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 -

to

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. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Wake Up to Love

What am I going to do with my life?

Sheez, what a heavy question.

Last night in a pool of light from my bedstand, I was scrawling away in my journal. I'm facing the fact that suddenly I'm unsure what I'm going to do for a meaningful career or service in life. I've been feeling tortured about this lately, seriously.

So I decided to lighten up! I asked myself: "If money were not an issue, what would you love to wake up to every day for the rest of your life?"

Just play around. I dare you. 

I was a bit rusty at first, but then the juices flowed and my pen flew across the page. Of course my old flame profession came back, the one I've been daydreaming about since I was fifteen - photographer for National Geographic.


Then came conscious children's book writer. 


Ooooo, and I LOVE baking muffins, I could open up a prasadam, vegan, gluten-free muffin shop!


Then I really meditated on how I feel deeply grateful and on-purpose when I can facilitate a group of people to experience a higher calling - through communication, kirtan, prasadam, and more. My pen kind of cycled me back around to how there is a reason I pursued Education in my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I love to organize and own the way I share knowledge, and give my students the opportunity to own that knowledge and run with it, run with it, run with it!! 

The other evening we hosted an event at The Bhakti Center where all the graduates of the spring courses came together for kirtan, to hear Radhanath Swami speak, and honor prasadam. I called upon graduates of Kirtan Connection to not only participate but to lead up the various aspects of the event, from hospitality, kirtan, and the whammy, serving prasadam in sit-down, Vaishnava style. 

Lots of preparation went into the event. The day of, though, I just stepped back and watched these students take over with incredible skill and inspiration. I was there to assist when needed, but really, at one point I almost felt guilty. Um, should I be doing more?? 

The eyes of guests as they left the event were bright and shining with gratitude. There's something about kirtan, sacred words, and prasadam that deeply opens the heart. I saw Radhanath Swami approach many of my students and thank them, even hug the men, and I was so deeply grateful and humbled. 

I just wish that every day of my life I could wake up to that. 








Monday, June 22, 2015

Reminder

I rarely listen to live recorded kirtans. It's just not my thing for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, there are some live recordings that I listen to at times, and one particular kirtan I listen to is when I myself have lead the kirtan. This particular kirtan that I lead was about four years ago, and I had hosted Wednesday gurukuli bhajans at my home for my birthday.

Now, you may think this conceited of me. I listen to myself sing?

I'm having a difficult time in my life right now - where to go next in life? I'm facing pain and bewilderment and fear. Once again, I have found myself listening to this kirtan from four years ago.

I've been a little mystified why I'm listening to it, a little shy that someone would walk by my room and hear me listening to myself! But this morning I realized that I go back to listen to this kirtan when I am having a particularly difficult time in life - I'm struggling with my life situation, I'm facing issues of self-doubt and hurt and pain, or I'm simply unhappy. I realized that when I am singing the holy name is when I am the most happy and peaceful. I can hear it, I can feel it.

Four years ago I wasn't necessarily happier in life, in fact I was also going through a tough time. But at the time when I sang this kirtan, everything melted away. All that existed was pure joy and connection with others.

When I listen to this recording, there's a part of me that is longing to experience the peace and joy that I can hear so clearly. It's a reminder that I have been and can be happy and connected.

And of course, the holy name is always accessible, always ready to dance upon my tongue if only I let Him. Sometimes I find it hard to muster up any sincerity at all to even chant so I resort to simply hearing, and hope blossoms in my heart once again.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

An Inevitable Occasion

Several days ago I chanted one round of japa with a group of ladies and I suddenly became conscious of the moment of my death. One day death will come, just as my 28th birthday came this year. Just as there's this strange jump of time to ten years ago when I was 18, I felt this jump in time to those moments when I'm leaving this world.

Inevitably, that day will come.

All that mattered was the holy name. I felt so loved unconditionally. Even though all of these offenses that can be committed to the holy name are there in my heart, somehow none of them mattered at the time of death. NONE of them. None. Krishna was there for me. It was an amazing experience how the holy name was all that existed and I felt safe.

I had no idea what was coming next, but that was okay. I felt no fear. I felt so loved, that was the surprising thing. No matter what I'd done or said or in my life, Krishna's holy name was there. If at my time of death I can chant the holy name, then my life is complete.

And if I can't chant, the holy name will come for me.

“My dear Lord Krishna, how will it be possible for me to remember You at the time of death, when my throat will be choked up with mucus, bile, and air? O my Lord, may I leave this world at this very moment when I am healthy and conscious; let the royal swan of my mind enter the tangled stems of the lotus of Your feet." - Prayers by King Kulashekhara




Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Power of Prasad

I believe in the power of prasad.

My dad has been telling me for the past several years, "Prasadam, prasadam!! You must serve prasadam always; if someone eats prasadam their lives will change forever."

He's not exaggerating.

My father and mother would frequent the Hare Krishna temple while they were finishing up their degrees at University of California, Berkeley. The food was cheap and tasty, and - little did they know - it was spiked. With love, of course. Little did they know that food that has been made and offered with love to the Lord is transformed into prasadam, which literally translates from the Sanskrit as "mercy." Little did they know they were getting hit with mercy, but sure enough they became devotees of Krishna and the rest is history.

Even though you could say that I myself am a product of prasadam, I sometimes have doubted this part of Vaishnava philosophy that prasadam is all-powerful. When I adventured on the traveling youth bus tours in Mexico with Manorama Dasa and Jaya Sri Radhe Dasi, the emphasis on serving prasadam at our events was utmost. In fact, I was doubtful, sometimes even annoyed. What's the point in making all this food? Maybe we'll never even see these people again.

Then I have begun to discover over the past several years that when I myself have felt distant and cold and uninspired about being a devotee of Krishna, I eat prasadam and the world seems to right itself. I am at home, there is nowhere else I'd rather be. God loves me, Krishna loves me, everything is going to be okay.

This past Kirtan Connection I incorporated into the course learning how to serve prasadam in the traditional Vaishnava way. The tradition is that everyone sits down and the servers come to you with every possible option, from water to the main course to a dash of salt. Don't move. Our every movement is to serve you until you are satisfied.

When students hosted their graduation this past Sunday, prasadam was served out in this traditional way. While I surveyed the many people seated in rows and at tables, I began to realize that maybe all the guests would forget the kirtan that was sung earlier, they would forget the little commencement ceremony, they may even forget the eloquent words spoken by our spiritual leader.

But they would never forget how good the food was, and they would never forget the smile and kindness of those who were serving this food.

Towards the end of serving out of prasadam, one guest came up to the table where many of us servers were waiting for our next move. The guest remarked to us, "I was sitting down with my friends and we were saying how we couldn't taste any of the flavors of the food because we could only taste the love overpowering everything!"

We all went "OOOOOOooooooOOO!!" and laughed and laughed.

This is love, this is unforgettable, this is the power of prasad.






Saturday, May 30, 2015

Gems

For the Kirtan Connection course that I teach, we have a private blog where students write a post every week and comment on their fellow students' posts. This week our topic was kirtan etiquette and pride. I just finished commenting on every post.

I feel like I've just emerged from a washing machine. I feel cleansed inside and out, as if I have received instructions from my spiritual master on the art of leading and participating in kirtan. I am humbled by the innate wisdom of each and every student.

In this course, we have a woman who received spiritual initiation in 1979 and is now returning to the Krishna conscious movement.

A spunky thirteen-year-old and a powerful thirty-two-year-old gurukuli.

A professional modern dancer who has visited the Bhakti Center only once before, and participated in kirtan possibly four times.

A lady who is dedicated to Krishna Consciousness and is a registered member of a Native American tribe. She comes down from Boston every week and shares her beautiful culture with us.

Two sincere and inspired yoginis - one who teaches and practices at The Bhakti Center and the other one who has traveled to India with Raghunath.

A soft-hearted woman dedicated to truth and serving Krishna.

I am in awe by the beauty of each student, so grateful to be serving each one. I believe that they are probably teaching me way more about kirtan than I will ever teach them. Thank you, Srila Prabhupad, for granting me the association of these beautiful people. 

To write is to dare the soul. So write.