In five days of being home at the ashram in Rishikesh I have already received so much nourishment and developments in this unexpected spiritual journey of mine. Let me clarify- the building blocks were set at home although there is something in the air around here (not just the smell of cow poop). I’m not sure when it happened this year but at some point in time I surrendered to my faith in the Power of the Universe (God, the Divine, however it relates or doesn’t to you). My yoga practice became more reverent, more devoted and more grateful for the way my body moves and allows me to access this life – physically and spiritually. And with that followed an openness to explore what literally makes my heart sing with unconditional love. It was chanting mantra and finally I accepted that it was also Kirtan – devotional chanting traditionally community folk music from India. Think happy Hare Krishnas and that appears to be where my heart has found its home.
Believe me when I say no one was more surprised than me by this realisation! The first Kirtan I went to at the ashram in June 2015 was mildly traumatising for this previously uptight Brit. I sat in bemusement as the group around me banged drums, whirled their hips with abandon and sang to Shiva. But like my initial reluctance to shove salt water through my nostrils, my resistance softened with time and with surrender to the experience. Kirtan however remained one area of challenge for me as for the whole of my adult life I believed I could not sing. So I didn’t. I was embarrassed by my voice (or lack of one) unless you got me one too many vodkas and plonked me in the safety of a karaoke booth with just my friends.
I indulged my secret habit of singing during my drives around Liverpool and Southport for yoga jobs. It was a delightful opportunity to belt out a few of my favourite numbers and laugh when I hit (regularly) a bum note. And perhaps I did not quite appreciate it at that stage but it was all part of me finding and connecting to my voice. That’s also the main reason why I outed myself on Facebook as a vegan – because I had been apologising in jest for years for being an awkward vegetarian and I was fearful of being even more awkward or of having to defend my choices if I went vegan. But I needed to be heard and after some clarification that there is plenty of food I can still eat it all happened without too much fuss. Although I have been warned that giving up booze would be the last straw for some close to me…
Anyway, back to my singing! I have been known to put myself in uncomfortable situations and so in that spirit of self development I decided this year that I should confront my fears and host kirtans in Southport. I did a couple alongside my beautiful colleagues Sharon and Johnny and with the honourable company of fellow open minded Southport souls. Like anything in life, we improve with practice -the nerves lessen and the joy takes over. And it was those baby steps that led me to have the confidence to volunteer myself to lead a Kirtan song on the second day of my course this week, in the home of Kirtan, in the ashram that means so much to me, surrounded and slightly intimidated by other yoga teachers and residents watching and waiting. With a racing heartbeat and a few deep breaths I gathered myself together and I let my voice free. I sang a devotional chant to the Great Mother (Jai Ambe by Bhavana (the professionals!) and I connected with my heart, with my love for the Mother within me and around me. The Mother that has held me in these last two years of stumble and fall, of trying to find my way forward as the real me. Liz the yogini, the believer – not Liz the Lawyer, the overachiever, the people pleaser.
Call it a receptive audience but the energy went wild. We all sang together with drums, people danced and clapped and smiled and I held the space for the group but also held my deep and almost uncomfortably burning love for God at my heart. As I rested with this love and unexpected feeling of liberation and euphoria (which comes from facing your fears big or small) something a little strange then happened to me- I saw a deep vibrant blue colour. Seeing colour is believed to be seeing your aura and blue is intuition (so I am told). You see despite varied meditation experiences I’ve not before had this ability to ‘see’ which rather frustrated my overachieving fear-of-spiritually-missing-out soul. This time though I know that I saw it – it wasn’t merely the light coming through my eyelids, as usual.
To face a fear, to let your voice be heard, is one of the greatest freedoms I have experienced to date. And it means even more to me to know I have connected with the love I am meant to feel, to share and to believe in even on the darkest of days. Finding love and connection with the Divine has also freed me up, a little, in respect of my expectations to feel love and connect with men, loved ones and friends. Humans basically. Our fellow humans cause us so much pain because we have our own expectations of them and if you can just, even if only a little, find a deeper love from within you to sustain you then your expectations soften and your fellow humans can be just that – human. Perfectly imperfect. Which we all are and always will be. And I believe we are all searching for love and acceptance, some in more damaging and disruptive ways than others, and I for one have struggled and searched high and low for love in some amazing, amusing and also painful of places but it’s only now that I get it. That you can cultivate love from within – a dizzying overwhelming love and connection to life if you let your heart be free to do the things you love. And my heart is happiest when singing to God out loud and proud. So go follow your heart. And remember that your faith is always greater than your fear.
NB. This week also included: sticking a rubber tube in my nostril and down into my throat and gagging on my guru as he tried to pull it out with his hand… Meeting Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Swimming in the Ganges. Attending an Aarti (fire ceremony). Being munched by mosquitos. Eating my body weight in lentils and daal but crushingly finding out that the banana samosas here are NOT vegan. I repeat are NOT vegan and they were pretty much the reason I came back here…spiritual fulfilment was my second aim. And there’s been more. More expectations, frustrations and also love and joy and new friendships and new beginnings. I know not what happens next but only that I am blessed to be here now.
To be continued…..(subject to Indian wifi)