Like the First Time by Victor Colletti
whenever we are holding a kirtan– like this past 2 january, with the amazing sean johnson and the wild lotus band– you can pretty much bet your bottom dollar on seeing me there. i do love the expression of kirtan as yoga. the way that people come together; the way there is this very organic call and response between artist and audience; the way that the power of music flows through the soul, creating a communal spirit. i do, love, coming to kirtan.
however, this was not always the case. when i had first started really coming to laughing lotus, i could not believe how easily and readily i was embraced by the community. the colorful walls; the ecstatic vinyasa practice offered; the passionate group of teachers and students; the sheer joy and infectious loving energy contained in the walls; and, oh yes, the music…
laughing lotus was so different than anywhere else i had practiced yoga, and was practicing yoga at the time, and it awakened something within me, and, in short, i just wanted to be around. when i came onto the lotus scene, i had been practicing yoga for 16 years– and yet, in all of that time, i had never been to a kirtan before. when, before class, dana announced that there was kirtan that nite (it was a friday, during june, i believe, some several years ago), i sensed the passion that she felt as she told us about it.
i wanted to be around. i decided to give it a shot. i figured i could leave any time i wanted.
so that evening, i walked to 19th street to see some artist that i had never heard of… sista shree… i arrived with an open mind, but, perhaps with a semi-guarded heart… i did not know what to expect… would i love it, would i hate it??? would i talk to anybody??? what did it “mean” that i was going to something i had never been to before???
i got there a little after the kirtan had began. nervously, i walked into the light room (this was pre-dancehall), adorned with strings of neon lights on the floor, flower petals everywhere, and piles of neatly folded up yoga blankets scattered across the room. i took a seat on one of the blankets, by myself.
as the kirtan progressed, more and more people kept wildly leaping up, ecstatically singing, dancing, and jumping. “where the fuck am i?” was the question that crept into my mind a few times. that, and: “who are these weird people, and, why are they so damn happy?”
as much as my inhibited self wanted to remain contained, polite, and even respectable, and as many times as i had even consciously restricted myself from getting up, by the end of the kirtan i was on my feet, moved by the spirit. the bhav of the room lifted my self-imposed ban on fun, and set my inner-self free.
i vividly remember dancing ecstatically with jeanne halal, who i was familiar with just by seeing her in classes. but in those moments, of joy, of movement, of expression, of togetherness, it wasn’t like we needed a formal introduction… our souls met, embraced, played, and danced in wild abandon.
you do not have to enjoy kirtan to experience the essence of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. for many, it is an easily accessible form, though, made easy– i think– through the creative spirit of music, singing, and (sometimes, especially at lotus) dancing. there are, however, many ways to experience the unadulterated spirit of bhakti.
the real essence of bhakti is the element of participation. so, you can show up at a kirtan, or yoga class, or anything else, but what makes the act transform into the devotion of bhakti is your participation. so, in my case, at my first kirtan, that moment that i stood up is when the bhakti took over my spirit. so, it is whatever inspires you that taps you into this frolicking force.
this might sound way out there, but last weekend was the superbowl. in it’s own way, this is mainstream america’s unique expression of bhakti, because, for millions of people it involves both participation and coming together. the participation can take the form of attending a party, bringing food or beverages, or, even buying boxes in those “pools.”
now, of course, traditionally, the bhakti practices are about our acts of devotion towards god, but i truly believe that we can experience feeling close to god in vastly different and highly unconventional ways. i know that when i go to a concert, especially by madonna, for example, the spirit takes over me, and i dance and sing and scream and jump my heart out, and when thousands upon thousands of people are singing the lyrics to, “like a prayer,” together, i know… i know… that we are experiencing bhakti yoga.
to surrender to this experience of bhakti yoga, i highly recommend trying something that you’ve never done before– maybe that’s going to a kirtan; maybe that’s trying a new activity (have you ever done the 5 rhythms??? try it!!!); maybe that’s joining a choir, or a prayer group, or a sports team!!! and take my word for it– you won’t forget the first time!!!