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This morning I ran across an old essay I wrote. It feels so apropos to share it. I hope you’ll forgive me for not waiting ’til Throwback Thursday.
I must be joking to soften how urgent and pertinent this feels for me in this moment. To live in spiritual openness, plurality, and fluidity, to be available to awareness of and wisdom in varied paths is a deep part of authentic spiritual growth. I want always to find new language for the great inner experiences, and to know that I may always find new ways to explore and express the same. I want always to know that how others find their way is a reason not for disdain but for celebration.
As I move in the flow of my own journey, I am discovering the ways kirtan, as much as I love it, has served to obscure some of the deepest work I need to do – the experiencing, uncovering, and writing down the blood-and-guts stories of pain, desire, memory, ecstasy, and daily life in all its messy glory. Now I am drawn to turn much of my attention to that work. Though my current focus is different, the essence of the essay below captures so much of what I feel and know in my bones tonight. I am glad to share this snapshot of what I was thinking about in October 2007, not long after the release of Live Devotion.
Buddha, Baal, and Mary— Finding your Footing Among Many Spiritual Paths
The other evening, a friend and I had a glorious opportunity to sit in a park in Bristol, PA with a fresh fruit picnic as we enjoyed the transition from summer to autumn, from evening sun to dusky night. If you don’t identify as Pagan, this is one of those nights that could beckon you toward that particular spiritual way—In the warm air, highlighted by an idyllic full moon, we savored the opportunity to sit close to the earth and to touch the grass that made its best effort to return strong from its most recent mowing, all in the company of a gorgeous, mighty oak. How easy it is to discover the Divine through nature on a night like this, and to experience the sacred energy of Goddess, God, Mother Earth, Father Sky—any of those names—ancient or new—that one may use to describe The Infinite.
I am a longtime practitioner of meditation, bhakti yoga, and eclectic Paganism. Indo-Pagan, Krishna witch—I enjoy wading through the words I might use to describe the set of practices that call to me. During our twilight picnic, my friend told me about her growing connection to the Druid path, and how she loves celebrating with her group, called a grove. She enjoys the righteous mix of reverence and mirth among its members, and that with each gathering they create anew while harkening to the ancients. We talked about how, like many modern Pagans, we both create rituals and adorn our own altars according to our personal connections to Spirit.
This friend of mine had a happy thing to report on that front – Not long ago, she added an image to her altar. Mary. Yes, Holy Mary, Mother of God. She had discovered a sweet, inner connection to Mary, opened to her guidance as a Protector, and for many nights has lit candles to honor her. It was a bit daunting at first, this foray into the icons of dominant religion by this devoutly alternative woman, but she has grown comfortable over time in talking about it with her grovemates. They welcomed her discovery of this connection, and the inner strength it brought to her and her practice. At first glance, her experience seems opposite to the religious dilemma of many, but her initial hesitation was really a lot like what so many of us go through when expanding out from the traditional religions of our families.
Most of us in the U.S. who now identify as Pagans grew up with a different tradition. For those from a Judeo-Christian background, it can be a daunting experience to step outside those boundaries and into a different way of seeing. For those of us who also grew up queer, quite possibly having been inside varying degrees of religious philosophy that called our sexual expression sin and instilled the fear of God in relation to all things Pagan is a serious 1-2 punch. You might well be caught in a dogma that told you there is only one true way. If you are feeling called to explore outside the lines, how can you move through your learned fears and get from the thought to the action?
The first time I bought a pentagram—a five pointed star, encircled, symbolizing the four sacred elements and Spirit—I have to admit, I was quite nervous. I felt in my heart that the small sterling pendant around my neck represented deep, Universal love and healing magic. But that little, irrational voice persisted… “No matter what I am feeling, is this actually the mark of the devil?” Putting time in working on the paths that call me allowed the fear to wane. It was different, yet nearly as odd when my devotion to Divine Consciousness found me honoring Jesus once again, having rediscovered that expression of light and wisdom in and through the beings of love I had come to honor.
Eventually, I got better at discerning what is true for me and what is imposed from another’s insistence—from any side of the religious equation. After all, what is the core of each religion, if not love? What is a religion but a path to the center of love along with a set of tools for help and celebration along the way? Why not find skillful, honest, and integrated ways to utilize all those tools that help us love the clearest and live the best?
Infinite numbers of seekers have realized the fabric of love, compassion, and enlightenment pervading all that is as the silence of The Buddha and as the pure love of the Christ. It has been found in an exalted Father-God and in Gaia, the living Spirit of the Earth Herself. You may find it in the named or the unnamed, a plurality of practices or a single tradition, Higher Self, or no-self.
There is no one answer or simple means to break through to a place of comfortable exploration. But as you begin to explore, consider giving yourself to the possibility that you may discover this: If you’ve been told of an “only way,” that one way may turn out to be whatever is suited uniquely to the longings of your own spiritual heart. Know that many, many seekers have walked the way of doubt, spiritual crisis, and emergence. In that, you are already a part of a beautiful tradition.
One afternoon on Facebook, Preetamdas Kirtana posted something like “F*!k tolerance! What if God practiced ‘tolerance?’ Practice love!” “That should be a T-shirt,” I commented. He said I ought to go for it – and so it is. => here Thanks, Preetamdas, for the inspiration. The Coexist movement is headed in the right direction. I hope this bit of in-your-face yoga inspires many more to approach life from a place of love.
Last week, I was at Jack and Jenn’s working on the preliminary recordings for the next chant CD. As the day to begin work drew closer, I felt as though I was cramming for kirtan. I had to solidify ideas that had been floating along for months. I needed to make decisions about instrumentation. I wanted to strongly suggest to divine inspiration that a visit would be more than welcome. “This is no way to approach bhakti,” I thought. These sounds should emerge whole from pure love, unabated. I was angry with myself for my process. All music should be effortless, right? I was angrier that I had been letting relationships and meekness and random distractions throw me off my game for too long. How long ago had the trail branched off? I realized that Virgo Obsesso, my inner critic, was at it again. I noticed that sometimes I manage to coexist with the process it takes to live and grow and create. Sometimes it feels farther off than that, and I barely tolerate my own mind’s changes. Life is a meditation. The point is to notice the straying, and return to center.
Recognizing that the shirt’s message must first be realized internally – spiritually – emotionally – was a revelation. Seeing this brought on an immediate shift. There is time to remember the breath and time to extend compassion to the inner struggle. Time to remember that music and art and awareness of spirit all show up where there is kindness to self. All of us woo-woo types talk about “You have to love yourself.” It was good to actually get it in that moment. I’m sure I’ll forget again and remind myself. Again. As with any practice, the hope is that the cycle becomes gentler as we move along the path.
I am now quietly excited about allowing the new sounds through. Seven new chants and spiritual songs are in the works. Recording felt easy, as if it was happening of its own accord. I love one song that I am so far calling “Blessed Be – Namaste.” It is exceedingly simple and is a blessing that seeks to make a bridge where the Pagan and Hindu traditions in me meet. The words and melody were sweet enough to show up the night before the recording session. I believe that often the best thing one can do for anything musical or poetic is to get out of its way.
Blessed Be and Namaste. May we be good to ourselves and practice love in our travels. May the reminders harm none and lead us back in those moments when love has been forgotten.