Chanting changed my life. I was working on a Ph.D. – probably the most rational period of my life – when I discovered this form of singing in a New Age workshop at the National Women’s Music Festival in 1976. Soon afterwards I joined a chanting group in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. The mystical experiences I had while singing chants forced me to reconsider whether rationality was the sole path to personal insight for me, an attitude encouraged by my graduate studies. In fact, for the first time since childhood, chanting opened me up to a life where mystery and wonder existed as real possibilities.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that singing allowed me to reconnect with my childhood experience of magic, since I’ve always loved music and still sing semi-professionally. But I also know that anyone can benefit from this experience.
Chants are arguably the most “democratic” song form that exists. Almost anyone can sing their simple tunes. And the repetitive character of these songs together with the rhythmic breathing they require produces an altered state of mind that allows people to get in touch with their inner wisdom.
What every chant tradition knows is that singing these songs relaxes a person into a deep physical place, a meditative state of inner knowing and spiritual openness. Some philosphers and theologians speculate that the reason for this connection of spirit with song is that music is composed of sound vibrations, just like the universe, which, on the subatomic level, is built of energy vibrations.
The meditative consciousness that chanting induces expands a person’s mind to altered states, through which life’s mysteries are more accessible. While chanting, people can access spirit through their bodies and emotions. Chant produces physical and emotional markers that alert singers to the sources of meaning in their lives.
When you think about chanting, perhaps your first thought is of a summer camp experience when you sang “Kum Ba Ya,” “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “Shalom Havayreem,” or one of the other songs I suggest in The World is Your Oracle. Maybe it’s Gregorian chant that comes to mind at church services you’ve attended. Perhaps you imagine someone intoning “Om” or a Native American chant while accompanied by a drum. In any case, if you chant long enough, you will probably feel a sense of timelessness or perhaps a sense of rejuvenation. And if you’re singing in a group, you’re bound to feel a sense of oneness with the others singing with you.
The illustration for this technique in The World is Your Oracle (shown here) portrays a woman singing. Her eyes are closed as she deepens into her chant. The music flows on breath from her lungs, through her lips, and rises to the sky. As this happens, her body awareness fades, and she becomes one with her song. When you sing chant, it relaxes you into a deep physical place, so that you can access your inner knowing from this spiritual openness.
What did you expect from your first New Age convention (or workshop)? Were you surprised by the reality?
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