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Jumping to New Conclusions
I once heard the idea that while in a high place, the sensation of vertigo some of us experience isn’t caused by a fear of heights.
Instead, the theory suggested, it’s caused by a tug-of-war between the part of your brain that wants to know what it feels like to jump and the part of your brain that doesn’t want to know what it feels like to land.
I’m not suggesting jumping off of a building. But there are many situations where we have the chance to try something new and part of us says “go for it” while another part of us wants to play it safe.
Playing Safe Often Doesn’t Serve Us
And far too often, we err on the side of caution when we have far more to gain by taking that leap into the unknown.
I learned this lesson, believe it or not, from Hare Krishnas.
My earliest Hare Krishna encounter came when I was a young child. My mother’s step father’s son was a Hare Krishna, and for some reason, one day my family decided to visit his home and drag me along.
I remember him opening the door, at which point my senses were assaulted by the sickly sweet smell of burning incense. As I peered up through the smoky haze, I saw a strange man staring down at me with a shaved head and some sort of bed sheet for clothing.
I remember standing there, clutching my mother’s hand and thinking to myself, “Please don’t invite us inside…please don’t invite us inside…please don’t invite us inside…”
They chatted for a couple minutes in the doorway and then, much to my relief, we left.
Years later, as I was walking across my university campus, someone called to me and said, “Excuse me, sir. Can I talk to you for a moment?” It was a Hare Krishna.
I flashed back to that childhood memory. My instinct was to avoid eye contact, pretend I didn’t hear him, and keep walking. But this wasn’t some menacing figure staring down at me through a cloud of smoke.
This was just a random guy, probably about the same age as me, trying to start a conversation. I decided it couldn’t hurt to talk to him.
As we chatted, I found that this Hare Krishna actually seemed to be pretty cool and laid back.
Not laid back in the brainwashed zombie cult member sense; he just seemed like a normal 20-something who happened to look a bit different from what I was used to.
At one point, he asked me what I knew about Hare Krishnas.
I thought back to one of my favorite computer game series growing up, Leisure Suit Larry, which was a sort of modern-day adventure game with a lot of twisted humor and social commentary.
One of the more challenging puzzles involved finding a way to get through an airport entrance without being assaulted by the Hare Krishnas waiting outside. This was a rather blatant attempt to poke fun at the fact that Hare Krishnas were infamous for proselytizing in airports at that time.
I decided to keep that image to myself and simply responded that I didn’t know much about them.
“Well, how would you like to experience us first hand and come visit our ashram?” he asked. (Ashram is a Hindi/Sanskrit word for what is essentially a place for communal religious activities.)
I remembered the stories of bizarre cults that had gotten so much media attention over the years.
I thought about Jim Jones and how he coerced the people of “Jonestown” into drinking poisoned Kool-Aid in order to escape the clutches of capitalism.
I pictured the Heaven’s Gate tragedy where the deceased members were found carrying the exact fare they’d need to board an alleged spaceship following an approaching comet.
Then I reminded myself that I was studying cultural anthropology, a field whose practitioners pride themselves in being open-minded towards other cultures.
Broadening My Horizons
It was time to move beyond the theory of lectures and term papers and try some real-world experience. I decided to treat this opportunity as a cultural study, and I accepted the Hare Krishna’s invitation.
That weekend, he and another Hare Krishna drove up to my campus and picked me up along with a few other students who had agreed to join us.
We arrived in a residential area that evening and parked in front of what looked like a regular house. I learned that although some people visited the ashram, others actually lived there.
We got to know some of the members, all of whom seemed like pretty normal people, and soon after that it was time for bed.
Our wake-up call was at 4 o’clock the next morning.
After we had a chance to get our bearings, we were led into a common area where we were handed some beaded bracelets. They instructed us to hold a bead gently between our thumb and forefinger and then chant to ourselves the mantra;
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
After this we would shift to the next bead and repeat.
This went on for about an hour and when it was over, I felt surprisingly refreshed. I had just had my first experience with meditation.
Next, one of the members gave an inspiring talk. I don’t recall exactly what he said but I remember it was more of a motivational speech than some preachy religious sermon.
Once the talk was over, it was time to eat. Since the ashram was a communal environment, everyone, including me and the other guests, was invited to help cook and serve and clean.
They Didn’t Serve Kool-Aid
I don’t know if it was the brainwashing kicking in or what, but that had to be the best vegetarian meal I’ve ever tasted. I fought the temptation to wolf it all down and savored each bite. Once our plates were cleared, we cleaned up and ventured outside.
We walked over to a public square where we began singing, dancing, and playing instruments.
Normally, in this sort of situation, I would have felt extremely self-conscious, but somehow the collective energy made it liberating. In fact, some of the people in the area were so intrigued that they decided to join us in the celebration.
The fun couldn’t last forever, though, and eventually it was time for us to go home. They drove us back to campus and we said our goodbyes. Although we had made tentative plans to meet again, it never happened. I never saw them again.
What did happen, however, was that my perception of Hare Krishnas had changed for the better.
Although this is a story about Hare Krishnas, it’s really a story about choices.
At various points in our lives, we’ll be given the opportunity to try something that’s foreign to us. It might make us uncomfortable. It might be a little scary. And we’ll have to choose whether it’s worth it to accept the risk and try it anyway.
I’m not completely naive. I realize that spending one day in the company of Hare Krishnas isn’t enough for me to really know what they’re about.
But neither is a 2-minute childhood encounter in someone’s doorway or a silly video game or the media coverage of some unrelated, small-town cult.
I also know that visiting the home of a stranger after a brief conversation might not have worked out so well.
What if they really were waiting for me with a fresh bowl of Kool-Aid? What if they weren’t Hare Krishnas at all and this was just some hoax meant to lure unsuspecting anthropology students into their lair?
There’s Always Reasons To Say No
But at what point do we stop avoiding the uncertain because of what ifs?
What if we travel somewhere and wind up getting mugged? What if we ask that cute girl/guy out and get rejected? What if we try that new restaurant and get indigestion?
It’s very easy to avoid doing things that take us out of our comfort zone. I’ve chosen the “safe” route numerous times, and that’s despite the fact that I write a blog promoting the idea of trying new things.
But I also know how rewarding it can be when you allow yourself to push past your reservations and take a chance.
You could wind up making a new friend, discovering a new place you enjoy, or creating a new memory you can tell stories about years later.
The next time you have the chance to try something new, before you reject it, ask yourself one question: “What do I have to lose?” You may discover that the more compelled you are to say “no,” the more you have to gain by saying “yes.”
Do you recall a time where you avoided trying something new just because it was easier than saying yes?
What was the risk?
What might you have gained had you taken the chance?
Brad Jorgensen is a freelance copywriter who uses his blog and his business to help people embrace the philosophy that trying new things is a critical part of a fulfilling personal and professional life.