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All the Trees in the Forest (Hare Krishna)

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

Hare Krishna, Hare Bol!

The temple altar at Krishnavolgy

Hello to all from idyllic Krishnavölgy, the 280-hectare ISKCON ashram and ecovillage in South Hungary. The dance workshop I was supposed to assist in Croatia this week got cancelled due to COVID so I’m out here navel-gazing and singing Kirtan twice a day, trying to get some work done in between. And, of course, eating. The Hare Krishnas run a top-notch Indian kitchen, a treat to come by found anywhere in the world they are, which is many places.

A quote has been with me often lately. It’s an all-star, from Ram Dass.

(Who also said one of my other all-time favorite quotes: “if you think you’re so enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” :) ):

Ram opines:

“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

Imagine, if you will, a world in which you’re celebrated – and can celebrate yourself - in exactly the shape and condition you’re in, in which you’re understood and given permission to be you in the way you grew into you for reasons you know about and reasons you don’t, simply by virtue of your being here, alive, at once a dazzlingly unique individual and an irreplaceable piece of the greater whole. No conditions for your value. It just is.

What happens in your body, in your psyche, when you envision this? Can you?

I reflect on the times I’ve received this kind of total acceptance, how these moments and the people who have offered them have changed my life in ways indescribable. I aspire to offer that kind of fuel for healing in those around me, too, and to transform myself from the inside out through the process of learning to do it.

I’m not a Hare Krishna. I couldn’t be, for one thing I’d never fit into the role expected of women here in this community. It fits for some, I know. The dogma of organized religion isn’t really for me either, but I can hang in a church or a temple or a mosque or a synagogue when the vibe is on. I love it now, actually, after so many years of psychologically duking it out with the Religions and their devastating legacies. That isn’t over, but I’ve found great peace there in and through the fight. Great appreciation. A wonderful teacher named Bradford Keeney talks about it: when you come to authentically know something about the Divine you begin to find it everywhere, and to join in anywhere people are gathering pray in true devotion is a blessing. It doesn’t matter what skin it’s in, and the different skins deserve to be celebrated in their own right as testaments to the feats of miraculous creativity that human beings are capable of.

Hare Krishna is a Bhakti tradition, which means worship is singing and dancing in an offering of joy and love to the glory of God. That’s an ancient vibration that transcends all dogma and absolutely works for me, so I meet them there. Their devotional forms extend to caring for animals, for the environment, their ashrams can often be found to have some of the longest running permaculture projects around. This touches my eco-architect sensibility, the practical task of honoring divine creation by being in loving harmony with the systems and flows of the natural world, which was my earliest experience of God/dess, and still most treasured. I learn a lot from them in how they live together in community as well, a core divine endeavor, in both what works and in what I do not perceive as working.

At a Hare Krishna ashram you can get a good healthy meal and jump in on a Kirtan any day of the week. Usually there’s an affordable bed, or the opportunity to be of service in exchange for that if you need it. It’s a refuge for the weary of heart, or those who seek time in retreat to be with their God for any reason, in any tradition. It’s accessible to just about anyone. It’s old school in that way, and true to the highest purpose of religious community as I see it.

There’s plenty that I don’t agree with. I don’t have to, it’s not a dealbreaker for me anymore. It’s a thing of beauty when I come to these kinds of places that sometimes amazing opportunities arise to talk with people whose life experiences are so vastly different from my own, and I can practice listening to understand. Not to change anyone, not to argue or convince, or validate myself as right. Simply to hear the experience of another and receive the gift of vision from a new point of view. It inspires me to do this more in my everyday life, especially in moments when I really don't want to.

I know relatively little about the religious philosophy of the Krishnas, though I’ve been visiting them for years. The way I’ve mostly understood their idea of God so far, Krishna, or “Krishna Consciousness”, echoes with the divine archetypal energy of Unconditional Love found across traditions. For me it’s a version of what’s named “Christ Consciousness” or “God Consciousness” in other circles. Or, perhaps, Enlightenment. It is about all-encompassing love for “God” which manifests as all that is, nothing left out. It is about opening to the Highest Love for all the trees in the forest. This is what I focus on, when I’m with them.

The Hare Krishnas are a kind of tree, too, aren’t they?

I believe that in life you get what you give. Discovering how to embody the vibration of your own values and what you want to receive from life is the key to actually receiving it, and to willing it into existence in the wider world. In other words, being the change you want to see.

I also believe there’s no way to get there without integrating rage, confusion, illness, abuse and all the rest of our shadows. Without bringing it all in, processing and including it all as valuable aspects of the human experience, extracting what lessons are there and envisioning how we might find better ways forward. For me, many practical questions about how to live in unconditional love under these conditions thread through the process of arriving at more fully living it. For instance:

- How does personal responsibility figure in here? How do we conceptualize “justice” in situations when trees are just being their tree selves (so to speak) and people get hurt as a consequence?

- Where is the balance between accepting what is as divine and perfect, versus seeking healing and evolution? When is it time to allow and when to hold a boundary and say no, demand a shift or leave?

- What does it look like to enforce boundaries, hold a vision for change, and occupy a place of unconditional compassion and acceptance firmly within oneself, all at once?

These and other questions, which then cycles back around to: How much more can I let go of all the conditions my brain immediately wants to heap on top of the concept of unconditional love, of radical, unconditional acceptance and appreciation of what is, the second I start to think about it? How far can one really walk into the space of the heart, without falling off the edge? Might I discover that there's no edge to fall off of after all, if I keep walking?

I observe both my fear and my longing to find out. I taste a freedom I can only vaguely imagine the shape of on the other side. A third quote comes to mind, from Terrence McKenna:

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it's a feather bed.”

This is my project for the next few days. Reflections and solidarity sent through the aether are most welcome.

And now, I think lunch is ready.

I leave you with the timeless wisdom of Ani DiFranco, a throwback to my angsty teen years whose voice in my head has been a light in the dark of late.

Hare Hare, and May All Beings Find Peace.


Served Faithfully He caresses every bottle like it's the first one he's had saying it ain't love but it ain't bad it's the only reward bestowed upon me and i have served faithfully

I can see he is scarred from doing some hard time but i let alone what is broken 'cause it isn't mine he strikes out at me when i am within reach then he reaches for me when i draw the line

Sometimes it seems like love is just a fancy word for compromise you gotta read between the years you gotta write between the lines you gotta try to understand the grandness of the man behind the petty crimes and let him off easy sometimes

I have only just met an old old friend we've been walking around holding hands i hope some day he can bend as far as it takes to understand and risk breaking open again


Lunch from the Prasad kitchen, looking out from my van.


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