I don’t know whether to lead with the outcomes from three days and two sleepless nights with amazingly conscious men or the impact of the album I am listening to right now that ranks with Santana’s Caravanserai, The Dark Side of the Moon and Paul Simon’s Graceland, so I will start with the Shantala’s visit to Bellingham.
On Sunday evening, after two sleepless nights and a seven hour drive from Manzanita, Oregon, a quick shower and dinner, I walked into the Presence Studio to the mesmerizing sound of Heather and Benjy Wertheimer, the husband and wife partnership called “Shantala“. There were three musicians with them and I wish I could tell you their names, but my memory fails me (as usual). One played a magical flute and the other (Shawn?) coaxed more blissful sounds from a three string guitar than most musicians can get from six strings.
Over the next several hours, I fell deeply in love with their music and the community that sat and sang Kirtan with them. They repeatedly brought me to tears of pure joy and left me feeling drained of anything but love and happiness. This group is truly World Class. But I gush.
Kirtan (for those unfamiliar with the term) is call and response singing, usually done in Sanskrit. The energetic is joy and love of God in all God’s many archetypes and avatars. The sound of being surrounded with beautiful voices chanting blissfully makes even my frog’s croaking sound pretty good (at least to me). It is captivating and transforming. It opens my heart like no other practice.
I have hungered for a spiritual path for most of my adult life. Raised Presbyterian and having been force fed one form of Christianity or another throughout my early education; I let all of those beliefs go when I graduated from Darrow School in 1964. For ten years, I wandered through the waste land of atheism and agnosticism until I discovered Ram Dass on Saint Patrick Day’s weekend in 1974. Ram Dass (formerly, Richard Alpert, Harvard Professor) offered me a profoundly different, coherent and simple philosophy that did not require belief in miracles, churches or abusive male hierarchies. I heard him describe what I labeled in my mind as Buddhism.
For many years, I labeled myself as a Buddhist, but never actually practiced it. I found meditation damn near impossible. My ADHD addled mind simply could not stop and count to 10 without taking off on the wings of an irrelevant thought. So I was a Buddhist in ego only.
I remained stuck for close to forty years. I could mumble the Buddhist philosophy, but I certainly wasn’t living it. I was, however, working on becoming more conscious. I was learning how to separate from my ego and step off the dramatic stage where my ego reigned supreme and sit in the audience and find compassion for the fool on the stage.
And then I got fired. For the fourth time. Actually it was a lay off, but it was one that my ego had asked for. I saw the company owner sitting outside my office as I walked in on an early November Monday morning, and knew immediately the Universe was granting my wish. I had been bitching him out in my mind as a walking wounded man who had so thoroughly locked himself away from his heart that he had the residual emotional I.Q. of a turnip. I didn’t want to work for him and I just got my wish. The Universe had once again given me getting exactly what I had been asking for: an opportunity to reset my life and reinvent myself… again.
I started yoga the next morning at 3 Ohms Yoga in Bellingham and discovered a community of compassionate and loving people who liked to do yoga. I became friends with one person after another and soon discovered that Paul Millage was offering a class every Sunday that included a brief Kirtan before and after the yoga. And I learned about Shantala.
I have been all over their website, but cannot find any West Coast events until next year, but if they play anywhere within driving distance, sell me a ticket.
Oh, as for that three days and two sleepless nights with amazingly conscious men, check back tomorrow and I will share what it feels to work and play with highly self-aware and heart-felt men.