Day 37: Sita, Ram. Hanuman… Baba.

By on Feb 4, 2011 in The Unruly Ascetic, Uncategorized

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What is it about kirtan that is so powerful?  It can’t be just the sound.  If you walk by someone’s house and you hear people singing in a foreign language, it doesn’t usually inspire you to let yourself inside and snoop around until you find them.  But something about the bhakti, the love and that longing that draws people in. as it did tonight.
So, tonight I was lucky enough to get David Garrigues to come to my house and to play his harmonium and chant.  I was also lucky enough for him to bring an amazing tabla player.  and then on top of that I was lucky enough to have nearly 60 friends and strangers (some of whom wandered in off the street) come into my living room and fill it with love and longing. The best part is that the love and longing remain, in the house and in my heart, long after the friends (no longer strangers) have left.
Kirtan was set for 5:30.  At 5:25 I walked outside to see 5 or 6 people milling about (as there always are in front of the Shala) and no apparent sign of David or Joy. I wondered vaguely if I had failed so miserably at making this kirtan happen that David wasn’t even going to show.  And then I wondered if I had failed so miserably at making this kirtan happen that David was going to show and I was going to have to tell him that no one came.  And then I realized Joy was in my living room setting up an alter.  Then David strolled in, picked up his harmonium (which had been by the door all along) and waltzed upstairs, followed by the 20 or 30 people who had somehow appeared on my doorstep in the last 5 minutes.  Soon the tabla player was tuning his drums and I was squeezing myself into the front row (really, I just sat plop in front of David, creating a new front row).

And then David reminded me what Yoga is all about.

Aside: Let me tell you a little something about David.  The man is an inspiration.  If you have never had the pleasure of chanting with David, or taking a class from him, or holding a conversation with him, well, you need to get on top of that.  David is Gopala, Govinda, the divine child who embodies love and playfulness. But David is also a dedicated student, humble and striving.
It was David who said the most comforting thing any teacher has ever said to me… 
Early, early along my path as an aspiring Ashtangi, I was attending a workshop with David where the host threw a little party in his honor after the classes ended one night.  All the local Yogis gathered to make juice and play music and hoola hoop. Very Yoga appropriate, as far as parties go.  I found myself at something of a loss. I was frustrated. grumpy. on the verge of angry. I removed myself from the festivities in order to have a conversation with my mind. It went a little something like this (conscious and slightly schizophrenic); 
“Why are you angry?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” it answered
“Yes, you do, so tell me the truth.” I demanded.
“Okay…” reluctance. “Well, it all just seems a little silly.  But I used to love this kind of silly!  I used to love parties and dancing and hoola hooping especially.  and now it seems silly to me and I feel left out.”
“Then go hoola hoop and laugh and be silly.” I offered.
“But I don’t want to and I don’t understand why. I want to be calm and do yoga.” My mind admitted.
“Don’t worry about why, just know that it is. (and stop pouting). Now, go be happy for everyone who does want to hoola hoop and laugh and be silly.”
“Okay, I’ll try.”
So, mustering a good attitude (and accepting that I am no longer likely to be the life of the party) I walked outside and sat down in a chair on the edge of the dance floor (and by floor I mean yard). After a moment of consciously willing myself to enjoy the energy of the party I glanced around to see David sitting in the chair next to me.
It is at this moment that he turned, looked me right in the eye and said (quietly and somewhat conspiratorially), “Yoga is kind of enough for me. You know?
I smiled and nodded, endlessly relieved. I knew exactly what he meant.

Back to the Jois Savitri.  Tonight was the kind of party where I can get down.  No hoola hooping or turn tables, but still music and laughter (and dancing). This party wasn’t Yoga appropriate, it was Yoga. It is so easy to forget that Yoga is more than breath and bandhas, practice is more than asana. The whole practice of kirtan brings the emotional element of the Yoga practice to the very front. I think that’s why it makes some people uncomfortable.  It makes you face your relationship to the practice in a whole new way.
Yoga is about love. and longing.  For me, Yoga is about wanting so badly to know love, wanting so badly to know peace, wanting so badly to know.  Chanting is about having the opportunity to express that desire. It is about have the space to sing and yell and laugh about how badly you want to know love and how badly to want to be love. Sometimes it hurts my heart a little bit. Sometimes it reminds how far I have to go.  But it is in those times that it brings me closer than I have ever been.
Tonight, I felt love.  I came back to the place of longing that keeps me on this path of Yoga.  Asana is fun and a never ending challenge.  Meditation is soothing and awakening.  But chanting is love.  Nothing is so powerful for me, as a teacher and an inspiration, than the painful longing that comes from getting lost in the sound.  Getting lost in the melody. Getting lost in the mantra.  But mostly, getting lost in the freedom to call out in the name of love, to shout and sing and tell the entirely of creation that you love it so much, it hurts.


  1. Mike Repede

    February 4, 2011

    Thank you for so eloquently describing what I’ve struggled to identify in my own heart. Thank you also for reminding me that I’m not alone!

    The other day I encouraged someone to try one of my yoga (asana) classes. “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga,” was his response. I laughed at the folly of that statement. I thought it was like saying, “I’m too sick to go to the doctor,” or “My car is too broken to bring it to the shop.”

    Now (with the help of your post) I find myself laughing at my own folly! I’ve often looked at Bhakti yogis and thought, “I don’t have enough devotion to do that.” I do SO love kirtan, though. And now I realize it’s because I’m able to use chant to express my longing. And, as you say, in doing so I take a small step closer to the Divine.

    Many blessings to you!

  2. Zoe Jivani

    February 5, 2011

    Thank you so much Mike! I know exactly how you feel, it is hard to remember how much love we have inside, but then when we chant we feeeel it! (and my favorite is… ” saying you’re not flexible enough to do yoga is like saying you’re too dehydrated to drink water.” 🙂

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