Saturday, May 21, 2011

Chanting with Strangers

Yesterday, after lunch with Minnie, I took the train to Tampines and then a taxi to Street 81. I reached about 2:25pm and readied myself for a 3-hour chanting session. I always prefer to be with others, even strangers, when chanting for long periods of time. A couple of days before, I wouldn't have been able to tell you why, but it all became clear yesterday.

The Carnation room was about 3 quarters full, mostly with women. In such sessions, there is always a leader who sits right in front and chants into the mike. Its like a roster. Every hour, a new person comes to take the mike. I arrived half way into one such session and sat in the first row. As always, I took time settling in, checked messages, drank water, fidgeted in the seat and what not. I think I even checked mail on my phone. Anything to avoid sinking into myself. It's such a routine with me that I allow it kindly, almost like an indulgent parent, knowing it will pass soon.

Slowly, my eyes got transfixed and my voice became strong and determined. The next leader came to claim her place at the mike, bringing with her a white sock-like cover for the mike. I was very aware of things happening around me, like the young pretty girl's rather harsh voice right next to me, the rhythm of the leader who took a breath every 4 counts, and the slightly off beat slower pace of the old woman behind me. A man's voice soon joined in, to my left, deep and steady. Everytime the leader paused to take a breath, I could also hear the 50 or so more people's voices behind me, sounding a bit shaky as if they will fall apart in separate beats if the leader didn't get back up on the mike quickly. I could hear my own voice rising and then steadying into a higher than usual pitch.

The next thing I knew, none of this existed. There was music around me, inside me, in my ears, in my heart, resonating in my whole body.  The voices had become musical instruments, and each was at a slightly different level from each other, forming like a rainbow of sounds. As my senses flowed into one another, I could see the music as well as hear it. The man's deep voice was at the bottom of the rainbow, the leader's voice on the mike held the center and my neighbour and I held the upper end. Each voice was distinct,- different tones, different pitches. Yet it was if we were one! All the instruments were in tune!

Jaise naad baj uthay hon!

How that hour passed I have no idea. I stayed in that state as part of this mystic musical magic for 45, maybe 50 minutes. My determination was clearer, my goals within my reach, my worries vanished. With every breath, I reclaimed my right to be happy and powerful. I had a brief thought that just 100 feet away, outside, there are so many people who are struggling and suffering and here I am transformed in this short period of time!

I stayed on for another hour or so to complete what I had promised myself. I had entered the kaikan in one state, and I left in another. Now I know why I prefer to chant with others, even if they are strangers.

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