Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine Prayer

"For the living, death is certain; for the dead, birth is certain." - Bhagavad Gita

Radhanath Swami wants his students to learn how to serve someone who is dying. So he asked Barbara Slaine and Henry Weiss to please allow those who serve at The Bhakti Center to participate in their "death doula" training program. Ghanashyam signed up.

For the past three days, Ghanashyam has shared with me stories and points of the training that have brought me to tears, all showing the power and beauty of death.

Today, Ghanashyam called me. "Bhakti," he said, "Today we were given an assignment,"

"Oh really?"

"Yes, we were put into groups and were given the assignment to choose someone in our lives whom we love and to design a way to facilitate their passing from this world. It's called an 'advance directive.' So... I chose you,"

"Really? How so?"

"Well, how we're planning our wedding, I'm discovering so much of what you love. So I said that I would put lots of beautiful draping cloth from the ceiling in warm colors. The bedspread would be in that Jaipur block print that you love.

"Then, when people enter the room they would all be required to approach deities of Radha and Krishna and to bow down and offer respects, no matter who they were. We've been told that when people know that when something pleases the person who is dying, everyone is happy to do what he or she wants. So religion doesn't matter. I was thinking how you love deities and would want everyone to offer their respects as the first thing that they do when they come into the room,"

Tears filled my eyes. I pictured Ragunath's deities, Radha Madan Mohan, in that room.

"Then I was thinking how you love to write, this is a part of your legacy. Maybe some of your writings of your choosing from your blog could be compiled and given to guests, and maybe on beautiful stationery,"

Tears flowed.

"Then I was thinking how when everyone comes out of the room they would all take prasad, and what's more they would serve each other. You love to take prasad and for everyone to serve each other. You would want that.

"And then in the room, there could be a point where we all surround you on the bed and share some words of appreciation, or a special story in honor of you. That's your style - you love these community type of events where everyone must do something, there's no slipping away, for everyone to bond.

"It was beautiful, because when I shared all of these ideas with the whole group, everyone was fascinated. People kept exclaiming how beautiful this all seemed, how special I must be, and 'wow, you really love your fiancee. I feel like I know her so well, I wish I could be there!'"

"Well, hopefully not yet," and we both laughed.

"The people in my group were fascinated by how you love saris," Ghanashyam continued, "and then one of them even suggested that maybe you wear your favorite sari,"

Immediately I thought of my initiation sari - the ivory one with the gold border.

"And there could be a corner where kirtan and bhajans are going on, so that people could go and sing the holy name,"

Tears flowed down my face and I had the most curious experience of being so deeply loved. Ghanashyam knows me on the soul level. He loves me on the soul level.

"Ghanashyam," I said, "This is the most beautiful Valentine's Day gift I could have ever received. Everything you said... this is exactly how I would want to leave this world. With your words and description, I feel unafraid of death, that I will be surrounded by love and my next destination is auspicious.

"Ghanashyam, I want to also meditate on how to facilitate your leaving this world,"

"Yes, it is a beautiful meditation," he said.

Several hours have passed and I realize that if I was to leave the world in such a loving way, the fear of being a nobody has faded away. The burning desire to be world famous or rich or accomplished has vanished. I don't need to be remembered for eons and put down in the annals of history.

All I want is to be surrounded by loved ones and the holy name, to leave a legacy of love. And soon those people who remembered me will pass from this world and no one will actually remember me or mark my space in history.

And that is okay.

Because my soul has moved onward in the journey of love. That is all that matters.

Whichever one of us leaves first, I only hope that I may journey with Ghanashyam towards Krishna even beyond this lifetime. That is my Valentine prayer.



Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tell It

I walked into a classroom filled with little children all busily working in groups.

"Welcome!" said the teacher with a smile. "You're here for observation, right? To see if you want the job as a part-time teacher? Well, you can take this group here in the library, read to them, engage in discussion,"

"Sure, thank you," I replied wobbily. I had never, ever worked with children so young - five and six years old. In my path to being a teacher, I had always focused on high school.

But this was the position that was open - Kindergarten. And I was being warmly persuaded to come on board by practically the entire administration staff of Kahakai Elementary.

So I came for observation, to test the waters.

After I braved my way through the sweet session in the library, we formed a line and marched our way through campus to the computer room to take tests. One little girl with black hair in a high ponytail and almond eyes looked up at me and smiled. When I smiled back, she said, "I love you!" and gave me a hug around the legs.

I was speechless. My cynicism was squelched for several rare moments, enough for me to finally respond, "Well, I love you too!"

She smiled at me again and we continued to walk. I asked, "What is your name?"

"Yuki*," she replied.

"My name is Bhakti," I said.

I shook my head in wonder.

Later that day, I reflected on the experience, accompanied by my old buddy again, Cynicism. This little girl had seen me for a grand total of maybe twenty minutes. She hadn't even known my name. Heck, I hadn't even known her name. How could she say that she loves me? What about boundaries, respect, concern, reciprocation, service... She has no idea what love is! And how could I have said that I loved her back??

And then, I realized that maybe this little girl had indeed taught me about love today:

Simplicity.

Innocence.

An open heart.

Indeed, life is too short to keep love locked inside a too-careful heart. Yuki, I am conquered, you are my teacher!


(*Pen name used for anonymity) 




Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dissolved Barriers

I know that man, I thought, looking at an elderly man with short, gray hair. His history within the Hare Krishna movement is dark.

The 24 Hour Kirtan in New Vrindavan had commenced, and whorls of people surrounded the kirtan party. A bitter taste came to my mouth and my mind to see this man across the way. I looked around and noticed some other people I had some personal painful history with, or disconnection, and that "loneliness in the crowd" feeling descended over me like a cloud.

Hour after hour of kirtan played on and on - on through the afternoon, on through the evening, on through the night and into the next morning. I had participated in this festival with a vow of silence - to sing only the holy name. The easiest way to keep this vow seemed to simply stay in kirtan. So I stayed in kirtan hour upon hour, singing and singing.

The final kirtan commenced, Badahari Prabhu at the helm. The melody was slow, soulful, and wound us all together with silken threads. The melody seemed to say, "Where are you, My Lord? I am so far away from You. I miss You. I need You." We sang at the top of our voices, a violin, mridanga, kartals, harmonium all filled the air, and yet there seemed to be a deep quiet beneath this fabric of kirtan.

I lost track of time. At one point, I opened my eyes and saw tears running down the faces of almost every person there. I raised my arms and tears also came to my eyes.

Spontaneously, people began to rise to their feet to dance, arms raised. I also rose. The mood changed.

Joy.

An embrace.

Krishna, You are here. You are here. 

I'll never forget. I looked across the crowd and saw the man with the gray hair. His smile shone. My judgment had dissolved. My previous conceptions melted away. To this very day, I honestly do not even remember who that man was - what his name was or his history. All I remember is that I experienced love for him.

I looked around at these faces, shining so brightly, smiling, singing the holy name. My heart swelled with love, unconditional love. I felt that these people loved me too. Somehow in the unity of singing the holy name, all the pain, loneliness, sorrow, and judgment had dissolved.

When the kirtan concluded, the dust in my heart slowly came back.

But I know now.

It's possible.

I want to get back. I want to live my life as a kirtan, all day. Every day.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Throwdown with Fear

Just beyond the pools of light, the wall of black began and continued on for eternity. Fanged wolves and slithering snakes lurked just beyond my vision.

At night in my room when the night swallowed up the world, just outside the window could be a thief. A murderer could be tiptoeing just beyond the bushes, a curved knife in hand.

The dark.

The dark - fear would strike my heart and course through my veins when I needed to go to sleep at night, or dash through a dark patch from one building to another, or walk through the woods on a moonless night. Horror movies and news stories had taught me that the greatest fear was not some twisted monster, but an evil-hearted human. Someone who killed without reason, someone with hatred in his or her heart.

So my fear grew and grew beyond my childhood, and as I got older, the scheme of just WHO was waiting out there in the darkness became even more twisted and terrifying.

One night when I was fifteen, I had to run an errand from one building to another. My destination was down the hill, through a lawn, beyond a row of trees. A sea of total and complete pitch black stood between me and my goal. I had no flashlight. I had to go. Now.

My heart pounded, adrenaline coursing through my veins.

I took a deep breath.

I ran.

I ran down the hill, past the trees, and suddenly I halted and knelt down on the grass and fell over my legs, my arms outstretched in some kind of strange obeisance. I took deep breaths, the scent of grass filling my nostrils. The world seemed to whirl unsteadily beneath me.

I'm fed up with you, fear of the dark. 

So sick of you. 

I'm done. 

I sang the Nrisimhadeva Prayers in my mind, which call out to the Lord for protection in body and heart from evil.

I lay there, the seconds growing to minutes. The breeze rustled by and caused the banana leaves to chatter and murmur. Crickets hummed. The wind sighed. The grass was cool beneath my fingers, arms, body.

No one attacked me.

Ummmm....

Duh.

And if anyone DID, I was still protected, for even if my body was hurt, my spirit never would be.

In one breath, I rose to my feet and dusted off the blades of grass stuck to my palms. I looked around at the pitch black, determined where I needed to go, and strode in that direction.

I never feared the dark again.

Even when I went to a haunted house for Halloween. Kind of a bummer. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Open Heart

Tonight the weight of the world settled on my shoulders.

I walked out of yoga class heavy, burdened. The class was lovely, but whenever I take a yoga class the physical moves seem to open up the metaphysical heart.

So when my heart opened, the burden settled in. 

I felt overwhelmed by certain painful conditioning while growing up - the state of my fragmented family, how my insecurities and dysfunction affect my professional, personal, and spiritual life. Fear of perpetuating a painful legacy for myself and my family. 

I looked for music to soothe my heart. I came across a deeply Christian song, about how Lord Jesus Christ shed blood to save our souls. The song soared and enveloped me with softness and power. 

I drove down to the shore and watched the sun set upon the ocean in a blaze of fire. I felt as though the burden was lifting from my heart because the Lord was carrying that burden for me. What love. What amazing love. 

We all carry our burdens, we all carry our "crosses." How amazing that our Lord is so loving, so kind, so gentle, that when we simply turn to Him with open hands and a soft heart, He is so willing to carry our burdens. He heals our hearts, makes us whole, allows the impossible to become possible. 

I do not have the answer. I do not believe my burden is gone forever. But I had an experience this evening that the load can be made lighter, and my heart will be made stronger. May I forever turn to my beloved Lord for grace and healing. 

And next time I go to yoga class and my heart opens, may a river of joy come flooding out. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

I'm Not Alone

I had wanted to get married since I was a young girl. But I reeeeally wanted to get married for about five years straight.

I prayed.

I waited.

I asked for advice.

I read books. Lots of 'em.

I wrote letters and lists and petitions to Krishna.

I cried. A lot. There were months and years of silence, of endless silence.

When I was 26, I was living in Mayapur, India, facing much pain and longing in my heart to simply be married and move on in life. I prayed and took solace in Radha Madhava.

I stayed on to teach middle school English, which would take me well into the thick of an insane Mayapur summer. When all the pilgrims filtered away from the festivals and Mayapur had settled into a sleepy and kind of gently abandoned town, my heart began to unfurl. I lived in this big old building on the edge of Mayapur, on the second floor. I would teach during the (insanely hot) day, then come home. I lived alone. I ate alone. I wrote alone. Everything,

alone.

Day after day, I began to experience - I'm not alone.

I have me.

I have Krishna.

I love this company. Love. If I was to spend the rest of my life with anyone, I am a pretty darn lovely person, and Krishna is too.

In my journals, the topic of marriage was conspicuous by its absence. All my life I had filled the pages of my journal with stories and realizations and prayers of love and marriage.

And while I had always written about these particular topics as well, I noticed that ALL I wrote about seemed to be the beauty of the sunset over Mayapur fields, the naughtiness of one of my students, the glory of God and how He loves me. I experienced trust blossom in my heart.

I was so content being on my own, I was happy to continue this way for much longer, to explore my career, to develop friendships, cultivate my service...

And of course, "When you're not looking for it, Krishna gives it to you,"

I had this sense that Krishna was sending me someone soon, simply because I was content on my own. It's a funny thing. As soon as we become whole and satisfied on our own, Krishna sends us someone.

Yup, let's see, precisely ten days after I left Mayapur, I met my future husband, who is also a whole and beautiful devotee of Krishna.

One + One = Three.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Twine of Grace




One twig snaps with a flick of the fingers.

A bundle of twigs is near impossible to break.

This is my meditation as I prepare for my wedding. Both Ghanashyam and I understand that marriage in this day and age can snap with a flick of pain and hardship. We need the support of those we love and respect - our friends, mentors, well-wishers - in order to remain strong and unbreakable.

A wedding is about bringing together all of the beautiful twigs of our loved ones, and for us to be tied together with the twine of grace by the Divine Couple Themselves - Sri Radha and Krishna.

When the insanity of wedding planning sets in, I remember this image. I remember why we're spending this time, money, and energy on one, maybe two days.

Blessings.

Connection.

Love.





To write is to dare the soul. So write.