Christmas Inspiration – 2012
Here in the northern hemisphere, Christmas is celebrated during the “night” of the Winter Solstice. Down through the ages the “Light that shineth in the darkness” has been affirmed during this time of year in all cultures and faiths. In the next few posts, members of Ananda bring to you readings inspired by other faith traditions and some of their ways of expressing the hope and promise of God’s eternal presence as “light.”
A long-held dream of many reached fruition this month as East West Bookshop got a fresh, new look!
Painted initially in 2000 before East West first moved into the building at 65th and Roosevelt, years of sun and rain had taken their toll on the paint, which began to look tired and washed out.
An upcoming June reception for Dr. Eben Alexander, author of the New York Times bestselling Proof of Heaven, provided impetus to spruce up the building. As you can see from the new look below, it’s quite a change!
Sounds pretty simple, putting a new coat of paint on the outside, right? Well, here’s the story…
Originally built in the 1940’s, the building was a drugstore for many years before becoming East West. Extensive renovations were done in 2000 in preparation for East West’s move into the building, and the upper courses of brickwork were painted. The building has stucco at street level and a run of brickwork from the stucco up to the roof.
I’d noticed that the brickwork looked funny, and climbing a ladder to inspect, found that the paint was peeling off the mortar between the bricks. This was new! Investigating further, I took a look at the walls. where leaky gutters had turned the bricks green. Imagine my surprise when I picked at the bricks, and found that my pick went right through the wall! This was more that a coat of paint could fix.
Fortunately, the bookstore has a good relationship with our landlord, who promised to get a mason out to look at it. Good to his word, the mason was onsite the next day setting up scaffolding in preparation for working at night. We had our deadline, and the landlord and mason were helping us get there. We were surprised the following day when we saw the scaffolding gone, and the brick untouched. It turned out that the brick was in even worse shape than the mason had imagined, and he had to consult with the landlord about how to proceed.
Next we knew, a scissor lift was delivered to the store. As the name implies, a scissor lift is a platform on wheels that goes up and down 20 feet at the press of a button, and unlike scaffolding, can be moved out of the way when not in use. The mason said that to use scaffolding, new city requirements would require blocking off a traffic lane, hiring an off-duty police officer at $1000 a day to supervise traffic, and oh, would also require a permit that would take 30 days to process. Hearing this, our landlord decided that the scissor lift was cheap at any price.
The brick restoration was extensive and took over a week to complete. As the masons worked on repairs, I scraped off peeling paint between bricks. There were many bricks and lots of peeling paint! Scrape, scrape, scrape in the afternoon sun. I looked enviously from my ladder to the mason on the scissor lift as he moved up, down, back and forth with ease!
We knew we had to pressure-wash the walls to remove accumulated grime, but learned from the mason that the freshly-repaired brickwork required 48 hours to cure before washing. The extra time required beginning pressure-washing a week later than expected, and with the clock ticking, we opted to do it on Memorial Day. We’d been fortunate to get some good advice on surface preparation from paint professionals, especially Damon from American Home Painting and from Bruce Davis of Junction True Value Hardware. Damon recommended the pressure washing, and Bruce an additional step to prepare the mortar for painting.
So the morning of Memorial Day saw Vihaan and me up on ladders first pressure washing, then acid washing the building exterior. It happened to be raining that day, but as I recall, we got wet enough from the washing that we didn’t notice the rain. No matter, we were now ready to paint! Or were we?
Oh no, the gutters were still leaking, preventing walls and mortar from drying enough to paint! Another call to our landlord, who sent out gutter repair people the next day to replace 170 feet of gutter. So by the end of that day, brick had been fixed, building pressure washed, and walls beneath new gutters were drying nicely and soon dry enough to paint.
Both Damon and Bruce had told us that brick, especially the mortar, needs to have a coat of primer paint applied before the final finish coat, so after the mason recommended a good masonry primer, we began to prime the brickwork. Back when the building was constructed, the masons had done an extra-special job and recessed the mortar in the joints between the bricks. It looked nice, but first scraping the paint out of the joints, then painting them with primer required a daunting number of strokes with the paint brush. “You can do it!”, I told my arm, switching arms frequently to balance the load!
As I proceeded with priming, our color coordinators Catharine and Susan actively researched and identified new colors for the walls, signs and stucco panels. Holding little color samples and trying to imagine how they’d look on the building proved impossible, so they narrowed their choices and painted samples on the outside. We looked quite festive at one point, with lively bands of colors painted along the wall.
We set our sights to paint on Sunday, June 2, and our friend Carole graciously agreed to assemble a team of volunteers for the job. So 9 am Sunday saw a whole crew, fortified by high-octane Java from our friend Sara, ready to go. Our tallest team members, Tadhg and Dennis, could reach the tops of windows with ease, so they masked off windows and doors around the building while the rest of us took rollers and brushes and started from the ground. Fearlessly climbing high up a ladder, Mark began painting brick and gutters.
But what would a good tale be without angels and miracles? Our angel, Joanne, a safety officer by profession, uneasily observed us climbing up and down extension ladders all morning, and related some of the ladder accidents she’d encountered professionally. It was pretty high up there, with the highest point some 25 feet up. It didn’t seem particularly high when climbing the ladder, but someone showed me a photo they’d taken from across the street, and it did indeed look pretty high. So after several hours of watching in relative silence, Joanne offered to donate the use of a scissor lift for us to complete the job. We jumped at the offer, of course, and it was there the next day. What a difference it made!
And as to miracles, Dave had a tale to share. Dave and his wife Marilyn had moved to Bellingham a couple years ago after Dave retired from a career in chiropractic. Constantly adjusting patients through the years had left Dave himself with chronic shoulder pain, and when he first heard about painting, he’d thought “Wow, no way, that’s for someone else!”
But he listened to a little inner voice which said “You need to go down and help”, and so Dave and Marilyn made the long trek down I5, complete with detour around the collapsed bridge at Mt. Vernon, to help us at the store. When I handed Dave a roller with a long handle, he thought “Well, maybe I can do this for a half hour until my shoulder locks up”, but gamely began. A half hour went by, then an hour, then an hour and a half, and when Dave and Dennis finally knocked off late in the afternoon, Dave was still going strong—we could hardly get him to set his roller down for lunch!
Dave related later that he’d gone to bed that night thinking “Well, I’m glad I could help today, but I sure hope I can move tomorrow”, and was amazed find the following morning that instead of being ridiculously cramped, his shoulders had never felt better. “A fluke” he thought, and was even more amazed when the morning after that his shoulders were still looser than they had been in years. The third morning, still loose, Dave went to the gym and did every exercise he could think of to test out his shoulders, and still they stayed loose and relaxed. A week later, when Dave emailed me, his shoulders were still as loose as they’d been before he became a chiropractor, all after a day of rolling paint in the intense sun! At that point I realized that I’d missed a Tom Sawyer-style opportunity, and should have asked for payment for the privilege of painting!
Mark and Tadhg had to leave early to start work in the bookstore, and the rest of us labored on into the heat of the afternoon getting things painted. By the end of the day, we’d managed to paint everything that could be reached from the ground, and did it look good!
There was still a daunting amount of work to be done including gutters, high brickwork and miscellaneous doorways at ground level. But we managed to complete it all in the course of the following week, aided immensely by Joanne’s scissor lift, and many hours of assistance from Bryan, Larry and Carole. Bryan graciously rearranged a whole day to come help prime the brickwork, spending hours and hours in the sun applying a glaringly white primer to the brick. Larry came twice for afternoon stints to apply the finish coat, and Carole gamely attacked the time-consuming doorways and window trim that Justin Lee had carefully prepared and masked off.
And by the time Larry and I finally painted the last bricks, 20 feet above the ground, my arm had turned to jelly and could barely manage the up and down button for the lift. My, what an undertaking it was. But did it ever look good!
One of many side tasks was repainting the signs, which required removing the sign faces, changing out the fluorescent bulbs inside, taking the sign faces up the Community in Lynnwood to be disassembled, washed, dried, cleaned with solvent and then painted before being reassembled and taken back to Seattle to be remounted on the walls.
Having just remounted one of the signs, I was standing next to the scissor lift when a woman approached, congratulated me on how well it looked, and asked me for my card. Was she ever surprised when I said that I worked at the bookstore and we were just doing this for fun!
And fun it was. Many hands (with rollers) make a miracle!
By Rick Johnston
The Buddha had a question. He had just awakened from the dream of the world. He was free finally of its illusion. He was Awake. The world lay comatose around him. Dark as night. It all seemed so far away, now that he was in the Light. The world of the unreal seemed so unreal. Yet he had a question – What about the others? What about those who continue to sleep? Could he help them? No. The depth of their sleep is deep, too ingrained, too massive. I cannot lift leaden heads from stone pillows.
During his own awakening, he had been attended to by Brahma Sahampati. The Brahma heard Buddha’s question, and offered, “Yes, maybe you’re right. Maybe you cannot help. Yet, what if there’s someone ready to wake up. Will you lend a hand? What if there are two or three? Perhaps you’re right, yet perhaps you can also try.”
Now the Buddha remembered the rice pudding. A girl had offered it to him. “Here, eat.” She had offered him life, while his extreme devotion to bodily austerities was soon to give him death. She was kind. Continue reading
In Islam, light can be a mark of God’s presence. One of Allah’s 99 Beautiful Names is An-Nur, meaning “The Light,” and many prophets such as Musa or Moses (PBUH) and Muhammad (PBUH) reported seeing blinding lights while communicating with Allah. Light also symbolizes goodness; the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) reported that the angels, wholly good beings created by God for a multitude of purposes (including cataloging mankind’s deeds and asking Allah to bless the virtuous, among others) are made from light. Finally, light represents Allah’s gifts of divine guidance and human intellect to all people, not just Muslims. Indeed, the Quran specifically mentions that the Jewish and Christian scriptures were each “a light and guidance” unto the people (Quran 5:44-46), and that every community in world history received messengers who provided “clear [guiding] light” and “convincing proof” encouraging them to serve God and forbid evil (Quran 4:174 and 16:36). Continue reading
In both traditional and mystical Judaism, light symbolizes the genesis of the world and reminds us of a more subtle aspect of reality. From the simple beginning in Genesis (1:3) And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, light has also come to symbolize all that is good, beautiful and holy from the Jewish perspective. In the front of the altar of every Jewish synagogue or temple, is a sanctuary lamp typically call the “eternal light” or ‘eternal flame”. It has been a fixture in Jewish houses of worship for centuries. Such a symbol was prescribed in Exodus 27:20-21: … command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually. … Aaron and his sons shall set it up before the Lord from evening to morning; [it shall be] an everlasting statute for their generations, from the children of Israel. Continue reading
The name “Diwali” or “Divali” is a contraction of “Deepavali”, which translates into “row of lamps”. The date falls according to the Hindu Lunisolar calendar The festival is symbolic of the victory of light over darkness as sought in the prayer, Tamaso ma Jyotir gamaya (Lead us from darkness to light) and the ascendance of enlightenment over ignorance.
While Diwali is popularly known as the “festival of lights”, the most significant spiritual meaning is “the awareness of the inner light”. Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. The celebration of Diwali as the “victory of good over evil”, refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings anand (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light. Continue reading
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ spoke often in stories (parables) and used symbolic language for the benefit of those who as he put it repeatedly, have “ears to hear.” Thus he did not make plain his meaning, especially in regards to subtler realities, such as the use of the term “light.” Nonetheless, the concept of light is used repeatedly as a symbol for spiritual understanding and consciousness. Moreover, Jesus is depicted as being that “Light” that is the source of creation and all life.
“No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. Continue reading
By Nayaswami Padma McGilloway
Paramhansa Yogananda came to the West in 1920 bringing with him the art and science of meditation and the essential precepts of India’s ancient revelations from the body of teachings known as Sanatan Dharma, the “Eternal Teaching (or Religion).” This body of revelation, based on individual realization of universal truths by great sages down through ages, views “light” as the inner light (jyoti), also spoken of in the book of Genesis (the Bible) and other scriptures, by which God initiates, sustains and withdraws all things in creation.
From Autobiography of a Yogi, Chapter 30, Law of Miracles, Paramhansa Yogananda wrote:
“Among the trillion mysteries of the cosmos, the most phenomenal is light….A yogi who through perfect meditation has merged his consciousness with the Creator perceives the cosmical essence as light; to him there is no difference between the light rays composing water and the light rays composing land. Free from matter-consciousness, free from the three dimensions of space and the fourth dimension of time, a master transfers his body of light with equal ease over the light rays of earth, water, fire, or air. Long concentration on the liberating spiritual eye has enabled the yogi to destroy all delusions concerning matter and its gravitational weight; thenceforth he sees the universe as an essentially undifferentiated mass of light.” Continue reading
by Larry Rider
Some years ago my wife Prem-Shanti and I were running an Ananda Retreat Center in southern Rhode Island. We had been given some land from my family on which we put up a yurt for a temple, converted a small barn to guest quarters, and were holding occasional weekend retreats. People came from all over the northeast to learn about Yogananda’s teachings.
I was shocked one day when a guest pulled me aside and said, “You have a beautiful and uplifting place here, but you really should do something about all the poison ivy.” “What poison ivy?” I replied. She pointed out a few specimens with the three shiny leaves a few feet from where we were standing. I had had no idea. But now I began to notice it everywhere.
So I began trying to remove it. I soon developed the first of a number of the typical skin rashes associated with this plant. And I remembered to ask for help. I asked my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, for help in removing the poison ivy. Also, I remembered the story of the Findhorn Garden in northern Scotland, where huge vegetables were grown on inhospitable soil by asking advice of the devas of the various vegetables. The devas, meaning “shining ones” in Sanskrit, are sort of guiding angel spirits. I thought to ask the poison ivy deva for help. I apologized for the need to remove these plants, telling the deva that this was a place where devotees were coming to worship God, and it was not appropriate for poison ivy to be there. So I asked for its co-operation in removing it.
Richard Skillman, Ananda member and filmmaker from Vashon Island, has embarked on an archival project to record the testimonies and stories of Ananda members in their experiences with Swami Kriyananda (Ananda’s founder and direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) and in living in the Ananda Communities. Other interviews are focused in what we call the “joyful arts.”
Here is a sampling of his interviews. “Rick” has interviewed dozens of Ananda members at Ananda Village, California and Swami Kriyananda. If you would like to see more of these, go to anandajoyfularts.com.