I like conch shells for many reasons. I like their shape, the way their spiral end looks like a finely tooled piece of ancient armor. I like it that Vishnu carries a conch shell. They’re the bone of a dead animal, but they’re used as horns or bathing vessels in Krishna worship. The ones I usually see are a marbled, caramel-and-cream color, but I keep hoping to find a black one, looking like it was carved out of ancient stone—a part of some recently discovered Vishnu Deity.
To me, conch shells are examples of the mind-boggling, mystically geometric order in the universe. I’m convinced that the mathematical probability of something as regularly patterned and beautiful as a conch shell occurring without the assistance of any conscious design—in other words, out of utter chaos—is off-the-charts low.
In my super-eventful life on the beach, I have two kinds of days—days when I find conch shells and days when I don’t. Most days, I don’t. But whenever I find a whole, uninhabited, full-sized, un-smashed, smooth one, I practically jump for joy. I feel as if I’ve received a personal blessing from the realm of the Divine. I can’t help but triumphantly seize it, saying, “Jaya! Jaya!” I then rinse it off in the waves, stuff it in one of the big pockets in my cargo pants and carry it a home in a state of exultation. This is beginning to pose a problem; my tiny home is quickly filling up with these divine blessings from the sea. I can only use one at a time to bathe our Gaura-Nitai. What to do with the rest?
The other day, I was walking on the beach, thinking, “I don’t need any more conch shells. I have all that I need—not only in terms of conch shells, but also in terms of physical items in general.” It then occurred to me that what I really need is determination, the kind that helps us decide on a worthwhile course of action and follow it through to glorious, successful completion. Maybe I can find some of that on the beach?
No, it’s not like that. Determination is something we already have. We’re fiercely, habitually determined to follow our own ideas of how to be happy, and determined to avoid Krishna at all costs. What makes life really interesting is when we decide to apply our stubbornness in the opposite direction, to move toward Krishna rather than away from Him.
Once we start doing something worthwhile, like push-ups, for a physical fitness example, we build up strength. Then we get used to feeling better, and we’re determined to not let things slide again. Determination is something you use, in order to have more of. It’s not something you find lying around, like cast-off exoskeletons of dead sea snails, and fill up your house with in order to show off your awesome collection. It’s easy to collect stuff. The challenge is to do something wonderful with whatever you have.