For those who have read some of my earlier blogs, you know that Inner Path is a DBA (doing business as) of the Valley Light Center/Valley Lights Publications, a non-profit religious organization. I started the Valley Light Center in Ojai, California in 1981 when I was 30 years old. I had just published my first book, Sadhana In Our Daily Lives, and had a broad vision of what I wanted to accomplish and slowly set about doing so.
I found out, while introducing my book to bookstores that it was more acceptable to the stores to offer more than one product at a time. So gradually I picked up other products and started both a wholesale and retail catalog business, named Valley Lights and More Light, respectively. I also ran a small healing center (The Healing Cooperative), offered daily prayer and meditation services, kept a vast library of other spiritual centers, and ran My Secretary, a bookkeeping/secretarial service that, among other things, was dedicated to providing job skill development to women.
Although a productive and busy time, a number of important aspects of my vision weren’t happening. I wanted to record uplifting music and create an all-faiths choir. I wanted to start a spiritual community. I wanted to develop a half-way house for women in need. I also wanted to get married and raise a family.
I met Nancy and her daughter, Lindsey in early 1987. We were married a few months later. Nancy shared my interest in spiritual community and for some years we traveled about looking for a community to join or a place to start one. We moved to Sedona, Arizona (where our daughter Elizabeth was born), then to Mt. Shasta, then Washington and finally to Colton, Oregon.
In Oregon I tried to establish a community by starting a rural cohousing project called PARC (Portland Area Rural Cohousing). I knew for a community to succeed it needed a common theme that all could agree upon. In the case of PARC the theme was rural living and the environment, but once again it didn’t succeed. Each somewhat interested group member had their own ideas and ideals, and a sense of common goal was not enough to keep them together.
My Spiritual Beginning
I became spiritually focused when I was 18, serving in the U.S. Navy in DaNang, Vietnam. I was so young looking that the Vietnamese guards with whom I worked would call me “Baby San.” I was also sensitive, lonely and questioning the purpose of life. From that experience, and some helpful books from, of all places, the base library, I began a relationship with Spirit. It wasn’t a Christian or Jewish or Hindu relationship. It was just me and Spirit. A great way to begin.
I received a medical discharge about a year later and moved back to my parents home in Los Angeles. As often happens, when one tells God that they wish to sincerely know Him, he sends a means for that to occur. And thus began my relationship with Paramhansa Yogananda, who has been my guru ever since. I dived head long into Yogananda’s teachings, taking the Self-Realization Fellowship lessons and moving to San Juan Island in Washington State to be less distracted by worldly affairs.
After a year on San Juan Island I moved to Olympia, Washington to attend The Evergreen State College. Evergreen was a great place to learn as they allowed a lot of independent study. Guess what I majored in? Yoga, world religions and alternative healing made up the bulk of my study time. While there I had the blessing to hear Baba Ram Dass and Swami Satchidananda, and met often with Swami Bhimasen, an Indian disciple of the great Swami Sivananda. As part of my studies I traveled throughout the West Coast and parts of Canada visiting a large number of yogic ashrams. I also wrote the first draft of my book, Sadhana In Our Daily Lives, which began as a college writing assignment.
As I became more interested in the healing arts, I learned Polarity Therapy, a yogic-based healing modality. Towards the end of my studies I moved back to Los Angeles to continue my education. I received massage training at the Los Angeles College of Massage, and studied with some wonderful healers and teachers including Lillian Mancini, Raylah Hammond and Rozlynn Bruyere, who founded the Healing Light Center in Glendale. With the help of Lillian Mancini I became an ordained minister. Gradually my career as a teacher and healer began. When my book, Sadhana In Our Daily Lives, was ready to be published, I knew it was time to develop my own organization.
After moving to Ojai and setting up the Valley Light Center, I came to an interesting spiritual dilemma. Self-Realization Fellowship, the organization Yogananda founded, was very strict in their instructions that I could not teach Yogananda’s method of meditation. Thus I found myself practicing one method but teaching another. That unhealthy dichotomy resulted in my abandoning my meditation practice for some years. It was thankfully renewed after becoming associated with Ananda in Portland, Oregon.
Aum, The Great Comforter
My inability to create community and no longer having a firm spiritual practice left me feeling distraught and uncomfortable. I could still hear the sound of Aum, however, and would often concentrate on the Great Comforter. That led me to see if anyone in the area knew how to meditate on the sound of Aum. For those Yogananda disciples reading this, you no doubt realize what I really needed to do was to restart my practice of the Aum technique, a meditation system taught by my guru. But not knowing about Ananda and having tried unsuccessfully to restart my relationship with SRF, I felt that I had nowhere to turn.
The sound of Aum was so present in my life that I knew it was not to be ignored. I phoned the new age bookstore in Portland and asked if they had any books on meditating on Aum. They said that they didn’t, but they did know of someone who was really good at it. Thus I connected with Bharat Cornell, from Ananda Village in Nevada City, CA.
Bharat helped me understand that I had essentially thrown out the baby with the bath water and urged me to reinvigorate my relationship with Yogananda, but to do so through Ananda, an organization that seemed more receptive and supportive to my needs. (Bharat has since written the book, Aum – The Melody of Love.) And thus began my relationship with Ananda, which had a temple and community in Portland. That was in 1995. A year later we moved to Ananda Village in Nevada City, California.
A Slice of Heaven
Ananda Village was like heaven on earth, a wonderful yogic community on about 750 acres with 250 adults and children living a sattvic life. I was happy and so too were Nancy and the children. Ananda provided everything I had wanted – community, music, spirituality. It was so fulfilling that I saw no reason to keep the Valley Light Center going and was beginning the paperwork to bring it to an end.
Not long after someone stopped me in the Village Center and asked if I would help the community’s healing center. They needed a director and were trying to become a nonprofit organization. Thus I became one of the directors of the Center for Radiant Health and allowed it to operate under the auspices of the Valley Light Center.
I’ve now lived at Ananda Village for about 20 years. During that time Ananda has had its share of trials and tribulations, and members have come and gone, but it is still one of the most beautiful, uplifting environments I have ever lived in.
For those interested in spiritual community and many of aspects of what I expect to accomplish in Los Angeles, I highly suggest you watch the movie, Finding Happiness, an award winning docudrama about the philosophy and life within the Ananda communities. It is available in DVD form via the Inner Path store website and other outlets.
A Vision Arises
One might wonder why I would ever want to leave Ananda, but there are reasons for coming and other reasons for moving on. For myself, it was about 2001, somewhat after 9/11, when I felt a deep stirring in my heart. I had just finished helping to create the Janaka Foundation, Ananda’s long term planning organization, and was surprised to see how still I felt unfulfilled.
What could I do that would truly make a difference in the world? What could I do, specifically, that my guru would be particularly pleased with? Pleased in a way that, when I was on the other side, he would hold my hand and say “Well done.”
That stirring led to a series of visions that took some months to complete. Ananda Village is such a wonderful place, but it’s rural location makes it difficult for large numbers of people to visit. What if something similar to the Village could be created in Los Angeles? A wonderful uplifting spiritual environment, a community, a retreat center, a school, music, yoga, meditation. As the ideas formulated I shared them with others and began looking for property.
It’s been about 15 years since that original visioning process began. In retrospect, I can see how these ideas are actually a rebirth of what I envisioned for my work in Ojai, over 30 years ago. But what I couldn’t do then – for lack of training, maturity and understanding – my experience at Ananda Village has now prepared me. And for that I am forever thankful.