Michael grew up on the west coast of Ireland. His career as a geologist in oil and gas exploration allowed him to travel widely and to indulge his passion for adventure and personal development.
Good morning Michael. Can you recall how you first got interested in meditation? Good morning Hagen.
I think I was always trying to make sense of the world and to attain a feeling of peace and wholeness. In my twenties, I commenced working in a corporate environment which I found stressful and sought meditation as a way to adapt rather than to leave my job. That was when I discovered Transcendental Meditation (TM) which was popular at that time in the mid 80’s.
And did that work for you?
Yes it did. I was amazed that I had a beautiful, peaceful experience the day I was initiated which continued to a greater or lesser degree as I practised. The technique, based on repeating a mantra, helped me to connect to my inner voice and to a more restful state. TM helped me to be calmer and more detached from the ups and downs of life – both in my career and in my personal life.
And how did you come to Kriya Yoga?
In common with many other Kriyavans, it was through “Autobiography of A Yogi“ given to me by my good friend Michael Howard, a fellow Kriyavan. Paramahamsa Yoganandaji’s classic made a significant impact on me and was full of the meaning, love and truth that I was searching for. While TM was an effective technique, for me it lacked the love and gratitude to God that was so central to Yoganandaji’s teachings.
Did you get initiated into Kriya at this time?
No, as I thought all of the Masters of the lineage had left their bodies!! However, I continued with the TM technique while immersing myself in the wonderful books of Paramahamsa Yoganandaji, whom I then considered as my Guru.
And what happened next on your Kriya journey?
I was so impressed with Yoganandaji’s writings that I had a strong desire to visit Karar ashram in Puri, India and in the early 1990s I travelled there. As I approached the ashram, the first person I saw was a young man working in the ashram garden, clean shaven with short hair and dressed in white, who gave me a beautiful smile. As I entered the gate to the garden, I saw an older, white-bearded monk with a walking stick standing in front of me on the path. I approached him and asked if I could meditate in the Mahasamadhi temple of Shri Yukteshwarji. Without speaking, he gave me a key to the temple and I went there and meditated.
After my meditation, I wanted to return the key but the ashram seemed deserted. I wandered around and found the young man again in the library. He was very friendly and he gave me a few booklets. I asked him if I could see the monk who gave me the key and he left and returned with him a few minutes later. Again, without speaking, the monk took my copy of “Autobiography of a Yogi“ and on opening it, he took out my book marker and enquired “What is this?” I replied it is a book marker to which he replied sternly “No, it is not.“ I answered “It is a railway ticket that I am using as a book marker” and he countered very strongly “Do you not know what you are holding in your hands?”
Soon after this incident, I left Puri and returned to London. Although I was a bit shocked by the monk’s words, they did not give rise to any annoyance in me as I felt that I was being helped somehow. I also became more aware that the Guru’s words in book or in any other form are sacred and should be respected as such. Yoganandaji, through his book, brought me to Karar ashram and his words and his essence were protecting me. I did not use a bookmarker for years after that meeting!
After returning from India, I realised that I had not enquired about Kriya Yoga or initiation when I was at Karar ashram. It just never crossed my mind!
What an interesting meeting. And what happened then?
Well, I continued with my TM meditation and with the study of Yoganandaji’s books. Around 12 years after that first visit to Karar ashram, I was living in Oxford, UK when a friend told me that a Kriya Yoga monk was giving a lecture in town. I went along and was most impressed with the talk given by this young monk whom I later learnt was Swami Shuddhananda Giri. He informed us that in a few months time, a great monk, Paramahamsa Prajnananandaji would be coming to London to give initiation into Kriya Yoga. I was delighted to hear this and made plans to attend the lecture in London.
And is that what happened?
Yes, in late 2003 I attended a wonderful introductory lecture by this impressive monk Prajnananandaji that Shuddhanandaji had spoken about. After the lecture, as he stood on the stage, I asked in silence if he was my Guru and I was blessed with a sign that left me in no doubt that he was indeed my spiritual guide. I resolved to be initiated the next day.
Can you remember how you felt on the day of your initiation?
Certainly, enormously grateful and fortunate. A feeling that I was moving in the right direction towards Home with a loving guide taking care of me.
Did your visit to Karar ashram come to mind on initiation day?
Not that I recall – it was some 12 years before. Some time after my initiation, however, I saw some old photographs of Karar ashram and realised that the elderly monk that I had met was none other than Paramahamsa Hariharanandaji and that the young man in the garden became Paramahamsa Prajnananandaji, who, in turn, became my Guruji!
That is amazing that you had the good fortune to meet Gurudev although you were not aware at the time.
That’s true; I reflected how I knew nothing of God’s plans but that everything happens by His Will and Grace when it is meant to occur.
Michael could you tell us how you became involved in organising the Balashram Treks. How did that come about?
David Green, who was the UK Centre Leader at the time, asked me to help. Kriya Yoga UK were planning a trek to Egypt in 2007 to raise funds for the construction of the Balashram School in Odisha. I believe the idea came from David and his old friend, kriyavan Mark Givert, as a result of spiritual treks that Mark had organised years earlier.
The trek, which Prajnananandaji joined, was open to kriyavans worldwide, all of whom raised £2,500 (or equivalent) in sponsorship monies for Balashram, in addition to the cost of the trek.
I had the good fortune to attend that very first Balashram trek in the Sinai desert in Egypt. What are your recollections of that first one?
It was a wonderful experience, spending time with Prajnananandaji and other kriyavans, travelling through the Sinai desert and meditating under the stars. Oh, and most importantly raising money for the Balashram School.
Could you tell us about the other fundraising treks that you helped to organise?
Yes, there was one to Ladakh in the Himalayas in 2008, one to Gaumukh, the source of the Ganges in 2009, Dharamsala in 2010, Israel 2011 and the last one to Tanzania in 2018.
All the treks were wonderful – each with its own flavour and memory. Prajnananandaji took part in all the treks and it was a joy for us trekkers to be able to spend quality time with him. As a result of the generosity of many people worldwide, much needed funds were raised for Balashram.
The need for finance to support the running of the school remains, and Hand in Hand along with our centres worldwide continue the work of raising funds for Balashram.
You were UK Centre Leader for a long time.
Yes, after David Green, Bertie Cairns was the Centre Leader, and then I was asked to take over around 2009 until your good self Hagen took the reins in 2019!
What are your main memories from those days?
That it is a great honour and privilege to serve God and the Masters, that you cannot do anything without the support of others and ultimately that everything depends on God’s Will.
And your thoughts now?
That the greatest blessing of my adult life has been the discovery of meditation. That I am fortunate to have wonderful guides and teachers. That when I stumble and fall, which is frequent, that with God’s help I manage to get up and keep going and that ultimately He is taking care of everything. As Prajnananandaji reminds us “Life is like a trek, uneven path of ups and downs. Lots of smiles and lots of tears too”
Michael, I wonder if you have any advice or encouragement for Kriyavans who have been recently initiated and for those who may have stopped practising.
I would say to remain engaged with a Kriya group in whatever way you can – be that online or by attending group meditations, weekend initiations or retreats. It is easy to get discouraged and feel you are not making much progress. The support and company of our monks, teachers and other kriyavans is very helpful on the path.
Also, reading spiritual books by the Masters can provide an enormous source of inspiration and comfort as well as the drive to keep meditating.
Finally, in my experience it’s better to continue meditating even for a few minutes each day than to give up because you are finding it difficult to practise for a longer period.
Thanks Michael. Grateful to you for sharing your experiences.