I have heard that meditating for 20 minutes with someone who has a stronger or different meditative practice than yours can initiate you into their level and style of meditation. I have found this to be true, having experienced a variety of longer meditations with several different partners. But I now know that it’s possible to receive this energetic instruction in less than 20 minutes. Earlier this month, I taught my mala class for the second year in a row. Because malas were developed as a Hindu tool for counting prayers, I always bring in a guest trained in Sanskrit mantra meditation to lead us in a meditation during class. This year my guest was someone who was experienced in devotional Hinduism. When this devotee of Krishna chanted one round of a mantra in praise of Ganesha, maybe ten minutes total, I stepped through a doorway into a new world of devotional worship.
What is devotional worship? The usual definition suggests that it is a private, not public, prayer or worship practice. But there’s more to it than that, an ineffable quality that is unique to the worshiper.
Thefreedictionary.com sums it up nicely with their suggestion: “See synonyms at love.” YogaMax magazine says of Bhakti, or devotional, yoga: “It is Bhakti through which supreme love for God is experienced. This makes our heart to get purified by absorbing in God.” A Christian tract defines devotional worship as “a prayer format designed to provide an anointed atmosphere for meditation on scripture and for lingering in the presence of God.” Experiencing the love and presence of the Divine is to me the primary component of devotional worship.
At first, the mantra felt wrong as we began to chant it. It was much faster than I normally chant, and also higher pitched. I was certain that this was going to do nothing for me, but planned to practice it in my normal, slower pace at home. But as we continued, I gave myself over to the chant, and I was surprised at how effectively it worked. The faster, lighter quality of the sound and its rhythmic repetition carried me like a drumbeat to the place of inner vision. I saw Ganesha dancing, beckoning to me to join him. We only chanted a single round— which seemed absurdly short because I am used to doing 40-50 minute mantra meditations—but my experience was nevertheless profound and immediate.
The next day I did the same mantra, Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha, three times through the mala and then went to make my tea and feed the cats. I continued chanting as I filled the kettle. Normally while the water boils and then the tea steeps, I do kitchen chores like putting the dishes away and loading the dishwasher. But this day Ganesha kept beckoning and calling, “Come sing and dance with me!” And I grabbed Fuzzy Kitten and danced with him around the living room and chanted. Luckily, I discovered that I could sing and dance and put the dishes away at the same time.
The third day I chanted the mantra four times around the mala and was set ablaze to work on the mala book I’m writing. This energy arose from a release that I experienced during the chanting. I have a five inch statuette of Ganesha on my altar and as I chanted, I gazed at the deity rather than keeping my eyes closed. I again saw the dancing, beckoning Ganesha, but now I saw an energetic cord anchor him to the statue. As I watched the statue, I saw his hand offered in the “fear not” gesture, and experienced a profound emotional release. I continued chanting throughout this release and regained my voice enough to carry on for the fourth round. Now I felt a very strong connection to this energy. In that one day I was so productive that I greatly expanded the outline for the book and designed five new prayer bead designs to include in it.
The energy of the Ganesha mantra is light and playful, very different from the deeper, blissful and rejuvenating but almost sleepy and remote energy of the Reiki jumon I normally work with and the other personal mantras I have developed. It occurred to me that my spiritual practice has always been about the magic of personal transformation or the search for unity and enlightenment. I feel like I have come very far with those two practices, but something was missing. Certainly I thought I just needed to continue to go deeper and practice longer. But this is my missing piece: a devotional practice.
I have been doing prayer, meditation and ritual work for connecting with the Higher for decades, but the traditions I’ve followed and the way I’ve engaged in my practice has focused on approaching Perfect Unity, which has no characteristics and all characteristics. By giving the Divine a personality–no longer the expression of the All but as manifested in the world, I gained an entirely new experience. My practice has always been to climb towards the Divine. Connecting with an admittedly limited but still Divine aspect of the Unlimited in a devotional way allows the Divine to come to me.
If you’d like to try the Ganesha mantra, this video, OM GUM GANAPATAYEI NAMAHA 108 repetitions by Deva Prema, sounds the closest to how I learned the mantra.
Joy Vernon is a Reiki Practitioner and Teacher in Denver, Colorado. She is trained in two styles of Traditional Japanese Reiki: Usui Reiki Ryôhô and Komyo Reiki, as well as the Western-influenced Usui Tibetan tradition of Reiki. Joy is also a Certified Professional Tarot Reader. To schedule an appointment or for information on upcoming classes, please visit JoyVernon.com.
(c) 2011 by Joy Vernon