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.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.