October 2018
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experiencing kirtans at chantlanta, 'meeting' Shiva, considering appropriation, looking into Sikhism


icon: "mysterious (a photo of the snow leopard Shynghyz from the Tama Zoological park, staring straight at the camera)"

Two weeks ago I went with Heather to an event called Chantlanta and experienced kirtans for the first time. I had mixed feelings about the leaders of the chants and event (it felt like there were appropriation issues, especially in the vendor area), but the chants themselves were amazing. Heather explained that the chants are considered sacred in that just saying them brings more of that thing into the world, that the thing is contained in the word (this is a thing that I have always believed and I feel happy to know another belief system (besides Kemetic systems) that does too). As I was chanting I imagined the words leaving my mouth as orbs of energy.

Heather and I attended two of them, and at the first there were several that when we first chanted them they made me cry, and others that also hit me in a strongly emotional way. The second one wavered between really powerful and really jarring, because the leader kept shifting the rhythm and tone every time it started to get intense. Still, there was a point where this sensation of floatiness filled my head to the point that it shocked me and I stopped chanting, just feeling it until it faded. I kinda wish I had kept on chanting because I want to know what would have happened if I had just gone into it.

The chants about Shiva made me cry, each time, unexpectedly. I didn't know anything about them, yet I felt so intensely longing and sad-happy at their mention. I looked up their traditional titles to write verses of praise for them, and one of their honorifics refers to memory/concentration/focus, which resonated so strongly with me. I understand why it made me cry: thinking about memory often makes me cry because I feel great loss there. Shiva makes me feel hope for memory.

I want to figure out if there is a good way for me to participate in kirtans in the future. It makes me really uncomfortable to give support to white leaders of a ritual that was created by those who white people have oppressed and continue to oppress. I also just don't want to learn from people who might not understand the nuances of things. But it's not like there's a guide so I'm not sure how to check, besides looking up pictures of the leaders I guess.

I looked up some things and Sikhs (one of the religious groups that use the practice of chanting) seem to welcome others to join in their worship, but I don't know if that is just for 'potential devotees' or if they are okay with people who are definitely not going to convert still participating. I think I'll email the nearby temple and ask. I don't know if theirs would be ones I want to participate in though, because they are strongly monotheistic and there's a lot of gender in their conception of deity. And gender is the most alienating thing for me.

----

I've been working on this post since then and reading about cultural appropriation with regards to this - most of the stuff I found was about yoga, but some of it referenced the chants. From what I gather, yoga is a practice that is meant to put one in the space for meditation, and to use it as mere exercise is profaning a sacred practice. Other issues are profiting from the severed pieces of yoga and Hinduism (for instance images of deities on objects sold for the purpose of fashion or decoration not worship), exoticizing, and sexualizing. I think for me there is also the money aspect that is a problem, but after looking into it, I think that there is a respectful way for me to participate in kirtans, so I feel encouraged to keep exploring. And I haven't yet asked anyone "what if I never convert" but I did ask a local temple about attending and they were very welcoming, so I may attend one and then ask about that.

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Comments
queerbychoice ══╣╠══
I'm pretty sure - since we have a lot of Sikhs around here - that Sikhs are generally welcoming of people who are not going to convert, as long as you observe polite customs about how to dress and behave (described here. The traditional headcoverings are different for men and women, though, and I think local congregations might vary in how much they care about the particular style in which you cover your head.
lilywolfsolomon ══╣╠══
Yeah, I got to know some Sikhs when I was in Michigan and what I got is, they were simply delighted to share their perspectives and practices, offering generously without any expectation but following one's own truth. This is pretty much the sense I got from them: http://www.realsikhism.com/index.php?subaction=showfull&id=1248368159&ucat=7
garrulous
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
thanks for the input!
lilywolfsolomon ══╣╠══
I have a half-finished entry where I write about words in a very similar way! When you asked me to describe my spirituality I had this memory of writing in my journal years ago, an insight I had about the power of speaking a word and how these take on significance in the Jewish tradition. If God created with the word, and we are made in God's image, then we can create with words, too. I believe that just speaking words especially in ritual context does have cosmic effect.

This is a Krishna chant, not a Shiva chant, but I find this to be really beautiful and heart-chakra expanding, the sort that makes me wonder, like you said, where it would take me if I let it:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofZiK_G40t0

Someone played this at New Culture Camp on the last day while I was holding Chrissy and rocking to it, and this was right before I kissed them... there's a lot of beautiful memories attached to this chant for me. :)
callmebee ══╣╠══
Two things. First, I'm reading a book called The Chicken Kabbalah (which is sort of a grand overview of the Kabbalah). In this tradition, words are significant and powerful. It was interesting to me how I was reading this book less than five minutes ago, thinking about letters and words and their importance, and then I read this entry. I think its a sign for me to use my words with care and to remember they DO have power.

The other thing that really struck me about your post is the sacred practice of yoga. I learned about yoga in high school, in a class. 4 out of five days we physically practiced it, but the last day we studied the philosophy behind the practice. It was awesome. I do actually find it a bit insulting to see yoga classes in gyms and things that are all about the physical aspect that ignore the significance of the body-mind and how all three of our aspects (body, mind, spirit) are all connected and to soothe, stretch, and strengthen our bodies is to sooth, stretch, and strengthen our minds AND our spirits. Yoga has been a powerful source of spiritual relief for me through my life, as well as physical relief.

Of course, I feel that way about Catholicism to a certain extent. I have not interest in rejoining that faith, however I only left it because I could not be 100% on board, and I find it to be sort of a travesty when I meet Catholics (and I guess Christians in general, but I'm more familiar with the Roman Catholic dogma) who do not live a Catholic life, but rather wear the title as if it is a badge to get into some mystical, pearly-white, after-life after party. Titles mean shit if you live your life like shit.

I'm not sure I made any real points, but these are the things that your writing brought about in my mind today.

I enjoyed reading your experience with chanting. Good luck exploring new spiritual venues :o)
raidingparty ══╣╠══
The "Catholic" and/or "Christian" thing also seems a tendency towards tribal identification; I know a half-dozen folks who would put down "Muslim" because of their upbringing even if they don't know which way East is from their apartments.
In other words: I can understand the dislike for people who don't exemplify the beliefs with which they supposedly identify, but they still have pretty valid reasons for checking that box.
Granted, some things would be so much nicer if people practiced what they preached... but then again, certain aspects of religion get so much nastier as well.
intrigued
belenen ══╣intrigued╠══
thanks for sharing! I found this really interesting <3
kmiotutsie ══╣╠══
I'm excited to follow you on this journey and see what you come up with. I too really love chanting and have participated in chanting groups with no money exchange, but it's been a long time. And I've been grappling with the culturally appropriative aspect of yoga for quite some time, but with more intensity over just the past few months. When you say "I think that there is a respectful way for me to participate in kirtans," what is it? Not that I think you can't, but what came up??
honesty
belenen ══╣honesty╠══
I think the respectful way would be 1) in a way that the original creators of them would appreciate and 2) in a way that doesn't give money or prestige to appropriators. So I just gotta figure out what that way is!
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.