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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Over the Hills and Through the Woods: Tripping Out With God

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High school me, along with the friend whose screensaver I lost myself in, as well as our hippiest of friends.

I’ve done my share of hallucinogenics.

The first time I took acid I was in high school, and I dosed with my friend Jennifer. I only remember two things clearly from that afternoon: staring at the top of my Starbucks Frapuccino and getting scolded by Jennifer because my attention to that swirl of whipped cream and caramel was definitely outside the realm of normal, and falling into the same dazed space while staring at the Windows screensaver on my friend’s computer.

Jennifer and I made good tripping buddies, for the short time we had together. We made good buddies, full stop, and she inspired me to be creative. That’s a trait I treasure most highly—and find so rarely—in relationships.

Then, post high school, I didn’t dive into my psyche with hallucinogens for a good while.

Well…there was that one night at a Rainbow Gathering, but it was weird and awkward and I’m totally not counting it. Moving on.

It wasn’t until after my divorce, a little over two years ago, that I touched any kind of mind-expanding substance again.

I was talking with a woman at the community here yesterday about her spiritual path, and my own. She asked me if I’d worked with the medicine—specifically Ayahuasca—anywhere other than in the context of the community and it’s programs. I told her I hadn’t, but it had been my experimentation with mushrooms that reintroduced me to God. She laughed, and said that had been her experience, too, although the details differ, of course.

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At the festival where I felt God move through me

It’s a cliche, isn’ it? Take a hit of acid, chew a cap of amanitas, brew some peyote tea, and listen to God.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m a cliche in many ways. I got young—got divorced. I got divorced—went to India to ‘find myself’. I took mushrooms—I got reacquainted with God. Throw in a healthy dose of commitment phobia, crazy cat lady antics, and my yoga and we’ve got a full-blown middle class white girl on our hands.

But I digress.

The whole reason I’m writing about hallucinogenics is because of where I am. This community is focused on working with sacred plants, namely Ayahuasca and Huachuma, in order to develop an expansion of consciousness and a relationship with Great Spirit. There’s more to it than that, but that’s a big part.

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Inspired to creative acts

Unlike my backseat trip in high school, though, there is a very, very solid structure and approach used when taking these particular hallucinogenics. There is a respect for the plant that I was missing when I lost myself in my Frappuccinno. Then, it was fun. This…this is work. There are fun aspects, because life has fun aspects. At it’s core, though, it’s not about escaping from reality, but rather about tapping deeper into reality. The reality being, in this perspective, that we are all spiritual beings put on this material plane for a purpose, and it’s up to us to pull on our boots, and let Spirit guide us down that sometimes rocky, uphill trail of that purpose.

It’s a practice in faith. In surrender. And I’ll be the first to admit I’m not there yet. My hands are tucked in my pockets and I’m eyeing that mountain with a fair bit of mistrust. Because we don’t have to climb. We have a choice in the matter. I’m not sure what I’ll choose next.

What would you choose?

Jumping Into The Fire Without Clothes On

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Afternoon moonlight

An interesting thing has been happening in the community I’m staying at. For the last couple months everyone has been working very hard to prepare for a group of visitors who arrived a couple days after we did. Since their arrival, the focus of the community has been, for the most part, keeping this group happy. Often, this goal has come with the consequence that a large portion of those not directly involved with these visitors have been left somewhat to the wayside. Resentments have emerged. Stress has worn people thin. Conflicts in personalities and approaches have resulted in confrontations and the occasional low-level exile.

I came at a strange time. I know this, because everyone keeps telling me. Steven, who spent several months here last year, has something to compare the current state of things against. I, on the other hand, do not.

Maybe that’s a good thing, if I can be patient enough to ride it out.

Coming into a community like this can be difficult, even in the best of times. There are a lot of unwritten rules, expectations, and procedures that you have to learn in order to really get into the flow of life. Coming along with all those things will inevitably be questions, at least for me. Why does this work this way? And without answers to those important questions, the rules can feel very arbitrary and, many times, contrary to my own set of beliefs.

Every day, often many times a day, I come to this point where I hate it here and want to run as fast as my feet can take me in any direction that points away. I don’t know these people, except for a few who I have very little interaction with at this point. I don’t have an investment in this community. The strongest tie—and really, the thing that has probably kept me here to this point—is the cats. Second to that is Steven. He comes second, because I can actually sit down and explain to him why I’d be leaving, whereas it’d just be abandoning the cats.

Why, then, could this possibly be a good time to come?

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For the parties, of course 😉

When I was a kid, I used to approach my dinner plate with the motto: eat the worst, first. Get it over with. Deal with the thing Mom is going to make me eat anyway so I can enjoy the rest of it without that thing hanging over my head. That’s kind of the approach I’m trying to take here. I get to see this community worn thin, when the nasty attributes that manifest in the face of stress and sleep deprivation come to the surface. I’m not saying that after this it’ll all be sunshine and rainbows, but at least I’ve gotten a dose of the worst, first.

This approach does not wholly convince me. I’ve told myself, and plenty others, that I am giving the community a solid month, after the crazy-making event is over. At the end of that month I will look back over everything, and decide if this is where I want to be.

I’m reminded of my first couple weeks in India. I spent a large portion of that time in my room, on my bed, crying and sleeping. I felt out of place, alone, lonely. I was disenchanted with the contradictions I saw between the holy city of Rishikesh and the way the people treated the animals. Culture shock is a real and heavy thing. Even five weeks into my trip I was still seriously considering leaving.

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The author, communing with the local frutas

There is a question that comes to my mind sometimes, that I haven’t really found the answer to: When is it time to cut my losses from what is truly a bad situation for me, and when is it time to invest a little bit more hope, a little bit more energy, so I can come out the other side stronger? It’s a delicate balancing act that requires listening to the heart and the gut. Practices that require, well, practice. The still, small voice of truth inside all of us can be hard to discern from the whirlwind of fear and opinions that usually rages within. The more we listen, however, the louder it gets.

The Inevitable Election Post

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Prettier than a picture of Trump

The 2016 US presidential election has been a source of intense division in the United States, and in the Western world at large. I went to sleep before any of the electoral votes were announced, and woke up to what everyone in my home country already knew: Donald Trump is our new presidential elect.

Part of me was shocked by the results. I really didn’t think it could happen. That so many people (not the majority of people, mind you, as Clinton won the popular vote) could choose to back a man who has attacked religious freedom, women’s rights, the LGBTQ community, minorities, veterans…a man who has cheated his employees and contract workers countless times…a man who has solid support coming from several white supremacy groups. It all seems so unbelievable. And yet, here we are.

In the wake of the election there have been mounting reports of assault, battery, theft, threats, and intimidation lobbied against people in those groups Trump has demonized. There has also been violent protests on behalf of anti-Trump movements, and attacks against Trump supporters.

Everyone is scared.

Those who target minorities with violence are coming from a place of fear. We’ve been told our very way of life is in jeopardy due to XYZ. Muslims who will attack our country because they hate us. Homosexuals who will undermine the fabric of our society. Women who will emasculate men by demanding equal rights and treatment.

Those who are targeted are finding fear bubbling up inside them. A very real possibility of harm exists, and it seems to have been given the green light in many people’s eyes with this election. We (sort of) elected a man who is okay with sexual assault, rampant discrimination, and cruelty in many forms. Is it any wonder that those who ardently support these kinds of beliefs are coming out of the woodwork? Not to me. No, Trump himself isn’t directly responsible for the violence. But his rhetoric has given people courage where before there was, I think, some shame. It is his responsibility to condemn the actions of his followers.

I’m angry. Some of the people condoning these actions, even applauding them, are members of my family, and that reality just boggles me, leaves me shaking and my heart thumping a beat that sounds like what-the-fuck-what-the-fuck-what-the-fuck. I can’t shake my head hard enough to dislodge my disbelief.

I cried that first day. I cried again the day after, while scrolling through Facebook and looking—for the first time—at @ShaunKing’s Twitter feed. (For those who haven’t seen it, King is collecting reports of assault, battery, etc., perpetrated against others in the name of Trump.)

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Looking down into Taray

It’s a strange thing, being where I am while all this is happening. There are several US citizens living at the community where I’m staying. Several of them told me they didn’t vote because it didn’t matter, or because politics are beside the point. (The point being that we’re spiritual beings, and our focus should be on expanding consciousness while social and political movements are mere distractions. [At least that’s how I understand it.])

There are some here who felt the election very keenly, myself included. And yet, it’s all very far removed from my day-to-day life. I can’t join a protest. I can’t offer to walk my friends home if they feel unsafe. I won’t see, in front of me, a single attack. I chose to leave the country before the election for this very reason, but now I find myself regretting it on some levels. I want to be there, so I can help in any way I can. I want to be there, so I can have the opportunity to stand up, say something. To use the privilege I have as a white, middle class US citizen. Because it is a privilege. Not something I earned, but something I have nonetheless, and I believe I have some duty to use that privilege, when and where I can.

blog-1-3It feels a bit selfish to be in the Andes, away from these things. There’s this very understandable urge to want to flee the US, which I invested in to some point when I booked my plane ticket. I’m torn, really. I feel like my home is in India. Not the US, certainly not Peru (we’ll get into that in a later post). But again, where is my duty? Where does my responsibility lie?

Where is yours?

There are no easy answers, I think, and each of us must look inside ourselves to find the answer to these questions. I haven’t found mine, yet.

The Crazy Cat Lady Goes International

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Pumpkin, exploring his new, temporary digs

After 36 hours in transit and 48 hours of very little (read: >2 hours) sleep, me and my posse arrived in Taray, Pisac, Peru, at a community that has no street address, just a name.

The posse includes my partner, and not just one, but two cats. One of whom is currently perched on a counter, glaring at me, and growling intermittently. Which is pretty much par for the course for our lovely little jaguar. Traveling long distance is draining. Traveling long distance with cats is a bit insane. Traveling long distance with a cat that literally required donning gloves in order to get him in and out of his carrier is…well…worth it. It’s all fucking worth it.

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What I’m looking at right now

The journey started, in my mind, about five minutes before we planned to leave for the airport. The cats had been freaky all day, put off by us scurrying madly all over the place in order to get ALL THE THINGS accomplished. When it came time to put on Shadow’s harness, hell broke loose. He was having none of it, and left his very bloody opinion on Steven’s hands. At one point I think we both thought we were going to have to leave him behind. That’s when the gloves came out, and we stuffed this poor yowling cat into his carrier.

Pumpkin, on the other hand, hid under the couch, but not very well. This is why Shadow brings home multiple mice, chipmunks, birds and/or moles every day for our ‘enjoyment’, and Pumpkin manages to catch only one or two a week. (Which in no way mitigates the horror of waking up to find him eating a headless bunny next to my bed. That’s an image you can’t shake.)

After getting them prepped for takeoff, we had one last visit with our dear friends who I’m going to miss terribly and wish I could hug right now (what’s up, Iaconos!!). Then, the airport.

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Looking into Shadow’s carrier is like looking into the dark depths of my soul.

I’m not going to walk through the whole trip again step by step. Suffice to say, if you’re traveling with cats, bring more absorbent pads, wet food, patience, and resilience than you think you’ll need.

Once we got to our stopping point, after what felt like eons, we could finally rest. Waking up in a brand new country with my beloved cat ready for a major cuddle fest instantly erased all the worry, frustration, and heartache it took  to get us all here.

Have you ever done something crazy for your furry friends? Let me know. I’d like to hear I’m not alone in this madness.

Getting Lost All Over Again

 

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One year ago, today, I was in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. I had finished my 200 hour yoga teacher training and was in the thralls of trying to decide whether I would come back to the United States pretty much immediately, or change my plane ticket for the second time and stretch out my trip.

I chose the latter.

At the time, I had people calling me back to Washington state. I felt the urge to return quite keenly. Going back to a place I knew, to people I knew, to a culture I understood and roads I wouldn’t get lost on was so appealing. There’s comfort in the known, in the expected.

There is also stagnation. Murk. An ever receding line marks the edges of that comfort zone. The longer we stay inside that line, the closer it gets to exactly where we stand.

So, I did what I’ve done a dozen times before: I threw a bomb, right into the middle of what was calling me back.

Then I changed my plane ticket.

Like any bombing, there were casualties. The people involved are still nursing wounds, to one degree or another. But, that’s life. Sometimes people get hurt. When we put expectations on one another, we’re only asking to be let down. So, I got let down. I let other people down. And I continued my journey.

 

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Today, I’m back in Washington, but not for much longer. I stand on the precipice of a new adventure, much like I did in Rishikesh one year (or was it a million years?) ago. In a little over two weeks, I leave for Peru, along with my partner and two cats. This time, I was wise enough not to book a return flight, because who knows what’s going to happen when I get there?

I felt a lot of fear before I went to India. I felt a lot of fear before I decided to stay in India. What I feel now has elements of that same kind of fear, but it’s different. Or, maybe, I’m different.

My faith in a supportive universe has grown exponentially in the last year. My fucks given about what other people think of me and think they need from me has dropped dramatically. The combination of those factors puts me in a pretty solid place, I think. Ready to break away from the comfortable, lift my arms, and dive into the next chapter.

I’m ready to get lost again.

8 Ounces and Counting

“I am a wooden pole,” you said.

“I bear weight, and gladly, but too much and I will collapse.”

And the words of the song from the man that you love slid into my ears

As if they are made for me

About me

My heart is heavy, and I have broken stronger men

It’s only a matter of time until your splinters split my palms

Until then I will hang on and I will try

   —I swear to god I’ll try—

To find strength in these shaking thighs and breathless nights

If we are very, very lucky all this effort will result in biceps made of steel

A belly tight enough to move mountains

And I will lift my own heart before the weight snaps us in two