A Message from Sean Johnson, Kirtan Wallah with The Wild Lotus Band & founder of Wild Lotus Yoga in New Orleans, LA.
“The Dalai Lama says "Don´t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are." There was a brief time when I first began singing kirtan when I wanted and tried so hard to sound Indian but I realized that the most sincere approach for me is to honor and celebrate the roots and tradition of mantra with love and respect, while simultaneously finding a voice for kirtan that springs out of the variety of musical and cultural influences that stir in my blood, heart, and soul.
So the Sanskrit mantras I practice and share marinate in the street rhythms of my New Orleans childhood; the haunting Irish songs I sing to connect with my ancestors; the Indian vocal practices that I have studied and practice regularly; the mystic poetry of Rumi, Kabir, Mirabai and others; the rhythmic and melodic flow of a vinyasa yoga practice and teaching; Alvin's inspiring voice on bass and guitar weaving the jazz, rock, classical, and folk styles he's been immersed in for the last 35 years; Gwendolyn's beautiful singing and intricate rhythms merging ancient ethnic rhythms with a modern, urban flare; my own life joys and struggles and those of our home and community; the playfulness and light I feel in the presence of my love Farah; a reverence for the gifts passed on by my parents and ancestors; and a great respect for the mystery that nourishes creativity and feeds the heart.
Bhakti yoga is about channeling emotional experience into a love affair with Life itself. And kirtan is a form of lovemaking with the divine. It is an act of kindling the connection with the sacred presence within us through the sincerity of singing. Just as we stretch our bodies with yoga asanas, kirtan stretches our hearts, and cultivates emotional flexibility.
In kirtan, we celebrate the longing and thirst for god and sing from that place, because it's that hunger that milks the heart. Kirtan is a form of purification. Kirtan is an act of liberation. The mantras sensitize us, polish away the clutter in our heads and melt the numbness in our hearts, so we feel clear, awake, and brilliantly alive. The singing melts our inhibitions. The frozen places inside us defrost and we start to move and play like children.
Kirtan is a meditation practice. Our wandering minds have the opportunity to return again and again to the touchstone of the repeated mantra, an invitation into the present. Kirtan can be a gateway into sacred silence. The striking contrast between the dynamic energy of kirtan and the sweetness of the silence is profound. The mantras themselves are medicine, soothing the monkey mind, awakening healing, and tuning the head to the heart.
Kirtan is pranayama. The repetition of the breath regulates our breath pattern, stoking the prana. Kirtan is good for our health-- the mantras vibrate and massage our muscles, tissues, bones, and organs. The word sound is even a synonym for health, for stability. Kirtan is therapeutic. So many people have lost touch with the power of their voice and their creative expression and kirtan is a direct path to freeing the authentic voice within. Many people who love kirtan savor the opportunity to sing without being judged, and the cathartic and liberating power that comes with that experience.
Kirtan and other yoga practices help prepare us for change and transition, keeping our hearts and minds supple. So that when life stretches us, we can bend but not break. Kirtan creates community. Singing together, we merge with each other, and entrain with the divine vibration. Kirtan is a most sublime form of satsang, gathering with fellow seekers of truth to sing, to reach into the Within together.
When I close my eyes and sing the mantras, I feel so incredibly free, yet so present. One of the reasons I love leading kirtan so much is that I get to share my deepest most intimate practice with a group of people, and we nourish each other. There's a vibrant exchange, a transmission of energy circulating back and forth from hearts to hearts. A big THANK YOU to Bhakti Fest for creating such an amazing space where we can all come together to experience the joy of kirtan. We look forward to joining you at this year's April and September Bhakti Fest celebrations!”
For more videos from Sean Johson & The Wild Lotus Band, check out their youtube channel!