One of the first things we learn as devotees is that not a moment of life should be wasted, that we should always engage our bodies, minds, and souls in service to Krishna. There are nine major activities like sravanam, kirtanam, and vishnu smaranam, and there are sixty four limbs as explained in Bhakti-rasamrita-sndhu/Nectar of Devotion. If that is not enough, there’s always Hari Bhakti Vilasa with a million more rules to follow.
It might sounds strange but I think what we also need is some “me” time. Time that is not spend on doing any of the regulated activities. Not for everyone and not everyday but its basic function needs to be fulfilled one way or another.
First, let’s see what usually goes on when we try to do devotional things all the time. Temple devotees usually have lots of active engagements but those of us employed outside have to rely mostly on engaging out minds. Whenever we have a free moment we chant, we read, we listen to lectures etc. Sometimes we are very successful at that but it also means that we have an overloaded inbox in our brains.
There’s just too much information to process properly, we can stuff it in, no problem, but we don’t have time to internalize it, we just load another mp3 into a music player or open another book instead. We sort of get what we hear or read and we don’t have problems with comprehension but processing information involves much more than that.
I wish I had some shastras to back me up but it appears to be an entirely foreign concept. I think it was done in such a way that it didn’t require making records of it and information overload wasn’t a problem in Vedic times, too, and their brains were much better at processing data anyway.
Perhaps the science of neuroplasticity offers a kind of explanation, unfortunately it’s still in its embryonic stage and no one applied it in this way yet.
The idea is that brain is not a static organ and neuropaths used to process information can change their course according to needs and circumstances. They can find a way to flow around areas of brain damage for example, pretty much like computer hard disks manage to blacklist faulty cylinders.
Once the brain receives a load of information it stores it in one place and learns the “recommended” way of accessing and processing it but eventually it optimizes it for better use. It classifies different aspects of that information and connects them to relevant memories and usage from other topics. Instead of being a splotch of paint on a brain canvass it becomes a fully organized tree with roots going deep into our memories and branches interconnecting with everything else we know.
This process takes time. Usually it’s done while reflecting and contemplating things and ideas, it’s also done during sleep by those of us who aren’t great thinkers when awake. None of that, however, falls under best known devotional practices and so instead of giving ourselves time to ruminate we chomp new bits of information.
We have smaranam, of course, but that is more like remembering Krishna, which is not the same thing. It’s easier to label what our brains need to do as daydreaming and speculation and we are told to avoid those two.
We do not have an explicit permission to just sit down and think. It is perceived as being idle and it brings up various negative connotations.
Of course if our brains need to think we can’t stop them but because we don’t regulate this thinking it might happen when it shouldn’t be happening, most notably during japa.
If our minds are obsessed with some Krishna related topic and we decide to force it into silence while chanting it will not work. We need time to think, and we need time to chant, those two are not the same things and they should not be combined.
That’s why we need “me” time – to let our brains to adjust themselves. It might not be “realization” per se but it’s a necessary step to deeper understanding of our philosophy. With deeper understanding of philosophy we’ll need less thinking in the future, and, more importantly, we’ll understand that chanting is also a kind of thinking. Pure(-r) chanting should come from the deepest conviction, it should be the foundation of our intelligence. To get there, however, we should realize relative inferiority of everything else, and that needs time to sit and think. It needs time to sink in.
Now, if you are a book distributor you’ll have plenty of time to reflect on what’s happening in between talking to people, if you are temple devotee, a pujari or a cook, you’ll have plenty of time to work with your hands and let the brain do its work in the background, too. Neuroplasticity doesn’t require conscious efforts anyway. You just leave the brain to its work, then see the results.
You’ll have considerably less time for reflection if you are engaged in non-devotional activities most of your day and then try to cram as much Krishna conscious info as possible whenever you have a break.
Personally, I usually listen to lectures while driving but sometimes I just turn it off because I need to process what I just heard. Maybe driving and thinking is dangerous but it’s a kind of automated activity that is very suitable for this kind of thing. Otherwise I’m starving for time to think. I have a few minutes in the shower and when brushing teeth but in the morning I have nothing to think about yet and in the evening I have too much to process that it’s just not enough. This process can’t be rushed or forced, it’s like artist’s creative work in that sense.
This lack of time to think and settle down affects my chanting almost every day. I’d love to postpone japa until after I finished with thinking but it would need reorganizing my day. Maybe this is what I have to do, if it leads to improved japa it’s worth it.
I wonder what it would be called on my calendar, though.