Chanting the many names or mantras of the Gods and Goddesses - is perhaps the most important technique in Bhakti yoga. Although the practice itself is very simple, the internal process that it stimulates is vast and mysterious. Externally, we're just singing repetitive songs with simple melodies and a few Sanskrit words. We're asked to try to put our analytical minds to the side (easier said than done), and sing from our hearts. We're told that whatever emotion we're feeling, even anger, can be passionately channeled into the song. We're told that it doesn't matter the slightest bit what our voices sound like. Then the magic happens. Walls constructed long ago come crumbling down. Wounds that we never knew were there begin to heal. Long submerged emotions, both joy and sorrow, come to the surface to be offered up into the chant. And somehow, effortlessly, we move into a meditative state that creates a safe, calm haven for the flower of the heart to unfold. Whether or not we understand the meanings of the words, these chants become vessels to carry our deepest unspoken prayer to the infinite soul of God.

One of the amazing things about Kirtan as a practice is that it welcomes any mood or emotional condition. We can sing softly, like a mother to her baby. We can sing sensually, as if to a lover. And we can sing with powerful energy of an angry warrior. Our whole being is offered. Whoever we are at any given time, whether happy or sad, shining with light or hidden in darkness, our prayers are perfect in the eyes of unconditional love.

Finally, one who embraces the path of Bhakti very quickly stops doing these practices to get anything or feel anything. Rather, the Kirtan becomes an outpouring of love and emotion to the beloved, and unburdening, an offering. I feel, when I sing, my connection to my guru, my longing to be closer, and my gratitude for His unending grace. Truly, the essence of Bhakti is surrender, offering our individual selves to the great ocean of pure consciousness, gently resting in the loving embrace of the Divine Mother, saying, "Not my will, but Thy will be done."

(Written by Jai Uttal)

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