Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chants of a Lifetime by Krishna Das - Taking me out of my box, or um, making me see i was in the box?

I’ve tried for many things, sent out many manuscripts, applied for writing jobs, and to be honest, I may very well have lost more essay contests than I care to admit. I try, I fail, then I move on. So I didn’t really expect much when I applied to review Hay House new releases. Though there was no money involved, merely the chance to read books from a publisher I adore, I wrote it off that I’m generally unlucky.
Surprise…I checked the mail and there was package from Hay House. Did I buy anything? I didn’t remember. I pulled out a letter, and realized they picked me. Based on my blog, they chose the first book to be-

Chants of a Lifetime by Krishna Das.

Hmmm. Strange. An awesome opportunity, but a book that seemed completely out of my box. Could I even read an entire book? As strange as it seems, I’d not read an entire book since my brain surgery, chocking it up to eye issues, or perhaps not remembering what I’d read the previous day. Maybe I couldn’t even read it.
But then, maybe I could. Was there any way that the universe would drop this thing into my lap by accident? I decided to try, and here’s my honest review for ya. With love.

Chants of a Lifetime is a book about a man, Krishna Das, and the spiritual path that led him to Chanting. I always thought that my religious views were extremely open. I’m Unitarian Universalist, leaning towards the New Age side of things. I quickly realized how narrow my sight was, when the main character of the book was brought into play…Maharaj-ji. Maharaj-ji is a spiritual leader many Westerners devotedly followed, someone who had incarnated to the point where they were entirely of love.

This was difficult for me, as I grew up with God Energy and no in between. I had no spiritual teacher that I could stick in that spot in order to relate. How could it be that someone could see another in the flesh and feel that kind of love? I had to think about it for a minute, and found a solution that could work in Steve Bell, an old Jewish guy my family dearly loves. A white bearded Psychology professor, Steve once loaned me the book Ishmael, and after reading it, I couldn’t return it. His scribbled notes and underlinings meant that this was something he cared for, and I clung to it as it were sacred, because what he thought good must definitely be.

After a long Halloween full of excitement, including a birthday party, haunted trail, eating junk food at a restaurant, and a Hayride, when asked what my childrens favorite part of the evening was, their reply?
“When Steve called us his Grandchildren…” my husband and I echoed the girls, knowing there was no better place to be than sitting having tea in those tiny cups with Old Steve.  So for me, I filled in Steve for Maharaj-ji for as far as it would take me.  (Let's not forget Mrs. Bell- pretty spectacular as well as an awesome cook.  If you do a search of this blog, you'll find her chicken soup recipe near the beginning).

Krishna’s relationship with Maharaj-ji at times seemed as though he was one of the apostles of modern times writing about Jesus, and I did gain insight, oddly, into the Christian religion through reading this book. Living in the Bible belt, Jesus is quite the celebrity, which I pushed against, thinking about the Hypocrisy of believers than happen to banish all other spiritual paths other than their own. Reading Chants of a Lifetime opened me up to the idea that maybe I needed to expand my own thought patterns; I may have been wrong to relate Christianity to a closed off point of view. The idea that I thought Christians were closed minded showed that not only was I equally closed minded, but reminded me that as a Unitarian, I was supposed to be supportive of everyone’s right to their path. Because I had no guru, I discovered that I didn’t want others to have that either. Because I did not feel there was a difference between how one arrived at their spiritual niche, a part of me felt that someone was only worthy if they accepted all forms as well as their own. That was me being the Hypocrite.

Krishna Das writes,

“We see ourselves as separate and different from other people. On the level of thoughts, physicality, and emotions, we certainly seem to be. This is the “optical delusion,” and yet it is what we experience. My stuff revolves around a different planet than yours. You have your planet, I have mine. But on the deepest level, our planets are actually each a reflection of the same thing- the Self, the One - like the moon reflected in different pools: one moon, same light, many reflections. When the pool of water is calm and there is no debris floating on the surface, all of the reflections are identical. To the extent that we experience that, the way we live our lives changes. The true guru gradually frees us from this “optical delusion,” whether he’s guiding us from “within” as a manifestation of our own true Self, or from another human body that appears to be “outside” of us. Whether or not we meet the guru outside of us at some point in time, all of us have the guru inside as that place within us knows.”

And with this paragraph, I was able to let go of my need to stick a spiritual human guru of my own in place of Maharaj-ji. The true destination is in your heart; finding a place of self love inside you. Seems easy, right? But was I really a fan of me? And if I had to answer that question, it would end up an easy No. But why? And how do I go about becoming a fan of me? Again, I’m going to quote Krishna Das…

“It’s as if we’re living on the front lawn of our own home. We’ve been locked out of ourselves for so long that we forget there is a house to live in. We buy all kinds of stuff and put it on the lawn. Yes, all that furniture and that expensive flat-screen HDTV are on the lawn. Then when they get rained on and ruined, causing us unhappiness, we thinks that’s the way it has to be. We’ve forgotten what a house was for. We’ve forgotten that there even is a house. We’ve forgotten that there is shelter inside of our own hearts.”

Spiritual practice is done in order for us to get back into our ‘house.’ To rediscover that we are all part of a whole, and the whole is Love. This wasn’t too hard for me to comprehend, as it’s something I already believed, but if I’m part of the One- this God Energy, and God = Love, how am I contributing if I am not a fan of me? I’d tried to meditate before, but it just didn’t click. How do you clear yourself of that debris? Even this week, the fact that someone stole my garden gnome from the bike trail was causing me angst. Albeit dorky, I was fretting and wishing that I could implement a surveillance system in the trees. And this wasn’t the first time he’d been stolen. Also, I envisioned bad juju on any location that poor gnome was now placed, in turn placing bad juju in my mind where I placed the thought. How do you meditate with random trivial things stuck in your head? And this is where the Chanting comes in.
Meditating is not the easiest thing to do; and some people cannot begin to quiet their unstill minds. Chanting is a way to get around this. In the repetition of the Name, or these spiritual songs, you have a focus, and that focus does not let your mind drift as easily as say, a quiet room. Things will come and go, but the fact that you have a steady focus makes it easier to leave behind the clutter.
But what do the Chants mean? Good question, and this was something I looked for while reading the book. Who was this? What was that? My analytical mind wanted stories and explanations, and I found none, but the book is written this way for my benefit. Basically, the Energy of the Names = Love. The best way to explain? Again, let’s go with Krishna Das…

“Shirdi Sai Baba has said that Namasmarana, or the constant inward repetition on the Name, is actually God remembering Himself within us. The power of the presence of God is carried in the name:
Beginning with simple repetition, gradually but inevitably,
the Divine power which is hidden in it, is disclosed and takes on the
character of a ceaseless uplifting of the heart, which persists through
The distractions of the surface life.

I love that phrase, “gradually but inevitably.” It means that even if we’re running through a train from the front to the back, in the opposite direction that the train is going, when the train reaches the station, so will we. So much of my life has been spent running in the wrong direction, only to find that I’ve wound up in the right place anyway.

So despite the fact that we don’t know the true meaning of these Names,
Repeating them is still different from just saying the name Frank over and over. By repeating Frank, we remember every Frank we ever know. Many images arise in the mind. But when we say Ram, what image do we get? Most likely, no concrete form appears. And that’s the whole point. The real Ram is not a person we’ve met in our daily life. The real Ram lives in our own hearts and, by repetition of the Name, we are tuning into that essence within us. If it is something we can imagine or make up in our own heads, than it cannot take us beyond our own heads. In this way, the repetition of the Name can free us from our thoughts and allow us to be here in a deeper way.”

In one of his PBS specials (The Power of Intention), Wayne Dyer talks about how even tangible things have an assigned energy. A banana. A rap CD. Everything, living or otherwise, carries an energy. We gather strengths as well as weaknesses from various energies in our day to day lives. This wasn’t hard for me to grasp, and Dr. Dyer’s discussion on Energy was a great prequel to reading Chants of a Lifetime. It made me more open to the idea that chanting could help me be a 'fan of me,' and the repetition of Names that equate Love could cancel out my gnome angst, etc... perhaps make me see how trivial some of my aggravations are.

There are many things in the book I’d love to point out, but my review is quickly turning into a book of it’s own. Are there places where the book falls short?
There were times when I felt a sadness for Krishna Das, especially when he wrote of his own family ties. At times, I felt a Lonely vibe, but maybe I was reading too much into it.  There seemed to be some resentment toward his parents, and I would have loved to have seen his marriage be written about in some other way other than it was. I guess in a way, I expected too much, mentally envisioning him as someone so spiritually evolved that he'd be able to let go, or at least form some sort of connection to another imperfect human outside of his Spiritual family.  I seeked a sacred bond for him in the form of someone in his family to love, other than Maharaj-ji.   But why? 
In the end, Krishna Das is just one of us, still working through his stuff through spiritual practice- that's what the books about. :) He is no better, no worse; Das is us.  That is pretty much what he means to convey, and perhaps that's why he left things in the book for me to question in those ways.  I wish him healing in these areas, because sometimes things that are obstacles are also blessings.

And near the end of the book, I read a passage by Rumi that hit home, and could have definitely been placed closer to the beginning. From the book…

“…I was afraid of everything. And so nothing was happening in my life. This baba saw all of this, and when he showed me- and I saw it- everything began to change.

These spiritual window-shoppers,
Who idly ask, “How much is that?” Oh, I’m just looking.
They handle a hundred items and put them down,
Shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
And their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
In that shop.

Where did you go? “Nowhere.”
What did you have to eat? “Nothing much.”

Even if you don’t know what you want,
Buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.
Start a huge, foolish project,
Like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference
What people think of you.


(on pgs 195-6)

And here I was. Looking around the room at unfinished business, many a half-painted canvas, novels I’d write a hundred pages into, then write then off as unworthy of finishing. Stacks of things I couldn't throw out, but didn’t have time to sort through either. As much as I try to be a positive person, this book has aimed my eyes at places I wasn’t really looking. It is always going to be easier to aim our love outward.  The book that was taking me out of my box could have shown me I was in the box, wanting something great to happen but only making a half-assed effort.
Time to go inward & be a gung ho participant. Let’s see where it goes!

I’m looking forward to chanting, and can see that my self defeating prophecies may not always come true, regardless of my manifestations. Thanks to Krishna Das for writing this book, and to Hay House for sending it my way.

Here’s to a year of spiritual evolution with Hay House. Go for the ride with me.
Much Love, yours truly :D 

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