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A Mixed Bag of Material and Spiritual Tendencies

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[republished and modified from 2014-05-04]
While the experience that prompted this free verse poem wasn’t planned, it was welcome, and seen as an occasion for reflection. Association with saints is desirable for developing good qualities, and yet being with our peers or people in general can also foster our personal and spiritual growth, because in their company who we are as a person is revealed and we may discover part of the spiritual work we have left to do. Anyone can be our teacher if we have the humility to be open to learn, either how to act, or how not to act.

Every day we have the opportunity to learn from life situations, which include dealing with or observing others, whether at work, running errands, attending school or college, or interacting with our family and friends. While it is essential to learn about others, in relationship to them we will learn much about ourselves since people are mirrors in which we project our ideals or see our faults. From another angle of vision, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also considers our heart a mirror. This mirror is covered by the dust of our conventional (physical) ego and material conditioning which obscures our spiritual nature (soul). In all our dealings we can pray to remember that we are all souls having a physical experience and in this way part of the same spiritual family.

When we have made the decision to give our life to the pursuit of loving and serving Krishna, our life is forever changed. This is true in spite of our inability to walk the path in the most ideal way. To help us have a humble attitude we can remember our life before we began the spiritual quest, or that we all begin life in ignorance. We should know and remember the spiritual goal, and where we are on the map of our spiritual journey, in order to adapt the path to our unique life situation. This is why practical guidance from experienced, mature teachers can be so valuable. Personally, I continually return to my spiritual roots to deal with the ups and downs of life. I do my best to be spiritually fixed, but if I am unable to, I still feel a hand helping me up if I extend mine up to accept assistance. I am on the path for the long haul and know I need help to stay the course.

Fortunately, Krishna hasn’t finished with me—or any of us—yet. As Prabhupada said, “We are in the shower of purification,” and while we aren’t fully clean, we are making progress. I have experienced, and expect, miracles in my life regarding my spiritual path which include what could be called facilities for living and service. Thus I endeavor to be a divine possibility thinker, praying to remain open to receive help and guidance in unexpected ways! If my taste for Krishna’s service doesn’t completely overshadow my taste for material enjoyment, I am still much better off than I would be had I not taken up bhakti. And prayer for spiritual progress should never be underestimated, or the virtue of patience and expecting the best outcome.

Shrila Prabhupada taught me that, “My future is bright.”(as is my present) Thus, I am inspired to keep on keeping on, and feel my path is illuminated even when it’s cloudy outside or inside. I write as a way to glorify bhakti, share my enthusiasm, and to encourage you to investigate and become deeply immersed in the bhakti path, or stay the course, if you are currently wavering in your determination to engage in devotional practices with the goal of Krishna prema.

A Mixed Bag of Material and Spiritual Tendencies

Out on a weekly shopping expedition
to the “big” city of focused consumers
moved by enjoyment and disappointment
like a fog hanging over everyone,
but causing me to reflect on myself
(as I do whenever I make an evaluation)—
“Am I satisfied in bhakti and the holy name
and beyond material attraction?”

Hardly (!), as I am a mixed bag of tendencies
revealed by my birth, and then awakening
from my training for material desires, hankering
for it, then thoroughly smashed in its pursuit
feeling intense misery and frustration
which created an opening for new options
as the spiritual search became my solace.

Sifting through many paths and possibilities
finding a new life engaging the heart in bhakti,
held up and driven by my inner necessity
by the grace of my gurus presence and mission
unaware I was being prepared for tests
or the fire of ordeal to determine my sincerity
no longer able to coast on the temple structure.

Circumstances and my desires lead me
to find my conditioned self and balance,
personally finding my way to chant, or not,
searching for Krishna again, now by my training
while seeing him in the world, family, and in work--
material desires resurfacing strongly in my face
the ocean of material existence was calling again.

But the holy name answered and saved me
keeping me afloat, but adrift and uncertain
never totally alone as a faint light guided me
during my dark nights of my wondering (?) soul,
recommitting, I had to internalize everything
making this path my own, even as I followed
Gaura-Nitai, the Vaishnava’s, and my gurus.

As the waves came crashing down upon me
I kept rising to the surface, calling for help
without giving up, I kept finding support
to take at least one more tentative step
fueled by faith and good fortune
knowing that things would work out—eventually.

I learned that I could find permanent shelter
above the tumultuous waves and storms—
no more moving ground or shifting sand—
a different “soil” of spiritual sustenance
hinting at the “real me” by using my conditioning,
even though stumbling I still gained and learned
always returning to the journey which changes
temporary suffering to a world of joy and hope
where everything serves my highest good.

When I am with “ordinary” people
I’m not like an inexperienced foreigner
but like a brother who has been raised up
from the same worldly soil and toil
to at least see my supreme shelter
even as I keep scraping the mud off
learning through sadhana and experience.

I feel people's desires and disappointment
which originally drove me to Krishna—
that sense of always changing goal posts
new possibilities “guaranteed” for the future
always promised but never delivered—
so now I can give back by sharing light,
a smile, kind word, and a prayer
that everyone can find the joy of their soul
on their journey toward the Supreme Beloved.