Hanging With the Hare Krishna

Krishna Buddha cat 017

Last Sunday I went with a friend to check out the Hare Krishna Temple in Laguna Beach aka ISCKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness). I don’t exactly remember why we decided to go there but I think we were talking about good vegetarian food… and these guys know how to cook some very good vegetarian food. I think all the ISCKON chapters serve a Sunday feast. The dinner started at 7p.m. but the actual Sunday program started at 5 p.m. with chanting and then a lecture. We decided to show up at 5 o’clock so we could experience everything. There were only a handful of people there when we arrived but the crowd grew to around two-hundred by the time the lecture started.

Earlier that day I went grocery shopping and the cashier asked me if I had anything planned for the rest of the day. I told him I was going to “hang’ with the Hare Krishna. You should have seen the look on his face. I might as well have told him I was going to spend time with Charles Manson.

The Hare Krishna have been the butt of many jokes since forever. They used to be in airports chanting, wearing orange robes and asking for donations. Ok, maybe they did look a little out of the ordinary but I always liked those who stood out from the oh-so-boring crowd. In my opinion many Americans see them as a cult but in India they are a well respected religion. I spent the afternoon at the Krishna temple in Berkeley, California back in the early 90s. I was there interviewing their priest for a writing assignment for my Great Religions college class. The day I went was a weekday so I didn’t get to see their celebration program but I did get to eat lunch and boy was it good!

Their  Sunday celebration has a lot of similarities to other religious gatherings (I attended a lot of different church services over the years, to see what these guys were doing behind closed doors so I saw a lot of interesting rituals). They use incense and bow to their deities when they enter the temple…like the Catholic Church. They sing, dance and raise their hands to praise Krishna (another name for God) like any Black church. They are vegetarian like the Seventh Day Adventists and encourage others to live a “clean” life…no drugs, alcohol, smoking or promiscuous sex… like the Mormons.

There was a mix of East Indian, Caucasians and a couple who looked like they just left a Dead Head concert. Some of the woman wore beautiful sarees.  But the majority of them looked like everyday people, working regular jobs… so much for the typical stereotype.

The lecture that night was to follow your dream because life is too short and before we know it, the ride is over and we discover that we followed a dream others decided for us, instead of discovering our own. That sounds like good advice to me.

I plan to attend their Holi Festival Colors in a few months. You can read more about what that’s about here.

I videoed a couple minutes of their chanting and dancing so you can get a taste. Enjoy!

Hare Krishna!



buddha zen

Yesterday I met with a patient who wanted to know how I overcame fear, or if I even felt afraid when I was diagnosed with cancer. I only got to spend a couple of minutes with her. She was there for a minute and the nurse was in a hurry to send the patient on her way. I also don’t like having those type of conversations with others in the room. Patients often share things with me that they don’t tell healthcare providers. I don’t know why.

The only two things I did have time to tell her was to keep a journal. To write down her feelings… all of them. I think it’s easier to deal with fear if we write our thoughts down  on paper and then let it go. I also suggested she allow herself to feel the fear but not dwell on it. I wished I had more time to sit with her. I thought about her question quite bit after she left and decided to write a post about how I dealt with fear.

First of all I was shocked to be told I had cancer, although when I was first told I was drugged up from the colonoscopy procedure. I really didn’t have time to process the information and my family was standing next to me when I got the news (some healthcare personnel are insensitive  douche bags  when it comes to bedside manners and the woman who told me was no exception). My family reacted by crying and I had to comfort them. I told them everything would be ok.

I told anyone and everyone around me that I did not want to hear the word cancer. They could call it the “c-word.” I believed that I could focus on getting well if I didn’t associate that word with my illness. I didn’t want to hear statistics like survival rates. I am not a statistic. My son could be told any gory details if there were any. The doctors had their job to do and I had mine. Mine was to keep my head straight. I learned that negative thoughts created stress and stress lowered the immune system. My immune system was already compromised from the cancer and the treatments. I could do something to control my stress levels.  So I left the science to my heath care team and I worked on my mind and spirit.

By nature I am stubborn and a fighter. I grew up with an alcoholic mother and a father who was always working. A friend told me later that my childhood probably toughened me up to fight off the cancer. Maybe she was right. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have my moments. I am human after all. There were times I did cry but I think they were more from gratitude or was it exhaustion? Fighting cancer is definitely the hardest thing I have ever done. And the treatments for cancer will kick the shit out of you. It did me. But that’s where my stubborn side kicks in. I will give out before I give in.

Meditation helped. I sat Zazen when I lived in San Francisco. I understood the benefits of sitting quietly but during the time I was sick guided meditations worked better for me. I was so tired and drugged that anytime I just “sat” for any amount of time I fell asleep. I needed someone’s voice to keep me awake. I think visualizing myself as healthy helped me as well.

I am also curious…some call it “nosey”… I prefer inquisitive. I always want to know why things happen. I researched the Internet and looked for other survivors. I stayed away from chat rooms…they seemed to be full of negative whiners. I found information that made sense to me and changed my lifestyle and diet. I was willing to do whatever it took to stay alive and beat cancer.

I know a woman who was diagnosed with uterine cancer a few months after me. She completely freaked out even though her cancer was “contained.” All she needed was surgery. No chemo. No radiation. Nothing. But as soon as she found out she wanted drugs to stay “happy.” She just couldn’t deal with it. Everybody’s different. If drugs helped her stay sane, then that’s a good choice for her. I was on enough drugs for pain, I didn’t want more. I preferred to work things out in my head. That worked for me. Like John Lennon said…  “Whatever gets you through the night. Its alright. Its alright.”

I hope I said enough to comfort the fearful patient yesterday. I hope to see her again and just sit with her and maybe “water her seeds of happiness.” Studying Zen really helps me be a better listener when it comes to the patients I visit, although I have so much more to learn.

While writing this, a thought popped in to my head… I think all fear is caused by uncertainty. Being told we have cancer makes (at least me) think about my mortality. But if you think about it we live with uncertainty all the time. We don’t know what the next day or hour will bring. I thing its the daily living, the chores, the going to work, all the “stuff” that keeps us distracted from the fact that someday we will no longer be here.  Cancer has a way of bringing that reality to the fore front. I wouldn’t  tell a patient that. Its something that I think is better to discuss here.

Sat Nam,