My father sits across from me, only a gear shift away. We are outside of my grandmother’s apartment. I want to live in an apartment. Like the last complex in the bad neighborhood where she lived before. The one with the courtyard and the peacock and Myrtle. Myrtle is 90. I am just 4 years old, as this is one of my earliest childhood memories. I wonder if I’ll live to be 90. And she is tall, unlike my grandmother who’s crippled. Grandma walks with a crutch under one arm, and her fingers are tangled like tree limbs.
But, we have a house which is supposedly better somehow. We live next door to a bad man. He poisoned our puppy. This apartment has a basketball court, and I’d like to practice, but Grandma says it’s unsafe to play by myself. She worries all the time and always locks the top lock. In the summer, she watches me and we watch The Young and the Restless by day and WWF by night. Sometimes she calls Myrtle to see if the wrestler’s blood is real or fake. “Do you think that’s ketchup?” And Nicky and Victor are getting divorced. I wonder if my parents will get divorced.
My father rewinds the cassette tape once again, and we sing, “What a Wonderful World.” And it still is. And he asks me what I want to be when I grow up. And I don’t really know. Probably not a pool man like him. (He’s hardly ever home.) “A singer!” I exclaim.
Long ago, I cast that little girl out. At once, she is wise and innocent, confident and shy, sensitive and bold. She knows who she is and what she wants. She sees others’ fears as irrational and has not yet developed her own. She knows she’s here with a big voice and something special to share.
In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions:
When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?
Where we have stopped dancing, singing, being enchanted by stories, or finding comfort in silence is where we have experienced the loss of soul.
Dancing, singing, storytelling, and silence are the four universal healing salves.
On my recent retreat, we sang each day. Through the chakras we journeyed holding space for others’ joy and sorrow, and everything in between. And the sound moved all the emotion. Each time I’d lead the chanting, I felt so vulnerable. At one point, I admitted it – out loud. “I chant every day, but to lead chanting makes me feel vulnerable.”
“Don’t.” One said.
She sings. Professionally. She’s given me voice lessons when I was losing my voice each week. Her single word of caution affirmed me.
Someone I trusted taught me to speak from somewhere deep inside of me. I’m grateful for the teaching. Yet, like so many other new things, I misunderstood. I thought deep inside me meant low and baritone. And speaking in that more “masculine” octave all of the time was causing me pain in my throat. I now understand that deep inside me is that young carefree girl who wanted to sing. And her voice was not deep nor low.
Through chanting, I’ve found a way to sing. And through chanting, I can sit afterward in the silence held by the Sacred. I am doing my best to bring the young girl inside of me home. I broke 2 malas this week. Some say this is good luck. Some say my intention has come to being. I know I cursed a phrase I’m not proud of when it happened – more vehemently the second time. Sometimes the Divine shows off.
What we say vibrates in the world. The sacred mantras vibrate at a frequency far higher than four-letter expletives.
I know how to connect to my lower consciousness. I can stare blindly at my phone and social media for a couple hours. That’s always a great start. Haha. Haha but it’s only funny because it’s true.
Chanting helps me access my higher consciousness. Thank you to the teachers – past and present, seen and unseen, the kind and even the unkind – who’ve helped me find this Way. And to the sweet, brave girl inside my heart, I bow. The way she sees the world – her curiosity and tenacity – continues to astound me. Sometimes life, should we choose to pay attention, is far more beautiful than we ever could have dreamed.
photo by Susan Ross on the beach at Prana del Mar