Monday, July 28, 2008

Coming Full Circle at Arlington Yoga Center

In 1969, when Marinda Hollar first moved to Dallas from small-town west Texas, she remembers seeing a Hare Krishna on the street, which made her happy and realize she had moved into a "real city." Little did she know then that almost 40 years later, she would own a yoga center and host a Hare Krishna kirtan there.

In the same vein, I also did not realize that when I first came to the Arlington Yoga Center in early 2000, I would be organizing the aforementioned kirtan at the center 8 years later.

When I walked in, I was looking for some relief. My mother had recently passed away from cancer, and it had been a stressful year taking care of her before she left her body. Treating my physical body by doing yoga and attending dance classes was just what I needed. Being a massage therapist always looking for a good barter, I convinced Marinda, the owner and main teacher, to exchange massage for classes. It was a situation that benefitted both of us, and we became good friends. I learned a lot from her, and eventually we realized that I had something I could teach her as well.

On the spiritual side, I was committed to no particular path at that time. Though I had been involved with Krishna Consciousness off and on to varying degrees for 15 years, it held no distinct attraction to me any more than any of the other spiritual paths I had been exploring. I didn't present myself or think of myself as being a devotee of Krishna. But of course, once you have tried Krishna, nothing else really satisfies, which I was about to learn.

After a few months, I became a part of the community that Marinda worked very hard at cultivating. In the spring, I learned about a national Yoga conference that Marinda was attending. She had received some promotional materials and posted them in the center. The theme of the conference was "Bhakti," and who was on the poster, none other than Lord Jagannatha Himself smiling away! I remember smiling back at Him, recognizing such a sweet and familiar face.

When Marinda returned, she was very fired up to share what she had learned. She had attended a workshop on "Sanskrit chanting," and told me how much she enjoyed it. Unfortunately she could hardly remember how to pronounce them, and handed me a paper with several chants on it. I told her I was familiar with Sanskrit, as I used to hang with the Hare Krishnas. I said I could help her out with pronounciation, and would try to find some recordings of the chants so she could learn them.

I can barely remember now what most of the chants were, except for "Sri Isopanishad." However, that was good enough to make me pull out my recording of "Radha Krishna Temple," which I hadn't listened to in years. It felt good to hear it after such a long time. Krishna was already starting to call me back to Him.

I brought the recording to the yoga center and went through Sri Isopanishad with Marinda and a few others. Marinda was always open to new classes, and always wanted to promote what she called "true yoga." The idea came to her that I "teach" a class in Sanskrit chanting. Eventually, I taught Sri Isopanishad to them, along with the Govindam prayers and part of the Guruvastakam. The class only lasted a few weeks, but more importantly, it started me seeking out recordings of chants, kirtans and bhajans. I wasn't particular about who was singing them, or to whom they were singing to, but it was all I listened to for a long time, and I know it purified me.

Time marches on, and things have to change. Eventually, I ended up leaving Arlington Yoga Center to do other things, but being there had changed me. Marinda's openness to exploring chanting at her center had re-kindled something inside me. Even though it took some time to come to fruition, I can now see a direct connection between seeing Lord Jagannatha's face on the yoga poster and my eventual open-hearted return to the Dallas Temple and to Sri Sri Radha Kalachandji in 2002.

It is now 2008, and things have changed even more. I am now an initiated devotee, and when possible, I like to arrange preaching programs. Through a so-called "chance" meeting with one of her students at the temple, I reconnected with Marinda in 2007. The Arlington Yoga Center is still going, and earlier this year, she brought a group of her students to the Sunday Feast. I brought up the possibility of bringing our Kalachandji's youth bhajan group to her center for a kirtan and she liked the idea.

So, a few weeks ago, that's what we did. Marinda's teacher, Guruji, was visting and holding yoga workshops, so we came to close the Saturday session. About 30 of her students stayed for the kirtan program, which in total lasted about an hour and a half.

Halfway through the first bhajan, led by Haridas, the devotees and most of the female yoga students, including Marinda, stood up and danced. Afterwards, Gopi Gita led another bhajan in which everyone was asked to chant one Hare Krishna mantra. Not one student refused to chant! It was very enthusing to see such participation from the students. I credit Marinda for that, as she keeps the feeling at her center very open-minded. She allows people to feel safe about exploring and expressing spiritual beliefs, even if they aren't totally the same as her own. I felt it when I first met her in 2000, and here again, in 2008, I felt it once more. Things had come full circle.

So, I want to thank her, as it was having that freedom of expression which was such an integral stepping stone on my path that eventually allowed me to come back to Krishna.

Below is video highlights from the program:

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