Category Archives: chanting

Satsang with Laurel and Dan

I’ve had the pleasure–blissful pleasure–to participate in an evening of kirtan and a satsang, both this month of August.

It took me an entire year to make it up there, to Kettering (near Dayton, Ohio), a mere hour away. Their gatherings have come to my email. I wanted to drive up last August to the celebration of Anandamayi Ma but didn’t have the energy to do so.

Two weeks ago, I almost literally ‘made’ myself go. Was I glad I did! Laurel is the real deal. She spent nearly three years with Ma at her ashrams. Laurel shared stories of Ma. In the background when we arrived, there were recordings of Ma and a devotee chanting. Bliss! I knew right then I came to the right place.

Laurel has been teaching hatha yoga since 1974. I’m not sure how long she’s been having these chanting sessions. I did find out she and Dan married eight? years ago; Laurel called him her music teacher. They make a wonderful team: Laurel usually plays harmonium and Dan guitar. Both plan mridangam (Indian double headed drum), and usually someone in the audience also plays percussion, making the sound echo from all sides of you.

Well, I’ve used terms like “sides,” and “you,” but once I become immersed in a chant, there is no side or me. One of the appeals of chanting is to let go of my mind, my head, my egoic self. I want to let go, become one, feel the bliss.

And both visits I have. I’ll be back.

At satsang gatherings, Laurel focuses on an Indian saint. Last night was Sri H.W.L. Poonja, known affectionately as Papaji. I have had the fortune of coming across some encounters with Poonja on YouTube. I love Who He Is (or seems to be); he is so down-to-earth and laughs contagiously (he left his body in 1997). Poonja stresses simplicity and tells us:

“You are always Free.

There is no teacher,

there is no student,

there is no teaching.”

These words remind me of Dogen and other of the zen teachers. I do love it when the practices I have studied all come together 🙂

I haven’t even mentioned how wonderfully they decorate the space! The altar/puja extends both sides of the stage. Multicolored lights enliven the atmosphere and make it festive. All this really helps me feel immersed in the sound and complement our series of mini meditations throughout the evening.

By now you realize I will be driving north to Kettering on a regular basis. I feel such sincerity and warmth from Laurel and Dan!

Note: Their gatherings take place at Center for Spiritual Living (4100 Benfield Dr., Kettering, OH). Laurel’s website is *** I received no payment or promises for promoting them ***

how that chant makes me cry

To settle down my mind before meditation, I played a chant that begins “OM Satchinanda Parabrahma” …. and ends “Hari Om, Sat Nam” that I downloaded from Deva Premal last spring. This chant will likely always be associated with a sad moment in my life:  my handsome and loyal dog Bodhi and his final hours on this earth. For I played this chant as he sat on the living room floor the morning after Memorial Day, unable to rise. 

When Bodhi’s back legs began giving out, I met him at the side gate and brought him in the house from the two front steps. When this became difficult, I bought him a ramp. When his front legs went, there was nothing left to do. He was a Norwegian Elkhound and 65 pounds his last years. We were together 13 years, long for a dog his size. 

So when I played this chant this morning, immediately that connection came up, that memory of me sitting on the floor next to him waiting for a vet appointment to release him. I cried. I had to. I am still letting go of this marvelous relationship. Little by little. Will it ever end? 

So I had a good cry then sat for a bit. I silently chanted OM 108 times, as I fingered my sandalwood beads. It felt like the perfect thing to do on this Sunday morning. Now I just shared this with you on this first official day of Fall Equinox.

today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday

April 9th. That date has stuck with me all my life for it was my mother’s birthday.

An Aries, she was assertive and friendly but knew who and what she liked or did not. She loved flowers and nature and breakfast at Frisch’s. Once, after my stepfather died, she joined me on a trip to the San Francisco Bay area. I still have the photo of us riding the boat to Alcatraz. I have many fond memories of that trip. But that’s another posting.

This morning I thought, what could I do to honor her birthday? I have kept an altar to her in my meditation room with some photos, candles, and flowers. I decided an arati (waving of a tray with flowers and candle in devoted honor to someone, usually a guru) would be appropriate. I thought, what tune, what chant or hymn? What spontaneously issued from my mouth was “Happy Birthday to You . . .” I had to smile; it was appropriate, after all, for it would always be her birthday even if her physical self and body were no longer here. Then I remembered a tune described as a zen Buddhist hidden message and sang “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream.” I appreciate these reminders from time to time so as to not take my self so seriously and get on with the important things in my life.

One special gift the Universe has brought into my life lately is an accordion. Actually, I’ve had it since shortly after mom’s death. My sister Linda let me have it, after I expressed interest. Before I, her first born entered this world, Irene Shirley Drees played accordion with a group of young women (I have a picture to prove it!). Although this accordion is not that original one — I believe it to be one she picked up at a yard sale much later — still, there will always be this association of accordions with my mother. So it’s been sitting in my meditation room closet (ironically) and just a week or so ago, I remembered it and brought it out. I expected to hear wheezy sounds and dust and a dilapadated condition but, lo and behold, the accordion seemed pretty intact. She looked lovely, too, silvery blue with white (ivory?) keys. What a complicated instrument, truly.

Now I don’t know how to read music, really, but I seem to have had a past life talent musically that has manifested these past two years. At the meditation group I go to, Scott discovered I had a nice voice, then he invited me to learn harmonium. The live chants of kirtan I have participated in have added tremendously to my spiritual practice. I am bhakti through and through.

So how does the accordion fit into all this? Well, I took a chant I played on harmonium and messed around with the accordion keyboard. It’s a quite complicated instrument with bellows and another side of little black buttons for bass but oh so cool. Positively gypsy! And I discovered some free instructional videos on YouTube. This guy explains the parts of an accordion in plain English. I intend to have fun with this new challenge!

So, Mom, if you’re watching from somewhere — and listening — I’m sure I’ll make you smile as you hear your daughter’s trials and tribulations with the musical instrument of your choice. Happy Birthday, Mom!

the trees are so beautiful I can hardly stand it

This is exactly the sentence that came to me as I drove home today, early afternoon, after chant practice.

Scott, Kabir, and I were at the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center practicing our live chant for Mahashivaratri. “Om Nama Shivaya” of course, the four part one that is so especially lovely. After singing and playing along with the cd, Scott had us do it acappello, coming in one by one and really blending with one another. Wow!

Then we sang with harmonium and mrdanga. We had the meditation hall to ourselves–well, us, the shakti, and the gurus. We shared and laughed and had a full hour and a half practice. Feeling excited about Thursday’s satsang.

It was somewhere before Mt. Healthy that I saw them. A line of trees stood magically with their snow covered branches, right there along Cross County Highway. That’s when the sentence came to me. I thought: how bhakti. How perfect this day was. How beautiful my drive home. I quit listening to the music playing in my car. I should write about this, my mind told me. Yeah. As if I could explain. Really. But close enough is good enough.

Many of us have had blissful moments when we are no longer part of nature, not even in it but of it. Oneness. Time stands still. This is what makes life worth living. A cosmic reminder.

Thank you, Tree Goddesses. When I got home I put out some more bird seed for my neighborhood birds. On a special stone under the leaning tree just outside my writing window. I feel as if I gave back, not that I needed to. But still.

writing appointment at Sidewinder Cafe

I took myself for a writing appointment at one of my favorite coffeehouses. Sidewinder’s is located on Hamilton Avenue in Northside. You can sit in the back and make a latte last as long as you need. Since I needed to finish my agenda for the class I teach the next morning, I decided I would put my mind to it and do it away from home.

It worked and was, in fact, pleasurable. Most of the conversation came from the front, from the staff and newcomers. The handful of us in the back room were serious about our writing, studying, or online searching. I found the atmosphere conducive to serious ‘agenda-ing.’

This is what I miss most about not living in Northside — living close to a coffeehouse, running into people I know, the whole urban scene. I owned a home here for fifteen years. When I retired, I moved ten miles up the road to be surrounded by nature but in so doing, am more isolated. Now, to go anywhere, I count on driving a half hour. I’ve gotten used to this and use my time to listen to music, more often than not chants — Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, or Siddha Yoga.

My parking meter is almost up so it’s time to return to my animals and other distractions of home. This afternoon appointment reminds me that I need to do this more often!

Meditation, the Muktananda way & poem 92

Most days I do my OM japa, i.e., I take my 108 beaded necklace and chant OM slowly as I work my way around each bead. My favorite place to do this is on my garden bench. Then I get the additional joy of hearing birds and other sounds of nature. Sometimes, though, I actually meditate in my Meditation Room. I am fortunate enough to have a home with enough space to have a room set aside for my puja [altar] to the Siddha Yoga lineage, including my guru Gurumayi. I also have a puja to my mother who recently passed from this earth March 2007. Many of my sacred books as well as my spiritual journal are kept in this room.

For seven years (more or less), I meditated the Buddhist way (mostly zen but also vipassana). This way recommended that your eyes be open but not looking, either at a wall or a spot on the carpet. You chanted nothing, only watched your thoughts float by. You could count your breath or just breathe. The goal was emptiness. Nothing added.

The Siddha Yoga way has you chanting the mantra Om Namah Shivaya (or So’ham). Om Namah Shivaya means “I bow to my Inner Self/I bow to the Lord (Shiva).” So’ham means “I Am That.” We close our eyes. Now, when I was meditating the Zen way, we were informed that closing our eyes meant more chances for dreamy reflection which could get in the way. Having done both ways, I prefer closing my eyes. I have sometimes been graced with wonderful visions. I have also been bored. Most of the time, my meditations are something in between. Being in the present is the aim of both traditions. Although ‘just’ sitting peacefully for a half hour or more is perfectly fine, I was amazed to perceive what I call ‘visitations’ of Gurumayi and, a few times, Baba Muktananda.

I want to talk about Baba Muktananda’s book Meditate. Before I found an out-of-print copy to purchase, I had borrowed it from the public library. Later I realized I had received Shakti [awakening of Energy] from touching, reading, and imbibing the words of that book. Reading his words, I went into a state of bliss. It was as if He were speaking to me in the room. Baba has a special way of telling stories. His words remind us of the greatness that we are. He encourages us to remember that we are not separate from the Inner Self and from the Divine. His message is one of great Joy. I love these words from his book, “In meditation, we become the witness of all our states. This is the state of God, of the inner Self, and through meditation we can attain that state because it is within us.”


Again and again, I sit down
to witness the world which is not
separate from the one within me

anger / poem 69

tonight I actually felt how wars start.
the boys across the road were shouting in their swimming pool
while I was seething on my garden bench trying to chant OM