October Kirtan tour ~ the silence within the sound

Anything you do has a still point. When you are in that still point you can perform maximally.
— Joseph Campbell


And so it goes.  Within the still point lies all.  The advice of the Buddha, of the Sages of time and space…

This busy-ness we are concerned with, the many things we do and say and make and plan, the Samsara we are surrounded with, though seemingly important, really has nothing to do with the goal of presence and self-actualization.

And yet this is the stuff of life.  How we fill our days and live and die.  And still, somehow, within all of this even,  in the still point exists the "not doing."   Right there.  The calm in the center of the storm.  How can it be so?  These two apparently opposite things existing at once?  Productivity and “success” whether that be worldly or simply a personal satisfaction with the things one has accomplished AND nothingness.  The “doing” of action with creative energy and its fruits and the absence of any doing whatsoever, the bliss beyond all “doing.”  Samsara and Nirvana.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 15th century Sanskrit manual on Yoga, defines Samsara as : the unending cycle of birth and death.  The actions we involve oursevles in that create our ‘lives.’  

Nirvana / Samadhi is defined in the same text as : the highest state of Samadhi in which only supra-consciousness or universal consciousness remains.

The two states seem completely at odds with one another.  One completely defined by living and one transcending even consciousness itself.  How can they both exist simultaneously and how can they be the same thing?  According to Joseph Campbell :

“It’s a perspective problem.  Running through the field of time is this energy which is the one energy that is putting itself into all these forms.  By identifying with that one energy, you are at the same time identified with the forms of coming and going.  If you see the two modes- involvement and the still point within you, samsara & nirvana - as separate from each other, you are in a dualistic position.  But when you realize that the two are one, you can hold to your still point while engaging.  It’s the same world experienced in two different ways.  You can experience both ways at once.”



I pondered this all last week as I moved through my days in preparation for a trip to Eugene Oregon to participate in a Kirtan with fellow bhakti musicians and friends.  There was something in what Campbell asserts that had unlocked the essence of why I play devotional music and study Indian Classical music.  The still point and the action at the same time.  The disappearing into that space entirely and also becoming it.  Even if only for a moment.  The complexities that dissolve once the form has been mastered and transcended… and once tasted this becomes the meditation experience of a lifetime and one can never forget it.  


And then, just as I imagine a surfer who has felt the feeling of catching a wave is always looking for the next, (seeking and adjusting their balance as each comes with it’s own set of unique attributes and characteristics) so too we feel the cycle of samsara.   the wheel of life with it’s myriad details and experiences winding it's way through all we do and pulling us both away from and towards that still point as we seek internal balance.  


When teaching asana class and also talking about mantra practice with students I often quote Alan Goode, a senior Iyengar Yoga teacher whose paper “Yoga: A Study of Conciousness”  had a great impact on me when my yoga teacher Alison West gave me a copy about 20 years ago.


Goode writes about yoga being about 3 things. Repetition, Observation and Patience.  I have found through my asana practice, these tenets to be invaluable stepping stones on the path towards physical calm and stillness of body.  Applied to bhakti yoga they become even more noticeable.  I mean, here we are repeating the names of the divine over and over and over and over.  Actually creating a new groove in the mind where the resonance of the Sanskrit sounds can work their magic.  Being an energetically based language, the Sanskrit sounds carry within them their meaning and intention and affect us vibrationally... whether we are consciously deciding we believe they represent the energy they describe or not!


So here I am, busy minded-me, a yogini of many years and a sound practioner… still seeking the still point and finding it for moments now, in this part of my life, in the midst of a lot of sound and action.  Sure, sometimes sitting quietly in my morning meditation but more often now surrounded by many people, equipment, instruments, lights, candles, wires, students, teacher trainees, festival goers… my family… you name it!  And in the middle of all this I am finding a way to touch the sweetest, most real experience.  A disappearing entirely into the bliss.  A little teeny tiny moment of nirvana here and there!

kavita & tabla player daniel paul.

kavita & tabla player daniel paul.

As turmoil rages all around us, (climate change, non-stop natural disasters and fires, an inept child-king leader, and I can’t even believe I’m saying this but yes, another mass shooting) I’m reminded that this one-ness, this search for the still point amidst the action applies to our collective situation as well.  In order to find that collective center, we are all included in the process.  We are all called to feel more, to do more, to get more involved on all levels...and to reach out and somehow find a space to invite those in society who are feeling especially lost and alienated.  Those who are affected by these disasters and horrible crimes, and yes, somehow also those who are driven to commit them.  Not to embrace their actions, but to heal the collective wound that lies at the root of those actions.  To provide through community action and practice and through difficult conversations a way to touch in on the stillness, the sameness within us all.


In kirtan practice we chant to come into connection with that beauty, that bliss, that eternal one-ness that is within us all.  We all define this source energy differently and build our own cosmology around what it means to us.  But we are all seeking the same thing.   Wholeness.  Bliss.  Connection with the love that we are.  A place to let go of some of the fear and grief we carry from these times and from all time.  The unresolved grief of those that walked the land we occupy and were forcibly removed.  The many family stories of war, abuse and dislocation and the continued rape of earth mother herself.  All of this is present and felt and asking to be allowed to move through us so we all may heal.


The Kirtan in Eugene was a blast.  We shared music in the temple room of a beautiful home outside the city, surrounded by devotional altars and luminous spiritual artwork.  So many virtuosos in one space, there was a lot of sound!!  At one point the full-to-capacity room was resounding with music and voices chanting “Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare, Hare Ram, Hare Ram, Ram Ram Hare Hare!"  It was so big and full and Iooking around it happened... I felt it!   In the middle of it all, a little taste of the silence within!


A letting go, an allowing, a disappearing into the one-ness and flow of us all.  In the morning I commented to the owner of the house how beautiful the experience was and thanked him for having us there.   He listened and then admitted he had spent many years away from almost all people simply tending the home and making artwork but that now this feels like what we all need.  I looked up.  "To get together and sing together?" 

"Yes," he smiled and agreed.  After many years of not many people coming to the house, he is now opening it for spiritual music gatherings.  Jai !