There is a Divine Pain that is present on the inside of Love.
There is a constant practice required. A practice of letting go of what was in order to learn how to give the love-embrace to what is. It is a practice of learning to love anew in each moment.
How can I love the dead bird on my porch when I know she was the one singing her seductive night song to me during that quiet time just before the sun rose?
How can I love the rose’s petals, brown and dry on the ground when just days before I was rejoicing in the beauty of her vibrant color?
How can I love the children who have grown from the babies I held in my arms? Those babes whose sweet milk-breath intoxicated me and caused my mother’s heart to swoon with a love so tender. They’re gone now, those babies. How can I find a way to let the grief of my loss usher me to a new moment of love?
Real Love, I believe, is a Deep Spiritual Practice. A prayer whispered in each new moment. An intentional opening of the heart to feel the embrace of THIS moment. It takes clear eyes and a strong, curious heart. Real Love is not for the timid. It is a practice for a courageous warrior.
Let me be that warrior.
We probably all play with our domesticated animals. Dogs, cats, there are a lot of opportunities for playfulness there. But what about playing with the undomesticated critters? The “wild” ones?
I’ve had the great good fortune to find myself in play with the furry and the feathered. Let me tell you some of those stories.
Last year when I was in Southern India, I made a habit of climbing the long spiral staircase to the rooftop each morning so I could meditate in solitude. After about the 3rd day, I was visited by a curious crow. He just watched me at first, but soon he hopped down onto the rooftop floor where I was sitting. He circled me, hopping around, looking at me then quickly not looking, as if he didn’t want me to really know he was there.
I began to talk to him. “Hi buddy, isn’t this a beautiful morning? Caaaww Caawww.” He would answer with short, staccato caws, and then some longer ones. We quickly became friends and then he decided he wanted to play. He found a stick that he would place securely in his beak, then he’d hop over to me and drop it. I would pick it up and toss it away from me. He would retrieve, hop over and drop it again. I would toss it away. I was playing fetch with a crow!! He loved this game and it went on almost every day for the 4 weeks I was there.
We’ve probably all read about how intelligent and playful crows are. I got to experience this first hand. It was a thrill.
My time spent on mountain bike trails provided me many opportunities to interact with the natural world, and gave me lots of chances to play with some magnificent creatures.
One day I was out on the trail by myself, cycling in a canyon of 1500 acres of wilderness. The canyon was populated with many coyotes and I’d always see one or two from afar as they were hunting and I was riding. But on this day something magical happened. Three of them came to play with me.
I was riding up a long, slow hill, pedaling slowly in a low gear. Push, push, pushing the pedals to propel myself slowly up the hill. To my surprise, a big, beautiful coyote came up to my left to run alongside me. And within seconds, 2 smaller ones were on my right. They had taken me, momentarily, as a part of their pack and we were running up the hill together. We glanced back and forth to one another and it was clear to me that they were enjoying this as much as I was. As we reached the pinnacle of the hill, the two on the right sprinted out in front of my bike, crossed the trail to join their buddy on the left, then as one yipped a little, as if to say, “goodbye friend”, they all sprinted down the side of the hill and out of sight.
On another day, I was riding a different trail. I was on a flat part of the canyon, sprinting as fast as I could. I noticed a beautiful red tailed hawk circling high overhead. She flew in circles, spiraling closer and closer to me until she was right above me, then she swooped out to my right and flew alongside me, at eye level. We both kept our speed as if we were in a playful race with one another. We glanced toward one another locking in eye contact, and then we each looked back ahead to negotiate this fast-paced race. She stayed with me for quite a few yards, then swooped around my head once more and off into the sky. I ran home to look up “hawk medicine” in my Native American resource books. I knew I had been blessed by this encounter. I wonder if she thought the same?
And then there was the roadrunner. What a funny guy he was. My husband and I had climbed a challenging hill and were taking a brief rest at the top, standing astride our bikes to catch our breath. On our left, about 30 yards away, we see a road runner. He clearly didn’t want us to see him. He locked his eyes onto us and ran to the nearest bush he could hide behind. We moved a little to the left so we could see him behind the bush. At that, he ran quickly to the next bush to hide again. We moved another bit so we could see him, and he ran again. He kept at this game of hide and seek until he made his way across the wide trail and off onto another path he had his sights on. The whole episode seemed like a game to him as though he was delighting in outsmarting us.
One of my favorite encounters of play is with the Box Springs Burros. I live at the foot of the Box Springs Mountain range and there are herds of wild burro living in those mountains. I first met them when I was cycling in the Box Springs. They were shy at first, and reticent to come near, but soon they began to recognize that I was not a threat. I offered them apples and carrots. No dice. Little by little, however, they began to take the fruit out of my hands. They began to gather around me and nuzzle. Then we played a little chase game together. I would run one way, they would run to follow. I would run another way, they would turn to follow. Some felt so much joy in this game that they would shout out with their resounding “eeeahhhh eeeahhhh”.
As you read this you might think, “How lucky is she that she’s had all these experiences”, and I agree, I am fortunate, I am blessed. But I hope my stories will encourage you to get out in nature, wander around, keep your eyes and your heart open and just maybe a critter will seek you out to play with.
8 Practical Ways To Take Your Yoga Practice 'Off the Mat' And Into Your Life (as published in SivanaSpirit November of 2017)
I’ve been teaching yoga for lots of years now. Something we yoga teachers often tell our students is that a great benefit of their yoga practice is that it can, and should, extend beyond their mat and into their lives. But what does that mean in practical terms? After thinking about this, I came up with these 8 practical ways to take our practice off the mat and into our life.
Be Aware of Placement
Placing our hands and feet with care sets the foundation for all of our yoga poses. Careful placement is just as important in our lives. If we pay attention to our surroundings and place ourselves in the right environment, we can offer ourselves a better place to grow to our full potential.
Use Your Breath
We use our breath to help us stay present during our yoga practice. When we link our breath to our poses, our practice becomes more than just physical exercise – it can become a meditation. We can also use our breath to stay present in our lives. When we feel stressed if we bring our awareness to the breath we can often bring ourselves back to the present moment, back to our calm center.
Create Muscle Energy (Hug Into The Practices That Serve You)
In yoga, we contract our muscles into a firm yet gentle “hugging in” state to create a safe container to then lengthen or stretch into a pose. We can also use the principle of hugging in as we move through our lives. We may find ourselves torn with too many opportunities, too many decisions, too many moments of chaos. If we hug into the practices that serve us – yoga, meditation, a dedication to a spiritual practice, healthful eating, these things can make us stronger and more able to face life’s ups and downs.
Create Length (Open To Something More)
Even when we hug in and ground down into our mat, we also lengthen through our spine to sit and stand tall. As we hug into the things that serve us, it is beneficial to keep ourselves open to “something more”. It might be a new hobby, a new way of thinking, a new friend. “Creating length” in our lives keeps us challenged and keeps life truly “alive”.
Remember The Paradox of Yoga
Yoga offers us a great paradox. It asks us to accept ourselves just as we are, and at the same time shift, change, grow into a fuller, more complete version of ourselves. Life offers us the same paradox – the opportunity to learn to accept and appreciate ourselves just as we are, and at the same time seek opportunities to become a more expanded version of ourselves.
Bring Mindfulness To Your Routines
Our attention may wander during yoga practice. When this happens, we call ourselves back by bringing focus to our placement, our breath, our muscle energy. We can also find ways to call ourselves to mindfulness in the daily routines of our lives. Bringing mindful awareness to the tasks of our day can help us stay focused in the present moment and live our lives to a greater fullness.
Practice Loving Kindness To Yourself
When we are new to our yoga practice, we may tend to compare our “progress” with others. When we do this, we often fall into a habit of judging ourselves. In yoga we practice acceptance of just who we are. We show ourselves loving kindness. As we move through life, instead of judging ourselves and comparing our “successes” or “lack of successes” to others, what if we could develop a habit of being kind and loving to ourselves? Anytime we hear that voice of self-criticism whispering in our ears, why not replace it with words of encouragement, acceptance, and loving-kindness?
Remember – It’s Called A Yoga Practice
We don’t call it our yoga perfect. We call it our yoga practice. We call it a practice because each time we come to our yoga mat, we practice accepting ourselves, challenging ourselves, creating a discipline for ourselves, loving ourselves, and so much more. We always try to come to our mat with a spirit of practice. Playful practice is even better. Why not approach our daily lives with this same spirit of practice. We can practice forgiving ourselves, loving ourselves, laughing with ourselves, nurturing ourselves. We’re not always going to get it right. It’s not ever going to be perfect. Why not face life with a spirit of practice? Let’s make that playful practice.
To read my article as it appeared in SivanaSpirit, copy and paste the link below:
Spiritual Shape-Shifting: The Benefits of Dedication to a Devotional Practice (as published in SivanaSpirit in January of 2018)
Don’t you sometimes wish that you could shapeshift? You know that thing that happens in Native American lore where the Shaman becomes an Eagle at just that moment when he needs to employ a much more expansive view of his world. Or when he needs to be strong beyond his own abilities so he becomes a Wolf, finds his strength, and howls at the moon.
What if we could all be shape-shifters? What if we could engage so deeply with the creative flow of the Universe that we could shape-shift and change ourselves. What if we could create better versions of ourselves?
Well, I’m here to tell you that we can. I know this because I am a shape-shifter; a Spiritual Shape-shifter. My tool of choice for shape-shifting is my daily mantra meditation practice
I have learned, through my practice, that I am not a static being, stuck with all of the error of my ways. I have learned that I have the ability to be a wildly creative being, pulsing myself out of all the places where I might feel trapped.
The feeling of being trapped by our thoughts or activities that don’t serve our highest good, is frustrating at best. It can even be downright depressing. If we’re feeling trapped by our thoughts or our habits, we feel stuck. We are lacking forward momentum.
We can look at Eastern philosophy which tells us that we may be in a tamasic state of being (lethargic, confused, maybe even depressed) or in a rajasic state (agitated, angry, aggressive). We may feel a deep yearning for something different, something better. But we don’t know how to change our course. We don’t know how to move from that feeling of yearning to a sense of fullness.
I can say confidently that I connect with the creative pulse of my life most fully as it emanates out from my daily mantra practice.
Mantra is a form of meditation in which one repeats Sanskrit mantras as a means of calming the active mind and swimming with the creative flow. When I’m consistent with my practice, I experience myself shifting from bad habits to better habits. I find myself in an increased flow of creativity.
I’ve studied diligently, over the past few years, to learn the correct Varṇa (pronunciation), Svara (tonal quality) and Mātrā (meter) of this practice. As I sit at my altar every morning and earnestly chant the mantras, I have come to know that they have a shape-shifting quality of their own.
Slowly, but steadily, I have noticed changes in the way I move through the world. I’m experiencing a spiritual metamorphosis of sorts. I guess you could say that I am shape-shifting.
I am no longer so quick to judge. Rather than judgment being my knee-jerk reaction, I have become more curious. My desire to place blame is evolving to an ability to forgive. Where I’ve been inclined to hold animosity, I am now more able to find empathy and compassion. The guilt that I’ve carried has shifted to forgiveness of myself. The physical pain I’d been carrying in my body for so many years has given way to ease and comfort.
My teacher calls this new way of being “Mantric Consciousness”.
When I first began chanting mantra, I knew about the whispered promises that came with committing to the daily practice, but I was pretty sure it would be a long, difficult journey before I found the yellow brick road that could lead me to a peaceful heart.
Well, I was wrong. Each day that I sat at my altar, the practice itself became easier. And soon, it shifted from ease to a sweet anticipation. After practicing regularly for many months, I began to notice my habits of thought and my actions beginning to shift and refine.
If I catch myself being judgmental, I make a turn toward curiosity and, more often than not, my curiosity leads me to compassion. If I find myself engaging in gossip, I think, “This is not who you are,” and I back out of the conversation. I have unearthed a feeling of forgiveness for those who have wronged me. And I have a newfound generosity of heart that thrills me. The part of this practice that fills me the most, however, is that I frequently fall deeply in love, with the world around me, with the people I share space with, and very sweetly, with myself.
I am not a shaman. I am a humble yoga teacher. I may not be able to change myself into an Eagle or a Wolf, but I have learned a secret for shape-shifting. I have learned that my dedication to my spiritual practice is making me a better person.
To read my article as it appeared in SivanaSpirit, copy and paste the link below:
How A Wounded Butterfly Taught Me The Beauty of Personal Evolution (as published on Elephant Journal January 2018)
My friend recently found a butterfly chrysalis attached to a plant outside her home and watched as the beautiful monarch emerged into the world.
There was a problem, however, as this butterfly had a curled, deformed wing. She brought it into her house and has been caring for it. She even named it: MissCurlyQ.
The good news is that MissCurlyQ is thriving in my friend’s care. The bad news is that she will never fly into a flower of her choice and experience sucking its nectar.
This got me thinking about the life of a butterfly and how it is the perfect metaphor for the challenges we face in our own lives. How does the caterpillar completely rearrange itself to become a butterfly?
Picture the plump caterpillar. Within the first days of life, it begins to eat everything in sight. In fact, it eats up to 100 times its weight in a day. It eats so much that it becomes heavy and lethargic. Too bloated to continue, it attaches itself to a leaf and hangs upside down, and a chrysalis (hard pupa shell) forms around it to camouflage and protect it.
Inside the hard chrysalis, deep inside the caterpillar’s body, a highly organized group of tiny cells, known as imaginal discs, begin to form. The caterpillar’s immune system doesn’t recognize these discs and so it begins to fight them, trying to kill them off. But the imaginal discs are strong and they keep forming faster and faster.
The imaginal discs fight against the resistance. They begin to link up, and soon, they overcome the caterpillar whose body then turns into goo—a nutrient-rich soup meant to feed the imaginal discs. As the discs feed on this soup, they become butterfly-specific cells. They begin to form the parts that make up the butterfly. A few clump together and form a wing, more clump to form the antennae, more for the eyes, the legs, and the body.
Once the butterfly is fully formed, the chrysalis becomes transparent. The butterfly can now claw itself out of its protective shell. It emerges as a fully formed butterfly, but in an upside down state. It is somewhat disoriented as it waits for its wings to dry and release from where they are stuck to its body. As it emerges from the chrysalis, it appears to pause in gratitude; honoring the chrysalis and the caterpillar, thanking them for the food and protection they offered. Then, off it flies into this brand new iteration of its life, remembering its “caterpillarness” but fully ready for its “butterflyness.”
I think we are a little like the caterpillar. We move along in life, feeding ourselves through our experiences, nourishing ourselves with all that we’ve learned. As we move through the experiences of our lives, we often get stuck in patterns that don’t serve us. We become bogged down, sluggish, and maybe even hardened.
One day, we become exposed to something new that excites us. Along comes a new idea, a better way of being, a new imagining. We may resist this at first, but in spite of our being a little frightened, in spite of our resistance, this new calling begins to take shape and become stronger.
Everything we’ve experienced up to this point is a part of the “food” that nourishes our growth. Without all of our life experiences, we may not have the perspective to envision the ways in which we can grow and transform.
As we drop our resistance, our transformation takes shape and we emerge as a new person, fed and strengthened by our whole life’s journey. We are strong and ready to fly. And if we are wise, we feel gratitude for the journey that brought us here.
I believe the butterfly’s story also reflects a story of our country’s struggle to become a better version of itself. Is it possible for us to reinvent ourselves? Long standing institutions of misogyny, racism, and oppression have resisted the emergence of a new way of being, but the old way is no longer sustainable and the time has come for us to emerge as something better. Our collective experiences, no matter how painful they have been, are the soup that will feed the arrival of a new way of being. "Time's up" indeed.
MissCurlyQ, by the way, has been serving a greater purpose in her life. Her host mother happens to be a nurse practitioner in a wound and convalescent center. MissCurlyQ travels to work with her host mother to sit on the hands of patients. I hear that tears of joy and wonder stream down their faces as this little butterfly sits gently on their hand while their wounds are being treated.
MissCurlyQ has become a therapy butterfly. She may never taste the nectar of a flower, but she has tasted the nectar of compassion.
To read my article as published in Elephant Journal, copy and paste the link below:
Samskara, Sankalpa & Tapas - The Yogi Trifecta that's better than a New Year's Resolution (as published in Elephant Journal December 2017)
It’s that time again when we look ahead to the year in front of us and imagine it to be better than the one we are leaving behind.We may think of stopping a bad habit, creating a positive one, or reaching for a significant goal in the upcoming year. We resolve to evolve. But let’s face it: our resolutions rarely create the magic we intend.
Before we resolve to change the bad habits that plague us, perhaps we need to understand them a little better.
In yogic philosophy, our habituations are called samskaras. They are mental, emotional, or psychological imprints. Every time we receive a bit of sensory input or produce a thought, a subtle imprint is recorded in our memory. The more intense the input or the more often it is repeated, the stronger the impression becomes. Eventually these imprints become a part of who we are and influence our behavior. It is even suggested that we may be born with a karmic inheritance of patterns through which we cycle over and over again.
Repeating samskaras reinforces them, creating a groove that is difficult to avoid. I like to think of them as our psychological comfort zones. Samskaras can manifest in positive ways such as healthy eating habits or positive self-talk. They can also be negative such as mental patterns that influence low self-esteem or destructive relationships. Our negative samskaras are what block our positive growth.
Changing samskaras is not a process to be taken lightly.
What typically happens on New Year’s Day is that we identify something we want to change, or something we want to manifest, and so we create that tired old “New Year’s resolution.” We declare our resolve in January, and by February, we’ve slipped back into old habits of behavior and forgotten about our commitment. Changing our samskaras requires a much stronger intention and a dedication to a practiced discipline that will support our intention.
Yoga teaches us that the intention we are looking for is called a sankalpa. Unlike our New Year’s resolution, a sankalpa is a sacred intention formed by the heart and the mind. It is a solemn vow that is steeped with determination to harness our will and create focus in our mind and our body. But there is an interesting paradox that we must observe when setting our intention and making our vow. We must realize that we are already perfect as we are, even while we are reaching for change.
If we begin with the premise that we are perfect just as we are, we can ask that deepest, most wise part of ourselves what it is that we truly want, what it is that we need. Sankalpa unites our mind with those deeper parts that can sometimes be difficult to access.
Conscious use of sankalpa is a compelling way of communicating, to our emotional and spiritual bodies, what it is that we truly want. Instead of asking for something magical outside of ourselves to create what we want, we tune in to our own deep knowing. Sankalpa is not something we have to make up. It’s already there. All we have to do is listen courageously to what is calling out from deep inside our heart.
Once we set our intention, we must not be impatient. Significant change doesn’t happen overnight. We have no magic wand in hand, so it’s important to set milestones to help us stay committed during the long year ahead.
So you’ve identified the samskara (habituation) that you want to change, and you’ve created your sankalpa (sacred intention) and taken your solemn vow to remain dedicated to your intention. How are you going to keep your commitment?
The final ingredient in our recipe for change is tapas. (fiery discipline).
Tapas is the disciplined practice of implementing your plan for change. It is the dedicated practice that actually causes the change. The word tapas derives from the Sanskrit word tap which means “to heat.” Purposeful change in behavior creates heat from the friction of the new pattern rubbing against the old, negative one.
Change is usually quite uncomfortable. When we consciously change a habit, discomfort arises and creates emotional or physical heat. The heat generated by practicing tapas will incinerate the impurities of our negative samskaras. If we acknowledge that the discomfort generated by the discipline is ultimately good for us, we are more likely to remain dedicated to our practice.
In summary, tapas (fiery discipline) challenges our long-standing samskaras (patterns of behavior), and gradually burns them up and clears the way for our sankalpa (sacred intention) to emerge as significant spiritual and psychological growth.
Rather than reverting to another same ol’ same ol’ resolution on New Year’s Day, I invite you to commit to a new way of evolving.
To read my article as it originally appeared on Elephant Journal, copy and paste link below:
Women Nurturing Women: The Importance of Returning to the Well (as published in Elephant Journal August 2017)
Through the centuries, women have gathered at the community well to wash their clothes and gather water.But more than this, women gathered at the well to gain sustenance from community, from one another. Women returned again and again to the well where they were nourished, both by the cleansing waters and by the community of fellow seekers who gathered at the water.
There was a rhythm of unfolding that happened at the well. As the women met one another and began to trust, they would start to share the stories of their hearts. One brave woman would go first. She would tell her story, and a second woman would find a seed of truth in that story that related to her own life. From that seed, a deeper story would emerge.
These women began to find meaning in their stories. The stories informed them, gave them validation, sparked their curiosity, and dropped them into a new connectedness with one another.
These women may each have come to the well from a different village. There may have been several communities, and many families represented in the gatherings at the water. But, over time, the women became a tribe. Their bond grew stronger through the years and this tribe became the primary anchor that supported them. The women grew to become sisters, and the gathering of this tribe of sisters became a catalyst for personal growth that was the impulse for a sweet kind of spiritual unfolding.
Each woman took the nourishment from the well back to her life within the village. The lessons of the well were not just feeding the women. These lessons were helping to sustain each village. Each community grew healthier because of the sustenance the women received and the wisdom they were growing into. Over time, the overall society became a better place.
I can close my eyes right now and imagine the pleasure these women shared. There is a profound satisfaction in entering into deep relationship with other women. There is a unique sense of comfort in sharing our stories, in supporting and encouraging one another. There is a special kind of nurturing that happens when we enter into deep, meaningful soul-talk, when we engage in rooted listening, and when we are brave enough to speak from our hearts.
Our present day lives are consumed with activities and with our endless to-do lists. We are pulled in so many different directions by the necessities of life that we often ignore the deeper stories that inform the meaning and purpose of our lives, the stories that enrich our journey.
The poetry and true potential of our lives can be found when we take the time to gather and connect with one another in a deep, meaningful way. It is then that we return to the deep “well of the soul.”
There aren’t many opportunities for returning to the well in today’s world. Where are the places that we can really take pause and find our tribe?
Some find this in a women’s fellowship group within the walls of a church or synagogue. Some find it at their yoga studios. Perhaps there is a measure of it in the “mommy and me” playgroups that young mothers join.
I like to encourage women to find or start a women’s wisdom circle. These gatherings have a dedicated time and place to meet regularly, and there is usually a curriculum that encourages the sharing of stories and experiences.
I have been a facilitator of women’s circles on and off for many years now. I started doing this in the early 1990s to meet the need of women who were longing for a fuller experience of discovering who they are and what their place is in the world.
I can tell you this: when women gather, there is a special alchemy that happens. Women who have not learned to use their full voice somehow find a way to express their deepest longings. Women who have been timid or fearful find their courage. Women who have never been validated are able to take a new look at themselves through the eyes of the tribe. Cross generational and cross cultural understanding surfaces and we learn profound lessons from one another.
There is an undeniable power behind women nurturing women. There is a deep sustenance in women returning to the well. We can be sure that, just as in ancient times, the gifts that surface in a tribe of women will ripple out into the families and communities that these women inhabit.
There is, indeed, much work to be done in this messy world of ours. I believe we all need to be spiritual and emotional warriors, fighting “the good fight.” But the work of a warrior starts with finding and connecting with one’s own spiritual center. For that, I believe we need to return to the well.
To read my article as it appeared in Elephant Journal, copy and paste the link below.
Is there anybody on the planet who doesn’t love to sing (at least in the shower or in the car)?Or, if you don’t love to sing yourself, don’t you love to listen to someone sing a heartfelt, moving song? Doesn’t the right piece of music elicit all kinds of emotions in you?
Don’t some songs seem more inspiring than others, maybe even holding the ability to allow you to feel something much greater than yourself?
A really great song can take you out of yourself and transport you to a place of expansiveness. It can take you to a peaceful place. A really great song can be truly transformational.
For me, this is kirtan.
Traditionally, kīrtan is a form of devotional music that is structured around a “call and response” method. The leader or “wallah” sings a word or phrase, and the audience sings that word or phrase back. These aren’t just any group of words placed strategically together; they are divine mantras.
These mantras are culled from ancient texts that honor the many expressions of that which is sacred or divine. These mantras are not just the sound vibration of divine energy; they are that: divine energy. So, when we chant these mantras, we are calling in the very presence of the divine. And, in a kīrtan gathering, that divine energy is palpable.
Kirtan has become very popular in the Western world in the past 10 years. Just slightly trailing the popularity of yogasana (the physical practice of yoga), kīrtan has become prevalent at yoga festivals and in yoga studios all over the world. And with its popularity, many kīrtan wallahs have recorded kirtan albums.
But the experience of live kīrtan and listening to a CD or iTunes version of kīrtan is like the difference between taking a bath in your bathtub, versus diving into the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii—no comparison.
At a live kīrtan gathering, the energy often starts as a quiet sacred prayer and builds to an ecstatic, transformational state of being. Bliss is a word that comes to mind to define this experience.
The kīrtan wallah is often channeling divine energy, as he or she chants these sacred mantras. But the wallah alone does not a kīrtan make. The leader is carried just as much by the energy of the audience as the audience is by the kīrtan leader. There is a symbiotic relationship between the wallah and the audience. There is a profound give and take as the repetition of the mantra goes on and on and builds to an ecstatic height—or a sacred depth. Kīrtan is never meant to be a performance. Kīrtan is a loving interplay between the leader, the audience, and that which is divine.
One of the really cool things about live kīrtan is that it doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself to be a good singer, because all voices blend and become one. In fact, something quite magical often happens—something called entrainment. This is when everyone present at the kīrtan begins to synchronize—voices, breath, heartbeat. Everyone becomes one with The One.
When chanting traditional kīrtan, the mantras that make up the chants are most often chanted in the ancient language of Sanskrit or Gurmukhi. This brings another magical element to the experience. Sanskrit is a vibrational language. The sound of the word is actually the quality of its meaning.
So, for example, when we are chanting, “Lokāḥ Samastāḥ Sukhino Bhavantu,” a traditional chant for peace, we actually embody peace. We are becoming peace. When we chant the word “cat,” we are not bringing a cat into the room—but when we chant the many names for God, we are calling the very presence of the divine into the room.
The tradition in kīrtan is to open the evening by honoring all of our teachers—past, present, and future—followed by an invocation to Gaṇeśa, the energy of removing obstacles and grounding us in union with that which is sacred. The kīrtan wallah now leads us on the journey of ecstatic chant.
After each mantra, there is an honored silence before beginning the next chant. This is an act of quieting all the senses to dip ourselves deep into the silence before it then progresses again to the creative impulse of sound.
The rich experience of kīrtan in its entirety takes us on that great transformational yogic journey, from the outward identification with yearning and ego, to the inward experience of fullness and peace.
At its very best, in my humble opinion, this can be a sacred journey back to the innocence of your own tender heart, opening you to a profound connection with all the other gentle hearts that are present.
To read my article as it appeared on Elephant Journal, copy and paste the link below.
Practicing Bliss: Calming the Hyperactive Mind with Breath and Mantra (as published in Elephant Journal May 2017)
Wouldn’t we all like to live in a space of being consciously aware and experiencing bliss?Wouldn’t it be sweet to have this, rather than being pushed and pulled by all the externals (news, politics, TV, junk food, social media) in our lives?
Well, here’s the good news: We can do this through breath and mantra.
But first, let’s talk a little bit about the challenges we face in our daily lives that knock us off our center. I have come to believe that no matter who we are and no matter how picture perfect our lives may look from the outside, we all face challenges within our families.
Trauma, drama, abuses (self and other), they’re all a part of the tapestry that makes up most families. And so often our families of origin have left us with bruises and cuts to our own psyche, to our complex emotional and energetic landscape.
These wounds of family and self cause us to reach for peace and comfort outside of ourselves. “Give me something, please, to distract me from this stress, this pain, this heartache.” And so we reach for alcohol, drugs, junk food, social media, TV, movies, hypersexual activity, anything that can take us out of our distress, even if only for a few minutes.
Now we have salved the wound, but usually this “medicine” causes us more stress. We binge eat and then we beat ourselves up for what we’ve done. We watch the news and we become fearful of what our world has become and what the future brings. Our drinking or drug use becomes out of control and presents us with more health or social problems.
Most often the thing we are seeking the most is a moment of emotional peace. “You know I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind,” as The Beatles used to say.
As a yogāsana (the physical practice of yoga) teacher, I teach breath practice for connecting to moments of peace.
A breath practice can be as simple as this: Tune into your breath and become aware of the rhythm of your breath. Deepen the inhales and exhales just a little so that your breath pattern becomes a slightly slower and a fuller. Now notice that there is a pause at the end of each exhale before the breath turns to become an inhale again. Notice this pause, rest in this pause.
This is a small space where we can find peace, and dare I say, find bliss in our daily lives. This is our respite from all the externals. This simple practice drops us from the sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response and deepens us into the parasympathetic nervous system where the pulse slows, the blood pressure drops, calming chemicals are released into our system, and we can find some comfort.
Once you’ve practiced this on your yoga mat, through the easy poses as well as the most challenging, you can now practice taking it out into your life—during the easy days as well as the most challenging.
You get a call from Uncle Robert who has always rubbed you the wrong way. Drop into your breath to calm down. You get caught in a horrendous traffic jam on the 405 when you’re headed to a meeting you can’t be late to. Use your breath practice.
If this feels nurturing to you and you want to expand this feeling further, I recommend a mantra meditation practice. As a Nāda Yoga (the yoga of sound) teacher, I have learned that mantra is a wonderful tool that brings us back from the externals and connects us to a sense of peace and calm.
As we attune to the vibrational sound of the mantra, as we attend to this with greater and greater subtlety, we begin the great journey inward that allows us to relax in the embrace of our true nature. And what is that true nature? It’s a place of peace, unconditional love, curiosity, empathy, a desire for collaboration, and inclusiveness. It’s your “bliss place.”
If you’ve tried other methods of meditation and they simply haven’t worked for you, you might try mantra. Chanting a mantra (a word or phrase, usually in Sanskrit, that is repeated, usually 108 times) gives the ordinary mind something to attach to. This breaks the habit of thinking “junk thoughts” which are connected to a predominately negative or judgmental inner dialogue.
A mantra practice slowly brings our hyperactive mind down to a place of inner stillness. And out of this stillness emerges the ability to tap into greater depths of creativity and the joyful expression of our deepest purpose in life; that state of Ānanda Śakti, the bliss of consciousness.
To read my article as it appeared in Elephant Journal, copy and past the link below.
Kathy is a Yogasana (physical yoga) and Nada Yoga (Yoga of Sound) teacher. She facilitates Women's Wisdom Circles, is skilled at storytelling and loves leading heartfelt discussions. She is certified in teaching Sanskrit, Vedic Mantra and other sound based practices.