The eternal flame of happiness dances within every one of us. But sometimes we forget. The demands and stresses that come with living in the 21st century can keep us distracted from our true home, the inner temple of our own hearts.
Kirtan, which is call-and-response chanting or “responsory” performed in India’s devotional traditions, is a way to remember our ever-present connection with Spirit, the I AM energy, God, the Life Force, a Higher Power, or whatever we choose to call it. The language we use to express love does not matter. Whether we sing and chant devotional phrases in Sanskrit (the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism), Spanish, English, or any language, our voices create physical vibrations that carry the intention of our hearts. Regardless of our language, religion, political position, ethnicity, or station in life, these vibrations act like a pebble dropped into a pond, sending forth ripples of compassion and love that spread ever outward.
Some may feel uncomfortable walking into a church, chanting or praying, as a result of feeling judged in the past. Practising kirtan with people who create a supportive, safe and accepting environment is one way, among many, to become reacquainted with our inner love and continue the process of healing the perceived wounds that prevent us from practicing forgiveness, compassion and dana, or generosity, in our own lives. The more we can suspend our judgments (and judging is a practice of the intellect, never of the Heart), the more we can see ourselves, others and the world through our hearts: an act of which the intellect, or small mind, is incapable.
Why all this talk of the heart? The intellect, which resides in the domain of the small mind, would have us believe that the heart is nothing more than a muscle in our chest that pumps blood. But being heart-centred is much more than simply a metaphor for kindness. When we see ourselves, and the world, primarily through the lens of our intellect, we witness illusion rather than the reality of love. This illusion is fear based, and would have us each believe that Life (which is energy) can be threatened. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj put it plainly when he said, “The real does not die, the unreal never lived.”
Shifting our focus and attention back to the heart allows us to turn away from our intellect (a servant of the heart), to turn away from fear and scarcity-consciousness, returning to our natural state of unconditional love, which is our birthright. Residing in our natural state of unconditional love, we effortlessly find ourselves surrounded by abundance and filled with joy. The world becomes, in the words of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, an “unceasing banquet of delight.”
Note that this does not affect the ability to use the intellect for its intended purpose of serving. We’re still perfectly able to call upon our analytical abilities as we need them, relaxing and resting in tranquility when we do not. No need to let the intellect torment us day and night with fears, worries and strategies for vanquishing our (perceived) foes. Like a lawnmower, we can start it up when we need it and put it in the garage when we’re done. The intellect is an invaluable tool; it makes a fantastic servant but a lousy master.
While we could fill a library with the multitude of pathways for becoming more heart-centred, in addition to kirtan, two techniques in particular are my favourites, due to their simplicity. The first is to simply place your hand on your heart when talking with someone. (Yes, it’s that simple.) On a subconscious level, this shifts attention and awareness to the heart, and affects one’s perception accordingly. On a conscious level, the more we can actually feel the warmth of our own hand on our chest while listening to what the other person is saying, the more we’re reminded to bring forth our heart-awareness into the conversation. If I find I’m becoming angry or judgmental, I press my hand into my chest or gently tap my chest with my finger to help shift my focus downward , out of my head and into my heart.
Alternately, one can wear a necklace with a pendant that hangs down and rests against the heart area of the chest. (This is a great adaptation for those who may have physical difficulty raising an arm to place a hand on the heart.) What I like about these techniques is that I can practice them without anyone knowing what I’m doing. During kirtan, of course, this is not a concern; it feels safe to assume that those of us in the room singing, chanting and dancing are interested in becoming reacquainted with our heart-centred Higher Self. But when standing in line at the coffee shop, still half-asleep and feeling a little grouchy, it may not feel as easy to be so open.
The great part is that you don’t have to tell anyone why your hand is on your heart; no need to go into all that with the guy behind the coffee counter. And yet you’re both still getting the benefit of this practice. (It’s almost like being an undercover spy for a moment; they think you’re just putting your hand on your chest, when actually, you’re reawakening love and compassion.) During kirtan, I can place my hand on my heart as I chant, sing, weep or dance. In doing this I complete a sacred circle of love and energy in one of the most simple and powerful ways known to humanity through the ages.
A second method I use for shifting my attention away from my judgmental intellect and back to my heart is to close my eyes when circumstances are safe for doing so. (Yes, it’s that simple.) This technique is especially effective for me when I’m performing music during kirtan. I find that when my eyes are open in that setting, the beauty of the participants, who are often smiling and appear to be flowing with joy, can easily distract me. Closing my eyes helps me to maintain focus on my own heart, and on my intention to be of service.
Kirtan is one path that can take us back home to that ever-present connection within ourselves, the connection with our own peace, joy and compassion. As we shift our perception back to seeing with our hearts, we realize we never actually left. In truth, we were home the whole time.
Image: A narration via Shutterstock