Dec 2013

t's the third night on Maui with Krishna Das, at a spiritual retreat of meditation teachings during the day - teachings that have opened to raw experiences of attendees losing children, suffering strokes, bitter divorces - and continued with three hours of kirtan chant in the evening. These simple, resonant mantras are designed to lead us back again and again from distraction of the mind to the love opening of the heart.

I am sitting on the floor just twenty feet back from Krishna Das, in the center of a  semicircle facing the brightly-lit stage. All around me are vacation-dressed attendees, as varied in colors as the fish we had seen that afternoon while snorkeling in the crystal waters of the Pacific. My own voice is just one fish in this ocean of sound. As we chant to the wise ones of the past, whether Indian deities or his own now-passed guru, there is a sweet poignancy in the remembrances.

Then our chant leader picks up the tempo. Like a change happening in the movement of the ocean, a shifting of the trade winds, the crowd responds. Swells arise. The music pulses through us like sets of waves coming in, starting from further back where people are now standing to sway and clap and then heading in toward the shore-line of the yellow-lit stage. Krishna Das's own voice, already deep and powerful, is magnified by a Fender amp and backed with five other musicians. Yet still they are drowned out by the surges of emotion moving through the crowd, releasing from the intensity of the workshop, or perhaps from the held-back yearning of our ordinary lives.

Incredibly, the tempo picks up even more. Pounding surf breaks into joyous foam. Spontaneous dancing. Explosion of love energy.

All this time, the lean and intense-faced drummer on the right has been pounding out the rhythm while his eyes stay fixed on Krishna Das. At some subtle signal from his leader, the drum falls silent. For a verse, Krishna Das sings on alone. His harmonium squeezes to a stop. Sound dies. Finally, he speaks, a closing prayer -

"If we know anything about path at all, it's only because of the Great ones that have gone before us. Out of their love and kindness, they have left some footprints for us to follow. So, in the same way that they wish for us, we wish that all beings everywhere, including ourselves, be safe, be happy, have good health, and enough to eat. And may we all live at ease of heart with whatever comes to us in life."

The speaker is dry eyed, but his angel of a violinist, Genevieve, holding the left wing of the line of musicians, is crying. At least, I think so, and that's enough excuse for me to join her.

"Om. Shanti. Shanti. Shanti"

Then silence. Absolute silence.

Absolute silence.

Minutes pass. Not a soul in the crowd moves. Resonant. Connected. Bliss. 

If this silence is death, I hope I remember it, so that I will welcome it in my time.

"Good night"

And it is over.

My friends will ask me - "how was Hawaii?" 

What can I say? I think I'm gonna make up a t-shirt. "You Had to Be There." But I know that's not really the lesson. Watching Krishna Das after the show become completely absorbed in playing with his grandson, I like to think he would suggest a different logo

"You Have to Be Here"

Namaste - Eugene