Thank You, Krishna Das

Thank You, Krishna Das

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. 

But why?

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.)

Say a Hare Krishna for Me

This really should have gone up days ago.  During Kirtan with David Newman at The Yoga Room in Idaho Springs last weekend, I was inspired to write this poem to the Divine in the Divine’s aspect as Lord Krishna.  I didn’t know what to do with it, so I thought I’d put it here.

***** Winter Poetry Warning!!!*****

O Krishna, Heart of the Universe,
whose compassion propels the planets through their orbits,
whose smiling glance draws a soul from the ether and gives it life,
whose seed is flute song,
Your expansiveness accepts even this idiotic, forgetful lover
who, though she tells everyone in the street how much she adores you,
doesn’t call you at night, or bring you honey,
or seek you in the starlight.
She is not even faithful to you,
not for longer than one second every week,
but you are patient with her and hold her to you;
in your abundant mercy
you let her believe
that those seconds of adoration are enough.



There’s this woman who leads kirtan at the yoga studio where all my friends go.  I don’t do yoga (that is, I don’t have a yoga practice) but I do do kirtan, that is, devotional chanting.  Or say, rather, that I want to do kirtan.  I go every month and chant, but for the past year or so once a month hasn’t been enough for me, I want to go deeper, actually learn what I’m saying.  I understand that the heart can be singing without the brain knowing the language, and that the sound itself, the syllables and the music, is a channel through which one communes with the divine.  But that’s me.  I want to know stuff.  I feel like learning the traditions and stories around these prayers helps me to ground them in my life. 

I want to learn how to really use this practice of kirtan to open, open, open my heart! 

So I have been pestering this woman (in kind of a shy and hesitant way for me) to teach me independently.  Then today I got to join her in observing the last of nine days of Navratri, with a morning fire ceremony.  I showed up at her house with no idea what to expect.  She met me in her basement where she has a separate kitchen just for the preparation of rituals.  !  She asked me, in so many words, Why are you here?  What is your background?

I stumbled around a little — “Well, uh, I had an eclectic religious upbringing, and I, uh, do what I feel called to … ” — not at all the concise and thoughtful summary I would’ve liked to have had at the ready! 

She says, “So you’ve never studied Vedic practices … ?”  Read: This  oughta be interesting!

Well, she was extremely gracious, took me right under her wing, explained a little bit of the complicated ritual she was performing, gave me some little tasks within it, like you might tell a child who’s helping you bake cookies, Okay, now you stir this really well!  It was really a sweet, sweet ritual.  The essence of what we were doing, as I learned, was offering the best in us back to the Divine, back to the Source.  “Aarati,” this woman wrote to me, is offered to the fire, one’s teachers, and all the manifestations that aid our illumination.  Aarati means ‘light.'”  I was very moved.  It really touched me to imagine myself putting all I have that’s good at the service of the universe.  I felt illuminated.


Afterward we were sitting outside enjoying the spring morning sunshine and she was telling me about how she came to be a devotee of Babaji (the only one she knows of in Missouri); how once she found his teachings, following the path he taught became the consuming passion of her life.  And she was asking me, “So, you want to learn to play the harmonium, or what exactly do you want to learn?” “Anything,” I said.  “Ah, you just want to be in it,” she said, nodding like she understood. 

Maybe — yes — I DO just want to be in it. But I was thinking at the same time that I don’t think I’m ever going to be one of the people who gets struck by a lightning bold of truth and devotion one day and knows that they belong to one path.  I can’t speak for the future, but I just don’t think that’s going to be me.  And that’s been hard for me to accept.  I’ve really, really wanted to find “one thing,” a church, a structure, a teacher, a guru that called ME — that wanted me.  I’ve even tried making up my own religion, attempting to include all the elements I thought were most important, just so I could say “I am this.”   But now I don’t think that’s what I’m here for.  I’m a synthesizer.  It’s the same impulse that led me to American Studies for my graduate work — I can’t stop myself from sampling the kinds of knowledge produced in lots of different fields.  (Maybe that’s the same impulse that makes the Chinese buffet my favorite type of restaurant … )

But there are also themes.  I guess, for me, it’s about themes more than anything else, themes that dissolve into each other from one month to the next, and big themes that grab ahold of me for years.  The big theme that has me right now is singing and the sacred.  If there’s ever been a time when I actually felt an inner call to pursue something spiritual, to learn as much as I could about it from as many angles as I could, it’s this, and I’m in it now, and I have been for several years.    And that’s how I ended up at kirtan.  And it’s also how I ended up at Dances of Universal Peace, and in the Inspirational Choir at Downtown Baptist, and in the Columbia Chorale singing classical requiems, and hanging around the singing circles at women’s music festivals. 

I’ve got a whole big basket full of pieces right now.  Someday I’m going to be able to fit them all together.  Sometime when I’m not even thinking about it.  Maybe it’ll come like a lightning bolt.  But probably it will be more like a thousand fireflies all across the field of infinite possibilities.


Peace to all,

Heartland Soul