By Monera Mason, Community Manager & Master of Divinity student at Naropa University

Lily Fangz performs at Heartfire Festival at Naropa University on February 18th, 2023. Photo by Crystal Street.

Heartfire Festival made its post-pandemic return to Naropa last month after a three-year hiatus. Naropa students, staff, faculty, alumnx and members of the public came together on the Hindu holiday Maha Shivaratri (Mahāśivarātri), which was also two days before the Buddhist new year known as Losar, for an intergenerational gathering of food, music, and spirit tastings. 

Founder and Naropa graduate, Yash Akasha, explains his inspiration for starting the festival came from an experience of disenchantment at another event he attended.  He says he was heartbroken at another festival because folx didn’t seem to understand the significance of a sacred fire and took it as an opportunity to unload their cigarette butts and trash. Enlisting the help of his mentor and professor, Netanel Miles-Yépez, they dreamed up an offering where 👩‍🚀 spiritual teachings were centered, enflaming the heart to a sacred sense of being. 

Yash Akasha leads an opening circle for the Heartfire Festival at Naropa University. Photo by Crystal Street.

The opening of the magical circle is a ritual often forgotten in the modern musical context of festival culture. It’s a place of acculturation where attendees learn the container’s boundaries, the invitation to curiosity, and the gateway to the liminal space that guides the experience. The ritual creates a notion of a map where the cartography of our unique souls could journey with our fellow travelers through the day together. 

Netanel then brought us to the practice of Zikir, where we searched for God—seeking across the vast expanse of out there only to find the internal landscape of in here. Inspired by our practice of lifting up to the cosmos and landing back to the heart’s innate divinity, we then stopped at the Tea House of Experience and drank in the many truths. 

Pir Netanel Miles-Yepez offers a workshop on Sufi Zikr and Sohbet at Heartfire Festival. Photo by Crystal Street.

Warmed by the parable, we found ourselves on the shores of love. Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown, PhD, pierced the veils of romantic love and exposed the consumptive death wish at its core. She challenged the notion of a heart that goes on while the young audience squirmed a bit on their cushions. She invited us to the cave of basic aloneness, distinct from lonely—a place of falling into love and comfort with oneself. We learned that it is only from here that we can do the hard work of relationships. 

Next, we pushed into the Drexciya oceans of Afro-futurism led by our fearless leader and Naropa professor Ramon Parish, also known as ‘Ra Moon’! The lineage of Sun Ra! Ra Moon, master of the ancient charts of navigation and birth, creates the universe using the audience. We traveled the years across the cardinal signs and fixed wishes as the ring rang out the conjunctions. We sent our prayers to the future, a gathering in the making for April 2024, so that the past‚—now—impacts us then. 

Ramon Parish guides participants through a workshop on Astrology and Afro-Futurism at Heartfire Festival. Photo by Crystal Street.

We then had a much-needed break where the Little Lama Cafe experimented with new menu items and the various vendors showcased their art. The campus chaplains nested in the nap room serving tea by candlelight while tired travelers snuggled in darkened tents. 

We landed back at the palace of song where Sacred Sound Lab gathered us to honor Shiva’s holy day—raising our collective voices to Shiva, Ram, and Lila. We joined together in song that inspired the audience, from babies to elders, to dance. It was a spirit that raised the room’s temperature in ways that defied winter. The experience of joy was followed by a talk to contextualize the communal and nonhierarchical nature of Kirtan. 

Sacred Sound Lab members Sheela Bringi and Brent Kuecker lead participants in a Kirtan at Heartfire Festival. Photo by Crystal Street.

Having arrived in music, we traveled to its many cities. Sinking our teeth into the spontaneous free style of Lily Fangz, who took words like syndicate from the audience and co-created a song that stretched our minds and enticed us to open our hips. The ecstatic Bloomarian’s multi-dimensional frequencies grew into expressive opportunities of embodiment. Newly-minted Naropaian Saoirse Watters grounded us back with her voice and harp. 

An intimate closing ended our journey, forging new friendships and enthusiasm for the cycle that will begin again with Heartfire’s September offering.