Sunday, September 28, 2008

A lesson from dance class

smṛtyoḥ krameṇa rasanā-manasī niyojya
tiṣṭhan vraje tad-anurāgi janānugāmī
kālaḿ nayed akhilam ity upadeśa-sāram

"The essence of all advice is that one should utilize one 's full time - twenty-four hours a day - in nicely chanting and remembering the Lord 's divine name, transcendental form, qualities and eternal pastimes, thereby gradually engaging one 's tongue and mind. In this way one should reside in Vraja and serve Krishna under the guidance of devotees. One should follow in the footsteps of the Lord 's beloved devotees, who are deeply attached to His devotional service."
Nectar of Instruction, Text 8

Nectar of Instruction is one of my favourite books - its so concise and to-the-point. Srila Prabhupada's last lines of the preface read "...but Upadesamrita constitutes the first instructions for neophyte devotees. One should follow these instructions very strictly. Then it will be easier to make ones life successful. Hare Krsna."
I've been re-reading the Nectar of Instruction and I particularly like this 8th verse, which is like the essesnce of the essence, which makes it, well, essential. Lame attempt at a play on words aside, it made me look at my spiritual life and think "Practically, how can I utilize all my time and make myself stronger in my Krsna consciousness?" Lately chanting my rounds has not come easy. When I had an interesting development (or breakthrough) with my Odissi dancing, I realised that what I learnt in that situation, could easily be applied to my spiritual life, and make the instruction above possible to follow (apart from the living in Vraja part).

I went to a dance class last week after a month. Ordinarily, I would have found this daunting. But in the four weeks between my classes I had been working out at the gym, doing yoga, pilates and a bit of tai-chi. I was also taking some time out each day to practice my foot work (pada sadhana). So when I finally went in to my dance class, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my stamina had increased, and dance class was actually a pleasant experience, as opposed to a breathless, clock-watching one. Don't get me wrong - its not that I am suddenly perfect, but arranging my activities to support my dancing has made me physically stronger, for sure.

This experience can be applied to anything - but especially to my spiritual life. Pure devotional service is what every devotee is aspiring for - to remember Krsna, His pastimes and qualities at every moment, so that when his last moment approaches, it is Krsna that is on His mind and in his heart. Reading, cooking, offering arati, chanting, praying and serving the devotees, this is the yoga, pilates and tai chi of my devotional life. All these things build my devotional stamina - so that when I am chanting my rounds it's a pleasant, meaningful experience as opposed to a clock-watching, mind-wandering one:)

Sometimes with my chanting, as it is with my dancing, its hard to feel inspired. No matter how deep I dig, I can't quite find the enthusiasm to practice either. There are times when I feel like its just not possible to start Odissi at my age, that my body is too stiff and set in its ways. And when I feel this way - as easy as it is to give in and to give up - I look for inspiration. I think of all the classical dancers that inspire me - usually that means looking at photos of Odissi dancers in graceful and captivating poses. Recently, it has meant thinking back to the dance performances I witnessed by Anapayini and her girls from Alachua, at the Toronto Rathayatra. Their performance left me feeling inspired and hopeful - that if I was determined and disciplined enough, I had a good shot at being half decent.

Similarly, when inspiration is lacking in my devotional life, I look to those devotees who fill me with hope, admiration and faith. Sometimes its personalities like Narottam das Thakur, sometimes Srila Prabhupada, at other times my guru and other disciples of Srila Prabhupada and sometimes its a devotee I may only hear about, but never meet. But the result is the same - when I think of these vaisnava's and vaisnavi's I see the end result of faith, determination and enthusiasm - happiness and contentment at Krsna's lotus feet - and it inspires me to follow in their footsteps.

"A devotee should...always engage in the remembrance of Sri Krsna and His beloved associates. By following in the footsteps of such associates and by entering under their eternal guidance, one can acquire an intense desire to the serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
Rupa Goswami, Nectar of Devotion

So thank you to all the devotees who inspire me in my devotional service, simply by being so inspired in theirs.

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