Thursday, June 14, 2018

Me, At the Core

I am teaching my students how to write a five-paragraph essay. Because I work at a private Catholic school, I get to bring up God all the time. The special feature of Catholic schools is that people from all walks of life attend this institution. For the final exam for my 7th Grade, I created an exam that they would read an article about theism, atheism, and agnosticism, identify with one, and then write a five-paragraph essay to explain their reasoning. Their responses have been enlightening.

I decided to write the essay myself.

***

I glanced at the grinning faces of all the ladies surrounding me, and when the music in praise of God rose to a crescendo, we all spontaneously began to twirl, our arms raised. Our skirts flared like blossoming flowers, and my feet turned upon the warm wood floor in swift movements. My face lifted and my whole face smiled and I felt my whole body alight with a joy beyond this world. In my religious tradition, we sing and we dance, for we believe it is the natural proclivity of the soul to sing and dance in the joy of God’s love. Even when my mind doubts stories and is disgusted by the horrible things done in the name of religion, these deep, powerful experiences of joy tell me that God exists. I am a theist because I believe in sacred objects and rituals, I follow a God-centered moral code, and I experience religious feelings.

I believe in God because of my experience of the supernatural through sacred objects and rituals. In my tradition, we worship a special statue of God, called a murti, because in this way we are meant to develop a sweet and intimate relationship with Him. In the article “Who are atheists and agnostics? Are they religious?” on Thoughtco.com, the author states, “Sacred means that something is very special and worthy of respect. In religion, people might think sacred things are connected to God or gods.” When we worship this murti of God, we hold it very special and offer it our deepest respect. This quote says that people might “think” that something is connected to God, and I would take this one step further to say that I have “experienced” that this murti is connected to God. I have experienced that when I look into the eyes of this statue, I feel that I am seen, and I feel loved and accepted for who I am, unconditionally. I have never experienced this by looking at any ordinary statue in this world. It is actually said in my tradition that the gaze, or the drishti, of the murti actually has this effect on the heart - a sense of peace and a sense that “everything is going to be okay.” I believe that this object is sacred and connected to the supernatural which gives me conviction that God exists. 

Another reason that I am a theist is that I follow a God-centered moral code. When I took vows of spiritual initiation, I promised to follow four moral codes plus a commitment to meditation that would guide my life. The article states: “Think of a moral code like this: it is a set of rules about right or wrong behavior.” One code that I vowed to follow is to take no intoxicants - this means to not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or take any sort of drug. I believe that this moral code to not take intoxicants helps me to live a life that is awake and present. This moral code is communicating that I do not need some material substance to be happy and that ultimately my only, true happiness can be found by loving and serving God. To me, this is "right" behavior. This moral code, as well as the others that I follow, allow me to live a present, conscious life and to love with my full heart.

A third reason that I consider myself a theist is that I experience religious feelings. Religious feelings are more of an undeniable experience of something beyond this world, and no one can take that away from me The article states that “These feelings might include awe, adoration, or guilt. If you believe in religion, the feelings are usually connected to the presence of the supernatural.” I have experienced awe by participating in religious rituals and singing God’s praise. I have experienced adoration, affection, joy, peace, and humility through my religion. I have never experienced the depth of these kinds of feelings from anything in the ordinary material world, such as from watching a great movie or even spending time with my family. The depth and power of these religious feelings have only been felt when I am connecting to God and the supernatural through scripture, and spiritual song and dance. Ultimately, even when my mind rejects God, religious feelings and experiences are what make me come back to God and believe and trust in Him.

In conclusion, I am a theist at my very core. I could share many reasons, although the ones I highlighted here are that I believe in sacred objects that connect me to the supernatural, and that I follow a moral code that is connected to God. What binds all of my reasons together to be a theist is that I experience religious feelings, which always pull me back, even if I wander away from God for a long, long time. I would say that right now, I have distanced myself from the externals of my religion. But I have conviction that I will sing and dance in praise of God again and my soul will lift beyond this world to experience a joy that can only be felt within God’s embrace.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Closet Catholic

I entered the church and the vaulted ceilings lifted my breath and my gaze and my mind.

Inhale. 

Exhale. 

The morning light filtered through the high windows and stained glass. Warm pools of light illuminated wooden pews, cream-colored pillars, and the massive murals of Saint Brigid and Saint Emeric. The cloth of their painted robes billowed in an unseen breeze, their faces gentle.   

That day was our School Mass for the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which takes places several weeks before Christmas.

Although filling with children from ages seven to fourteen, the Church echoed with only quiet shuffles and murmurs. I paced down the center aisle then directed my eighth grade class to file down the wooden pews. When everyone had settled, I took a seat and gazed up at the giant effigy of Christ on the cross.

The service for this special day was filled with devotions for Mother Mary, songs and prayers in her honor. Towards the end of the service, I rose to direct my students to file out of their pew to receive the Eucharist, the sacred wafer that represents the body of Christ. I approached the priest and folded my arms across my chest, which is a sign that I won't receive the Eucharist itself as I am not Catholic, but I would like to receive a blessing. (As a note, one may receive the Eucharist even if one is not Catholic but for now this is my preference.) With a soft smile, the priest put down the wafer and placed his hand on my head in blessing. I felt warm all over. 

I walked back to my pew and took a seat. I could see many students had taken to kneeling again. Their elbows were placed on the pew in front of them, their palms folded, heads bowed in silence.

I swung down my kneeler with a soft clunk and knelt on the padded bar. I followed the lead of my students and also placed my elbows on the pew in front of me and clasped my hands together. I bowed my head. Sudden tears came to my eyes.

Thank you, Mother Mary.

Thank you for bringing me to this school to serve and to learn about you and your son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Lord, for always protecting me with your loving arms. 

I cannot escape You. You will always come for me, even if I do not ask you to come. You have come for me in the form of this position as the English Language Arts and Religion teacher. Every day I get to talk about you and learn about you and share your love. I didn't ask for this, but you guided me here.

That is grace. 

What an unexpected, undeserved gift. 

Thank you Lord, for showing up in my life, unconditionally. No matter the form you may take, you are here, you are here. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My First Love

When I was 11, I sketched a self portrait with the thought bubble emanating from my forehead:

Should I be a scientist?

Or a singer?

I find it fascinating that I felt inspired at that age to pursue a musical career when the extent of my singing was to burst into song alone in the woods (a la Snow White), and of course, the shower.

As for scientist, um, yeah. No idea where that one came from.

Over the years, that thought bubble has spiraled from my mind again and again:

A teacher?

A photographer?

An environmental ecologist?

A small business owner?

A mother?

A writer?

Recently I've been inspired by Marie Kondo's book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. The title of the book is no joke. I have systematically gone through categories of my life, from clothes, to books, to closets of storage, and more. Bags and bags, boxes and boxes: donated, gifted, discarded.

The criteria for what to keep:

Does this item spark joy?

In the process of clearing away extraneous stuff that has been piling up for years, I am rediscovering my first spark of joy, my first love:

Writing.

Funny how my first official contemplation of what I should be when I grow up was through the medium of paper and pen. Since I was a little girl I have sought solace, connection, joy, and community through the written word.

For so long now I have neglected to share my creative heart through writing.

Maybe we all have parts of our true selves that we neglect because of lack of time, money, committment, and encouragement. Today, for the kajillionth time, "write blog post" was on my To Do list. As the day wore on, I began to sense with growing dread that once again, it would be put off to some nebulous day in the future, some writing utopia.

Suddenly, I decided to honor my word to myself.

I would write a post.

In the process of writing this post my completed drafts got deleted TWICE. So this is literally the third time I'm writing this. It's taking waaaaaaaaaay longer than expected.

That said, here I am.

Here's my heart.





Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Touchdown!

My husband has an amazing capacity to receive love.

He's a wide receiver.

No, literally, he's a wide receiver. As in, one of these:


Now, I had no idea what a wide receiver was before I got married to one. In fact, I attempted to understand American football many times and attended my fair share of Superbowl parties and STILL was clueless (you Europeans aren't the only ones!). 

But football is my husband's favorite sport, and with patience he unraveled this sport for me. Similar to chess, each player in football has his own position, and the strategy is a complicated feat of skill and psychology involving multiple coaches for each position. 

In football, the quarterback throws to the wide receiver. This fascinates me that ever since he was a boy, Ghanashyam has played wide receiver. You see, I experience my husband as loved. He's loved by family and friends and mentors and his patients and bosses...! If footballs were love, he'd be pelted with those brown pointy things on a daily basis. But more importantly than being loved, my husband receives love. He actually catches the ball of love and doesn't let it bounce off his heart. Then he goes for the touchdown.  

The thing is, he doesn't just catch any ol' ball hurtling down the field. There's strategy. Discussion. Boundaries. Rules. Intuition. Love is about cooperation and then being open and ready to receive with a trusting heart. 

I've seen Ghanashyam play football. He is focused. Present. Mostly, though, he's grinning. Even when he misses a pass, he smiles and tries again. And again. 

What I'm coming to realize is that if life was a giant football game, we would ALL be surrounded by brown pointy balls flying our way all day, every day. We would be throwing balls, hoping others would catch our love. And hopefully, we would be receiving the love that our heart desires, opening our hands to catch that love and go for the touchdown. 

By cooperation with one another to give and receive love, ultimately we experience the touchdown of God's love. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Soul Passion

The man's head was bowed and his hands held slender wooden drumsticks. His hands tapped out rhythm, his foot pounded the bass drum, the sound filled the crowded subway platform.

My eyes drew like magnets to the sticks that flew in blurs from one drum and cymbal to the next, to the next, to the next. Hypnotized, I watched the strange combination of sounds create a song of rhythm.

The A train was taking forever. So I just stared and stared at the drum player bowed over his little symphony, his hands flying in micro movements in perfect timing. I wondered what it must feel like to be so present in the creation of sound until nothing else exists. The man was one with his instrument.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, tears shone unshed in my eyes and I turned away. I stared across the train tracks, surprised. Emotion? At a man playing a drum set? How come?

I probed my heart.

Absorption. Connection. Passion.

To witness someone so absorbed in a passion felt intimate and so beautiful. I felt this longing in my own heart to be absorbed with such passion in a moment and in life.

Today at school for St. Patrick's Day, the music teacher showed my students a video of Irish step dancing. I sat at my desk, and my eyes were irresistibly drawn to the screen, mesmerized by the lightning quick taps. The dancers smiled and moved with grace and beauty. Once again, to my surprise, tears came to my eyes.

Even now, as I remember, the unshed tears are quick to sting my eyes.

Why?

Absorption. Connection. Passion.

I want to live my life with passion. Presence.

But now I ask a good, hard question: What happens when the man packs up his drums? What happens when the dancers step off the stage?

What happens if no one wants to hear? Watch?

What happens when the body starts to decay and the hands can no longer hold drumsticks? The feet can no longer tap?

At the end of the day, does all the absorption, connection, and passion even amount to anything?

I sit here at my desk in the after hours of school and gaze out my classroom windows towards Tomkins Square Park. The image of Srila Prabhupad standing beneath a tree within that park 50 years ago comes to my vision and suddenly tears come to my eyes.

He had such absorption. Such connection. Such passion.

For God. For the holy name. For giving love. He changed the lives of thousands, even millions, including my own life. Without Srila Prabhupad's passion to give love, I wouldn't even have my own name. He has given me purpose and passion in life.

This time, the tears fall.





Tuesday, January 3, 2017

An Old Friend

"The bus is only two stops away, honey," Ghanashyam said, glancing at his phone. "I've got to go."

"Yes, yes, coming!" I poured hot soup into my husband's thermos and twisted on a cap with shaking hands. I slid the thermos into his lunchbox and handed it over.

"Thank you!" he said, then dashed away out the door. I took a deep sigh and began to clean up the kitchen. I turned around to face another counter and my heart dropped. The inner cap of Ghanashyam's thermos. This would mean his lunch would be cold and worse, the soup would spill everywhere. I hadn't woken up at 5:45am to make fresh soup for this!

I grabbed the cap and raced to the door. "Ghanashyam!" I called out into the hallway. Silence. I prayed that he hadn't left on the elevator yet. Frantic, I took several steps into the hallway.

The door behind me closed with a thump that echoed off the walls.

I spun around. I stared at the closed door, frozen.

Oh no.

I was in my pajamas and a robe, barefoot, holding a thermos cap. It was 6 o'clock in the morning in winter, the world still dark and asleep.

If Ghanashyam hasn't caught his bus yet, he could give me his key! I thought. Without many other options, I raced down the hallway, the elevator, and through the cavernous front lobby, my robes flying about me.

I dashed right out into the streets.

Barefoot, in pajamas, in the cold, dark morning.

Man, I must've looked like a lunatic!

I sprinted to the end of the block and glanced at the bus stop across the street. No Ghanashyam. Oh dear. So I padded back to our building. I had closed the front apartment building door carefully so that I could still get back inside. Once inside though, I realized I had looked at the bus stop for buses going in the wrong direction! So I RAN BACK OUTSIDE - barefoot, in pajamas, to search the OTHER, correct bus stop.

No go.

This time, though, I hadn't shut the front apartment building door so carefully and it had shut (and locked) behind me.

Jai.

Now I was locked OUTSIDE in the cold, dark morning, barefoot, in my pajamas and robe. With a thermos cap!

So I waited and waited, but it wasn't too long before a lady came out the door on her way to work and I got inside.

So what to do?

The building superintendent. Maybe he had a spare key to our apartment. But it was so early, surely he was sleeping. I had no phone to call him, I didn't know which apartment he lived in. Barely anyone was out and about at this hour, and I did not want to feel like a crazy woman, tapping on my neighbors' shoulders begging for our super's phone number.

So I went up to our hallway and thought, hm, I could ask Eddie for help, our friendly neighbor in the apartment directly above ours. But it was just too early for EVERYBODY.

So what to do??

Wait.

I slid to the floor outside my door, the tile cold against my seat and feet. I put the thermos cap up on the doorknob to keep it off the floor and out of my hands. I took a deep breath and, keeping count on my fingers, I began to chant, "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna..."

It was a strange feeling, to be stripped of absolutely everything except the clothes on my back (and a thermos cap). I had nothing and no one to turn to in the world, everyone was out of reach. And yet what could never be taken away from me was the holy name. The holy name was there for me to keep me company. The holy name didn't care whether I was a billionaire in a mansion or some young woman with only the clothes on her back.

The holy name was simply my friend, unconditionally.

In the dark and quiet morning in our hallway, I chanted for about an hour and a half. I would regularly check the sky to see if the sun had come up yet. At last, I figured it was early but not too extreme, so I walked upstairs and rang Eddie's doorbell. Sure enough it took two times, as he was scrambling to wake up and answer the door. He called and texted the super to no avail, then he suggested going through the fire escape as long as my window was open.

Eddie climbed down to my place, opened my window, climbed through and opened my front door. When he did so, the thermos cap came tumbling into the hallway from its perch on the doorknob.

So there you go.

That was my morning.

When I settled once again on the warm couch in my cozy apartment, I reflected how in the chaos of the morning, I had experienced a glimpse of magic. I had connected with an old and beautiful friend who was right there in my heart and would be there until the ultimate moment when all trappings of this material world would be stripped away - death. He would be there even if I couldn't physically bring His name to my lips.

My dear Krishna, O Holy Name, thank you for being there, thank you for being my friend. Unconditionally.   

Friday, December 16, 2016

Tree of Trust


The leaves were a brilliant green in the park when I made my way to St. Brigid's School for an internship interview. I was early, so I wound my way over to the majestic Prabhupad Tree, whose proud trunk and towering plume of branches and leaves extended far into the sky. 

In my heart I wrestled uneasily with the prospect that this would be an unpaid internship. New York City is such a tough city to live. So I struck a silent bargain with the Lord in my heart. I pleaded with Him to please allow me to work at St. Brigid School and get paid for it. If He arranged for this, then I would come see Radha Murlidhara and the Prabhupad Tree every day.  

Fair and square. Right? 

I was interviewed. The principal and vice principal were impressed with my experience and my character. Then the principal dropped the bomb. "Yes, we'd love to have you. And just for clarification, this would be volunteer,"

My heart dropped but I kept my cool demeanor. "Yes, I understand. I'm still interested," Where were those words coming from?? I had known all along I would probably not get paid. But I had had a thread of hope. 

I walked out of St. Brigid with my head spinning, feeling sick. Tears unexpectedly poured down my face. Through blurred vision I made my way to the Prabhupad Tree. Fear overwhelmed my heart. 

I approached the great tree and sunk onto a park bench and wept. Working at St. Brigid felt so right, this was my dream school and opportunity. Yet without getting paid how would it be possible in this crazy expensive city? 

I looked up at the tree and calm settled over my heart. 

Everything will be taken care of. Just trust. 

I rose from the bench and walked over to the tree and gave him a long hug. His bark pressed against my hands and my forehead, his roots spreading out below me. 

On the walk back to the subway, I realized just how much I wanted this opportunity. I would talk about it with my now-husband Ghanashyam, but I resolved in my heart that no matter what the financial circumstances, I would come see the Lord and His devotee every day. 

Ghanashyam encouraged me, and we found a way to make it work. 

Over the past four months, I woke up glad to go to work at St. Brigid. Every day I would come say hello to Radha Murlidhara and the Prabhupad Tree, taking moments to reflect on grace.  

Now my internship is drawing to a close. Today I approached the tree in the park, his plumage long gone, his bare majestic branches reaching  up into the pearly sky. I gave him a long hug. For  four months I've been giving him a hug, and today I felt this affection well in my heart. 

My friend. 

Thank you. 

Although I do not know my next destination, my friend has taught me that everything will be taken care of. Just trust. 

My friend seems only to speak the words of the great soul who once stood beneath his branches by the name of Srila Prabhupad. That great soul was an unknown, penniless man who deeply believed that all would be taken care of. Srila Prabhupad just trusted, and he changed the world.

My dear Srila Prabhupad, may I trust the way you trust, and may my life's work bring me ever closer to your feet and the embrace of the devotees.



To write is to dare the soul. So write.