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,”


“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.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.