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The Making of “Nourishment” a Kirtan Album

Gratitude to La La Land Recording Studio, sound engineer Anne Gauthrie, musicians K. Michelle Lewis, Charles Nowell, Joann Dickson, Clay Farris, & Jordana Van, Louisville friends who formed the ‘chant choir,’ friends in other cities who sent in Japa & spoken word, & everyone else who helped out with the making of Nourishment. The entire process felt like a wave of grace, simply put- magical.

Here are some behind the scenes pics & videos. Enjoy!

The songs are mixed and set for release on Valentines Day 2020. For info about pre-orders contact me at hello@kirtantara.com

Chanting & Altered States

Asheville…
driving in the car
windows rolled down,
breeze blowing, radio off.
Mountain air.
Energy. Pulsating.
Blue sky.
Clear mind. No-thought.
No time. Boundless.
Centered. Just the moment.
Chanting.

This was one of my earliest experiences of bhakti yoga- each month I’d immerse myself in 3 days of group chanting to my teacher’s guitar sing along of Baba Nam Kevalam (translates to “Only the beloved”) and then explore Asheville kirtans around town. Afterwards I’d get into my car with a coffee and a mantra and hit the road.

And since my radio was broken I’d roll down the windows and entertain myself with sounds- the breeze, zooming cars, and my voice repeating mantras out loud for hours (sometimes the whole 6 hour car ride!) not realizing I’d enter an altered state. 

Colors were brighter, thoughts stopped.  Everything was just…existing.  And never once did I snap out of it or get bored…for each 6 hour car trip I stayed blissed out and unaware of time!

No substances needed!  Chanting is safe & natural.

Have you ever switched to listening to a vinyl record after years of listening to digital? You can SEE the record spinning, SEE the sound getting made by the needle on the grooves in the record, you feel a presence in the room, it’s a physical experience. It has weight to it.

Similarly have you ever switched from busy life to a quiet nature walk in a forest- the sounds of birds chirping, a natural waterfall, crickets, or leaves rustling? Again, it slows us down, stops our thoughts & sense of urgency…we merge with the present moment and appreciate it, even see it as god or divine.

This is how I see mantras affecting us- they are like the vinyl record, or the nature sounds. They slow us down from fast autopilot communication to ancient, root sounds that carry mystical weight- these were some of the first sounds ever uttered by humans…the roots of language itself!

Imagine the vibrations of these mantras and how they can shift our energy/ thoughts!

If you’d like to explore altering your state of consciousness safely w/ mantras join me in Kentucky at the following: every second Saturday at Yogaia Yoga School for community kirtan and every Monday at The Inner Warrior for Dharma Talks & Chanting.

What’s so Special About Bhakti Yoga?

Why is Bhakti yoga special? Hidden from the glamour of the modern yoga world, you won’t find it in the insta-famous posts of sexy bendy bods, and it isn’t intelligent or scientific.

Except that it is.

Because all yoga is experimental. And Bhakti lets us experiment with a phenomenon that we’re just waking up to as a species- emotional intelligence.

Bhakti means “attachment” and what is the most sticky thing we deal with as humans? Emotions!

To practice bhakti means tying these emotions to a deep and profound sense of Unconditional Belonging. The god embrace that can hold every raw part of you…it can be romantic but it expands beyond that.

Do you have a relationship with god? What does it look like?
Divine guidance
synchronicities
the heart’s intelligence
grace
the unknown
truth
reality
mystical inner knowing(?)

The tendency is to forget the above, project attachment onto other humans and call it love. It becomes a struggle of tension & release, attach & let go. Bhakti gives a path to transform that.

You still play the game but now it’s with god.

No single human is capable of holding all of another human and no single human can outrun or hide from true belonging. We have it all backwards.

We’re better off being suffocated by the divine embrace and loosening up/ breathing fresh air into the human embrace.

Bhakti lets us study our relationship w/ the divine, not just as observer but as lover, friend, student, teacher, servant, devotee, daughter, son, father, mother, sister, brother- by jumping in and feeling this relationship.

By experiencing it directly through chanting, bhava (devotional mood), contemplation of sacred objects, and sharing stories, symbolism of Indian wisdom tradition, we become scientists of our heart, practitioners of devotion, communicators with spirit, and we access Unconditional Belonging.

If you’d like to explore this heart opening path join me November 23rd for a Bhakti Workshop “Chanting from the Heart” where we’ll dive into bhakti practices & literature. Running a special for folks who register now through Nov 22- bring a friend for free!❤️ link to register: https://www.lotuscounselwellness.com/workshops

My First Santsang (aka Sedona Meltdown)

When I was a teenager I survived an intense 3 day LSD trip which was more like an insomniac blur…it involved a spontaneous 14 hour drive to the east coast, parading nude in the streets, quitting my lifeguard job, and sadly at the end of it thinking I was a video game character. Such are the whims of a bored teen growing up in southern Indiana.

Around this time my mom’s hippie friends Mark and Kim invited us to a satsang. ‘Satsang’ is a Sanskrit word that means “sacred gathering.” (Sat means truth and sang means community.) The gathering would be led by a female elder/ wise woman who had a spontaneous awakening while working in a factory, after which she lived & and studied with the sages of India.

So I set out for Sedona with my mom, curious of what this gathering with a guru would reveal, and keeping the details of my miserable LSD comedown to myself.

Mom’s friends Mark and Kim were the most mystical, cool couple- they were quiet, zen-like, unmarried but devoted to each other, and spent their time traveling to different countries sitting with spiritual teachers. I was completely in awe of them. As we hiked through the red rocks I listened intently while they discussed the concept of enlightenment.

We arrived at the satsang, found our way to a seat and settled in as the group began chanting mantras. Although I was too shy to sing out I listened & soaked up the safe feeling like a sponge.

The guru was seated facing everyone. Her eyes lit up at a young pretty woman in the front row who I guessed was a former student. They exchanged hellos…the 20 year old girl said she had just returned from living in a cave and was settling back into worldly life. Hearing this blew my 18 year old mind.

The guru began talking, though it seemed like she was simply channeling spontaneous messages and insights. She shared stories of hanging out with the Dalai Lama, offered us nuggets of wisdom to contemplate, and began answering people’s questions.

Suddenly something shifted in my vibrational field. I felt so safe with these old souls that the trauma of my LSD trip snuck up and stirred in me a throbbing emotional pain and confusion in my heart/ throat…just as luck would have it that feeling wanted to be released right then and there.

I tried to regulate the emotion with discipline and restraint but the attempt to hide was not working. People around me noticed and instantly showed compassion for the awkwardness of it. As the intensity bubbled inside me to the point I felt I might break a man gently leaned in and whispered lovingly “it’s ok to break.”

And that set me off…I broke…quite dramatically, so much so that the guru stopped and turned to me. The rest was kind of a blur…I asked her something about suffering in the body & did not feel satisfied with the answer so I got up & bolted out the door, sat outside sulking for the rest of the satsang.

When the satsang ended she walked out and sat with me. Her final words to me were: look up at a star and let it all sink in. Which made absolutely no sense.

But what did make sense was that gentle man telling me it’s ok to break, the loving support of those people. Being shown compassion by mature & evolved souls who had come so far on their spiritual trip that they were able to hold the animal/ emotional part of a teen coming down from her acid trip.

Experiences like this have happened repeatedly in my life to show me that life itself is the guru, not some person.

So often we put an expectation on that spiritual leader, that elder, that successful friend who moved to a big city, the worldly traveler, a new lover we admire, or anyone other than ourselves to solve the mystery of our life.

When in reality answers always come from our inner guru, and usually in a way we never expect.

It’s All Happening!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the crowdfunding campaign and pre-ordered Nourishment, an album of mantra songs for unity consciousness. We surpassed the goal and the album has been set to be recorded at LaLa Land Studio Dec 6-10! If you missed out on the crowdfunding, pre-orders are still possible! Simply email me at hello@kirtantara.com.

Help Fund a Woman Produced Kirtan Album

Music dissolves barriers.  It gives power to people who feel powerless.  It increases empathy, and allows for safe expression of emotions. I believe we need that more than ever in the world now.

Leading group chanting has put me in a unique position to witness people suddenly feeling safe, trusting each other again, and perceiving the world from a place of love, not fear. 

Through grace, I was able to experience this feeling myself, during a trip to India & London last year. 

Through Nourishment, my vision is to honor India’s ancient tradition of mantra repetition & sonic mysticism in a creative way that’s aligned with a jazz/ rock/ hill country background. You can also think of it as an offering of interactive chanting experiences for anyone who wants to elevate their mood & access unity consciousness through music.  

Oh and did I mention there’s going to be a powerhouse of women creating this record?

It is important to me this album convey to the listener a sense of shared power/ global community that feels safe and loving and transmits universal belonging.

In order to make this happen I need your support.  

For anyone who contributes to the making of ”Nourishment” I’ll reciprocate with these gifts, from my heart to yours:  original lyric/ chant-along books, handcrafted wire wrap pendants, oracle readings, original poetry, and downloads of the album on plantable seed paper bookmarks(!!) All of these you can view here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tarakimes/nourishment-a-kirtan-album

If you believe nourishing music & unity consciousness is a good thing for the world, please donate generously to this modest budget.  The way kickstarter works is all or nothing- either I make the goal and the album gets made or all money is refunded.  Let’s go all in and see this come to fruition!

18 Ways to do Japa Meditation

I used to be very hard on myself with meditation. I put myself through a 10 day silent vipassana retreat, would set my timer for 2 hours a day and suppress my imagination entirely to just sit there hyper-focused on the breath and bodily sensations. I considered meditations that included visuals & sounds to be inferior.

Then one day I was meditating with a Buddhist monk at a Dharma Center in Louisville and I asked him what to do when boredom comes up while you’re sitting. I thought he’d reveal some deep philosophical answer, but to my surprise he simply told me to imagine a gold light radiating from my heart. I said, “so it’s ok to use your imagination in meditation?” And he said indeed it was, and that monks often do it.

One of the recent ways I’ve started bringing my imagination into meditation is through japa practice (repeating a mantra). The artist in me loves variety…here’s a list of 18 ways you can explore and hopefully never get bored with japa meditation 😊

  1. Repeat your mantra out loud
  2. Repeat your mantra as a whisper
  3. Repeat your mantra quietly
  4. Repeat the mantra fast
  5. Chant AUM not in a hum/ singing voice but in a talking voice
  6. Sing your mantra (can be raised a half or whole step after each 108 reps)
  7. Try chanting a seed syllable such as RAM or GAM
  8. Chant along with an audio track- there is so much meditation & kirtan music on Spotify & Youtube!
  9. Try chanting a long mantra such as gayatri mantra
  10. Only chant (or repeat the sound in your mind) on the exhale breath
  11. Try it only on the inhale breath and in between spaces (the pause that happens when you hold the breath out or in before next breath)
  12. Chant with a background sound- I love the apps ‘shrutibox’ and ‘relax melodies’
  13. Do japa while gazing at a murti or picture/ visual of a deity
  14. Do japa while focusing your attention on a specific chakra in your body
  15. Use essential oils on your beads or on your wrists and include aroma therapy with your japa/ deep breaths
  16. Try holding the 4 parts of AUM out for equal amounts of time (aah, ooh, mmm, silence). Try 2 seconds each, then 4.
  17. Use the grooves in your fingers to count repetitions of your mantra
  18. Try counting your mantra in 9s.