I’m trying to get into a regulated program of reading again. Anything regulated presents a challenge for me, but I’m finding tricks to get my unruly mind to settle down and do what I know is sorely needed.
Daily reading of sacred texts is something that all faith traditions place great importance on. No less in the bhakti tradition, in which writings like the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam are considered to be literary manifestations of God himself. Great emphasis is placed on daily making a connection with these profound texts, either by reading or hearing.
I grew up attending these morning scriptural lectures. Whilst we sometimes had special children’s classes, often we would attend the adult’s one too, especially on festive occasions. Anticipating our short attention span, our parents would give us colouring books and large packs of coloured pens to keep us occupied. Spread out on the floor, we would colour away, pens scratching, tongues stuck out in concentration – trying to ‘stay in the lines’ (a great accomplishment and mark of maturity in those times!)
In the process, we absorbed things by osmosis – ancient stories, profound morals and values, the light and musicality of the Sanskrit language.
Whilst during my teenage years, the place to be during the lecture was definitely anywhere but inside, I later discovered a real appreciation for hearing, especially in the early hours of the morning.
I never quite lost my taste for moving a pen whilst I listened though. As time goes by, I have found that visual note taking helps me to remember key points, and even if I don’t catch everything, the core ideas stay with me through remembering the image.
So in my daily reading, amidst the bullet pointed summaries I am trying to keep illustrating – it keeps my pen and imagination active and mind engaged. Fortunately, bhakti yoga philosophy is rich with imagery, analogy and metaphor, ripe for illustration.
Here’s one I did yesterday. I was charmed by the analogy of the coconut that begins to dry out as soon as it is plucked from the tree. As it dries, the inner flesh separates from the outer shell, until it is completely dry and the confirmatory sound can be heard when the nut is shaken.
Srila Prabhupada explains that in this way, as soon as we set out on the spiritual path we start to ‘dry’ – the true identity of the eternal soul begins to differentiate itself from the demands and desires of both the gross and subtle bodies. When complete separation occurs finally and fully, the soul is known to be liberated – able to be in the world, but not of the world.