By Nayaswami Narayan Romano
July 17, 2018

Have you ever initiated a contagious yawning spell among your friends? Perhaps you started yawning now that you’ve read that word twice in two sentences. Oh no! I just started a contagious yawning spell! I hope you’re not reading this while driving.

I first heard of contagious yawning and mirror neurons from my friend, Dr. Peter Van Houten. Research suggests that the neurons that fire in our brain when we are physically performing an action are the same neurons that fire when we observe someone else doing the same action. Hence, they are called mirror neurons.

I believe neuroscience actually stole the idea about mirror neurons from India. For example, India has what I like to think of as the original mirror neuron saying:

“One moment in the presence of a saint can be your raft over the ocean of delusion.”

How can one moment with a saint change us forever? What is it that makes their company so special?

I suspect one reason is the saints mirror to us our own potential sainthood. The company of a saint is the highest reflection for our mirror neurons! It reminds me of Yogananda’s chant, “O Thou King of the Infinite!” when he says, “I behold Thee in samadhi…in joy, and in more joy!”

I remember one touching moment I had with Swami Kriyananda that reminds me of this Indian saying. He had recently written The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita (which if you haven’t read it, truly does sing through its inspiration and wisdom). There was a special signed edition people could purchase to help with the marketing and book launch. I had the privilege of bringing books to his office at the Crystal Hermitage for him to sign.

One person gave Swamiji a book, then he signed, and I slid the book away from him so he could move to the next one. He would sign up to 100 copies at one sitting in between other projects. I knelt at his feet and held silence throughout trying to do my job but be as invisible as possible so he could focus. There were just two of us with Swamiji in his office.

At one point between signing books, Swamiji turned, looked down at me, and smiled. So much love, wisdom, and bliss flowed through his eyes in that single moment! From that one moment, I now know why they say, “One moment in the presence of a saint can be your raft over the ocean of delusion.”

There were no words between us and yet somehow so much was communicated! I hold onto this as one of the golden memories of my life. In a way, I feel I learned more from Swamiji in that moment, then I did in reading all of his books. He shared the silent song of his soul (another “Essence of the Gita!”) and signed it with letters of perennial joy upon my heart.

I think another reason they say “one moment in the presence of a saint…” is because the eyes are the window unto the soul. Swamiji’s vision was “center everywhere, circumference nowhere.” He did not see me as a deluded person, but a soul shining with the same one light of God. In that moment he reflected the reminder of my own divinity. Could anyone be a better friend?

May we pattern our lives after the saints so that not just our mirror neurons fire but our entire being, with one imitation – that of the Christ.