Most everyone I talk to who practices yoga has had some sort of dramatic experience "happen to them" at some point during their practice. It's talked about as a feeling, an awakening, or a shift. It's always the same experience, however floral or straightforward it's described. For a moment, all the noise quiets down enough that we get to hear ourselves. We simply realize who we are. Self-realization - that seems like a familiar new age buzz-word, right? For a moment we realize the possibility of living from a place of who we really are, instead of all the stuff and identities with which we associate ourselves. There are a bunch of names for it: the path to liberation, or the yoga path, among others. I just call it feeling good.
The problem is that amazing moment, like all moments, passes. We are left again with all the noise, caught up in our own stuff again. We work hard to get it back in our practice, during meditation, yoga class, or just sitting in our apartments trying to summon the Gods to show us who we are, so we can have all the answers to life and feel great again.
I remember since I was little knowing there was something much bigger than myself that was also very much alive inside me. I also knew it lived inside everyone else too and it made everyone the same, equal, deserving of that love. All kids know this stuff. Part of growing up seems to involve forgetting it. My "dramatic experience" happened when I realized there were words and a formal practice to put to it. My ballet teacher handed me the book "Autobiography of a Yogi" when I was about 18. I read about the teachings of Pramhansa Yognanda, visited the Self Realization Center in California and started to learn about the world of yoga that is actually in the everyday world. These feelings were brought into teachings and buildings and people. This was all new to me. I moved to New York shortly after and started to notice that feeling come and go, desperately trying to hang on to it each time it came.
Music is one of the most powerful things we have on this planet. It affects us instantly. When we hear music we like, our spirits can be lifted within seconds. When we hear music we don't particularly care for, the opposite can happen. Music can penetrate us without warning, before we have time to put up our usual defenses that protect us from our vast and unpredictable range of emotions. I grew up listening to all kinds of music but had a particular attraction to old rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Stones.
After being in New York for a few years, I was having a hard time finding a place, style, technique, or inspiration to take my yoga practice anywhere outside of my living room. It wasn't for lack of trying. I had been to most of the yoga studios. I just hadn't been able to get back that feeling at any of these places. Was it me? Was it these places? Is that feeling ever going to come back? Am I supposed to be chasing a feeling? I had no idea. Everything else in my life was going ok, but I had this secret problem. I didn't know what to do besides keep practicing alone, in my living room, waiting for something to come. I knew life could be better if I had this feeling around more. And then one day I heard the music of Krishna Das, a raspy rock and roll voice singing devotional chants to melodies more closely related to Bruce Springsteen than traditional monks.
Krishna Das tours the world performing kirtan, concerts, and chanting retreats. Now attending a sing-along event wasn't really something I could picture myself doing, but my curiosity about this guy inevitably landed me at a KD retreat at Ananda Ashram. I had to check this guy out. I was ready to take this in.
When I first saw Krishna Das I thought he could be a relative of mine. Red flannel shirt, sarcastic attitude and jokes, he would fit right in with our farm town clan. I see the rock and roll, but where is this yoga stuff? And then he sat down to sing. What came out was a comforting buttery raspy rock and roll sound delivered by the soul of God. His voice hits you upside the back of your head before you know which way is up. And I'm not exaggerating. It gets stranger when all of a sudden you realize that you are singing along with him without any of the self-conscious stuff you would assume goes along with an adult attending a sing-along.
Hearing his voice coupled with the vibration of my own voice throughout my body brought that feeling on again. Except this time it was more intense. With the singing the feeling felt alive in me, and my connection to the feeling in everyone else felt enough to bring down a power grid. I actually felt my heart expanding. I've talked to others who feel the exact same thing, so I am thinking I probably won't need to be medicated quite yet.
It gets better. The more I practiced, whether it was attending a kirtan with Krishna Das or listening to his music on my iPod, the feeling seemed to visit more, and stay longer. This stuff works. When I haven't listened in a while the feeling visits me less, but will come easier when I'm practicing meditation and asana. Krishna Das is like an adrenaline shot for the soul.
Krishna Das will remind you that it's not about that feeling. It's not about getting high from this feeling. You feel good? That's great. It will pass. You feel crappy? That will pass too. The feeling will always come and go. The good stuff is realizing who we are so we can be steady our whole lives, whenever the feeling comes and goes. That's the feeling underneath the feeling. I guess you could call that deep stuff. There is a level where there is always a good feeling. It's about remembering this feeling, remembering who we are. Self-realization.
At the kirtan events there is usually time for some talking. Krishna Das tells great stories about his time in India with Maharaj-ji and he always has awesome answers for people's questions. At a recent event someone asked about his practice. Krishna Das said, "I'm doing this to save my ass." Without practice he said he would mope around all the time. He said now he mopes around just for fun sometimes, because he finds himself moping around less often these days. He says practice is like filling a hole in a bucket. When you practice, the hole begins to seal and the bucket starts to fill up. When you stop your practice, the bucket drains out and we're again left to deal with all the noise and our stuff.
His tour schedule is constant. Someone asked him about his home. He said his home is with everyone. He has a place where his stuff lives, but he doesn't go there that often because he's always on tour. He said when he sits down with a group of people they are always the same group of people. It's true, at least on the east coast I keep seeing the same group of people. He was talking about same in a broader sense.
I've become a groupie. Yoga has a rock star and I'm a major fan. I found that feeling again but now I realize I don't have to chase after it. What is under the feeling is the good stuff.
Caught in the storm, battered by waves
The ship of my life was blown off course
By the winds of Selfishness
My breath rises within me,
the breath of the heart.
The sweet breath.
The sacred breath leads me in.
Now the winds die down
And the waters grow calm.
I have found a haven for my heart,
In the harbor of the Name