Friday, July 11, 2014

Connecting in Sweetness: Why I love singing sacred chants with others

"All deep things are song. 
It seems somehow the very central essence of us, song; 
as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls! "
~ Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881)
One of my greatest joys and most profound pleasures in life is singing — especially sacred chanting — especially with others.

For me, there’s nothing quite like gathering together in a safe group and diving deep into these ancient wisdom tones. As I feel the chants resonate in my body and mind, I watch my crusty, creaky, cranky parts gently break up and release. Without thinking about it much, I find myself more and more in each present moment — until, there I am, standing peaceful and joyful in my natural center, delighted to see my sweet and happy inner self. What a nurturing blessing for me and my journey!

I think that this simple practice can also offer us something even more precious — a way to enjoy happy merged energy connection with others, and, through that, help heal the larger energetic body of our communities.

All that, just because we decide to sing.
• • •

I first experienced this type of chanting years ago at a Hindu ashram. I was invited to an evening event by a friend, and really didn’t know what to expect. But I was curious and so I went.

After meeting in a pleasant urban neighborhood, my friend and I entered the ashram’s simple clean-lined building, walked into an open modest room, and joined others sitting on chairs and the floor.

Once everyone settled in, the group started chanting unfamiliar but soothingly repetitive Sanskrit chants, simple syllables in a call-and-response format so that it was easy for me to follow along. As I figured out what to do, I felt increasingly at ease — and was delighted with the shared singing vibration field we were increasingly creating together. How interesting!

And then we meditated in silence, and I felt that vibration turn into a silent connected resonance, like all our bodies were all quietly humming together at the same time. How sweet and deeply satisfying.

As we emerged from that, the leader then gave a gentle talk at the front of the room, including linking this experience with the religious word G-d. (Aside: If you're curious about my spelling, see this link.)

And I remember thinking to myself — “That’s G-d? Why didn’t anyone ever say so?”

It’s not as if I'd had no experience with that popular deity. After all, I was raised as a Christian and went to church each Sunday, sang hymns amidst the sermons, and read Bible stories to my brothers. Also, at times growing up I felt subtle invisible energies that I now know were mystical and intuitive experiences (though I never told anyone about them at the time, because I figured they’d consider me crazy).

But, sitting in that resonating ashram, hearing him use that word, I suddenly saw that these two experiences were deeply connected. I realized that, underneath the formal protocols and defined worldviews of each religion, there must be energetic aligned mystical experiences just like this — at least at some point in their history, at least in some versions of their paths.

In that moment, I felt like I was connected to some key experiential root of being alive as an energetic/material human being. And I was fascinated that the people there didn't have to agree on any religious concepts to get there!

• • •

As I’ve explored this and other spirit/body practices over the years, my awe and appreciation of these tools has only deepened. 

And I’ve come to feel that experiencing this type of internal/external energy connection within ourselves and with others isn't weird or odd. On the contrary, I think that it's actually quite natural for humans. I think it's built into our equipment, was once a normal precious dimension of our lives — and is one of the real joys of being alive.

I also think that the easy access to this state with singing is probably one of the reasons that singing together has been the norm in a wide range of cultures over countless generations, in both religious and cultural domains. It’s something simple that people can do to create deep beauty in our lives, while also helping to harmonize and maintain the energetic health of both ourselves and our communities.

Seeing how many cultures used to regularly sing together, I've realized just how different our modern culture is. Here, instead of us all singing together in a circle, we're much more likely to be sitting in rows of chairs (or standing in steaming undulating darkness) as we watch the singing experts in front and above us on the stage.

While going to a concert like that can certainly have its own pleasures, it also means that singing has moved away from its role as a way to connect us to the communal "we," where each of us can participate, express ourselves as equals, see each other eye-to-eye, and be immersed inside and out by the sacred vibrations.

Instead, this stage-oriented approach reflects our culture’s too-common hierarchical orientation, where only those at the top of the pyramid get attention and praise. Meanwhile, the rest of us are relegated to singing in bathrooms and cars, or maybe the chaotic madness of a concert — or maybe not at all, concluding that we don’t sing well enough because we don’t sing like the stars.

Thus this amazing innate joyful gift of singing becomes focused on the external-viewing performance, not the shared internally-connected experience. And something is lost, for each person and the culture.

• • •

I know that I miss the beauty of such shared connections as the basis of our shared journeys. That's why it's been such a pleasure to weave it back into my life.

And I think that others miss this type of connection as well, even if we don't know how to put it in words — or even know that better is possible.  It can be so easy for us to just go along when our culture tells us in so many ways that we’re just separate beings having individual experiences, all on our own. We might not even realize that we're missing the chance of experiencing the vitalizing gifts of a healthy shared merged existence. This I think easily leads people to feel lonely, isolated, and overburdened — trying to do so much all by ourselves or in tiny circles, perhaps even with an undercurrent of despair.

And, as this type of disconnection has too often become the norm, it can also easily lead to another troubling outcome — a shared heartlessness, where it becomes acceptable for people to take from others without caring or taking responsibility for the harm that they cause. Instead of treating others as sacred beings, they're viewed as disposable objects to use and discard. Why should we care after all — if each of us really are just separate things — if we can't see how our lives are already fundamentally supported by others and community? It can seem reasonable to just take what we want and not care about anything else!

This callousness easily extends to how we view and treat other cultures, creatures, and ecosystems. And so, in the face of regular vast harm being done in the world (including that tied to our own actions) people too often just shrug with indifference — or, even worse, behave with an active “contempt for the common good” (a phrase offered by the current Pope).

But I think it's not just those on the receiving end of this mindset who are harmed. All of us can feel sad and lonely from the disconnection it generates.

• • •

Thankfully there are also so many people who are nurturing positive connections in this world, and I am so grateful for that. And there are so many wonderful approaches for healing this disconnection. I’ve worked to contribute to that in various ways over the years.

But what I love about sacred singing as a healing balm for this modern malaise is that it's so easy and fun to do (when it's done well), and nurtures us both personally and collectively. It's a joyful path to healing!

Plus it fits well in our religiously pluralistic society, with so many of us following a wide variety of religious and life paths.

How beautiful that we don’t need to all join the same religious path to just come together, sing, and feel our shared sweetness (at least when a chanting experience is designed to be inclusive). How wonderful that we can all participate without being required to agree on beliefs, use the same words to explain our experience, or swear allegiance to a particular guru or priest. We can just come and sing.

And, through this, a wide range of people can meet in a shared sacred space, cultivating our own hearts, cleansing our own bodies, meeting others in the sweet bliss of divine resonance, weaving the web of healthy community, and feeling the vibration of Life. Ahhhh....

Well, that's how I experience it anyway. And it's a real blessing in my life.

And it's fun for me to finally put it into words and share it with you today.

• • •

So I invite you to share your experience with me. Have you tried sacred chanting? What kind? What did you like best about it? Do you experience some of what I share here?

And, if you haven’t explored it much, I hope that these ideas inspire you, stoke your curiosity, or perhaps lead you to see it in a different way.

I have more that I could share on this topic, if folks are interested, including my thoughts about how one might start to explore sacred chanting and some of my favorite options. Let me know what you might find interesting!

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1 comment:

  1. It's not just me! Here are some other folks sharing their experience of music and singing in ways that resonate with this post. How fun!

    "Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
    —Berthold Auerbach

    “Then the singing enveloped me. It was furry and resonant, coming from everyone's very heart. There was no sense of performance or judgment, only that the music was breath and food.”
    ― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

    "Without music life would be a mistake."
    — Friedrich Nietzsche

    "Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons. You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body."
    — Oliver Wendell Holmes

    "Music melts all the separate parts of our bodies together."
    — Anaïs Nin

    Music is the universal language of mankind.
    — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Outre-Mer