Old Habits Die Hard!
When I was a university student, I always enjoyed the company of good coffee, a book at a silent and swanky mom n’ pop student cafe. I loved reading while i could take a glimpse at people walking, talking and living life in front of me in a student campus. Though there were millions of people around me, i still felt an empty space where I was falling in love with life and taking gratitude for the wonderful world around me. I loved living in the library for hours, surrounded by nothing but halls of books and hiding myself away from the world sheltering myself in the search of a journey inside the mystery of a few pages. Every chapter was a search for a magic carpet ride that could take me away from the troubles and tiring cycle of mundane life. Exhausted by relationships that where always disappointing and painful, whether it was missing love from a parent or the betrayal of a friendship, as a nineteen year old I felt I had enough of it. Little did I know that life is waiting for me on the other side, with a dozen of new relationships to make and cherish for a lifetime.
These relationships we absorb ourselves in are not eternal in nature, that is why we are disappointed. The happiness we expect someone to give us is limited, but the happiness we can find within us, within the soul, within the service of giving love to others, is truly unlimited. This is because when you build a relationship with the soul, you are bound to experience never ending love, it is endless in its sweet composition. Krishna sits in our heart waiting for us to remember him, waiting for us to make the call for eternal love, waiting and waiting for us to regain our lost relationship with Him. But we, especially me, I keep failing through all his tests and have to start from scratch. For a broke girl like myself, I have nothing to lose, this attempt to fall in love with Krishna again and again, through the highs and lows, is the beginning of a great love story.
Once upon a time, this was life for me, I was a student chasing my dreams in a college campus and falling in love with the whole experience of American education. Getting lost in the magic of words and being carried away on wonder of a material story, was my idea of a perfect day. My family and my only attraction was my education, I was renounced to the world and dedicated to my academic career. All that mattered to me, was getting my degree, finishing my assignments on time, attending every single class and honor student congregation, becoming the professor’s favourite student, never miss a daily jog, practice my piano, getting onto the dean’s list every single semester, graduating ahead of my class, finding the perfect job, moving to california and living the American dream. Every semester, for four years, again and again, these where the mantras in my mind. The goal of my life was to achieve this status in life no matter what may come my way, I would totally not give up! I had something to prove to the world as millennial woman who was independant, self-sufficient, well educated and professional.
There is nothing wrong with being diligent, disciplined and determined. We are students for life, we should work hard towards our goals and the habits we gain in college if filtered into our spiritual life can render us great service in love.
How can we use our skills and talents in our spiritual life?
Old habits die hard and the good qualities that we have ingrained while training in college can be channeled positively to inspire our spiritual life. Here are my top seven tips:
1. Wake up Early!
Set the alarm or the “alarms,” if it takes a few more than one to do the trick, then why not? Whatever it takes to get it done, try to get up early. In college I often realized the earlier I got up the more privacy and alone time i had in the library, as usually most students would be up late and I got to benefit from the quiet hours. Initially if you cannot make it to mangal aarti, make sure you develop some routine that works well for you and stick to it. Start small but start somewhere. The morning hours are amazing and can be used to channel our energy for the rest of the day. It is said in vedic scriptures that mangal means most auspicious hours to chant and engage in devotional service. Do your best and if you cannot get to mangal aarti everyday, try to experience it at least once or twice a month.
2. Make a To-do List!
Be specific and set simple goals for the day, the fewer the better, but make sure you keep yourself busy with practical goals everyday consistently. Often times people set themselves up for failure when they list down unrealistic goals. Keep it short and sweet! In college I had lists for all my subjects and it allowed me to prioritize all my study items for the day. Do this the night before and when you wake up in the morning, you will find it aspiring to work through the days tasks. Let’s say you do not end up doing one or two items, reflect upon it on your journal and work out a follow up plan for the next day. Do not give up, train yourself to embrace failure and push for the next opportunity. I always keep reminding myself what Srila Prabhupada says, “Slowly but Surely.” It is not about getting there through the quickest way possible or through shortcuts, take the longer route enjoy the journey and sink into the spiritual experience. Chart out a typical schedule and learn to train yourself on a little stability everyday. Even if you fail to follow through, someday you will prepare yourself to make it work. Do not be afraid of trial and errors, it is all part of learning and an essential part of a student life.
3. Sharing is Caring!
Often times folks think spiritual life is all about being secluded in a monastery or living in isolation somewhere in the Amazon jungles. You don’t need to become a yogi in the mountains of Himalayas and give yourself a headache. Bhakti-yoga is a simple process: chant, eat prasad, connect with devotees and be happy. We are the servants of servants of servants, therefore service to others cannot happen alone in isolation in the middle of nowhere. The focus is to remain renounced internally yet externally to keep yourself engaged in spiritual association. I remember in university, group studies and team work where part of the grading system for certain assignments. Tolerance, humility, patience and perseverance are all tested when you have to corporate with people and when you solve problems collectively as a team. Some days to cover up the mistakes of other team members i would have to do all the homework for my team members, and I had to be a paradigm of leadership for them. On other occasions I had to take three steps back and let the others lead, while I watch from the back. Consciousness is not about living an independent life, it is about practicing renunciation whilst living amongst wordly men, remaining engaged in your duty and taking responsibility for your actions. Srila Prabhupada says, “Renounced order, does not mean to stop but atleast control sense gratification. Material life is problem and if you want to solve the problem, this is the solution: you give up sense gratification.”
Therefore we have to try to be friendly with all, see Krishna is all and give Krishna to all as they are part and parcel of the Lord. One of the great qualities of a successful worldly man and Vaishnava is that he is everyone’s friend. Of course in the material world it is for some personal benefit, but in the spiritual concept of life one of the qualities of a pure devotee is he is friendly in nature “Maitra”.
“In the Bhagavad-Gita Lord Krishna states that He is the friend of all living beings. As the Lord’s intimate associate, Srila Prabhupada also displayed friendship to all by dint of his constant engagement in spiritual welfare activities. In the material world, friendships are formed based on mutual sense gratification, and when sense gratification is disturbed, the relationship is either damaged or discontinued. Srila Prabhupada was a true friend to all, however, because he formed relationships with others motivated by his unalloyed desire to assist everyone in achieving the highest goal of life. He never desired to exploit anyone, and if there was ever an offense committed against him or some difficulty caused by others, he never took it seriously. Because Srila Prabhupada accepted the karma of five thousand disciples, he had to undergo what appeared to be suffering. In spite of this, he never withdrew his mercy and friendship. Significantly, he always closed his letters to his disciples with the words, “Your ever well-wisher.” The spiritual friendship of a pure devotee like Srila Prabhupada is the rarest of gems, and intelligent persons will certainly appreciate, revere, and guard it as life’s dearest treasure.” -Ajitananda Dasa.
4. Take lots of Showers!
If you are living in England, it might be tough and difficult to take cold showers as the weather is trying . However if you live in a tropical country like Kenya, where everyday is a spring day, regular cold showers are a norm under the Sun. In university I would always takes several showers as they would boost my energy and freshen me up immediately. Cleanliness is truly close to Godliness, and after a shower you truly do feel clean and alive. A brahmana is always supposed to have a clean ghamsha (towel), bead bag, hands and mouth. Take lots of showers and do not be afraid of jumping into the shower to wake yourself up, it is a good way to get rid of toxins and the best way to zone you out of the tiredness.
Cleanliness is not only about keeping the skin tidy but should also be a practice that helps cultivate a mood of cleaning the dirt within, “Clean as though you are cleaning your heart.” In the Bhagavad Gita this is explained as well:
“Cleanliness is essential for making advancement in spiritual life. There are two kinds of cleanliness: external and internal. External cleanliness means taking a bath, but for internal cleanliness one has to think of Kṛṣṇa always and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. This process cleans the accumulated dust of past karma from the mind. Śaucam means cleanliness, not only in mind and body but in one’s dealings also. It is especially meant for the mercantile people, who should not deal in the black market. Nāti-mānitā, not expecting honor, applies to the śūdras, the worker class, which are considered, according to Vedic injunctions, to be the lowest of the four classes. They should not be puffed up with unnecessary prestige or honor and should remain in their own status. It is the duty of the śūdras to offer respect to the higher class for the upkeep of the social order.” (BG 13.8-12, BG 16.1-3)
In Krishna Consciousness we are constantly under the shower, constantly cleaning ourselves from offenses and making a daily commitment to shower ourselves with the power of the holy name, for there is a greater good they will instill in our hearts, “April showers bring forth May flowers.”
5. Keep a Journal!
I always had a diary with me from a very young age, my diary was my best friend and i would write down everything from the dreams of becoming a bollywood actress, a cook, a lawyer, a singer, a fashion designer, a marine biologist to a gynecologist. I wanted to be a professional in everything. Always keep a journal and write out everything that you hold in on those few pages, it is a good reflective exercise and always use to ease our mind of allostatic load, or stress caused by increased cortisol in our bodies.
Journalling also helps us with boosting our self morale and retaining our memory. I found this very useful in highschool when i used to journal about concepts in biology i learned in the day and surprisingly everything came back to me in the exam room. Keeping tab of little small things and taking notes of most interesting experiences you had, always us to store the data in our brains, and somehow or another the subconscious mind reveals this to our conscious mind when we need to take action and responsibility.
6. Have a Daily Meditation
In college I would always read a daily quote and once I started working I would always have one of those Srila Prabhupada calendars on my office desk to make others curious as well. I would always have a daily meditation practice, be it tied in with some weekly deity worship as well. This can be as simple as chanting one round before you have breakfast to offering a oil lamp and lighting the incense for your deities before you leave for work. Prayer was always very important to me, and from childhood, the first thing to do after getting ready for school was to say a prayer and offer flowers to our deities. My dad loved vaishnav songs, so he would wake us up everyday with a new song played on our old school 90’s tape recorder, and those songs would be the meditation of my day. Somehow or another those songs still follow me and they have become the meditation of my life.
7. Take a Break!
There is that famous kitkat ad, Have a break, Have Kitkat! Well life is a little bit like that ad, we have to learn to take breaks and rejuvenate ourselves, not through material sense gratification but through spiritual inspiration. If this is not respected we will face the sad situation of burnouts and depression. Learning to take breaks and rest is essential in a spiritual life, for it is part of keeping ourselves healthy. In university we would have spring break that would sufficiently allow us as young students to take a road trip across America and get an education through experience, out in the nature learning from life itself. Sometimes its important to get our heads out of the books to actually get back into the books and feel completely absorbed. Travel, photography, painting and or plain exercise, as simple as walk in the park can surely help. In university I would go for short coffee breaks at a cafe and simply chat with a few friends or scribble a few poems on my notebook. I would also go play air hockey and jump into my jogging pants for a quick jog around the campus during cold winter nights. I loved being myself, having some me time and alone time, at the same time I appreciated company with two good friends as a break from the constant juggle of life. I would love to go in silent rooms and play the piano to myself, or walk to a dog park and just observe the people around me. A break can be anything that makes to feel alive again, sometimes it is sleeping a few extra hours, or washing dishes. It should be simple and easy.
Since I went to an American college, finding good curry was a mission in an all american diner style conurbation. Sometimes having a break was tucking into some good prasadam, even if it was plain old khichdi with pickles on the side. So Have a break and Have some Khichdi!
These where my tricks of the trades and you are welcome to experiment them as you like, whatever you do, do it good and make sure you remember who you are making all these endeavors for. Ultimately everything should bring us back to the philosophy and to Krishna. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do for yourself and others is to relax and recharge your batteries. Srila Prabhupada also said, health is first after which chanting, service and reading come. Learning to take a break is learning to take responsibility of your own health, for in good health you can do more Krishna consciousness.