Sitting on the floor, everyone breathes deeply as they sing rich, warm Tibetan-inspired mantras. On the ground with everyone else, Lee Mirabai Harrington, a 50-year-old from New York, leads the group. As she gazes around the room, she directs the healing mantras toward each person in hopes that they truly heal the individual. Even if they are in the back of the crowded room, their eyes will flutter open when Harrington’s eyes rest on their face.
“They just know and that always makes me chuckle because we are all connected and these experiences of coming together and chanting in kirtan really helps people experience that,” Harrington said.
Harrington has been attending kirtans since 2000. At kirtans, participants sing sacred call-and-response style chants that Harrington compares to passcodes, allowing them to reach a meditative state.
Today, Harrington is holding her heart-healing kirtan at The Thomas Center for $35. It will benefit the Gainesville Karma Thegsum Chöling-KTC, a meditation, dharma and healing center.
Laurie Reisman, a 51-year-old clinical social worker and therapist in Gainesville, will play music on her healing bowls. She said her crystal alchemy bowls balance the chakras (focal points of spiritual energy along the spine) and provide relaxation and create a meditative state.
“My vision for the event on Friday is to... help people have a really healing experience, to receive whatever it is that they need, to heal their heart, mind, body and soul,” she said.
Harrington will lead the kirtan chants, which will focus on protection, compassion, and healing. She said she intends to help balance the mental and physical states of participants and remove obstacles that prevent them from being their authentic selves.
“These kirtans that I do are really a way to teach how to reconnect with your essence and refuel so that we can continue to have stamina as the world gets really crazy,” Harrington said.
Even before she understood the healing power of song, Harrington found solace in music. When she was younger, her father would play the piano during power outages and storms and she would sing along with him.
Harrington said that throughout history, the voice has been used for its restorative power.
“It was prayer, it was a way to form communities, it was a way to uplift and celebrate, it was also a way to grieve,” she said.
Beyond leading kirtans, Harrington has produced a critically-acclaimed album called “Beyond the Beyond: A Mantra Music Experience.” She is also a member of the Bard College Symphonic Chorus. She said the combination of the harmonies evokes a feeling of ecstasy.
“When we go live [the conductor] is almost unrecognizable as the person who guided us through rehearsal,” she said. “He's totally channeling something and then we all pick up on it and that's holy. What's happening energetically is that we are attuning to each other at a very pure level.”
Harrington finds that in orchestras and bands, a similar energy is generated.
“I actually view instruments as living entities,” she said. “Not my electronic keyboard, but the harmonium is, the violin is, the shruti box, the guitar; anything made of wood and metal has a little bit of life in it. I would say it can come from instruments too, especially if the intention of the human who is playing the instrument is to channel the divine.”
Harrington also feels drawn towards Tibetan medicine.
“My logical brain would say ‘but you're not a doctor, so there's only so far you can go with this’ and yet I still wanted to learn as much as I could about them,” she said. “That branch is still unfolding in the sense that I am still studying Tibetan medicine and I don't think I'm going to become a doctor but I don't know.”
Following the kirtan, Gyro Plus, Leonardo's 706 and Taste of Saigon will provide vegan and vegetarian food options, included in the $35 ticket. Harrington said they should eat after the event to ground themselves.
It’s a coincidence that the heart-healing event is on Valentine’s Day, but Harrington encourages couples to come. According to Harrington, kirtans foster non-referential love.
“You don't want to possess anyone, you don't want anything from anyone and no one wants anything from you,” she said. “It's just love and recognition of everyone in the room as a fellow human on this path.”
Harrington said that often, participants don't want the kirtan to end.
“At the end, I can see visible differences: brighter eyes, just a lot of joy, a lot of unencumbered hugging and a lot of honest conversation, people will just blurt out happy things and there is a lot of laughter,” she said. “You get kind of punch drunk, it's kind of an intoxicant.”