My then-8-year-old-daughter and I were embroiled in an argument. Neither of us were backing down and I was beginning to despair, projecting years ahead to her teenagehood. I managed to stop and began internally chanting a simple yogic mantra to calm myself down. My daughter stopped arguing immediately and said calmly, "Mom, I just want to thank you for always taking such good care of me and always being such a great mommy to me." I quietly gasped and my jaw dropped as I leaned in to hug her; I was frankly startled by how immediately the situation had radically shifted.
I attribute the change in our dynamic that day to my internal chanting. How so? Mantras are thought to be drawn from the depths of our collective consciousness, a state of "Unity Consciousness", if you will. By shifting my own state I had affected hers also. We were both entraining to a deep resonant field of Awareness.... and to each other. Additionally, Sanskrit mantras sonically pattern the feeling of a word or concept. By chanting a peace mantra we were both transported to a state of peacefulness... together.
And this is why I'll be giving two Family Workshops this spring, along with some friends who are Yoga teachers. (One will be Sunday, March 11 and the other Saturday, April 7. You can find more info on those here. There will be some singing and movement for the kids along with some mantra and meditation tools geared for parents and kids alike to help bring family members into alignment.)
Family life can be overwhelming for so many reasons. Overtime, aftercare, work trouble, school trouble, lack of support, overloaded schedules. Maybe some of these are familiar to you... maybe they all are.
And all of this delicately balances on a parent's capacity to remain grounded and present because children, especially young ones, rely so strongly on an adult's internal state to create their own coherent state.
I personally know what its like for a family to go off the rails, to become exhausted, defensive, and irreparably disconnected. After living that experience in tandem with my passion for and fascination with deeper spiritual practices, I feel compelled to explore using these practices with families and in community.
Mantra comes from “manas” meaning the mind and “tra” meaning instrument. A mantra is therefore an instrument of the mind.
Most mystical traditions the world over have developed a mantric path, sacred song or speech. Mantras, within the Yogic tradition, are Sanskrit words or phrases that have a specific vibratory effect on the mind/body. Some have a literal meaning, most don't. Certain mantras are thought to pave the way to "enlightenment" while others open up latent aspects of our being, expanding states of emotion and personality. For example, in India some simple "wisdom" mantras are taught to children to enhance memory, concentration, and speech capacities! Other simple mantras pattern a feeling of confidence and balance.
The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children
is their own happiness.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Lately my daughter and I have been chanting together more regularly, daily in fact, as part of her pre-bedtime routine in preparation for these upcoming workshops. As the two of us go through this process together, it reinforces for me the power within these ancient traditions and why they are still relevant and useful today.
I'll outline a few of the effects they have had and are having on us.
They create harmony and can diffuse conflict. I already described the effect on both of us during an argument.
Sleep comes quicker. My daughter slips into sleep more rapidly after we chant. Good for everyone! I attribute this to the shift in brain wave pattern which I go into in a few paragraphs.
They can calm anxiety and enhance emotional stability. A few weeks ago my daughter said to me, "I don't know why mom but wherever I am now, I'm happy. I'm no longer thinking of being somewhere else or missing people." I feel this is undoubtedly linked to our practicing together. Mantras originally arose within the minds of sages/meditators in deep, restful states of consciousness and with repetition of mantras and concentration we are pulled back through layers of awareness to a place of calmness and wholeness. And because Sanskrit is a vibratory language, the word gives us the experience itself. For example, the Sanskrit word for peace,"Shanti", embodies the experience of peace.
While many people use affirmations to effect their mood and thoughts and through repetition try and work these thoughts into their unconscious, mantras take the fast track because they begin at the level of the unconscious, patterning powerful states of being. Mantras are also thought to create new "samskaras" or grooves, their structure overriding habitual thought patterns with another vibratory pattern. Mantras facilitate a tangible restructuring of the psyche, a shift in mindset.
They can cultivates the Heart. Science (you can read about Heart Math) is backing up the credence that our hearts our intertwined in deep and mysterious ways. Relationship is key to who we are as human beings. Recently after chanting with my daughter, she lovingly said, "All I want to do is hug you now, mom". And so we did. While I more quickly shifted into busy mode afterwards she remained in a loving, peaceful state for quite some time! (More hugs ensued.) Using music and mantra to entrain to each other I feel promotes empathy and trust.
It is an entry for both parent and child to connect to Presence, to "something deeper". Last week after my daughter and I chanted together she said, "Mommy while I was chanting it was if I was watching an invisible hand writing letters of light in the darkness". I asked her to draw the letters. Sure looked like Sanskrit to me. (She has had very, very little exposure to written Sanskrit.) And I wasn't really surprised. Mantras are considered to be light manifesting in the form of sound. This is a realm of pure direct awareness.
I see a lot of material out there on “Conscious Parenting” and “Mindful Parenting” and I do feel these are invaluable tools for parents and children. I always need to be more mindful as a parent, more aware, more conscious of what is unfolding in the present moment. But I don't think we should stop at the level of mindfulness. There's more... and I suspect the mantric tradition can allow us to tap insights and states that are difficult to attain through mindfulness alone. (BUT I am not trained within the Mindfulness tradition so this is just speculation on my part and not an observation drawn from my own experience!)
Consciousness, Brain Waves, and Children
Yogis have known for centuries that sound has a profound effect on our state of consciousness. Let's briefly look at brain wave activity, child development, and the overlap with chanting.
Delta: 0.5 - 4 cycles/second. Delta brain waves are associated with deep, dreamless sleep critical for tissue and memory regeneration. It is the realm of infants, under age 2, who spend much of their time in deep sleep. But it has been measured also in Tibetan monks experienced in mediation who can access this state while fully awake!
Theta: 4 - 7 cycles/second. Theta waves are common in sleep, deep meditation, and in hypnosis. It is considered to be a realm of visualization, intuition, and creativity. Theta waves are also common when you are performing a repetitive task on "auto-pilot". Theta waves have been shown to greatly enhance learning and performance of new tasks. This is the predominant wave frequency of children ages 2-6 who are in the imaginary realm, are highly open to suggestion, and absorb new knowledge quickly.
Alpha: 7 – 13 cycles/second. Alpha waves characterize the light stages of sleep, meditation, and daydreaming: the mind is delicately bridging both the external and internal world. It is the dominant brain wave of children aged approximately 6-8 who while still strongly in a world of internal imagination are awakening more to the external environment.
Beta: > 13 cycles/second. Beta waves are "fast" brain waves which characterize analytical, logical thinking where the mind is focused and alert. This is typically where adults function from and starts to appear anytime from age 8. Depression and anxiety are associated with a higher than average frequency of Beta waves.
When we chant repetitively we are pulled into states of consciousness which are peaceful, restful, and enhance creativity. This happens because the repetitive nature of simple three-toned chants make our brain emit specific frequency waves which slow down the mind and deepen our state of consciousness. It is then we as adults who can consciously re-enter the perennial garden of childhood: states of direct awareness, openness, and joy. These precious relaxed states of being are essential for our children's development and are their birthright. And how simply we can get back there: just by using our own voice and sitting still.
Mysticism and Parenthood?
Prior to having a child I would awaken at 3am and practice postures, breathing exercises, chanting, and meditation for 3-4 hours. That is impossible now and yet things have fallen into their proper place. How wonderful to start coming full circle and being able to inspire and be inspired by my daughter. I can think of little greater benefit to practice than relationships that are more authentic, connected, and harmonious. It's one thing to transform alone... another to be transformed by another and to transform together!
We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone -
we find it with another.
Join my daughter and I Sunday, March 11th along with a Kundalini yoga teacher for an afternoon of kid friendly meditation, songs from sacred traditions, and mantras. The goal is to have fun but also have tools to shift our state and create harmony. There will be another workshop co-presented with a Hatha yoga teacher at Yoga on the Park in NDG on April 7th. Join us, whatever your family configuration may be! More info here.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.