And somehow, just like that, you wake up and five years has slipped right by.
I got the news that my buddy Shyamdas had suddenly and unexpectedly left his body, just weeks before his 60th birthday, five years ago today while I was in southern India on a yatra, a small group devotional pilgrimage through some of Lord Shiva’s historical south Indian power spots with friend, scholar and practitioner Christopher Hareesh Wallis. A whole lot changed that January day.
I was sharing accommodations on this pilgrimage with my good friend and then-lover Christine, so as we were preparing for our day’s explorations it was she within earshot in the bathroom. I was doing a quick social media check, limply staying in touch with the western world, when I saw a post by my friend Narayan speaking of how Shyamdas was in Vaikunth now, and my world coughed, and stopped. It took Christine and I both a few moments to begin grokking the reality: all she heard from the other side of the wall was me saying “No. No. Nooooo. No. No. No!” And out of nowhere, that was the end of that tune, at least in the way I had come to know and enjoy it.
What a tune it was! I’d never met anyone quite like Shyamdas, and before too long, my association with him had yielded a profound upgrade to my personal programming. In a classic reflection of how much we don’t even realize we don’t know when we are in a state of partial awareness, I hadn’t even realized how dualistic my prior spiritual orientation had been. But after sitting next to Shyam over those first two seasons of playing bass with him and absorbing the teachings and bhava while he journeyed forth into the mystical realms he easily accessed while leading various Bhakti-inspired programs, I slowly came to realize how much I had given the material world short shrift, in terms of its role as the embodiment of Life Itself. One key moment in the crystallization of that emerging awareness for me is captured on the Teachings track (#10) of Shyam Lila, my album full of chants that arose in the weeks after Shyamdas left his body back in 2013. That conversation happened in my living room, the morning after a kirtan program we held in that same room. I sought clarification that what I was picking up was properly reflecting what he was throwing down in these teachings, and it was a transformational conversation. As Shyamdas riffed that morning, “Krishna IS the world”—and as simple as it now seems, in context that was a significant upgrade for me at that time.
Life spins out in strange ways sometimes in the wake of major changes, like the loss of an important friend—and the last five years for me have been full of both heartache and an unforeseen deepening of my own engagement with the world within and around me. Words can fail, but on this day, I bow to Shaymdas and to the inspired devotional brilliance that often came through the body and being of that weird, blessed and unique Bhakti wala.