear Seva,
    Your message has inspired me so much. Today all I could give God was frailty..but I gave it with all my heart in tears, in my noon meditation..then I came back to work to read your article. Having just had interaction with you for the May weekend i attended at Ananda, I remember being met by your warm smile twice. Once when I thanked you for a kindness you had mailed me as an enlisted online member, and then again as Krishna showed me your offices. I feel so drawn to you, and so uplifted by your story. It was at the right time! Having had contact with Swami so recently..well, all I can say is he is a tough act to follow, and coming back home to Tennessee and my un-spiritual surroundings were more than I could come to grips with in some ways..it’s been a trial. But I also know that what I experienced was a monumental opportunity to embrace a truly divine purpose for my life, and now must do my very best to live up to the encouragement that was poured on me in the form of the sweetest attention during my visit. I have new fortitude now.. my lifeline!!forgive the long message..but thank you ever so much for the grace you have helped me to find.

  • latika says:

    Thank you for the beautiful and heartfelt article, Seva. As one who has often benefited from your love and wisdom, I am so grateful that you persevered through all the tests and trials of life to uncover the radiant soul that you are.

  • David says:

    Thank you, Seva, for these words form a lifetime of being on the path! You truly are an inspiration, a source of joy, of wisdom and nonattachment!

  • Blezy says:

    Dear Sevaji,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. They brought tears as well as joy. It is very touching. Lots of Love, Blezy

  • Shelly says:

    Thank you for opening your life and challenges publicly. There is a mistaken impression that spiritual evolution is quicker and less painful than it actually is. I have been amazed at this process, the time it has taken to see my own karma clearly. Little by little this stuff surfaces, often not gracefully. I have reacted badly at times, wallowed in the pain, came close to giving up more than once and each time, that little spark of Light and some very loving people have given me the courage to take another step forward. Coming out of the most profound state of darkness, I can say I see more clearly. I sense God more deeply. I am grateful for that darkness (although I do not want to revisit it in that much intensity if at all possible) and what it showed me. Surrendering is possible and even recommended along with Trust. Thank you again!

  • Lajjana says:

    Dear Seva,
    What a beautiful, inspiring article. The love that flows through you from God and Guru helps us all! Thank you for sharing.

  • Jerry Champagne says:

    Dear Seva,
    Thank you for this amazing story.I can see so much of myself in your words.Thank you again. In friendship, Jerry.

  • Barb Walley says:

    Dear Seva:
    Thank you for your transparency and willingness to share the process of growth that you experienced along the path to your current awareness. I am making lot of changes right now that includes moving to Ananda and being a part of the community which I am excited about. The process is working yet is not nearly as easy by any means. It challenges to me on many levels and I have been seeing how my ego gets triggered and emotional reactions to situations can really drain my energy. The good that comes from that is really needing my spiritual practices to keep any assemblance of balance. I look forward to getting to know you better as time goes by. In His Grace, Barb

  • Dear Seva,
    It was interesting to learn something of your life story.

    I don’t want to embarrass you, but I’ll tell a couple of stories from my personal experience of you, “out of school.”

    I remember a meeting at the old Ananda Publications building (now Hansa Temple) in the early years. We were waiting for Seva, and when she came into the room, I felt a wave of joy that uplifted us all. This relates to another story.

    In the same early years I wanted to be a “devotee” and considered meditation superior to service. Once I complained to Seva, “Wouldn’t it be good if we could emphasize devotion more in our lives here at Ananda?” She looked a bit exasperated as she said, “Rambhaaaaakta! We’re here to build this work. It’s only for this one incarnation. I’ve been feeling dry recently, too.” I felt such a wave of divine joy coming through her that I thought, “Well, I’d like to feel dry like that!”

    Seva was always someone I looked up to. In fact, Swami held her out as an example to me, as a person who was quiet and never the “life of the party,” but who was deeply devoted and dedicated to God, Guru, and Swamiji. I simply can’t imagine anyone not liking her.

  • Debra says:

    Thank you, Nayaswami Seva for sharing your experience on the spiritual path with such depth and honesty. Your words help to point the way. Blessings

  • Barbara says:

    Dear Seva,
    Thank you for these inspiring words. Thank you very much.

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