On ‘Calling In Things’ With Mantras

I don’t believe in using mantras to ‘call things in’ so much as I believe in letting life happen naturally & then using mantra practice as a way to ease suffering if there is suffering or to express love & gratitude if there is joy.

If you’re going through an uncomfortable change & resisting it or feeling bitter, chanting a mantra can at the very least teach you to surrender. It could help you create an intimacy with the mantra that will bring you a lot of wisdom because of your direct experience with it.

This practice is experiential, devotional. Not blind faith. Every time we chant, the sound and movement of breath interacts with our dormant emotions & creates an energetic experience in the body.

Call it integration, a shift, a release, subtle energy, prana, transformation, or the heart’s intelligence. To be able to meet that energy more consciously is what this practice is all about.

Japa- A Meditation That Works

Japa is a beautiful art of repeating sacred sounds (mantras). It starts by vocalizing the sounds out loud, then whispering them, then silently ‘hearing’ them in your mind. Running your fingers over beads or a stone give it a tactile sensation that keeps the mind and body connected.

The sounds come from ancient traditions rooted in India – Vedic rituals, tantra, & the bhakti movement. The Vedic way is outward-looking, masculine, transcendent, goes beyond ego, looks to the heavens and the planets. The tantric way is inward-looking, roots down into the body, explores physical sensations/ chakras and honors the Divine feminine. The bhakti way is emotional and all about sustaining a relationship with the divine/ God/ Self through our own heart’s intelligence.

Some of the benefits I’ve been feeling from doing japa are:

Relaxation…anxiety disappears! This is for two reasons- 1) japa acts as a gentle tonic for the vagus nerve and this has been found to relax brain activity. 2) japa prolongs the exhale breath and this has been linked with parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) so it is very relaxing.

Japa is a recharge from being plugged in all the time. Health professionals agree that being plugged in and bombarded with information all day isn’t good for us. Chanting is a way to unplug and charge ourselves up organically with fresh prana, that rich sustainable life force.

Mostly, it’s a meditation that works!

Thanks for reading😊

Meeting My Inner Parvati

My first night in Mudhuban, India a deep emotion struck me. As everyone entered the room & gathered for kirtan, some people in the group sat far off to the left and a few others together to the right but no one had chosen to sit next to me. It was a familiar theme.

Space. That space all around me that had so often in my life felt symbolic of being unwanted or unlovable.

Just as that feeling was sinking in, the retreat facilitators made an announcement that us women would need to cover our head with a scarf the next day on our hike to meet Babaji, the 99 year old baba who lived in a cave; he had requested it.

Here we go again, another version of being not good enough. Even in a cave, with the most socially detached, free human being, I have to cover up, hide a part of me. Why couldn’t I be free too? I couldn’t contain the tears of frustration.

So I was crying a river quietly to myself hoping no one would notice. I just shut my eyes and kept blowing my nose on my scarf. Then the chanting started. For almost the entire part of the first song I felt restricted at the throat/unable to sing. I decided to just politely listen to everyone else.

I let the mantra sink in…a chant to shiva. Shiva, the all-pervading presence, the space that everything exists in. Shiva…the essence of all the spiritual teachings I’d followed from my youth up to this point- Mooji, Papaji, Ramana, Gangaji- they all begged the question “Who am I?”

Was I this intense tearful choked up state? No, it existed in me. Was I this sense of unworthiness? No, I was something bigger. Suddenly the energy shifted. I silently merged with the bigger me…shiva…that Self, that presence, the witness. I surrendered.

The more I let go the further I expanded as the witness. I lovingly observed my body sitting there, overwhelmed with emotion. To my surprise that little bit of space did it. My voice mystically freed up on its own and sang out.

After the kirtan ended, so did my transcendent moment. During the walk back to our ashram rooms I experienced the group talking in front of me, walking up ahead. There it was– space. This time I smiled and took it in deeply.

The space all around me now felt healthy…the medicine of shiva energy showing up for me. I hadn’t recognized it earlier in my unloveable/ victim-inflamed state.

The one thing nobody tells you about kirtan is it’s not always bliss. Rather, it provides the spaciousness & uplifting energetic current needed to process dark & vulnerable emotions in a healthy, gentle way.

Bhakti doesn’t require you to be all ‘love & light.’ It requires you to have the courage to be vulnerable.

As for covering up my hair with a scarf- doing it ironically ‘uncovered’ some of my arrogance. I had first dramatized and victimized it as ‘oppression.’ Later a more relaxed, wise perspective emerged & I wrote this in my journal:

To cover my head isn’t to be oppressed. Or a victim. It’s to humble myself a little. Be open to another, older, ancient culture that I don’t understand.

I contemplated masculinity and femininity:

A woman covering up her hair is beautification…a ritual to respect/ honor natural femininity, the mystery, which is to be hidden! (Think of how our bodies exist in nature- a woman’s sexual anatomy is hidden whereas a man’s just hangs out there.) Femininity, in its truest form, is hidden, potent, magical. From that perspective, to cover up is self-respect…symbolic of respecting the sacred, divine mystery of womanhood. Covering up is powerful!

I don’t know if it was all that shiva medicine coming through the vibration of the foothills of the Himalayas, or my own optimism, maybe a little of both. But the theme of this initiation had become clear. It was time to drop the outer shell of unworthiness and meet my inner Parvati.

A Chanting Exercise

Here’s a video you can practice along with to get into a a fluid motion of chanting bij mantras (Sanskrit seed syllables) with mudras (hand gestures). It’s peaceful, invigorating & fun to do out in nature! The hand gestures aren’t required…I am just attempting to recreate what I saw a guy do in on a youtube video. At any rate it feels good to feel all that prana flow!

Starting at root:

LAM

VAM

RAM

YAM

HAM

OM

I am chanting each of these seed syllables (bij mantra) with its corresponding chakra (energy centers) in the body. For the last 2 chakras (third eye & crown) you can chant OM.

Try it & feel how your voice, the sound vibrations, the energy & your body interact!

Benefits:

  • access more vitality in the body
  • relieve stress
  • get a sense of peace
  • relief from monkey mind/ obsession/ ruminating
  • strengthens the voice
  • puts you in touch with your unique self-expression
  • liberating
  • can serve as a daily meditation practice

Questions to ask yourself after:

  1. What emotions came up after this practice?
  2. Which sound was I most drawn to?
  3. Where in my body did I feel the sound resonate the most?
  4. How is my speaking voice sounding/ feeling?
  5. What happens if I do this practice right before work? Before I go to bed? In the morning?

The Gift of Surrender

I am fascinated with the art of surrender. From totally yielding in child’s pose to rolling with the punches of ‘failure,’ to bowing & saying ‘namaskar’ to a stranger, to surrendering the human voice to mystical repetition of Sanskrit syllables.

Surrender is the main reason I love chanting. The first thing I do when a kirtan starts is listen to the voices around me instead of my own. I feel my own voice but I don’t focus on it. My goal is to merge with a vibe in the room and surrender to it.

Once I surrender I’m in a position to start having fun- to ride the mantra wave. Because actually there is no ‘me’. And what’s being created musically is oneness- one group voice that carries the mantra in its own unique way through that moment in time. The experience will never be repeated the same way again. Kind of like a meditative jazz solo!

You could think of it like this- have you ever walked down a busy street, in a park or in a grocery store and been annoyed because a person in front of you walked too slow? What if, instead of feeling impatient you viewed them as someone you’re walking with? This is similar to what the ego (a soul feeling very separate, a voice focusing on itself) goes through during a kirtan when it shifts from resistance to surrender. We realize that what we’re surrendering to is love!

We live in a culture that wants to be like fire. We celebrate extroversion, excitement, amped up individuality & burning ourselves out to show how successful & deserving we are.

There’s nothing wrong with being successful, rising up from the ashes, or being in the spotlight/ shining and we all deserve it. The problem is when we become obsessed with it as a way to get love and unconsciously exhaust ourselves in the process.

Fire is exciting and can ignite things & be hot & amazing to watch but it is not nourishing.

The gift of surrender is like water.

Water is reflective & naturally moves around obstacles quietly & patiently to flow back to its source. It will go to the lowest places, let gravity pull it toward its source, and like a cosmic dance it sways back and forth when it merges with the ocean.

A cooling antidote to the burnt-out feeling, water refreshingly accepts us for who we are, beneath all the accolades. It quenches a deeper desire- the thirst for nourishment.

To be like water is to be ok with not shining, with not being exciting, with having your personal edge smoothed by the current of change (aka grace…or nature’s inherent rhythm).

The art of surrender is like that. It teaches us humility, that love doesn’t require anything special from us, it’s natural, and that the roadblocks on our path are actually there to direct us back to an endless ocean of self-love.

New Single on Spotify: “Ma Durga”

This is called ‘Ma Durga’ and I was inspired to write it after visiting a 99 year old baba in a cave in India & listening to some things he said. Pictured below are lyrics I wrote on a tiny notebook on the plane on the flight from India to London.

The cave experience was provided by a David Newman retreat and the recording made possible by WHAS Great Day Live. Click to listen 🙂.