Drawing Closer to the Light
Bhakti Yoga is a practice that comes from India. It is one of the four primary types of Yoga (the others being Karma, Jnana and Raja), and one of the three paths toward human liberation described in the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu holy book from the Second Century BCE. Bhakti can be thought of as “the way of devotion.”
One need not be Hindu, or hold any religious convictions at all to practice Bhakti, though. In essence, it is a way to honor the life and light within each of us, and to draw our lives closer to that light.
How does Bhakti work?
In Bhakti, we sing together. Some of the songs we sing are very ancient. Most of them stem from traditional Hindu or Buddhist devotional chants.
When we sing these chants, we practice bringing our mind’s attention to the syllables or sets of syllables called “mantras.” Mantra means, literally, “mind tool.” We practice bringing our attention to the mantra as we sing it. Our mind wanders off, and as we realize this, we bring our attention back to the mantra again. Each time we bring our attention back, we are building a habit that helps us to remain more and more in the present moment during the rest of our daily activities. Rather than continuing to let our attention drift from one thought to another (whether that thought is a memory, plan, fantasy, grocery list or whatever), we practice bringing our mind back to what is real, what is happening at this very moment. We build strength in this habit that allows us to be here now – to live fully in the present moment.
In addition to the mental aspects of the practice, there are physiological effects as well. The vibrations of the chant travel through our bodies, moving through our molecules and cells. They stimulate the vagus nerve, helping to engage our parasympathetic nervous system. This helps us to move away from the “fight or flight” response which so many of us seem to be stuck in, and move toward a physiological response of healing, relaxation, restoration and calm.
We might also consider the fact that these sound vibrations continue to travel out from our bodies, on through the environment, making their way on out to the farthest reaches of our world. It is interesting to consider what sorts of effects they might have all along that journey. 🙂
The mantra also moves inward, carrying our awareness into what Krishna Das calls “the heart space.” This is the place deep within each of us which is secure, perfect and eternal. The more we practice, the more our lives can become an expression of the loving awareness that resides in this heart space.
We come together to chant in what is called “satsang” – a Sanskrit phrase meaning “gathering of truth” or “good company.” It is called satsang because when we chant, we are seeking the truth of who each of us really is: that center of secure, perfect and eternal loving awareness.
“But, I’m not musical.”
In our society, we tend to think of singing as something that “singers” do. Music is another commodity, like a pair of sneakers or a snack food. It’s something people buy from Amazon or iTunes. Our very sick culture tells us that things have no value unless they are marketable. So these days we don’t sing together very much just for the joy of it. Instead, we pay people to do it for us.
As a consequence, a lot of us also tend to have misgivings or anxiety about our own voices or musical abilities. We fear that we have no “talent” or that our singing won’t be good enough to share with others. If you’re feeling this way, it may be helpful to remember that singing Bhakti (whether alone or in satsang) is not a performance. It is a devotional practice. At our gathering, you will be in the company of people who are focusing their efforts on cultivating that sense of loving awareness mentioned earlier. So it will be a safe, supportive and non-judgmental (and maybe even FUN) environment.
Come join us!
We gather together and sing in an effort to draw closer to the light within us, and to shine that light more brightly in a world which is in such desperate need of it. Won’t you join us?