I crack my face from the computer screen;
endless numbers and colours
and impressions of others’ lives.
I am drunk on noise.
I have drunk so much noise that it flows from my ears and eyes.
Now change the view:
fields at 7pm.
I don’t care if it’s a cliche to admire this
somewhere between night and day.
Today it has rained so much that even the soft light is washed clean,
My eyes ache, refocus on distant points,
sheafs of cloud, brilliant white and thunder blue.
The grass shivers as the sun slips lower,
There is so much movement even in this stillness –
striped snails navigate the paths with cautious grace,
one magpie dives like a playing card tossed through the air,
I can feel again,
I can drink this forever –
the wet pavements covered in spatters of orange
and pink, from the flowering trees,
the sound of your name spoken softly all the while.
I crack my face from the computer screen;
I couldn’t stop myself from snapping these yoginis in Topshop’s Regent Street store today. The music was thumping over the sound system and throngs of girls with rainbow nails and Navajo leggings milled around, marvelling at mountains of costume jewelry, vintage hats and cupcakes. These meditating mannequins looked so strikingly peaceful in the midst of it all – and I couldn’t help but wonder what thought lay behind the choice of their unusual pose.
Yoga and meditation are certainly more commonplace than ever these days – anyone that buys into the commercial hype surrounding yoga in the West is still likely to be exposed to some level of authentic tradition. Then again, maybe this was just a pretty pose – or could it be a sign of imminent spiritual revolution?
I’m getting ready to go up to Hudson to paint a mural at Sadhana Yoga. I’ve only done a few murals so I’m a little nervous, but excited too. Any large canvas is a freeing experience to create on, and walls are as good as any. Body parts even better!
The theme of the mural is the sacred grafitti found in the holy town of Vrindavan. The divine names of Radha and Krishna are painted there on almost every wall, tree trunk, lamp post and rickshaw hood. For many renunciates that spend their days there, the main service that they perform is to paint and repaint these names with coarse brushes and a small steel tiffin of paint. Sometimes they are painted in English, more often in Sanskrit.
In Hudson, I’ve been asked to paint them in Sanskrit, even though most people that see it won’t be able to read it. Sanskrit is written in a script called Devanagari, said to originate in the heavens. For this reason, the lines themselves are considered to be purifying to look at, even if they are nothing but pretty curves to the beholder. A sacred word, like ‘om’ is considered to be the same in quality, whether written, heard, spoken or just seen.
Aside from divine names, I’m also planning to incorporate another touch of Vrindavan – green parrots! These beautiful birds used to be present everywhere there – screeching and twittering on every branch and phone line. I remember a book I used to read as a little girl – ‘But Where Is Green Parrot?’ These days they hide in real life too, but you can still see the telltale flashes of of electric lime in the trees in the less inhabited areas of Vrindavan. In the stories of Radha and Krishna, they often act as messengers, carrying secrets between friends and lovers or acting as confidantes.
Parrots have the wonderful ability to remember language and repeat it, something that is both celebrated and looked down upon in bhakti yoga teachings. Sukadeva (literally, best of the parrots), the reciter of one of the most important bhakti texts, the Srimad Bhagavatam, is praised for his feat of speaking the text for seven days and nights continuously, imparting the wisdom just as he received it from his teachers. But the same teachings also warn us not to become parrot-like and repeat things that we hear without deeply understanding and internalising them.
My friend Jennifer Mazzucco just sent me this beautiful video about Tashi Mannox, an English calligraphy artist. I loved hearing his eloquent thoughts on creating devotional art that doesn’t preach, but just tries to communicate philosophy and ideas that will uplift people. Tashi said that he feels the responsibility of an artist or musician is to uplift everyone they come in contact with.
Jennifer and I are creating a devotional art workshop together that we’ll be presenting for the first time at the Kripalu centre this winter. Our aim is to explore the process of creating devotional art – how getting creative opens us up to a deeper sense of connection with the soul and the Divine, and how this act of creation can teach us so much about the joy of focus and detachment.
In other news, I’m in DC right now spending time in the recording studio with Gaura Vani. We’re working on new music that encompasses both kirtan and Sanskrit mantras, as well as original English lyrics. It’s a fun process, but very new to me also. Music can be so spontaneous and free flowing, and this suits the organic, immediate nature of prayer so well. In crafting something and attempting to capture it, it can be hard to retain the original feeling. Throughout, we must constantly remember that imperfection is inevitable – the creative spark that flares into a small, bright flame is only a tiny speck of divine beauty, and we are fortunate if we can hold it for even a moment.
It’s that time of year again. Today is Govardhan Puja, when we remember Sri Krishna’s incredible lifting of a sacred mountain in Vrindavan. In the Vaishnava calendar there are so many festivals and as the years go by they stack on top of one another like layers of sediment. I imagine my life so far as a rock – each layer a testament to the moments that I spent thinking about Krishna – the thick, densely packed areas, or not – those are the crumbling parts.
I can remember so many distinct Govardhan pujas – many spent in the soggy English October, inside a white marquee, huddling in front of blow heaters while we listened to narrations of the amazing story. As children one of our favourite parts of the day was the creation of ‘the hill’. This is a giant mound of sweets, dressed to mimic Govardhan Hill – usually complete with ponds of honey, boulders made of milk sweets and bright green shredded coconut for grass. The hill would be covered with plastic animals – deer, birds and lots of cows. After everyone had performed the puja of walking around the hill three times, the sweets would start to be handed out, and along with them, the plastic animals. My toy cupboards at home were full of the most prized- the cows. My small herd grew each year, and I would eagerly look forward to each year’s festival, when I would wait with hands outstretched as a priest plucked animals off the mound and dropped them into the reaching palms of all the kids.
So why build a hill of sweets? It’s definitely fun, but deeper than that, it’s just one way to remember the miraculous activities of Krishna, and help our love for him to grow. It’s also a beautiful way to celebrate Govardhan Hill, also known as Giriraj – the king of mountains. In Krishna’s world, everyone has personality – nothing is just stone, or just a tree. Everything is full of life, full of love, full of desire to serve. Giriraj is considered to be one of the greatest servants of Krishna, since he limitlessly gives the bounty of his forests, waterfalls, minerals and more to the villagers of Vrindavan.
Last year I spent Govardhan Puja in Vrindavan, where it is extra special, since the real Govardhan Hill is only miles away. In the central courtyard of the Krishna Balaram temple, I stood on a raised platform with six other girls, scooping handfuls of scorching, fragrant halava and pressing them onto the plastic covered frame of the hill. Our hands quickly became tender, burnt by the steam, and we slid about as the hot ghee oozed from the mound around our feet. In the meantime, raucous, joyful kirtan thundered away. The following week, I was staying at the foot of Govardhan itself. It was one of the most sacred, deep experiences of my life. Each day I would wake and watch the sun light pass over the rocky face of the hill, and after a day absorbed in chanting and hearing about Krishna, I would sit in a small grove of trees and listen to the night songs of the crickets. I never believed I would really feel that a hill was a person, but after seven days, I felt his deep presence, blessing all who came near him to pray.
At the end of my time there, I built a tiny house of stones. Some people do this to pray to Giriraj for a safe, happy home to live in, but I prayed that however long it took, I may one day live there in that sacred place. These days I stay in Manhattan on the 21st floor. Outside my windows the tops of towering buildings remind me of his ridges and peaks, and I realise that whether here or there, his blessings are near.
I am writing without really knowing why. Sometimes writing is motivated by a new understanding, a ‘realisation’. But what realisation do I have? You can realise something, as in understand it, but surely to truly realise something means to ‘bring it into reality’, to live it. So to truly have a realisation means to understand something and then apply it every day.
So what have I realised lately? In small ways, like gathering scraps and snippets and threads, I have begun to understand that the things I thought were important – security, companionship, money – are not as important as they seem. Sometimes it seems like we are all living a great misunderstanding. We need so little, and the smallest things are the greatest treasures. To sing, to love, to dance. To smile as we fall asleep and as we wake. We can choose to do these things, or choose not to.
I have begun to glimpse that life is like a symphony of beauty and pain in equal measures. The music plays on, and each of us must decide how to play. We can choose to play with grace and humility. We can choose to play in such a way as to always push ourselves beyond our perceived limits. We can choose that if we trip up on a few notes, we smile and play on, no problem. We can choose to look up from the safety of our sheet music at the conductor, and feel safety and guidance in the movement of his hands. We can choose to play alone, and sometimes that is how the music is supposed to go. But at other times we are surrounded by a full orchestra, and we can feel the joy of harmony, the thrill of delicious syncopation.
Or if we are feeling insecure, we can watch the hands and faces of our fellow musicians and feel strength in togetherness. We can sing a painful song together. Or we can even fall silent. In times when our voices will not sing and our hands will not play, we can just listen to the music that washes within and without, steady like a timeless tide.