So when I went to India for this first time as part of my long-time-in-coming transition from over-educated, well-heeled young professional to over-educated, emerging-inner-hippie suburban yoga teacher, I fell in love with a set of mala beads because they brought out the color in my eyes. And because a wise man told me those were the right stones for me. And because it’s what yogis are supposed to buy in India.
But when I held the cool beads in my hand, I felt a pulsing energy, something powerful and grounding. I was drawn to them. They represented for me the start of a long path to begin to fill a spiritual void that I had been carrying for many years, the genesis of my decision to travel to India in the first place.
I have to admit, however, despite bringing home several sets of japa mala beads that I dipped in the healing waters of the river Ganges, I still have yet to settle into the daily mantra and meditation practice that I know is a vital part of my spiritual journey. But I am at peace with the fact that I will get there in my own time.
And the beads still play a very important part of my practice of yoga, reminding me that this journey must start slow—one bead at a time. Right now, I’m engrossed in the practice of being present, not getting lost in the lure of every shiny object that floats by, not getting distracted by the inner critic that likes to remind me I’m a good-for-nothing yogi because I can’t manage to meditate and chant every morning.
Mala beads took on a new meaning when I embarked on the Global Seva Challenge in collaboration with Off the Mat, Into the World, to raise funds and awareness for sustainable relief efforts in Haiti. This is another practice that for me has seriously tested my edge. I’m good at spending money and supporting other people’s causes. But I am challenged by asking for donations, by finding my voice to champion a cause I believe in. By connecting with others in a meaningful way rather than always choosing an easy yet sheltered road. And especially by not letting a big intention and a big goal—raising $20,000 for Haiti—make me feel small, doubting, and powerless.
So, I decided to make malas. . . . Because I find something so powerful about a strand of 108 little beads hanging around my neck, whether I’m meditating with them or not. It reminds me to focus only on the present repetition instead of the 107 beads that lie ahead. To not let the big goal overshadow each tiny step to get there.
Every mala that I sell, every small request that I make—asking a friend or a complete stranger to support my effort or buy a piece of jewelry—brings me one step further along on my journey. But the beads also help me remember to stay unattached to the material goal of the challenge and the dollar signs that go with it. It’s all about the journey, and it’s all about the intention: to serve, with no view towards the outcome, simply out of compassion and deep love. I am humbled by the innumerable gifts I have been given in this life and the opportunity to share them.
As I travel simultaneously on my own inner spiritual journey and outwardly as a leader in this incredible effort for Haiti that is so much bigger than myself, I am learning about yoga in a way that I might not ever experience it on my mat.
And for those who buy the malas I have lovingly made, one bead at a time, in a process that is itself much like a meditation, I hope they will find the same path to peace that I have. One bead at a time.