Like yoga and journaling, I think of chanting as a loving knife, a knife that is able to cut through habit and resistance to the soft, beating heart within all our chests.
On a recent summer night, my friend and I drove to a retirement home to attend a kirtan led by Benjy and Heather Wertheimer. Kirtan means “to chant together,” and kirtans are a common practice in Bhakti yoga, the yoga of love and devotion. No matter what you believe, chanting with other humans feels good in the body. It feels good in the heart. It reminds me that I have a heart. That night I was feeling closed off, sad, and lazy, but I knew the act of leaving my apartment, spending time with a friend, and supporting kirtan in my community would let the instrument of chanting do its work on me.
Benjy and Heather’s singing is always heart-opening. This night at the retirement center they were offering their presence to a new crowd: retirees, aging grandparents, people who saw WWII—a different crowd than who I usually see at kirtan. Though it was obviously new for most of them, they belted out the Sanskrit words, filling the room with the vibration of the names of God who lives inside us all: Krishna, Sheva, Ram. It was a magical evening.
Then the evening moved from extraordinary to heart-mind-blowing as Benjy introduced the final chant: the chant to Hanuman.
While Hanuman is represented in temples as a monkey-man, and people bow to his image, it is more useful for me to think of Hanuman as an energy inside me. Hanuman has many names, all of which describe the ways he helps people: Destroyer of Suffering, Remover of Obstacles, Ocean of Compassion, Bestower of Grace, Lion among Monkeys. Hanuman is also the general of Ram’s armies. Ram means “the one beyond all form” and Hanuman helps lift us into his state, which is always turned toward Ram. Hanuman is the connection, the breathe, between us and Ram, between our own soul and the One soul.
In The Ramayana, Ram asks Hanuman, “How do you think of me?”
And Hanuman answers, “When I don’t know who I am, I serve you. When I remember who I am, I know you and I are one.”
The chant to Hanuman is the sweetest chant imaginable, one that brings up memories for me of being in the Himalayas with Benjy and Heather. “Jaya Siya Ram, Jai Jai Hanuman. Jaya Siya Ram, Jai Jai Hanuman.”
As the vibration of Hanuman’s name filled the room, I felt my negativity dissolve. I felt my heart melt. Like Hanuman, I remembered that I even when I don’t know who I am, I can still serve Ram—I can still do my journaling and yoga practice. I can still open my mouth and chant. And when I remember who I am, I am one with this room that is vibrating with open hearts.
There are lots of reasons we forget we are Hanuman. Like a knife, chanting cuts through our forgetting and reminds us.
As we sang “Hanuman” a final time, the sadness I’d arrived with was gone, it had been sung out the door, down the hall, and out into the warm summer night.
Jai Hanuman. Praise Hanuman.
A former senior editor and contributing writer at Outside magazine, Brad Wetzler is an author, journalist, travel writer, book writing coach, and yoga instructor. His book, Real Mosquitoes Don’t Eat Meat, was published by W.W. Norton. His nonfiction writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, GQ, Wired, Men’s Journal, National Geographic, George, Travel + Leisure, Thrive Global, and Outside. He teaches yoga at CorePower Yoga in Boulder, Colorado. He coaches up-and-coming authors to write and successfully publish their books. For your free 30-minute phone consult, email Brad at email@example.com