Most mornings, I chant.
I have always been told I couldn’t sing well; whichever octave sits next to me is where I jump, and I waver when unsure if another note might be closer. I’ll sing snippets with my CD player or part of a hymn I’ve practiced a hundred times, but only when I am fairly confident I will land correctly.
Still, I wibble and wobble.
But at yoga school, chant began our day. I had to open my mouth and make sound come out. On-target or out-of-key, it didn’t matter; first thing, we intoned “the resonance of the universe,” Om, followed by three Sanskrit stanzas of the Student-Teacher Mantra.
Almost sixty of us perched sit-bones on little black cushions while out the window, sunrise pinked the eastern sky. The mantra song felt strange to many and made them itch in discomfort and wiggle like little kids. Mountain fog dissipated into the evergreens while our eyes remained closed, or followed the lines on a large-print poster at the front. Over twelve days the chant became more familiar.
During the break between sessions, I committed to continue, using a grainy digital video I’d recorded at Kripalu.
At that point, I needed to be led.
By the third stanza, usually my throat hurt. I tried again every daybreak to coax energy, with a vocalization some mornings tentative and froggy, other times expansively bouncing off the yoga room walls. Breath slowed and deepened out of necessity, and warmed my throat. Warmed my thoughts toward myself.
This was not just a tune.
Then came even deeper breath and movement, heat, circulation and all the good invited onto my mat with those sensations. Finally, my nauseated frustration flirted with comfort. I recognized unwanted thoughts and let them float away.
When we returned to Kripalu, I heard my morning voice steady and confident.
Now out of school, why do I do it?
One afternoon I sat in a kitchen that reeked of the detritus of cooking, home early because my therapist forgot my appointment–what deep things does THAT say? I asked myself melodramatically. Basil stems and onion ends needed to be taken to the trash, cabbage bits and tea leaves laid sodden in the sink, crumbs sprinkled the table and floor.
Earlier I’d stopped at the used book store and found two 25 cent paperbacks for the lake-vacation planned with my best friend.
But at my table I acknowledged it was a vacation she and I would have to put off–because her brother is sick, so she will instead drive five hours back and forth to him a couple days a week, and then to doctors and hospitals in search of diagnosis, prognosis, the plan, whatever-that-plan-might-be, however long it might take. Because of love.
How can I make my life like a vacation without a trip? Give yourself permission, my therapist might say, like the night before, to stay up and crush the basil into pesto, to cut the watermelon and freeze the grapes for hot afternoon snacking, to wash the lettuce–but also to toss the sprouting sweet potato, feel the sticky floor under my feet, acknowledge I ate maybe one too many pieces of the blueberry buckle baked in the beautiful dark. Feel it all.
I had given the therapist some blueberry buckle as we laughed over the scheduling error. I thought, I would send some to my best friend if I could fly it there. In the midst of her pain, she’d mailed me a royal blue Pashmina shawl; the card read: Wrap yourself in this hug from me.
I want to take her to the lake we’d planned to visit, to hear the loons and go on long photo safaris in search of wild flowers and angles of light, to huff the thickly oxygenated Canadian forest air. Drape myself like a scarf around her sad, sad shoulders. Feed her blueberry buckle and sip Chambord into the evening, watch the hummingbirds and fog dance in over the beach.
That’s why I chant. I chant to create space, to feel distress and delight. I chant, holding my best friend close, and her gravely ill brother. I chant and remember my friend J who died a year ago this month. I chant love gliding out of me for all of my existence.
I chant into the lakes and ponds and rivers and creeks, up the farmland and mountains, through the cumulous and wispy and mackerel skies. I chant into my cells, lungs, intestines, skin and fat and muscle. Into my toes and fingers. Through my navel: center of gravity, center of balance, center of self. Then out again and out again. Stretch, release. Expand, contract.
Time passes and I am inhaling, vibrating, exhaling, feeling.
Time passes and I am in my breath in my body so time is inconsequential.
Chanting beckons me back to the mat and back to myself.
Chanting opens me with sound.
So most mornings, I chant.