Cat Guthrie and Eileen O’Hare
By Christine Simek
BlisSing, the name of the mellifluous duo Cat Guthrie and Eileen O’Hare, gets its inspiration from the ancient practice of kirtan, a call and response chanting custom performed in India’s devotional traditions. Kirtan is a form of Bhakti (or devotional) yoga that involves the repetition of hymns and mantras accompanied by an acoustic guitar, a harmonium, hand cymbals and drums. Kirtan is also a kind of vocalized spiritual practice which is believed, by its practitioners, to be a ‘shortcut to bliss.’ Throughout the year, Guthrie and O’Hare host BlisSing events at their YogaSong studio in Garrison as well as at other venues around the region.
BlisSing was founded several years ago after O’Hare, a shamanic healer and spiritual teacher who lives in Beacon, attended a kirtan event in the city and was so touched by the experience that she came home and insisted to Guthrie that they start a group of their own. Already a Yoga teacher and musical performer living in Garrison, Guthrie was thrilled to have an opportunity to use her voice in a way that wasn’t focused on pleasing an audience but was, instead, about “…singing for spirit and a divine connection. BlisSing is not about the external gratification of a performance,” she says, “it’s not about sounding good, it’s about sounding. It’s about the heart, not the brain.”
Music and song are two of humanity’s universally binding mediums and their existence can be traced throughout every known language, religion and culture. The ancient Egyptians said that the god Osiris used music in his effort to civilize the world. American slaves disguised work songs along the Underground Railroad to propagate the map to freedom. For centuries, people have huddled around campfires and on porches, in temples and in cemeteries and engaged in song to enrich their celebrations, ease their grief and more fully understand their lives. According to Guthrie and O’Hare, singing together is a lost tradition and one that, if rediscovered, could prove beneficial in these busy and sometimes turbulent times we live in.
“We’ve lost the fine art of singing.” Guthrie says. “Nobody sings together. We used to be a community of singers. In the summer, people would gather on porches with their banjos and guitars and sing every night. Friends and neighbors would just wander by and join in. That doesn’t happen anymore.” And because it doesn’t happen–because we don’t sing — Guthrie concludes, we’ve lost something.
What, exactly, do they think has been lost? O’Hare says that we’ve lost connection–to ourselves, to one another and to the world around us. Any sense of fellowship and community, she says, gets lost in the fast-paced world we live in. “The isolation of our culture can make us feel sick. We’re encouraged to participate in someone else’s creativity — from a distance. We’re focused on consumption. We live our lives passively; in front of computers and on cell phones.” O’Hare says that when folks attend one of the BlisSing events they actively engage with their voices and with themselves and, as a result, are able become a part of something greater. “[Singing] creates a connection inside of you, inside of the room and inside of the community,” she says.
If the word kirtan sounds exotic enough, the idea of singing anywhere but in your shower might seem downright intimidating. Guthrie and O’Hare, however, insist that every voice is welcome and fully embraced at BlisSing events. Sitting with them at Hudson Hils one sunny morning last week, it is easy to trust this sincerity. Their gently candid speaking style, frequently punctuated by bursts of euphonious laughter, seems to transmit tranquility across the teacup cluttered table between us. When I ask them about attending an event their already twinkling eyes begin to dance. “You must!” they say. “You don’t even have to sing! Just come and listen!”
Creating a safe and healing community so that people will come and raise their voices together in song is one of the principal intentions of BlisSing. Both Guthrie and O’Hare have heard countless stories of people who were told that they could not sing and have ended up depressed and silent and stuck. “People, not just performers, have been told to be quiet their whole lives,” O’Hare says. “But everyone’s got something to offer,” she insists. “And we do want to hear from them.”
BlisSing hopes to provide folks with the space and opportunity to heal. “When you come [to BlisSing],” she continues, “you have an opportunity to step into the greatness of who you are just by using your voice.” The chants at BlisSing are sung in different languages and come from various traditions around the world including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Judaism and several Native American cultures, but their use is free of dogma. “We don’t say, ‘you have to believe this’ we say, ‘this is who we are singing to now [whether it be Ganesha or God or Jesus], connect to it however you choose,” says Guthrie.
O’Hare adds, “At the center of every tradition is love, love, love, it just gets covered up by many rules and regs.” At BlisSing, she says, there is no information and therefore no opportunity for disagreement; just song and a connection with the vibrations that accompany the song.
Guthrie says that people tell her that they use the chants in their everyday lives, when they need emotional or mental stability amid everyday stressors such as work and kids and emails and mortgage payments and worries about the price of oil. “People can imprint these chants into the brain so when they need to, they can click on that frequency — not on the worried thoughts,” she says.
Some BlisSing events are free, others are donation-based, and some that are held outside of their space in Garrison have a fixed fee, but Guthrie and O’Hare don’t want cost to be a prohibitive factor for people. “Just pay what you can,” they say. “We’re going to sing no matter what.” O’Hare concludes, “We just want to feel better. And we want other people to feel better. It’s really just as simple as that.” BlisSing’s schedule can be found online at blissingchant.com.
Photo courtesy of BlisSing