Letters from Ananda members, Part 16

Only Later Did I Figure It Out
Joe Begley

I’d like to tell you about the most meaningful talk I ever had.

The date was Nov. 23, 1993. I’d been with Ananda 6 1/2 years at that point. Ever been in a situation—job, relationship—where, in spite of best intentions, you’re not doing as well as you’d hoped? That’s the situation I found myself in. I was just not able to make the headway I’d hoped to, and was getting stuck and depressed over it.

Now, in the past, the way I dealt with such situations was to leave, and leave I’d done quite a few times in my life! I knew enough, however, to realize that that wasn’t a solution in this case—only a postponement. But staying didn’t look promising either. After some counseling, I finally decided to get the energy moving and—for better or worse—quit the job and move away (again!).

A friend was kind enough to mention my dilemma to Swami Kriyananda. He, in turn, asked me (through his secretary, Alan) if I wanted to talk with him a bit before I left. “Of course!” I replied. I headed over, and Alan explained that Swami had another interview in about 45 minutes, and so could only talk that long—fine with me! Alan very thoughtfully handed me a tape recorder, saying “You might want to tape this.” Eternal gratitude, friend!

Swami welcomed me into his little downstairs apartment, stoked the fire a bit, sat down and asked, “Now then, Joe, what’s this I hear?” I explained the situation and my confusion and stuckness. He listened patiently and attentively; then, when I was done, said, “That’s all well and good, but what I’d like to say now—and what I’ve tried to say in the past—is: don’t take yourself too seriously. You become a fanatic! You get all tense inside trying to ‘do it right’, think people are judging you, etc.—meanwhile, nobody’s judging you, but you think they are.”

Well, very astute! He went on: “You can’t figure it all out with your mind—that just goes around in circles. You can’t get out of the house by just going from one room to another. You have to get calm and receptive enough to listen to God’s whispers, and He’ll lift you out.”

Sounds great, but how? “You should learn to have more fun. Don’t work too hard–get plenty of exercise, take long walks in nature. Enjoy life more! Then, when you enjoy more, you’ll feel His joy.”

I’m summarizing a 20-minute discussion here, and I don’t claim that this is blanket advice for everyone—I was thinking “Buckle down, work harder, tighten up!” was what I’d hear—but for me, Swami hit the nail on the head. Discipline wasn’t my problem—relaxing, not taking things too seriously and having fun were! Sri Yukteswar told Yogananda, “Learn to behave.” True teaching, true learning to behave, is individual, and this is just what I needed to hear.

Swami very gently, thoughtfully helped me consider several courses of action I might take Though he certainly had a clue what might be best, he let me come to my own conclusions. I left grateful beyond words for his friendship, kindness, and spiritual supportiveness. (And great sense of humor, which I haven’t done enough justice to here!)

But this isn’t the most meaningful part of this interview. This I only realized several years later. You see, when I left, I briefly encountered the person Swami was meeting with next. It was a young lady I’d known for about a year—Anne-Marie Bertolucci, who looked extremely nervous and agitated that day.

It was only years later that I put two and together about the timing of that day. This had to have been the interview where Swami knew he was going to have to “draw the line” with Anne-Marie, who was having an affair Danny Levin, and tell her he could not allow her to break up Danny Levin’s marriage, and that she’d need to go to one of Ananda’s colonies. It was after this interview that Anne-Marie was escorted to Mount Washington, Self-Realization Fellowship’s headquarters, by disgruntled former Ananda member Eric Estep, for an personal interview with Daya Mata, and subsequently hired SRF member/attorney Mike Flynn to help with her massive sexual harassment lawsuit against Ananda.

Swami had to have known this might be the outcome of taking this stance with Anne-Marie. Yet he would not compromise. “Where there is acting in according with highest spiritual principles, there is victory.”

What stunned me was the realization that all during the interview Swami had with me, there was no trace of anything other than Swami being totally focused on me and my needs, and being there for me as a friend. (Incidentally, the advice he gave me proved true, and has been extremely useful ever since.)

To me, this is the measure of a man, and of a great disciple: true humility, being strong where principles are concerned, and soft and kind where friendship is needed. I did, and still do after 15 years, consider Swamiji my best friend.

Joe lives in the Ananda Palo Alto community and works at the Ananda Sangha office. He is also a musician and singer and recently got married.