Yesterday I began a series of sessions of mantra meditation at a local private mental health unit. Most of the residents there suffer from BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) to the degree that they cannot live independently. Whilst they sometimes practice mindfulness meditation as part of their therapy, this is the first time they will be doing a regular chanting practice.
I’m intrigued to see how it will develop. In my life I’ve had the opportunity to share and participate in kirtan in a broad variety of contexts, from Manhattan subways to South African casino resorts. In most experiences people respond in predictable ways, even if shy at first, eventually most will join in singing and sometimes dance too. In America, seemingly the land of zero inhibition compared to the wall-flowering English-folk I’m used to, people sing with gusto.
This first session with the patients was a step outside my comfort zone to say the least. Trying to tell people that experience deep and profound mental unrest that singing sacred words over and over brings feelings of peace and well being takes some conviction. They looked back, blankly, albeit without animosity. Little by little over the hour they joined in. Some hugged their knees and looked at the floor. Two walked out. One enthusiastically played the drum for the whole session but giggled every time she tried to sing. But most stayed and had a go, cracking smiles now and again.
The effect of mantra, specifically hari-kirtan – the singing of Gods names, is really on my mind at the moment. Because of the great promises of sacred texts like the Bhagavad Gita, the Bhagavata Purana and even the bible, I believe the chanting is the medicine for all ailments. But coming in contact with those suffering severely from mental illnesses definitely provokes thought.
In the last six months, three people I know have taken their own lives. Most were experiencing severe depression. Would a higher dose of chanting have rescued them, like an aural rubber ring? I hope I can understand and experience the answer to this question over my lifetime.
Can chanting aid us in overcoming our mental blocks, bad habits and addictions?