I want to share with you my favourite thing, something real.
Usually, “meditation” sounds peaceful, low-key, and intriguingly mystical in aim; a personal-portable grounding tool, bringing resilience to the ups and downs; it’s the hope for a sparkle of tantalising insight from beyond the usual time-worn experiences. In practice, however, meditation may be a tad tedious and hard to do everyday… a nice idea but…
Love music, love dancing? Try this instead: It’s an emerging style of meditation called kirtan—it’s my best night out, non-toxic, and hangover-free, and nothing ever felt better, tasted better, or left me so absolutely satisfied. I am talking a new brand of pleasure, what the yoga texts call ananda—bliss tasted on the spiritual platform—as opposed to just plain vanilla happiness that comes and goes on the material plane, abandoning us to make room for its flipside unhappiness, and really not very satisfying in the first place compared to the bliss we are entitled to. (And yes, it is only easy to say this once you have tasted even a drop of the other type of happiness, like if you’re a caterpillar it’s hard to let go of the last branch until firmly footed on the next.)
Kirtan is…mantras sung to music. A mantra is sound vibration that frees the mind. It’s an ancient yoga process, but super easy. Sit down, surrounded by sincere souls; before you the kirtan leader and musicians lead you in chant, and you all respond, back and forth; in this way, we go on for an hour or more, and it gets better and better. You don’t have to be musical. Indian and Western styles and instruments combine to take you deeper and deeper into the mantra. Ultimately the freedom and bliss you experience just make you want to throw off all inhibitions, including your meditation cushion, and dance in ecstasy. I’m not kidding!
What’s going on?
Kirtan is a place the mind can rest. The sound vibration, being composed of spiritual energy, gives the shelter the mind crawls longingly through the material world for. The difference between these spiritual and material energies is chalk and cheese, day and night; in yoga knowledge, matter is composed of ignorance, temporariness, and distress, whereas spiritual energy is made of full knowledge, permanence, and bliss. We can choose to get absorbed in either—take your pick.
Kirtan is freedom. How do we get beyond these covering walls of body, mind, and material environment, limitations we know so well? Knowing the limitations so well and weary of not finding something else yet, and maybe cynical that there even is something else… but then why do we, or at least some of us, crave the taste of some fresh air beyond the “same old same old” world we are used to? Kirtan is touchdown on the transcendent self beyond body and psychology; it’s the soul, the atman of yoga; it’s a home hit, the bull’s-eye. Unlike many meditation methods, it is not just a psychological exercise, an observation of thoughts or breath, or an experience that still keeps you on the material plane. Once you taste that freedom, that release beyond limitation that you get in kirtan, you’ll never be satisfied inside the stale walls of what you know now.
So what does it feel like to really begin to be yourself again? It’s an experience that grows as you pursue it, and considering self-realisation is the goal of multiple spiritual disciplines throughout history, it’s not a cheap thing and not spoken for in a day. However, from the very beginning, you start to taste a loosening from the mental states that crowd your consciousness moment to moment and feel so “me,” however much you would prefer not to have them; you begin to taste a focusing of vision that clarifies the muddle of life and makes you gradually hunger to live the most for-real life. The heart opens to radiate and shine, and barriers between you and the people in your life—friends, family, and workmates start to disappear. You feel the desire to connect unselfishly, with all beings, via our Common Source. Those are just a few of the herculean shifts that are possible at the beginning of this exciting adventure into kirtan.
Ultimately, kirtan reboots our original intelligence so we start to see and act in harmony with dharma: the cosmic order or intelligence aka implicit order in quantum physics that gives rise to the natural laws and order we see in the reality around us. Effectively, we are tuning ourselves like an instrument with the Creator, creation, and other creatures, bringing us to a state of alignment with everything.
The mantras we chant in kirtan are names for that complete spiritual whole: Krishna. Supported by other mantras, the headliner is the maha-mantra, or great mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. You can start the experiment now—try chanting this mantra to yourself for ten minutes every morning or evening, and whenever you feel like it any other time—and see what it does. This is a yoga process to be experienced, so there is no need to believe in anything; it’s just like stepping into a yoga session to try out what it does for you.
So, try kirtan out; nothing to lose, everything to gain.
At the least you will feel a release from stress, anxiety, and boredom. At the most you will be the next fully self-realised, blissful, supercharged, intelligent, authentically and unselfishly powerful person walking the earth, a beacon of pure compassion, honesty, and deep knowledge that can contribute big time to easing the multi-problems the world shoulders.
Find it at a bhakti-yoga centre near you.