Called By the Kirtan

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Jar of sanahas

The rattle of sanahas fills the air with a cleansing sound, like rain on a tin roof, or beads rolling down a water stick. I feel each beat on the space above my skin, where my intimate aura hovers. Every flick of my wrist, or my neighbors, seems to shake loose a bit of the muck that builds up from the egoistic thoughts and imagined slights that pervade my days.

We crowd into benches, surrounding three big tables, creating a sort of temporal circle. In fact, the circle is intact, no matter what shape we take. Threads of Krishna, of God, running through each of us, linking us all like pearls on a necklace.

Around me, eyes are shut in concentration. Brows furrow or clear, in relation to what each person is experiencing. Across the table, one of the family holds a drum. The sanahas slake my aura, while the drum hits right in my heart center, thump-thump-thumping along with my blood.

Weaving through the percussion is the sometimes sweet, sometimes strong, sometimes wavering and reaching tune of the kirtan, the chants. We move through traditional sanskrit chants—those originating from the Vaishnava tradition—into Red Path chants that spring forth from the indigenous tribes of north America, and diving into Spanish, Quecha, and occasionally French chants as well. Voices range from gentle and high to deep and earnest, touching on everything in between. We cover the gamut of pitches, just like we cover the gamut of personalities. In this moment, we have one thing in common: our connection to the chants.

Sometimes that connection is fragmented. Some voices rise high above the others, or lag slightly behind. The sanahas are used with an almost violent thrust, accosting the ears around them with a strident rattle that can be physically painful. At times like these it’s nearly impossible for me to stay centered and focused on the chant. Instead, thoughts run rampant. Why can’t this person chill out? Why isn’t that person listening? Which leaves me wondering: how am I contributing to this chaos?

Then there are those times when everyone in the circle seems joined, pearls perfectly strung along a thread. When this happens, I lose myself in the chants. I am swept away.

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The author, feeling somewhat incredulous

These two sides exemplify so much of what I’ve experienced at this community. The moments when everything flows, I feel part of things, and life is sweet. And those other moments when there is discordance that I feel build up in my chest until I feel like screaming or running away. Or running away screaming.

In kirtan, the weaving is more coherent than not. The rest of the time the opposite is true. If I could just do kirtan all the time…

Alas, life is not like that, and I have to address my feelings that come up when I’m not chanting the holy names. For weeks I’ve been trying to force my way against the feeling of being out of place—as in, I’m not in the RIGHT place—with limited success. It can be argued I haven’t done my best integrating into the family, picking up service. It can be argued that I haven’t tried hard enough. I think, on the outside looking in, that arguments looks valid. But from the inside, from this place of heaviness and disappointment, of anger and discontent, I know I’ve tried. I’ve just been petting the shark in the wrong direction, and all I’ve ended up with is bloody hands.

Multiple times, since I arrived, I ‘made the choice’ to stay here for three ceremonies, or a month, or whatever. Each time it has felt more like a force of will than an acceptance of Life’s plan for me. A few days ago I made a different decision, and immediately felt a lightness and a certain sense of flow come over me.

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Kirtan, action shot

In a little less than a week I will leave the community to travel independently. I need to get out of the mountains. I need a sense of freedom and space I am not finding here. I may return, if at some point I feel in my core that I should. I may not. Either way, this is the right next step for me.

Tomorrow we go to ceremony. It will be the first I’ve entered since arriving nearly a month ago. We met last night to talk about possible intentions for the ceremony and the idea of trust came up a lot. Trust in the circle, in the medicine, in the practice. It resonated. Perhaps the abuela will give me some insight on how to move forward with more tryst in the flow of things, in my instinct, in my heart.

Either way, it will be a night filled with the shake of sanahas and the soaring of our voices, joined together in service to something greater. Will we unify? Will we create confusion? I’m betting a little of both. Life, as it must be, is the delicate interweaving of pleasure and pain, sweet and bitter, harmony and dissonance.

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