Welcome: An Introduction

Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Friday, June 22, 2012

This Moment: A Friday Tradition

This Moment

"A single photo – no words – capturing a simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

“This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by theWee Man adopted from SouleMama which was introduced to me by Sarah-Jane author of http://samuelmichaels.com/. If you find yourself touched by a Moment and would like to participate, post your picture on a Friday and leave your link in the comments section.

It's been awhile since I've participated and posted a moment so thought I would today. Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Walking A Labyrinth: A Short Video

I went on a wonderful one-day retreat yesterday at the Mariandale Retreat Center in Ossining, New York. It was hosted by the Blue Mountain Center  of Tamales, CA and was focused on teaching Eknath Easwaran's method of passage meditation and mantram repetition as well as his eight-point system. I look forward to sharing in the coming days my experience at the retreat and some of what I learned with all of you.

In the meantime, I though I'd post a short video I made at the end of my time there. As we all said our goodbyes and were dismissed I decided to take the long way back to the parking lot. There was a beautiful trail that lined the Hudson river for some time and then took a sharp left and looped around the parking lot continuing onwards. Adjacent to the parking lot was a labyrinth. I just could not bear to leave without walking it! I have always been intrigued by labyrinths and have only had one other opportunity to walk one. My only other experience was on a labyrinth partially covered by snow this past winter. It was profound and I shared it here.

The video isn't the best quality and is quite short but it gives one an idea of what the labyrinth at the retreat center looks like. I also went over some mantrams (mantras) that are common for one to use for mantram repetition and what one might use while walking a labyrinth. In the Christian tradition they call them breath prayers, but are essentially the same. Oftentimes a breath prayer, used in the practice of centering prayer, is simply the name of Jesus or the Jesus Prayer "Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Really, when walking a labyrinth one can use whatever technique draws them inwards, deeper into their consciousness towards the Eternal seated at the center of their hearts. One need not even say a mantram at all as concentrating on one's breath might be preferable. Some might choose to consciously pray or talk to God or begin with an intention to find an answer and meditate on receiving that answer while moving deeper towards the center of the labyrinth. It all depends on what method is most effective for you spiritually.

Note: Blogger was giving me issues so I could not upload this video from my computer to blogger. I ended up having to upload it on YouTube to add it in this post. The video is sideways, for some reason I couldn't figure out on how to fix it! My apologies!

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them! Please leave them in the comments section. Thank you!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Letting Go: Saying Goodbye to my Grandmother (A Tribute)

I always found the love that my grandparents shared amazing and inspiring.
                                                                           She was always beautiful.

                                                                          I had joy watching my children enjoy and love her.

"I'll be in heaven soon. Please don't cry, or you'll make me cry."

"I won't." I promised, inwardly wincing as she coughed. Her eyes widened as she sought with desperation to take in the lukewarm air of the hospital room but came short from receiving any satisfactory amount. The air that my lungs almost took for granted hers painfully struggled to breathe in.

"I know you will be okay." I said, looking deep into her eyes. Believing in my heart what I was saying was true though realizing that we were both probably having two completely different ideas of what death meant and what heaven might be. Those differences mattered little in this moment. What mattered most was being there for her. Surrounding her with love and compassion. 

I swallowed back the grief of knowing that the grandmother I had loved for thirty years was soon going to withdraw from her physical body and I'd no longer have the warm hand I now held. I know it was probably a selfish thought.  I couldn't help, though,  but mourn within at the thought that I'd soon no longer be able to look into her beautiful eyes for wisdom, love and comfort again. I'd soon no longer see that faint hint of mischievousness glimmer in them as she'd steal glances over at my grandfather across a crowded room. Ah, the love the two of them shared!  If only there was more of it in this world things would look a lot different.

I could perceive that she was on the verge of a journey and I felt both saddened by her nearing departure, wishing nothing more to tether her spirit to the dock it had been anchored to for so long, wanting her to continue to reside at the same harbor we had shared for so many years while also feeling a bit of excitement for her. I knew she was about to enter into the spiritual wholly unencumbered by the physical. Leaving the body that had betrayed her behind.  An inevitable transition which I could not interfere with as all around sat those of us who loved her reflecting with the same sad acceptance upon the reality that was now unfolding. I knew this time was coming for a couple of years now as her health has slowly been worsening. In all honesty, though, up until these last few weeks I thought there was more time. Maybe even another Christmas. I don't write the script though and it is pure futility resisting the direction the river of life chooses to flow.

Memories flashed through my consciousness as I sat there holding her hand. I thought about the countless Saturday night sleepovers I had in my youth. My sister and I in our pajamas curled up under one of the huge afghans she had lovingly knit together with bowls of ice cream sundaes that we knew our mother would never approve of eating at such a late hour. Scenes flickered like an old movie reel through my mind.

We always  waited for my grandfather to come home from working with prisoners at the city's jail. My grandmother's secret to a happy marriage when I asked her a few days before she passed: never go to bed without telling your spouse you love them and never go to bed angry with one another. No matter how long it takes don't go to bed with a seed of bitterness planted. Uproot it so that only love is left. (paraphrasing) I will never forget how we all embraced my grandfather as he entered the door. A small merry band heralding his return. The pungent smell of prison still on his clothes. I breathed it in, savoring the scent unique only to that one moment.

All was always good at my grandmother's. There were never harsh words spoken. There was always such a feeling of love; acceptance and playful joy emanated from every corner of their home. We'd laugh, talk, share. I always felt safe there. I remember the day the twin towers were struck and came tumbling down and all of America walked around fragmented, dazed and confused. My first instinct was to leave college and drive forty minutes to my grandparents home. It was there where I sat with them both sharing coffee and a healthy dose of comfort and familiarity.

I could almost smell the salt air of the ocean as I felt her hand squeezing mine. It was warmer than usual as she was growing feverish.  My mind reflected on all the summer vacations I shared with both my grandparents, discovering what treasures the ocean brought up in its persistent surf crashing upon the shore and now thinking sadly of the precious treasure that was now being swept away from me. That was going to merge with the great infinite unknown- life's greatest mystery-death.  One I believe that promises bliss and union and is nothing to fear. I looked at my grandmother who now closed her eyes and thought about how she had always met life's challenges with grace and strength. She was a woman who resolutely and with passion helped keep a marriage blazing with love for more than sixty years with my grandfather and helped raise three strong daughters. 

I continued to visit her at the hospital. Love surrounded her continually as we family members planned out our days and nights to make sure at every moment she'd have at least one hand to hold. The last time I saw her I just remember kissing her face and hands. It was as if I couldn't get enough of her at that moment because I knew it might be the last one. She was so very tired and her eyes hardly opened. The morphine drip had been in place for nearly a full day by then. She opened her eyes and made tremendous effort to squeeze my hand one last time and tell me that she loved me. I poured out "I love you's" to her, thanking her for being the best grandmother to me and great-grandmother to my children. I wished  her well telling her that she was about to take the most amazing journey and that God would always be there with her. That she would know true peace and her suffering was soon to end.  My soul reached out to hers in longing, not wanting to let go but the hands of peace cupped themselves around my heart and drew me back as it was time to leave. I had the feeling that I was leaving her for the last time but the hope that perhaps I would see her again the following day.

A little after four the next morning right before I was about to rise for chanting and meditation I received a call from my mother that she had passed. I had my cell phone by my bed and crawled back in it afterwards drawing the covers up high around me and unabashedly allowed my tears to soak them. I know there is a time for everything. Without darkness we would not know of light and without death we would not recognize the miracle of life. Death is a fate none can bypass. I used to picture it as a curtain closing upon us marking the end. Now I see it as more the opening of a curtain revealing the beginning of a new way. My grandmother a couple of days before she passed would keep telling us that she saw a beautiful gate opening to what was just pure light. Members of hospice would describe her state as having one foot on earth and one foot in the world that laid beyond our senses. I know now that she is on the other side of that gate and it brings me joy that she is now free of the pain she had to endure for so long. The memories of her will always keep her alive in all of our hearts.

This post is intended to not only reflect my thoughts and reflections towards losing my grandmother but also to serve as a tribute towards her. To recognize what an amazing person she was and how she caused gardens of love to blossom wherever her feet tread. I usually only include one picture in each post but I feel inspired to include more this time around so as to share a little of the person my grandmother was with all who happen by  in attempts of  honoring her memory. Hope you enjoy them. (Note: blogger is giving me issues so pardon the format)

Thoughts? I always love hearing them! Please leave them in the comments section. Thank you!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

An Early Morning Poem

                                               Courtesy of Google Images

May was the slowest month ever for my blog as I only produced two posts! In a way, not writing and posting so much did create a bit of restlessness. I love writing and sharing with others my thoughts and the information and sources I come across that I find inspiring. However, I think it was much needed time as I found myself concentrating more in my spiritual disciplines. The time helped me orient my spiritual compass in a more refined direction. I am still nowhere near as focused as I would like to be but am slowly getting there. I look forward to sharing some of the insights and sources of inspiration I have found during that time this coming month in future posts.

One habit I have gotten into over the last week or so has been rising up early at 4 am before dawn. I have found this a really great time to meditate, chant and read spiritual literature. The house is completely quiet besides the occasional sighs from our beloved golden retriever who likes to lay beside me on our living room floor.  I've been using my japa mala beads to aid me in chanting and have been meditating using Eknath Easwaran's technique of passage meditation. I have wanted to renew my practice of passage meditation as in a couple of weeks I am going on a one day retreat dedicated to helping those who attend advance and deepen in that discipline and want to prepare myself to get the most out of that time as I can.

This morning the sun rose in all its splendor above the treeline outside our windows that face the East and as I meditated I could hear the sounds of all kinds of birds coming out to greet the day. Geese could be heard calling out as they flew in an arc across the heavens. When I finished meditating I took out my journal and was inspired to write a short poem. I haven't titled it because frankly sometimes giving a title to a poem is a very distracting process for me. It almost takes as much time as it does to write the actual poem!

I hope you enjoy. :)


Geese soar high overhead 
drawing the curtain open to a new day.
They sound their cries,
piercing silence with brilliant vibrations.
They don't ponder existence, nor God, as I do
in these early morning hours.
They merely move and have their being,
dancing the Kosmic dance with their Creator.
Fretting not about tomorrow they plunge
with wild abandon across the horizon,
melting into Love's first light.

Comments are always appreciated in the comments section. Thank you!

Friday, June 1, 2012

An Afternoon of Devotion at my Local Hare Krishna Temple

     This picture is of a harmonium, which is one of the primary instruments used in kirtan (chanting). Google images.

The door opened and a young woman in beautiful traditional Indian clothing ushered me warmly in. I took off my shoes and before long Jiva greeted me from the doorway. I embraced her quickly, refreshed at seeing someone familiar while in the midst of such a new experience. It had been a few weeks before my first visit to the temple which was merely to purchase japa mala beads for meditation. During my brief encounter with Jiva and her husband I had become curious about the beliefs of Hare Krishnas and had asked her many questions. I had enjoyed our conversation and felt intrigued to learn more and also come back to experience one of their services for myself.

As we approached the entrance to the temple room Jiva explained that they were just finishing their Tulsi ceremony and inquired whether or not I wished to take part. I said yes and soon found myself falling into line with others who were chanting while walking around a circle. In the center of the circle was a stand that stood about three feet tall and on it was placed a tulsi plant with a small bowl and spoon beside it.

As I walked my circuitous route I noted my surroundings. The room of the temple looked smaller than the last time I had visited. This was because a curtain had been drawn in front of where the deities were displayed. Intermittently throughout the service until the very end I noticed a devotee who would keep going behind the curtain and ring reverently what sounded like bells.

Flashes of my former life as a Christian blazed across my awareness. I had the quick thought that if I was asked if I wanted to participate in such a ritual just a year or so ago I would have outright refused. In fact, I would have never put myself in such a position to be asked in the first place. I would have considered entering a place of worship other than one that which glorified Jesus as being heresy and a sin and would have actually been very much afraid for the fate of my soul chanting the names of foreign gods. I consciously reminded myself that I no longer believe that way, shaking the small residual unease clean from my conscience. Blazing bright in my awareness was the truth that God is not so small as to dwell  in one religion only but dwells in the hearts of all sentient beings and is expressed in countless of ways.

My intention at the temple that Sunday afternoon was to witness and participate in how Hare Krishnas worship and tap into an awareness of the Divine. I wanted to learn all I could from those that seemed to find so much peace and happiness while on their spiritual path towards God. It was my desire to immerse myself with my surroundings and participate to my fullest capacity, leaving any potential inhibitions with my shoes at the door.

As we walked around in the circle Jiva came to me and instructed me to dip a tiny spoon in the bowl of water that was laid beside the tulsi plant and then let the water fall on the fingers of my opposite hand, allowing the excess water to simply fall on the smooth hard wood floor below. With the hand that had just gotten wet I dipped the spoon in again and poured its small contents onto a delicate leaf. I then resumed my position with the others, chanting and circling.

When we stopped the tulsi ritual we continued to chant. A friendly devotee handed me a small booklet to help me with the words which were unfamiliar and in sanskrit. Some might think that all that Hare Krishnas chant is the mahamantra but going to the service eroded that assumption from my conception of them. There were lots of other chants. Though of course, the mahamantra was emphasized.

Not long after mats were spread out all over the floor and I found a position on one of them as those around me settled onto their own. The same devotee handed me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is. That is the official translation devotees use of the Bhagavad Gita. It was translated by his divine grace, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the man who started the krishna consciousness movement in the west in the late 60's.  The temple president Pyari Mohan Prabhu then began the Bhagavad Gita class. As an interesting sidenote he is also Jiva's husband.

Unlike most sermons where the congregation's role is more like that of an audience the Bhagavad Gita class was much more intimate and interactive. Our teacher read from parts of the Gita which we repeated aloud and then read whatever notes the Gita would have on those verses and then discuss the theme of the selected verses. There was much back and forth between students and teacher. I appreciated such an exchange because it really seemed to foster true understanding. Questions weren't jotted down in a notebook to be perhaps emailed to the pastor at a later time only to receive a sometimes brief and unsatisfactory reply. Instead answers were immediately given and oftentimes in a warm and encouraging manner.

A principle that was discussed that resonated with me was the fact that we must seek out and be focused and aware of the eternal. That it is destructive to one's spiritual progress to become attached to the impermanent material stuff of life that the world offers us. That which quickly fades and tarnishes. Instead, our hearts should be set on and devoted to the Ultimate Truth, to Krishna/God. That is something that I have been actively working on in my personal life. 

Another thing that was emphasized was the need to recognize that God is personal and has a personality. I have to admit, that this is one area I struggle with accepting and understanding. Perhaps I always will.  During this time I listened intently as our teacher described how he once practiced Buddhism and meditated hoping to achieve a oneness with Brahman. This pursuit did not satisfy him completely and he still felt spiritually restless after years of pursuing this path. He noted that Brahman is only one aspect of God. There are three: Brahman, Supersoul and Personal God/Krishna. To neglect the personal aspect of God was not to achieve full realization into God's nature and a complete relationship with Him (Krishna consciousness).  For really, how can one have a relationship with something impersonal? I thought a lot about what he had to say, noting that many I've talked to and read while studying the Hare Krishna religion  have noted that they went from a nonpersonal to a personal belief in God after studying Buddhism and other eastern philosophies for years and believing in Brahman exclusively. That's kind of where I am right now. Seeing God in all and all in God. Seeing Him more as an Ultimate Reality of all things in which when we die we merge back into. A creative energy full of love and compassion weaving reality together. Through meditation I have felt and had awareness of the deep interconnectedness that all of life shares.

The teaching that devotees should only associate with other devotees came up in the class. This is also something heavily endorsed in a book I am reading that Jiva gave me, "The Nectar of Instruction". I could see the point to that teaching in one sense. As a Christian I once held that belief for the most part myself. There are many reasons to associate with other believers of the same faith. Not only does it give one a sense of fellowship and encouragement but it also provides one with accountability which is necessary for anyone digging deep and pursuing their faith to its fullest. Relationships with fellow believers can be profoundly edifying. At the same time, I wonder what this means for a new devotee that perhaps wasn't raised in such a community and has almost all friends and family who are not devotees. I can imagine that this approach could lead to definite feelings of being isolated from once meaningful relationships. Also, wouldn't a great way of witnessing and allowing the positive effects of one's spiritual beliefs be to actually form relationships with nonbelievers? I'd love the opportunity to interview a devotee who was not raised in this faith but converted to adulthood, to hear both the blessings and challenges such a conversion brought about in their lives. Perhaps that's an idea for another post.

We resumed chanting after the class and I could feel this beautiful sense of peace, a joyful energy emanating from the center of my consciousness. It pushed itself up through layers of stubborn ego. This feeling of love, awareness of God, only breaks through into my awareness during times of meditation, mindfulness and chanting. It welled up and outward. I felt my spirit take flight. Incense drifted, dancing amidst the sound vibrations of all who chanted. Their faces beamed with peace and devotion. A woman walked around holding a platter with flames. I watched intently as she walked up to devotees. They would sweep their hands along the top of the flames then move them in a sweeping motion across their foreheads. I knew she was going to come to me and was nervous because I've always been wary of fire. It took me years to even use our grill!  I felt a sense of trust in the process as I observed that  nobody taking part seemed to be ablaze. When the platter made its way to me I took a breath and then did as all the others did, swiftly moving my hands along the top of it and moving my hands in a sweeping motion across my forehead. The woman simply moved on and I resumed my chanting unscorched.

When the service came to the end the only part I didn't participate in unfolded. Devotees all went to the deities and participated in a ritual. I didn't really know what was being done and since I had no understanding of the ritual along with the fact that devotees believe the deities embody actual gods, I thought it best for me to refrain. I didn't want to do something wrong and insult anyone or offend a deity.

The service concluded in traditional Hare Krishna style-with a feast. The Hare Krishna religion is often referred to as the "kitchen religion" because of its emphasis on food. Hare Krishnas are vegetarian but not only do they abstain from eating the flesh of other sentient beings they also first offer their food to Krishna in love and devotion. Since God is within all of His creations, both sentient and non-sentient, when one consumes even something like a plant, which to our knowledge is not conscious, that person will still accumulate negative karma. When one first offers their food to Krishna/God their food is purified and is completely karma free. This food is called prasada and it is what is offered after every temple service. It was truly a feast for a wide variety of food was offered. Everything from fresh fruit to ethnic Indian dishes to bread was served.

My original post,  Journey for Japa Beads , received the most comments my blog has ever gotten for any article. Among the comments were some great spiritual discussions with current Hare Krishna devotees along with some criticism towards the organization that runs the temples, ISKON. I would encourage anyone who might want to look into the religion to read through the comments and then investigate it for themselves. The best way is probably to visit your own local temple and experience things firsthand. Though perplexed and little disturbed by some of the criticisms I have to say my own personal experience was a very positive one.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them! Please leave them in the comments section.
Thank you!