Can you guess what I think is the best way to develop more emotional intelligence, compassion and empathy? If you guessed meditation, you’re wrong.
There’s a practice I teach that, when it comes to awakening a feeling of universal love in the heart, is even more powerful than meditation. It is called kiirtan, which means spiritual chanting. Usually we chant a special sanskrit mantra, combined with music and it can really get you high!
Even without the added power of a mantra, music can change your emotional state in seconds. We experience this every time we go to a movie and the sound track generates the mood for the story. Or when we come home from work feeling tired and put on some of our favorite music and feel instant relief.
Sanskrit mantras are deliberately designed to induce a feeling of love and limitless happiness. When combined with the right music, the result is remarkable.
Experiencing Love in Your Meditation
One problem a lot of people come up against when they start with meditation is that they don’t feel anything. Sometimes it feels like you’re just sitting there, trying to force your mind to slow down. It feels like homework, not relaxation, and certainly not bliss!
Kiirtan is the obvious solution. It works like magic. When I gave a workshop at Facebook recently, when we started the mantra singing, the atmosphere was transformed. Many people came to me afterwards and told me that though they’d tried meditation before, they’d never felt like this. This happens every time I introduce a group to kiirtan.
Kiirtan is not a new practice. It’s not rocket science. It’s just music designed to awaken the heart. It’s easy, and it makes meditation easy, and enjoyable, and effective.
Claude and Claudette – A Love Story
A few years ago I was teaching kiirtan and meditation to a group of about twenty people in Southern California. During the introductions one man told us that his name was Claude, and that the only reason he’d come was because his wife, Claudette (really), had forced him to come. He said he was very sceptical and didn’t believe in this kind of thing.
His skepticism didn’t last long. After our special chanting and meditation exercise he was in tears and could barely speak. He managed to get out, ‘incredible, incredible.’ I think Claudette was pretty happy with this outcome.
One of my students at UC Berkeley recently related how kiirtan and meditation has helped him to feel that he is not separate from others and that we are all connected and how this has transformed the way that he feels towards other people.
I hear people report this effect, from both meditation and chanting, all the time. When we feel more connected to other people, of course it transforms our relationships. It becomes much easier to feel close to our family, friends and colleagues.
Kiirtan Makes Meditation More Enjoyable
It is hard to go directly from your regular every day state of mind into meditation. Kiirtan acts as a mood setter. A few minutes of kiirtan induces an emotional state conducive to meditation. Here’s what one of my student at UC Berkeley wrote to me just the other day:
“I am fairly new to meditation and have been trying out random stuff I find on the internet. But the Baba Nam Kevalam mantra meditation was by far my favorite and the most relaxing.”