Chanting is Half the Battle

The old mansion in Chestnut Hills was three stories high, including an attic apartment. There were thirteen rooms for rent. I was in my early twenties and new in town with very little experience living on my own. I responded to an ad, rented a room and started a job in a restaurant downtown. Shortly after settling in, I found a spiritual organization that appealed deeply to me. I began attending regular study groups and services. This particular path was going to be a central influence on my soul’s journey for decades to come. My association with the group was … Continue reading

The Magic of Sanskrit

The benefits for the brain of chanting mantras or reciting sacred texts in Sanskrit has moved from the realm of ardent devotees into the arena of hard science. James Hartzell, Ph.D., a neuroscientist researching the topic, has looked at physical changes that happen in the brain during the memorization and recitation of Sanskrit texts. He is calling this The Sanskrit Effect. Hartzell has discovered that Sanskrit pandits have over ten percent more grey matter across both cerebral hemispheres, a measurement consistent with higher cognitive functioning. The right  hippocampus, connected to long and short-term memory and sensitive to auditory and visual … Continue reading

What is Kirtan Music?

KIRTAN MUSIC is form of chanting. Group chanting is a platform for a profound sharing of energy, heart, and soul. Chanting is in call and response format in many spiritual traditions. In the west, kirtan is call and response or sing-along style. Do I have to be musical? How well you sing is not a pertinent issue. You do not need prior musical experience. Kirtan is ideal if you are self-conscious about singing. Your voice blends with everyone around you. Science shows that group singing changes the chemistry of the brain. These changes happen regardless of skill level. Everyone reaps … Continue reading

Practicing for the Cave

I was talking to a friend of mine and suggested that he try giving up sugar for a year. Or maybe give up alcohol for a year. Or coffee. Or maybe he should try some mental deprivation for a year. Like giving up movies for a year. Or giving up reading books for a year. He was less enthusiastic than I had hoped. I call that kind of self-imposed deprivation “practicing for the cave”. What comforts and pleasures do you have in your life that you would not have if meditating in a cave for an extended period of time? … Continue reading

Reforge Your Heart!

Everyone experiences heartbreak of some kind. We’ve all got our life credentials! I suppose we are each affected to different degrees by different types of experiences. The depth of the heartache seems to be related to the significance of the event in your life and the things that matter to you the most. I know what it’s like to have pain in your heart that keeps you awake at night. That kind of pain is shockingly physical–the kind that makes hard to breathe or move or think. You don’t know how or when the pain will cease and whether hope … Continue reading

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 … Continue reading

The Positive Effects of Chanting

kirtan 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! The effect of using “a ha!” is similar to laughter therapy and relieves stress and depression. The … Continue reading

Chanting Around the World

Chanting, 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 … Continue reading

Islamic Mysticism

The aim of Islamic mysticism is to understand the mystery of divine creation and to understand man’s relationship with God in order to better enact His will on Earth. The goal of a Sufi is to return to the primordial state of the human being in which the human will is one with the will of God and all action is an expression of the love of God. Some Sufi practices include recitation of the names of God, meditation on a visualization of the name Allah written on the heart, and devotion to Muhammad. Muhammad is seen by Sufis as the … Continue reading

Neoplatonism and Mysticism

The 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 … Continue reading