So two years ago I wrote about my first experience of book distribution. It was disheartening – enough to put me off until yesterday, when I had gathered sufficient courage to go out and try again – this time with some training.
For those who don’t know, book distribution doesn’t mean fulfilling orders for amazon.com (though I used to do that too), but in Hare Krishna slang it’s short for going out on the street and trying to sell books about Krishna consciousness, usually written by our founder acarya, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It’s a funny business. In one way there’s no set way to do it, whilst in another, people spend hours talking about different strategies and techniques. Lots of people think ‘How hard can it be?’, and it’s true, if you have the knack and all the conditions are right, it can be a walk in the park. But as I found out the first time, selling something on the street can be the hardest thing in the world. The elusive ingredients are subtle – unseen, and difficult to pinpoint. Those magic elements are determination, devotion and discipline – and above all, a heartfelt desire to act as an instrument of God’s mercy. That sounds a bit high and mighty and self righteous, but when you try and live in that mindset, even for an hour, you realise it’s not. It requires the deepest humility and selflessness – both qualities which are hardly at the top of the average young person’s wishlist.
It’s missionary work, and that was the line I found myself repeating as I walked inside a large shopping centre yesterday. ‘Don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell it to you, I’m a nun from the Hare Krishna temple.’ It was fascinating to see how people responded. As soon as they heard ‘nun’ and ‘temple’ they relaxed a little – no one likes the hard sell from someone who just wants to make money, including me. In fact, I hate being stopped in the street, so I tried to never make people feel uncomfortable.
I found it liberating to try and stop people. I’m not an extrovert, and in the familiar space of a shopping centre, where usually I’d be walking around laden with bags full of clothes, minding my own business, it was hard at first to stop strangers. It got easier, but only gradually. It’s amazing how much the mind resists intruding on people’s privacy – maybe it’s a British thing?
By the end of the day I was exhausted. We’d walked miles of marble, spoken to countless people, and carried heavy books in one hand for hours. But I felt a deep peace and satisfaction. Almost elated, as well as contemplative. The day was a success. No matter how many books I had given out, I had been trained to overcome the resistance of my mind, and just get back on the horse again.