Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Carry Me

Exactly one year ago, I was in the holy land of Mayapur in India. I was snuggled in my bed, and while my roommate was sleeping, I was reading the Bhagavad Gita by flashlight.

I write this now in a dark car in Hawaii, waiting to go inside a temple for a ceremony. The light shines from my phone a bit like a flashlight.

It's strange to realize that two moments in time are so far apart yet so close. So much has transpired since that night long ago in India - images of the past year seem to whirl through my mind. Images of India, New York, Brazil, now Hawaii. Moments of dancing in kirtan, waiting in airports, listening to my spiritual master speak, weeping beside a river, gazing up at the golden forms of Pancha Tattva, laughing until my sides ache with my mother, whispering confessions of my heart to Sri Radha Murlidhara.

So much has happened, so much. I am humbled by the way the river of life carries me to my next destination. I am learning to stop fighting the current. Go with the flow.

So here's to the next year filled with many adventures of soul. May I stay in the river and may these waters carry me to unchartered shores of love.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


When I was 17, for several months I lived at this quiet retreat center / temple in Hawaii, doing some accounting service. Some days would go by when I would not see or talk to another soul. I lived in a deep, otherworldly silence.

I would go on long japa meditation walks in the morning. I saw God at every step, I felt Him with every breath. I saw God in the vast reflections of the sky in giant puddles. Or when I would take off my eyeglasses, the sun would shine through the canopies of leaves in millions of pentagons of light, like waterfalls of glitter, and I would marvel at God's engineering. Or I would kneel down and stare at the way rain would create patterns in the soil. There was this one plant that, when its leaves were gently stroked, would react by folding in on itself like a shy child.

Sometimes on my walks I would put aside my chanting beads and sing songs at the top of my lungs. The cows and horses would turn to look at me curiously, even stop chewing their cud. I befriended a horse - I named him Hayagriva.

At night, I was teaching myself how to play harmonium on this old, beat-up instrument. I would sit on a picnic bench outside and sing sacred songs and the holy name for hours. My mind would wander the windswept hills and the clear blue line of the ocean's horizon. When night fell, billions of diamond stars would emerge against the blue-black velvet sky.

The line between this world and the next would blur. When I was living there and also in the many years since, I have acknowledged that this was one of the most beautiful, profound times of my life. I seemed to be discovering something and someone so much greater than myself. It was a time when I thought that if this was what it was like to devote my life to loving God exclusively, then I would gladly become a nun.

In the years since, I have developed my desire to be married and one day have my own children. I pray that I may approach marriage with this same sense of love and wonder. And maybe one day, when my child is a teenager, I'll let him or her go spend some time at a quiet retreat center in Hawaii.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

No Other Way

I write this in the midst if the 12 Hour Kirtan in Atlanta. The mridanga beats surround me in waves and pulse with the rhythm of my heart. I can feel the vibration in my chest. The kartals ring through the night. The singer's voice twirls and dances through the air and carries me down the river of the holy name. The holy name has swirled all around me all day; hour after hour after hour. Now that night has fallen I can feel the holy name in my veins. I'm surrounded by others whose veins also flow with the holy name.

I have danced all night - we ladies would put a disco to shame! Our skirts swirled, our feet moved in blurs, our grins shone.

Now the kirtan is drawing to a close, voices ring out from wall to wall, and the final note is hit. Applause arises. Quiet moments follow. Then someone calls out the sacred verse and we all join him: "harer nama harer nama harer nama eva kevalam, kalau nastyeva nastyeva nastyeva gatir anyatah."

In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy the only means of deliverance is chanting the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.

Then, the lights turn on and we start to mingle. I sit here and write this on my phone, and all I want is to feel the vibration of the mridanga within my chest, in my heart.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Sound of Silence

I walk through the cold and dark streets, the city night so quiet to me. I enter the park and walk past sludgy snow piled up against empty benches. Round street lamps bob in the night like so many candle flames. The almost full-moon hangs in the sky, surrounded by one or two glittering stars. The trees are all bare.

I gingerly sit on a cold bench before the Prabhupad Tree. I glance up at bare branches which seem to reach for the sky. Almost 50 years ago, Prabhupad came to sit under these branches to sing the holy name.Through his kirtan, he transformed hearts, he transformed the world.

Now, the word is silence - I seem to be surrounded by so much silence.

Every time I come here I feel this silence, and in that silence the emotion of gratitude always emerges. I feel grateful to Prabhupad for giving me a reason to live. I feel grateful that he persevered. I feel grateful to be breathing and to be on the path of love, true love.

I close my journal and rise to my feet, gazing at the Tree. I then kneel to the ground and touch my forehead to the cold concrete bricks in obeisance. When I stand again, I whisper, "Thank you Srila Prabhupad," and turn around to leave.

Walking away, I can still hear the silence.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Art of Invitation

Love is the art of invitation. We can't force invitations - that's why the experience of lack of invitations in our life can hurt so badly. It's a lack of love. But, we are surrounded by invitations every day, all day, like beautiful cards flying around us in whirlwinds. We need only open those envelopes and RSVP to the conversation, the party, the walk in the park, the wedding, to lead a kirtan, to accept a proposal. We need only be willing to write a couple invitations ourselves and send them off to the people we're most afraid of welcoming in to sit down next to the fireplace of our heart. Never underestimate the power of an invitation - to give one, to receive one. It is love in jeans and a t-shirt.

(photo by femiology.com)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Humble Service

"One's greatest weaknesses have the potential to become one's greatest strengths." I coined this phrase when I was in a phase of my life when I was deeply struggling with emotional eating. I was experiencing so much mental, emotional, and physical pain; I felt that surely this pain could fuel great realizations to not only uplift myself but the world.

On that note, this morning I was really accepting that in this lifetime I have a perplexed mind. I have struggled with many heavy issues in my mind that deal with my bodily features, weight, or how I have had issues with leaders, men, family, friends. I've been embracing that these perplexities aren't good or bad. When I dovetail these perplexities for Krishna, my condition can actually be sublime. So many powerful realizations come when I surrender to the pain. I grow.

Then, when I share these realizations with others, they can relate with my struggles. Yes, I'm not alone. Then they can experience some hope and strength to overcome and transcend those struggles, too. If I can share my heart and offer this small service, then truly my weaknesses have become my strengths.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Winter Bus Tour Photo Essay

A big silver bus outfitted with bunkbeds and filled with youth will head out to Mexico tomorrow for the 2013 Winter Bus Tour. Two years ago I had the honor of going on the Tour to perform bharatanatyam dance, sing kirtan with Madhava Prabhu, and connect with the amazing people on and off the bus.

In tribute of the Bus Tour, here's a photo essay of some of the pictures I took two years ago. 

waiting for prasadam

I often escaped to visit cathedrals

The Gita play

kirtan programs almost every evening

Agua Azul

kirtan with Madhava Prabhu

the ruins of Palenque

panoramic shot of a city wall 

Our Bus Tour Gaura Nitai and Haridas Thakur deities. They're the ultimate adventurers.   

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Moments with the Moon

Moments of beauty flash before my eyes like someone spinning the Rolodex of my life. Choose one, Bhakti. Choose a moment. I close my eyes and the images speed up and whirl. 

Choose one.


My mind has landed upon one evening in the holy land of Mayapur in India. I'm wearing a light purple sari, and my bansuri flute is slung over my shoulder in its black case. Twilight has set in. I'm on the outskirts of Mayapur village, meandering my way home after a long day. I'm about to turn down my walkway when I halt in my tracks.

The moon. The moon hangs over a field of swaying green grasses; it seems to fill the horizon, full and golden. If I reached out my hand, maybe I could touch it. I've never seen such a moon.   

I slip off my shoes and walk out onto the dirt path that leads into the field. The dirt is soft powder between my toes. I walk out a ways and settle right to the ground. I pull out my flute. 

I play. I play to the moon. In my purple sari in the twilight surrounded by an ocean of grass, the moon is my giant companion. 

(photo by deityworship.tribe.net)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Choose Beauty

I used to hate my hairline. It creeps forward where my temples are and then tapers back out for my forehead. I used to think that it made my face look narrow and imbalanced.

For years and years, ever since I was in elementary school, I wore my hair parted to the side to cover my hairline. It didn't really do anything, but still it was a mental crutch. I thought that somehow I could never really look beautiful if I wore my hair any other way.

As an adult, I seriously considered laser hair removal to remove the hair on my temples. I would go in front of the mirror and place my fingers on my temples, trying to envision what my face would look like with a broad, round hairline. Surely then my face would look more balanced.

Then, about two years ago, I dived into an emotional educational course called the Satvatove Advanced Course, which is based upon the spiritual principles of the Bhagavad Gita. In the course, I deeply got in touch with living a life at choice.

On the last day of the course, my "graduation" day, I woke up, looked in the mirror...

... and pulled my hair back.

All the way.

My scalp tingled. The line where I had parted my hair for most of my life pulsed as if it had been seared upon my head.

I was astonished to find, upon looking in the mirror, that I looked beautiful. No, more than that, I felt beautiful. My eyes shone. Beauty became something that nothing and no one could determine for me, not even the mirror. Beauty is a quality of the soul.

For me, that was a day of liberation.

A year later, I took the next step - I parted my hair down the middle. My scalp tingled all over again.

And then there are some days when I still choose to wear my hair parted to the side.

After all, when the soul is shining through, who cares about your hairline?!?

Monday, December 2, 2013


Imagine - your name is Phillipides and you're a soldier and professional runner in the Greek army. One fateful morning, the general of the army summons you: You must deliver the news that we were victorious over the Persians, but they are fast approaching Athens and plan to surprise attack. The only way to deliver this news is to run.

The distance is 24 miles.

You are exhausted. Battle-worn. But you firm your resolve and nod to your general, accept the mission.

You run. From the plains of Marathon to the city of Athens, you run the distance in 3 hours. Upon arrival, you cry the word, "Niki!" (Victory!) and fall to the ground and breathe your last.

Sorry you had to die, man. But what's the tale of one of the most famous battles in history without a little drama?

This is the tale of the marathon race. It's a story of urgency, sacrifice, bravery.

And this is kind of where I'm at with Seed of Devotion. I made a vow to publish 40 blog posts for the year 2013. I still have 12 to write, and there are only 29 days left.

This means I need to publish a post about every 2 or 3 days, which is pretty unprecedented in the history of Seed of Devotion.

As a woman of my word, it's time to nod to my general, accept the challenge. Time to run from




I'm not quite sure how I'll do it. Not quite sure what I'll share or what will come out. All I know is that now is the time. Time to open up, be brave.


I may not die when I reach my 40th post, but for sure I shall cry out, "Niki!"

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Vyasa Puja Offering 2013

Dear Radhanath Swami,

Please accept my respects. All glories to our beloved Srila Prabhupad.

When my mother sits down to play the harp, she brings out her electric tuner and tuning fork. She plucks each and every string and checks the sound against her tuner. A needle swings right or left to gauge when a note is on or off key. My mother then twists each and every knob with her tuning fork, carefully making sure that all of the strings shine as on-key on her tuner.

When all 48 strings have been tuned, my mother then strums her graceful hands across the strings in a waterfall of notes. She can now play and sing all kinds of music - from classical and jazz pieces to my personal favorite, her heartaching rendition of Bhajahu Re Mana.

In a similar way, Radhanath Swami, I get you as such an expert musician of the soul. Each time you sit down to speak, you fold your palms, close your eyes, and crease your brows in prayer. With the tuning fork of your prayers, you adjust your heart to the unshakeable and eternal values and instructions of your beloved spiritual master, Srila Prabhupad.

Then, when you are tuned, you open your eyes and speak. I have seen you move thousands of people to laughter as well as to tears. You respond to the most cutting questions and challenges with grace. You transform hearts. You transform mine.

I pray that I may follow your example. I pray that I may tune in to your and Srila Prabhupad's values and instructions. I want to be your instrument. Please.

Yet once I am tuned, there is an even higher destiny than being played on my own. In this regard, I once went to a classical music concert. For a full half an hour, my mom and I just listened to the orchestra tune in with each other. It was actually part of the concert! Frankly, I was getting rather bored.

But it was worth it. When at last the concert began, the music created was awe-inspiring.

Similarly, we devotees of Krishna and your disciples are all different instruments. But if we can tune in to each other - even if it's a long or boring or painful process - we can create something so much more powerful than we could ever create on our own. We can create a symphony of love and compassion for God and for the world. This is our highest destiny.

Thank you for being in my life, Radhanath Swami. Thank you for showing by example how to tune in and be a part of this divine symphony.


In service,

Bhakti lata dasi

To write is to dare the soul. So write.