by Ellen Arthur.
Mantra is unique, as in, unlike anything else.. and I couldn’t think of a better way of describing the magic that is mantra, chanting and kirtan. All of these three definitions express different ways of using mantra in order to heal, inspire or awaken dormant energies within our very own bodies and mind.
For me, it all began in a modest little yoga shala, in Canggu, Bali years ago, where my teacher (Octavio) lead us through a mantra that would, unbeknownst to me at the time, change my life forever. That mantra was Om Asatoma. A peace mantra that takes us away from the false, illusion filled patterns of life and leads us toward our truth, moves us from the misunderstanding of our “darkness” and guides us to our light, and lastly transforms us from our fear of death and allows us to perceive ourselves as immortal, as beings who never die. Ultimately asking us to become the most embodied and empowered version of ourselves possible. To say that this Yoga Teacher Training changed my life is an understatement.
It took me at least a year to remember that time in Bali when I was exposed to Mantra, and once I remembered, I haven’t stopped chanting, sharing and singing since. I believe that the practice of mantra and self-discovery shows up when you need it the most, when you are ready for a transformative shift to take place. Be warned, that a committed mantra practice will, without a doubt revolutionise the way you perceive not only yourself, but the very world that you are a part of.
At that time, I wasn’t ready for my life to change, there were still a few weeds that needed to be removed and a few past experiences that needed to be revisited so that I could make peace with them. Hence why it took a solid year for me to recall the power of mantra, and specifically Om Asatoma. (Let me be clear, I still have a lot of weeds and overgrown terrain that I am constantly working on, but each day the garden of my life looks a little tidier and somewhat less chaotic.)
As a daily practice along with asana, mediation and pranayama, I would utilise the momentum (the momentum is the fact that these mantras have been used and chanted for thousands of years, in ceremonial practices, so that alone amplifies its impact and its magnetic pull) and the power of this mantra to help relieve my suffering, my ignorance and my self sabotage. After some time marinating in my own mantra practice, the need to share was overwhelming. I began to share mantra with my students in classes and also sharing through regular community kirtans.
Kirtan is typically accompanied with narrating or story telling and then chanting mantra melodically, usually in a call and response manner. I have been lucky enough to be able to see first hand the beauty and the reach of mantra. My students and community would often say to me that mantra feels familiar, like an old friend, even if you’re new to the practice. Technically as a species we have been singing, celebrating and purging our troubles through ceremony, dance and ritual since the beginning of time. So no wonder mantra feels nostalgic and sentimental.
Through Mantra in the Hindu and Buddhism traditions we chant to the gods, deities, figure heads and higher beings with the belief and the understanding that these Gods and Goddesses aren’t outside of ourselves. In fact they represent the very nature of our being, showcasing our vast array of human qualities and emotions. These qualities include, strength, will power, determination, compassion, unconditional love and having the courage to over come our many hurdles/obstacles/heartbreaks. Always changing and evolving, our nature can sometimes be loving and passive, and in some circumstances we need to be more assertive and direct. In these times of shift and transformation mantra can be used as a tool to keep our two feet firmly planted on the ground, to bind us to the infinite possibilities within the present moment. We were designed to awaken, to thrive and to understand that beyond the rollercoaster of everyday life and emotion, there is a part of ourselves that is calm and at peace. Mantra speaks to that very part of ourselves that is beyond form, religion, gender, political views and social construct. When we chant we are liberated, and the heart is directly pierced and touched ever so sweetly.
For me, it’s a real sense of relief knowing that there is mantra, and where there is mantra there is a deity to call upon in times of need. In these times of despair, mantra becomes an incredible ally. Over time and dedicated repetition, mantra helps guide us away from negativity or uncertainty and points us in the direction of rebuilding our inner reservoir of contentment that comes from self-fulfilment, not from an external source, but right within your own heart.
I can happily say that asana is a big part of my daily practice but it is through daily repetitions of the names, that has bought about the biggest transformations in my life. The commitment to a practice that enables me to connect to something bigger than “I”, bigger than “me” has given “me” great perspective on my life, my purpose and overall happiness. I see myself as a fully formed reflection of the divine… I am and you are perfect, nothing needs to be fixed or manipulated, we are enough exactly as we are. Asana (as incredible as it is) can only take us so far along this winding road that is the spiritual path. It wasn’t until mantra and sharing mantra through Kirtan – community Satsang – that my yoga/my life truly started to shine.
It has been through sitting in contemplating and reverie, and using mantra as the metaphorical gateway, that has offered me this beautiful uncovering of self and the constant discovery of how magnificent life truly is.