Where would I be if I had never heard of Krishna Das?
Probably somewhere being sad and pitiful.
Well, ok. I’m still completely capable of being sad and pitiful even having heard of Krishna Das. But I think I am at least a little less so for having heard his music and for having sung along, for having read his writing and for having seen so many of my own struggles reflected there — for having been in his presence and chanted the Divine Names and felt the vibration of his voice and the vibration of my voice and the vibration of all those other people’s voices meeting like old friends in outer space, dancing together and becoming one joined vibration of devotion.
Like at today’s workshop at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
“I’m a born moper,” he said. He described himself as a baby, crawling around mopily.
In his memoir Chants of a Lifetime, he talks about his long and intimate relationships with depression, drug addiction, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, regret. Even today he talked about depression as something that still comes around, still sometimes brings everyday life to a halt.
And he talked about how singing the names of God helps.
Because, he says, these names have power. They’re more than affirmations or reminders for our brains. They are “revealed” names, seen or heard or perceived by advanced beings and passed on to other humans for the purpose of awakening our souls’ memory, our awareness of the divinity that lives within us. They are like soft and subtle cloths that, with infinite gentleness, wipe away the deep layers of dust from our mirror hearts so that we can again reflect the light of God into the world and into our lives.
And if he’s an example of this, one can reflect a lot of damn light without having to be perfect, or vanquish the inner struggles forever, or even give up swear words (thanks for that!!!).
It’s funny — just this morning after church someone asked me where I get the songs I lead. “They’re not hymnal songs,” she said. I told her, some of them are! But mostly they are chants, and I collect chants. I go to different circles and retreats and places of worship (and sometimes bookstores and YouTube channels) and learn all the chants I can.
“What got you into that?” she asked. I said that I’d always been a singer, but at some point about ten or twelve years ago I suddenly felt an urge to take a break from choirs and go seek out ways to practice non-performance sacred singing. And I’ve been doing that ever since. Then I started sharing the chants I’d learned. Providing opportunities for people to connect with the sacred and to feel what’s in their hearts and to explore and express their utterly unique voices through chant and other forms of sacred singing has become one of the biggest passions of my life.
Krishna Das says — “Why are we doing this? Because we want our level of suffering to come down.”
Ok, I’ll take that.
We want to heal our small and big hurts, from the daily beatings our sensitive egos endure to the deep wound of our belief in separateness. For all of these painful places, chant can be a balm. And as we become (to use another of my favorite KD phrases) “gradually but inevitably” more peaceful, we also become more gentle with others, more compassionate, more available to help those of our fellow humans who are suffering — and who may be lashing out around themselves as a result of their own pain.
Chanting is just one of many devotional acts that have a potential ripple effect that can contribute to the healing and evolution of this organism called humanity. But it’s the one that called me, and I’ve been following that call to the best of my ability.
In Sufism they say that teachings are wonderful and helpful, but the juiciest stuff, the stuff that really gets you to grow and change, is transmitted on the energetic plane by being in the teacher’s presence. (And time and space being, well, not quite the fixities we think they are, a profound transmission can happen in a brief encounter, or across vast distances, or even after the teacher has left the body. The personalities involved do not even have to know each other. Our beings are operating on many more levels than we’re aware of.) I am so grateful for what I have learned from Krishna Das from his writings and recordings — and I also like to put myself, from time to time, when possible, in my teachers’ physical presence. Just to see what happens.
What happened this time when I chanted kirtan with Krishna Das in Arvada, CO?
I went swimming.
The experience of chanting today was kind of like having my heart taken out of my body, dipped in kerosene, and lit on fire — then dropped into a sea so cool and so dense with salt that it didn’t sink and didn’t burn but floated and blazed there in the middle of the ocean —
Then every now and then my heart would look back at my body and see it doing silly things, rocking back and forth, raising hands in the air, and sometimes clutching at that space in my chest where the heart goes, as though yearning to physically grasp and take hold of that oceanic feeling and plant it there forever …
As I said, Silly.
But so human.
That feeling doesn’t stay forever — at least not on my side of enlightenment (ie, the side that isn’t enlightened). But next time I am depressed or feeling worthless or lying in bed furious and unable to sleep, wishing I could wake someone up and punch them (true story), maybe I’ll remember just a hair sooner that there ARE ways to restore equilibrium, to come back to grace.
Thanks for this, KD, and for everything. You’re awesome.
(I love this song so much.)