There are times when our brains lift us almost off the planet, they’re so turbocharged with vigorous energy and zinging ideas. According to Buddhist philosophy, these zingy thoughts — consisting of worries, fantasies, fears, judgments, scripts about what’s supposed to happen – fog the lenses of our perception. They fog things up so significantly that as we walk through our day, we are not truly present to what is happening around and within us.
We cannot perceive clearly.
This is the problem that all mindfulness strategies seeks to address.
Thus, mindfulness gurus such as Thich Nhat Hanh exhort us, “When doing the dishes, just do the dishes.” A statement which can sound so obvious as to be idiotic.
Until you actually try doing it.
Ever tried to just do the dishes? It’s nearly impossible. Unless of course, you’ve been practicing just doing the dishes, mind entirely focused on that alone, for years. With some practice, you might have moments of pure dish-doing, but they probably won’t last through the entire washing up!
So there’s the goal, learning to simply be. But how to get there? It’s incredibly frustrating to watch helplessly as your mind hatches eight monkeys going in different directions while you stand there with a soapy glass in your hand.
When my mind is extremely active, the best way to put some of the monkeys back into the barrel is to chant.
The word “chant” has a Latin root. In Spanish, the word is “cantar,” and in French, it is “chanter.” Both of the latter words imply something that the English word does not, namely, singing. When we hear the word chant in English, we merely mean reciting words in a speaking tone of voice, usually.
In my experience, chanting — using a singing voice — is the shortest superhighway to a settled mind. Meditation, done after chanting, can feel almost effortless.
Chanting can be found in many religious traditions. Sikhs, Buddhists, Catholic monks, and yogis all use it. The words of the chants will vary according to the religious tradition of course, but the kernel they all share is reaching towards the divine with words and music.
No matter what your spiritual path may be, there is probably some chanting tradition with which you can connect. And you can begin chanting down the monkey mind.