How did this happen? Two weeks in Montgomery, Texas, alleged “birthplace of the Texas flag!”
In June! How did I end up here!
Yet not untypical, somehow, of the crowd of unexpected events that render the adventure of spiritual life so endlessly fascinating . . . .
In this place, the director of Bhagavat Life scheduled a pair of back-to-back five-day japa retreats (Level I followed by Level II) in the St. John Retreat Center. Most retreatants were devotees from Houston, Dallas, and Austin.
Required personnel for a retreat: One Facilitator: Arcana-siddhī dāsī (Level I) and Mahātma dāsa (Level II); Two “Sadhus:” Girirāja Swami and Ravīndra Svarūpa dāsa (both for both levels), Kīrtana leader: Baḍa Haridāsa (both levels); Cooks: Apūrva dāsa and Sarvabhauma dāsa (both levels).
Apūrva added more stars to his reputation, as the increasingly haggard-looking cooks cooked tirelessly:
We set up a comfy meeting room for our chanting and other spiritual activities:
Girirāja Swami placed on our altar an extraordinary mūrti of Namācārya Haridāsa Ṭhākura:
This mūrti was carved from wood of a branch of the ancient Siddha Bakul tree, where Haridāsa used to sit and chant. The branch had been torn off by wind:
Evenings, Baḍahari reliably induced out-of-body experiences in me as he lead kīrtana on the harmonium:
Girirāja Swami guided and enlightened us:
His assistant, Bhakta Richie, a native of El Paso, Texas, soon became celebrated as the “Del Norte Kid.” He worked hard:
All the while, as we air-conditioned retreatants explored the internal potency through the holy name, southeast Texas suffered miserably through a drought as well as record high temperatures—as high as 104° F (40° C). Outdoors, it was as if every atom were on fire (bhava-mahā-dāvāgni). We ventured into our surroundings only during the beginnings and ends of the blazing days.
Everywhere we saw the drought-stricken thirsty earth opening her parched lips to pray for rain:
As the sun reddened the western horizon, we meandered though the wildlife refuge, on paths adorned with edifying messages:
I was tempted to become one with nature:
The followers of the lodge, committed vegetarians, showed their loved for animals inside the retreat center:
As well as out:
Next door, some lodge members maintained a sanctuary for wolves (most of them abused or abandoned):
Girirāja Maharāja and I went to see the wolves and their caretakers. Jean, the sanctuary director, told us that hunting or fishing is not allowed on their land. Neighbors were upset because their lakes and ponds teemed with protected fish:
Among ourselves, we observed the end of the retreat with prayers and commitments, solemnized by the tying of a “saṁkalpa thread” around the wrist:
Listen to recordings of the Texas Retreat here.
(retreat photos: Sraddha devi)
Great State of Texas: Farewell!