Since the day following Halloween, my 8-year old has been actively writing lists of gifts she would both like to receive and give for Christmas. As an adult less focused on the material aspects of the season but bracing myself for the busyness, I am moved to reflect on the nature of abundance. As per usual, I draw on insights from the yogic tradition to sustain myself.
To the poet-seers of the Vedic era, the entire field of abundance, prosperity, and generosity was encapsulated in the sound “sri” (pronounced “shree”). Sri was a quality seen to be manifest in the life-giving waters, abundant crops, individuals (particularly kings), healthy families, and thriving communities.
Over time, this force of bounty and vitality evolved into the goddess Lakshmi. She is the epitome of a deva, a “shining one”. She is typically envisioned with sumptuous clothing, coins dropping from one hand, her other hand in the mudra (hand position) of giving boons. Her two additional back hands (how convenient!) hold lotus blossoms. She stands on a floating lotus. She is associated with both material and spiritual wealth.
Initial chanting explorations awakened tangible feelings of being provided for, intense gratitude, and a more open heart. All good things! But I was totally unprepared for the deeper field of energy that then opened up:
Plunging down into
Fertile, fecund earth.
Unceasingly creating life.
One of the meanings of “Sri” is “radiance” but it also derives from another Sanskrit root word meaning “refuge”. Which is probably why I felt I landed home in that moment.
Yogic stories later helped me by providing some context. In yogic mythology, Lakshmi is the consort of Vishnu, the preserver of the world. She is his Shakti, his power. He’s basically nothing without her. She has two sons: Kardama (Mud Slime) and Chiklita (Moisture). (Isn’t it sooo difficult finding original boy’s names?!) Seems idyllic. But Vishnu is often depicted with a deity on each arm. We have Sri Devi on one side but who is this other deity?
It is Bhumi Devi, the earth as goddess. Both are aspects of Lakshmi: the world of material and spiritual wealth, and the power that creates them.
Lakshmi, at her essence, is the Shakti that sings deep within the depths of the fecund earth as the nectar (the rasa) of creation. She is the intelligence that transforms the formless waters into the richness of all forms of life.
Mantras, I have come to learn, especially bijas, contain energetic fields that are interrelated: psychological, physical, and spiritual. Mantras provide us with a vehicule to connect with aspects of our being and to connect with aspects of Being-ness itself. The mantric field continues to deepen and unfold with repetition and an accompanying sense of surrender.
So. The holidays will be here before we know it. At least my 8-year old is equally focused on giving as she is on receiving. She revels in the joy of both, as should we all.
But as adults we need to tap into a deep, felt sense of vitality, open-heartedness, and abundance at anytime of the year. Especially when life gets tough, things get lonely, and challenges abound.
This holiday season: I’ll make time for meditation and fuelling those meditations with chanting. Mantras are luminous, resilient structures drawn from the depths of the collective unconsciousness that both shape our being and align ourselves with elemental energies outside of ourselves. They are powerful. They are said to be the archetypal sound forms that created the universe.
We all know, but try to ignore, that the earth's resources fuel our economic system but how often do we stop and think about how the earth gifts us with spiritual resources? I plan on a few trips for kidlet and I out of the urban jungle into the forest to connect to the source.
But most importantly, during all the busyness, I want to keep tapping into a sense of gratitude and connection to where the gifts in my life actually arise from… and to never take them for granted.
Have a wonderful holiday season ... full of abundance, generosity, and love.
Catch you in the new year. Until then, stay (at)tuned.
Inspired? Join me January 21 at Yoga On the Park in NDG for an hour-long class "Sound and Centering for Meditation". Register here.
I was slumped in the passenger seat of the car. My dad was driving. CBC Classical Radio was twittering away when the announcer asked, “What sport inspired this next composition by Mozart? Can you guess?”
A few seconds into the composition I mumbled, “Easy. Lawn bowling”. “Lawn bowling, can you believe it?” exclaimed the announcer over the trills of wind instruments.
I sat up: how could a few seconds of sound so accurately encapsulate the images, movement, and light-hearted feeling of playing lawn bowling outside on a bright summer day?
That moment has stayed with me my entire life. I remain fascinated by how sound can encode states of being and qualities of mind. The mantric tradition takes this to a whole other level.
In my last blog post, I touched very briefly on the Vedic-style mantras that originally surfaced in the minds of the Rishi(ki)s (poet-seers) during deep meditation. By chanting or reciting these verses we could be pulled energetically through layers of awareness back to the state of unified consciousness from which the mantras arose. This is what we explored in a recent workshop at Yoga on the Park.
Today I want to introduce you to the concept of bijas, “seed syllables” from the Tantric yogic tradition, which we will be exploring on Sunday, Nov. 27. Contrary to what we popularly think here in the West, Tantra is primarily a system that is language-based. “Bijas” are one of the jewels of this system.
Bija mantras are one syllable and thought to encapsulate energy patterns in a compact sonic form. Once the “seed” is planted into the psyche, the seed grows with repetition and attention until it blossoms. Certain bijas are thought to explode into more complex phrases or verses while others encode mental and emotional states. I will be talking about the latter in this post.
OM is the most familiar and powerful of the bijas and it is thought that from OM arise all other sounds (and forms). Other examples of commonly used Tantric bijas are: HUM, SHREEM, AIM, and DUM. Many are associated with deities - Gods and Goddesses – the visual symbolic representations of these energetic patterns. These energy patterns encode qualities of personality and states of being.
Which brings me to another little personal story.
Years ago I attended a weekend workshop with a visiting Hindustani classical musician. He began by stating, “When you study music in the West you learn aesthetics and you train at becoming more technically skilled. In India, we are carefully led through a process to open up latent centers of the brain.” (At which point my brain stopped.)
As I now understand it, when you chant or speak these sounds you are tapping into energetic structures latent within your being that are held within the collective unconscious. The Sanskrit mantric tradition offers us the possibility of consciously configuring the flow of energy in our nervous system to expand specific emotional states out of which flow images and meanings. States such as unity, spaciousness, bliss, surrender, and discrimination.
With. One. Syllable.
And like with Vedic mantras, the resonance ultimately pulls us beyond qualities and images to a deeper, more unified state of awareness.
Of course, the initial effect will be different for each person. Much depends on sensitivity and the current state of body and mind of the practitioner. Some people are just more sensitive to sound than others and more adept at calming the busy mind. All I can say is that for myself, a yoga of sound has provided me an effective means to enter into absorption and one of the most direct and enduring means of growth and transformation.
How it all works, I don’t know. I’m not much wiser than that 9-year old girl who was being driven down a country road when she consciously began to marvel at how sound could structure our being so powerfully. It is a testament to the power of the Mind.
But don’t just believe me, come discover for yourself. We will be diving into the mantric tradition at AnandaOm on Wednesday, Nov. 9th from 7-9pm. (For those of you who were at the Oct. 23rd workshop at Yoga on the Park, we will be taking things up a few notches energetically!) To register click here.
You can also join me at Yoga on the Park on Sunday, Nov 27th, from 1:30-2:30 to learn more about the Tantric tradition of mantra. Come explore to see/feel if it has an effect on your own body and mind! To register click here. Scroll down until you see my name and photo and click on the link.
I am looking forward to exploring and sharing my love of the “Yoga of Sound”, and specifically mantra, with you. Along the way there may be musings on the origins of language, the use of sound in various mystical traditions around the world, and the subtle aspects of the Yogic system.
Let's begin with a very brief introduction to mantra. What is a mantra?
Mantras are primal sounds, Sanskrit syllables, and/or Sanskrit words. They arose within the minds of the ancient Indian Rishi(ki)s, ancient Seers, while in deep meditative states. A mantra can be one syllable, such as Om, or a multi-verse hymn.
Around the year 3000BC these mantras were written down in the Rg Veda and became an integral part of priestly rituals. Prior to this, the mantric tradition was oral and may go back as far as 7000BC.
The word “Veda” comes from “vid” which means “to know” in the sense of knowing something directly through experience. The “a” denotes “flow” or “continuum” and refers to universal consciousness itself. So "veda" means pure, experiential knowledge.
You may be thinking, “Interesting but so what?! Why should anyone chant or recite these now?” Good question. Especially when we live in a world where we can practice Hatha Yoga at the corner studio, have a global menu of exercise to choose from at our local gym (Zumba anyone?!), learn Buddhist meditative practices, incorporate Mindfulness techniques into our day, see a trained depth therapist, etc, etc. We have such a plethora of tools available to promote peace of mind and holistic health. In my opinion, sound has a way of shifting our Being deeply and directly like nothing else I have ever experienced.
Mantra comes from “manas” meaning the mind and “tra” meaning instrument. A mantra is therefore an instrument of the mind. When you chant or recite a mantra you are tapping into a vibratory experience that some say arises from the deepest level of the collective unconscious. You are turning inwards, tracking back from gross, audible sound, to sound in one of its most subtle states. By tuning in to this level of awareness, you are tuning in to basic primal, archetypal energies that are manifest in both the external world and in your psyche. When you go even deeper yet, you ultimately track back to the source of sound itself: the ground of consciousness.
My own interest in mantra was sparked at my very first weekend Hatha Yoga workshop 15 years ago. My bad back had landed me in a yoga studio and I, like many, found it a great way to get back in shape. At this particular workshop, we did poses, chanted, and meditated. I have always loved singing and the next day I plunked myself down on a floor cushion and spontaneously began chanting. I ended up chanting for hours. And then a series of experiences started unfolding within me that had absolutely no precedence in my life. I was, frankly, flabbergasted. And I was hooked.
But my interest in the “Yoga of Sound” began long before that as a teenager. I studied piano and voice for years and played flute, clarinet, and saxophone as a teenager. At age 14, I read “The Songlines” by Bruce Chatwin. I was amazed at the place sound had for Australian Aboriginals who believed that they sang their world into existence. Introducing one chapter, Chatwin refers to the ancient Egyptians, who felt the seat of the soul was in the tongue and who steered themselves through life with their tongue as a rudder. Having read this, I promptly sought out a huge piece of cardboard along with an etymological dictionary and set about creating a word map (“Sound”, “Harmony”, “Melody”) and was soon making connections to the breath (“Inspiration”) and landing myself in the realm of psychology and the soul. Questions spun off the edges: What was music? What was sound? Where did it arise from? What could it do? I frequently returned to this map adding other concepts, findings, and connections. I carried this around with me for years from house to house, from city to city.
I went on to complete degrees in both psychology and music at university neither of which completely responded to this deeper search. And then all the threads starting coming together when years later I discovered that sound was a transformative path within yoga and that it had multiple branches.
But I’ll save that for the next blog post! Stay (at)tuned….
Oh, and by the way, if you feel inspired to join me live at Yoga on the Park in Montreal on Oct 23 @ 1:30 pm for an immersion into mantra practice, click here to register.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.