One of the most incongruous sights in all of New York City must be the Hare Krishnas, blissed out on God in Union Square as the models and bankers and all the rest of us whiz by on our frenetic way to Somewhere. I have always dismissed them as kooky and out of touch with reality.
But today something was different. On my way to yoga class at Jivamukti, I felt a strange inclination – not to judge them, but to join them. The drums were pulsing in light and buoyant rhythm; kids were playing maracas; and young and old together were dancing in slightly uncoordinated yet utterly charming fashion. But mainly what attracted me was how innocent and genuinely happy they all looked.
Margaret Runbeck said that ‘happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.’ Lately, though, life’s burdens have accumulated in me, leaving me overwhelmed and depressed much of the time. Maybe it was my intuitive and deeply buried yearning for joy that attracted me to their odd gathering.
Synchronistically, a mishap occurred on my way to said yoga class that prevented me from attending. A half hour later, armed with yoga mat and un-spent energy, I found myself wandering back to Union Square. One of the leaders, sensing my curiosity, promptly approached me and placed a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in my hand – but I wanted to dance. The bookmark was a copy of the Hare Krishna signature chant, underscored by the admonition, “Please chant and be happy.” That was all the invitation I needed.
I dropped my bags (both literally and figuratively) and began to sway. Nervously I looked around for the inevitable encounter with a familiar face, statistically unlikely yet strangely commonplace for New Yorkers in Union Square. What would my clients think? Would a friend write me off as a loser? What am I doing here? Is this a cult? Gradually these thoughts fell by the wayside as the spirit of something larger than this life took me over, and I became as un-self-conscious as a child playing in beach sand. My feet shuffled. I hopped, I spun, I sang with all my heart. And I realized, they are singing to God, these crazy people! And isn’t that what joy is all about?
This magical gathering seemed to create a rosy filter that allowed me to appreciate people, including myself, in all our imperfect lovable-ness. We all have a story, and suddenly I was able to feel my story inextricably linked to everyone else’s. Rather than an isolated individual struggling for survival, I was a small but still significant part of something BIG. I felt that elusive feeling that drives people to seek out drugs, sex, or other often addictive activities: joy. And it burbled up from inside so naturally, un-sought for, like a snake seduced by a hypnotic flute.
I’ve been doing all the requisite things in my search for health and happiness: going to yoga class, eating salad, dutifully repeating mantras and positive affirmations. But Thoreau said, “Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it will elude you – but if you turn your attention to other things it will come and sit quietly on your shoulder.” Though teachers and mentors can point the way for us, in the end we all discover our own path to happiness. I don’t know if yours will include anything as off-beat as dancing with the Hare Krishnas in Union Square, but I would wager that, like me, you are most likely to find the elusive happiness when you are willing to let go of your ideas of what it’s supposed to look like.
–Lauren Tepper, for more of Lauren’s writing, click here