“Let the Lord embrace this servant who has fallen at His lotus feet or trample me or break my heart by never being visible to me. He can do whatever He likes, but still He alone, and no one else is the worshipable Lord of my heart”
– Chaitanya Charitamrita (Antya- 20.47)
“Don’t you feel bored ever? Is it not a challenge to connect to God always, and to remain positive with each passing day?” Sincere spiritual practitioners often face these questions.
In the Christian tradition, a spiritual crisis in one’s journey to God is referred to as ‘The dark night of the soul’. Sometimes serious doubts plague even serious practitioners and the ‘dark night’ could last even decades. 18th century Italian mystic, the renowned Saint Paul of cross faced this calamity for forty five years after which he finally recovered. The world famous mother Teresa saw through this challenge for a prolonged period of forty nine years (1948-1997) and letters released in 2007 reveal that she faced only a brief respite in between.
But not all suffer this misery perpetually. For many sincere practitioners, the challenge could be short lived. And especially for Bhakti yoga students, if they do it the right way, there is hope of feeling loved by the Lord
A spiritual practitioner’s quest for fulfillment rests on two foundational principles.
First are his ‘experiences’ and the second his ‘endeavor’
Both are like the parallel lines on a railway track. They are equally important.
Some days we feel great joy in chanting the Lord’s holy names. We delight in the association of other devotees of Krishna and find the scriptural reading, worshipping of deities or serving others, nourishing to our souls. But spiritual life is not only about our ecstasy; it’s all about lovingly serving the Lord we profess to love. And the service of a true lover of God isn’t dependent on the ecstasy he feels every day. He’s more interested in the happiness of the Lord.
That is the second principle of ‘endeavor’; one strives to please the Lord regardless of whether there is bliss and ecstasy in one’s own life.
A sincere practitioner endeavors to pursue his spiritual goals with determination. He may err and slip on his path, but he quickly rises and marches forward confidently. He doesn’t get bogged down if the nectar and ecstatic moments appear elusive. He knows his moments of bliss will come. He remembers those occasions when he did find spiritual fulfillment and that goads him on to serve Krishna with faith and determination. He trusts Krishna’s timing.
This phase of no emotional connect with the Lord, makes a devotee, if he takes it in the proper spirit, stronger in his spiritual practices. Peter Kreeft, a well-known American professor of philosophy said, “The only way God can strengthen His presence in our will is to weaken His presence in our feelings. Otherwise we would become spiritual cripples, unable to walk without emotional crutches. This is why he gives us dryness, sufferings and failures”
Now let’s say a devotee has been busy serving for days sincerely, and a prolonged period of dryness begins to get him. He is spiritually parched! Then what?
Take a break and reconnect
That’s when he needs to remember the first principle of ‘experience’ once again.
He takes a break; he seeks to spend time with self and Krishna in ways that helps him feel the connection. Krishna consciousness has a wonderful variety of activities. If you feel dry, pause and explore the magnificent range of doings that help you connect to Krishna. It could mean visiting a holy place of pilgrimage or reading scriptures or listening to soul lifting kirtans or learning to cook a new dish or playing a favorite musical instrument or writing a story about Krishna and devotees and the list is endless, as you could add your own favorites.
After feeling sufficiently nourished, we get back to our business of serving Krishna and doing our duties. If we expect a spiritual ‘kick’ every day then we don’t really love Krishna; rather we are devotees of our own egos. Love is proved by our willingness to serve the beloved despite obstacles on the path of our service. And just to ensure one is not discouraged in his service, he needs to be practical to take out time to connect to Krishna.
A love relationship
This is similar to any loving relationship of this world. If two people claim to love each other they’d serve the other happily, and even if they don’t feel the ecstasy always, they serve and care for the other. And sometimes they do spend exclusive time with each other, connecting and sharing their hearts. This way they not only cement the relationship but also take a periodic inventory of their relationship and tighten the loose ends. When ‘endeavor’ is devoid of juice and you don’t perceive reciprocation from your lover for your efforts, you need a break and then when you reconnect to her/him, you again ‘experience’ the love.
Similarly if a devotee of Krishna who sincerely serves the Lord feels a lack of reciprocation from Krishna, then it’s time to spend time with Krishna and feel loved by Him. It’s important for devotees to feel loved by the Lord they serve, and it’s absolutely vital to take out time to introspect and rejuvenate oneself spiritually. Rupa Goswami, the sixteenth century Vaishnava saint and leader of the devotees said, ‘Somehow or the other fix your mind on Krishna’. Anything that helps us reconnect to Krishna is welcome.
And once you ‘experience’ Krishna, then it’s time to express our gratitude to Krishna by serving Him happily. And that’s when we make the most amazing discovery; all happy experiences in Krishna consciousness lie in the practice of this one magic principle of ‘gratitude’. The more we recall Krishna’s kindness on us and thank Him sincerely for His love and for the various opportunities He provides us for service, the more we feel loved by Krishna.
That’s when our Krishna conscious ‘experience’ and our ‘endeavors’ to please Krishna merge; they feed on each other and a devotee’s tireless service is no longer tiring. It’s spiritually refreshing and contagious, and all those who come in contact with such a devotee are also surcharged with a strong desire to serve Krishna.