Full disclosure: this post is not going to be about downward dog or the sun salutation, so if you’re here to read that, I’m sorry to disappoint. I do a sort of Westernized hatha yoga with my husband to keep my body fit and healthy, but this post is not about that.

I know I’ve been really really absent; sometimes I need time by myself to sort things out, and my own spiritual practice is no different. My life has presented me with some challenging choices and I’m working through those. I also don’t know what I’m doing, as far as spiritual practice is concerned. I know for certain that sanatana dharma is still the thing that makes the most sense to me, but how to apply that practically in a way that makes sense to me? I am still figuring that out.

I suppose that’s part of the journey, right? I attended temple celebrations for Ram Navami a few months ago, which were lovely, if still a bit confusing. I’ve never seen the temple so packed with devotees! There were a couple of people who were very friendly and helpful, and guided me through what everyone else was doing. I was so grateful!

And then there was this guy. Backstory is that the temple cafeteria was giving devotees complimentary food as prasadam, so we wandered downstairs to partake. There was a long line of people we stood in, and I felt a little self-conscious, since I’m a relative stranger at the temple (being self-conscious is something I’m very good at). We got our food and afterward I noticed that there was lemon pickle in a little tub by the counter and that people were pushing into the line to get some. I love pickle, so I got up to get some myself. As I reached over, with a polite “excuse me,” a man glowered at me and demanded, “why are you here?”

Honestly, this is the first time I’ve encountered this. I replied, “it’s a holiday!” He then asked, “do you know what holiday it is?” Baffled, I responded, “yes, it’s Ram Navami.” Then he asked, “who is your guru?” I was caught off guard by this. I have no guru. I feel that a relationship with a guru is a personal thing, and should be built as one builds a relationship with anybody—carefully, making sure this is the right thing first. I have not encountered a living guru I feel comfortable enough with to do this, and honestly, this is a big holdover from my Christian background. I am wary of people in a position of great reverence from the public. So instead, I look to people who are good teachers, and take what knowledge I can from them until the time comes that I find the right guru (if that time ever comes). Anyhow, back to the man at the temple. He then asked, “how do you know what today it?” Stupidly, I said, “I read a lot.” This seemed to satisfy him, although he glared at me from a few tables away until we left.

It bothered me for a while. Why don’t I have a guru? Should I have a guru? I kept running questions like this through my head. Then I decided that I’d learn about people who’ve built relationships with a guru, and continue on my path of personal discovery.

I’m fascinated by that relationship. I’m also fascinated by the various ways people express devotion. Yogic discipline is not something I think I’ve ever been particularly good at, but it’s another habit to develop, so I am hopeful I can do it someday.

Yesterday I found this documentary, and have watched it twice. Ashrita Furman decided in college to become a devotee of Sri Chinmoy, a guru who advocated devotion through physical activity (hatha yoga, as far as I interpret that). Ashrita chose to break as many world records as he could as an expression of devotion to his guru. It’s a delightful take on hatha yoga, and it is so refreshing to see a person so joyful about his life and his path.


EDIT: I was confused abotu the forms of yoga (this happens frequently), so I looked them up and found a handy shorthand guide: Hinduism: Forms of Yoga It breaks things down nicely into simple terms and while it’s not exhaustive by any means, it’s a good starting point.

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During the holidays, I like to remind myself that they’re all less about the things we get and more about the people we’re connected to. And by extension, we’re connected to a lot of people, and are part of a whole world full of possibility and potential.

And character. And promise.

I ran across this site, and while it’s also a great piece of inspirational storytelling (without any words!), it’s also a good reminder that the world is full of everyday people, who are all different, but who also each a piece of what makes this world such an exciting place to be.

Happy Holidays, everybody.

(Note: this applies to everybody, no matter what holiday you celebrate. I feel an emotional connection with Christmas because it’s part of my family’s cultural tradition, even though nobody in either my or my husband’s immediate family celebrates it in a religious fashion any more. But it is still a culturally-appropriate occasion to see family, spend time with the people you love, and think about all the goodwill the world is capable of. Perhaps even a good occasion to share our own.)

UPDATE: So then I got around to reading a Salon post I had put off, and I found it to be particularly fitting with this post, and also a good read, so I’m sharing it with all of you. Basically it’s about what’s in yourself and what’s outside yourself and how focusing on the Self helps make the outside stuff not matter so much. Which is a major oversimplification, but helps give you an idea of what you’ll be reading.

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Diwali Bonus!

The Atlantic‘s InFocus, my favorite photojournal, has posted their yearly collection of Diwali photos from around the world:

Diwali: The Festival of Lights

(Some of the captions are a little… off. For example, I don’t know anyone who worships account books or iPads, but I know of several who ask for Lakshmi’s blessings by way of those objects during Lakshmi puja. Ah, well. Best to take them with a grain of salt and focus on the lovely photography.)

Loads of us still have quite a lot of time left to celebrate, but it’s nice seeing how other folks spend their time.

I think my favorite photo is the one of all the people crowded into a train in their holiday finery as they travel home to celebrate with their families.

Jai Lakshmi Mata Di!

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Happy Diwali!

(Diwali decorations in Trafalgar Square, London, by flickr user Paul Carvill)

The more I celebrate this holiday, the more excited I get about it. Really.

This year I couldn’t sleep for all the excitement. I bought many little clay diyas at a mela a couple of weeks ago, as well as a new outfit. And I actually cleaned my house in preparation (I know this doesn’t sound like  huge thing, but I am a very messy person, and so it’s big)! And cleaned my little mandir space, and rearranged things! I made my usual rangoli, but this time I didn’t have the right flour, so while it’s done, I’m not showing you, because the results are less than satisfactory. I hope the mailman enjoys them…

Anyhoo, it feels like a particularly auspicious year, being the third in which I’ve celebrated this festival, and the weather seems to match, too! It was rainy and dark and overcast all of yesterday, and today the sun is out and the sky is clear and blue. I can’t think of better weather for a day that’s all about dispelling darkness and welcoming in light.

I also made the attempt to cook doodh peda (milk fudge). I did it the cheater way, with powdered milk, but they turned out pretty good! A little firmer than I’m used to, but they’re smooth and the flavor is marvellous. I’ll keep on working on them. (The recipe is from Sailu’s Food, and if you haven’t seen her blog, you must go look at it. All the recipes are easy and delicious.)

You start out with this sort of weird, clumpy, soupy mix:

And then you stir. And stir and stir. And wait for it to become a thick paste.

I think this was the point at which I needed to stop cooking:

It’s thick enough to form into a little soft ball, but still very soft. I was worried it was too soft, so I kept cooking until it looked like this:

It looks a lot like the fudge I’m used to in this photo, though I found out after the fact that it makes really solid peda if you let it go this long.

Then after it cooled a bit, I formed it into many little mini-peda:


I finished these with a small piece of cashew and (as you can see on a few) a dot of cardamom powder. Next time I’ll use more cardamom, and maybe experiment with some saffron.

So easy and so tasty! The folks at work think they’re lovely.

Tonight I will fill my house with light, but only after (hopefully) visiting the BAPS mandir for their wonderful fireworks show. They go totally over-the-top, but it’s really kind of amazing to see.

I hope that your Diwali is a wonderful day, and that this coming year is full of light, health and prosperity. May Sri Ram and Maa Lakshmi give you their blessings!

Jai Seetaram!

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Mysterious, but spot-on.

Yesterday I was frustrated with myself because I have been a total and complete slacker in both my sadhana and all other aspects of my practice, except for japa, which I find to be the most convenient thing to do. It travels with you! It requires little preparation, aside from the mental! It is a fairly simple means to mental and spiritual quietude! And on top of that, I think it’s one of the simplest ways to honor God, by chanting his name over and over and over again.

Which is all to say that I have been a slacker, and it was bothering me.

Another thing that bothered me was a feeling of disquiet. I didn’t have a real reason for my unease, since I have all that I need, including a creatively fulfilling job, a lovely husband, and pretty much all the other things that make for a satisfied life, except, it would seem, for a thing that gave me purpose.

And so today came, and it was sunny and the weather was so nice, and then for lunch I met up with a woman who has a company that uses saris and makes things out of them for people’s homes. The people who make these things are women who are refugees. This company gives them a trade, lets them make their own money, and teaches them skills. It gives them a purpose and some grounding in their lives. And now I’ll be working with them.

So I think maybe I was just waiting? And Rama, I probably should have trusted you more and known that you were waiting to show this to me at the right moment. You know my path before I see it, and that it might not look like I imagine, but it will take me just where I need to go.

(Oh, that’s the way. I never would have guessed!)

Armed with a feeling of purpose and not a small amount of joy about the whole business, I went back to work today and managed to distribute the entirety of my takeout food to homeless folk along the way.

It sounds cheesy, but today I am full of love for the universe. Jai Sri Ram!


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Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!

(Image from elycefeliz‘s flickr photostream)

Life is crazy on my end (slowing down, but still crazy), and hence not a lot of blogging from me, but happy Ganesh Chaturthi, everybody! May Ganesha bless you and remove all obstacles that lie in your path!

Om Shri Gaṇeshāya Namah!

[In keeping with my usual absentmindedness regarding dates and such, I wished the lovely fellows at Rajpan Housewares a Happy Ganesh Chaturthi something like two weeks ago. They were very gracious, but when I looked at the calendar and realized my mistake, I also understood the amused/befuddled looks on their faces. Oh, well. It’s the spirit of the thing that counts, right?]

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Any altruists out there?

I follow a number of folks on tumblr who live in India, and this post showed up in my feed today:

Help the Uttarkashi ashram

The short story is that there has been flooding recently in northern India, and much of the town that the ashram is in was washed away by those floods. It looks like the ashram is in pretty bad shape, so if you’re of a mind to help out, do. I figure that it could use a signal boost, at any rate.

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Happy Independence Day!

(Photo by flickr user cajie)

EDIT: It is not that I am a day late, in fact, I am quite on time! However, I am, as it would seem, rather horrible at reading calendars. So Happy Independence Day, India! Main tumse pyaar karti hoon, mera jaan!

I am absolutely aware that I’m a day late, but I’m always a day late in wishing people “Happy Birthday,” so at least I’m consistent, right? Anyhow, what’s important is that the sentiment has been expressed, and so happy Independence Day, India! That name may be new to your history, but the people who make up your lovely, lovely land are part of a long and (mostly) wonderful history (nobody’s history is completely wonderful, but that’s what makes us interesting, right?), and I hope that you can continue that for many years to come.

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Sorry for the lack of regular posting, but I’m in another of my deep contemplation periods, so there’s not really much to talk about on my end. I’ve been reading and thinking and meditating and trying to figure out where to go next, and at the same time trying not to worry about where to go next, because I’ll go where I’m supposed to go, and I can’t force progress or a journey or a path.

Anyway, on a similar note, today is Guru Purnima Day (so if you’ve got a guru, I wish you the happiest and most peaceful of celebrations). I don’t have a guru yet. A friend told me a while back when I was worried about not having a guru that a guru is a lot like a romantic soulmate – you can’t make that bond happen, but you can be open to it, and you’ll know when the time and guru are right for you. I imagine that advice would frustrate some people, but I felt that it gave me the permission to take a deep breath and stop worrying.

In the meantime, I can devote my time to God, and to finding and absorbing wisdom from many gurus. And honoring all gurus for what they contribute to the journeys of spiritual seekers everywhere.

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Ram Navami

I am terrible at making posts on time these days. On the other hand, I’m getting better at remembering japa and other useful spiritual practices, so I guess it’s a fair tradeoff, no?

Anyway, I started this post a while ago, a couple of days after Ram Navami, which is a special holiday for me. I am excited about any holiday that celebrates Sri Rama and/or Sita Maa.

I had several options available to me for temple celebrations. Last year I chickened out and spent the holiday at home, celebrating in my own small (and actually kind of lovely) way – a quiet puja, some readings from the Ramayana, and a special dinner. That was really nice, but this year I thought it was good to see how people celebrate together, and be festive with other Hindus. The Atlanta Hindu temple had an all-day festival planned, as did the Hare Krishna temple, the Swaminarayan temple, and a couple of others.

I chose the Hare Krishnas. This is mostly because I am still very confused by temple goings-on, even though I’m starting to get the hang of it. I am conscious of the fact that I’m still sort of an outsider (though I’m making great strides to not feeling like that so much any more), and I thought that maybe a group that actively invites in “outsiders” (not really outsiders, but I’ll use that word for the time being, as it communicates fairly well the idea I’m getting at) might help me feel more included and also help me understand what was going on a little better.

I both got that totally right and totally wrong, all at the same time.

I had never been to kirtan before, so I thought I’d test that out, and it was nice! Not at all what I was expecting, but nice. At first, the constant sound was uncomfortable, but then after a little while I discovered that I had tuned it out and it actually helped me focus.

After an hour or so of kirtan, the temple started filling with devotees. I moved closer to a few of the female devotees who had arrived, which ended up being fortunate because the devotees very carefully segregated themselves into a male half and a female half. I had heard about practices like this (for example, in the Swaminarayan tradition) but found that it was actually a little more comforting than I had expected. I’m not terribly good at being in crowds, touching other people, so it was easier to only have to deal with brushing up against other women.

We sang some more, and then the priests came out and started the abhishek of Lord Rama. His murti was small, obviously not something that was used a lot except for on special occasions. They had an ingenious system for catching the water, ghee, and other things used to bathe the murti; Rama stood on a small dias in the center of a large bowl with a hole in the bottom, which drained into a bucket under the stand the bowl sat on. As the abhishek was open to all devotees (who arranged to participate beforehand), a priest changed the bucket periodically, so that it would not overflow.

After that, one of the priests gave a lecture on Ram Navami and its significance, which I found very interesting, and then he spoke a little on the duty of the assembled devotees. I have to admit that this portion of his lecture made me a little uncomfortable. I am still not comfortable with the idea of trying to get others to adopt your faith. This is something that Christian churches teach, and I find that there’s a bit of this in the ISKCON tradition as well, though certainly this is a generalization. So I listened and learned a little more about the beliefs of the people around me.

After the lecture, the priests came back out and performed an aarti. This was the portion of the evening that was the most educational for me, not because of the aarti (honestly, I didn’t see very much of it, but I’m relatively familiar with aartis at this point), but because of the way the devotees celebrated during the aarti.

I have to preface this by saying that I am very, very Western. My family is very English and very German, which is to say that we’re fairly reserved in public. Especially in church. So when the devotees began to dance and clap and sing, I had no idea what to do. I think I sort of swayed in place, until one of the more exuberant dancers grabbed my hand and pulled me into the dance with her.

And aside from one stray small child I tried not to squash (he was joyfully underfoot), I danced and danced, and came to understand that there are lots of ways to worship God, not all of which involve being solemn and silent (although those are good, too, in their own place and time).

We sang Happy Birthday to a very small boy, and then sweaty and glowing, poured out onto the lawn to eat prasad and birthday cake. I nabbed a plate for my husband (this was a little embarrassing; he had taken the train and only showed up for the meal), ate some really delicious food, and then received a warm “Hare Om” from the woman who had pulled me into the dance.

I think that sometimes it’s useful to do things that are not totally comfortable, because you figure out things about yourself you didn’t know before. I figured out that I can do things that are really alien to me, and that at the moment, ISKCON is not where I’m meant to be. This journey seems to be one of discovering the paths I’m not meant to take as much as those I am meant to be on. And even though I will probably not attend regularly, I think I’m also understanding how various Hindus I know go to temples of other sects, or even places of worship of other religions, and feel just as comfortable there as at their home temples.

I don’t want to be an ISKCON devotee, but I did feel at peace in the temple.

Jai Sri Krishna!

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