Part 1 - Welcoming the softly dancing sound of God in the heart.
Every morning, I step out into the beauty of the rising light, surrounded by the lushness of trees, the sounding rush of a stream, and the singing of birds that abound around me. I step out into their choir and into my heart to join them in morning song. My voice is not nearly as sweet or melodious as theirs, but the sound of God's names that I add to the chorus is as valuable to them as it is to me. It is the song of the heart for all souls.
God has many names in many languages and moods of affection from His various devotees in various traditions from various places around the world. I choose to sing and cling to these Sanskrit three: Hare, Krishna, and Rama.
"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare." I chant amid the morning symphony and stillness. My hand holds a string of Tulasi beads, while my heart tries to hold the sound of the holy name. "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna..." Mantra by mantra my fingers move from bead to bead. My mind moves too, sometimes nearer to the name, sometimes further away. The name in fact inspires me and my thoughts begin to dance. I remind myself who I am dancing with, and I turn my attention back to Him - God, whose beautiful body of sound is the same as Himself.
This maha-mantra japa meditation is indeed akin to my experience of dance in many ways -more than a single installment of writing can express. I will simply start where I am, or perhaps where I began...
By nature and nurture, I developed a mentality of being very hard on myself from an early age. I carried it into ballet, or it carried me to it. Ballet, albeit beautiful, is a rigid system of discipline. To excel at it, most dancers including myself push themselves hard in their training. Whatever inclination was already within me to do that became further hardened and embedded through my dedication to dance.
Then I embarked on the path of bhakti, a process of devotional service and development of love of God. It is herein that I began to chant and practice maha-mantra meditation. Wherever you go your mind goes with you, so I brought this ballet-embedded rigidity there too. Not only did I apply it to the bhakti process and practice of japa meditation, but I viewed God (Krishna) and my relationship with Him through the same lens.
...Until He broke my heart. Yes, that's right - God broke my heart. He broke it open. He cracked the hard shell of mentality around it so that the softness could come out, and His gentleness could flow in. He showed me that He was not the one who was being hard on me; I was. God, Krishna, in fact, is soft, patient, tender, loving, and gentle like a lotus.
In Bhagavad-gita, He, God, Krishna, says that He reciprocates with each individual in accordance with the mood in which they approach Him. If we carry a conception in our heart that God is hard to reach or please, He will allow us to see and experience that difficulty. If we recognize His infinitely soft, gentle, compassionate nature that is eager to receive and help us, He will welcome us into a relationship with Him that reciprocally exchanges that tender quality. That is how He softened my heart.
It is not a finished process, nor am I finished product. I am very much a soul still in progress. My morning time with the maha-mantra, meditating upon the sound of God's holy names, is where I am still learning to dance softly with the lotus-like Lord of my heart. I am practicing, and that practice includes cultivating awareness that, more than a practice, it is a relationship. A gentle relationship.
A hard approach to japa is one wherein there is a heavy emphasis on one's own effort as the producer of the results of the experience. When the sun is shining, I don't have to climb and claw the sky to reach its rays and pull them toward me. I simply choose to place myself in the presence of its radiance and reach, where I receive its warmth and light pouring over me. I turn my face toward the sun to bask in its glow with gratitude. Gentle japa similarly places me, you, or any chanter in the intimate vicinity of Krishna's sound form - God's holy name and presence - to receive and rejoice in His grace. It voluntarily turns to face Him with an open heart to welcome Him within. The rest is the wonder of His making!