Science to Passion with Chanting

I was taking a swing dance class a few years ago and repeating the same spins over and over for a full hour.  Suddenly I felt a rushing sense like a fire ignited at the base of my spine, filling my pelvis and beginning to move upwards.

I had never experienced that kind of thing before but I knew it had something to do with the kundalini. I had no clue what would happen next. I was panicked about being in a public place. “No!” I thought, “Not here! Not now!” Suddenly the experience was over. I walked to the foyer, changed my shoes and headed for the car. I never went back to the dance class.

base chakra

Base Chakra

Afterward I did some research into the whirling dervish dances of the Sufis, which seemed the closest thing to what I had experienced. The practices of the dervishes are based on the principle that rotational force can result in energy rising upward.

The Sanskrit word “kundalini” means “coiled like a snake”. The snake is a common symbol of the kundalini, curled at the base of the spine, often related to sexual energy since it begins in the lowest chakras or energy centers and moves upward.

As the kundalini moves upward, the energy flows through seven major energy centers called chakras. Some systems include eight chakras (adding the secret chamber of the heart) and other systems include twelve chakras (adding five secret ray chakras in the hands and feet). Other systems break this down further into 144 chakras or more.

chakrasMany mystics and yogis have written and taught about the rising of the kundalini. Bringing the energy to the crown of the head is the physical counterpart to achieving enlightenment. There are many approaches to awakening and raising the kundalini.

My favorite practice is chanting. There are  seed syllables associated with each chakra (lam, vam, ram, yam, ham, om and ah). In addition, there are mantras dedicated to deities connected each chakra. For example, Nataraja is a form of Shiva as the cosmic dancer and is associated with the crown chakra.

Click here to listen to recordings of Chakra Mantra and Nataraja on SoundCloud.

Scientific experiments have shown that the frequencies of certain sounds will produce patterns in sand or water on metal plates. Those patterns are remarkably like the forms depicted in yantras. Yantras are traditional symbolic images that have been used in meditation for thousands of years. Here is the traditional yantra for the sound “om” and the corresponding pattern:


Not only does chanting and visualization focus the mind, but it also creates a physical vibration that helps to clear and accelerate the spinning of the chakras. Personally, I feel chants as a vibration that begins in my heart and grows to a full “body buzz”. It’s like being plugged into an electrical outlet!

2-Kathleen MT Lotus April 2018Chanting creates a connection to a much greater source and energy–a connection to God. Sometimes that only happens for a moment or two in the course of an hour or more of chanting. Other times I feel the inner vibration so strongly and for such an extended period that I think that I must be shaking visibly, but actually I am not.

When chanting in a group (kirtan), there is an additional sense of unity and community that I haven’t experienced with other practices. The combined sense of being filled with incredible energy and the connection to others is a powerful, magical sensation.

Chanting can be understood as chakras and science, but that’s only one level. If you pour your heart and soul deeply into the practice, it becomes an experience that I can only describe as falling passionately in love with all of life.

Face Yoga Challenge


Fumiko Takatsu, Face Yoga Method Founder

I’ve just signed up for a 30 Day Face Yoga challenge with Fumiko Takatsu. I rarely sign up for that kind of stuff because I was a hardcore loner for a long, long time. And I’m usually motivated to create my own programs and schedules for everything: my work and exercise and my ongoing experiments with health food diets and meditation and all of the other things I am trying to pursue simultaneously. So I haven’t always felt that I needed someone else’s program or challenge to get me going.

But something has changed. I’ve heard that you are either basically and introvert or an extrovert for life. I was clearly an introvert. Then I became an extroverted introvert, which means that you recharge by being alone but you can be very outgoing when necessary or appropriate. Now I am clearly an extrovert: I recharge by being with people and exchanging ideas and feelings and sharing experiences. 

So even though I’ve already done an online certification course with Fumiko, I decided it would be worth it to connect with other people using Face Yoga and learn more that I can share with others eventually. Fumiko is a super enthusiastic coach and teacher. I get a kick out of watching her videos. I think it’d be fun to connect with other people attracted to her approach and her energetic style as well.

I took a group voice class once with a professional singer who said that singing is the best form of face exercise. I hope she’s right since I often practice chanting for my World Chant events and upcoming workshops an hour or two a day! I’m not sure that I am coordinated enough to sing and do face yoga at the same time, but maybe it will evolve into that and I’ll create a musical form of face yoga!

Creation, Art & Passion

Kathleen STUDIO 2 2017There is nothing as amazing as the process of creation–be that a child, a home, a relationship or a piece of art. An art studio is a laboratory for the heart, mind and soul. I choose to work in a flowing style with highly liquid paint because this increases the number of variables and therefore the level of excitement and creative chaos in my experiments.

The fluidity of the medium and the resulting artistic decisions that I am forced to make quickly over the space of days or a week as a painting develops will never happen again. Every piece is absolutely and utterly unique. This is something I consciously cultivate. If I was rational, I would formulate a precise way to mix paint to consistently yield desired viscosities. I would time the drying process meticulously. I would layer paint methodically and control the room temperature carefully.

But I am not a chemist or an engineer or a scientist. I am an artist. I need risk. I need surprises. I need fear and jubilation. I need to be on the edge. I need to be totally absorbed in a piece of art.

Kathleen Studio Best LG 2017I need to think of a painting morning, noon and night. I need to set my alarm and get up at 3am and tilt a canvas ever so slightly to get the paint to flow in a new direction or blend in a different way. When I am engaged at that level, I am ALIVE. That experience, that experiment, will never be repeated.I cannot paint like anyone else and no one else can paint the paintings that I create. Art is not a competitive sport. No one, including me, can never reproduce the conditions or the results achieved in a particular painting ever again. That is the beauty and value of a piece of original art in a mass-production world. Art can be reproduced but never re-created.

My deepest desire is that the intensity of my process will be captured on the canvas and will in turn energize someone else’s life as it hangs in their room, home or business. For me, that is the ultimate goal of the creative experiment: not just to communicate in a visual format  but to also convey viscerally the energy of hope, joy and transformation.

The Positive Effects of Chanting

The effects of chanting can be a positive influence on the body and mind. When vowels and consonants are put together, chanting emphasizing certain sounds can be constructed to have unique effects on the singer. Mantras that may actually be formulated to influence various body systems. For example, the combination “aha” (A HA!) stimulates the hormonal system to improve the functioning of the body. Interestingly, this ejaculation is used in English when a sudden solution or insight is gained: Indeed! I got it! Certainly! Definitely! That’s it!

kirtan chantingThe effect of using “a ha!” is similar to laughter therapy and relieves stress and depression. The Sanskrit word “namaha” has this vowel combination and is commonly used in many mantras and chants. The names of gods and goddesses themselves seem to have distinct impacts on emotional, mental and physical states. Divine names such as Lakshmi also include the “ah” vowel. The power of the mantra is in the names of God as well as the actual tones and melodies. 

The power of music to uplift and heal has been recognized for thousands of years. Now science is proving through research into music therapy, cymatics, and neurology that sound can alleviate depression and create positive change in all aspects of the physical world. My focus is on the use of the human voice in devotional chanting as a spiritual practice and the impact of sacred toning on human health and wellness. This is a fascinating science that gives each individual the power to positively influence their own health on all levels at any time.

The throat chakra is generally viewed as the seat of power in the human body. Chanting, singing, and vocalizing all harness this power for greater wholeness and well-being. Chanting is like an internal massage that operates on both the physical and energetics aspects of the individual. Chanting is an internal sound bath!

Color Therapy

rainbow colorsColor therapy is the use of specific colors to heal the mind and body. There are many systems that suggest particular colors as supportive for the functioning of processes and organs within the human body. These include color acupuncture (shining colored lights on acupuncture points and meridians), color breathing (color visualization combined with breathing exercises), color bathing and many other approaches.

Color has a wide range of applications in interior design, clothing, artwork, and the wider environment. Color psychology and color science have come to the fore in philosophies such as feng shui and in the competitive world of marketing and design. The modern science of color was largely influenced by the work of the French chemist and scientist M. E. Chevreul. Read more in the post Color Perception and Harmony.  

color music therapyMy own research has been focused on the connections between color and sound in visual music and multimedia art. This was the topic of my master’s thesis at California State University. Throughout history, the potential correspondence between color and sound has received repeated attention from prominent philosophers, artists, musicians and scientists. Similarities between color and sound were clearly noted by the ancient Greeks.

A number of classical and modern composers have believed in a direct correlation between notes of the musical scale and colors. Liszt described his dramatic intentions for his music with decorative phrases: “More pink here;” “This is too black;” “I want it all azure”. Beethoven is reported to have referred to B minor as the black key.

color therapy with mandalaLearn more about the role of multimedia art in healing in the blog post Auroratone Therapeutic Films. On the downside, there can also be powerful negative effects on the brain of color-sound combinations. Read about multimedia-induced epilepsy in the blog post entitled Pokeman Shock

Colors can also be used in conjunction with other forms of alternative healing such as essential oils, massage, crystal bowls, and tuning forks. Meditating on mandalas or other forms of art is also a type of color therapy as well as a spiritual practice. I have personally had experience and success with color breathing, color visualization and the healing power of mediating on beautiful artwork. 

The Chanting Cure

Kathleen Campfire Kirtan 2017Chanting, group song, and devotional singing has been a part of every world culture and religion for uncounted ages. In Catholicism, the Mass was chanted for hundreds of years in Latin. The text for Jewish rituals were sung by the rabbi. Muslims as well as many others chant aloud daily. As it turns out, group singing may be a better cure for depression than therapy or medication. (Learn more in the Time magazine article Singing Changes Your Brain.)

Jewish mystics also practiced melodic vocalizations without words and recognized the power in the emotional element of sung versus spoken words. Kabbalists viewed song and meditation as assisting the soul in reaching the seventh level of heaven–the realm of the throne of God and the angels.

Many indigenous people also saw a connection between the elements of nature and certain sounds or songs. They had songs to sing to the wind, the rain and the land. In the Orient, the five elements correspond to vowels and the sounds of nature. The vowels are the feminine energy and the consonants are the masculine energy.

chanting religionsSome indigenous peoples have highly developed forms of song and music for the purpose of journeying to other dimensions. Much of this art has been lost or set aside in the modern world, but a renaissance has begun! Part of this resurgence is due to the mounting evidence that music and singing have positive benefits on all levels for participants.  

There is power in sound and in chanting of the names of God. This may be due to the inherent physical impact of producing certain vowels and consonants in sequence. Other positive effects occur on the psychological and emotional levels as well as the physical. 

Chanting is an outpouring of gratitude and deep communion with God and our fellow chanters. There is a connection on many levels between people who chant together. Studies have shown that the heartbeats of those who sing together begin to synchronize. Scientists in Sweden have determined that as choir members sing in unison, their pulses speed up and slow down at the same rates. Slow chants produce the most synchrony. Chanting and group singing may be a cure for both a sense of isolation from God and from each other in the modern world.  

Choir Singers Synchronize Their Heartbeats
Singing Changes Your Brain

Campfire Kirtan Initiation

harmonium playingFor over a year now I’ve had this idealized vision of having campfire kirtan with friends. The idea of singing bhajans and chants in front of a campfire out in nature with the summer sun setting on the horizon has been a tantalizing daydream.

In my imagination, the sounds of birds and crickets would blend seamlessly with the droning chords of the harmonium and the soothing strum of a guitar while we poured out our hearts in gratitude to the Source of all life. Wow!

My opportunity for this blissful experience came last weekend. We had had several friends over to celebrate the high school graduation of one of my sons earlier in the day. As the day progressed into evening, my husband Andrew got a fire going in our backyard. He and a couple of friends warmed up their vocal chords with a few cowboy songs while I finished a game of Scrabble indoors. 

Then I brought out my harmonium (named after Astara, the Germanic goddess of spring), several binders of large index cards with chords and laboriously hand-written music, and a stand that is the perfect height for playing sitting in a chair. I xeroxed several chants including the guitar chords and Sanskrit lyrics. We were ready!

campfire kirtan friends

I introduced a chant I had recently learned to the goddess Lalita and began to play. As I leaned forward to pump the bellows, the harmonium shifted on the uneven ground. I adjusted. It shifted again. I adjusted again. Shift. Adjust. I was getting the hang of this! Just as we were really hitting a groove and everyone had picked up on the words, I felt something crawl up my right leg.

MKosterCampfireKirtanThere was no way I could brush off the ant without breaking the rhythm of the song. I ignored the ant, hoping it would not bite. Soon another ant followed the first and then another.

The first one reached my shoulder and crawled out onto my arm. I remembered past years when this particular campfire location was plagued with ant hills and we all sat cross-legged on chairs to avoid putting our feet on the ground. That wasn’t an option now.

After the first chant ended, I moved the harmonium and stand to more stable ground. I checked for an ant hill by my right foot, finding nothing. Assuming the bhajan-loving ants were random ants far from home, I stayed where I was and started the next chant.

The next hour was an exercise in concentration. Mosquitoes arrived and bright green gnats. The random ants continued to find my right leg and make the long trek up to my arms and shoulders. I tried blowing them off my arms in between sung phrases to no avail.Finally I gave up and ignored everything except the music. In the end, I incurred only a few mosquito bites and the ants and gnats proved to be harmless, though annoying. 

campfire kirtan

The fire was beautiful. The drumming and guitar were a welcome change from the hours that I spend playing my harmonium and chanting alone in the safety of my home.

Next time I’ll try the other side of the fire where there may be less ants. Maybe I’ll invest in some insect repellent to deal with the mosquitoes and the gnats!

My initiation is over. By next weekend I’ll be ready to schedule another campfire kirtan. Or a moonlit kirtan. Or a mountaintop kirtan….

Neoplatonism and Mysticism

neoplatonism founderThe term neoplatonism refers to a school of thought that was founded by Plotinus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 204—270 C.E. During this period cultures that had not had much contact with each other were for the first time studying and responding to each other’s sacred texts and philosophies.

Gnostic, Jewish, Christian, and pagan philosophers all debated and interpreted the philosophy of Plato, attempting to reconcile their own belief systems with the cosmology it presented. Neoplatonism is known for synthesizing aspects of the speculations of these various faiths into a single cosmology.

In neoplatonism, the universe can be divided into three basic categories: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. From the One emanates the Intellect, which engages with itself as an Other, dividing itself into Forms, whose unity constitutes the expression of the One. Numerous individual soul’s then contemplate these Forms, and from their basic potential manifest action in the world, and it is this action of the Soul that generates the material cosmos.

It is through contemplating the material world as one’s own creation, the physical manifestation of the Soul’s contemplation of the Forms, that are themselves the expression of the One, that the Soul achieves salvation. For Plotinus and neoplatonism, contemplation is the creative principle. It is contemplation that manifests the potential present in the One. Even action is seen as a form of contemplation, but the lowest form.

school of neoplatonismThis view of the universe, while it has been influenced by the traditions that Plotinus was in contact with, does not place a creator god at the center of the universe like Islamic or Christian mystics would. Each link in the chain, from the One, to the Intellect, to the Soul, plays a vital role in the manifestation of the cosmos. In and of itself the One is unchanging and does not act.

The term mysticism is quite hard to define. It has taken on many meanings in many different traditions. When the term is used today, it is usually referring to traditions, practices, or philosophies that are said to lead to a direct intuition of divinity. The term finds its origin in the ancient Greek mystery schools, so-called because their rituals and practices were kept secret and only revealed to initiates.

As time has passed the term has taken on new meaning. It is now most commonly associated with any tradition that claims direct intuitive experience of God or the divine as its highest aim. Loosely speaking, a mystic could be anyone who has had some degree of personal experience with and understanding of the Divine.

Mysticism can be found all over the world in various forms. However,  in the western and Islamic worlds most forms of mysticism can find their roots in the philosophical developments that were taking place throughout the Hellenistic world during the first half of the first millennium.


BenKarlsen2017Guest Author: Ben Karlsen

Ben is a philosophy major at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana focusing on Tibetan Buddhism. Ben has an ongoing interest in psychology, religion, neuroscience and consciousness research. Ben tutored his younger brother Christopher for several years in topics of mutual interest such as astronomy, Greek mythology, programming and science. Ben is my oldest son and I am also grateful for the many hours we have spent together in fascinating conversations!

Sacred Geometry and the Universe

From the simplest atoms to the largest galaxies, geometry determines the structure and function of the universe. This was known to many ancient civilizations, although it is perhaps most evident in the philosophy of the Greeks. To these ancient philosophers, the study of geometry was the study of the fundamental principles that governed the creation of the universe. The human mind was seen as capable of penetrating into the mysteries of universe and allows us to perceive the necessary truths of mathematics and geometry.

Over the entrance to Plato’s Academy, the following phrase was posted: “Let no one unversed in geometry enter here.” The study of mathematics and geometry were seen as foundational practices, through which a student could train their mind to the point that they could grasp the highest principles of metaphysics. In studying geometry, the student was not learning something new, but rather penetrating into his or her own intuitive understanding of the order of the universe. In the same way that one can see that all of the structures geometry follow from basic axioms, one can then realize that all of metaphysics follows from the fundamental principles of existence: the One, the Many, Being, and Becoming.

sacred geometry Penrose patternDuring the first millennium, there was an explosion of interest in metaphysics. Christian, Gnostic, and pagan theologians all worked to uncover the order of the universe. While different philosophers disagreed on many details based on their Christian, Islamic, Gnostic, or pagan views of reality, the model of the universe that was presented in Plato’s Timeaus was viewed as a mutual starting point. From here, theologians set forth their own metaphysical systems, attempting to reconcile their own faiths with mystical philosophy.

For all of these thinkers, the material world was seen as the result of the unfolding of the Divine Intellect. On the most fundamental level the universe emanates from the One, which is itself beyond all concepts of being and non-being. It is complete, perfect, and eternal. From this One is born the Dyad, the inseparable unity of the active and passive forces. With this division of what is ultimately One, and beyond being, into subject and object, the root of the universe is formed. It is based on this that the universe in its infinite forms takes shape, and it does so according to geometric principles of symmetry and harmony, as can be seen clearly in the natural world.

Various sequences of numbers and ratios, such as the Golden Ratio or the Fibonacci sequence, can be seen all over the natural world, from the way in which shells spiral to the growth patterns of trees. Using the golden ratio, an English physicist named Roger Penrose found a way to create an expanding pattern that never repeats (see image). As we learn more and more about the structure of the universe, we continue to find more and more examples of harmony and symmetry.

When modern physicists try to decide what theory is more likely, the one that is most harmonious and symmetrical is chosen. This is because over time it has been proven again and again that our universe is a masterpiece of geometric symmetry and order. From the most fundamental particles to the largest super-clusters of galaxies, the place of geometry and symmetry as essential to the creative principle of the universe is evident.


BenKarlsen2017Guest Author: Ben Karlsen

Ben is a philosophy major at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana focusing on Tibetan Buddhism. Ben has an ongoing interest in psychology, religion, neuroscience and consciousness research. Ben tutored his younger brother Christopher for several years in topics of mutual interest such as astronomy, Greek mythology, programming and science. Ben is my oldest son and I am also grateful for the many hours we have spent together in fascinating conversations!

The Mandala and the Mind

Mandalas can be found in the artistic traditions of many world religions and philosophies. The word mandala comes from the Sanskrit word for circle, and traditionally refers to the the use of the circle in the sacred art of India, but today the word is used to refer to a much more universal piece of human symbolism. The symbolism of a mandala connects the themes of unity and growth, often representing the coming together of opposites to form a whole. The Yin-Yang or symbol of the Tao, diagrams of the I Ching, the Sri Yantra, and the Bhavachakra are all examples of mandalas in sacred art.

mandalaThe most extensive use of mandalas can be found in the rituals and art of Tibetan Buddhism. Mandalas are most often depicted as two dimensional colored diagrams, often featuring a Buddha or seed-syllable in the center, with concentric rings of other deities and various symbols surrounding it. Tibetan monks are famous for their representations of these diagrams drawn in colored sands. These mandalas can take weeks to make and are constructed by monks as a ritual offering, destroyed after completion to represent the impermanence of all things. However, many people are not aware that these two dimensional mandalas are actually blueprints for the visualization of a three-dimensional palace, and play a very important role in almost every form of Tibetan ritual practice.

The palace and its surrounding environment are vividly visualized down to the smallest details in meditation and are used as a powerful transformative tool. The descriptions of these palaces not only describe the palace itself but the entire surrounding universe. The palace is located on Mount Meru, the Axis-Mundi in Indo-tibetian cosmology, which is surrounded by the various continents and visualized as being made entirely of jewels, resting on top of disks of fire, water, and earth. It rests on a thousand-petaled lotus, surrounded by eight charnel grounds (burial vaults or buildings) inhabited by spirits of all kinds, which in turn are surrounded by a ring of iron mountains forming a protective barrier.

mandala1In the center of the palace, which has five walls made of colored jewels representing the five elements, the central Buddha resides in a throne room, surrounded by his or her retinue. Advanced practitioners can visualize the mandala with such great detail and clarity, down to the individual hairs of the head of the deity, that it is perceived as being even more vivid than waking reality. Some are said to even be able to visualize entire sets of mandalas in full detail in a space the size of a small seed.

Every detail of the palace and surrounding environment has many layers of symbolism and meaning. The mandala as a whole represents the primordial non-dual nature of the mind as it exists naturally when freed of all conceptual projections of desire, aversion, hope, or fear, the open and infinitely expansive space before the first thought of self and other. Through the practice of creatively visualizing the mandala, a practitioner replaces their normal sense of self and environment, transforming it into the palace of the Buddha, and realizing his or her own identity as being that of the central Buddha.

mandala2At the end of the visualization the entire mandala is dissolved, step by step, into the practitioner, a process which is mirrored in the ritual destruction of sand mandalas. In later stages, after training extensively in visualizing the mandala, the practitioner utilizes the innate creative power of the mind and actually transforms their perceived environment into the mandala through practices involving the subtle body, the energetic system of chakras, channels, winds, and bindus, directly seeing into the open space the underlies all thought.

A similar use of mandalas is also found a number of Hindu Tantric schools. Often the princes or emperors who would sponsor Hindu Tantra in their court would also sponsor Vajrayana Buddhism, which would later develop into Tibetan Buddhism. Because yogis from both traditions would often be in close contact with each other, the traditions influenced each other’s development. Most of the mandalas used by these schools, usually referred to as yantras, are far less complex than their Tibetan counterparts, but they are still used to represent the ultimate non-dual nature of reality. One well known example is the Sri Yantra, representing the union of the divine feminine and masculine principles, the diagram itself showing how reality emanates from this union that contains the potential for all possible existence.

mandala3A less esoteric use of mandalas can be found in the psychological theories of Carl Jung. Jung saw the mandala as being an archetypal representation of the self. Jung spent a lot of time using art as a method for exploring the relationship between symbolism, the unconscious, and psychology, and often found himself drawing mandala-like diagrams. He found the drawings to be powerful expressions of his state of being, and in time he came to see these diagrams as representing his path to the unity of the self.

Jung said of his drawings of mandalas, “I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate.” Although mandalas are used in many different ways by many different traditions, the fundamental theme of the unity of reality or the self is common to them all. Whether they are used as a part of complex esoteric rituals and practices, or as an attempt to express the self artistically for the purposes of healing or psychological growth, the mandala is undoubtedly one of the most powerful examples of symbolism found in the spiritual traditions of the world.

Ben2017Guest Author: Ben Karlsen
Ben is a philosophy major at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana focusing on Tibetan Buddhism. Ben has an ongoing interest in psychology, religion, neuroscience and consciousness research. He tutored his younger brother Christopher for several years in topics of mutual interest such as astronomy, Greek mythology, programming and science. Ben is my oldest son and I am also grateful for the many hours we have spent together in fascinating conversations!

Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C. G. Jung
Deity, Mantra and Wisdom by Jigme Lingpa, Patrul Rinpoche, and Getse Mahapandita