Meet Sara, a YA from Northfield, Minnesota. In the 90's, Sara attended summer programs (satsangs) hosted by the BMCM for families with parents practicing passage meditation. Families gathered together at "Ramagiri," the spiritual center (ashram), for a "spiritual summer camp" including plays about mystics, crafts, sports, and fellowship. Sara shares her path, learning about Easwaran and passage meditation as a child, and then embracing it herself as a YA.
I first visited Ramagiri when I was seven years old. I remember the warmth of the ashram – the clarity of the sunlight, the hills steeped in yellow, the smell of dry grass, eucalyptus, and pine, and a pervading sense of peace. Our plane flew us 1,500 miles from Minneapolis and set us down in a windblown city to join other families at the annual family satsang. From San Francisco we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and entered a new realm of ocean freedom and bleached wood. I had never seen a bridge like the Golden Gate Bridge in Minneapolis! It was like driving into the sky. No wonder everyone was eager to get on. (I had also never seen California traffic!)
Fifteen families all blown in with the fog rolled up the long entrance drive and were welcomed quietly, with warm eyes and smiles and hugs. The hills folded us up in their arms and it felt suddenly as if we had been there forever. All the bustle and stress of airports and city driving flew away into the arms of the lone palm tree.
I don’t remember the first time I met Easwaran. He was more like a general presence at Ramagiri, like each grain of sand, lavender bud, and even the rope swing across the creek were tenderly cared for by his love. I remember him frail and walking slowly, supported on either side by two women. He was treated like the most precious thing in the world, and I think as a child I felt it too. It felt natural. There was no pretension about him. In this way, he was both special and the most natural part of life. He laughed and smiled just like me. He even liked to make jokes! I decided he was probably a good teacher.
Sara (right) as a child at a summer program with Christine Easwaran (left), Eknath Easwaran's wife.
After that first visit, we came back every summer. I don’t think we could have stayed away! Some part of me always knew I was very lucky, but mostly it felt as natural as the rain. It was the best summer camp experience a shy and sensitive only child could imagine. I loved the songs, the fresh bread at lunchtime (I still think this is the best bread I ever tasted – Ramagiri magic), the set painting, and the plays, which were the life-blood of every retreat. The combination of hard work, laughter, and togetherness was incredible. Everybody was lifted out of themselves.
Each summer the family satsang put on a play about the life of a mystic like Gandhi, Saint Francis, or the Buddha. The families designed sets for the play that were painted by the children over the course of the week and used in the performance.
Those plays and friendships planted lots of seeds. It took me a bit longer to discover the grace and guidance of Easwaran. I needed to choose him consciously. But the seeds are there, and they pop up in unexpected places throughout my journey. Like Krishna teasing Meera with his flute, the eight points periodically tapped me on the shoulder, saying, “You see? This fellow really knows his stuff!”
Well, to get on with the story, I went off to college and studied Environmental Studies. I wanted to find the roots of the environmental crisis, and a better way of living, one not bent on limitless accumulation, but grounded in natural laws and reverence for life. I was keen to learn and synthesize as much as possible, and out of this grow a vision of my own path in life.
I also went with the best intentions to meditate every day. I wanted the discipline and stillness it would bring, as well as balance to intellectually heavy classwork. This turned out not to be a realistic expectation. I just wasn’t ready to commit to meditation. I had to live a little more, to meander and take some detours, before I felt sure that the eight-point path was the right path for me.
Meanwhile, I had a grand time. I met friends that affirmed as well as challenged me; I worked on the school farm, feeding sheep and oxen (yes, oxen!), chickens and ducks, and even milking the cows our student farm crew brought to the farm during my junior year. I fell in love. I fell out of love. I learned a great deal and stayed up late writing it all down. I climbed my first mountain! It was grand.
What made the greatest impression on me was that academia could offer no definitive solution to my deepest question: ‘How can we live more harmoniously with each other and with the earth?’ I found that there were many possible varieties of environmentalism. A smart boy in my biology class argued that nuclear power was both safe and the best solution to climate change; others were skeptical. A wind power spokesperson presented clearing large swaths of mountaintop in order to erect 200 ft. turbines as a godsend for green energy in the face of inevitable energy demand increases. Was it possible I could disagree? I learned everything is contextual. There is no single utopian path, but there are many middle paths. I wanted to explore those.
I left college in the spring of 2011 not only with a bachelor’s degree, but also with a broken heart. With the goal of healing myself as well as the world, I jumped into farm-to-school education with all the enthusiasm a broken heart can muster. I was – and am – convinced that demonstrating care and reverence for the earth to young children is one of the best ways of cultivating a healthier world. Part of what I took away from college was the understanding that knowledge cannot, in itself, provide deep solutions. The most significant changes must come from a complete shift in consciousness. This was a little tap from Krishna: ‘You see? Remember me?’
This particular farming program was based on Waldorf methods of education. The farmhouse where classes came to stay was situated in the middle of a 400-acre biodynamic working farm in the Hudson River Valley. Across the street, a thriving Waldorf elementary and high school stood on a small hill; behind them, the hill ran down to a creek and into a large swath of prime New England woods. It was truly idyllic!
As a Waldorf graduate myself, I was keen to learn more about the underlying philosophy and the man who developed it, Rudolf Steiner. From what I already knew, he was a Renaissance man. His interest covered all subjects and he lectured widely. Besides developing the Waldorf school, he offered insights into new methods of farming (Biodynamics), medicine, special education and science.
In the fall, I picked up a book off the library shelf in the main farmhouse. It was by Steiner, and had the intriguing title, How to Know Higher Worlds. The first line reads:
‘The capacities by which we can gain insights into higher worlds lie dormant within each of us.’
A little further on, under a section titled ‘Inner Peace,’ he describes a meditation practice:
‘Our thoughts should be clear, sharp, precise. We will find a way of achieving this if we do not stay blindly with the thoughts arising within us. Rather, we should fill ourselves with high thoughts that more advanced and spiritually inspired souls have thought in similar moments. Here our starting point should be the writings that have themselves grown out of meditative revelations’ (Steiner, 34).
I was instantly struck by the resonance between Steiner’s recommendation and Easwaran’s eight-point program. It was affirming to find this insight in new places. Steiner’s verbose and scientific style (some of his writings are very dense) helped me appreciate Easwaran’s simplicity and grace in describing the spiritual path. Though I didn’t begin meditating very regularly at that point, I became much more confidant that Easwaran was my true teacher. Here was another tap on the shoulder! However, it took a period of intense loneliness and doubt to solidify my dedication to the eight-point path.
Skip ahead two years to the fall of 2013. I just finished a year as an assistant in a Waldorf kindergarten and had a year of early childhood teacher training under my belt. It sounded lovely on paper, but I was lonely and had even begun to doubt whether teaching kindergarten was the vocation for me. I was wiped out. Far away from most of my friends and family, I was ready to go home.
So I did! I went home, applied for a few jobs in town, didn’t get them, and settled into a life of hopeful internet surfing, BBC period drama, and dejection. In other words, I was just skimming the horizon of a black hole of despair. I was a little lost, and definitely confused. Even now that I was home, it took a little while to regroup. For the most part, I felt useless and ungrounded. And my senses were definitely riding over me roughshod! Over and over I thought: What should I do? Where are my talents needed? Why doesn’t my dream job just e-mail me??
And then, it did.
Not quite the one I was thinking of, but Krishna, in his great wisdom and love of surprise, knew best. I received an e-mail from a friend I knew from family program days attending a young adult retreat wondering if I would be interested too! It took a little while to convince myself that this was the right thing to do, but I did go. And it was marvelous. I knew it the instant 60-degree air hit my face, and Minnesota in November blew out with the fog over the ocean. As we drove in to Tomales, I thought of the passage Grieve Not:
After much wandering, I am come home
Where turns not the wheel of time and change
And my emperor rules without a second or third
In Abadan, filled with love and wisdom.
I still struggle with the daily ritual of getting out of bed and meditating. Some days, it is so hard to remove limbs from warm covers. I remember the advice of one November retreat member, to do everything immediately!! If it doesn’t always get me out of bed on the dot, it at least cracks a smile. I have started reading a section from Easwaran’s book, The End of Sorrow, every morning before meditation. If the thought of ‘Immediately!’ doesn’t get me going, those sections usually do. They are so often tailored to my situation that I can’t help but think Easwaran is with me. Like a grandfather I took for granted, when I came back to him I was greeted with a treasure trove of writings. And I gain infinite comfort from the knowledge that other young adults around the world are striving to walk this path too. Here we are! Here we are! Planting seeds, tending the garden.
Sara at the November 2013 YA retreat (middle row, 5th from the right), seated next to Christine Easwaran.