Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dissolved Barriers

I know that man, I thought, looking at an elderly man with short, gray hair. His history within the Hare Krishna movement is dark.

The 24 Hour Kirtan in New Vrindavan had commenced, and whorls of people surrounded the kirtan party. A bitter taste came to my mouth and my mind to see this man across the way. I looked around and noticed some other people I had some personal painful history with, or disconnection, and that "loneliness in the crowd" feeling descended over me like a cloud.

Hour after hour of kirtan played on and on - on through the afternoon, on through the evening, on through the night and into the next morning. I had participated in this festival with a vow of silence - to sing only the holy name. The easiest way to keep this vow seemed to simply stay in kirtan. So I stayed in kirtan hour upon hour, singing and singing.

The final kirtan commenced, Badahari Prabhu at the helm. The melody was slow, soulful, and wound us all together with silken threads. The melody seemed to say, "Where are you, My Lord? I am so far away from You. I miss You. I need You." We sang at the top of our voices, a violin, mridanga, kartals, harmonium all filled the air, and yet there seemed to be a deep quiet beneath this fabric of kirtan.

I lost track of time. At one point, I opened my eyes and saw tears running down the faces of almost every person there. I raised my arms and tears also came to my eyes.

Spontaneously, people began to rise to their feet to dance, arms raised. I also rose. The mood changed.

Joy.

An embrace.

Krishna, You are here. You are here. 

I'll never forget. I looked across the crowd and saw the man with the gray hair. His smile shone. My judgment had dissolved. My previous conceptions melted away. To this very day, I honestly do not even remember who that man was - what his name was or his history. All I remember is that I experienced love for him.

I looked around at these faces, shining so brightly, smiling, singing the holy name. My heart swelled with love, unconditional love. I felt that these people loved me too. Somehow in the unity of singing the holy name, all the pain, loneliness, sorrow, and judgment had dissolved.

When the kirtan concluded, the dust in my heart slowly came back.

But I know now.

It's possible.

I want to get back. I want to live my life as a kirtan, all day. Every day.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Throwdown with Fear

Just beyond the pools of light, the wall of black began and continued on for eternity. Fanged wolves and slithering snakes lurked just beyond my vision.

At night in my room when the night swallowed up the world, just outside the window could be a thief. A murderer could be tiptoeing just beyond the bushes, a curved knife in hand.

The dark.

The dark - fear would strike my heart and course through my veins when I needed to go to sleep at night, or dash through a dark patch from one building to another, or walk through the woods on a moonless night. Horror movies and news stories had taught me that the greatest fear was not some twisted monster, but an evil-hearted human. Someone who killed without reason, someone with hatred in his or her heart.

So my fear grew and grew beyond my childhood, and as I got older, the scheme of just WHO was waiting out there in the darkness became even more twisted and terrifying.

One night when I was fifteen, I had to run an errand from one building to another. My destination was down the hill, through a lawn, beyond a row of trees. A sea of total and complete pitch black stood between me and my goal. I had no flashlight. I had to go. Now.

My heart pounded, adrenaline coursing through my veins.

I took a deep breath.

I ran.

I ran down the hill, past the trees, and suddenly I halted and knelt down on the grass and fell over my legs, my arms outstretched in some kind of strange obeisance. I took deep breaths, the scent of grass filling my nostrils. The world seemed to whirl unsteadily beneath me.

I'm fed up with you, fear of the dark. 

So sick of you. 

I'm done. 

I sang the Nrisimhadeva Prayers in my mind, which call out to the Lord for protection in body and heart from evil.

I lay there, the seconds growing to minutes. The breeze rustled by and caused the banana leaves to chatter and murmur. Crickets hummed. The wind sighed. The grass was cool beneath my fingers, arms, body.

No one attacked me.

Ummmm....

Duh.

And if anyone DID, I was still protected, for even if my body was hurt, my spirit never would be.

In one breath, I rose to my feet and dusted off the blades of grass stuck to my palms. I looked around at the pitch black, determined where I needed to go, and strode in that direction.

I never feared the dark again.

Even when I went to a haunted house for Halloween. Kind of a bummer. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Open Heart

Tonight the weight of the world settled on my shoulders.

I walked out of yoga class heavy, burdened. The class was lovely, but whenever I take a yoga class the physical moves seem to open up the metaphysical heart.

So when my heart opened, the burden settled in. 

I felt overwhelmed by certain painful conditioning while growing up - the state of my fragmented family, how my insecurities and dysfunction affect my professional, personal, and spiritual life. Fear of perpetuating a painful legacy for myself and my family. 

I looked for music to soothe my heart. I came across a deeply Christian song, about how Lord Jesus Christ shed blood to save our souls. The song soared and enveloped me with softness and power. 

I drove down to the shore and watched the sun set upon the ocean in a blaze of fire. I felt as though the burden was lifting from my heart because the Lord was carrying that burden for me. What love. What amazing love. 

We all carry our burdens, we all carry our "crosses." How amazing that our Lord is so loving, so kind, so gentle, that when we simply turn to Him with open hands and a soft heart, He is so willing to carry our burdens. He heals our hearts, makes us whole, allows the impossible to become possible. 

I do not have the answer. I do not believe my burden is gone forever. But I had an experience this evening that the load can be made lighter, and my heart will be made stronger. May I forever turn to my beloved Lord for grace and healing. 

And next time I go to yoga class and my heart opens, may a river of joy come flooding out. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

I'm Not Alone

I had wanted to get married since I was a young girl. But I reeeeally wanted to get married for about five years straight.

I prayed.

I waited.

I asked for advice.

I read books. Lots of 'em.

I wrote letters and lists and petitions to Krishna.

I cried. A lot. There were months and years of silence, of endless silence.

When I was 26, I was living in Mayapur, India, facing much pain and longing in my heart to simply be married and move on in life. I prayed and took solace in Radha Madhava.

I stayed on to teach middle school English, which would take me well into the thick of an insane Mayapur summer. When all the pilgrims filtered away from the festivals and Mayapur had settled into a sleepy and kind of gently abandoned town, my heart began to unfurl. I lived in this big old building on the edge of Mayapur, on the second floor. I would teach during the (insanely hot) day, then come home. I lived alone. I ate alone. I wrote alone. Everything,

alone.

Day after day, I began to experience - I'm not alone.

I have me.

I have Krishna.

I love this company. Love. If I was to spend the rest of my life with anyone, I am a pretty darn lovely person, and Krishna is too.

In my journals, the topic of marriage was conspicuous by its absence. All my life I had filled the pages of my journal with stories and realizations and prayers of love and marriage.

And while I had always written about these particular topics as well, I noticed that ALL I wrote about seemed to be the beauty of the sunset over Mayapur fields, the naughtiness of one of my students, the glory of God and how He loves me. I experienced trust blossom in my heart.

I was so content being on my own, I was happy to continue this way for much longer, to explore my career, to develop friendships, cultivate my service...

And of course, "When you're not looking for it, Krishna gives it to you,"

I had this sense that Krishna was sending me someone soon, simply because I was content on my own. It's a funny thing. As soon as we become whole and satisfied on our own, Krishna sends us someone.

Yup, let's see, precisely ten days after I left Mayapur, I met my future husband, who is also a whole and beautiful devotee of Krishna.

One + One = Three.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Twine of Grace




One twig snaps with a flick of the fingers.

A bundle of twigs is near impossible to break.

This is my meditation as I prepare for my wedding. Both Ghanashyam and I understand that marriage in this day and age can snap with a flick of pain and hardship. We need the support of those we love and respect - our friends, mentors, well-wishers - in order to remain strong and unbreakable.

A wedding is about bringing together all of the beautiful twigs of our loved ones, and for us to be tied together with the twine of grace by the Divine Couple Themselves - Sri Radha and Krishna.

When the insanity of wedding planning sets in, I remember this image. I remember why we're spending this time, money, and energy on one, maybe two days.

Blessings.

Connection.

Love.




Bookworm



I eat books for breakfast.

As a teenager, I used to camp out in bookstores for hours and hours at a time, losing myself among the maze of shelves. I would read sitting on the floor until my bum would ache. When the final Harry Potter book came out, I bought the book and read for 14 hours straight - taking hurried breaks for meals and bathroom - and then read the final words just as dawn was breaking. I have been known to pull all-nighters when a book captures my heart.

But.

This bookworm is picky.

I don't digest textbooks well. I'm not quite sure how I made it through university - I have been known to get verrrrry sleepy reading textbooks. Several times when I was reading textbooks I fell asleep with my head on the open pages and drooled on those algebraic equations and that 18th century literature. Yes, I drooled. Sigh.

This sleepiness even applies to scripture. If I read dense philosophy, I have the physiological reaction of my eyelids getting very, very... heavy. My brain powers down.

I have been frustrated about this for years, especially in regards to scripture. I get bookworm indigestion! Try as I might, I struggle with sleepiness and disengagement.

Recently, I have been cultivating a practice of writing in a Soul journal as an everyday sadhana, as a way to connect with the Lord. It was suggested that I do some prereading before writing, so for several weeks I read from a little inspirational book by Thomas Merton, a Christian mystic.

Then, upon the inspiration of my siksha guru, Gopa Vrindapala Prabhu, I decided to read from the Bhagavad Gita.

The past several nights, I have been astonished.

The Gita has been a page-turner.

I want to just keep reading. I find myself saying, "Okay, one more verse. Oh, this one is the last one, then I'll stop. Okay.... just ONE more..."

I am in shock. Seriously. I have read these verses before, but now somehow I am just intrigued by them. It's not even that I'm using these words directly in my life, or that I HAVE to read and apply these words, or that I have a quota to read... I'm just fascinated! Totally fascinated by the modes of nature, the soul, the Supersoul within the heart...

I'm not quite at the point of reading for 14 hours straight through the night. I'm just proud that my head is not dive bombing and there is no drooling involved. I'm just glad to be very much awake and alive, leaning in to the Bhagavad Gita, my eyes running across the page like a wondrous little girl.

I want that to be my reality. I want to get swallowed up by the magic of Truth.



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

I Am Here

I woke up at 5am and checked my email and Facebook. I know, lovely way to start the day, right? Well in fact, it was lovely! I read an email that offered personal growth wisdom. Facebook was brimming with beautiful news and pictures - awards for my friends, gatherings of communities to celebrate the lives of special people, the smiling and effulgent faces of people with so much love etched in their eyes. Announcements and exciting travel plans and worldwide experiences of kirtan, sharing Krishna with the world...

When I placed my phone on a table and readied myself to begin my morning mantra meditation, I felt a little squeeze of sadness in my heart: I have nothing to share with the world that's that special.

I leaned against the wall and began to murmur the holy name, fingering my beads. Tiredness fell over me like a soft sheet. So I gently laid my body down. I slipped under the soft waves of tiredness, half-conscious. Nevertheless, my murmurs continued on, the holy name kept spiraling onward, my fingers kept moving across my wooden meditation beads.

Something interesting happened. I seemed to float out of my body and have this vision of seeing myself from above, lying there chanting japa, the predawn light slowly filtering into the room. Suddenly I was surrounded by the words: I am here, and I am chanting the holy name. 

The feeling behind those words was:

How glorious! How triumphant! I am complete. I am enough. I am here, I chanting the holy name. 

I am here.

I am chanting the holy name.

How glorious. 

For half an hour, the holy name encircled me, encircled me, and those words kept surrounding me, surrounding me. I kept coming back into my space on the floor, then zooming out to look at myself from the ceiling, the words reverberating: I am here, I am chanting the holy name.

I am enough. 

Dude, I was lying down, half-awake. Not exactly an accomplishment to trumpet on Facebook. And yet the holy name was so loving and so kind. Even though I was lying down and half-asleep, none of that mattered. I felt that the Lord saw my sincerity, my desire to chant, and that tiny little spark - no matter how hidden under sheets of sleepiness - was as pure and brilliant as the sun.

At last when I rose from the floor, I went to wash my face. I felt washed with gratitude and wonder. I didn't feel sticky or groggy or embarrassed. I just felt grateful. Grateful for another day to spend with the holy name, and that is enough, I am enough, He is enough. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Satisfied Heart

"Okay Maddalena, we love you. We're praying for you," I said. I gave one last wave. My future mother-in-law was lying on a hospital bed, dressed in a blue gown. She smiled, but I could see the tenseness around her eyes.

Maddalena waved back with her fingers. "It'll be over soon," she said. "Then we're done."

Rick and I left the hospital. The day was gray, windy, rainy. The surgery would take several hours to complete, as well as recovery time to wake up from the anesthesia.

I wanted to get Maddalena some flowers for when she woke up. Maybe we could go to the store and buy some.

When we got home, I got absorbed in work and lost track of time. I then glanced at the clock and realized - oh dear, much too late to go to a florist shop.

Rick and I put on our shoes and walked out the front door. I saw that Maddalena's hibiscus bush was blooming brilliantly, even on such a gloomy day as this. The giant orange flowers twirled playfully, their centers a bright red, their stamens reaching out as if to say, "Hello!"

It is described that the flower represents Krishna's smiling face. Maybe that's why we smile when we see them. I smiled and picked a hibiscus.

When Rick and I reached the hospital, I put the flower into a paper cup and filled it with water from the tap. We waited a long time, anxiously checking the computer screen to see when Maddalena would be ready for visitors.

At long last, we were ushered over by the doctor to discuss her condition - she was doing very well. Soon after a nurse guided us to Maddalena's unit. Rick entered first, and he held her hand. She spoke softly, her movements heavy.

Then she turned to me, and when she saw the flower, a smile blossomed on her face. I was struck by the sudden light that shone from her eyes. "Oh! You brought me a flower! How beautiful!" I handed her the paper cup and she beamed. She then had me place the cup on the little hospital table.

Maddalena is a woman of great spirit and also movement. She insisted on getting dressed in her own clothes right then, and with a call for a wheelchair to assist her out of the hospital, we were ready to go. "Where's my flower? Bring my flower," and I dutifully brought the flower.

When we got home, I helped Maddalena climb the stairs to her room to rest. When she was lying down in bed, she said, "Bring my flower, put it here,"

So I brought up her flower and placed it on her nightstand. I then held her hand, sang to her the Nrisimhadeva Prayers for protection, and gently slipped away.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that one need only offer Him a leaf, flower, piece of fruit, or water with love, and He will accept it. I had given Maddalena a flower from her own bush, in a paper cup. And yet she saw the little drop of love with which that flower was offered, and that is what she treasured. Her heart was deeply moved by this flower, she had smiled, her spirits had lifted.

God can be satisfied with the Hope diamond. He can be satisfied with a wildflower. He could be satisfied with a single drop of water. All that it takes is a drop of our own love, to offer what He already owns back to Him, and God's heart is satisfied. Amazing. The creator of the universe is satisfied by a wildflower.

This is bhakti. Bhakti costs nothing.

Nothing.

Bhakti is the expression of the heart, the soul. Bhakti is so simple, so breathtakingly, sublimely simple.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Inspire - to Breathe

Drip drops of rain pattered on my windshield. I careened around corners, twisting the steering wheel through the mountain road, lost in thought. Music blasted from the speakers and every so often I tapped my thigh in rhythm. 

The rain softened and finally let go, the road became dry. The landscape was enshrouded in a white mist. I ensured my headlights were on, as visibility was so low. I turned a bend and suddenly - the world lit up with gold. The mist shifted and moved like a deep ocean, the sun a halo of gold just beyond the hills. My eyes widened.

"Oh. My. God." I said to my Jeep. 

I picked up my phone camera and pulled over on the side of the road. Cars whooshed past. I took pictures, but this little electronic device did not do the light, the experience, the moment justice. How could it? How? 

I drove back onto the road, and in several miles the world unfolded in a magnificent display of glory. The sun smiled brilliantly, the hills glowing russet and emerald and sage. In the valleys, the clouds danced like golden rivers too joyful to obey gravity. 

"Oh my god. This is amazing. I can't believe this. I'm going to die." 

But then I fell silent. Those words did not encompass what was transpiring in my heart, the deepest essence of how my soul seemed to be at peace, to breathe, to be inspired by the glory of God. 

Unbidden, my anthem came: "Mama mana mandire...." May You reside in the temple of my heart.
.
I sang this song I think for a half an hour. I took photos, and then my phone died. I got to witness the sky become pink, rose, azure, and fade into the velvet deep blue studded with diamond stars. 

My Lord. You are so beautiful. How unfathomable that you are so great, encompassing the magnificence of the world with a spark of your splendor. And even more magnificent is that You have taken up residence within my heart. Although my heart is poorly tended, messy, and dark, You are so patient, so kind. You are happy to observe, to always be there as my best friend, unconditionally. I pray that one day you shine within the sky of my heart like you did that day. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Soul Surfer

Dear Radhanath Swami,

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

Surfing is one of those rare sports where the conditions are left up to the mysterious ways of Mother Earth. One needs a clean, solid wave to surf, and this is dependent upon so many factors such as the wind, floor depth, the moon's position, and so on. So when the surf is up in Hawaii, it is not uncommon for locals to call out from work and head out to the ocean with their surfboards. Hardcore surfers are always searching for the perfect wave, simply because it’s so unpredictable.

There is a term “soul surfer,” which means that although these surfers may enter competitions, they do not only aim to win. Soul surfing suggests that there is a deeper motive and even spirituality to waiting for the perfect wave and riding an energy that is beyond one’s power.

Today, on your Vyasa Puja, I am meditating how the ocean is the Lord, the waves are His grace, and you are a soul surfer. I experience you as a rare soul who has left behind what you “should” do and answered the call of the Lord, wherever His call has lead you. You have crisscrossed the world countless times, often suffering so much physically. I believe I speak for everyone here that when we hear that you are sick and in pain, our hearts break. And yet your soul calls you on, the Lord calls you on. Your eyes are trained to your own heart, to Sri Radha Gopinath, to Srila Prabhupad, always waiting, always waiting for the moment that the surf is up, the moment that They call you. And when the time comes, you answer. I sense that They trust you so deeply to answer Their call that They have begun to call you more and more, in service of Truth and Love.

Today I am deeply inspired by your example, the way in which you live your life with surrender, both waiting for grace as well as responding to the call. I once saw a father teaching his son how to surf – the little boy was on the board, and when a gentle wave would come, the father would maneuver the board into place, stand up, and pull the little boy up with him. In this way, I feel that you have brought me along this path of grace, pulling me up when I have no strength and no idea what I’m doing. Ever kind, ever patient, you are teaching me through your love, strength, and example how to answer the call of the Lord.

May this year be filled with many, many waves of grace.

With love, respect, and gratitude,

Bhakti lata dasi

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Visit to the Temple

I am back in Hawaii with my parents for some time before I get married.

Hawaii is my monastery, a place of quiet, a place where I go deep within. It's just me and my parents here - temples and devotees and festivals are very far away. 

As a young teenager in Hawaii, my desire for Krishna consciousness became a blazing fire in the isolation of this island. I wanted only to move away to live in a community of likeminded devotees of Krishna. 

But I couldn't. I was underage! So for five years I lived here, burning to move away.

In those five years' time, though, I searched for God everywhere I could find Him. Nature became my temple. 

Whenever I beheld the beauty of nature that was so profound that it moved my soul, I would sing the song, "Mama Mana Mandire" - May You, my dear Lord, reside within the temple of my heart. This song became my anthem, long after I had moved away from Hawaii, even when I lived near a physical temple. I never wanted to take God for granted. Nature became the reminder that God is everywhere, including my own heart.  

I gradually lost my tradition to sing this song. Many years have passed since I have meditated in this way.

Tonight, I went to an old haunt of mine, a crest on a mountain where I watched the sun set over two oceans - an ocean of blue silk below and an ocean of orange and pink silk above. I was stunned that such vast beauty would be so silent and yet sing to the entire world - to the water, land, and sky. 

Unbidden, the words came to my lips, "Mama mana mandire..."

May You reside within the temple of my heart. 

I am realizing that God has always and always will reside within my heart. I need only sing to Him, acknowledge His presence, embrace Him.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Perfect Flavor

Honoring prasadam in the Vaishnava fashion is the culmination of culture and service. I learned this art when I was in the Mayapur Academy, and so when I helped direct The Radha Krishna Camp for Girls in Brazil, this system was implemented. Everyone sits in rows and servers come to each person with each dish, silently and lovingly offering prasadam. Then when everyone is completely satisfied, the director gets to serve the servers.

On our third day, I was all set to serve the servers after lunch, but several of the girls who had been serving lunch kept saying no, no, Bhakti lata sit down, sit down! I insisted that no, this is a privilege, this is my service to serve the servers.

But they were so insistent. So I picked one girl, Annapurna, to serve everyone. Others also wanted to serve, but I insisted that only Annapurna would serve. Oh boy, here we go. So I sat down with the other servers.

Annapurna served nicely. She actually surprised me at one point – several minutes in she handed me a folded napkin. “What’s this?” I asked.

“It’s to wipe your mouth,” she replied. I was shocked. What? I had never taught her that. I laughed to find this competitive urge rise up in my heart. I needed to serve better.

Annapurna served well, and nevertheless I realized that she was simply not ready to serve the servers. None of the girls were ready, they simply needed more training, more experience.

When all the girls had finished, I served Annapurna. A part of me had this competitive urge rise up in me to serve the best! I also felt that it was my duty to be an example of how to serve properly and respectfully and like salt. This was beautiful for my own growth as a servant. It was hilarious, I kept laughing to myself, because I kept thinking of that folded napkin that Annapurna had given me. So I brought Annapurna ice cubes for her water! She accepted.

By the end of this whole experience I had an idea – I gathered the other servers and we had a mini-meeting. We were all going to discuss Annapurna’s service.

“If Annapurna is salt, then what is one and what is ten on a scale from 1-10?” I asked once we were all gathered in our little meeting.

“10 is best, 1 is not good?” one girl ventured.

“No… If Annapurna is salt…”

“Ah! 10 is too much salt, 1 is too little,” one girl exclaimed.

“Exactly. What is five?”

“Perfect, right in the middle.”

“Yes. So we’re each going to give feedback to Annapurna. First we’ll rate her service on a scale from 1-10, where she was at on the salt scale. Then we’ll give feedback in the form of a sandwich – positive, constructive, positive. Clear?”

The process was powerful. Girls gave feedback to Annapurna that she had been a little too salty, saying constantly if we wanted anything, constantly bringing more and more dishes. Girls appreciated that she had been attentive and patient. I gave feedback that Annapurna had been more like 3.5 – not enough salt. I had constantly been asking for another dish, or salt, etc. I also mentioned my surprise and how she had given me the napkin and how I felt this competitive spirit in me to serve even better – I’m going to serve you ice cubes, so take that! We all laughed and laughed.

Then I asked Annapurna, “So, if you were to rate my service on a scale from 1-10, what would I be? What is your feedback for me?”

Annapurna gave me a 5, and I encouraged her to please be as honest as possible. I wanted to grow in my service. She said that she did appreciate the ice for her water, that I had been attentive. When I prodded for constructive feedback, she fell quiet and then at last she said, “You were so serious,”

“Serious?”

“Yes. Maybe you could smile more,”

I laughed and nodded, taking this in deeply. “Thank you,” I said. I folded my palms to her and thanked her for her feedback and that I would carefully consider what she had said.

“Next time I will fold your napkin into an origami bird,” Annapurna said with a grin. We all laughed. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lower the Mask

- Shel Silverstein

I used to lose my voice a lot. I would lose it especially when I wanted to express myself the most. I have been on nine traveling youth bus tours and on eight of those tours inevitably I would lose my voice. At times my throat hurt to even hold a conversation, I had to whisper. Something I loved to do - participate in and also be asked to lead kirtan - quickly became out of the question.

Today I have been meditating on a quality that I have been meditating on for almost ten years: vulnerability. Vulnerability means being stronger than I ever thought humanly possible. Vulnerability means opening the heart - again, and again, and again - because without living a vulnerable life I am living a shell of a life.

Vulnerability means honesty. It means sharing the heart with clarity, for all of its messy and beautiful glory.

Vulnerability means owning my own messy, beautiful glory. No one else is responsible for the state of my heart.

Vulnerability means opening up the heart, knowing it could be smashed. Or worse, it could be ignored.

Vulnerability is the only way to live because it means getting in touch with the truest part of my soul and living that. It's easy to hide behind a mask of "fineness" because if people criticize or hurt the mask, hey, it's just the mask.

But if people hurt or criticize me - with no mask - then that's, well, ME.

Living life without a mask is damn scary.

And it is the only way to be seen for the real me. No other way of living will satisfy the spirit. How satisfying could it be to be loved for my mask, no matter how beautiful that mask is? Some movie stars go through this quite literally - plastic surgery.

I don't have enough money for plastic surgery or expensive wardrobes or fancy cars. So I put up my own plastic surgery of shutting down and an ingenuine smile. The cost is not money. The cost is living a life half-lived.

When I open my heart to live from a vulnerable place, a truly deep place, then love goes deep into my heart. To be hated and loved for who I am is infinitely more satisfying than to be hated and loved for who I charade to be.

I have lost my voice many times, although less and less over the years. Nevertheless, the journey is everyday, the process of lowering the mask and letting myself speak from the heart. Sing from the heart.

This life ain't no masquerade ball. Lower the masks, lower the masks! and let our eyes open and our voices fly free.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Day 11: Mysterious Wish

(To know more about this Duet, click here. We have switched and now I am writing first, Rukmini doing art in response. You can check out more of Rukmini's work here. ) 

Art & Words Duet: Day 11 
The Return 
Part Three - Mysterious Wish 
(note: this piece is fiction)

One morning my mom shook me awake, whispering, "Honey, it's time. Your father."

Unquestioningly, with bleary eyes, I jumped out of bed and followed my mother down the hall to my father's room. There was spiritual chanting of God's names, called kirtan, going on in my dad's room. The past several days this kirtan had been going on twenty-four hours a day, non-stop. When I entered the dimly lit room, my father's bed was surrounded by several soft and somber faces. Suddenly, I was struck by how beautiful my father was. 

So beautiful. 

My father was lit by lamps that cast pools of soft bronze light.  He wore a flower garland that encircled his entire body. He was emaciated. His bones were protruding from his elbows and legs, I seemed to see his thigh bones through his thin cotton cloth. His face had become all angles, his eyes sunken into his head. His skin had lost its luster.  

My father's body was deteriorating and yet his beauty was growing. So many people, from Bengali villagers to travel-monks, had come by in steady streams to see him, to offer their respects, to reminisce, to offer appreciation. Some gave him gentle massages, some sang for him, some prepared medicine or oat water. Some would read to him for hours on end from scripture. My father would receive the presence of each person with folded palms and with a smile that completely disarmed me. In all my life I had never seen my father smile in such a way. He was beautiful. He seemed to evoke deep, profound love of people he had never even met before. 

Who was this man?  

For the past couple weeks I had been quiet and kept my distance, and my father seemed to be receiving other people more than my mom or me. We mainly helped the nurses with their services. We seemed to understand that dad was reconnecting with a whole other life, a whole other worldwide community that he needed to find closure with in his final days.  

That fateful morning, mom and I entered my father's room and immediately his gaze turned to both of us. He smiled that beautiful smile, and suddenly my chest filled with heat and tears stung my eyes. 

Stay strong, I reminded myself. 

Mom and I approached his bed and he looked at us, his eyes luminous. He looked at my mother and murmured so softly we had to lean in to hear him over the music, "I love you." She began to weep and weep and he just looked at her. Then he turned to me and said with deep conviction, "I love you."

"Dad, I love you," I said, the unabashed tears flowing down my face. I wanted to ask him so many questions. I wanted to go for a walk in the park, like we used to do almost every day, even in the snow, even in the rain. I wanted to hug him. I wanted him to stay.   

He looked at me lucidly, thoughtfully. Then he said, "Eliza,"

My stomach dropped. His tone of voice was so grave. I took a breath and leaned in further.

"Promise me one day you will lead kirtan."

Kirtan? Lead kirtan? What was going on right now, this singing with those instruments? I don't sing. I don't even know what kirtan really is. I can barely follow the words. Lead? Lead kirtan? Just one kirtan? Or all the time? This all whirled through my head, the thoughts jumbling and bumping into each other. 

"Promise me."

There could be only one response. I nodded. 

My dad smiled and moved his hand towards mine, and I took his frail hand. I would hold his hand until he left this world.  

Dawn filtered into our room, the birds began to sing, and more and more people filled the space. The kirtan continued nonstop. Confusion and fear whirred through me, and I found myself listening to the kirtan, wondering why, why, why would my father give this to me as his dying wish. 

At one point, the music rose, the voices rose in a tumultuous sound. My father's eyes were closed, his breath shallow and irregular. His lips were faintly moving to the holy name being sung, and then, he breathed one last time, a big sigh. 

Tears were pouring down almost every face, even the wise swamis. Where my father had once been,  giant, empty chasm ripped open wide in my heart. But then when the kirtan rose in volume, I had a curious experience. That hole filled with the holy name being sung, like warm liquid being poured into a vessel. I felt safe, whole, protected, loved. I was absolutely astonished with the realization that my father not only wanted me to experience this, but to give this to others. Later on, this feeling would fade away and that raw emptiness returned. But in those moments I understood. I understood.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Day 10: Setting Sun

(To know more about this Duet, click here. We have switched and now I am writing first, Rukmini doing art in response.) 

Art & Words Duet: Day 10 
The Return 
Part Two - Setting Sun
(Note: this piece is fiction)

India was a trip. Literally and figuratively. Thirty-seven hours of travel over land, air, and the craziest backroads I could have ever imagined. By the time we reached our room in the village of Mayapur, I felt like I had just been in a washing machine and roller coaster combined. For 37 hours. And India itself, with its phantasmagoria of colors, sounds, and scents, seemed to leave me dizzy.

Then there was my dad. He needed to be wheeled around in a wheelchair. Strange. Every moment sitting in a taxi, plane, and rickshaw seat, even running to catch a connecting flight, my mind was on my father. I didn't know that kind of absorption was possible. I had never seen him look so weak. My mind kept replaying like a broken record back to that moment in the apartment when my dad told me, "We need to go, honey."

Go? Go where? To this strange country? For God's sake why?

Our first morning in India, two guests came to see my father. One was from China and spoke broken English - his face was wizened and his eyes sharp. The other was from Los Angeles, an old buddy who used to work with my dad. With each visitor I was at my dad's shoulder and observed the conversations.

The rest of the day I knocked out with jetlag.

The following days were a blur of a river of visitors. The flow was increasing with each day. Bengali villagers who spoke not a lick of English, wizened American Hare Krishna monks who wore flowing orange robes, and quite a few Chinese people - I guess my dad had done some outreach in China.

My dad began to shrink in size, becoming skin and bones. I barely left the apartment. My usual fire of curiosity to explore was extinguished and inside I felt like a cold fireplace. I was exhausted.

One day, my mom gently ushered me to come with her to the rooftop of our apartment building. We watched the sun set in silence, she stroking my arm the entire time. The river Ganga flowed off in the distance gleaming orange and pink in the evening. The last slice of orange slipped below the water of the Ganga. I reached up to brush my hair away from my face and felt that my face was wet. Then I sobbed in my mother's arms. The tears seemed bottomless, and when I went to bed that night I felt completely emptied out and exhausted and also strangely clean.





Monday, August 31, 2015

Surreal Conversation

(To know more about this Duet, click here. We have switched and now I am writing first, Rukmini doing art in response.) 

Art & Words Duet: Day 9 
The Return 
Part One - Surreal Conversation
(Note: this is a fiction piece)

My dad used to be a monk. Actually, he used to be a religious leader of the Hare Krishnas. Then one day he decided to get married to my mom and we've been living in a Philadelphia suburb for the past sixteen years. I knew my dad held some fondness for his experience as a Hare Krishna, but I could also see there was some unspoken pain. He rarely spoke about his past.

Then one day he and my mom sat me down in the living room.

"Elizabeth - " my mom began. I cocked an eyebrow. She only used that name when I broke curfew or had left dirty dishes in the sink. A long silence stretched out and I saw her eyes shine.

"Mom?" I said in disbelief. Mom never cried. "What happened?"

"Your father has bone cancer."

My face drained of blood.

"Stage four. He was diagnosed many years ago but has been in remission. Now it is severe. Your father has requested that we all go to India to a holy land near Calcutta."

"What? What about treatment?" I turned to my dad, who was pale, his face tight. "How can you give up?"

"We need to go, honey," was all my dad said.

I buried my head in my hands.

Flower Whispers

(To know more about this Duet, click here. We have switched and now I am writing first, Rukmini doing art in response.)

Art & Words Duet: Day 8
Flower Whispers

slender and graceful with flared petals, like a lady going to a ball
fireworks of color
considered weeds but look like queens
bold artists who paint petals in broad strokes
tiny painters with tiny portraits
grow out of the filth but are never touched by it
grow in tame rows in gardens and fields
grow out of cracks in cement
and in the windowsills of highrises
perched in millions of glass vases
or up high in trees
surrounded by guardians of thorns
or moats of lakes
or fierce scents
each and every one who ever lived
opens her mouth
and whispers silent words,
"glorious and beautiful I am
for hours and days,
but offer me to God
and I will live forever."





Saturday, August 29, 2015

Beloved

(To know more about this Duet, click here. We have switched and now I am writing first, Rukmini doing art in response.)

Art & Words Duet: Day 7
Beloved

For years upon years
I searched for The One
I cried many tears
and on the years spun

I looked inside
and looked out there
was tempted to hide
but honed my prayer

When I discovered my Lord
He filled the hole in my heart
I let down my guard
for my heart had become whole 

I became calm and content
spending long days alone
I watched the sun rise and set
Peace covering my soul

Now I didn't even want to get married
For my life was going fine
But of course that was when the Lord carried
me to His beloved
and mine. 



Being Held

Art & Words Duet: Day 6
Being Held
(To know more about this Duet, click here.)

On Friday mornings I bathe, offer puja, and dress Chota ("Little") Radha Murlidhara. After I had set up all the tables and materials for worship, I stepped on the altar to carry the deities to the table. I picked up Murlidhar with my right hand and placed Him in the palm of my left hand.

As I carried Him, I was suddenly wonderstruck. God is the biggest of the big, the Lord of the Universe. God is the smallest of the small, present in every atom. And yet somehow He has made Himself just the right size to fit into the palm of my hand. My dear Radha Murlidhara, may I always be held in the palm of YOUR hands and let me love You and worship You always.

Art by Rukmini Poddar




Thursday, August 27, 2015

Green

(To know more about this Duet, click here.)
Art by Rukmini Poddar

Art & Words Duet: Day 5
Green

"I'm so nervous, Gigi," Amanda said, gripping her best friend's arm tightly.

"Honey, you're cutting off my circulation," Gigi said.

"Oh, yes, sorry,"

"You have nothing to worry about. Your book was awesome, the publishing house surely accepted your proposal,"

"Don't jinx it. You've also been trying to get your photography book published, and you're still looking for a publisher," Amanda began to nervously play with her blonde braid.

"True," said Gigi. "But your book rocked."

A woman in a clean gray suit emerged from a side office. She walked up to Amanda and Gigi, a professional smile on her face, "Ms. Lorence?" The woman glanced between both young ladies.

"That's me," Amanda piped, raising her hand as if she was in school. She blushed and put her hand down.

"Congratulations, Penguin has accepted your cookbook proposal. We will discuss details in the coming weeks and send you follow-up emails. In the meantime, congratulations," The woman extended her hand, and Amanda shook it, her eyes wide, her grin stretching from ear to ear.

Something curious happened for Gigi. It was only a moment, but she felt this flash of heat in her chest and across her face. A frown formed across her brow. Animosity towards her friend filled her mind. Not fair.

As soon as the fire swept through her, she hurriedly pushed it aside, shaken. She took a quick breath, smiled, and faced her friend.

"Congratulations, Amanda, I told you, your book rocked," She hugged Amanda tightly.

"Yeah, the very first publisher we approached, and Penguin, no less! These guys are huge. Amazing."

"Yeah, amazing," Gigi couldn't help it - her voice fell flat. Amanda suddenly noticed and fell quiet. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Enigmatic Smile

(To know more about this Duet, click here.)

Art by Rukmini Poddar


Art & Words Duet: Day 4
The Enigmatic Smile

"Mrs. Donahue, mother of Lalita, requested a chaplain."

I glanced at my clipboard. "Okay, I'll see her. When?"

"Now."

"Will do," I nodded and through the halls until I reached the cancer wing of the hospice.  

I had met with Mrs. Donahue before, and when I saw her in a waiting chair, she rose to her feet, tears in her eyes. "Samantha," she greeted me. "It's Lalita." 

"How is she?" 

"She's leaving. I don't know what to do. I feel like I'm being suffocated,"

"I hear that you're feeling overwhelmed with pain," I said, "Even your body is reacting,"

"Yes, yes. I need someone to be there with me with her. More family is arriving soon and I'm not sure how I'll handle this."

I placed a hand on her shoulder and then we walked in to the hospice room of her daughter. Lalita was propped up on a bed. She had insisted on not wearing any hospital-type garb and simply wore an old, well-loved tank top. She had requested that all the tubes be taken out of her nose and wrists, and so her breathing was labored and rattled.

But her face. Both her mother and I just stopped at the doorway, staring. Lalita's eyes were closed, and her mouth formed a smile that spread through her entire face and radiated from her body. She was whispering something.

Mrs. Donahue and I approached the teenager, wary. Was Lalita in her right mind? Had taking out the tubes affected her mental functions?

Lalita opened her eyes and looked at both of us. Her eyes shone, her gaze was straight and true and unblinking. "Thank you for being here, Chaplain Jones," she said softly.

"Thank you for allowing me to be here," I responded.

"Mother," Lalita turned to Mrs. Donahue and held out a hand. "Please chant with me,"

They clasped hands and began to chant what I knew to be Hare Krishna. At one point Lalita was too weak to continue to chant so her mother continued to softly chant the mantra and Lalita listened with that rapt smile, her face radiating a peace and joy I had never witnessed before. Lalita had once explained the meaning of the Hare Krishna mantra to me, that it was actually a personal invocation to God. I sat next to the mother in this vigil.

Other close family and friends began to show up. One young man began to sing Hare Krishna, and everyone responded. Call and response ensued, and I caught on enough to sing in the response (barely). The smile blossomed even more on Lalita's face. At one point she gestured for me to come close. I leaned in. She spoke softly: "This is the perfection of my life,"

Soon after, Lalita left us. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Glass Heart

(To know more about this Duet, click here.)

Art by Rukmini Poddar

Art & Words Duet: Day 3

There's a man who takes walks in the morning with a giant red ball of silk sashes. He whistles and smiles at the neighbors who jog by. They don't smile back. When he sits to watch the sunrise, he sits on his anger and pushes it down into the sand. The ball cushions his body, and the vibrating pulse of it keeps him awake and alive, humming and whistling. 

A boy is walking by with his dog, playing a game of fetch with a blue rubber ball. The man waves at the boy with a smile. The boy frowns back and throws the ball for his dog in the opposite direction. A sash of red slips out of the man's mouth like silk smoke, and he catches it from the air like a scarf and stashes it in the pulsating ball he's reclining on. 

The ball begins to rise from the sand, threatening to push the man off of his seat. 

Push it down. Push it down. 

He wrestles with the ball, but that last sash of red seems to have disturbed the balance. The man grits his teeth, sweat drips from his brow. Almost there, the ball seems to be going deeper into the sand. The rising sun over the ocean shines on the man's face and the scene. Some passersby stroll by, staring at the struggle. He gives a strained smile. "Everything is fine," he calls out. People scurry on. 

Control, must control. This ball is almost... almost... under control.

A voice whispers in his mind: Who is controlling who

Suddenly, the pulsating ball of red sashes goes still. The man tentatively gets to his feet. Strange to step away. Before his eyes the sashes unravel and unwind, unravel and unwind, falling out into the sand like a giant lotus flower. 

In the center of the sashes, the opened flower, is a most peculiar object. A glass object. The sun flashes off of the surface and momentarily blinds the man. He shades his eyes and steps forward for a closer look. By now, passersby have gathered in a growing circle, albeit at a distance, their faces betraying their fear, awe, and curiosity. 

The man picks up the glass object, which is surprisingly warm. It's pulsing. He realizes that the pulsing of the entire ball of red sashes came from this object. He holds the object up to the light and sees that it is an exquisitely sculptured glass heart. It has four ventricles, the veins are delicately raised. The glass is translucent and glimmering in the sun. 

The man peers more closely at the heart and sees a fissure running through its very center. He touches the fissure and the heart in his own chest twinges with the pain of a thousand needles. He drops to his knees, surrounded by the red sashes of anger that all come from this fissure in his heart. So much pain. He weeps. The tears fall from his face onto the glass heart and enter into the fissure. The pieces of the heart become one, the fissure vanishes.  

The man holds the heart up to his chest and pushes in until with a jolt, the glass heart enters his body and becomes one with him.   

An ocean breeze suddenly sweeps in and the red sashes pick up and whirl into the sky like a flock of swans. The spectators watch the scene unfold and cheer and cheer. They descend upon the man and embrace him one by one and in groups. 

The man feels a warm rasp of a tongue on his face, and he is greeted by a quivering dog. "Hi there," says a boy. The man is astonished. "I'd like to give you this,"  the boy places the blue rubber ball in the man's hand. 

"Really? For me?" 

"Oh geez, not only for you. It's so that you can play with my dog." 

So the man throws the ball to play.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Escape

(To know more about this Duet, click here.)

Art by Rukmini Poddar

Art & Words Duet: Day 2
Escape

All day I wash pots, scrub floors, and cook for a family who sneers at me when I walk through a room. I change diapers and sing lullabies for a pair of twin girls. They're too little to sneer. They gaze at my face and coo.

When I'm on my knees, my back sore from scrubbing floors, when I'm stationed in front of the sink, my hands blistered raisins from washing pots, my mind wanders sometimes to a distant land. The sky spreads so wide and I breathe so deep my chest hurts. I watch the birds swoop into the sky, off into the horizon.

The past several weeks whenever I lay down to sleep, I slip away to that place. A smile touches my face. No reason to move, I become one with the mountains, the rivers. Ahhh, yes. One day.

But one night, the mountains and the birds don't come. When I close my eyes, the only image I see is of the twins. They are sleeping, their chests rising and falling.

There are no twin girls in my landscape of escape. In fact, no one lives there. Not even me.

My eyes snap open and I stare at the wood ceiling. Love. I need love. Peace is no longer an escape, but love feels like a trap.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Art and Words Duet: Day 1

Sometimes art begs for written words. Sometime written words beg for art. My friend Rukmini and I have teamed up for an 8-day challenge: when I write, she will share art. When she shares art, I will write.

For the first four days, Rukmini will first offer art and I will write, and then we'll swap. We are both committed to spontaneity, to write whatever comes, free of judgment. 

Here is today's exploration:


In the morning
I unbind my hair
and gaze out the window
searching 
searching for someone

the smile on my face
is permanent
like a doll

the road in the distance
shows no signs
of dust clouds
of impending horses
So I wait
and wait

I merge with the mountains 
pining for the one
who will embrace me
and allow the pain 
to flow from my heart
in rivers

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. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Certain Uncertainty

[Serenity Series for May]

It just hit me today: Soon I will be living out of a suitcase for two or three months.

Soon I will move out of my room here in Brooklyn. Not exactly sure where I'm moving to.

For at least the next year, my living situation will be temporary, as I'm not married.

Somehow I'm moving into a space in life where I simply just don't know what's going to happen. I just don't know! I'm standing on this high board, my toes hanging over the edge, gazing down at this rich blue, deep, and impenetrable water of my future.

In this suspended space, I had this glimpse today of simple peace: it is what it is. Somehow this is how my life is unfolding. I believe that I have done my best the past several years to follow my heart's calling, guided by intelligence. I have followed my dreams and followed my love, and I have discovered dreams that have transmogrified and a love that has blossomed.

Standing out here on this high board, I could feel sick and nervous and aggrieved. I could. And in my lifetime, I HAVE felt all of those things when I've stood on this similar high board dozens of times. Or, I could just accept the reality of my life. The reality is that I'm going to be okay. I'm not going to die. I got this. I'm not going to go hungry or homeless. I'm going to be okay.

I'm going to be okay.

The fact is that I have dived off of dozens of high boards and survived. I've even enjoyed the ride (sometimes!). The fact is that for the rest of my life I will continue to be perched upon the edge of a high board countless more times. A friend recently told me of a rule for being an adult: "Accept that there will always be uncertainty."

Word.

But one thing is certain: soon I'll jump, jump out into oblivion.

And then I'll land in the water and swim on!


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Birthday of a Great Soul

Dear Indradyumna Swami,

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

This morning I tuned in to the Alachua radio and got to hear you speak so beautifully on Srimad Bhagavatam. When I meditate upon your mood of service and love to your spiritual master, Srila Prabhupad, I am amazed that I have gotten to associate with you. I experience you as having such a magnanimous personality, so willing to give your time and heart and life to Krishna and the devotees. You're willing to fly across the world to keep a promise to attend a young lady's wedding, and you'll respond to a Facebook message that requests your blessings for young writers to write for Krishna. When you speak, those who listen are moved to tears and laughter and to the deepest parts of their souls.

I am blessed to consider you my shiksha guru, and I place your love and instructions upon my head. Thank you for being a part of my life. I pray that I may follow in your footsteps and serve my spiritual master with the faith, dedication, and enthusiasm that you live by.

Happy Birthday :)

Sincerely and with love and respect,

Bhakti lata dasi



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