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The Power of Words

In this e-news I want to share about one element of spiritual practice. It's chanting mantra. Why this is "up" for me is that I just finished teaching the first SpiritFest workshop that I designed and led at Kripalu that combined chanting, dancing and drumming. It was so inspiring!! I led the workshop with two incredible artists and spiritual conduits/teachers, Girish (a fantastic kirtan/chant leader from California) and Aimee Gelinas (from right here in the Berkshires). When Shake Your Soul met live chanting and's a rocket to spirit! Here's an entertaining sample of Girish in action at BhaktiFest 2010:

What neuroscience research shows is that the temporal lobe lights up when one is experiencing music and it also gets lit up in the midst of "spiritual experience". That lobe of the brain is one key location where both music and spiritual experience lives side by side. I like it when science can point us in the direction of healing activities. Our creative spirit that is linked to music is also linked to spirit, to God--at least those two experiences live in the same neighborhood of the brain. A great resource for this information is the book, How God Changes Your Brain, by neuroscientist and MD, Andrew Newberg. Now when you add the element of sacred sound, words that are infused with centuries of devotion, heart-centered connection and sacred intention...we might just be opening a doorway to a universe that isn't localized to our physical brain but beyond matter and filled with an intelligence- a unique form of intelligence that is different than our brain's expression of intelligence. This is an intelligence that allows us to say something kind to someone, or see nature with such clear eyes, or feel a warm glow and flow of energy in our body, or experience a level of synchronicity, connection and attunement with our world.

In chanting the Sanskrit words or the various mantras that relate to energies of divinity, we can resonate with the vibration or presence of something holy, of something divine or spiritual. I can hear some of you saying or a part of your saying, "Wait a minute, words that actually have that kind of power, that are connected to something holy or divine? Yea, right!!" Let me own this piece of cynicism. I have it to some degree. Yet, I choose to suspend my cynicism, and exercise moments of faith.

Words have power. When we consider the "words" that we all repeat, like mantras, that don't serve us and actually create misery for us, it can make us pause and appreciate the way we define ourselves by our thoughts and create a reality that wounds our spirit: "Something's wrong with me", "I'm no good at this," "I'll never make enough money," "I don't have what it takes" or "No one really cares about what I feel" or "The world is hostile and cruel" and on and on and on...

One definition of the word mantra that I learned from Lama Migmar, a Buddhist teacher I've studied with, is "protector of the mind". Girish shared another definition of mantra which is "liberator of the mind". I like them both and feel the truth of both. To be able to access a protective force that may be present in these sacred sounds that can protect and liberate our vulnerable mind from these critical, judgmental and fear-based thoughts.

These harmful "mantras" take no effort to repeat over and over without our even being aware that we are doing it. And they create such a schism between our humanity and divinity! To be able to liberate or free ourselves from our tendency to get hooked into fear-based thinking, pressure-based living is something that I believe we are all in search of.

We can protect our minds from what in yoga is called our samskaras--the deeply grooved patterns of thinking that we naturally revert to. It takes no effort to hear ourselves think whatever our fall-back limiting, pain-inducing beliefs are (I listed a few above), no effort to allow our unconscious wounds and defenses be the script that we enact in our lives.

It's not that we are "wrong" or "bad" for this kind of "negative/harmful self-talk". It's simply part of being human. We all have been wounded in different ways and to different degrees. Out of these wounds that haven't been attended to and healed, grow our various defenses- whether the defense is to harden around our hearts and not trust anymore, or tighten in rigidity as we create an internal straight jacket around our sensitive needs.

Meditation, and mantra chanting is simply another form of meditation can help invite spirit to heal these wounds!

In truth whoever the "wounder" was from each of our personal histories and childhoods, that we bonded to and continue to "bond to" as we speak these energy depleting "mantras", still lives in our unconscious in the present--forming these habits of painful thinking and feeling, our samskaras. That's what we need protection from and healing!

Back to the workshop for a moment-- Between the yogic connection to the divine through the various divine expressions whether it be "Shiva energy", "Lakshmi energy" etc. or the Afro-Caribbean connection to the divine through the various Orishas (also expressions of the divine), this was truly a cross cultural and beyond cultural experience of dancing with the divine, singing with the divine and drumming with the divine.

Without converting to Hinduism or Santeria (the religion that "worships", that dances and drums and sings with the Orishas), we respectfully "tried on" chanting and drumming these divine sounds. We were gifted by the many generations that have kept these oral traditions alive!

In so many ways it took me back to my "formative years" as a yogi, a bhakti at Kripalu in the late 70's and early 80's, when we would begin and end each day with chanting and dancing! The peace that emerged from this immersion into something I didn't understand cognitively, hadn't learned about in school, but transported me to spirit, to some state that felt deeply meaningful and powerful. These years left such an important imprint in my mind, nervous system, body and soul.

So SpiritFest reconnected me with these powerful roots of transformation, a spiritual transport system that transforms our moments of stuckness into moments of freedom, our moments of agitation into moments of peace, our moments of isolation into moments of unity.

I watched the 45 participants be transported and transformed by our heart energy, by sacred sounds and pulses!

So, I invite you to our next SpiritFest for which we are setting dates soon, and also I invite you to train to be a Shake Your Soul teacher and bring this powerful healing practice of dance, music (even chanting music which I use frequently in my classes) to your community at home, and be a catalyst for people's healing and growth!

Blessings on your path,


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