It’s hard to believe what my life would be like without the spiritual basis of Vedanta. I didn’t get introduced to Vedanta until I was 29 years old, about 7 years ago. But as an American Girl growing up in the northeast coast of the United States, born into a family whose background religions were and still are Methodist and southern Baptist, my path to the teachings of Vedanta has been non-linear yet Divinely guided.
From a very young age, I saw a ‘flame’ within everyone’s chests (heart centers). Some of these flames shone so brightly it could blind you, and some had very dim flames, but the flames were still there. I determined that since everyone had flames in their chest, regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, age, religion, political views, etc., then we must all come from the same source- a seemingly logical conclusion. I grew up in the Christian communities of my parents and grandparents. I recall that my open-mindedness and curious nature and questions were not exactly welcomed in the Christian communities in which my family was a part of, and on a few occasions was humiliated in front of the congregation as they shut me down and disregarded my persistent inquiries.
When I was 11 years old, there were a few significant moments that I can recall. First, I became acutely aware that all I wanted in this lifetime was “to be happy.” With limited vocabulary at that age, I didn’t realize until much later that what I meant was “ananda,” and even more specifically, “satchitananda.” It wasn’t like I was a depressed child. In fact, I had a lovely middle-class upbringing and had parents that cared about me a lot and I had a great support system. But that didn’t seem enough to fill the space within my heart that was yearning for Truth. I remember staring up at the night sky one night gazing at the vast constellation of stars, and I began crying in utter despair and frustration as I pleaded to God to help me find happiness in this life. I was considered by many people to be a “very sensitive” child. After that, the second significant moment was when I began researching other religions at my local library after school and came across the “Tao Te Ching,” books on Buddhism, Confucianism, and books on Native American animism and shamanism. They profoundly impacted me at the time but I kept my new knowledge hidden in fear of violating my family’s religion. It wouldn’t be until much later that I’d once again inquire about what it is I was/we were.
In 2011, I moved from Florida to Arizona. From 2011 to 2016, I attended a Buddhist center in Tucson, AZ called the “Wat Buddhametta” center and started a regular mindfulness meditation practice under their guidance. I was angry–really angry at the time. Life didn’t seem to add up and I again started to ask the same questions I did when I was 11 years old: ‘Who am I? What is this life all about? I’ve got pretty much everything I’ve wanted, so what is it that I’m working for in this life? Why am I still feeling an incredibly painful void in my heart? I want the Truth of who I AM.’ It was also during that time that I checked out other meditation groups around the area, one of which led me to meet Victor Silverstein. He became a friend of mine and my partner’s. None of these groups, even the Buddhist teachings, had resonated enough for me to feel confident in diving deeper with them- though I appreciated the Buddhist teachings very much and still to this day am happy I started there. So one day in the summer of 2016, out of the blue, my partner (who had also been on this journey with me for over 5 years at that point) said to Victor Silverstein in exasperation, “I’m done with all these groups! I want to get straight to the source of all these teachings! I want to meet a true master now!” Victor seemed to smirk at us both and said, “Well if that’s how you feel, Swami Sarvadevananda is coming to Tucson tomorrow… would you like to join when I go visit him?” I still get chills when I think about this moment. You know the saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears?” Well…!
The first ever Vedanta meeting that I went to was in the summer of 2016 at the home of Austin and Kamala who headed the Vedanta Society of Tucson. We were warmly greeted by all the other devotees in their household and also by Victor and his son. There were probably a dozen or so of us. Swami Sarvadevananda greeted me as well and I remember his first question ever to me was “So I hear you do yoga?” And I remember saying to him, “Yes, I do yoga and I also meditate.” He smiled at me and bobbed his head from side to side and walked away and I remember thinking, “Did I say something wrong?” (I now recognize my folly! I thought he was asking if I did asana practice!) I watched as Swami Sarvadevananda performed worship at the altar. The elaborate puja and the Sanskrit singing were all foreign to me. Pictures of Indians (Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and Swamiji) were sitting on an altar. Everything seemed so over the top and elaborate, yet I was drawn in and fascinated by the pictures. I wanted to know more. Then we all sat down around Swami Sarvadevananda as he gave a talk about “Why one needs a Guru.” When he stared at me for a few seconds during his talk, eyes locked on one another, I remember thinking that I finally found a way to get Home.
My partner and I underwent a profound transformation after meeting Swami Sarvadevananda and the devotees of Vedanta. It was a rather quick process after that we both decided we wanted to get initiated. After a series of synchronistic events, my long-time partner and I were initiated the next time we saw Swami Sarvadevananda in Tucson, AZ on Friday, March 3rd, 2017 in the home of Austin and Kamala. So much more can be said about life after initiation, however that is another story. I am forever grateful and truly blessed, and continue on with my practices with ever-increasing love and devotion.