August: Creative Contemplation

The goal of contemplative practices is to develop deep intimacy with God, but sitting still and silently meditating isn't the only way to do that. Our unique gifts, talents, heritages, and cultures all contribute to how we uniquely draw near to God. So, to celebrate this (and hopefully inspire you to contemplate more creatively), each month we'll post a different piece of art along with some reflecting questions.

Some months this will be a song, a poem, a painting, a video, or a sculpture. Some months the piece will resonate deeply with you, some months it may upset you, and some months it may confuse you. Lean into whatever feelings the piece stirs up and allow it to draw you nearer to God's heart and expose your own. 

Please read the description below before listening!

In July 2018 I (Caroline 😉) completed a second 200 hr yoga training at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in NYC. Laughing Lotus is one of the most beloved yoga studios in the city and is known for its culture of open-hearted love and celebration (they have a glitter bar and disco ball in the studio 🦄). While their classes are upbeat vinyasa flow, they are really part of the bhakti yoga lineage (the yoga of devotion) and mantra is something they embrace and practice regularly. Thus, not surprisingly, a big component of the 200 hr program was singing mantras every morning (I even went to my first Kirtan!). 

Having been raised in the church, corporate devotional singing was not new to me but the mantras certainly were. It was remarkable to hear all of our teachers who lead us each morning talk about how life changing these mantras were – what a powerful imprint they felt they had on their lives, how the discipline of chanting/singing the mantras was transformative, how powerful the mantras in and of themselves were (sound familiar???).

At the outset of the training, I determined to see Imago Deiin all the material, all my teachers, and all my peers, and prayed for discernment to see this. The mantras are in Sanskrit. Some are devoted to specific Hindu deities and others are more general (ie, Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu – may all beings everywhere be happy and free).

My fellow teacher trainees knew I was a Christian so often asked me how I felt about the mantras and I told them it was like learning to pray in a new language. Did it feel strange? Absolutely. Did I believe God loved it when I sang to Him? Absolutely. And so I sang, devoting the mantras to my Beloved. 

One morning, we were invited to record the mantras and so I'm offering a clip of one of them for you for this month's Creative Contemplation! The voice you hear at the very beginning and leading the  mantra is Felipe Gonzalez, an incredible yogi, musician, and lover of mantra at Laughing Lotus.

The mantra he teaches us in this recording is Om Namah Shivaya which, at the simplest level, translates to I bow to Shiva. Shiva is part of the Hindu trinity (Brahma and Vishnu are the other two) and most of the other Hindu deities you may have heard of are avatars are one of these three main ones. In Hinduism, Brahma is seen as the creator, Vishnu the sustainer, and Shiva the destroyer.

Shiva is seen as the destroyer of evil, the remover of obstacles, an equal and necessary part of the cycle of all creation (death precedes rebirth). Shiva is also the name given to the undeniable imprint of divinity that exists in us all, or, as the yogis would say, our highest self. 

To me, I sang this mantra to Jesus, God in flesh whose literal death brought all of us life. Jesus, whose victory over death continues to remove obstacles and empowers me to die to things that aren't of service to Him. Jesus, who gifted us with the Spirit that dwells in me and you and who leads me to my highest self, a life surrendered to Love. 

I bow to you Jesus. I bow to you Spirit. Have your way. Be glorified. 

As Felipe taught us this mantra and we sang it together, I couldn't stop the tears from falling. I don't know if it was just the beauty of the melody and our voices melding together or one of those movements of the Holy Spirit too deep for words, but it moved me so deeply.

As you listen to this recording, close your eyes and let the sound of devotion wash over you. Ask Holy Spirit for discernment and ears to hear Imago Dei. 

p.s. Apologies on the sound quality, especially in the first part 🙈I just had my phone to record with so it's a little hard to hear Felipe at first. 

Quiet your body. Steady your breath.

As you read the description, what thoughts or feelings came up for you? Where did you notice these thoughts or feelings in your physical body?

As you listened to the recording, what thoughts or feelings came up for you? Where did you notice these thoughts or feelings in your physical body?

 Ask God what Om Namah Shivaya means to Him. 

One of the questions I asked myself over and over again throughout my training was, "Does this make me uncomfortable because it's foreign to me or because it rubs up against something I believe to be true?" Sit with this question and this mantra with the Holy Spirit.

What would it look like to incorporate a devotional singing or chanting practice into your yoga and classes?