Mondays have always been a little gentler for me because of Monday Night Kirtan. The little weekly community kirtan* in my home ‘hood of Burlington, Vt., has been a welcome ritual for several years. But this past Monday night it was the last place I (Vrinda) wanted to be.
(Wondering who the hell Vrinda is? Read to the end.)
A series of incidents — small and large, local and global, personal and collective — had left me in a funk: discouraged, disillusioned, disgruntled…generally feeling “dis”ed on many levels and definitely not feeling social. The introvert in me wanted to hole up in my woman-cave and try drowning out the dis-es with a very dry vodka martini.
Plus, it was snowing.
Winter had descended on Northern Vermont in the 48 hours since I had been kayaking on the lake in 60 degrees at sunset. One more reason to sulk inside.
Alas, I had an obligation to be there. So I forced myself off the laptop and away from the sickening newsfeeds of Standing Rock protestors being blasted with tear gas and water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, of a new tsunami warning at Fukushima, of the latest xenophobic cabinet pick by Trump, and 10,000 other bits and fragments that suck your energy straight through your eyeballs and into the World Wide Web of Propaganda, Manipulation and Fear. I dragged a comb through my hair (not really), dabbed on some Javadhu powder in a lame attempt to mask the fact that I hadn’t showered all day, packed my to-go altar with extra sage and raced out the door, last-minute as usual.
But, it was snowing.
I spent the next 10 minutes scraping snow-covered ice off my car. Now I was late AND agitated. I got to Sacred Mountain Studio barely in time to throw some blankets and cushions in a semi-circle before the room filled in for the kirtan. I was all business, head down, task-focused, fairly daring anyone to engage me in conversation.
Nonetheless, this being kirtan, I was hugged. More than once.
As the room settled down and the night’s guest wallah, Heidi Champney, started to Om in, I assumed the cross-legged position on my purple cushion, scarf over splayed knees, spine straight, eyes closed, ready for lift-off from this hate-filled mundane material world. Take me away Calgon…I mean, kirtan.
My mind refused to catch up to the present. It was still racing back and forth from one situation to the next, replaying each interaction like a stuck tape, re-creating each perceived slight or awkward confrontation, playing its slide show loop of Images One Can’t Forget. The group was on the third Om by the time I dropped the mental mind-f*ck long enough to tone in to the sound frequency.
The chanting started with praise to Ganesha, remover of obstacles. Immediately, up welled another round of bogus inner chit/chat about this/that followed predictably by self-flagellating loathsomeness for not dropping my over-analzying, self-conscious judgmentalist ego at the door and just sinking into the mantra. And on we went…me and my monkey mind, dancing our silly dance, while the mantras played on.
Then I noticed something. I noticed myself noticing the mantra.
Hari Ommmmm… Hari Om.
You know how a radio station fades in and out if you’re not quite in full range of the signal? The mantra was coming through in fits and starts amidst the background static in my brain of everything that was not mantra. It was breaking through the mental orgy. I wasn’t even singing it — that’s how distracted I was — but it was breaking through. This is the power of mantra.
I felt a little inner smile for the observation, for the noticing. Then quickly as it came, I lost myself back into the static. And I noticed that….with an inner roll of the eyes.
Then came Kali.
Oh boy, I thought with a bit of trepidation, here we go. Kali, with her bloody sword drawn and severed head in hand, poised to cut through the ego’s bottomless pit of judgment and self-conscious blather. The head-talk flooded in: Do people even know how powerful Kali is? Do they have any clue what they are invoking when they start calling out to Kali? Are they even remotely prepared for the kind of energy this formidable warrior goddess can whip up? And then I was chanting it.
Kali Ma, Kali Ma, Kali Maaaaa.
Chant by chant, the layers fell away. I noticed the mind chatter subsiding as my chanting became steadier, less intermittent. The monkey mind was gradually but inevitably losing ground to the mantra. The inner chanter was displacing the inner chatter.
By the time we got to Radhe, I was all in.
It was the trio of Krishna-Radha chants that got me up on my feet and spinning in the corner of the room, inhibitions shed. Not caring about anything or what anyone thinks for at least one blessed moment in time. Letting my freak flag fly. Feeling the world fall away with each repetition of the Name, each spin of the feet. This is the power of mantra.
It was Tara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, who brought me back to Earth, her mantra like warm milk taken before bed. Cradled in the current of Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha, I felt at home, at peace, aware, present, content, unafraid. The monkey mind quiet at last.
This is the power of mantra.
After the kirtan ended, after the goodbye hugs, after re-folding the blankets and repacking the altar and taking out the garbage, I was dropping off a young man who lived near me, Kyle, who was fairly new to the Monday Night crew. Unprompted, he confides to me that when he had arrived at kirtan this evening he was not in a good headspace, that he wasn’t sure he even should have come. Over the course of the night, he said, he felt his emotional state shift, leading to what he called a “huge release” toward the end. He said he felt sure that “spirit” was in the room healing people.
I just stared at him. I felt like I was looking in the mirror…except the face looking back was a 20-something hipster dude with old-soul sapphire eyes and a beard twisted into dreadlocks, which stuck out of his chin like little goat horns.
That is the power of mantra.
Here’s a peek at the last chant of the night, a mashup of the Maha-Mantra and an old Gospel hymn called “Sanctuary.” The perfect cap to Thanksgiving week kirtan. Heidi Champney on harmonium and lead vocals; Jesse Taylor on acoustic guitar.
*Monday Night Kirtan in Burlington, Vt., is currently funded by the Call and Response Foundation as part of their initiative to kickstart recurring community-based gatherings that make the practice of kirtan accessible to all. Contact them if you’d like to start your own community kirtan.
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Editor’s Note: “I, Vrinda” is an occasional first-person series on TheBhaktiBeat.com in which I, Vrinda (aka Brenda Patoine) say what I’m thinking, whether you want to hear it or not. Call it op-ed, editorialism, commentary, satire — hell, call it whatever you want. Vrinda is opinionated but open, largely unfiltered, at times irreverent, and sometimes downright sassy (don’t say I didn’t warn you). She’s pure Gemini, part wise, part wise-ass; the good the bad and the naughty all rolled up into one messy, messed-up, hopelessly imperfect, doing-the-best-she-can kinda’ gal, er, woman. She — I mean, I — may offer two cents or more on subjects from the ironies of the yoga world to the injustices of the corporatocracy, the ins and outs of the bhakti community, or the ups and downs of internet dating. She/I may even occasionally try to be funny, undoubtedly with mixed results. Vrinda really just wants everyone to wake the f**k up (I warned you). For more on Vrinda, including why she uses that name, click here on this link…oops, you’ll have to wait until I get that piece written. *sigh*