The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Focus: Gratitude – Inter-Faith & Cultural Fusion November 25, 2010

Around Thanksgiving, some might grunt and gripe about family dynamics (me included) This year I want to offer huge gratitude to my parents. Because Mom and Dad motivated my passion for fusing spiritual and cultural influences.

Mom (rest her soul) was a blue-eyed Church of Christ farm girl born to Irish settlers near Nashville, TN. Her love for singing was rooted in songs from black culture. I have her 1948 “Negro Spirituals” song book and newspaper clippings from talent shows where she performed the jazz standard “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” She converted to Judaism before marrying my father. Dad came from a gypsy-like Russian-Jewish family and grew from adolescence to early adulthood in Phoenix, AZ, where he gravitated toward Mexican culture. To this day, he tries to remember his Spanish vocabulary, brightens up when he hears Mariachi music and takes himself out for enchiladas just to be around Hispanic families.

Both Mom and Dad brought their musical and religious influences into our home; and I grew up with an appreciation of pretty much every aspect of their eclectic tastes and backgrounds. As my cultural interests matured, I traveled right down the middle of Dad’s Spanish-tinged path and Mom’s Afro-centric inspirations to find myself impassioned for Puerto Rico. Spiritually, I’ve presently evolved into a somewhat pagan yogini who religiously observes the Jewish New Year!

So when I recently saw an advertisement for a “Bomba Kirtan” – an event blending yogic devotional chanting and Puerto Rican folkloric “party” music – I was beyond excited!

When I first heard about the event, I asked myself – is it “OK” to fuse a purely spiritual practice with a primarily social activity? The answer for me – particularly after last weekend’s amazing experience – is a hearty “yes!”

The “Bomba Kirtan” at Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio was beyond my dreams. What a beautifully diverse community of yoga teachers, yogis and yoginis, dancers, musicians, artists, parents, children and all! After a meet-n-greet with tea and homemade cacao/fruit balls, we circled up and prepared to pray in the Bhakti Yoga tradition. After Pranayama and meditation – with mellow guitar and drum accompaniment – we transitioned to responsive Sanskrit chanting to various deities. We even included a Native American chant urging each other to “Be Here Now.” Clearly Ganesha heard us because the devotional energy was unobstructed, pure and high!

After a short break the drummers re-directed the room with rhythms rooted in the Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba tradition. People bravely jumped in on instruments, jumped into the middle of the dance floor, jumped into a culture that they were primarily unfamiliar with before those moments. Dancers and drummers played off each others’ movements and hits; chanters offered songs; and singers offered chants. In my tradition of Inter-Faith exploration, I even snuck in a chant to Oshun during a gorgeous 6/8 groove. The freedom! The smiles! When I left to drive home to DC, more drummers were arriving! I heard that the Bomberos carried through into the wee hours.

To me, the seemingly separate traditions of Kirtan and Bomba actually have much in common. The call-response of chanting and singing; the soulful call to sway, move, dance; the conversations between chanter and spirit, dancer and drummer, dancer and dancer, chanter and chanter; the movement toward ecstasy.

To blend Kirtan and Bomba in the sober and sacred space of a yoga studio was ideal for me. I felt 100% comfortable being my Self, and 100% authentic embodying all of my culturally eclectic “selves.” I can’t remember, ever, feeling so loved and loving, accepted and accepting, moved, inspired, true, awake.

Liberated.

So thanks, Mom and Dad, for bringing your spiritual and cultural curiosities, passions, traditions and backgrounds into our home. Also much, much gratitude to those that created and shared the magic of perhaps the world’s 1st (but certainly not last!) Bomba Kirtan: the owners of Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio; the musicians gathered by Michael Harris; my fellow OM-Zoners Kendra and Justina; photographer Monica Sizemore (for these beautiful shots!); and so many more who are now connected by this unique bond.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

To view Monica Sizemore’s complete album of Bomba Kirtan photos, visit http://www.4thchakraphotography.com/. To learn more about Baltimore’s Utkatasana studio, visit http://www.utkatasanayoga.com/live/. For more information about future Bomba Kirtan events, subscribe to my Yoga Update newsletter by e-mailing hmeyers65@yahoo.com or stay tuned to the Events page of this Urban Yoga Den blog.

 

A Jewish Yogini at Midnight Mass December 29, 2009

24 December, 2009, 1pm

I have Christmas fever!  The spiritual kind, not the shopping kind.  I mean, this is big.  What a beautiful ritual to acknowledge the birth of Jesus – or as Isaiah says, “the wonderful, the counselor, the prince of peace.”  An all around GOOD guy.

To me, Jesus represents the ultimate human – flawed, open-minded, willing, seeking, serving and striving for goodness.

I just listened to classical WETA’s (public classical radio in DC) live broadcast of the King’s College Chapel Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols for Christmas Eve 2009.  Here is the program (http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/files/services/nine-lessons-2009.pdf).  The music was very traditional this year.  I was checking out the 2008 program, which included songs by Bertolt Brecht and William Blake.  Pretty modern.  Maybe someone complained, so they went old school this year.

Here is a little background on the tradition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Lessons_and_Carols).  “The format was based on an Order drawn up by Edward White Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury but at that time Bishop of Truro, in Cornwall, for use on Christmas Eve, 1880.  Tradition says that he organized a 10pm service on Christmas Eve in a temporary wooden shed serving as his cathedral and that a key purpose of the service was to keep men out of pubs on Christmas Eve.”

Clever guy, that Benson.  Way to keep those drunks off the streets!

So the King’s College Festival was very moving.  Listening to it live, I couldn’t help imagining the English audience in their Christmas Eve spirit, observing the twilight service in a beautiful chapel with loved ones.  Mmmmmmm.

I love ritual.  In Judaism our High Holy Days happen in the fall – my favorite season due to its cycle of shedding and planting.  The combo of the HHDs, related atonement/reconciliation and autumn awakens me into spiritual action.  Sitting in synagogue with a crowd of repenting Jews is energetically intense!  Add to that, my anniversary of recovery from addiction falls in the Autumn; and my sobriety program includes periodic moral inventories and amends.

Beautiful that my birth religion and current spiritual practices overlap.

Aside from the HHDs, I think Winter Solstice is my 2nd favorite “holy-day.”  Marking winter’s shortest day and longest night – and launching the lengthening of days – Solstice feels like a sparkling promise in the midst of darkening weather.  A tonic for winter’s hibernation tendencies.  A natural yin-yang balance of darkness and light.

How amazing to have spent 2009’s glorious pre-Solstice day in our blizzard, sharing lively, bright energy with my friend Matt and bringing warmth to the cocoon of falling snow and intensity of grey skies.  Again, the balance.

My 3rd favorite holy-day is the festival of Diwali, which also occurs in late Autumn (see “Diwali Intentions” post from October).  Apparently, in India’s history, there were many historical accounts of the triumph of good over evil during this season.  Therefore, most Indian religions (Hindu, Sikh, etc) observe Diwali as a festival of lights.  In preparation, the house is cleaned, oil lamps are lit and sweets are eaten!  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diwali)

Anyway, back to Christmas.

In his 1944 Christmas “speech,” 12-step recovery program pioneer Bill Wilson said, “How privileged we are to understand so well the divine paradox that strength rises from weakness; that humiliation goes before resurrection; that pain is not only the price but the very touchstone of spiritual rebirth.”

This eve I’m heading to a 6:30 yoga class at Past Tense, where I teach.  My mom and I used to have a Christmas Eve tradition of driving around the neighborhoods to look at holiday decorations.  So after class, I’m going to wander Mt. Pleasant and see how the neighbors did this year.  We’ll see if Mom chimes in with her opinions from above.

After that, we’ll see.  I have an idea but I’m not certain…

*  *  *

24 December, 2009, 8:30pm

Mmmm, Chinese food.  I almost forgot about the Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food and watching a movie on Christmas eve.  After flow instructor Emma’s relaxing and Silent Night-esque yoga class (and a cruise through the ‘hood to look at twinkly lights with yoga pal Tippi, who generously donated her hot pink gloves to a hand-less snowman), I stopped by Mayflower Chinese Restaurant.  These noodles are yummy!

Instead of watching a movie, I’m listening to WAMU’s (NPR in DC) old-fashioned radio show, The Big Broadcast, which is airing a very odd story about Joe DiMaggio and a Christmas angel cruising around 1940s NYC saving people from doom and gloom.  Huh?

It’s 9:30.  I’m still trying to decide on something for later…

*  *  *

24 December, 2009, 10:30pm

Some of my friends are really suffering emotionally and psychologically these days.  I feel really, REALLY grateful to be willing to seek and use tools to address suffering.  I must.  They say, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”  (Just who are “they,” anyway?)  If I drop into suffering, there’s always the danger of sinking into that gripping darkness that I frequently battle on this life path.  But that’s just my path.  Whether or not my friends are willing to seek and use tools, I need to JUST PRAY for them.  They are in pain.  So I’m shifting my attitude from worry to compassion (Pratipaksha Bhavana, Jai!) immediately.

In fact, I think I’ll dedicate my entire Midnight Mass experience to all who suffer.

Yup, you heard right!  I’m going to Midnight Mass.  Alright, I have to get out the door and down to St. Matthew’s Cathedral.  Merry Christmas, y’all.

*  *  *

25 December, 2009, 11am

Attending Midnight Mass reinforced my love for all fellowships where a group gathers in faith.  All of my life, I have been drawn to the collective conscience of people moving toward one heart-felt purpose.  I have experienced the similarities between separate rituals from different origins, proving our oneness.

Sure, at Midnight Mass, some people are not gathered to connect to a higher power.  Some are there for status, social life, obligation and so on.  (And some are around the corner at a nightclub, drinking their faces off – I know because I had to wade through them after floating blissfully out of the Cathedral at 1:40am.  We need to send the ghost of Archbishop Benson to gather up those drunks next year!)

At the same time, in Midnight Mass, regardless of motive, everyone’s humanness shines through, from the giddy Buddha-like smiles to the rebellious “I don’t want to be here” frowns.  Midnight Mass is the perfect blend of heaven and earth, body and soul, mind and spirit, self and ego.

To me, the differences between religions, faiths and practices is not important.  I embrace and celebrate the common threads among spiritual groups – whether Cuban and Native American ritual, African and Celtic rhythms, Jewish and Christian history, yogic and Buddhist ethics, and on and on and on.

But that’s a whole other conversation on interfaith connections.

Instead, suffice it to say that this Christmas, a Catholic Mass reminded me that we are one.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.