An interview with Maria McSweeney
Co-director of Inspiration House
Ananda Village’s Young Adult Ashram
Q: A group of people between 18 – 30 live in Inspiration House, an ashram house for young adults. Why is it important for young people at Ananda Village to have their own “community within a community”?
Young people bring with them high energy, creativity, openness to new ideas, and a perspective suited to changing times. These qualities are what is necessary to meet and serve a new generation of souls.
To help develop and focus these qualities, it’s important and worthwhile that, while integrated into the greater community, young people also mix closely with one another and share inspiration. While living together and sharing responsibilities such as meals, house chores, and leading group meditations, they learn how to work together cooperatively as a team, and for a purpose greater than themselves.
Creating a sense of “community within a community” helps to create a situation where they find themselves, motivated by their direct experience, ready and eager to take on responsibilities that not only sustain what has already been created at Ananda Village, but also help to carry the community into the future.
Q: Tell us about Inspiration House.
Inspiration House started in 2009, so Ananta and I and the young adults have been there for about a year now. Not including ourselves, there are currently 9 residents. There are also young adults in the community who participate in different ways as part of the house, but do not live there. Some grew up here, some attended school here, others attended Ananda College, or grew up in one of Ananda’s other communities. One person came after attending our “Living with Spirit” summer program, which is geared towards those age 16 -30.
What everyone shares in common is that they want to live their life centered in God and of service to others. I would say the greater part of the first year has been spent understanding this purpose and making it their own. It has been a beautiful step, made possible through loving openness, and a sincere desire that “their project” be a lighthouse to other young people who would like to come to Ananda, and who would benefit from the unique spiritual opportunity of living here.
Q: In what ways are they making their vision of being a lighthouse for other young people into a reality?
Inspiration House’s success has already given birth to the expansion of the “Living with Spirit” summer program. What started a couple of years ago as one 2 week program has now expanded to three 2 week programs, each planned, coordinated and led by a team of our young adults, with support from the larger community.
In addition, they are further focusing their efforts to reach out to young people in the surrounding area by offering programs at a nearby college, and hope to continue to do similar outreach in the future.
Our young adults are magnetic, and are inspiring examples of how to live dynamically and expansively, especially for other young people who are looking for ways to live cooperatively in a world fragmented by a lack of cooperation and shared inspiration.
Q: How does someone get to live in Inspiration House?
At this time, individuals are chosen who are familiar with Ananda’s teachings and way of life. If they haven’t grown up here or in another Ananda community, or if they haven’t attended school or college here, they mostly find out about Ananda through one of our guest programs: either the Karma Yoga program offered at The Expanding Light (the community’s guest retreat), or the Living with Spirit program offered each summer.
Everyone living at Ananda Village is a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, so those who grew up here and then return need to consciously choose to live in attunement with this path and way of life. Those who did not but who want to explore this path can do so through one of the programs mentioned above.
Learn more about becoming a resident of Ananda Village.
Q: How do you and Ananta, as “older adults”, facilitate the process of guiding those who are younger, while honoring their energy and enthusiasm?
It’s good to remember that Ananda Village was “built”, over 40 years ago, by young people, under the guidance and inspiration of Swami Kriyananda. In its early days, everyone was mostly between 20 – 30 years old. Swami encouraged us, and was quite willing to let us take on responsibility and leadership in different areas of the community. We worked closely with him, and he stressed the importance of coming together daily in meditation and attunement and individual self-offering to God.
We try to give a lot of “open space” to the young adults, and encourage them, as much as possible, to take the reins. “Our agenda”, is, by and large, “their agenda”, in the sense that this project, and ultimately the future of this community, is really theirs to take hold of and define.
We are not in this role to show others how well we can farm, or lead a group house, or do anything. Our role, if we have one, is to offer support for their daily success and undertakings and most importantly, their spiritual growth.
Maria McSweeney is a founding member of Ananda Village, who came at the age of 21 in 1976 and was integral in starting the community’s early farm. She and her husband Ananta served for 23 years as spiritual directors of Ananda Sacramento, and have returned to Ananda Village to serve as co-directors of Inspiration House, where they help to guide Ananda’s next generation of leaders.