“Let me try this again, honey,” the nurse said apologetically. I felt the tight squeeze of the blood pressure monitor, and took a deep breath. The nurse read the needle and gave me a quizzical look. “Hold on a second, I’m going to have someone else give it a try.” The thin paper on the exam table crinkled beneath me as I shifted uncomfortably.
“Is there something wrong?” I asked. “Well, It’s just I’ve never seen a blood pressure this low on a live person before. It’s barely readable.”
I laughed. “Oh, is that all? Yeah, this happens to my mom all the time. It’s either genetics or meditation.”
As a child, I was questioned about my faith regularly. I remember one particular sleepover that quickly dissolved into a session of Eastern Religion 101. My friend and I had ended up in my parent’s room, most likely on the hunt for sheets and other fort building materials.
No sooner than we’d entered the room, my buddy lost site of our original goal, and was diverted by my mom’s alter, along with the foreign items on it. She picked up the kriya beads, sniffed them, and tossed them back down. “Those smell.”
“Well”, I began explaining, “that’s because…”
But she wasn’t listening, as her attention had shifted to the picture in the center of the alter.
“Who’s that lady?” she asked, “Is that your grandma?”
“No, that’s actually a man, he’s our guru.” And for the next half hour, I watched as my friend curiously prodded my mom’s harmonium, twirled the incense sticks, and tried to ring the chakra beards as if they were some sort of musical instrument.
This routine played out over and over again throughout my childhood, each time I invited someone new to the home. Honestly, sometimes I lied and said, “Yes, that’s my grandma,” just so I could bypass the explanation.
Unlike many of the children I knew, I didn’t spend many Sundays in a pew reciting verses from the bible. I did attend catechism classes, but more often than not my sisters and I were learning chants, affirmations, meditation techniques, and perfecting the lotus pose. This was long before yoga studios started popping up on every corner, and chakra readings were co-opted by the hipsters.
So whereas many aspects of the religion I grew up with seem rather mainstream nowadays, back then it was considered weird. At least in my little suburban corner of the world.
My mother chose to raise my sisters & I with the teachings of Self-Realization Fellowship, a blend of Hinduism & Christianity that has been practiced in the U.S. & India since roughly 1920. That was the year the religion’s founder, Paramahansa Yogananda, traveled to the U.S. from India in hopes of bringing his “science” of enlightenment to Westerners. The church was established in Los Angeles in 1935.
Just as Islam recognizes Christianity as a valid religion & Jesus as a prophet, Self-Realization Fellowship pays great respect to the messages of Christ.
Yogananda took passages from the Bible and drew similarities between the passages of new testament and those of the Bhagavad-Gita. My earliest exposure to interfaith teachings and parallels between religions were through the teachings of SRF.
Meditation is central to SRF teachings. Through meditation, followers are encouraged to still their minds to hear the voice of God; their true, inner selves.
Another central idea in SRF is the necessity of controlling one’s thinking and habits. SRF teaches that thoughts are powerful and have the potential to either harm or heal both the thinker and those around her.
Yogananda himself passed away in 1952, but his church lives on with headquarters in California and meditation centers located throughout the world. There are currently more than 500 meditation centers in 54 countries that are directly tied to the Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters.
Although I no longer regularly attend the church, The SRF teachings are a significant part of mine & my children’s lives. There are many valuable aspects of the lessons that have positively impacted our world view, including interconnectedness and mindfulness.
I wish I could report that I am always as calm and collected as I was the day my blood pressure was non-readable. But I’m human.
Luckily, when times are trying, and my reactions less than desirable, I’m able to pull from the SRF teachings to remind myself to breathe, center, and focus on ways to deal with the world in ways that are both healthy for me, and for those around me. I haven’t perfected it yet, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.
If you are interested in learning more about the teachings of Paramahansa Yoganada, or his life story, check out Autobiography of a Yogi (Which, by the way, was Steve Jobs parting gift to everyone in attendance at his funeral.)
You can also visit their website: https://www.yogananda-srf.org/