When I first lived at Ananda Village, many years ago, it was very easy to be detached from material things, because we had none. For those of you who’ve been to our Pune community in India, it looked a bit like that, but worse, because at least they have a few nice buildings, and we had hardly any.
We had a few domes, and we had a little temple, but for many years I lived in a tiny trailer. If I stretched out my arms I couldn’t actually touch both walls, but somebody slightly larger than me could have. I would walk maybe three or four steps up the middle of the trailer to sleep, meditate, do a little cooking, and sit and eat my meal. I never had dinner parties, but I was perfectly happy. I had everything I needed, and it comforted me not to have anything, because it meant that I didn’t have to ask myself questions about attachment. I found that being very poor is easy.
When we had nothing, the question of material desires never arose. Why go there? You can’t buy anything, so you don’t need anything. And a certain inner reality began to grow in me during those cave-dwelling years – that as long as I didn’t have material things, it meant I was spiritual.
In other words, there was no question of my having actually refined my feelings – I was living a fantasy: “I can easily push my desires aside and they’ll be transcended.”
Of course, they weren’t transcended; they were in abeyance, waiting to fall on my head.
And then, by a series of events, I married David, and we suddenly needed a place to live. The area around Swami Kriyananda’s house was being redeveloped, and there was a tiny cabin on it, very funky, and Swamiji invited us to come and live next door to him – which, of course, was something highly desirable.
He asked if we could live in this little cabin. So the two of us walked into that cabin, and it immediately didn’t feel like a wholesome place for us to live. It’s odd, because normally I’d have said yes, but it didn’t feel right.
So Swami said, “Well, build a house there.”
There was a dual purpose to this. We didn’t have any money, so Swami said, “Why don’t you travel and lecture, Asha, then you can earn the money.”
I never, ever would have done that, but it was his way of picking me up by the seat of the pants and throwing me out into the world. So I started that work of traveling and lecturing, and it led to where we are today.
Then we had to build our little house. And my husband is a very energetic man. He has a very big aura. And he has taught me a lot, because he doesn’t break the world up into pieces. He doesn’t see material things, non-material, spiritual, non-spiritual. He just emits energy. And that’s what I learned from him; that it’s all energy, and if you live in a nice house, fine, and if you live in another house, fine – it doesn’t make any difference to him, because it’s all just energy.
So Swamiji asked him to build a house. And David has a very refined aesthetic sense, and of course he started designing the Taj Mahal. And finally I had to say, “Honey, I don’t know what incarnation you think we’re in, but it’s not that one, I promise you.”
Sometimes I joke with him, that if we’d done all this work for ourselves instead of for God, we’d be very wealthy by now – but not this time.
We whittled the house plans down to the right size, and now it’s the guest house at Crystal Hermitage. It’s a charming little house. But I had this enormous emotional attachment, of all things, to being impoverished.
Most people have an attachment to owning things, but my attachment was to being poor. I had made this little dream narrative that said “As long as she’s poor, she’s spiritual.” As long as people can come to my trailer and say, “How can you live in this tiny little dump?” I can say, “See how spiritual I am.” This was not an inspiration from God. It was an emotion that I had built around my life. A peculiar one, but just as binding as if I had been attached.
Meanwhile, David felt, “Swamiji wants us to build this house, and as devotees it behooves us to reflect the beauty of God. There’s nothing particularly spiritual about having nothing. It can be a sign of not putting out enough energy.”
I came up with a sort of secondary emotional plan, which is that we would build an ugly house and it would be perfectly clear that I couldn’t possibly have been attached to building this house because look at how badly it’s done.
David put up with that quietly for a while, then one day he said, “If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way.”
That was when I began to realize, you know, “What’s this really all about?” I was pretending it was a divine feeling because it was all about being spiritual, but I had moved away from genuine intuition and from Swamiji’s guidance, and even away from my own common sense, because my emotions had constructed this self-enclosed reality and I wasn’t able to see the whole picture.
So I eventually just took it all down and erased it. I didn’t work on the house much, because I wasn’t that interested. But I chose the wallpaper and a few little things, and I began to discover that it was fun.
“Well, Divine Mother, here we are in the wallpaper store, a place I never expected to go ever, and there’s all this wallpaper.” And what kind of wallpaper reminds me of my own inner feelings of happiness? What represents to me what I want to be all the time? Because when you’re looking at beautiful things, or you’re looking at art, these are feelings of the heart.
When we come at them with too much reason – “That’s cheaper” – or “We don’t want that because our neighbors have it” – we cut ourselves off from our core.
This is what David was teaching me. “What is life asking of us right now? How can we make whatever we’re doing, whether it’s building a house, making lunch, raising a child, or teaching school – how can we make it a true emanation of the inner feeling of the Divine that is in us all the time?”
Then every little leaf of our life begins to vibrate with that reality, and we are living in our truest feeling nature, in divine awareness, but we aren’t caught up in the self-generated emotions that can so easily take us away from God.