Thursday, June 26, 2008

Follow Your Bliss

In the movie The Namesake, an Indian woman (who is living in America) is speaking with her American friend, feeling lost and weary of spirit after many trials and tribulations. And so her friend encourages her to try something she read about in a book. "Just close your eyes... and remember and feel when you were the most happy. Not excited, just... happy. Content, full. It's called 'following your bliss',"

And so the Indian woman closes her eyes... and although the movie does not flash back to the particular scene from the beginning of the movie, I know which one is running through this woman's mind: she is seated in a sunlit courtyard in a yellow sari amidst listening musicians. She is singing, her eyes closed, her hand following her voice, which flits and swoops like a bird. And when she finishes, all the musicians present simply hold their silence.

And when the Indian woman opens her eyes, she says quietly, "I think I want to return home... to India."

When I close my eyes and envision the moment I am the most happy, the most content, I am singing in a quiet templeroom in the deep evening for Radhe Syam. Maybe that is why that moment in the movie touched me so - we were both singing, following our bliss.

And when I also feel this bliss, this stillness of my soul, is when I am with the Vaishnavas, especially my guru and my godfamily. When I am given the chance to serve them, I find myself murmuring, "Now this... this is the perfection of life."

So with all of your blessings, I believe it is time for me to return home, if just for a little while... and follow my bliss to India.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Most Difficult Post

This is probably the most difficult blog post I have ever written. I consider myself strong and independent, and to ask for help is one of the most humbling experiences of my life. But life - especially spiritual life - is a group effort, as I only had to travel on 6 bus tours to realize that some things just cannot be done alone.

And so here I am, posting this letter that Kirtiraja Prabhu encouraged me to write last Kartik when he found out I had never been to India. He promised he would help me find a way to come to India for the next year. So in my philosophy of fundraising from Bus Tours to Alachua gurukuli festivals, the most powerful conclusion I have reached is this: Just Ask.

It doesn't make it any easier.


Dear Respected Vaishnava,

All glories to Srila Prabhupad. Please accept my respects.

My name is Bhakti lata dasi. From the moment of my birth, I have been surrounded by India. Born on March 22, 1987, a half an hour before Mangala Arati in New Vrindavan , I have always felt myself to be a New Brajabasi.

I have never really had a strong desire to travel to India. Dangerous and foreign to me in my mind, I preferred to visit Vrindavan in Srila Prabhupada’s Krishna Book.

But at 16, five years ago, Radhanath Swami invited me to Chowpatty, Mumbai. I had just watched The Simple Temple video for the first time, and I felt intrigued by his offer. I believe that the offer of saintly association is what planted the seed of my desire to visit the holy dham.

So began my quest. Every year I would plan “This is the year. That’s it, I’m going, once and for all,” and every year, my life held no space for India. Every year, every opportunity passed by, and my vow would only grow stronger… and stronger…

I have now reached the point where as soon as I have a moment of free time, my mind turns to Vrindavan and Chowpatty – surrounded by my guru, godbrothers and godsisters. I read about Radha Kunda before I go to sleep and dream of listening to the flute player at Radha Raman temple. I write poetry about watching the sun rise over Govardhan… and I’m not one much for writing poetry.

I feel as though Krishna has held me back from coming to His land because He wants me to realize: Vrindavan is in my heart. Vrindavan is where His devotees gather. Vrindavan is the sun rising over ANY mountain, as long as my mind is with Krishna. It’s as though Krishna has wanted me to reach this point of burning desire to visit the holy dham… to the point where I MUST go.

And now, five years later, the gates to the holy dham have swung open… just a little. I graduated from college this spring and the time simply feels right. But as a student fresh out of college (and for only a semester before diving back in) I find myself penniless. So Kirtiraja Prabhu encouraged me to write this letter to appeal for assistance from the Vaishnavas.

I plan to visit Chowpatty for one month to associate with my godbrothers and godsisters, then participate in Vrindavan parikrama with my Guru Maharaj, Radhanath Swami, then attend the Japa Retreat hosted by Sacinandana Swami held in Varshana. I then intend to finally return to Chowpatty for two weeks.

Please note that I plan to be surrounded by saintly association every step of the way. My years of waiting have drawn me to this conclusion – the only way to reach the feet of Sri Radha and Krishna is through Their devotees. True Vrindavan is the spirit of humility and the prayer to serve the Vaishnavas.

And so I find myself asking you, my dear Vaishnava, to please help me to whatever degree you can so that I may visit the holy land of the Lord, my homeland, especially in the association of the Vaishnavas.

With deep sincerity, I thank you for your assistance and your prayers.

Your servant,
Bhakti lata dasi

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Return to Freedom

The day before my foot surgery, I grabbed my chance at my last adventure before looong days of sitting around [sigh] recovering. So I hopped on my bike and criss-crossed and wove down the mountain with the wind in my hair to the beach.

These rocks lay on the margins of the ocean and create tidepools. Over time, the ocean has carved little holes (about the size of your fingertip) into the porous rock.

He's long gone, but his shell still ponders in the tidepools.

Wild mangoes.
Average roadside banyan.

This very white guy (haole as we say :) learned to make these traditional palm baskets from Hawaiian elders because he... well, really wanted to know how to do it. He told me they last for 70 years once dried out.

A tourist couple stopped while we were chatting, and the wife asked for a flower on her basket. So he made one right in front of us.

I find there is beauty in the patterns of nature and people and life. Like breathing.

My cast comes off tomorrow.

Cocoon of My Soul

This poem is dedicated to the friends and confidantes in my life, who assist me on the path to God.

Cocoon of My Soul

The silk of realization enfolds me
each filament
reflecting the shimmering sunlight
of God.
is the cocoon of my soul.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Say It!

Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open

Say what you need to say

- John Mayer

saraalata - honesty, straightforwardness, simplicity. Along with humility, the foundation for spiritual life (according to Radhanath Swami)

So let's be candid, shall we?

I would like to take a moment of appreciation. This is for the person who condemns me face-to-face, the person who writes an e-mail of appreciation, the person who approaches me to shake my hand in congratulations, the person who apologizes on a phone message, the person who encourages me with a smile, the person who leaves a note of 'welcome back' on my door, the person who expresses their love with a hug, and [smile] those who leave a comment on my blog in appreciation. Your saraalata touches me.

Few people read this blog, I know. But those who do, let me say that you have inspired me in my photography and my writing more than you know. So here's my moment: Thank you.

And that's all I needed to say.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Duet With My Father

Last year I quietly leafed through a very old, dog-eared book of poetry of my father's. I noted down one or two before hurriedly shelfing it once again. But this year I began from the first page of his scrawling words, entranced by his language- English and Spanish alike. What I found stunned me gently, like looking in the mirror and seeing something that wasn't there before.

Several months ago, I published a poem on here entitled "Meditation on Distance". And in the midst of my father's writings, I unearthed a poem - written long ago - with the same metaphor.

I've never been fond of poetry. But I'm realizing that sometimes blood takes precedence - just sometimes - over will.

I present to you here my father's poem first in English, then in his original Spanish, and then my own.

Straws in a River

Like straws in a river
our lives meet
by the shore
hidden in the silver shadows
of the moonlight.
We feel our time in the pulse
of the water.
But then with the dawn
a new day
a new break
the rain suddenly agitates
the surface of the water.
We separate towards new
waterfalls and riverbanks
Like straws in a river
the water pulls us apart.

Pajitas en el Rio

Como pajitas en el rio
nuestras vidas se encuentran
A veces,
por la orilla
escondidas en las sombras de plata
de la luna.
Sentimos el tiempo en el pulso del agua
Pero entoces con el alba,
un nuevo dia,
la lluvia agita el agua
y nos separamos
hacia nuevas cascadas,
cataratas y orillas.
Como pajitas en un rio
El agua nos separe una
ves mas.

Meditation on Distance

The waves of this world
cover me
wash over me
bathe me, drown me
and you and me
we’re just like driftwood
riding and drowning
amidst the waves of this ocean
crying and shouting

to hear one another
vying and grasping
to catch a glimpse
of one another
and when at last

we touch
but for one breath
one caress
we let go
of one another

amidst these waves
that cover us
wash over us

bathe us, drown us
and I continue to yearn
for that moment
when I breathe
and you're here.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.