Why I Chant

An unlikely chanter
I chant. And I love it.

And even though I do this whole sacred sound thing, a lot of people still react to this news with a genuine sense of surprise.

You chant? Seriously? Wow.

And the wow is usually an I’d-never-have-guessed-that kind of wow.

I can understand their surprise. I guess, in a lot of ways, I’m an unlikely chanter. I love punk rock music. I don’t meditate (in the usual way). I wear KISS t-shirts. I watch beatboxing videos on YouTube.

That may not immediately translate into an image of me singing devotional chants with my whole heart. But I do. And I love it.

Did I say that already?

Sorry. I kind of gush when I talk about this stuff.


Where it all started

My first exposure to chant was through the tradition of the Yoruba people. They have a style of call-and-response singing called orin. During one of my visits to my elder, Baba Bolu, he led a group of us through an orin for Aje Saluga, a goddess of prosperity.

It was a pretty amazing experience, feeling the back-and-forth flow as Baba sang a line and then we sang a line. Between the drums and the singing, it rocked my world. I could feel the power of chant in my bones.

But my real passion for chanting began when I bumped into the music of Krishna Das. Krishna Das sings kirtan, a type of devotional chanting found in the spiritual traditions of India.

And speaking of rocking my world?

Yeah. He rocked it in a huge way.

When I heard KD sing the Maha Mantra – the one most folks know as the Hare Krishna mantra – something pretty wow-worthy happened. The short version went like this:

Lots of tears. An unstopped urge to let my body move. And a great big huge sense of love.

I was a little surprised by this. Not because I don’t get the whole sound shifts stuff thing, but because I was just listening casually. And I had no idea what any of the words meant. And because I totally wasn’t expecting that kind of response.

But it definitely affected me. In a deep way. And I had to know more.

So, with the quickness, I snagged everything Krishna Das ever recorded, and I listened. A lot. Like pretty much non-stop for awhile. And as I listened, I sang along. I butchered way more words than not, but I kept singing. Because I loved how it felt.

It was hard to explain why, but singing these songs just felt good. Like yummy-for-the-soul sort of good.

One day I was watching KD’s Yoga of Chant. He was talking about how chanting helps you to find the kind of peace that doesn’t go wonky in the face of day to day stuff. That deep peace that’s always there.

Now I’ve heard a lot of people talk about inner peace, but it’s never hit home the way it did that day. And I realized the reason it landed so strongly for me then is because it was clear that Krishna Das wasn’t talking about peace conceptually, but experientially.

He’s tasted what he’s talking about.

Right then I knew one thing. I wanted whatever it was he had. And if chanting is what got him there, then it was time to chant.

That’s when it all came together for me. Singing these songs feels so good because they connect me to that great big peace. And that’s delicious!

And the tears that flowed the first time I heard KD rocking the Maha Mantra? I’m pretty sure those were tears of joy and relief and celebration. I’d brushed against something I had been searching for forever without even really knowing it.


Why I chant
So I chant to keep in touch with that great big peace. I figure it’s a good idea to keep the path between us clear, so I don’t forget where it is.

But I still forget. So I chant to remember.

And I chant to clear out the clutter that covers up my heart. The stuff that shuts me down. The stuff I trip over. The stuff that breeds stuck. All the ick I should have gotten rid of ages ago, but have kept around for a variety of reasons. I chant to let it go bit by bit.

Chanting makes my heart clear.

I chant to remember who I really am. When the dust of life settles over everything, and I start to believe I’m the stuck and struggle that I’m experiencing, I chant. As I do, it’s like a big wind blows by and carries away the dust and the detritus.

And then it’s like, Oh right! That’s who I am. Right on.

I chant to fill up. After a lot of years of being used to running on empty, taking time to fill up is really important to me. Life is better. I’m happier. I can do what I do way better. And since I dig chanting so much, it’s easy to make time to do it. Which makes it easy to fill up too.

I chant to get unstuck. I can spend a couple of hours pushing and pushing, where absolutely nothing gets done. Then I can chant for ten or fifteen minutes, and the stuck shifts and the road opens and whatever I’m doing flows like water.

So now I’m trying to remember to turn to chant sooner, before I push and push for hours on end. Baby steps, right?

I also chant to give thanks. Some days are filled with a whole bunch of awesome. So I chant to celebrate, to share a big woot with the Big Mystery.

I chant to touch that bigness. When I chant I feel the presence of something way bigger than me. Maybe that’s where some of the peace comes from. I don’t know. But I do know that a few seconds with this bigness helps me to keep everything else in my life in perspective.

And I chant for me. I don’t do it for other people, or when other people are around. I don’t do it during sessions. I do it by myself, for me.

I think that having a for-me thing is really important. I don’t have to worry about what I sound like, or what I look like, or whether my socks match. I can just focus on chanting.

Did I mention the peace? Yeah, it’s awesome.

I’m nowhere near the peace-that’s-always-there-no-matter-what place. But even hanging out with real live peace for a few minutes is pretty awesome. And pretty healing.

And I figure that if I hang out there often enough, this peace may eventually stick around. We’ll see.

For now, I’ll keep chanting.


Checking out the chant
If you find yourself wanting to check out chanting, it’s super easy.

Pick any word or phrase that holds some mojo for you. It might be a classic mantra like Om Mani Padme Hum or the Maha Mantra. It could be a sacred name that reflects your personal relationship with the Divine. Or it could be a word you really dig. Like love, health, peace – anything you’d like.

Set aside a few minutes to do your thing. Pick a place where you’ll be comfortable, and where you’ll have enough privacy to really rock out, if you want.

And then just chant.

Quietly. Loudly. While sitting. Or standing. Or dancing.

Whatever works.

There are all kinds of traditions around chanting, but, at the end of the day, it’s really about the relationship between you and the chant. So start where you’re comfortable, and do what feels right for you.

And if you start to explore chant, or are already chanting, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to add a comment below.


Stuff to explore
The Yoga of Sound by Russill Paul – A great, information-dense book about traditional chanting practice. Comes with a CD too.

Chanting: Discovering Spirit In Sound by Robert Gass – A cool cross-cultural look at chanting.

More info about OM than you probably ever wanted to know, from the Mandala Yoga Ashram.

Live…on Earth (For a Limited Time Only) by Krishna Das. A double-disc set of epic chanting goodness, complete with awesome liner notes so you can jump in and join the chanting party.

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18 Responses to Why I Chant
  1. Rene
    July 13, 2009 | 11:42 am

    Fabeku,

    Thank you for introducing me to Krishna Das! Amazing…
    Sound is so very important to us… from the Pali chants that signal the beginning and ending of Vipassana meditation, to the drumming, to dij playing, to really awesome classic Rock… it’s all good! 🙂

    I don’t chant enough, myself. It’s definitely something I need to practice.

    Rene’

  2. Adam Kayce
    July 13, 2009 | 12:21 pm

    Fabeku,

    This post is—99% word for word—the post I’ve been meaning to write.

    I’ve done a lot of “spiritual stuff” for many years, but chanting always gets me right in the right spot, no matter what. And I love how it doesn’t matter what I believe, or what tradition, language, or faith the people chanting are a part of… most of the time I can just blend right in and let it take me.

    KD is a big love of mine, too – I just added “Heart Full of Soul” to my collection last week (almost bought ‘Live’, but opted for this one instead); I’ll put ‘Live’ on the list for next time.

    Thanks for the post – it’s great to read about people who are touched by chanting the same way I am.

  3. Julie Stuart
    July 13, 2009 | 12:33 pm

    I chant to open my heart wider. There’s something about the reverberation against your chest sending sound deep into your soul. I also like to say mantras internally without sound. I can lose myself in the fluidity of it.

    And every Wednesday night I get to sing kirtan at my yoga ashram before our meditation darshan. We also host Kirtan artists like Krishna Das so maybe you should zip down to Atlanta some time my darling Fabeku?

    Thanks for sharing the reasons why you chant!

  4. Why I Love to Chant… oh, never mind
    July 13, 2009 | 1:09 pm

    […] I’ve been meaning to write a post about it, just so you all know I haven’t fallen off the wagon completely… But then Fabeku beat me to it. Brilliantly. […]

  5. Katie
    July 13, 2009 | 1:34 pm

    Fabeku,

    I have just come in from weeding the flower beds. The entire time as I listened to Remembering Through Resonance I was reflecting on your blog and how important music has become in my life.

    I can tolerate any style of music for a short period, but in the last 2 or 3 years I will have a song or a CD strike a very deep chord and will literally listen non-stop in my vehicle or as I unwind in the evening. I will listen to the same song or same CD for weeks – sometimes months. I will even sometimes try to change to a new CD – that only lasts a song or two!!! Something in the music just calls so deeply.

    Then last Wednesday I able to sing kirtan at the local yoga studio. Several of the singers have met at a local home and sung for some time. The rest of us were new. The group will be meeting irregularly, but I know I want to participate as often as possible.

    One last sharing – I was switching to your free download on my MP3 just a few minutes ago, writing and thinking how peaceful I feel when I realized that I had switched to KD’s Shri Ram Jai Ram. Funny how things just happen and how your mood is lifted by music.

    Thanks for a great, though provoking sharing.

    Katie

  6. Fabeku
    July 13, 2009 | 2:26 pm

    @Rene – You’re totally welcome for the introduction to KD. He’s a thousand kinds of awesome. His work has been huge for me, so I’m glad to share it. And I love all the ways you’re rocking with sound. There are so many ways to plug in. All of them are pretty incredible.

    @Adam – I’m with you 100% when it comes to chanting getting me to the right place, always. And it is completely cool how the type of chant isn’t the most important thing. Chanting – no matter what kind – feels like a wave to me, and riding it is an amazing thing. And Heart Full of Soul? My favorite KD release ever. I mentioned Live On Earth because of the liner notes, but Heart Full of Soul gets played every day.

    @Julie – Opening your heart wider…. perfect! And I know just what you mean about the reverberation of sound in your body. It’s mmm, mmm good. You get to do kirtan every week? Wow. How awesome is that? I’d love to come to ATL sometime!

    @Katie – I can really relate to what you said. When I found KD’s work, I played it constantly. It was basically all I listened to for a long time. I felt like I was unwrapping some kind of mystery. Some sweet, gorgeous, profound mystery. And a big huge yay for you getting to sing kirtan! And I’m glad you’re digging Remembering Through Resonance. Very cool.

  7. Hiro Boga
    July 13, 2009 | 2:48 pm

    Fabeku, someday I’d love to chant kirtan with you. I grew up hearing it, like the murmur of a great river, always there. It still brings me to a place of deep inner rest and connection.

    Love, Hiro

  8. Jennifer Louden
    July 13, 2009 | 4:40 pm

    Yeah for chanting! Yeah for the most powerful and wonderful spiritual practice. Yeah for a post that really really explains why it is so great. And do you think it was very bad of me to hip check several people so I could sit in the 2nd row and bask in KD?

  9. Lynne Tolk
    July 13, 2009 | 8:25 pm

    Fabeku,

    Thanks for the inspiration! I had almost forgotten the chants I used to adore in Sangha – lovely, simple songs from Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village. But most of what we did was silent sitting. When there came a conflict between that and choir practice, I chose choir, feeling guilty, but I would rather sing than just about anything.

    It looks like I might explore chants a bit further, especially like the idea of just doing it by and for myself.

    Lynne

  10. Jennifer
    July 14, 2009 | 6:21 am

    AWESOME post/site. So glad to have found this today…..thank you for sharing. Jen

  11. Fabeku
    July 15, 2009 | 3:59 pm

    @Hiro – Like the murmur of a great river… I absolutely love that! And I’d also love to chant kirtan with you sometime. How amazing would that be?

    @Jennifer – I’m glad my post came even a little close to explaining why chanting is such an awesome and powerful practice. It’s hard to put it into words in a way that feels close to the experience, you know?

    And the hip check? Totally awesome and totally smart! I’d have done the very same thing.

    In fact, when we saw him in Cincy we were the first two people in line because we wanted to get as close as possible. Somehow two people managed to get in front us. Then they tried to sneak about 10 or 12 of their friends up there too. Suddenly, after waiting for an hour and a half, we were about 15 people back in line. Ack!

    So when they started letting people in my uber fast wife shot around these line jumpers, and ran up three flights of stairs like an Olympic athlete, successfully securing us two seats in the front row.

    The we-tried-to-sneak-10-people-in-front-of-you people gave us the stink eye all night. From two rows behind us.

    So, yeah, a hip check at a KD event is absolutely appropriate!

    @Lynn – I’m glad this post was a gentle reminder of the songs you love so much. Thich Nhat Hanh is incredible. A friend introduced me to Peace Is Every Step 15+ years ago, and I loved it. And the fact that you chose choir made me smile. I’d have made the same choice myself.

    @Jennifer – Glad you found the site and dug the post. Thanks for saying hello!

  12. Kara-Leah
    July 20, 2009 | 1:41 pm

    Yep, chanting rocks my world too. And as a previous non-singer ever not even in the shower… there are so many reasons why it works for me.

    I came to it through asana practice, via pranayama and meditation… and it’s probably my favourite-of-all practice now.

    Bring on the heart opening…

    Thanks for making chanting sound so down to earth, so awesome, and so accessible!

    Blessings,
    KL

  13. Tatty Franey
    July 21, 2009 | 12:48 pm

    This is a wonderful insight into who you are and why you do what you do. Love it. Made me teary 🙂
    I love sacred sounds. There is a church in São Paulo that has Gregorian chanting for first sunday mass and wow!
    And kirtan? ROCKS MY WORLD!
    Wish I was not so self-conscious about being 100% tone deaf and felt more open to chanting myself. Normally I dance the blues away and shimmy for happiness instead!
    .-= Tatty Franey´s last blog ..Global Edition #15 =-.

  14. Fabeku
    July 23, 2009 | 8:57 am

    @Kara-Leah – I think it’s awesome that you’ve shifted from non-singer-even-in-the-shower to loving-the-chant! There is something about chanting that seems to open people up to it, even if they’d never considered it before.

    Since seeing KD live, my wife walks around the house singing Om Namah Shivaya, which makes me smile due to its serious coolness. Thanks for saying hi and for your kind words on the post.

    @Tatty – I love Gregorian chant. When I first heard the recordings by the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos I was floored. I still listen to the chant CD they did ages ago. It’s like soul food! I’d love to hear it sung live, and if that happened to happen in São Paulo all the better.

    And the self-conscious thing? I get that. I don’t sing or chant around other people. In part because it feels like such a private thing. And in part because I’m seriously self-conscious about my voice. I like to chant in private. It gives me more freedom, even if I sound awful.

    And a big yay for dancing the blues away and celebratory shimmies! Movement is such a powerful thing.

  15. Peter Romo
    June 6, 2010 | 10:29 pm

    I meditate, however it struck me profoundly that you had described what I experience after I meditate.
    “Clearing of your heart” is actually a lightening physical sensation.

    I’ve found that healing practices in different traditions work with some people, not with others.

    Incidently, I’ve been interested in mongolian throat singing. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?
    I’m not sure how similar it would be to changing spiritually, but it may involve similar muscles/practices.

  16. Fabeku
    June 13, 2010 | 12:24 pm

    @Peter – You’re totally right about the physical sensation. I definitely feel it in my body when I’m doing my chanting practice.

    And very cool that you’re familiar with throat singing. It’s a beautiful art form and full of all kinds of good mojo too. When I first heard the music of Huun Huur Tu I was blown away.

    I feel the same about the Tibetan throat singing. Ah-may-zing! There’s a lot of shifting that happens there.

  17. Rupa
    October 22, 2010 | 4:54 pm

    Oh yes, Fabeku, now it all makes sense to me!

    I listened to your free download yesterday with a bit of skepticism (where were the mantras?) and was shocked today to have experienced a huge, unstuckifying shift. It worked.

    You chant! Chanting informs our work, our play, our lives. It cleanses the heart and clarifies our intentions.

    Your service is beautiful. Thank you from the heart.
    .-= Rupa´s last blog ..A Butterfly and a Bird =-.

  18. Fabeku
    October 28, 2010 | 6:22 pm

    @Rupa – Right on! I’m glad you dug the download. And it’s totally ok to be skeptical. It can be hard to get it until you’ve experienced it. And everything you said about chanting? I totally agree.

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