Hear me, four quarters of the world-- a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth. Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you. With your power only can I face the winds. Great Spirit...all over the earth the faces of living things are all alike. With tenderness have these come up out of the ground. Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms, that they may face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet. This is my prayer' hear me!
Although one might not think of it as such, your name is a word of power. Think of the countless times in your life that other people have uttered the sounds that comprise your name. Hear then now - loved ones, the newly-met, seeking your attention, reading your name in a roll call, calling out your name from another room, shouting your name in anger, tenderly whispering your name in a moment of love.
Out name is intimately linked to our sense of self. Say your name out loud several times. What do you experience as you make the sounds by which you are known? The sound of our name reaches deeply into our psyche, triggering a lifetime of associations.
Here's an chant exercise using only your name as lyrics:
Experiment. Chant your name aloud, using only one note - or make up your own melodies. Chant one note per syllable, for example: "Ro-bert ... Ro-bert ... Ro-bert." Or let loose a string of notes for each syllable, as in "Ro-aw-aw-aw-aw ber-er-er-er-t." Chant random notes or repeat the same phrase over and over.
Vocalize with great power, as if you were sending your unique sound to the far reaches of the universe. To avoid straining your voice, support the tone from your diaphragm and keep your throat relaxed. Now chant as softly as you can, whispering your name into the stillness. Make it fun - be playful, humorous. Then imagine that each toning of your name is like a bell, calling your deeper self awake, calling your soul into full embodiment.
Give yourself fully to chanting the sounds that make up your name. Continue for at least five minutes.
Draw in a full and deep breath (see the breathing exercise), sing the tone, "Aaaaah." As you sing the tone, release the breath slowly, first from the belly, then up through the chest. ... Breathe in again, and sound out, "Aaaaah."
Imagine that there is a column of air resting on your belly extending up through your lungs to your throat. When you sing, visualize this column of air coming all the way from your belly, supporting the tone coming out of your mouth. In other words, sing from your belly!
Breathe into your belly and sing. "Aaaah." Again - "Aaaaah." And again - "Aaaaah."
Singing from the belly gives us more air, the ability to sustain our tone longer, and more control over our voice. We initiate a self-reinforcing cycle: our deep and full breathing helps us to chant, while the elongated and rhythmic phrases of chant entrains our breath, making us one with the music.
Chanting is said to be "breath made audible," and learning to breathe well is the first step in learning to chant.
Sit up straight. This allows your lungs to expand more fully.
Place one hand on your lower abdomen. Feel your belly move as you breathe ... in and out ... in and out.
Make sure that your belly is expanding out as you breathe in. You can make sure you're doing this correctly by noticing if your hand is being pushed outward away from your spine.
As you exhale, your belly should contract, your hand settling back toward your spine. Try this a number of times.
Now, breathe again into your abdomen. After your belly completely fills with air, only then allow your chest to fill with air as well. Experience your breath like a wave, filling up your belly then rolling up into your chest. And as you exhale, let the wave begin in your chest, emptying the air from your lungs and then rolling down into your abdomen, until your abdomen is fully contracted and empty of air. Do this several times.
Now try removing your hand, but continue breathing and remembering the feeling of the air pushing your hand out and in.
As you continue with the exercise, gradually deepen your breathing. Without any sense of pushing, slowly increase the volume of air coming into your belly. The deepening of breathing should come from your belly - the chest is more like an afterthought.
Do this for several minutes, deepening and relaxing into your breathing. Feel the waves roll in ... belly up to the chest ... and roll out again ... chest into the belly ... letting go of effort ... letting the waves of breath breathe you.
This mantra has no approximate translation. The sounds related directly to the principles which govern each of the first six chakras on the spine...Earth, water, fire, air, ether. Notice that this does not refer to the chakras themselves which have a different set of seed sounds, but rather the principles which govern those chakras in their place. A very rough, non-literal translation could be something like, 'Om and salutations to that which I am capable of becoming.' This mantra will start one out on the path of subtle development of spiritual attainments. It is the beginning on the path of Siddha Yoga, or the Yoga of Perfection of the Divine Vehicle.
Chanting has the power to bring all who practice it with deep attention and feeling a divine response. Singing, Yogananda said, is a divine art; and devotional chanting is the highest form of this art because it leads to attunement with the Cosmic vibration. In devotional chanting you learn to attune the “receiving station” of your heart to pick up the channel of communion with God through sound.
Devotional chanting can take your negative energy and turn it right around into positive energy — toward, rather than away from God. Ten years ago, I decided that Ananda was the place of all places where I truly wanted to live. But personal circumstances forced me to return to my home in Texas for a long time. It seemed devastating to me — very dark period in my life. And so I indulged in some really black moods about the unfairness of life.
I wanted to talk to somebody about Hong-Sau or Lahiri Mahasaya or something along those lines, and there wasn’t anyone around to whom I could relate. My attempts at meditation weren’t going very well either. But I learned that by chanting I could change my black moods into joy and put myself into a space where I really wanted to upgrade my meditations. I didn’t have a harmonium, or even the Cosmic Chants book, but I did have a cassette player and a few tapes from Ananda — Songs of the Soul, O God Beautiful, and the Joy Singers Christmas tape.
I would put on these tapes and listen and, eventually, sing along as I learned the words and the melodies. Over and over and over I played them, and they became part of my consciousness. I learned that they had the power to pull my heart out of sadness and loneliness and into a place of real joy. I chanted with Swami, I chanted with my Ananda brothers and sisters — I was transported through the power of this devotional music to the blessedness of Ananda and the joy it represented to me.
Chanting for Protection
Chanting can help you to overcome temptations and attachments and help you to realize Gods presence within even under the worst of circumstances. Swami tells of going to the nightclub district in San Francisco on a Saturday night to meet someone in the music business. It was not a place for a devotee to be on a Saturday night! So Swami began to chant very softly or mentally: “Sri Ram, jai Ram, jai, jai Ram Om.” Instead of feeling dragged down by the low and worldly vibrations all around, he felt totally uplifted and joyful.
Chanting has the power to remove obstacles and to help you overcome fear. Fear, particularly, fear of failure is the “Great Paralyzer,” often causing us to freeze into immobility or sin into pits of inertia. One time I had to drive 150 miles alone at night in a broken down car with no money. The car was acting weird and it was dark and I was scared. So I started chanting. I tell you, I chanted as well as I’ve ever chanted in my life, for I was motivated! I made it to Austin and back safely, and then the car broke down. To this day, I truly believe that God and I “chanted” me and my car all the way down that lonely Texas highway to my destination.
Chanting Can Heal You
Master tells in Cosmic Chants how thousands chanted, “O God Beautiful” in Carnegie Hall in 1926 “in a divine atmosphere of joyous praise… The next day many men and women testified to the God-perception and the healing of body, mind, and soul that had taken place during the sacred chanting…”
Chanting Can Give You Devotion
Often we feel, “I want to love God more, but how do I do it?” Sri Yukteswar says in The Holy Science that we can’t put one foot in front of the other on the spiritual path without “the natural love of the heart.” If you remember nothing else about chanting, remember this because it will help you tremendously in your efforts to cultivate devotion. Always remember why you are chanting and whom it is that you are chanting to. Don’t sing to the person sitting nearby, or to the trees, the sky, or the walls. Don’t even sing to yourself. Sing to God. Sing to the God within you. That’s Who you’re singing to, with a prayer in song, with the power of increasingly focused, one-pointed devotion.
Here is a great exercise in listening. It works best if you try it in three steps. Read the directions for the first step, and then close your eyes.
Bring all of your attention to the experience of listening. What is the first sound that you became aware of?
There is a label by which we identify this sound - traffic, refrigerator, people talking, birds... But what's really happening? What is your actual experience of this sound? The actual physical sensations?
Immerse yourself fully in this experience called "a sound." Then, as if you are increasing magnification with a zoom lens, listen more closely to that sound. As if you could travel inside the sound, let it become your whole world. Take your time. Explore every sensation.
This time, rather than focusing on one sound, listen to all the sounds in your environment.
Some are louder - more in the foreground. Some are softer - in the background and harder to discern. Sounds come at you from all different directions - in front, behind, maybe even above or below. How many different sounds can you hear?
And now, rather than hearing individual sounds, hear all of these sounds at once. Imagine you are listening to an orchestra, and each of these sounds is one of the instruments. Listen to all the sounds in your environment as if they fit together beautifully into a piece of music. Sit back and enjoy the performance.
Choose one sound to focus on again.
Where are you hearing this sound? Does it seem like the sound is out there? But where does the experience of listening actually take place? Out there? In your ear? In your brain?
Imagine some event out there causing air molecules to vibrate. Imagine sound waves traveling toward your body ... entering your ear ... becoming mechanical vibrations in bones ... becoming neuro-electrical impulses ... triggering associations in your brain. Imaging all this going on, creating the miracle we call sound.
The following makes a really nice chant! There's plenty of room for variation and improvisation. It's great for a group, drumming circle, or gathering to get the energy moving.
The very inception of life is rhythm. Life is rhythm and Rhythm is life.
The rising of the SUN is rhythm. The shimmering of the RAYS is rhythm. The BLOOMING of a BUD is rhythm. The Feel of the BREEZE is rhythm. The ROAR of the WAVES is rhythm. The Chirping of the BIRDS is rhythm. The BUZZING of the BEES is rhythm. The Voice in a SONG is rhythm. The TICKLE on the FEET is rhythm. The BREATH we take is rhythm. The Heart that BEATS is rhythm.
What is sound, and how do we hear it? Sound is scientifically defined as any vibratory disturbance in the pressure and density of a medium (solid, liquid, or gas) that stimulates the sense of hearing.
When molecules in gases are moved - by someone speaking, a pebble dropping into a pond, a hammer pounding a nail, or voices joinied in chant - energy is transferred, and the molecules begin to tremble and collide. As they bump together, each shimmering molecule passes energy along to its neighbors, carrying this vibration through the air (or other medium) in the form of a three-dimentional wave.
We take our ability to hear sounds for granted, but it's actually a wild and complex process. something happens out there to start air molecules vibrating, forming a wave of sound. Let's imagine for a moment that you are this sound wave. Air molecules crash into each other like billiard balls, causing you to surge and roll through space, like an ocean wave traveling toward shore. You enter a funnel-shaped appendage we call the outer ear, where you are amplified and tossed onto the tympanic membrane - the eardrum - causing it to bibrate.
No longer a sound wave, you have been transformed into mechanical energy, setting in motion the three tiniest bones in the body, the bones of the middle ear: the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup. You collide into the hammer, forcing it into a cuplike socket on the anvil, causing the stirrup to act like a piston pressing against the fluid-filled, spiraling labyrinth that is the inner ear.
As you swirl through liquid, you reach the inner ear and snake your way through a snail-shaped tube - the cochlea - which contains fine hairlike projections that trigger nerve cells. Now you are electrical energy speeding to the brain through the auditory nerve. Countless neutrons are triggered, associations mde, and ... amazingly ... someone hears.
We do not call Spirit into being through our chanting - God is already present. It is our own clinging to who we think we are that gets in the way. But if we sing with great ardor, our controlling, grasping, anxious energies may be consumed in the fire of chanting. And if we are so graced, we may taste love's sweet nectar and be nestled in the invisible embrace of the Divine.