Today I unpacked the harmonium.
For years, nine to be exact, I chanted with a harmonium daily. I would sit in meditation and chant along with the flowing verses of the Guru Gita or other Sanskrit chants. The music would dance around me like the smoke billowing off the incense stick on the alter.
But that was before my guru fucked me over. That was before I realized I was in a cult.
I unpack the creased and ragged pages of devotional chants. For years I sang these songs with abandon, heart soaring like the wings of an effervescent butterfly. I learned the ragas and kirtans. I memorized the chord progressions. I embedded them into the fabric of my soul.
As I try to play the musical sequences now, too much pain erupts. Memories of happy times gathered with dozens of others, singing in harmony together. Swaying back and forth in a temple, gazing fondly on our teacher or other sacred images of divinity.
Now, I see the names of the creators of those songs on the pages. People that like to cause pain, hurt, and injury. People who relish domination, subjugation, and taking someone hostage from their family and their own personal power.
For nearly seven years I lived in an ashram. A traditional Indian-style meditation community. There we learned yoga, mindfulness, breath patterns, and how to serve. We were told: give us your power, your love, your selfhood, and we will give you back pure happiness. We will give you a cosmic knowing of love and yourself.
We were told what we could eat, what we could wear, where we could go. We could not spend the night elsewhere. People in the more remote ashrams (in the mountains of Colorado or Hawaii) could not go visit their families. Our names were changed. Our ability to self-regulate was demolished.
And we were told to adore a man who they said was the living representation of God.
A man who you could not question, a man who was not held to the same standards that were being demanded of you, a man that no student could ever grow beyond or replace.
A man who relished needling his students. Picking at their insecurities. Jabbing at the areas he knew they were the most vulnerable. I remember being up at four a.m. shoveling snow out his driveway while chanting softly to myself and absorbed in the bliss of a mantra. He came out, looked at me, and jeered “Wow! You’re a really shitty meditator, aren’t you?!” And then walked away. He knew that I so desperately wanted to know I was practicing meditation well enough.
But the overall experience wasn’t entirely bad. If it were, no one would stay. It was good enough to hide from us the disillusionment we all felt from time to time. There were periods of immense happiness; there was a wonderful sense of belonging and community.
And for someone who had never felt loved or accepted by his peers, the validation was intoxicating.
Fortunately, I grew up and got stronger in myself. Started asking questions. Started realizing that I didn’t “need” this man for my happiness like they said I did.
So they kicked me out. Tossed me out of my duff without so much as “thank you for your years of service” or “we love you, it’s time to move on.”
Nope. Just a simple: “Get out and never come back. And don’t talk with anyone who is still in the community.”
So as I unpack my harmonium, and go over these old chant sheets: I can’t sing them anymore.
One, it brings up too much pain. Two, after several trips to visit India and the source of these mantras, I am a little disillusioned as to the specialness of their origin. That somehow Eastern spirituality is more sacred or special than other spiritual paths.
After all, that’s what my meditation lineage had taught me: we are more special than all other spiritual traditions, you are so lucky to be here, and if you ever leave your life will be fucked.
So, fuck you, ashram.
Instead, I opened my Disney Song Book and flipped to “Let it Go” from Frozen.
My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystalizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back
The past is in the past.
Let it go. Let it go.
I will rise like the break of dawn.
Let it go. Let it go.
That perfect girl is gone.
Here I stand in the light of day…
The cold never bothered me anyway.
Yep. That’s me. Standing alone, coldly forgotten, and shunned by the community I loved. Not one single person from the ashram has chosen to stay in my life. They’ve treated my like a pariah. Unclean. Scorned. Damaged.
I’m sure the leaders told the flock that I went crazy and had to leave. That’s what they would always say about anyone who dared to go.
My personal power has expanded and erupted so fully since leaving. My ability to trust myself, my judgements, and to uncover personal growth in new and untried ways.
I am letting them go. Trying to forgive. I’m not entirely there. I can wish those people well in my heart, bless them, but I am not yet able to forgive how manipulated I was or how I was played. How they pretended to be holy and be angling for my best happiness when really they were just looking for a slave.
I will continue to chant. To grow. And there’s something healing about singing a song in English about letting go and owning one’s personal power while playing it on a musical instrument that represented my subjugation.
It’s like a big “fuck you” back to the ashram and the hurtful people that run it.
The icing on top is this, too: The guru once said he really liked the song “Let it Go.”
Oh yeah? How you like me now, bitch?