(Editor's Note: In this series, "My Spirit Voyage", we'll be bringing you stories of people's personal awakenings with Kundalini yoga. We've posed many teachers, writers, and musicians this question: "What Kundalini yoga music album started you on this path? " In "My Spirit Voyage", they share their stories of awakening and deep love for the path of chanting.)
I still remember where I found it: the bookstore at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. I was there on a retreat for my physical and emotional health, struggling to find the place in the world where I fit. I felt innately out of place, and was pushing myself to be someone and something that I knew I wasn't. At the time, I'd never chanted before. In fact, I didn't sing at all. Due to a hearing impairment, I was self-conscious about my voice and thought no one wanted to hear me sing. I hadn't sung except to mock my own voice for nearly 20 years. I'd come to Omega looking for peace and the chance to do seated silent meditation in a beautiful environment.
At the end of my stay at Omega, I bought several CDs in the giftshop, including Snatam Kaur's Shanti. I picked up this last CD on a lark, never having heard of Snatam Kaur and having no idea that she practiced something called Kundalini yoga. I found Snatam Kaur strangely intriguing, with her headcovering and expression of deep peace. Among the several Snatam Kaur CDs they were selling, I chose the one that promised what I most wanted: "Shanti", which means peace.
A few days passed and I went home, back to the life that was causing me stress and ruining my health. About a week later, I was driving somewhere and I thought, "Oh I should listen to that album!" and picked up Shanti again and popped it into my car stereo. The first song was very nice and soothing. I kept driving. The second song came on. Some instrument I had never heard before began to pluck its strings and my heart perked up. She began to sing in a language that was all at once strange and familiar. When she sang the refrain of "Dayndaa Day", I felt an arrow pierce my heart and all at once a thousand tears fell. I had to pull over. All I could think between the sobs was "These are my words!!!" as if I'd been on a Treasure Hunt that had something at the end of it, but I'd never known what I was looking for. I pulled out the liner notes and began singing along in a language that I had never spoken before, but which my heart knew. I sang over and over again these words to what I would someday learn to be Japji, the transformational words of Guru Nanak first sung just after he reached Enlightenment. It was as if all the songs that I'd kept inside all those years came pouring out. I continued chanting, and I felt the mantra begin to loosen the hold depression had on my mind. When Snatam began to sing the English lyrics "I am free to be Infinity!", I realized that I was free to choose. Do I go ahead on the same path I had been walking? Or do I make a radical shift and open myself up to the possibility of Infinity?
I went forward into the unknown and I never looked back. I began to chant for hours each day, and continued chanting for hours for over a year. The mantras brought me a sense of peace unlike anything I'd ever touched before. They still do. Slowly I learned more mantras, I learned about this thing called Kundalini Yoga, and practiced kirtan, or chanting in a group, whenever I could. I made my life about the mantras, coming to work with Spirit Voyage (the company that produced that beautiful CD that changed my life forever) and making it my mission to spread the powerful sacred sound current that touched me that first day, opened my heart, and gave me peace.
That's my Spirit Voyage...I found the peace I was looking for (of course!) in Shanti.
(Editor's Note: Ramdesh is now a successful Kundalini yoga teacher with a book "Yoga and Mantras for a Whole Heart" and a CD "Journey into Stillness: Guided Meditations with Kundalini Mantra". She also hosts the radio show Spirit Voyage Radio with Ramdesh.)
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