Last week it was Easter here in North America. I taught my 10-year old daughter a simple new mantra with this in mind and we chanted for a few minutes before bed. Then we rested for a few minutes in silence.
"Wow, Mom", my daughter said quietly. "While we were chanting I was looking at the sparkles on the ceiling and thought they looked like stars. The second I thought that, I was really out among the stars. I mean, I was really out in the stars, mom, flying like this," and she configured herself into a flying posture, arms extended behind her, her heart protruding, her legs long. "The second I thought, 'I have to tell mom!', it ended!" She paused for a second. "Was that... just my imagination?"
"How many times have I asked myself that same question!", I thought...
... When I was pregnant I would awaken early morning (like, gulp, 3am) and do yoga, chant, and meditate. One night, when I was about 3 1/2 months pregnant, I was sitting in meditation when I felt my head open up (yes, like in one of those silly cartoons) and as if something was falling heavily through the centre of my being. "It" landed in the pit of my belly… boom! The thought arose, “The soul of your child has arrived”. Another part of my being screamed in response, “Whaaaaat? But I don’t believe in souls!” And I didn't. I did yoga, at that time, to strengthen, relax, and train my mind. Basically, because it made me feel good.
"That must have been my imagination", I immediately told myself...
Back to the present... I hesitated. "Did it feel meaningful?", I asked my daughter first. She stuck her tongue out, eyes wide, and rapidly nodded her little head. "How did you feel?" "Soooooo happy", she responded. Then I told her I did not think it was her imagination in that she had not willed it or consciously created this image/experience. I explained to her that I thought the mantra had triggered a powerful heart opening and she had been propelled into the mystical experience the mantra was supposed to actually embody. I told her if she nurtured this practice, through attention and protection, this experience would continue to grow inside her.
Was it her imagination? No, as I had explained to her but also yes. Yes, possibly, in the truest, purest sense of the word.
"Yoga" is typically translated as "yoke" as in the ancient agrarian yoking of the ox to the cart. It is also translated as "Union". Ancient Yogic practices arose within societies that were closely connected to nature and were honed over the millenia to help train the body and the mind to become aware of our own "true" nature. Yoga developed strength, focus, and equanimity but was ultimately focused on nurturing the highest forms of consciousness available to human beings. Pivotal to the more formal traditions of Yoga were mantras which opened up the subtle body and configured profound states of being.
Mantras are thought to embody inter-penetrating, nested levels of awareness which ultimately lead us back to an experience of the deepest Self. Because they embody the cosmic "I", they take us out of our habitual viewing point, providing us with an experience of Otherness and Wholeness. They expand our current level of awareness, allowing us to transcend time, and connect with the Timeless.
Mantras, within the Yogic traditions, are considered "revelation": emanations from the Cosmic Mind or the Cosmic Imagination, if you will. Their numbers are thought to be infinite for they are expressions of the Soul's vibratory possibilities. Our personal capacity for imagination is but a reflection of the universal power of imagination.
We intuitively understand that there are multiple levels of imagination. There are those random images and projections surfacing from our unconscious that flit across the visual or auditory screen including the associations we create in our mind when we hear a bump in the dark, quickly followed by, "Whew, just my imagination!"
Then there are the more conscious flights of "fancy", artistic creativity, which may lead to painting or a new musical composition or, if you're me, which lead to extended reveries of imagining myself on a sandy beach sipping a colourful drink under a palm tree while another winter blizzard actually rages outside my kitchen window. (Thank Goodness for imagination!)
Then there are more momentous events of imagination, flashes of insight, which seem to erupt from the depths of our being which may give rise to great works of art -- think Mozart who couldn't write his music down fast enough. Or give rise to great scientific discoveries such as the case of Dmitri Mendeleev who singlehandedly created the Periodic Table of Elements. One night he had a dream where he saw the basic elements of the universe flowing as a musical sequence. "Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper, only in one place did a correction later seem necessary", he later related. And then of course there are additional extraordinary individuals such as Hildegard von Bingen, who wrote and composed massive amounts of material while in an ecstatic trance state. Within Yoga, as alluded to, some of the Vedas are considered apuruseya, "not human compositions" and "sruti", revelation as sound. The Rishis, the ancient poet-sages were considered to be Mantra-drashtâs, the seers of thought.
Lila : (sadly) "Are fairies not real mom?"
Me: "Well... I've never seen one."
Lila: "So, they aren't real?"
Me: "Well, not for me. But," I said not wanting to burst her childhood bubble and suddenly perking up, "Different people from different places can live very different experiences of life! I can't assume the entire possibilities of life are the same as mine!"
Lila: "I know how to make something real, mom. You hold a picture here", she said, pointing at forehead, "So, so strongly. Then, when you are ready, you push it out with your mind into the real world and it takes shape. And that's how you make things real, mom."
Lila, age 4
Wow kiddo! And maybe tiny tot was on to something. Yoga, particularly Tantra, considers the mind to be the basic stuff of creation and manifestation -- what the ancient alchemists referred to as the prima materia. This is the essential creative substance of life. Ancient Yogi(ni)s asserted that our own internal system acted as a sort of hologram which was projected out into the material world through the medium of the imagination. So by exercising our imagination, our capacity to create visual images OR sounds (such as words) beyond the sensory realm, through the lens of a honed will and expanded awareness, we could affect energy in a very tangible way.
And I think most of us accept this to a certain degree. Visualization is used by athletes and musicians in order to hone reflexes and create habits. It is also lauded by many as essential to healing. Affirmations, whether voiced or unvoiced, are all the rage and thought by many to shape our circumstances. And psychologists talk about the power of mindset, the words or beliefs we harbour internally, and how a negative mindset about an event can produce negative physio-emotional reactions, while a positive mindset about the same event, creates positive physio-emotional effects.
I like this word "mindset. I prefer it to the word "belief" because I personally have had a number of experiences occur to which I had no prior belief system which accomodated them... well other than insanity that is. (It's all a bit touchy, isn't it? For, as my teacher has reminded me a few times, "Much of what we think are spiritual experiences are but manifestations of our imbalances.") So anyway, I prefer the word mindset because mindset implies our mind is temporarily set into a specific structure. A mantra creates a temporary mindset as do their visual counterparts, yantras. These structures then evoke emotional energies within our nervous system in addition to images, thoughts, and stories.
So in order to experience these states, you don't need to be religious. You don't need to even be "spiritual". You don't need to buy into another culture's iconography and stories. You just practice and eventually something shifts and opens up. (If you're a child or really lucky or really sensitive this might take two minutes! Or it could take months.) It feels meaningful. It feels transcendent and it can make us happier. So is it just in the imagination? It could be simply a projection from your personal subconscious. But it could also be a connection with the cosmic, infinite imagination. This is prathiba, the ultimate imaginative realm yet also a direct experience of reality as it really is beyond the senses.
So I say, stay a bit skeptical. Our mind can play some pretty convincing, crazy tricks on us. Allow images or sounds to pass through you. Don't cling to powerful experiences and allow them to halt further movement. But stay open to the possibility that there are alternative states, extraordinary states, beyond your usual state of mind or mindset, that may, possibly, be the creative gifts of this Cosmos. States that can nurture your Soul.
And if there was ever a time to harness all the powers of imagination, all levels of possibility, it is surely
now. For ourselves and for our children.
I'll be giving two mantra and meditation workshops during the month of May to nurture the Soul and then taking a break during June and July to enrich my own personal practice. I will not be doing any events or taking any students during this time. You are welcome to reach out to me though for projects for August onwards. To see the event page, please click here.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.