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.