“Devotion is recognizing your true being and falling in love with that. Be who you really are and then find that love everywhere.”
I saw Krishna Das last weekend in Halifax. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s a Westerner, originally from New York, who does call and response Indian devotional chanting for a living. Talk about a guy with an interesting life. He used to be the lead singer for what would become the Blue Oyster Cult but gave up a chance at stardom to live in India as a student of a little-known saint named Neem Karoli Baba (or Maharaj-ji).
While in India, Das began to chant as part of following the path of Bhakti yoga – the yoga of devotion. He describes his two and a half years with his guru as “falling in love.” Not the kind of love where it is possible to ever fall out. This was divine love being expressed through a human being. Das experienced the most blissful moments of his life with Maharaj-ji. But when his guru asked him to return to America and then died six months later, the joy and great love Das felt was extinguished. He then suffered through two decades of depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse.
Das writes about the last time he ever saw Maharaj-ji in his book Chants of a Lifetime.
“Sitting in front of him, at what would turn out to be the last time I saw him, I was petrified. When I left the States, I had given everything away, even my jeans. I imagined that I would always stay in India. Now I was being sent back. Where will I go? What will I do? I wondered in a panic. I didn’t want to ask him what I should do when I got there, but I suddenly blurted out in anguish, ‘Maharaj-ji! How can I serve you in America?’ He looked at me with mock disgust and said, ‘What? If you ask how you should serve, then it is no longer service. Do what you want.’ This threw my mind into turmoil. Maharaj-ji laughed and gently asked, ‘So how will you serve me?’ My mind was blank. It was time for me to leave. I got up and walked across the courtyard. I looked back at him from a distance and bowed. As I did, I inwardly heard my voice coming from the depth of my heart, saying: ‘I will sing to you in America.’”
And that’s just what he’s done. Das now travels the world sharing his signature chanting style, a fusion of traditional kirtan structure with Western instrumentation and melodies. Known as the “Rock Star of Yoga,” he has recorded with Sting, sung for Madonna, and played at the Grammies.
All by doing as his guru advised and looking inside to find what he felt called to do.
How many people do you know who have figured out what they most want to do and are doing it? Likely, not many. Following your heart still isn’t widely encouraged in our culture. And when people do it, it is seen to be a risk. Here’s a story that flies in the face of that.
I was 37 years old and my partner and I were expecting a much-longed-for baby. I was working at a variety of odd jobs, cobbling together an income, but never having settled into a career. My secret dream had always been to be a writer but I didn’t know how to do that and make enough money. I had started writing articles and book reviews but it wasn’t until I scored some marketing and communications writing in an organization where I had done some work that I realized it might just be possible to make a go of this writing thing, full-time.
Without doing any of the things that people normally do before they launch a new business (saving money, drafting a business plan, creating a business card), I made a decision to stop doing all the other odd jobs and focus solely on writing. I didn’t feel especially brave. But I do remember having faith. Upon hearing this, some people have called it something different (naïve stupidity!), but that takes away from the mystical aspects of the story. I believe when we uncover and live our deep inner callings, the universe rushes in to help us, opening doors, and encouraging us to walk through.
My “launch” consisted of sending out a mass email to my network letting them know I’d gone into business for myself. No website, no networking events, no advertising. I asked my friends and colleagues to consider me for projects and to spread the word. And they did. Within a few days, I had my first client, and within a few months, I was consistently busy. It’s remained that way for the last decade.
I know without a shadow of a doubt that my success has come from lining up with my heart’s desire.
“Answer the call in your heart and do it 100%,” Krishna Das says. “If you feel called to sing, start singing. If people come, they come; if they don’t, keep singing.”
Although Das’s concerts started out small (his first one had six people), he has achieved the kind of success he still shakes his head at. By doing “what he wanted to,” he has positively affected the lives of millions.
Even though it might appear selfish to do what you want, the beautiful thing about being true to ourselves is that it ultimately helps others. I wish everyone could know this truth.
What is the calling of your heart? Are you answering?