Kadamba commented on my last posting that we should get together some kind of Krsna Grrrl nite. My initial response was a big fat “YES!” But then she half-heartedly propsed that it might be kind of a silly idea.
My early onset midlife crisis has a lot to do with the duality of lives I have lived, divided sharply along the lines of before and after joining Krishna consciousness. Before becoming an official card carrying Hare Krishna (hey, wait a minute…no one ever gave me a card!) I was a pretty far out there person. Not as far out as some, mind you. No odd piercings, no month long hunger strikes spent in jail as a protest to any cause and no documented nudity that would haunt me later in life (thankfully). But internally, in my heart of hearts, I was a wide open freak.
While freakishness isn’t in itself something to aspire for, I do cherish the lack of inhibition and freedom of expression I had in my old life. As a devotee, I often feel hedged in by expectations and norms. I think that is why I enjoy wearing a sari, bindi, sindhur and tilak so much. Although it seems like standard issue Hare Krishna dress, the reality is it is totally punk rock– even more so in the context of wearing it amongst devotees than non-devotees.
Let’s face it, the sari is a Hare Krishna throwback to the 1970’s or 1980’s. Unless you are doing pujari service, there is very little reason to wear a sari. Gopi skirts, salwaars, even overalls and wide leg pants have all taken a fashion foothold in the Hare Krishna woman’s closet. Sure, I wear a sari becasue it reminds me of Krishna, but I also wear it because to me it seems subversive. Subversive to the post-hippie meta-yuppie new-and-improved got-an-education got-a-job devotee of the millenium.
Recently I was looking at a book my cousin sent me. She is head of the Jewish Studied department at Temple University and her courses are cross listed with the Religion and Women’s Studies department. During my days as a school girl, she was a great influence on me and continues to be my supporter, well-wisher, and probably the only person in my family who kind of gets me. Anyway, she sent me this book last Chanukah called The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt. There are some interesting essays in there, some just plain hysterical and some downright touching. And what I appreciated most about these women’s writings was the honesty.
Each essay approached “Jewish guilt” from a different angle and the book, as a collection, effectively portrays the variegatedness of “the Jewish experience.” Now, even though there are many former Jews in the Hare Krishna movement, I personally don’t see guilt as being a major psychological phenomena experienced across the chanting masses.
Respectability, on the other hand, is a biggie. While a devotee is not supposed to be hankering after respect, it seems to be a force which drives and guides the movement today. We hear all the time that we want to attract respectable people. We like it when outside people respect the efforts of the devotees. We ourselves have been instructed to act respectably, dress respectabley and speak respectably, all of which usually means give up any nuance of individuality and fit yourself like a pre-fab part into some pre-fab definition of respectable.
I have been receptive to this message. Now, I didn’t say I have been good at integrating it into my being, but I have tried. And for me it has been a struggle because I have so much going on inside me and I really need to get it out, one way or another. The least destructive method for doing this, I have found, is writing.
Not that I am a great writer. Or even a good writer. I know that I don’t have much “craft” in me. But what I feel supercedes craft is honesty. While the turn of a phrase is a major component of writing, it is only a vehicle of self-expression. Without honesty, there is only craft. With honesty, the reader can feel the touch of someone else’s words.
I am not so sure how complimentary honesty and respectability are within the scope of self expression and Krishna consciousness. Maybe that is why I have thrown out everything from my writing classes. Does the bare truth have a place in a devotional life? In a devotional community?
I hope so.