It’s been a couple of days now since we finished our tour of the north east. It was a wonderful adventure that took us through Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Block Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York – seventeen kirtans in eighteen days! We were blessed by the sweetest hosts and kirtan lovers in each place, and were honoured to share kirtan with many who had never experienced it before.
There were so many great moments on the tour. As with anything that happens rapidly, it takes time to digest each beautiful moment. One of the most special took place in Waterbury, Vermont, where we were invited to do kirtan at the State Psychiatric Hospital. This is the highest level care facility in the state; the last resort for the 50 acutely afflicted patients, cared for by 400 staff.
We were invited there by our fantastic tour organiser, Jennifer Canfield, who has set up a non-profit called the Call and Response Foundation – hoping to bring kirtan to schools, hospitals, prisons and anywhere else it can have a powerful therapeutic effect. Walking into the grim building with her, lugging drums and other instruments, we were a little unsure of what to expect. Long corridors with barred windows eventually led us outside onto grassy lawn where about forty people were gathered. Most sat peacefully but some got up and moved away as we began to play and sing. After our first chant one older man called out ‘Do you know Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat song?’ We obliged with a few lines, then moved into more chanting – Govinda Jaya Jaya!
We sang for about forty five minutes, just saying a few words in between each chant. I realised I had hoped to witness a dramatic external change in the patients – a Hollywood moment. I’d thought maybe they’d all end up dancing, or would miraculously be able to follow along with all the words. It certainly would’ve deepened my own faith in the power of kirtan. But as we received small smiles, a few clapping hands, or deep, heartfelt tears from one lady in the front row who talked to herself continuously, I realised that the effect of kirtan doesn’t always have to be so visible to be real.
Externally, kirtan can be like any other sweet, raucous live music experience. We sing, we dance, we play beautiful instruments, we challenge each other with complex rhythm and melody. But internally there is so much more going on. Kirtan is having an effect on a deeper level than the temporary body – it is awakening the soul. When we listen, it is our soul that is listening; when we sing, it is our soul that is singing; and when we feel profound joy within, it is our soul that is dancing.
Looking at the faces of the patients, even those seemed not to listen, I truly believed that they were experiencing the sound on a deeper level than their minds and medication were permitting. We can all experience this in our own way. Most of us experience mental turbulence to some degree each day, but sitting in kirtan, we often experience a deep relief – an opportunity to dive deep beneath the roiling waves on the surface, where the true colour and beauty of the eternal lie. In some ways, this whole world is a psychiatric hospital, and every mind is diseased – we think we are the cars we drive, the money we earn, and the bodies we live in for a few decades. Kirtan offers a universal medicine.
The staff thanked us profusely afterward and sent a brief report of their previous kirtan, with the Mayapuris.
‘The patients, who are challenged with severe and persistent mental illness, had the experience of being free from the the ill effects of their illnesses during the dynamic interactive performance. The music of the drums, flute, and chanting transported the audience into a peaceful place for that one idyllic hour. More than 80% of the patient population was present for the concert which took place in the common grassy yard that serves as the outside space for the maximum security hospital. Staff were moved to tears, and related that patients who are normally unresponsive to therapeutic attempts responded with emotion to the music.’Share |