Friday, June 1, 2012

Why I Love Chanting

I suffer from an anxiety disorder.  I take pills for this; I go to doctors for this.    One of the symptoms of my anxiety disorder is ruminative thinking.  My medication helps with this, but I still struggle with this every day.  Just yesterday, I had to deal with a rather unpleasant client at work.  When she slammed her phone down on me, I began to think, "Did I really do enough for her?  Do I suck at my job?  I must suck.  I suck, I suck, I suck."  Even after my colleagues reassured me that I went above and beyond in terms of customer service, I could not stop thinking "I suck, I suck, I suck...."

When I first encountered mantra, I was very ambivalent about it.  I loved it because it sometimes comes with singing, and I love singing!  I also felt calm and at peace while chanting.  It made me happy.  But the feeling that it was a hymn or a prayer was acutely uncomfortable for me.  I was raised Christian and I had consciously turned away from organized religion because of its dogmatic nature.  Yoga teachers will tell you that yoga is not a religion, and it isn't!  But mantra is a part of bhakti yoga (devotional practice).

I spoke to my therapist about this feeling, and he had a lot of wise words for me.

He said that my ruminative thinking of "I suck, I suck, I suck" is a kind of mantra unto itself.  The use of mantra can be considered transformational, but not necessarily in a spiritual way.  He told me to think of it as a behavioral cognitive technique to curb reoccurring thoughts.  If I think "I suck, I suck, I suck" all the time, then it becomes a mental pattern.  If I chant to myself instead, "Om, peace, peace, peace" than it can change that mental habit.

One of the most incredible experiences I've had in my teacher training was when we received mala beads and chanted Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya (The Divine within me bows to the Divine within you is one translation) a hundred and eight times.  1-0-8.  I found that as I went through my day and got anxious, I could touch my mala beads and chant that to feel calm and break the cycle of I suck.

I am going to kirtan today, which is call and response chanting to music.  The sustained practice of chanting in a group is meditative for me and helps me empty my mind.  I have my final practice teach this weekend and my written final on Sunday.  I will not lie; I am anxious.  But somehow, I feel that going to kirtan will be more beneficial than more studying and practicing.  At a certain point, I just have to let go and go with the flow.  And that's why I love chanting.

Kirtan Tonight at Integral Yoga at 8 pm with Kirtan Soul Revival.

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