Thursday, August 27, 2015


Art & Words Duet: Day 5

"I'm so nervous, Gigi," Amanda said, gripping her best friend's arm tightly.

"Honey, you're cutting off my circulation," Gigi said.

"Oh, yes, sorry,"

"You have nothing to worry about. Your book was awesome, the publishing house surely accepted your proposal,"

"Don't jinx it. You've also been trying to get your photography book published, and you're still looking for a publisher," Amanda began to nervously play with her blonde braid.

"True," said Gigi. "But your book rocked."

A woman in a clean gray suit emerged from a side office. She walked up to Amanda and Gigi, a professional smile on her face, "Ms. Lorence?" The woman glanced between both young ladies.

"That's me," Amanda piped, raising her hand as if she was in school. She blushed and put her hand down.

"Congratulations, Penguin has accepted your cookbook proposal. We will discuss details in the coming weeks and send you follow-up emails. In the meantime, congratulations," The woman extended her hand, and Amanda shook it, her eyes wide, her grin stretching from ear to ear.

Something curious happened for Gigi. It was only a moment, but she felt this flash of heat in her chest and across her face. A frown formed across her brow. Animosity towards her friend filled her mind. Not fair.

As soon as the fire swept through her, she hurriedly pushed it aside, shaken. She took a quick breath, smiled, and faced her friend.

"Congratulations, Amanda, I told you, your book rocked," She hugged Amanda tightly.

"Yeah, the very first publisher we approached, and Penguin, no less! These guys are huge. Amazing."

"Yeah, amazing," Gigi couldn't help it - her voice fell flat. Amanda suddenly noticed and fell quiet. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Enigmatic Smile

Art by Rukmini Poddar

Art & Words Duet: Day 4
The Enigmatic Smile

"Mrs. Donahue, mother of Lalita, requested a chaplain."

I glanced at my clipboard. "Okay, I'll see her. When?"


"Will do," I nodded and through the halls until I reached the cancer wing of the hospice.  

I had met with Mrs. Donahue before, and when I saw her in a waiting chair, she rose to her feet, tears in her eyes. "Samantha," she greeted me. "It's Lalita." 

"How is she?" 

"She's leaving. I don't know what to do. I feel like I'm being suffocated,"

"I hear that you're feeling overwhelmed with pain," I said, "Even your body is reacting,"

"Yes, yes. I need someone to be there with me with her. More family is arriving soon and I'm not sure how I'll handle this."

I placed a hand on her shoulder and then we walked in to the hospice room of her daughter. Lalita was propped up on a bed. She had insisted on not wearing any hospital-type garb and simply wore an old, well-loved tank top. She had requested that all the tubes be taken out of her nose and wrists, and so her breathing was labored and rattled.

But her face. Both her mother and I just stopped at the doorway, staring. Lalita's eyes were closed, and her mouth formed a smile that spread through her entire face and radiated from her body. She was whispering something.

Mrs. Donahue and I approached the teenager, wary. Was Lalita in her right mind? Had taking out the tubes affected her mental functions?

Lalita opened her eyes and looked at both of us. Her eyes shone, her gaze was straight and true and unblinking. "Thank you for being here, Chaplain Jones," she said softly.

"Thank you for allowing me to be here," I responded.

"Mother," Lalita turned to Mrs. Donahue and held out a hand. "Please chant with me,"

They clasped hands and began to chant what I knew to be Hare Krishna. At one point Lalita was too weak to continue to chant so her mother continued to softly chant the mantra and Lalita listened with that rapt smile, her face radiating a peace and joy I had never witnessed before. Lalita had once explained the meaning of the Hare Krishna mantra to me, that it was actually a personal invocation to God. I sat next to the mother in this vigil.

Other close family and friends began to show up. One young man began to sing Hare Krishna, and everyone responded. Call and response ensued, and I caught on enough to sing in the response (barely). The smile blossomed even more on Lalita's face. At one point she gestured for me to come close. I leaned in. She spoke softly: "This is the perfection of my life,"

Soon after, Lalita left us. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Glass Heart

(To know more about this Duet, click here.)

Art by Rukmini Poddar

Art & Words Duet: Day 3

There's a man who takes walks in the morning with a giant red ball of silk sashes. He whistles and smiles at the neighbors who jog by. They don't smile back. When he sits to watch the sunrise, he sits on his anger and pushes it down into the sand. The ball cushions his body, and the vibrating pulse of it keeps him awake and alive, humming and whistling. 

A boy is walking by with his dog, playing a game of fetch with a blue rubber ball. The man waves at the boy with a smile. The boy frowns back and throws the ball for his dog in the opposite direction. A sash of red slips out of the man's mouth like silk smoke, and he catches it from the air like a scarf and stashes it in the pulsating ball he's reclining on. 

The ball begins to rise from the sand, threatening to push the man off of his seat. 

Push it down. Push it down. 

He wrestles with the ball, but that last sash of red seems to have disturbed the balance. The man grits his teeth, sweat drips from his brow. Almost there, the ball seems to be going deeper into the sand. The rising sun over the ocean shines on the man's face and the scene. Some passersby stroll by, staring at the struggle. He gives a strained smile. "Everything is fine," he calls out. People scurry on. 

Control, must control. This ball is almost... almost... under control.

A voice whispers in his mind: Who is controlling who

Suddenly, the pulsating ball of red sashes goes still. The man tentatively gets to his feet. Strange to step away. Before his eyes the sashes unravel and unwind, unravel and unwind, falling out into the sand like a giant lotus flower. 

In the center of the sashes, the opened flower, is a most peculiar object. A glass object. The sun flashes off of the surface and momentarily blinds the man. He shades his eyes and steps forward for a closer look. By now, passersby have gathered in a growing circle, albeit at a distance, their faces betraying their fear, awe, and curiosity. 

The man picks up the glass object, which is surprisingly warm. It's pulsing. He realizes that the pulsing of the entire ball of red sashes came from this object. He holds the object up to the light and sees that it is an exquisitely sculptured glass heart. It has four ventricles, the veins are delicately raised. The glass is translucent and glimmering in the sun. 

The man peers more closely at the heart and sees a fissure running through its very center. He touches the fissure and the heart in his own chest twinges with the pain of a thousand needles. He drops to his knees, surrounded by the red sashes of anger that all come from this fissure in his heart. So much pain. He weeps. The tears fall from his face onto the glass heart and enter into the fissure. The pieces of the heart become one, the fissure vanishes.  

The man holds the heart up to his chest and pushes in until with a jolt, the glass heart enters his body and becomes one with him.   

An ocean breeze suddenly sweeps in and the red sashes pick up and whirl into the sky like a flock of swans. The spectators watch the scene unfold and cheer and cheer. They descend upon the man and embrace him one by one and in groups. 

The man feels a warm rasp of a tongue on his face, and he is greeted by a quivering dog. "Hi there," says a boy. The man is astonished. "I'd like to give you this,"  the boy places the blue rubber ball in the man's hand. 

"Really? For me?" 

"Oh geez, not only for you. It's so that you can play with my dog." 

So the man throws the ball to play.

Monday, August 24, 2015


(To know more about this Duet, click here.)

Art by Rukmini Poddar

Art & Words Duet: Day 2

All day I wash pots, scrub floors, and cook for a family who sneers at me when I walk through a room. I change diapers and sing lullabies for a pair of twin girls. They're too little to sneer. They gaze at my face and coo.

When I'm on my knees, my back sore from scrubbing floors, when I'm stationed in front of the sink, my hands blistered raisins from washing pots, my mind wanders sometimes to a distant land. The sky spreads so wide and I breathe so deep my chest hurts. I watch the birds swoop into the sky, off into the horizon.

The past several weeks whenever I lay down to sleep, I slip away to that place. A smile touches my face. No reason to move, I become one with the mountains, the rivers. Ahhh, yes. One day.

But one night, the mountains and the birds don't come. When I close my eyes, the only image I see is of the twins. They are sleeping, their chests rising and falling.

There are no twin girls in my landscape of escape. In fact, no one lives there. Not even me.

My eyes snap open and I stare at the wood ceiling. Love. I need love. Peace is no longer an escape, but love feels like a trap.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Art and Words Duet: Day 1

Sometimes art begs for written words. Sometime written words beg for art. My friend Rukmini and I have teamed up for an 8-day challenge: when I write, she will share art. When she shares art, I will write.

For the first four days, Rukmini will first offer art and I will write, and then we'll swap. We are both committed to spontaneity, to write whatever comes, free of judgment. 

Here is today's exploration:

In the morning
I unbind my hair
and gaze out the window
searching for someone

the smile on my face
is permanent
like a doll

the road in the distance
shows no signs
of dust clouds
of impending horses
So I wait
and wait

I merge with the mountains 
pining for the one
who will embrace me
and allow the pain 
to flow from my heart
in rivers

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hungry for Love

I get it. I get why the worldwide Hare Krishna movement began in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York.

It's the people. I've noticed that in New York City, everyone is hungry. Hungry for money, hungry for power, hungry for fun, hungry for meaning, hungry for love. I look in the eyes of anyone passing by on the street and I see that hunger there.

I remember once when I went to join the harinam in Union Square. I stood back to observe the scene - the devotees seated on a mat on the concrete, most people rushing by in blurs, some people stopping to watch. I remember one man in an expensive gray business suit - he stood at a distance, just staring at the harinam party; he had this sharp look that seemed to devour what he was seeing.

Hungry. So hungry.

I guess you need to be on fire to live in this city. This place is insane. If you don't live like your pants are on fire, you will get burned up, no joke. So everyone is searching for something, something, something, what is it? Everyone is looking, wondering, will I find power, money, love?

When people walk through the doors of The Bhakti Center, I've noticed that same hungry look in their eyes, only the look softens into a sparkling curiosity, a sort of wonder and vulnerability. I experience people as open, ready and willing to embrace the Truth of what they are searching for.

The other night in the japa women's group, we were reading a prayer of surrender by Bhaktivinode Thakur. A middle-aged woman was reading this prayer, and her voice began to break. When we chanted japa afterwards, she quietly wept. When we shared our hearts at the end, she shared how when she went through hell in her life, she was realizing that God was there for her.

"Krishna was there for me," she said.

This was a woman who, before this ladies group, had never chanted a round of japa in her life.

Living in New York I am surrounded by these miracles. I get to witness that relief, joy, and peace which comes when the hunger of the heart is filled with Krishna's love. I have so much to learn from these people. I want to be hungry, too. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Courage to Change

[The Serentiy Series is based upon this prayer: God grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I can't, and the wisdom to know the difference.] 

Ghanashyam and I bought tickets back in March to visit Alachua, Florida for three whole weeks. Alachua is the community I call home, and I wanted for us to spend quality time there. I reached out to one friend for a place to stay, but as the weeks went by and there was no response, I began to worry. I reached out to one other friend, but that was a no go.

Time began to spin by and my anxiety picked up speed. I began to fret. How could I have lived in Alachua for seven years and feel so hesitant to reach out to anyone there? Was I a stranger? How could no one be willing to help? This was horrible, heartbreaking. 

By the time June came around, I was considering canceling the trip and I had cried numerous times. 

What woe!! 

One night, I was reading the book Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. I decided to consciously change my thought from: I've always been alone in this world, no one loves me, why would Radhe Shyam do this to me -


This is a temporary setback because DUDE I've barely reached out to anyone. Radhe Shyam love me. God loves me

Bam. Peace settled in my heart. The next morning I wrote five emails to various friends and mentors who live Alachua, asking for a place for both Ghanashyam and I to stay. I asked with affection, vulnerability, and detachment. 

Within three days almost everyone had responded, most saying that they were busy, but one mentor did say with much kindness that we could stay in his home. 

Now Ghanashyam and I are visiting Alachua and our situation is perfect for our service and for experiencing the overwhelming love of this community. 

Martin Seligman? Thank you, man. God spoke through you to me to help me experience the truth and make a change not only in the situation but within my heart. 

To write is to dare the soul. So write.