Larisa Stow and Shakti Tribe
Shakti Fest in Process Perspective
Reflections by Jay McDaniel
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Shakti Tribe and the Peace Outreach is dedicated to pro-actively expanding peace through transformational programs that utilize heart-centered music to educate, entertain and empower individuals and communities at crossroads, focusing on…
Shakti meaning sacred force or empowerment, is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism. Shakti is the concept, or personification, of divine feminine creative power, sometimes referred to as 'The Great Divine Mother' in Hinduism. On the earthly plane, shakti most actively manifests through female embodiment and creativity/fertility, though it is also present in males in its potential, form. Not only is shakti responsible for creation, it is also the agent of all change. Shakti is cosmic existence as well as liberation, its most significant form being the Kundalini Shakti, mysterious psychospiritual force. Shakti exists in a state of svātantrya, dependence on no one, being interdependent with the entire universe.
Shakti Fest: Celebrating the Divine Mother, is a more intimate version of our September Bhakti Fest. It celebrates the Divine Feminine aspect in us all. It is a three day music festival celebrating devotion through chanting, yoga, meditation and community. All of our presenters embody the spirit of Bhakti – deep devotion. We gather on 450 acres of inspiring desert land to express our love and devotion as one community through an enchanting array of activities, including: constant kirtan concerts, yoga classes, private and group meditation, vegetarian and vegan cuisine, fire ceremonies, hanuman chalisas, massage, reiki, channeling, with some of the proceeds going to charitable organizations.
-- from the Shakti Fest website
If you are interested in this article, you might also enjoy:
Process Theology and Hinduism
Kirtan and Process Theology
Amazing Grace and Hare Krishna: Krishna Das and Sting
Rumi and Hartshorne: What You Seek is Seeking You
Mother Mary Comes to Me
Love's Oblivion: Mary Anoints Jesus' Feet (Teri Daily)
Love Made Gritty (Teri Daily)
Mothers of God (Teri Daily)
My Mother Joy: On Becoming a Nurse
The Space to See Things Differently: The Ascension (Teri Daily)
The Space within the Trinity: All Beings Included (Teri Daily)
My Mother Joy: On Becoming a Nurse
Global Rape Culture: I Miss Mary Daly
Process Theology and Yoga
1. The whole universe is alive with energy. Plants and animals, hills and rivers, trees and stars -- all are forms of energy. We humans are forms of energy, too. Our bodies are forms of energy and so is our consciousness. Energy is aliveness.
2. Energy is not a blind force which operates in a purely mechanical way. It has a wildness to it, a spontaneity. It is creative and erotic. Whether in a plant or animal, or a tree or star, it is always seeking to express itself, to become concrete and specific, to become "this" rather than "that."
3. Human emotions such as love and hatred, sadness and joy, jealousy and tenderness, are forms of energy, too. Considered in itself energy is neither good nor evil. Violence is a form of energy and love is a form of energy. Hatred has its energy and compassion has its energy.
5. God has energy, too. Or at least feelings which have a vitality of their own. We feel the vitality of God through initial aims, which are God's prayers, God's breathings, within each of us and all of us.
6. These aims are also present in other animals and in plants, in the planets and the stars. They are the primordial wisdom of God as a lure toward wholeness.
7. The energy of God -- the lure of God -- is within our bodies, too. Certain forms of yoga are contexts for tapping into God's energy in the body and harmonizing it with the mind, for the sake of dancing in divine love.
8. The need today -- as Sri Aurobindo recognized -- is for an integral yoga that is both an internal practice, uniting body and mind and spirit, and an outer practice, helping bring about communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, and equitable, with no one left behind.
9. The practical expression of integral yoga in our time is harmony with the earth, harmony with one another, harmony with heaven, and harmony within the heart. Always we seek this harmony, this creative balance. It is the divine yearning with us and our yearning within the divine.
10. Yoga is one way -- beautiful in its own right -- of seeking the balance and enjoying a taste of transcendence, which becomes seasoning for a compassionate life. The body is a sanctuary whose windows, when open, lead to peacemaking, vibrant and creative, kind and surrendered. Also just a little crazy.
Blessed are the Peacemakers
I bet you want peace in the world. I do, too. I want individuals to find peace in their hearts, peace with one another, peace with animals, and peace with the earth. I would like to find this peace, too. I would like to become this peace.
I'm not talking about a static peace that is frozen and inflexible like ice, or an anesthetized peace that is cut off from feeling. I'm talking about a living peace that is creative, compassionate, improvisational, and just a little crazy.
Sometimes I think that Jesus knew this peace. Sometimes I think that he was in the world but not exactly of the world, because he danced to the rhythms of a slightly different heartbeat, namely that of divine love. I would like to dance this way, too.
Some people believe that, if we truly want peace, if we truly want to dance as Jesus danced, we must seek shakti. Shakti is a Hindu name for a primordial cosmic energy. It is often called the female energy of God.
What is Energy, Anyway?
Energy is aliveness and it has many forms: physical, emotional, conceptual, spiritual.
We live in a time when most people think of energy as an "it" rather than in gendered terms and when scholars insist that gender is always a social construct. If we think this way, then we believe that the idea that energy can be female is a massive social construct foisted upon a reality that is decidedly gender-free.
But we Whiteheadians don't quite see things this way. Indeed we worry that when energy is conceived in impersonal terms, we turn all of its expressions into "it's" in our imaginations, thus leading to a disenchantment of the universe and a commodification of all things into mere tools for human use. We render unto energy that which belongs to commodities, and along the way reduce the world to a collection of objects, not a communion of subjects. The idea of energy as "it" is an invention of the modern western imagination. It is a social construct of the negative kind.
So what is energy? We Whiteheadians believe that energy, understood as aliveness, is another name for conscious and unconscious feeling, and that feeling is everywhere: in people and other living beings, to be sure, but also in rocks and trees, hills and rivers, mountains and stars. For us energy is feeling. The universe is a vast unfolding of feeling: physical, emotional, conceptual, and spiritual.
And we also believe that wherever there is feeling there is something like eros: that is, a subjective aim for satisfaction. The energy within the depths of atoms aims at satisfaction, the energy within a living cell aims at satisfaction, and we humans aim at satisfaction. When protons bond with neutrons they are seeking satisfation and when people bond with people they are seeking satisfaction, too.
Moreover, we believe that even the Life in whom all lives unfold -- the very one whom we address as God -- aims at satisfaction. There is eros in the world and eros in God. God's eros is that we love one another and dwell in peace with one another, and to the degree that the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven, God finds satisfaxction.
Pleasure is not a monopoly of humans and other living beings. God can enjjoy pleasure. We can, as it were, pleasure God. Peacemaking gives God pleasure.
Is God Gendered?
Does this mean that God is gendered? Well, not exactly. Some of what we project onto God is indeed of our own making, our own constructing. Yes, gender is a social construction, although the construction is collective and not just individual and largely unconscious. Equally important the "society" which constructs gender is not limited to human agency, as if human beings could be isolated from wider social contexts. We Whiteheadians believe that human agency emerges out of a wider ecological context and that our imaginations are inevitably shaped, not only by other human beings, but by landscapes and waterways, stars and planets, hills and rivers, plants and animals, and the dymamics of our own bodies. For us, the idea that social constructs are human constructs, and that alone, is another feature of the atomized, modernist variety. This idea, too, is a social construct of the pernicious variety.
It is possible that our imaginations are also shaped by the very One upon whom we project our constructions. It is possible that the very One in whom we live and move and have our being is a lure toward responsible and compassionate gendered thinking. After all, this One is an eros within the world and within our lives. The One we seek is seeking us, too. There's a love affair going on between God and the world, and we are partners in the affair. The divine Beloved yearns to dwell in covenantal intimacy with us. We live up to our side of the covenant, among other ways, through peacemaking.
Music as a Form of Peacemaking
Do you think music can help? Well, maybe not all kinds of music, but at least some kinds. How about heart-centered music that "educates, entertains, and empowers people at the crossroads of life" -- people in jail, people in orphanages, people in recovery programs. And maybe people in yoga centers and churches, too. And synagogues and mosques and gurdwaras. And libraries and bowling alleys.
Larisa Stow thinks music can help, and that's why she helped start a foundation called Shakti Tribe Peace Outreach that is devoted to peacemaking. She believes that God is love and that music can be a way of saying Yes to divine love. She also believes that saying yes to God's love naturally leads you to be concerned with the world and particularly with the situation of people who are vulnerable and neglected: women in prison, for example. It sounds an awful like lot process theology with a liberation twist, Kirtan-style.
I first discovered her by listening to the interview with Kitzie Stern of New World Kirtan, which you find in the column on the left. I liked the interview and the music, both of which are signature features of Kitzie's podcasts. As I listened to Larisa, it didn't take long to realize that for her God has many names and faces and that some of them -- no, many of them -- are feminine. Larisa has a special ministry for women's rights. Perhaps it is no accident, then, that Larisa trusts in Shakti, a Hindu name for the female energy of God. I do, too. Accordingly I want to offer a short reflection on Shakti from a process or Whiteheadian point of view, in case it would be interesting to members of the worldwide Kirtan community and other Shakti devotees. I best begin with word about a subject near and dear to the worldwide Kirtan community and to all lovers of concerts: ecstasy.
The Need for Ecstasy
From a process perspective we all want to become fully alive, and this desire for full aliveness is one way that we experience God in our lives.
Some of the aliveness we enjoy is beautifully ordinary. It is the aliveness of fixing oatmeal for a friend, helping your sister with homework, raking leaves on an autumn morning, balancing a checkbook, taking a nap when you are tired, and saying prayers before bedtime. There is nothing ecstatic about it. It is the mysticism of everyday life.
Daily life mysticism need not be romanticized. Some people pretend that, if we live our lives mindfully, moment by moment, all will be easy. This is not true. Mindfulness can help ease some unnecessary suffering and open up possibilities for creative love. It is a very good thing. But it does not eliminate what one JJB columnist, a pediatrician turned priest named Teri Daily, calls the grittiness of love. The grittiness of love - of living in caring relationships with friends and family, neighbors and strangers -- requires struggle. It is in the struggle, not apart from it, that holy communion is found.
Struggle is part of the seasoning of a healthy life. A life without struggle is not a fully alive life. But it is not the only seasoning. We need moments of ease in which the ego drops away and things do seem to flow in an ease-filled way. We go to rock concerts and movies, football games and soccer matches, bhakti fests and shakti fests. We make love and, yes, we make war. We seek more tribal and primal forms of enjoyment. We seek and need moments of ecstasy.
Peacemaking and Fun
I say war because, in truth, moments of violence can be, for those who perpetrate, them, deeply ecstatic. The lose themselves in the mood of the moment and, along the way, they do great, great harm. Violence can be intoxicating.
The question of our time is this: Can peacemaking be as intoxicating in its way, as is violence in its way. Can peacemaking be downright fun? I am not sure that peacemaking can always be fun. Sometimes it involves much, much struggle. Ask Leymah Gbowee, Johnson Sirilead, and Tawakkol Karman, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for their work in promoting peace, democracy, and gender equity.
But there can be moments when peace-making and fun-loving come together. Moments such as we might enjoy at Bhakti Fest or a Shakti Fest, in which we feel the energy of one another in moments of holy communion. Or in a good old fashioned puja festival. Or in a raucous church in Mexico city. They are moments of what Hindus call jagrita: the wide-awake quality of divine, feminine energy. They can be, and should be, springboards for a compassionate, peace-loving, gender-respectful life.
There is some theology in these moment, too. Inasmuch as they are filled with a spirit of lovingkindness, they are occasions for us to remember a primordial paradise that precedes our birth and for which our hearts yearn. The process philosopher. Alfred North Whitehead, speaks of this paradise as the Adventure of the Universe as One. It is a Life within whose ongoing life we live and move and have our being. another name for whom is God. Perhaps an analogy will be helpful:
God the Mother
Imagine that God is a Mother and that we are embryos inside her womb. Just as what happens in the womb of a human mother happens to her, even as she is more than her womb; so what happens in the divine Mother happens to her, even as she is more than all the universes added together. And just as there are things can happen within a human mother that she cannot prevent because the embryos have energy of their own; so there are things that happen in the divine Mother that she cannot prevent, because we and other creatures have energy of our our own. But just as a human mother responds to what is happening in her womb, moment by moment, with lovingkindness; so the divine Mother responds to what is happening inside her womb by providing nutrients -- fresh possibilities -- for healing growth, relative to the circumstances at hand. Always this divine Mother is responding anew to new situations.
Thus there is a continuous dynamic between God and the universe -- between the Mother and the multiverse -- in which each breathes the other into full aliveness. Here's a passage from Whitehead's Process and Reality that gives you a feeling for it:
"For the kingdom of heaven is with us today.... What is done in the world is transformed into a reality in heaven, and the reality in heaven passes back into the world. By reason of this reciprocal relation, the love in the world passes into the love in heaven, and floods back again into the world. In this sense, God is the great companion—the fellow-sufferer who understands." (Process and Reality, 351)
This, then, is a way of thinking about God offered by Whitehead and by those who take heart from his perspective: that is, process theologians. Some are Christian, some are Jewish, some are Muslim, some are Buddhist, some are Hindu, some are Confucian/Taoist, and some are "spiritual but not religious." Process theology is not a single, religious point of view but rather a way of thinking available to people of many different religious points of view.
The process perspective is call panentheism (note the en), which literally means everything-inside-God. Pantheism is different from pantheism (without the en) and also from supernaturalism. Pantheism (without the en) says that everything is God, pure and simple. Supernaturalism says that everything is outside God, pure and simple. Panentheism says that everything is in God even as God is more than everything.
The moreness of God is God's subjectivity: that is, God's experienciing of the world and God's agency in the world. This agency is deeply powerful but not all-powerful. The very power of God is relational. God may offer us breath of life, but in order to receive it we must cooperate with it. We must receive the spirit, opening our hands and hearts to it. We must inhale and allow it to fill us.
From a process perspective, then, moments of ecstasy are moments of holy inhalation. We are not inhaling smoke but rather inhaling love, and these moments provide seasoning for a healthy life. This seasoning helps balance the flavors in our lives that are out of balance and it helps transform blandness into vibrancy. Blandness is a metaphor for apathy, for indifference, for not caring about things. At their best, moments of ecstasy allow us to care more, not care less, for the world around us and the preciousness of life. They help us fall in love with the ordinary.
Ordinariness consists of the matter-of-fact realities that form ninety-five percent of our daily lives and which are the very spice of life: relations with friends and family, situations in the workplace, moments of respite in the course of a day, struggles to make ends meet, both inner and outer. In the spacious horizons of God -- in what Teri Daily calls the space within the trinity -- there is much ordinariness. It is wholly ordinary and extraordinarily holy. There can be as much love -- maybe even more love -- in fixing breakfast for a loved one than in dancing until dawn at Shakti Fest. One danger of ecstasy is that its claims too much. It forgets the wisdom of oatmeal.
We need our ecstasies in contained doses. As a rabbi puts it to me, we might rightly await coming messiahs, but we also need to keep our day jobs. Humans cannot live by ecstasy alone.
Poly-Imagism: All The Ways We Say Yes to God
Shakti Fests, then, offer opportunities for distinctive forms of ecstasy. They are celebrations of the divine Mother. For process theologians like me, images of divine as Mother contain wisdom in their own right and are important antidotes to the one-sidedely patriarchal imagery of so many religious traditions, including the Abrahamic religions, of course, but also many Asian traditions.
Images of the divine as Father and Lord contain wisdom, too. I was in Bulgaria before the collapse of communism, and I saw how images of God as Lord helped courageous Christians resist the authoritarian dictator who ruler with an iron hand, and who believed that he himself was the lord of the Bulgarian people. And I have been in settings in other parts of the world where images of God as Father help people realize that, no matter how much they may be neglected or abused by governmental and familial authorities, they are loved by a Father in heaven who respects the dignity of all people, not just powerful people, and who has a special care for the marginalized and abused, the forgotten and forsaken.
What is sorely needed today is poly-imagism: a freedom to live into a feel different ways of discerning divine presence, different forms of divine energy. To focus on one and only one form of imagery, female or male, is to fall into image-olatry. Still, I well understand the need within many people, men as well as women, to remember and celebrate the divine Mother. We are all overwhelmed by the violence of patriarchy gone astray, amid which masculinity has come to be constructed as domination and femininity as subordination. There is a deep need today for post-patriarchal images of God and post-patriarchal images of men and women.
Beware of the Patriarchal Feminine
Make no mistake. Not all images of divine Mother are correctives to patriarchy. Indeed, many of them retain the dualism by overemphasizing the soft, gentle, and vulnerable sides of the "Mother" at the expense of emphasizing a wilder, fierce, and self-defined side of the "Mother." When images of divine Mother are too passive, they are mere conduits for what scholars call the patriarchally-defined feminine or, for short, the patriarchal feminine.
Happily, images of divine Mother celebrated at Shakti Fests and sought by many others today, women as well as men, are not simply of the soft variety. Derived from India they have a wilder and more self-defined nature. They are not so much the Virgin Mary as they are the fierce Kali, who dances at cremation grounds can handle all things, including death. Images of this kind are correctives to the patriarchal feminine and can, in combination with other factors, help bring about post-patriarchal sensibilities for women and men alike. As Lena Gupta argues in After Patriarchy: Feminist Transformations of the World Religions, Kali is a feminist.
A word of caution is in order. Some critics believe that Western, middle-class, mostly-white appropriations of Indian imagery are illustrative, not of healthy hybridity but rather cultural stripmining, all done for the sake of typically Western, consumer-driven narcissistic ends. They see the Kirtan movement as another instance of colonial presumption -- we are the world and the world belongs to "us." These critics add that the corporate sponsors of Kirtan festivals are primarily interested in profit-making not prophet-making: that is, in taking advantage of self-indulgent needs rather than taking stock of and critiquing corporate capitalism. As they see things, the Kirtan movement is more about greed not love.
Be that as it may, I cannot help but think that the mission of Lorisa Stow and Shakti Tribe, particularly as expressed in Shakti Tribe Peace Outreach, offers a counter-example. While there may be truth in the criticisms, there is also truth in the yearning for ways of being with God, in loving ways, that transcend patriarchy, religious exclusivism, arrogance, and exclusivism. Lorisa Stow is right: we best celebrate all the ways we say Yes to God.
Guidance from the Divine Mother
But of course it is not simply the image of divine Mother that attracts people at Shakti Fest. It is what they call the energy of the divine Mother. Her aliveness and ours, too.
In Process and Reality Whitehead speaks of this aliveness as the intensity of a satisfying experience. He proposes that each actual entity in the universe seeks intensity and that even the divine actual entity -- even God -- seeks intensity.
The quantum events within the depths of atom seek intensity; a living cell seeks intensity; a human being seeks intensity; and God seeks intensity. If there are other living beings in outer space, or if there are actual entities in other dimensions of existence, they are seeking intensity, too.
Whitehead also speaks of this intensity as enjoyment. We live in a universe that is seeks enjoyment. Enjoyment is not just something you observe from the outside; it is something you feel from the insite.
In human life the desire for enjoyment or satisfying intensity takes many forms, some constructive and some destructive. Love is a form of intensity and so is violence. Peace is a form of intensity and so is war.
From Whitehead's perspective our aims toward intensity -- Whitehead calls them subjective aims -- can be guided or misguided, healthy or unhealthy. He believes that God dwells within each living being as an animating and energizing guide toward constructive intensity.
Constructive intensity is harmonious intensity. It is a kind of enjoyment that unfolds in life when we are truly with others in mutually beneficial ways, such that their enjoyment is enriched by our own, and ours by theirs. There is inter-subjective enjoyment or, to use a more religious word, communion. In Whitehead's philosophy the divine reality dwells within each and all as an invitation to communion. The indwelling invitation is energizing because, thinks Whitehead, it involves a transference of emotion from God's life to our life. We feel God's aims for us, we feel God's eros. We are breathed by God.
Much of this is unconscious. At a conscious level we may be feeling our own more selfish aims but deep down we are also feeling God's aims. Process theologians influenced by Whitehead speak of these as initial aims. These initial aims are the continuous presence of God's spirit within us. They take many forms but they are always about love. If you are afraid the aims are for courage; if you are filled with resentment the aims are for forgiveness; if you are filled with self-hatred they are for positive self-regard; if you are filled with too much pride they are for humility.
The God whose spirit is present within us can be addressed in many ways and by many names. Masculine names and feminine names, personal names and transpersonal names.
At a Shakti Fest God is addressed and felt as the divine Mother. You can feel her energy. You can dance to her rhythms. She is wild but not jealous, fierce but not arrogant. What is important is a surrender of the heart and a blooming into love for all that is ordinary, oatmeal much included. What is important is that, as you fall in love with the ordinary, you take the simple energy of our own own life, filled with the aliveness of your own heart, and channel it in loving, justice-seeking, gender-sensitive, peace-making ways, with special care for the poor and powerless.