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Fatal Attraction Part 2: Illuminating the Shadow of our Past

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[I am continuing the reposting of this 5 part series. The basic premise of this series is to posit that our greatest challenges, problems, reveres, difficulties, hurts, or pain, have the power to crush us (if we let them), or offer the greatest opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. Specifically here, I am speaking of our childhood, and how huge a shadow it casts on our life—which could be good or bad, or likely, a mixture. Our parents are instruments of our karma and are meant teach us valuable lessons for living our lives. Many people don’t really worry about this and simply live without a lot of deep introspection about how their past has shaped them, which isn’t a bad fact if one is happy and fulfilled.]
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(Fast forward sixteen years from the marriage spoken about in part 1.) This seemed like any typical San Francisco summer morning, foggy and cool, but it was anything but normal to Chris, who was going to do something he didn’t want to do, while his Dad, Johnny, was happy. They were driving to the courthouse for a divorce settlement. Parking, they walked up the stairs and into the building. John found the appropriate courtroom and they took their seats to wait their turn. Chris felt sick to his stomach and wished he could just run away, but knew he couldn’t, so instead, he retreated deeper into himself. It was like he wasn’t even there. Disassociation was how he survived childhood and it had served him well. While a good temporary protection strategy, it was a poor way to live at all times. Later in life, Chris would find his biggest challenge was learning to be present, and to feel, whether sadness or love, but depression became a way to be numb, though it gradually became his clue that something was wrong, very wrong.

For all practical purposes, the memory of this courtroom experience was gone, buried under the debris of pain and disappointment. He only knew it happened on the rare occasions his dad recounted how proud he was hearing that Chris, when asked by the judge, wanted to live with his father—which was totally untrue. Even though Chris couldn’t remember the last time his dad beat him, he still was afraid of him and on guard in case his father would become angry and hit him, so he didn’t speak his mind at court, or for that matter, much at all.

Fatal Attraction--Part 1

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[February 12th was my 45th anniversary of moving into the temple as a single monastic (brahmacari) and officially taking up the process of bhakti, or pure devotional service. To honor my spiritual journey on the way to Krishna, I thought I would repost this 5 part series about my life before taking up Krishna consciousness and how it led to my existential crisis and spiritual search. Since these are blogs, I have greatly condensed the material.] Pattrica Ann Bailey stared mindlessly at the passing scenery as she sat in the moving train. She felt relaxed and glad to be away from Chicago and what seemed like a fixed future. In fact, the more miles away from the “Windy City,” the better she felt. While a fiercely independent and critically intelligent young woman, she couldn’t stand up to her mother Peg—still, after all these years! Patt (with two t’s please) had joined the Navy during the Second World War to escape her mom’s watchful eye, and even married, but then, after only a year she had to get a divorce. Her—now X—husband shocked her by revealing that he liked men better than girls and had no feelings for her. Thus, she was forced to return home in shame.

Although she had a very high IQ, Patt could be impulsive and over emotional at times. Thus her mom had never quite trusted her decisions, and was worried about her future. To “help” her daughter make a better choice in picking men, she invited a good looking, wealthy, navy captain over for dinner. He was nice enough Patt had thought at first and so they began dating. Before she knew it she was engaged, which she had agreed to do at the insistence of her mom. And the major problem was not only that she didn’t love him, but as she shared years later, “He was boooor-iiiiiing,” and Patt had a weakness for exciting men and doing fun things her mother didn’t approve of.

Stages in your ages

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[The theme of this blog is very much on my mind and was originally published in 2008-08-08--I spruced it up a bit and added pictures to make it more consistent with my current blogs.]I just returned from a trip to the ocean. I spent time thinking of some lessons I learned during my life which I wanted to share with you. As we age and hopefully mature we have to apply the spiritual principles of Krishna consciousness in different ways. At the same time, in our pursuit of spiritual perfection, we also have to apply different material strategies of support (i.e marriage, living in an ashram, occupational development, etc.) in order to be peaceful, satisfied, and able to remain fixed in our goal of loving and serving Krishna for our whole life. We don't want to be a shooting star, but a brilliant sun in lasting service. The following are points for your contemplation:

As we mature we will have a much different idea of what spirituality is than when we were young and inexperienced. In fact we may very well see what we once thought was Krishna consciousness, was only a shadow, or a beginning layer of a much deeper, broader, nuanced view.

Your conceptions of Krishna consciousness, and what you thought was your level of advancement will in time be challenged—so never be complacent and think you have gone somewhere by only a head full of knowledge or some years of chanting and service. The quality of our practice is much more important than the time spent. We may obtain Krishna in a moment, or not for a million births.

Encouraging Words

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[This blog was originally published on 4-21-12, and has now been moved here] Everyone falls short, or doesn’t progress as fast as they would like, on their spiritual journey. Can we ever think we love or serve Krishna sufficiently, when even great souls consider themselves deficient in devotion? Therefore, I always feel it is essential to portray my struggles as well as successes, so that devotees will be comfortable accepting and acknowledging where they fall short—at least within a select group, or a confidential friend. If we hide behind a veneer of external practice, trying to look good without admitting and sharing our struggles, we won’t be able to hear how other devotees have dealt with similar problems. Some devotees think they are the only one with a particular challenge or sensual weakness, but if there was more honest sharing of experiences, devotees would see that while the exact details and degree of intensity vary, most of us have many of the same issues and struggles

To make spiritual progress we must be introspective enough to understand our strengths and weakness, as well as where we are now, and what the goal is (so we can remain fixed on it). There is a time to hear and chant about Krishna, and a time to be real about our material attachments and lack of spiritual standing. We only get to steadiness (nistha) and taste (ruchi) in bhakti through being conscious of, and retiring our anarthas, or unwanted ways of thinking and acting—and that is a long, winding road!

Be Who You Really Are!

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(Since I have a new audience, I thought I would continue to repost some of my favorite blogs [this one from 11-11-11] that are related to my current themes about personal growth, power, and a sense of mission. I am focused on these topics because many of us aren't using our full potential of allotted power, or energy given by Krishna, and thus are dissatisfied due to being diverted from making our special, natural contribution. To give you an example, my mission is to provide encouragement and inspiration to my readers or listeners to be the best persons they can in the pursuit of bhakti, or loving devotional thoughts and actions to please God, or Krishna. In this blog I point to the power of spiritual positive thinking while depending on Krishna. Real humility comes not artificially, but as a by-product of our spiritual development. With Krishna's help and our faithful thoughts and actions, all things are possible.) :

In the face of all our apparent problems, mistakes, and perceived failings and shortcomings, it is absolutely essential to remember our spiritual identity as a soul who is part of Krishna. This spiritual understanding is the solution to all problems and is the success of our life. You aren’t that body—remember? Don’t get so caught up in life as to deny this, or please consider this view if you have never thought of applying it practically. Bodily identification which is created and fostered by false ego—that most insidious and subtle element—encourages us to defend our misconceptions, and thus causes all our conflicts with others and unhappiness. Rather than looking inward, we think we need to add things on to our lives for fulfillment—of course, this is good for the economy!

Many of us suffer from low self-esteem, or a very poor opinion of ourselves, or we may display an inflated grandiose view of ourselves to cover this up (the dirty secret of our unworthiness). Some may not really have faith in the spiritual goal, and so remain with what they think is certain—however miserable or mediocre that may be. We may want to distract ourselves by remaining very busy so we don’t have to spend too much time thinking of our wounded, hurt self—or we may always be blaming others for our problems.

Shri Nityananda as more Merciful than Shri Chaitanya

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I originally published this blog on February 15, 2011. Since I don't have time this evening to prepare a blog about Lord Nityananda, I thought I would post it again now. Sunday, February 1st will be the observance of Lord Nityananda’s holy appearance day. I was blessed in 2011 to be able to give class to the devotees on that day. I am sharing with you part of what I spoke about then. On the one hand, I appreciate the special mercy that comes to one who is able to speak to the devotees about Krishna and the philosophy of devotion, while on the other, I also find it very humbling to realize that I really don’t know much about the philosophy. It is like an ocean, and I can only share a few drops. However, I speak for my own purification, with the prayer and intention to inspire and inform the devotees. Besides this, Krishna appreciates our taking risks in his service, assuring us in the Gita, that he carries what we lack and preserves what we have.

It is interesting how Spring is associated with Shri Chaitanya and his associations. First Shri Advaita Acharya, who prayed for the Lord’s appearance, then Shri Nityananda Prabhu, the expansion of Lord Chaitanya and his most merciful aspect, and finally the crescendo, next month, on the full moon day, Lord Chaitanya’s appearance. Although Shri Chaitanya is widely known as the “most munificent” avatar, freely giving Krishna prema (ecstatic love for Krishna), Shri Nityananda is considered even more merciful, since he gives prema to the most unqualified persons.

Finding Our Personal Mission and Potential Power—Part 2

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One of my main points over many months of writing is that personal growth can be very favorable to our steadiness in spiritual practice. Such work is certainly not an end in itself, but can be helpful along with our sincerity of purpose and prayer in sorting out our life issues, and accessing our personal power for our service to Shri Guru and Gauranga (our spiritual teacher and Lord Chaitanya), and for the people in general. We can judge a thing by its results (phalena pariciyate) and if through such personal growth work one is more enthused in bhakti and in one's life, this is proof of its value.

All change begins with knowing we have a problem, sometimes the most difficult awareness. However, this still isn’t sufficient to create change without working and praying to remove our shortcomings, and replacing them with better qualities or habits. Expert guidance in doing this work is indispensable. My understanding is that assisted introspection (as I have coined it) with experienced mentors will be helpful in rising to the stage of nistha (steadiness), an interim goal on the long road to prema (pure love of God).

The Gita teaches us that to not follow our nature is artificial and unsustainable. So our spiritual practices should be in sync, not just with our work (as important as that is), but with our sense of personal mission. Our power, or empowerment, in life comes from connecting our personal mission to our spiritual mission, making them one, if you will. Some teachers today say that just doing our personal mission, or being a balanced human being, is spiritual. While this is a crucial part of the equation, it is only part of it, and remains incomplete without addressing the needs of the soul.

Staying with Krishna for the Long Haul by Finding Our Personal Mission and Potential Power—Part 1

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In my last blog I spoke of illness or difficulties that can be used to rekindle our spiritual practice. In this blog I am sharing a sample of what of what some friends and I have been discussing about regarding the difficulty in finding one’s personal power and life mission. In a general sense all Gaudiya Vaishnavas, or devotees of Shri Krishna Chaitanya, share the same ultimate mission of prema, or loving service to Krishna and the spiritual practices to obtain it, or sadhana. However, the details concerning how one lives their life to obtain this ultimate mission, whether as a renunciate or married person with countless occupational possibilities, is as varied as are the types of people who come to Krishna. We could think of a personal unique mission, and a general spiritual one. They may look the same or seem very different. Many years ago I discovered I had issues with my personal power—or my lack of it. Reading the comments of devotees on this subject, I realized that I’m not alone, and so the topic of personal mission and personal power is essential to discuss for our long term standing as devotees.

Reflecting on how I grew up in a family situation where I had to turn off my personal power in order in to survive in a negative, violent atmosphere, it is easy to see that using my personal power is a major life lesson. My withdrawal of energy, or not being very conscious of it, continued to cast a shadow over my life when I came to Krishna. At first it helped me focus on my spiritual practices, but later I was practically forced to become a more balanced and integrated devotee. I have always been a late bloomer and so it isn't surprising to me that it is only now, toward the later years of my life, that I have found the gift in this personal deficiency. Of course, we all have our own time to blossom and become aware of what we need to do in our life. I'm endeavoring and praying to manifest my personal mission in the world—or my corner of it—as my offering for my gurus and Krishna, and to encourage others to do the same.

For the spiritually minded, life is really about managing our human energy in relationship to our spiritual path, and giving it shape according to our personal mission. Some intuitives call our personal mission our "sacred contract," and I have called it our "karmic mission."

It Was Only a Test

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From my youth during the 60’s I remember tests of the Emergency Broadcasting System on TV, where the regular programing was interrupted. A certain symbol was flashed on the screen with a jarring sound to wake you up and get your attention. After a few minutes, we were told that that this was only a test. If there had been a real emergency we would have been given appropriate instructions—like to go to bomb shelter or something. I thought about this idea of tests and being prepared—or not—for personal emergencies in relationship to my wife and my current illness of about a week now.

I have been thinking that this flu, or whatever respiratory infection it is, is only a test, not a nuclear attack, or earthquake—something that may cause death (which is like our lifetime’s final exam—because our consciousness, attachments, and good or bad actions determine our next birth). If I am still alive, that means I have more time left to be Krishna conscious or to go deeper into my spiritual path. No, our illness likely isn’t life threatening, though still plenty miserable. However, at some point in the near future, we will have to move on and out of our current bodily apartment—we are renters here, not owners. Had I died yesterday, save some special arrangement, I would be taking birth again still full of anarthas (unwanted mentalities or habits) and petty desires.
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So my lack of spiritual standing is sobering, but mainly when confronted with the possibility of my death at this moment—which is one reason we are meant to keep death—or the temporariness of our body—before our eyes! Otherwise, hey, I could live another 20 or 30 years, so no worries Mate, still plenty of time for spiritual progress, mañana! Could I use this as a new lease on the remaining days of my life? That would be a great outcome of feeling crappy. Still, I have to choose that outcome, as we tend to forget, getting absorbed in our regular life, job, and family.

Is Happiness a Choice? Part 1 & 2

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Part 1
In the midst of my sneezing and a hacking cough this morning I discovered a fantastically beautiful sunrise—breathtakingly inspiring for me—when I went downstairs to wake our home Deities. These days I am very taken by the natural world, the sunrise and sunset, phases of the moon, and my favorite for super variety, the ever-changing clouds. These daily occurrences are often missed in our hectic world, and thus it is no wonder that people are ever more depressed and lonely, feeling the cities are like a fast paced void. Behind Nature, and within it (and our hearts), is the Presence of the Almighty, patiently waiting for us to turn to him.

And when we are in the peace that nature can afford (if we can turn off our phone) we can feel closer to the Source of Everything, who for Gaudiya Vaishnavas, is the charming, extraordinarily gorgeous, irresistible flute player and cowherd, Shri Krishna. So I felt inspired and happy in the midst of a distressful condition—which gives a clue on how to be happy. This is the opening for today’s topic on happiness.

My wife and I gave a class last week titled, "Is Happiness a Choice?" guided by the 14th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita on the three modes, or qualities, that govern the material world. Our answer to this question was a conditional yes, since happiness is really an attitude toward life, and not the result of our material adjustments or attainments. Another way of thinking of happiness is that it is not a “thing” but a by-product of a state of consciousness. Thus we might reframe the question to read, “What state of mind is required to choose to be happy?”

From a higher spiritual perspective, one of the qualities of the soul is happiness, so the closer we come to the spiritual platform, the more joy we will naturally feel, and the less we will be searching for happiness in the world of ephemeral things. The potentiality of material goodness (sattva) is that it is the portal, or gateway, to the soul, since it can bring wisdom and spiritual illumination. The downside of material goodness—and all material qualities or things have shortcomings—is that one can become attached to being a happy, virtuous, and wise person, and remain materially bound.

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