Thursday, August 29, 2013

My visit to Laramie

Laramie, Wyoming, a city that has been on my list to visit for many years A city that unfortunately for the last 15 years has had connotations for being infamous. Matthew Shepard, a young gay college student was brutally murdered there in the fall of 1998.  Tortured and murdered simply because he was gay.  It was an event that deeply impacted not just me, but the entire world.

We always want to ask why and how these things happen when they do, but it’s really not that hard to figure out when we look at our world today. So much fear, hatred, divisiveness, intolerance, xenophobia, homophobia, etc.

It’s painful when atrocities occur anywhere in the world, but I think we really get a visceral experience of suffering when they hit home. I have often thought, were if not for grace, I could easily have been Matthew Shepard. As gay men, we don’t even really have to do much to find ourselves in a life threatening situation. Sometimes just walking down the street next to our partner is enough to invite attack.  I never hold my partner Danny’s hand in public without being aware of that potential reality.

So as I sat on the commemorative bench at the University of Wyoming,  and as I visited the actual site of the murder, I was overcome with emotion.  Sadness for the loss of such a beautiful young man. Sadness for how he suffered unimaginable pain and humiliation from being beaten to death while tied to a fence. I put myself there on that fence with him, and tried to imagine what that must have been like.  

I thought about his killers.  How could they do this?   I wanted to hate them.  I wanted them to suffer the way they had caused Matthew to suffer. But then I remembered so vividly a time in my life when I wanted to carry out the same type of attack on myself.  I wanted to make all the gay stuff go away, in any way that I could.  Suddenly, I found that I could relate to these guys, at least to their hatred and fear.  I just went down a different road with it.  I was fortunate enough to have been surrounded by love from others when I couldn’t love myself.  Grace.

There was a lot of healing that took place that day as I sat there and tried to absorb all that had happened.  I’m so glad I got to connect with Matthew’s spirit.  To pay my respects, and to express my gratitude for his life and his contribution.  That brutally cold night in October 1998 was an unspeakable tragedy.   It’s etched into our collective consciousness. But there is comfort in it as well. Comfort in knowing how  awareness, compassion, and activism have sprung forth from it.

Can we create a world where tragedies like this can never happen again? We must. 

May we be deeply and unshakably committed to love, compassion, and kindness.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Kirtan: Full Circle

Recently I had the privilege of leading kirtan at the Gay Healers Circle here in LA. “GHC is a group of professional LGBT life coaches, psychologists, massage therapists, yoga instructors, medical professionals, ministers, energy workers and other healers dedicated to serving all communities.” No venue could have been more appropriate for me to share kirtan.

Ever since this practice has taken root within me I’ve had this longing to share it with my gay family.  Why? Mostly because of how kirtan has been such a force for healing, connection, and reclaiming my devotion.

As a young boy growing up in a very fundamentalist Mississippi, I had 2 very profound realizations:

1. I was deeply connected to spirit, deeply devoted to the Divine, the Sacred, or God, as I understood it at that time.

2. I was deeply gay.

These realizations were quite problematic for obvious reasons. Over the years, guilt, shame, and self hatred, took their toll by creating crater size wounds in my heart and spirit. How would this conflict ever be resolved? It seemed so impossible. So hopeless. I must admit, my approach to solving this dilemma was quite creative at times. It included everything from circuit parties to taking up residence in a Buddhist Mediation Center.

But it wasn’t until I discovered kirtan that my heart, head, and spirit all seemed to find each other again. Shri Ram Jai Ram, Om Namah Shivaya, Hare Krishna, opened up channels and broke down all the  constructed boundaries of my small, limited self.

Kirtan has helped me to realize that I am whole, I am complete, I am lacking nothing. And it is from here, from this sacred space, this holy ground of being, that I am able to sing, chant, and be a vessel for service to the greater good.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Kirtan and Connection

Do we need any more poignant reminders of the need to: awaken to our interdependence; realize our connection to others; deal with anger and frustration in a healthy way; refuse to make ourselves victims; stop blaming others for our unhappiness; avoid supporting others who are struggling because it’s uncomfortable?

My Evolutionary Spirituality teacher, Craig Hamilton, recently challenged us to look at ways in which we are adding momentum to a culture of disconnection. How are we shutting people out? How are our actions contributing to feelings of isolation and separateness. To us versus them mentality.

Do we truly believe that our actions, impact others, impact society, impact culture?

I do. And this is why I think kirtan is so important. It connects us to our selves, to our divinity, and to others. I see it happen in every kirtan I lead. I feel it in every cell of my being, as my heart opens through the power of each mantra’s vibration.

Imagine a world where everyone experienced the connection that we experience in kirtan. That oneness, that openness, that transcendence, that love, that bliss, that stillness, that sacredness.

In this world, something like what happened in Connecticut would never happen again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Mississippi Kirtan Dream

I’ve been on a spiritual journey for as long as I can remember. There have been lots of ups, downs, highs, lows, questions, answers, no answers, knowing, not knowing. But through all these different periods of my life there has been one common thread: devotion. I’ve called it different names at different times, but the feeling is the same. The teachings of Christ, Buddha, Krishna, and many others all point to the same heart. The divine heart of devotion.

For the past year and half I’ve been study Integral Spirituality with Craig Hamilton. Integral, in that it is meant to transform every aspect of our humanity. “It embraces the wisdom of the great meditative traditions, but also reaches forward to unleash the profound spiritual potential inherent in our recently evolved capacities for self-awareness, introspection, self-authorship and relational intimacy. “

I love this path because it seems to be connecting 51 years of spiritual dots. And nothing was more indicative of spiritual integration than a recent dream I had.

I was back in my home town about to begin a kirtan in the auditorium of the elementary school I attended as a child. The place was packed with folks from the little country church I grew up in. I was on stage playing a few notes on my harmonium when all of a sudden this sweet older woman stood up in the back and begin to sing. Her voice was so distinct. So Southern, so Baptist, so rich and so devotional. Shri Krishna, Jai Jai Ram, she began to sing. Soon others joined in, and then a few more, until the entire auditorium was singing. Singing to Krishna. Baptists, singing to Krishna. Singing with conviction, with passion, and with a heart full of love. It was incredibly beautiful. So beautiful, that when I awoke from the dream I wrote it all down.

I can’t wait to share it at my next kirtan. Soulful, gospel, loving, devotion to Krishna, to our higher selves, to the Divine in all of us. Regardless of what it’s called.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What Kirtan means to me

Recently, my kirtan teacher and mentor asked the following questions:

Around kirtan:
1. What is most important to you?
2. What do you care about most?
3. What wants to come alive through you?
4. What are you committed to?
5. What is your deepest love?

These were my responses:
1. That I will be a vessel for the sacred to emerge.
2. That because of #1, people will be able to touch this sacred space within themselves.
3. My connection to that place that is beyond limitation.
4. To stepping up, to serve the greater good through mantra and music.
5. Sitting in inner stillness, in reverent devotion while singing my heart open to everyone who can hear it.

In addition, and after a bit more reflection on inner stillness, I realized that that is what I love most about kirtan. All day long my mind is churning out thoughts, making plans, regretting the past or trying to recreate it, looking forward to something, seeking, searching, wondering, wishing. Then there’s the emotional component: feelings of longing, craving, grasping, clinging, separateness, anxiety, worry, frustration, anger, fear, dread, and on and on it goes. Some days these feelings are intense, some days they are barely noticeable. But noticeable nonetheless.

However (thankfully there’s a however), when I sit down in front of the harmonium, the chatter and the above mentioned feelings all start to dissolve. Nothing matters to me in that moment but being able to sing these sacred sounds. And it’s from that place, that this stillness emerges. Stillness enveloped by Shri Ram Jai Ram. A soothing tonic begins to flow over me from the vibration of Gam Gam Ganapataye Namaha. My heart open to so much love. So much love that if feels like there aren’t enough receptors in the heart to contain it. Nothing matters but this. And in that moment, all I want to do with my life is sit and marinate in it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

An Unexpected Evolutionary Kirtan

Once again another dimension of this practice has opened up to me. Recently, I was in Connecticut on a retreat with the Evolutionary Life Transformation Program I’ve been involved with for the past year. I expected to be involved in a lot of meditation and small group discussion, and never entertained any thought of leading kirtan. In addition, I didn’t bring my harmonium or any percussion so it definitely wasn’t on my radar. At least not until I saw the talent show sign up sheet. Then I thought about the nature of this course-Evolutionary Spirituality, Evolving beyond ego-and decided it would be a great opportunity to push my edge a little. Why not lead some type of kirtan? After all I was with 75 other people who were taking this course for the same reasons I was. This would be the perfect venue to experiment.

So I went to the kitchen, grabbed a card board box for a makeshift drum, poured some dried beans into a few yoghurt containers for a little percussion, gave my friend with a guitar a few chords, and off we went. Straight to that ego slashing Shiva. Shiva Shiva Shiva Shambo. Within minutes the energy in the room just kind of exploded. I was so excited that I nearly annihilated that poor box between my knees. My voice was shaky and I could barely catch my breath. I’ve never been a part of such a powerful collective like that. Everyone opening their hearts, standing on their feet, singing, dancing, connecting. It was all so magical. So affirming to me of what this practice is, what it does, how it transcends, how it shifts our focus from the individual to the collective. From the small self to the Big Self. Connection, Connection, Connection. THAT is kirtan.

I will hold this experience dearly in my heart as I continue to dive into this sacred practice. I will try never to forget how it felt in that moment to let go of everything I thought I needed to serve. I will seek to embrace every opportunity for growth I am given. I will be happy being uncomfortable so that consciousness may evolve. And with humility and interest, I begin each day with a beginner’s mind.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What's so great about Kirtan?

For starters, I think most of us who are kirtan veterans would say: it makes us feel good, blissful, ecstatic. Certainly incentive enough to at least check it out, right? But exactly what is it about this practice that makes us feel so good?

Personally, I would agree, it does make me feel good. I feel blissful, ecstatic, and happy when I’m singing and chanting these sacred sounds, these ancient mantras. I remember a few years back during one of my first kirtans, singing, crying, thinking to myself, ‘this is all I’ve ever wanted to do’. Imagine, a Baptist boy from Mississippi connecting so deeply with Rama, Krishna, Shiva. Amazing!

But then that is what's so magical about kirtan, it actually transcends all or no religious teaching. People come together and unite their voices, honoring universal themes of connection. Connection to others, to ourselves, to goodness truth and beauty, to divinity.

So here are a few reasons why I think kirtan is so great.

1. It fuels my passion for singing.
2. It provides a space for connection (with all the above stated objects).
3. It gives me a break from obsessing over my problems.
4. It elicits a powerfully restorative relaxation response(slower heart beat, slower breath).
5. It humbles me to play with such talented musicians.
6. It calms my mind when I’m stuck in traffic(most of the time).
7. It nurtures my devotional nature.
8. It creates shifts in my consciousness.
9. It helps me to be present (It’s so much fun, why would I want to be anywhere else).
10. It makes we want to put my arms around everyone I know, and let them the feel the sacred embrace of divinity.
11. It renews my faith in humanity.
12. It clarifies why I’m here.
13. I start to let go of everything I think I need in this world to be happy.

So why not give it a go, if you’ve never tried it.

May we all be happy, may we all be free from suffering and all its causes

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu