Intersection of Excellence and Joy: 2011 Ananda College Commencement Address

Dedicated to Matthew Frederickson & Nitai Deranja

Distinguished faculty, students, families, residents and guests:

Like the mysterious dancer in an ancient Persian tale, excellence disguises herself in many forms. For 14 Union County High School cross-country runners trying to advance to their state high school championships, she appeared as a gut check — a decision by the kids to make their all-or-nothing push in the final 1,000 meters of a 5K race. The seven members of the boys’ team surged as never before, passing opponents, fighting off discomfort, and soaring out of fourth place to reach the state championships. Six set lifetime best marks. Their seven female teammates dominated the girls’ regional final and went on to excel at state.

Afterwards, things really started happening. All of the runners assessed what they wanted to do with their lives, how education fit into their plans, and the value of trying their hardest. The results speak for themselves – today, the runners from this team include numerous college students, a member of the U.S. Army, a regional 100- and 200-meter sprint champion, the #2 and #3 runners in western Kentucky, and one of the top wrestlers in the state.  All from one team.

What happened here? How did one race effect such a sweeping change among the people who ran it that they became young champions in life?

The answer: these kids reached into and grabbed their excellence, embraced it, trusted it, and manifested a joyous outcome that inspired them to always strive for the top. They came face to face with what was possible — and kept going. To quote Confucius: “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… These are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”

We hear about the need to achieve personal excellence from our parents, teachers and other adults. We hear it from society. We at Ananda College of Living Wisdom do our best to show you the keys and help you identify and walk through your doors. But really, what long-term, sweeping benefit does excelling at yoga, writing, teaching, playing music, dancing or building websites really provide if we don’t share it with others? Or connect to a larger mission, a greater work that touches many hearts and souls? What good is a roomful of awards if we don’t wake up every day with a commitment to better ourselves, dedicate ourselves to Spirit, and inspire others to find their excellence?

That’s where joy enters our lives. True joy, whether expressed in work, relationship, compassion, kindness, service or generosity, a smile or a laugh, bellows outward from a single realization: God alone is the doer. When joy and excellence unite, everything becomes possible. Our energy becomes magnetic. Our potential expands beyond our imagination.

It’s interesting how this works. When a new challenge arises, we typically pass through a progression, from ‘that’s impossible’ to ‘maybe it’s possible’ to ‘I think I can do it’ to ‘It’s likely I can do it’ to ‘I can probably get it done’ to ‘Done’ — the evaporation of all limitation. We inwardly summon the tools, guidance and will to manifest what we need, when we need it. Eventually, the ‘impossible’ becomes ‘second nature’. Question is, who fueled that quantum leap? Was it you? Or the Divine? Every time we welcome and embrace God in our lives, we experience a blessing. A measure of excellence and joy. Growth.

We’ve all had that experience. Just look at the last two weeks: the poetry you read Gary Snyder in tribute to him, the Song of St. Francis performance you gave, the way you pulled all-nighters and fought off fatigue to excel in your finals. Do you even recognize the person you were nine months ago? By giving credit to the Divine, and joyfully offering our best effort, excellence becomes a constant flow, not a random occurrence.

Joy is the natural state of our soul and heart. It serves us 24/7 – if we allow it. When we integrate it with our commitment to excel, we truly inspire others. Note how the word “integrate” breaks down — inter- and great. The keys to the kingdom of heaven belong to those who bring joyful, humble hearts and minds into the daily arena, and focus on learning, improving and serving.

If we don’t enjoy what we’re doing, how can we impart lasting knowledge, learning and life skills that others would want to emulate and apply in their lives? If we don’t deeply enjoy the process of learning, how can we pass it along? If we don’t pour our consciousness joyfully into every asana, affirmation or pranayam of Ananda Yoga, or lovingly help students improve their practice, how can we excel as yoga teachers? These are questions that often sink like iron balls in a public school setting, but they are questions that you, the emerging teachers, writers, artists and leaders of this world, would do well to ask yourselves from time to time. By doing so, you nourish the quality that sweetens the heart of life itself — humility. Always be ready to serve and give of yourself.

Ananda College of Living Wisdom is, above all, a school of and for teachers. We come here to learn, but we leave here to teach. While some of our core EFL principles date back to Ancient Greece, and others lie in the fertile fields of raja yoga, tied together and expanded through Swami Kriyananda’s prescient views on education, we truly represent a new vanguard for these times. We educate around the student’s spiritual, academic and emotional needs. We bring our knowledge, joy and wisdom to the table to nourish minds, hearts and souls. We carry not only our light and wisdom into our professions, but also the energy to effect change and the potential to touch every heart and soul.

We’ve experienced learning and growing as an inner process. That creates a constant, lifelong thirst for knowledge and wisdom. We’ve excelled in various ways. That germinates lasting achievement. We’ve gone deep into our own souls. That percolates fulfillment and joy. Most of all, we’ve connected ourselves to this ray of Divine guidance.

When we combine excellence and everlasting joy, we can transform the course of every student we teach and every project we undertake. We can extend an education that not only lasts for entire lives, but gives lives greater purpose.  Our light will shine upon souls young and old, wherever we go.

Congratulations again to all of the students on a wonderful year. Thank you all for joining us in this celebration.

– Bob Yehling, June 2, 2011

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