Finding God in the Heart of Your Family
by Mary Kretzmann
Chapter 2: “One foot in front of the other…”
“In a vision when he was a boy, Paramhansa Yogananda saw himself standing in the marketplace of a town in the foothills of the Himalayas. The day was hot, and the dusty marketplace was crowded with squalid stalls, harassed shoppers, and whining beggars. Dogs ran everywhere. Monkeys stole down from the rooftops to snatch at food in the stalls. Donkeys brayed complainingly. People were bustling to and fro, laden with purchases, their brows furrowed with anxiety and desire. No one looked happy.
“But now and again some member of that milling throng paused before the entranced boy, and gazed high into the distance behind him. After a time, into each gazer’s eyes, came a look of intense wistfulness. Then, with a deep sigh, he muttered, ‘Oh, but it’s much too high for me.’ Lowering his eyes, he returned to the milling throng.
“After this sequence had repeated itself several times, Yogananda turned to see what it was behind him that held such a strong appeal for these people. And there towering above the town he beheld a lofty mountain, verdant, serene; the absolute contrast it seemed to everything in this dusty hubbub of festering ambitions. At the mountaintop there was a large garden, inexpressibly beautiful. Its lawns were green-gold, its flowers many-hued. The boy yearned to climb up the mountain and enter that heavenly garden.
“But as he reflected on the difficulty of the climb, in his mind the same words formed themselves: ‘It’s much too high for me!’ Then, weighing these words, he rejected them scornfully. “It may be too high for me to reach the top in a single leap,” he thought, “but at least I can put one foot in front of the other!” Even to fail in the attempt would, he decided, be infinitely preferable to continued existence in this hot, dusty showcase of human misery.
“Step by step he set out, filled with determination. Ultimately he reached the mountaintop, and entered the beautiful garden.
“For Master this vision symbolized a common predicament of everyone with high ideals…”
Years ago, around the same time as the aforementioned diaper story, I read the first few chapters of a book, How to Take Charge of Your Time and Your Life, when ironically, family life got the better of me and I never even finished the book! However, I had read far enough, at least, to make lists of the priorities in my life. At the top of my list was list the spiritual development of my family and myself. Oh, certainly I had practical goals as well, but they all seemed quite pale compared to this one. From the little bit I had already experienced of God’s grace, I couldn’t imagine not sharing spiritual treasure with my kids.
From that book, I absorbed this little powerhouse of a tip; once you have determined your actual priorities and goals in life, you simply need to take an action step toward your goal every day, however large or small. It is crucial to go beyond wishful thinking; and to know that taking small, consistent steps is more important than attempting a big, heroic leap sporadically. For one thing, you won’t even be “in training” for the big, heroic leap anyway, unless you are dong something every day. So, it’s important to look at your routine, and see what might be easily adapted to include this daily watering of your child’s soul nature.
Place one foot in front of the other. Daily.
At that time, my husband, Tim, and I were already in the habit of praying with our young children daily at meals and before bed, and we also read them spiritual stories from time to time, but I sensed that this wasn’t quite enough. I also knew that if I was going to add a new daily commitment, it needed to be something easy enough to carry out with two young children. This is a crucial point. If it got too elaborate, I knew I’d crash and burn.
We chose spiritual stories for our new commitment in addition to the daily prayers. I realized that since we were already in the habit of reading a few bedtime stories to the children every day, the pattern was in place. We simply needed to replace at least one of those stories with a spiritual one. The stories we chose were usually of the lives of saints and sages from around the world. Sometimes we paraphrased a beautiful story from the Autobiography of a Yogi, and other times it might be a story from the Bible, or from the life of Buddha. We wanted the children to see that people have loved and served God over the millennia, and in every culture.
And so, it became my hobby over the next few years to seek out suitable spiritual books for children. Whenever I was in a good book store, I would find the children’s section, and then scan whatever spiritual books they might have there. I must admit that many of the books did not appeal to me! I learned to discriminate according to my tastes and ideals, and to find things that were in tune with our family’s spiritual life and goals. For instance, I would look at the pictures first. Did they reflect the feeling of Light, Joy or Awe to the child? Is the art beautiful, at least? There is much truth to the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words…” This is especially true for children, since they are not yet as verbal or mental as adults. Some of my favorite spiritual children’s books are those rare few that use classical art to depict spiritual stories, and then tell the story with the accompanying text. Such books can be used even for very young children if the parent simply paraphrases the story with one or two sentences, such as, “Here is baby Jesus when he was first born. This is Mary, and here is Joseph, and look at all the animals….” It is very similar to the way you might use a picture book or a photo album.
Stories of our line of gurus can be taken from the Autobiography of a Yogi or The Path, and then paraphrased for children; just remember to simplify each story to whatever degree is needed for the child’s age and attention span. I would even use the Autobiography of a Yogi as a “picture book” or photo album when my children were quite young. The first time I showed my daughter the Autobiography of a Yogi, she was only ten months old. She sat in my lap, and looked at the photo of Paramhansa Yogananda on the cover of the book, and I then proceeded to show her the same photograph a few pages later in the frontispiece of the book. She then grabbed the book from me and turned it back to the cover photograph of Yogananda, and then flipped the pages back to the frontispiece photo of him. She did this several times, then pointed her finger firmly on the cover photo and looked straight into my eyes and said emphatically, “Guru!”
It was the first time I’d ever heard her use the word, “Guru!” We did not call Paramhansa Yogananda, “Guru” – we referred to him as “Master” as did his disciples when he was alive, meaning one who has achieved spiritual mastery. (I might also point out that, being only ten months old, her vocabulary was extremely limited at the time!) I could not recall using the word much at all myself, so it very well might have come up from her subconscious memory from a past life. You never know what might happen when you expose a child to such things! (That is not as far far-fetched as it may sound. I recall another day when she was ten months old, and my husband came home and hung his hat on a wooden peg. Krishnabai glanced up from the floor (she wasn’t yet walking) pointed at the hat and said, quite firmly and clearly, “Chapeau!” I can assure that neither of us had ever said anything about a chapeau! She hadn’t even learned to say “hat” yet, for heaven’s sake…and here she was spouting French. This can happen with little children, and yet it is often laughed off or ignored.)
I continued to share the Autobiography of a Yogi with my daughter, and later with my other children. I would turn to each photograph, and tell them, “this is Master’s mother or father”, etc. and simply let the conversation flow this way or that with it. It was all very relaxed and I had no particular “goal” other than sharing the photos with them. It is like casting seeds…you never know which ones will sprout, but if you keep seeding the ground, and water it with love, something will sprout!