Lotus Centre participants practise old ways
By Christine Hennebury
Special to The Telegram
Being an at-home mom to two small boys, a freelance writer and an active volunteer means life can be pretty hectic, so I am always interested in ways to slow things down and focus. Ive tried meditation but had difficulty doing it on my own, so I was happy to have an opportunity to try the Sunday Night Chant led by Meranda Squires and Ian Goudie at the Lotus Centre on Prescott Street in St. Johns.
The sessions have been held on Sunday nights for more than five years, and attract from five to 20 people who chant, meditate and use drums.
Squires chanted as a spiritual practice during the 17 years she spent in India, and began holding the St. Johns sessions after having an intense experience with a visiting spiritual leader.
I came from a spiritual community in India where we chanted all the time, she said.
When Bhakti Marg Swami (the leader of the Hari Krishna movement in Toronto) visited Newfoundland in 2001 at the Hindu Temple, I became overwhelmed with tears, missing (regularly taking part in) this powerful, heart-opening experience. I started the Sunday Night Chant at this time.
The chanting session attracts a variety of participants. When I arrived, there were only a couple of people in the room, sitting on mats and cushions against the walls, with rhythm instruments and candles in the centre.
By the time the session got fully underway, there were about 16 people chanting and drumming all obviously deeply connected to the process.
The chants were primarily in Sanskrit, a sacred Indian language, with a few Native American chants that were mostly sung in English. People sometimes wonder how chanting in a language they do not understand can be beneficial, but Goudie explained that it is the sounds rather than the phrasing that matters most.
Sanskrit is a sacred language and the toning of the words connects you to a higher place or spiritual energy, he said. Generally, you dont translate it.
I was somewhat concerned about being able to pronounce the sounds and about my singing ability but I found that once everyone started to chant, I was able to imitate the sounds until they felt right.
Maybe one of the singular biggest differences between chant and regular music is that the focus is on the vibration, the creation of the vibration in the body, as opposed to simply listening to a sound, Goudie said.
Were accustomed to listening to music with our ears, but chant is about focusing the vibration into the body and attuning the body.
Trevor Thibodeau, who has attended
four sessions and is helping Goudie build The Tree of Life spiritual centre in Salmonier, has found that drumming and chanting come naturally when he doesnt worry about them.
It is sort of a meditative process, he said. It is getting into that space of not trying, like you can drum just sort of on intuition and chant just on intuition, and just sort of let go of any of your own efforts to sound good. Actually, the paradox is that when you do that, you actually sound better.
When you let go of trying, the natural voice will come out, the natural rhythm of the drum will come out.
Peaceful, easy feeling
As each chant ended, we began a short meditation session that lasted until Squires sounded a note on the Tibetan singing bowl in front of her and introduced the next chant. Chanting and drumming do make for an easier transition into meditation, and both parts of the session have great benefits, bringing focus and peace to the participants.
Wanda Heffern has been attending for almost five years and said the sessions have brought her great personal satisfaction, helping her to keep focused and be more conscious in her daily life.
You know how sometimes you get caught up in the world? she said. Well, coming here helps me to get back into myself and to be grounded and centred.
Mona Wall, who started coming to the chanting sessions about 3 1/2 years ago, said they remind her to keep peace within herself and work for peace in her relationships.
I enjoy the focus on inner peace and outer peace, and by having inner peace we will eventually hopefully have an impact on the world, she said.
I find that it helps me focus on the present and it helps me in my relationships, and how I relate to others in the workplace and elsewhere.
Diane Ryan began attending the sessions shortly after her father died in 2005, and said they have improved her spiritual life and helped her heal in a variety of ways.
All these practices have enhanced my life tremendously, she said.
Coming here, it is like everyone is on the same vibrational level. People are trying to improve their own lives. This is where it started for me, going to chants, and the rest of it is just furthering my spiritual growth.
The end of the session is unusual at least in this culture and powerful. Participants lie on the floor for a series of vocalizations that help to tune their chakras, or energy centres.
Our bodies are basically energy fields and they are vibrating at a certain frequency, Goudie explained. We all have energy centres within our body and each of those energy centres vibrates at specific frequencies. All of those frequencies are aligned with the note of the universe which is sounding all the time, so the chakra tuning that we do is to align our energy centres with the universal note.
The experience was new to me, but I came away from it feeling relaxed and positive. It was refreshing to immerse myself in a different sort of spiritual practice, and connect with other people in that way.
Chanting, or even singing in a group, is not common in western cultures, where music tends to be about performance rather than experience. Learning to chant can bring people to a different sort of spiritual experience.
Discovering chant brought to me a whole different experience of music, Goudie said. Because in the west, music is primarily a form of entertainment we go to hear someone perform, we listen and we applaud. But chant is participatory and it has an effect on your body and your well-being, and all these mantras and chants create vibrations in your body that attune you, really, to life.
For further information about the chanting and drumming sessions, or The Lotus Centre, call 739-4429, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit website http://www.thelotuscentre.ca.