By Brima Jah
A day before my 15th birthday, my parents gave me what-at the time-seemed like the foremost authority on puberty: a book called All About Sex. All About Sex was not all about sex and left something for me to desire about other, not necessarily so sexual forms of relating. Alongside many of my teen friends, I was left almost entirely to my own devices to explore definitions of relating.ways that love showed up in my life.
At a time when I felt frequently paralyzed with “puppy love” for certain heartthrobs, I needed to learn more about other forms of love. I had lived surrounded by what I imagined was my parents’ everlasting love, however imperfect, until it dissolved into their eventual separation. I had seen images of love in movies, for example, almost believing in the sentiment of “you-complete-me” kind of love as spoken by Jerry Maguire. I gagged at the very public fairytale wedding, marriage and controversial divorce of the late Princess Diana and Prince Charles. I had been witnessing around me images of love created under certain conditions, that when unfulfilled, often led to both the “lover” and the “beloved” feeling judged, ashamed and inadequate.
Practicing bhakti yoga has offered me exploration of a different, more freeing form of love. Known to many as “devotional love,” or a “love for God,” bhakti yoga has nine forms including “srvanam” or listening to stories, and kirtanam, or kirtan, which has attracted enormous attention in the West. That said, bhakti yoga can often be misunderstood as fanaticism or reduced to simply religion, sometimes conjuring up limiting images of monks in orange robes ceaselessly chanting “Hare Krishna” in the Haight-Ashbury.
Those of us who may not have “God” or “devotional” in our daily vocabulary may experience bhakti yoga more as re-defining love in a way that is “seeing” the essence of “God,” or seeing the “good” in all things-living or not. The “devotional” aspect of bhakti yoga, as I’ve found most authentic for me has been how I choose to devote my time, resources and energy to something or someone I “believe in.” As a “recovering Catholic,” who is rehabilitating from many church rituals I never understood, I’ve made it my own practice to build a relationship with “something bigger” that doesn’t feel limited to any one place of worship or community-something more universal. A fundamental principle of bhakti yoga is that we are all born divine, that within each of us is “God,” or goodness. Yet because of “maya,” or illusion, we forget our true divine true nature, or in some cases, forget the true divine nature of others around us. Out of this this lapse in memory, we attempt to fill a void through our desire for objects in the material world. In short, we may overindulge in our desire for objects of romantic love, or a particular house, a job, bank account, smartphone upgrade, etc. only to find ourselves continuing to desire more, wanting to give back what we desired or desiring something different. It is said that the only way to end this cycle of “karma” is to no longer desire-anything. Taken literally, experiencing karma can mean we believe in returning to earthly existence through several different lifetimes.
Yet understood symbolically, karma can has, for me, felt a lot like recovering from heart break. I once had a friend say to me, “when our breaks, it breaks open.” My friend’s wisdom speaks volumes of capacity for navigating human relationships with a belief that “something bigger,” perhaps a more mature love, outlasts infatuations with teenage heartthrobs, disappointment in separating parents, enchanting Tom Cruise love stories, or fairytales gone real. This love-or rather a connection that binds all beings to divinity and to one another rather than to suffering-is known as “Krishna consciousness.” I’ve experienced it as having less to do with a mishevious, charming blue-man deity and more about becoming more conscious of “Krishna,” him, her or them in whatever form they take in my day-to-day life-co-worker, neighbor, stranger and intimate partner alike-to put into action unconditional love as much as is humanly possible.
Brima Jah has always wished that Sesame Street would do a segment to illustrate how the word “om” has been brought to you by the letters “a,” “u,” and “m,” and like no one member of community, each letter can only resonate as one .as “ohm” when they stand together.
Join him for a Bhakti Yoga and Backbending workshop on Sunday, June 15 from 1-3:30PM for a heart-opening celebration filled with lots of mantra chanting and harmonium vibrations, storytelling, and of course, lots of bending over backwards. Sign Up Here