All around me spandex-clad, sun-kissed ladies and gentlemen bounce rhythmically to the pervasive drumbeat. In the waning afternoon light, after 3 hours of yoga, the kirtan’s slowly rising thunder is reaching a crescendo. Almost as though in a trance, seemingly normal, English-speaking adults are bouncing, holding hands, and singing together “Haribo ita gore, ita gore haribo“, calling and repeating with the small band on stage and the ladies leading the meditation. If one were to turn off the sound, the whole scene could easily be transposed from a rollicking set at a Yonder Mountain String Band show. Only in this scene, there is no alcohol or goo balls or any other plausible excuse for dancing around as though we’re all possessed. Nothing, that is, but the spirit of the kirtan on a sunny afternoon, a dancing and chanting ecstatic meditation.
In the midst of the throbbing mass, with the afternoon’s rays just cresting the trees to shine on our faces, I almost feel as though I’m on drugs. The drumbeat and the powerful voices around me, calling and repeating a simple phrase seems to be doing something to me that I really can’t explain. I didn’t realize this was part of the whole experience, and I don’t feel prepared for the rush of emotions. But, feeling open, and energized in a way that only 3 hours of yoga in the afternoon sun can do, I don’t have the will to fight my super ego’s voice reminding me that it’s 4 in the afternoon, I’m sober, and this whole things is a bit weird.
In fact, I’m literally brimming over with happiness. As I look around me people are shining with joy, holding hands, and singing together. It’s child-like and ecstatic l in a way that I haven’t felt in years. And I feel happy watching this group rise with the music and dance with such freedom of expression. I want to feel that too, yet something terrifying is happening in my body. Each time I open my mouth to chant, my voice comes out in barely a whisper, as though any further expression would pierce through me and I would crack down the center and flood outwards. A knot rises up in my throat and pressure pushes outward from behind my face. A single tear rolls down my right cheek. I wonder whether to wipe it off as the man behind me grabs my left hand and begins to pull me toward the stage. The music keeps getting louder, and the swell of people around me bounces and dances more enthusiastically – clapping and spinning.
As I run towards the stage and then back, holding the hand of a man with gold teeth and a shirt that proclaims him a member of the Australian School of Meditation and Yoga, I feel disembodied. Who am I and what am I doing? Yet, I feel the grip of my super ego losing strength, and a knot again rises in my throat and threatens to break me open and flood the scene with something – tears, light, joy, dancing? I’m not really sure. All I know is that I am scared of it actually making its way out. I work hard to suppress the rush of emotion that wells up each time I scan the crowd, and instead I focus on the stage. But there, a beautiful woman stands, singing the words in a voice deep and strong. She jumps and spins and dances, and again the knot is rising.
Unable to handle the constant effort of holding back whatever is threatening to break me open, I look up at the sky as I dance, deeply exhaling. This pause restores me and temporarily releases the pressure of my internal waters on my eyelids and cheeks.
But finally, seeing a little girl running through the group to her mom, and leaping into her arms as she dances, I am spent. Tears rolls from my eyes and I know not where to look or how to appear when I’m looked at. So I smile. I let the warmth and salt trickle down the sides of my neck and pool in the hollows above my collarbones, feeling cool as the afternoon breeze kisses the streams. With my internal pressure gauge finally returning to normal, I am again able to sing with a full voice. I look around the scene feeling a deep peace.
I’ve never been through a full kirtan before. Never experienced that rise of emotion and release. I think I needed it. My soul needed it. Perhaps I hadn’t realized how much I was standing in the way of my own joy, until it literally welled out of me against my will to the rhythm of bare feet on the earth, warm sun in my hair, hands holding mine, and untempered voices bolstering my heart and giving it strength to let go.