CHANTS FOR CHALLENGING TIMES
“Mike Cohen’s voice is a grounding force of granite lined with velvet.”
The past four years, during which Chants for Challenging Times was composed, recorded, and now released, have been challenging indeed. In the United States we’ve experienced extreme political polarization, left-wing and right-wing identity politics that, along with erosion of social cohesion via social media, have fragmented the body politic. Many of our trusted institutions are failing, corrupt or not up to the task. Amidst great abundance, many search for, but cannot find, meaning in their disenchanted lives. Our country has experienced painful and still unresolved battles over immigration, income inequality, race relations through the Black Lives Matter movement and gender relations via the #MeToo movement. Now, in December 2020, our democracy strains to complete a peaceful transfer of power after what many consider the most consequential presidential election in over 150 years.
Globally, we struggle to respond to climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, regional conflicts, and other wicked problems demanding innovative solutions, just as the United States retreats from its leading role on the global stage.
As we deepen into the digital/informational age, the shadowy content of our collective unconscious has erupted into our awareness, demanding to be seen, healed and integrated. Yet, the world in which we have been living does not seem up to the task.
How can we make sense of what is going on? The eternal cycle of birth, life and death, followed by rebirth, is instructive. According to Hindu tradition, we are undergoing the dramatic disruption (Shiva) of long standing patterns (Vishnu) that no longer work. We are in dire need of novelty (Brahma) to bring forth a healthier future (a new Vishnu).
It is a great and terrible test of humanity’s maturity to march courageously into Shiva’s loving disruption, trusting that a better world awaits, before we can see what that world is.
The challenge of our times is to birth this fresh new world, without destroying each other and the planet. An age of transformation is slowly coming into form, one individual at a time. So our work is to build resilience through this crucible of change, to support the unfolding of a new world—less fractured, increasingly adult (and perhaps even Divine), and more embracing of all humanity across the planet.
Given that these challenging times are not likely to end soon, how do we build that resilience? How do we cultivate appropriate responses and nourish innovative solutions to these circumstances?
Kirtan as a Force in Global Transformation
Chanting is one of the most powerful practices available to us. In every culture around the world, the right use of sound, prayer, intention, and visualization is the most potent psycho-spiritual force for all time, in all ways, in all places. Kirtan, as developed and taught by the great Indian gurus and masters brings sophisticated spiritual technologies to each and every human. Kirtan is an extraordinary spiritual force that can alter and shape reality in beneficial ways. So long as we are grounded in our body, sacred chant opens the possibility for greater personal resilience and a collective re-enchanting our world. The practice of chanting Sanskrit mantra is a gift from Indian Saints and Sages for all people—winding its way from the East into the hearts of Westerners.
The Power of Mantra
Kirtan has certainly been used as an escape or spiritual bypass—a way to avoid or ascend out of our painful, triggering, or traumatic memories or circumstances, to bliss out, or to not have our identity challenged. But a more profound and effective use of Kirtan is to allow it to first bring us deeper into our bodies so we can safely surface our traumas for healing. Second, Kirtan can bring us deeper into Presence, opening us to our greatest human potentials. From that place, we are more likely to unfold grounded, appropriate, and innovative responses to complex, multi-dimensional problems that can’t be solved with simplistic solutions.
How does Kirtan, a deceptively simple practice, help heal the pain of an entire planet?
Kirtan shifts us from being “in our head,” dissociated from our body, and with a closed heart, to being “in our body”, with an open and extending heart, and a quiet, open and receptive head.
When we are “in our head” and dissociated from our body, we are more at the mercy of our old triggers and reactivity. We blame, scapegoat, overgeneralize, lash out, and make things worse.
When we are “in our body,” a quiet mind and open heart allow us to become intimate with the traumas, anxiousness, and fears living in our body. Kirtan allows us to befriend our inner turmoil—to“be with” our most trying and intense energies. Kirtan offers us a rest, respite and re-set of our nervous system so we can open to true wisdom, become strong to embody compassion, and choose our actions and words more skillfully. Kirtan can, through this “down and in” movement, help us heal.
Beyond healing, cultivating a quiet mind, open heart and centered body prepares us to receive INSPIRATION—literally, new information from the realm of spirit. At this deeper level, Kirtan, as a spiritual technology, gives us extraordinary capacity, presence, and consciousness to support the unfolding of innovative responses to complex situations.
The magic of Kirtan is that it facilitates the movement from the head to the heart, and deeper into the body quickly, simply, and reliably. This is why Kirtan, and forms of chanted prayer, are found in every esoteric teaching on the planet. When we engage with Sanskrit mantras with a willing heart, it works. Every time. And, it can empower us to skillfully redress grievances while possessing a heart full of gratitude.
My deepest wish is that these chants are a balm for your heart, inspiration for your spirit, and nourishment for your resilience in these challenging times. May they accompany you into to a beautiful new world.
Click HERE for the full liner notes for Chants for Challenging Times.