Before the suspension of in-person sessions, I had not taken an interest in chanting. I tried it when there was chanting in a weekend retreat or class session, but felt uncertain about vocalizing aloud when I wasn’t sure how to make the sounds and tones. I didn’t think I was “good at it”.
When the Saturday chanting and discussions started up, I tried chanting every week. It was difficult keeping up with the pace, and I mentioned this during one of our local branch zoom meetings. One of the leaders in training said I should practice more, and suggested I participate in the local weekly chanting sessions. Now I was doing something I was “no good at” twice a week, because I trusted the guidance I was given.
I think the benefits of chanting have begun to accumulate and are starting to be noticeable, though I’m in the early stages. I’ve observed that the deep bows of the kau sau provide an invigorating contrast between dropping and relaxing the lower spine and hips, then expanding the spine upward as I open the chest wide. I feel the massaging of the internal abdominal organs as they’re compressed and released, as well as the diaphragm getting exercised in preparation for chanting. My vestibular organs get a workout with the head movement through space. I try to maintain a kneeling position for a portion of the sutra, and I can feel the opening at the front of my hip joint and the expansion of the spine, which seems to help my breathing. Articulating the novel sound sequences was difficult especially at first. I had to exercise my oral motor skills in a new way, which I’m convinced is good for me. I’ve also had to deal with my own self-criticism. When I noticed that I’d made a mistake, I faltered and could not keep up. If I noticed that I’d gotten it right, it distracted me, and I lost the pace.
Now I’m trying not to think about my successes or mistakes. I’m learning not to look back, but just to keep moving forward with the group supporting the momentum of the chant. By not self-monitoring how I’m doing, I feel more engaged in the flow of the sounds of the leader’s voice or the many voices of the group.
Even though I’m by myself with my computer, I feel a connection with all the others participating in the chanting.