This morning I received a message on social media from a man warning me that several of his friends had ‘OD-d’ on kirtan & that I needed to be careful and stay balanced. Although it caught me off guard (I’m pretty confident I’m grounded with this devotional stuff) the urgent tone of his message got me thinking.
It’s true that kirtan, devotional worship, & states of bhakti yoga brings a certain “high.” Some saints in India reached such ecstatic states that their body suddenly started jumping and prancing around with the boundless energy of a child. Others neglected their body altogether, stopped eating and let bugs feed on their arms. These saints had to be looked after by attendants. Still, these are rare cases.
On the other hand, to compare a yogi’s state of devotion to drug overdose is a bit extreme and insensitive to the fact that drug addiction & overdosing is fatal, a serious epidemic in society. The emotional highs of Bhakti/ spirituality ‘addiction’ are generally healthy and certainly not lethal.
Anyone who’s a passionate person knows we get thrown off balance from time to time. If going overboard on bhakti/ devotion does become unhealthy, it can be kept in check…here is a little list of lessons I learned & some grounding/ balancing habits to keep devotion healthy:
- Learn the symbology of all the deities and their stories. Figure out what the symbols mean to you & apply the meaning to your life. Be a scientist about it. (Watch Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth”!)
- Don’t idolize gurus. Watch their videos, read their books, sure. But don’t project god onto them or worship them as if they’re better than you. So many of these gurus are eventually exposed as power abusive. The question I keep asking is why can’t these supposedly ‘humble’ teacher-rock stars let go of power once they have it, or steer it toward the greater good of everyone, and most of all why can’t they admit their faults and be transparent? The only one I’ve found who does is Matt Kahn.
- Go hiking and notice that god is all around you in the trees and wildlife and water. Pray to & give thanks to that.
- Listen to your body. Eat meat if your body needs it.
- Don’t be celibate unless you feel a lot of support and love in that lifestyle. Do it if you genuinely resonate with it. (Tantric celibacy is a more grounded alternative)
- Chant mantras/ do japa meditation because you want to, it feels good to your soul, not because you think you should.
- If you travel to India do lots of research first. Have a purpose & some goals, know the details of your itinerary, and if possible go with a group that has decades of experience facilitating group trips to India.
- Make peace with money. Don’t go into debt for spiritual ‘trainings’. Instead contemplate the natural abundance of your soul. See material abundance as an extension of that- money is ok and healthy. Compassionately earned & spent money is spiritual. It’s greed that’s bad, not wealth.
- Keep a sense of humor about spirituality. (Watch Matt Kahn videos on youtube!)
- Read, read, read! Seek out facts and when reading spiritual teachers’ opinions or experiences, choose for yourself what to believe/ how to perceive it. Form your own ideas.
- Approach the spiritual path casually. Read a lot of different teachers. Try different paths. Go at it in baby steps. Do 10 min. of daily practice instead of giving your life to an ashram. Casualness is a healthy antidote to extremism.
- Be in the modern world. Take breaks from the spiritual life and watch HBO. Hang with your family. Read the news. Listen to mainstream music. Be less perfect, more human. Trade in all the rituals and self-righteousness for some good old self-compassion!
Just the viewpoint of a westerner. Thanks for reading😊