Saturday, May 26, 2012

Standing Up

In Hawaii, white people are the minority. There is actually a derogatory term for them: haole. The word could be said in a familiar and sometimes joking way, but other times in cutting spite.

One day I was going on a fieldtrip with my eighth grade class to a local park. I usually sit in the middle of the bus - not too nerdy in the front, not too popular in the back - but when I boarded the bus for this field trip, I decided to sit a little further back than usual. My friend Kristen sat next to me.

When the bus revved up and we pulled out onto the highway, the boisterous and popular Hawaiian kids began to loudly poke fun at Kristen, calling her a haole, laughing loudly. Kristen and I kept trying to converse normally, but my anger began to rush to my face.

I turned around in my seat. With flint in my eyes, I said with steel: "Stop making fun of Kristen."

Some of the kids did a kind of "Oooooooo,"

I turned back around. Kristen said, "You didn't have to do that,"

"It's just not right," I said.

But then the kids started in on me. They knew I was a Hare Krishna - I had come to school in a sari once or twice. They knew it was a tradition from India, and so they started making Native American "hi-yah, hi-yah" sounds.

Immediately I felt - they're mixing up the traditions on purpose.

On the moving bus, I stood up in my seat and turned around to face them. My nose was tingling, almost numb, as well as my hands, which were balled into fists. My face was hot. My voice rose over the entire bus as I said, "Stop making fun of my religion,"

One of the kids shot back something but I said more, "You don't even know what you're talking about."

The whole bus fell silent. Students swiveled in their seats. I kept expecting a teacher to come and break it up, but all was still.

I went on, "First you're making fun of Kristen, now you're making fun of me, and you don't even know, you don't even know what you're talking about! No respect! No respect." I turned back around and jammed back down into my seat, breathing heavily. Kristen was quiet.

The bus remained silent until we pulled into our destination.

I quickly got off the bus to go cry somewhere on a cement curb. Kristen came with me. I don't ever remember a teacher coming to ask what had happened, to mediate at all. What I do remember is that one or two of the Hawaiian kids came over to apologize - to Kristen and to me.

One of them even asked me if I wanted to come play tennis with her.

I took some deep breaths and decided to give it a shot. I sucked at it. But the girl and I traded smiles. Her name was Malia.

Over a decade later, this experience is seared into my memory. I am reflecting on what it means to stand up for what I believe in. Literally, stand up.

And tonight I wonder, what do I stand for? What gets every match inside of my body lit and I rise to my feet?

I am in that question.

"I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Inspiration - To Breathe In

On Friday afternoon, I arrived into New Vrindavan for the annual Festival of Inspiration. I felt strange. I felt as though my mind and heart was riddled with faultfinding in every person I saw. I felt raw because I was finding fault with myself. 

That evening, I got to interact with my spiritual master, Radhanath Swami, for the first time in an entire year. He glowed with kindness and love. We spoke for about five minutes, and when I walked away, I felt reflective. 

I was tidying my bunk on the bus a little later, feeling a little hopeless about all of my faultfinding. But then I wondered, "What would Radhanath Swami do? What would HE say is the antidote to the poison of faultfinding?"

Glorifying. Appreciation. 

Suddenly a huge grin blossomed on my face.  I decided that I would dare to share my experience of someone's beautiful essence with at least 10 people, and then keep going so as to lose track. 

The next day, I had some trouble in my quest. I felt mired in my faultfinding, and it took me awhile to muster up courage to share my experience of someone's inspiring essence. To share my appreciation with my parents, who were visiting from out of town, was a special challenge.

But once I did, I began to pick up speed and more speed, to the point that appreciation was all I wanted to say! I began to feel connected to strangers, even. Words of appreciation would flow from my mouth before I could even think. 

On Mother's Day, I filled an entire booklet in my appreciation of my mother. And I kid you not, after I had finished I felt that I could have filled up an entire other booklet. 

So this Sunday morning when the Festival drew to a close, I sat on the empty, quiet bus, writing in my journal. I reflected that I felt as though I had taken a deep, deep breath of fresh air. 

I felt inspired.

Suddenly, I smiled. The definition of "inspire" is "to breathe in."

I feel as though I made a choice to breathe in the love around me and realize just how much love I can give every moment. Just as we have no choice but to breathe to continue to live, I believe that we get to make the choice every day to live an inspired life. And I discovered that the simplest (but not always the easiest) way to start the flow of love is to appreciate, to glorify. 

So go! Get inspired! 

To write is to dare the soul. So write.