How are we to make mantra relevant and practical for igniting enduring transformational change? Because this is what the tradition promises. Mantras are considered among the deeper ancient Yogic practices. So how do we harness their energy and apply them to our modern lives?
I decided to commit to a traditional 40-day sadhana (daily practice). I thought I would share a little as to how I went about it for those of you new to mantra and those of you who wish to take it a bit deeper.
I’m hoping it makes the esoteric practice of mantra more practical and accessible to you. I’m hoping it might help you organize your practice, while keeping a certain flexibility. And I’m hoping it will catalyze deep shifts in your being, as I believe the tradition continues to do in mine.
1. Choose a mantra. I picked a simple mantra I have used before but not explored in-depth. Most of my teachers have been Shakta or Shaivite teachers, so I picked a Krishna mantra: Om kleem Krishnaya namaha which could translate as, "I surrender to the energy of desire, beauty, and creativity". (To learn the mantra, you can access it in the free "Resource Library" I am creating which you can access immediately by creating a log in and password by clicking on the LOG IN/REGISTER link above.)
2. Establish a structure and stick to it. I chose 40 days. If this seems daunting, try 21 days. Still daunting? How does seven sound? I decided upon 1 hour per day of chanting and meditation. I was loose within this boundary as to how long I chanted and how long I meditated. If you have 20 minutes a day, devote 20 minutes! It doesn't need to be one chunk of time either; you could do 5 minutes here and there for a sum total of 20 minutes. If only 10 total, then so be it.
3. Journal. You may want to have a journal in which you write down any insights, images, feelings that come up for you during this time. No need to analyze things or become fixated on any experience. Allow it all to pass through you. But still, the journal might help in clarifying any insights that come through your practice.
This is what I knew about "Krishna” going into this: I knew there are many Krishnas. There is Krishna the infant, an image of Consciousness manifesting as a baby. There is young adult Krishna, who plays his flute and frolics in an idyllic forest with multiple female lovers. I was most familiar with Krishna the charioteer of the Bhagavad Gita, who imparts lessons on living a dharmic life to Arjuna, a soldier. I also knew that the word Krishna means “Dark”. And that was that! So I began.
I’ll share some journal notes as to how this unfolded for me in meditation over the 40 days:
Day 1. The most brilliant flash of golden light I have ever experienced within my inner vision.
Day 2. Image: I am a passenger in a car, being driven deep into the depths of a forest at night. The car feels like it is on auto-pilot.
Day 3. Image: The Goddess Kali looming towards me, tongue lolling out!
Day 4. An absolutely enormous black bee.
Day 6. The sounds “swa-yam-ba-yu” keep surfacing in my mind after meditation. I have no idea what this means. (OK, I caved in and Googled it. Wikipedia informs me that: “Svayambhu (स्वयम्भू) is a Sanskrit word that means 'self-manifested', 'self-existing', or 'that is created by its own accord' ... Krishna is said to be the self-manifested svayambhu form of Brahman as the first cause of creation”. OK, cool!)
Day 9. A little girl in a tutu spinning and dancing playfully.
Day 15. A baby. A man and a woman kissing passionately. Kali again.
Days 18-20. Nothing.
Day 24. Fear surfacing during meditation.
Day 25. A man lovingly attending to a woman’s feet; there is a black spot on the woman’s toe... Overall a very erotically charged meditation!
Day 28. A hot air balloon.
Day 30. A ceramic cow being painted sky blue.
Day 34. Honey flowing out of a woman's mouth.
And there was more. Some of it was very personal, specific to me, and I have chosen to keep this to myself. Many days there was nothing. But as you can see, you may have images, sounds, lights, physical sensations, or emotions. They may be fleeting. They may be strong. They may be ugly, benign, or captivating. Some of this may be the effect of the sound’s energy, pushing through obstructions within your being, releasing locked up energies. Meaning: some experiences will just be manifestations of your imbalances. Great! Or you may have absolutely no images, sensations, etc. and that’s OK too. (Hey, no imbalances! ... Just joking.) I tend to be very visual, you may not be. Maybe your experience will be more emotional, maybe more tactile. Maybe you will just feel more relaxed and centred. Have no expectations. There is no right or wrong. Just stick with it. Trust yourself and trust the tradition. Mantras “encode” a sort of revelation about Consciousness, which starts to come through with focus and surrender. More importantly, you are creating an energetic shift within your being that allows you to function from a different place. The more it goes, the more you start to embody the energy held in the mantra.
So, back to Krishna. Right from the get-go, I felt as if I was being drawn into the depths of my being. As we descend into our core, through the "psychological forest", we may encounter emotions and pure animal desires along the way. Yet within the field of “Krishna”, they become filtered through the heart, alchemized into a sweet devotional love, which is called “bhakti” in yoga.
This is also the state of Eros or sacred union. From our deepest nature arises desire; desire for deep connection and bonding, not only sexually or in other love relationships, but consciously with the field of love itself. Experiencing both makes our life richer and provides expression for deep, important aspects of our selves.
“Krishna” is this unifying field of love that collapses all polarities... which he also playfully embodies! He is the totality: light and dark, male and female, spiritual and physical. While Shiva embodies the whole yet is transcendent, Krishna is more present, immanent, and relatable. The counterpart to his sublime form is Kali, dark mother Goddess, who may appear when it is time to liberate some internal obstacles. Just as Krishna integrates the darkness of life, "he" incorporates the fullness of the Feminine. His beloved Radha, a passionate young woman, is considered integral to his being. Their divine relational play, or "Lila", is the interplay of all universal energies.
Krishna is thus the ecstatic creative aspect of being, whether expressed in ourselves as the universal urge for procreation or expressed as the artist/musician becoming an instrument of the creative will. Prior to this sadhana I had known nothing of Krishna's relationship with bees; I confirmed it later. Vrindavan, the idyllic forest where Krishna abides, is said to pulsate with a black radiance from the swarms of black honeybees. Krishna himself is associated with these bees, their honey being symbolic of the golden flow of sacred wisdom: the goal of all Yogas.
And on a more practical daily level?
Krishna is the experience of the wide-open heart. I remember one teacher saying in exasperation, “You don’t need to keep protecting your heart. When your heart is open, it protects you!” When your heart, not your head, is driving, you are more able to skilfully navigate whatever is arising in your outer life.
When you are operating from the heart you also experience a felt sense of being “in” love, independent of any other person; a good place to tap into whether you have a significant other or whether you don't. Take responsibility for your own state!
And Lila. My daughter's name is Lila which, as mentioned above, means “The Play of the Universe”. I thought of her greeting me one morning with, “Four is really fun, mom. How four years old can you be today?” And I remember her leaping about in a sparkling lake, hollering, "Come dance with me in the waves, mom! Can’t you hear them singing to us?”
This is "Krishna": spontaneous, pure, playful. Loving. Heart wide open. Connected. It is the abode of the child. The refuge of the ardent lover. And the realm of the poet or musician who resonates with the energetic dance.
Ready for the dance? What will be revealed? Life is living itself through you, as you. Step into the Heart and be embraced by life's sweetness.
There's a lot more to say about Krishna! If you would like a little more, I have added the mantra with context, pronunciation, and sound file to the free "Resource Library" which you can access immediately by creating a log in and password by clicking on the LOG IN/REGISTER link above.
There will be workshop on Monday, August 7 from 7-8:30pm at Cafe Zephyr in NDG, hosted by Transitions NDG. They are great people working for positive change, both outer and inner! Suggested $10 donation. More info here.
Krishna painting image: Wikimedia
Krishna forest statue: Wikimedia
A yogi/ni strives for physical and mental balance. Not just to maintain a sense of inner peace but because it is believed in yoga that mental waves vibrate and radiate out into the subtle atmosphere. Thoughts are considered imperishable because energy can never be destroyed, only transformed. Gulp. Now that’s a daunting thought!
The above photo sits on my bookcase. It's is a photo I took years ago travelling in the Yukon. This image makes me think, "As above, so below" to which I sometimes add, "As on the inside, so on the outside". I look at it often because it reminds me to be calm and inspires a state of serenity I wish I could sustain.
Luckily for me I also have a hypersensitive young child who seems directly plugged into my inner state. She has an uncanny way of knowing what I’m thinking and feeling, and exhibits great talent for mirroring it all back to me. She helps me keep my act clean. Thank God for intimate relationships! They propel us towards growth like nothing else can—even more than those attempts to "get away from it all"!
Our thoughts are dynamic forces. They create our inner life and stimulate resonant experiences in our outer life. We all know this to some degree but this was really driven home once when I was away on a retreat.
Some years ago now, I went to a yoga centre for a five-day retreat in which a high-ranking Tibetan monk chanted mantras many hours a day while we participants laid on the floor, snuggled up in our blankets and cushions. There were occasional drums, horns, and bells punctuating the chanting. I loved it! I surfed in and out of deep states of consciousness, released blockages in my body/mind, and felt both relaxed and elated when it was over.
On the last morning, participants were doing the usual rounds saying their good-byes. I was quiet, not wishing to ruin the state I was in by interacting with others. My mind was immersed in a beautiful state of stillness. As I folded up my mat and put away my blankets, I noticed the monk’s young male assistant across the large room and in that moment an innocent thought leapt forth, “He’s cute!” He immediately turned around, smiled at me, and started walking towards me purposefully. I jumped, turned around, and hightailed it out through the nearest door!
I scurried down the hall, my sense of beautiful stillness completely disturbed. Now I felt like … hmmm… a stew cooking on the stove. (Ok, it’s not a great metaphor but it’s the only one I can come up with!) Feelings, thoughts, and emotions of different densities, weights, and sizes seemed to be cooking at different speeds, floating at different levels, and moving at different rhythms within my body/mind. I was acutely and viscerally aware of a mélange of energies that were usually below my radar. In short, I felt pretty weird.
Without going into the details, the day more or less continued in this manner. This state of hyper-awareness wore off within about 24 hours though and I was back to good ol’ mostly unconscious. It felt much more comfortable.
I’ve had a few similar situations since in retreat settings where the fabric of the moment becomes so tightly woven. It only happens under the energetic wings of an auspicious master teacher. A few "lessons learned" were much less quaint than my cute guy story.
Needless to say, I do not live in that profound state of connection and unity in my regular, daily life. As a householder, a mother, and an employee my days are busy. So is my mind. But those experiences changed me.
Your thoughts, attitudes, and emotions are Shakti.
Shakti means power.
How are you using this power?
What are you doing to yourself?
And what might you be doing unconsciously to those around you?
There are a variety of yogic techniques to shift our mental states including asanas, pranayama, and meditation. And of course, mindfulness techniques derived from the Buddhist traditions are increasingly popular. But mantra is the classic yogic tool to refine the mind.
The mind is based on words, which are based on sound vibrations, that sustain particular images, emotions, and feelings. Mantras tap into beneficial archetypal energies latent within our being and also align ourselves with these same archetypal structures outside of our being. By shifting the prevailing vibratory pattern through the use of mantra we can dissolve or transform negative thinking habits. Japa, mantra repetition, not only reigns in the conscious mind through the use of a mental anchor, mantras also work on the subconscious level as well. While affirmations have become the rage in conjunction with positive psychology, mantras are different. Instead of starting at the level of the conscious and through repetition working an affirmation into the unconscious, mantras are drawn from the deepest levels of Consciousness itself.
So on a practical note:
And take a good look at your life. How might you be sustaining situations through internal negative thought patterns and harmful emotions? Your thoughts are creative, whether you are aware of it or not. Luckily a yoga of sound provides us with methods to make deep and enduring changes in our psyches to promote harmony, both inner and outer.
I have been having great success teaching private sessions virtually. For this month only I will be offering 20% off 20-minute sessions, which are normally $25 dollars. Go to Private Sessions here on my website and enter the coupon code "mantrayoga". Then contact me in the form provided and we'll schedule a session.
I will be part of a summer solstice celebration on Thursday, June 22 hosted by Transition NDG at art space, Meteque. Learn traditional mantras to the Sun to energize an inner sense of radiance and illumination. More details will be up soon on the Events page.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.