Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mantras for Dying Animals - from

Here's a crosspost of my blog at

Mantras for Dying Animals

Four months ago, my beloved dog Chloe (affectionately nicknamed "Gopi") died quite suddenly of a particularly aggressive form of cancer I didn't even realize she'd had.  Long story short: I came home from a kirtan late one night to discover that my normally exuberant, bouncy spaniel mix was disoriented, listless and unable to walk. When I knelt down to investigate (assuming rather dumbly that she had some kind of sports-related injury), Chloe--sweet friend that she was--tried to give me a reassuring kiss. That's when I realized that her tongue was cold. And grey.  Panicked, I rushed her to a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic near my house.  There, the vet told me that my dog had something called "canine splenic hemangiosarcoma" and that a tumor on her spleen had ruptured. Basically, my sweet little Gopi was bleeding to death internally. After delivering this diagnosis, the vet--a youngish, tired-looking woman whom I had never met before--told me rather dispassionately that there was nothing I could do and that the "best thing" would be to put my dog down. Right then and there.

How do you react to news like that?  One moment you are sitting in an artist's loft in Soho, sipping gingery chai and chanting "Om Namah Shivaya" with your friends; the next you are in a poorly lit, eerily quiet veterinary office in some derelict section of Poughkeepsie, being told that your nine-year old dog was going to die within the next twelve hours.  Needless to say I was stunned. But someone in this equation was going to have to make a decision and that someone was going to be me, whether I felt qualified to be doing so or not.

My decision took a second, and yet you could also say it took lifetimes. Lifetimes of meditation practice, of studying dharma and spiritual texts, of practicing yoga.  "I'll take her home with me," I told the vet. I wanted--somewhat selfishly--to have the opportunity to say goodbye to Chloe. And I also believed--somewhat childishly--that maybe Chloe wouldn't actually die; that I could take her to my "real" vet in the morning and receive a more positive diagnosis.  But mostly I wanted to spend the next hours chanting for Chloe in a nurturing environment while she made her transition.  As a meditator and a practitioner of both Buddhism and Kundalini Yoga, I knew that these final hours were very important.

And so, whether my decision was a wise one or not, I arranged to take my dying dog home. The vet gave Chloe a dose of strong painkillers and I watched with a sense of surreal, sorrowful determination as a technician lifted my dog into my car.

Before I go on, I should clarify that I am not an expert on death and/or dying; nor am I am expert on the nature of animal consciousness or of human consciousness for that matter.  I am simply a devoted practitioner who happens to love animals and relates particularly well to dogs, and was blessed to have shared a connection with a pretty remarkable dog. She was a mood elevator and a mind reader and a happy-go-lucky-goofball, and she spent much of her short sweet life sitting next to me at churches, monasteries, spiritual retreat centers and at our weekly Woodstock kirtans.  For nine years we walked the path together. Literally and figuratively.  And now she was dying. And it was my duty--my privilege--to walk with her right up until the end.

I felt wholly unprepared.  And yet, one could argue that our yoga and meditation practices are nothing but preparation for the moment of death. One of my first Buddhist teachers, Khandro Rinpoche, used to say: "If it doesn't matter at the moment of death, it doesn't matter now."  Likewise, Yogi Bhajan always said, "You and your mastery must come through at the moment of death." They were talking about one's own death, but still.  One of the great gifts we have as humans is our own free will, to work with our minds and direct our consciousnesses. 

Another great gift we have as humans is the power to help others.  And as human yogis, we have even more power. In the Buddhist tradition, we place special emphasis on helping animals.  To paraphrase Lama Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche, renowned for his work with animals: "the animal realm is considered to be one of more suffering and less potential than the human realm. Thus, we want to do everything in our power to help that being's consciousness to find a higher rebirth. A very important condition for a better rebirth is for the being to have a calm mind at the time of death. Also, being in contact with holy objects (statues, stupas, holy images and mantras) purifies negative karma and accumulates merit for that being which will help in this regard. This is the biggest present you can give them: Good rebirth, finish samsara, liberation."

So yes, I am talking about reincarnation here. But even if you don't believe in reincarnation, you have the power to surround your loved ones with love at the time of their death.  It sounds so simple--and it is so simple--but it is also easy (and natural) to lapse into feelings of powerlessness as we are faced with another's imminent death.

I know I lapsed into feelings of powerlessness quite a few times that evening.  But I am so grateful that I had a mantra practice. When I brought Chloe home from the emergency clinic, she was too weak to climb the stairs, so we spent the night in the foyer, on the cold wooden floor.  I had brought one of Chloe's beds down for her to rest on, but for some reason she chose to stay on the floor--perhaps because the wood was more organic, more related to the Earth. In solidarity, I lay next to her, foregoing any padding so that I could stay close to her.  The next few hours were and still are a blur.  I know that I chanted and prayed and sang for hours, I know that I told her again and again that I loved her in so many ways, but when I look back I seem to remember only a few minutes and a few scant details. The sound of the music. The sound of her breath. The sound of recorded monks reciting mantras, and of gongs and of Snatam Kaur. And myself, crying and chanting; chanting and crying. As the hour of sunrise neared and the sky outside began to lighten, I made some phone calls: to my vet, to a neighbor, and to the Tibetan monastery where I planned to bring my dog.  Even as I write this blog four months later, I am asking myself if I did the right things. If I should have tried to save Chloe's life with risky surgery while I was at the veterinary clinic; or if I should have shortened her life with euthanasia. And yet, I know that friends of mine who chose the euthanasia route are also asking the same questions: "Did we do the right thing?"  I guess the answer is: anything done with love is the right thing.

With the help of some friends, I was able to get Chloe back into my car, and I was able to drive her up to Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery, where one of the resident lamas attended to her (working with her consciousness in ways I still can't comprehend), and then I took her to my vet, which opened at 9:00 am.  Chloe died as as soon as we arrived at the vet's office.  The last word she heard before her consciousness left her body was "Om."  Or rather, I should say: the last thing she heard was my voice, singing "Om."

After Chloe died, I posted a short announcement on my Facebook page and on my personal blog pages, and I was both humbled and floored at the amount of response I received.  Hundreds of people wrote to me wanting to know which mantras I chanted. So here, finally, is the list.

From the Sikh tradition, we have the beautiful, simple mantra "Akal" to assist our animal friends at their time of transition. "Akal" means undying, and I am going to quote Spirit Voyage blogger and Marketing Director Ramdesh Kaur on the deeper definitions of the mantra because she describes it so beautifully. "Chanting 'Akaaaaal' is said in the Kundalini Yoga tradition to help liberate the soul from the dense field of the earth, giving it a boost into the peace of the divine beyond. Akal means that there is no death, only liberation. It reminds both the departed and those who remain behind of our true identity as deathless souls."

"Akal," to me, is one of those chants that can fill the room with a white light and literally set the soul free.  Many of us are aware that our intense love of and grief over a dying companion can actually hold that companion back.  The soul, in other words, sticks around longer than it technically should.  (Forgive my lack of eloquence here, but the topic of death somehow turns my prose to wood.) By chanting Akal, we are reminding ourselves--and our loved ones--that it is okay to make this transition, that all is well, that we are safe.

I chanted along to Snatam Kaur's version during my dog's transition (available as an MP3 free download here on Spirit Voyage).  There's also a soaring version by Simrit Kaur, from her album The Sweetest Nectar). The sweetness of the mantra can bring so much comfort in times of pain and loss.

Mantra of the Medicine Buddha
Tayatha Om Bekandzay Bekandzay Maha Bekandzay Bekandzay Radza Samundgate Svaha.

From the Buddhist tradition, the Medicine Buddha mantra is an excellent mantra to recite for a sick or dying animal.  As the name implies, it aids in the healing of both physical illness and emotional distress.  This mantra is also used to "ripen the minds" of animals, meaning that any animal who hears this mantra will be guided toward higher rebirths, better conditions, and more positive states of mind. (Remember: mustn't forget how powerful these ancient languages of Sanskrit, Tibetan, Gurmukhi, Hebrew, etc are. These mantras are powerful that animals and even beings from other realms can hear and understand them.)

Mantra of Chenrezig (the Buddha of Compassion)
Om Mani Padme Hum
According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the benefits of reciting the Compassion Buddha Mantra are infinite, like the limitless sky. Not only will reciting this mantra bring your animal comfort at the time of transition, the effects of this mantra will be felt for lifetimes to come.  "This makes a huge difference. It has inconceivable result, unbelievable result. This practice will plant the seed of all the realizations of the path to enlightenment. That makes them have a good rebirth next life, to be born as a human being and meet the Dharma." Rinpoche says it is best to verbally recite the mantras into our pet's ears. You can also recite this mantra over their water and their food to increase its potency.
I sang Chloe my own version of Om Mani Padme Hum (which she seemed to like) and one by Imee Oiee.

You can download Deva Premal's potent versions of the two aforementioned mantras, recorded with the Gyoto Monks, here:

Yod Hey Shin Vav Hey
My dog always enjoyed a CD from the Judeo-Christian tradition, called "Holy Harmony," from master sound healer Jonathan Goldman.  I used to play this hour-long chant for her whenever she was anxious, and the healing tones combined with the ancient chant would send us both into the cosmos.  According to Mr. Goldman, "Holy Harmony" contains the divine frequencies of creation itself, with tones direct from the healing codes of the Bible.  The mantra, YHSVH (Yod Hey Shin Vav Hey), is an ancient name of the Christ. So, as you can imagine, this mantra powerful beyond measure. It was comforting to both me and my dog to have this track and its frequencies playing in the background during her transition.

And I think, in hindsight, it was a wise decision to play something that Chloe was familiar with.  Because so much of what happened that night was unfamiliar, after all.  This is all the more reason to start playing healing mantras for your animals now, by the way.

I am not trying to be morbid here, or a doomsayer.  I just want you to know that, if and when you ever reach that moment in your life when your beloved animal friend is critically ill, and your vet says: "I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do..." that there actually is something you can do. You can sing and pray and chant. You can create a vibration of love and healing and ease so that your beloved animal does not transition in a state of worry or fear.

Friends are now saying that I was "lucky" and that Chloe was lucky that she got to die with me, at home, in a sacred environment, rather than at the vet's office. Here I have to remind people that she actually died in my mini-van, which I suppose was the dog's home of sorts, too.  But I won't deny that Chloe was blessed to have spent her final moments at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery.
But I'd like to point out that any environment can be made sacred, simply by putting forth the intention, or calling upon the Gurus. When once voices reaches out to another in prayer, that is sacred. When one heart reaches out to another in love, that is sacred.  No matter where you are--at home, or in a treatment room at a veterinary clinic, or (heaven forbid) at the scene of a tragic accident--remember that you can help your beloved pets on their journey with the sound of your own voice.  I can't imagine a more beautiful sound current to be carried away on. And neither can they.

May the long time sun shine upon you!

Additional Resources: Jivan Joti Kaur Khalsa's spectacular and profound book, Dying into Life, presents teachings on death, loss, and transformation from a Kundalini Yoga perspective. For me this book has been very therapeutic as I process the death of yet another beloved in this lifetime.

If you are interested in learning more about Buddhist practices for assisting dying animals, visit:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Final Installment of The Chloe Chronicles is now online at

My last installment of "The Chloe Chronicles" from the December 2013 print edition of Bark magazine is now up on the Bark's website. I handed in this installment about three weeks before Chloe died. In this piece, I wrote about how Chloe was slowing down and showing signs of aging. I wrote about how I was starting to worry that some day she might get sick and die. I had no idea she was actually quite sick, yet as I re-read the piece, the signs are there.

 I don't know how to react upon re-reading this. I could feel ashamed and horrified that I treated her "signs of aging" so lightly; or I could feel awed that, at some level, we got to say goodbye in such a such a deep way.

What awes me most is the pull-quote Bark chose to use. A few months ago, when I expressed my concerns about to Chloe that I wouldn't be able to handle it if she got sick, she replied (telepathically, of course): "Don't worry. We are together now. That's all that matters. And when the time comes, you will still be with me and I will be with you."

Thank you, Bark Magazine, for publishing The Chloe Chronicles and allowing me to honor her in this way.

Here's a link to the column.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Seven Ways to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder - My Spirit Voyage Blog

Hi Beloveds:
I'm finally re-posting my blog here on my own pages.  Better late than never.  Enjoy!  xooxx

Seven Ways to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder

By now, most of us are familiar with the term "Seasonal Affective Disorder," as well as it causes (chemical imbalances caused by changes of season, temperature and/or amount of sunlight available) and effects (depression, lethargy, inertia, etc). I was afflicted by this disorder for years--especially during those long dark winters in the Northeast. And at first I tried approaching this SAD from both traditional, Western, and alternative routes: Vitamin D, light box therapy, St. John's wort. I even, for a time, tried  taking medication--which helped, I suppose, but made me feel dull-witted and not quite real. Finally--in a more drastic measure--I decided to just move to Florida for the winters. The Florida sunshine helped, believe me; but after five seasons of SAD I finally decided to approach the disorder from a more organic standpoint: Kundalini Yoga.

One of the most challenging aspects of SAD, for me, was the complete lack of motivation I experienced on a daily--sometimes hourly--basis during the winter months.  Especially first thing in the morning.  The cause of this lack of motivation is neurochemical: decreased levels of noreperephrine and serotonin caused by decreased exposure to sunlight. But the effects can be devastating--especially to us work-obsessed Americans who thrive on being productive. (I like to use the word "creative".)  Sufferers of SAD who find themselves too depressed to create can become even more depressed out of frustration. And round and round it goes.  But the good news is that there are many, many simple practices from the Kundalini Yoga tradition and beyond that can help those who are prone to SAD break this cycle of seasonal depressions.

While many of us don't start to feel the full effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder until December or January, many physicians--both Eastern and Western--now believe that the best time to start addressing the disorder is in the fall, when Daylight Savings goes into effect.  (My doctor actually advised me to start my pranayamas and kriyas in mid-summer, after the summer equinox.) The reason is fairly obvious: as the days shorten, and we lose two precious minutes of sunlight per day, our serotonin and dopamine levels are slowly but surely being affected by these changes. Our energy wanes, our moods slowly darken, and our minds cloud. Then, all of a sudden, in the throes of cold,  cold January, you wake up and find that you can't, well, wake up. But by addressing any potential neurochemical imbalances now, we can stave off these crippling winter depressions.

The thought of doing 52 minutes of daily practice--or even three minutes--can be vastly intimidating to the SAD-afflicted mind. I remember once bemoaning to a friend: "I don't have the energy to do all the practices that I absolutely know will give me energy."

But then I remembered three very important, life-changing quotes.  Arthur Ashe's "Start where you are." And Yogi Bhajan's "If your sadhana is more important than your neurosis, you are fine. If your neurosis is more important than your sadhana, you are not."  This statement really woke me up.

Yogi Bhajan has called Sat Kriya one of the most powerful and complete kriyas in Kundalini Yoga, adding that "If you want to change the world, do Sat Kriya." There's a reason Sat Kriya is also known as "The Everything Kriya." Its benefits are innumerable, and sufferers of SAD will enjoy its energizing, mind-clearing, Kundalini-raising effects. You might find that practicing Sat Kriya for just three minutes a day will shift both your mind and body from that frozen state of "I can't do anything because it's too cold and dark" into a more expansive state place of fortitude and action.

Kirtan Kriya is another extremely powerful (and simple) kriya that can help shift the SAD-plagued mind. Yogi Bhajan has said that if you had time to do only one meditation per day, Kirtan Kriya should be the one. Among its other benefits, this kriya eliminates brain fog, breaks up negative habits and patterns, and balances the hemispheres of the brain--thus restoring emotional balance.

Music for Kirtan Kriya

Yogi Bhajan has said that of all the twenty types of yoga, including Kundalini Yoga, this is the highest kriya.  "This meditation will...cut through all barriers of the neurotic or psychotic inside nature...This kriya will give you the necessary vitality and intuition to combat the negative effects of the unchanneled subconscious mind.”Simply put, this meditation "cuts through all darkness" which is basically what a person in the throes of SAD needs most.

Music for So Darshan Chakra Kriya

For three times the benefit, trying practicing the"Triple Kriya" meditation, which consists of Sat Kriya, Kirtan Kriya and Sodarshan Chakra kriyas, in that order, for 11 minutes each. You will be your own internal sunshine for the rest of the day (and for lifetimes to come).

Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru
The Long Ek Ong Kaur, also known as Morning Call, Long Chant, and the Adi Shakti Mantra, is one of my all-time favorite mantras. According to Yogi Bhajan, chanting this mantra will open up all the chakras, charge your solar centers, purify your karma, and align your soul to the Universal Soul. In SAD terms, this mantra is perfect for those dark cold mornings when you're so depressed you can't get out of bed.  In fact, I used to chant this one while in bed (pushing myself up into the proper posture first, of course). This mantra literally gave me the energy, strength and will to rise. In my humble opinion, it's better than caffeine.


Another terrific mantra which is particularly good for SAD is:

Ardas Bayee / Amar Das Guru / Amar Das Guru / Ardas Bayee
Ram Das Guru / Ram Das Guru / Ram Das Guru / Suchee Sahee

Also known as  "Mantra to Illuminate the Dark Night of the Soul," the name speaks for itself. This mantra helps transform those SAD feelings of yearning and hopelessness into feelings of deep faith and hope.  There are many extraordinary recordings of this mantra to choose from. Singh Kaur's version is particularly stunning: as sweet and gentle and rejuvenating as morning sunlight.

Singh Kaur

Snatam Kaur

Another quick fix for those who are too depressed to even think about doing their practice, a great place to "start where you are" is breathing through the right nostril. This simple yet profound practice stimulates the Pingala channel, also known as the male channel or the solar channel. Just a few minutes of right-nostril breathing can help stimulate one's own internal solar energy, thus counteracting the lethargy and mental fogginess some of us feel on those cold winter mornings and/or when the afternoon sun begins to set.

At this point, most of us SAD sufferers know about the importance of absorbing sunlight and of taking Vitamin D. In yogic traditions, practitioners are advised to expose their hair, head and skull to the sun at least once per week. Yogi Bhajan always stressed that exposing the forehead to sunlight is especially beneficial.  This is because the forehead bone is porous, which means that more light can pass through and stimulate the pituitary gland. And a well-stimulated pituitary gland, as we know, results in healthy levels of dopamine, serotonin and melatonin.

But who wants to expose themselves to full sunlight in the winter, right? Especially those of us who live in colder climates? When I lived in the Hudson Valley I would do my morning practice in front of a sunny window, positioning myself so that that first ray of morning light beamed straight onto my forehead.
To take it a step further, try transforming your daily dosage of sunlight into a devotional practice. I've always loved the concepts of those mythological sun gods of Egypt and Ancient Greece; so whenever I am in the sun I like to offer thanks to Ra and Apollo for sharing their healing light with this planet.  I ask them and my other guides to help my body to integrate this blessed sunlight as efficiently as possible, so that I might be of utmost service to humanity on that day. I swear it makes a difference. (They don't use the term "Sun Worshiper" for nothing.) If you think about it, the word "RA" in itself is a powerful mantra. In the Kundalini Yoga tradition it means "sun."  Among American sports fanatics, it means "Yahoo!"  So you can't go wrong.


Flower essences are distilled tinctures that basically carry the vibration of flowers, meaning that when you take a few drops of, say, Summer Snowflake essence, you are taking in the frequency and qualities of Summer Snowflake. This delicate flower is winter hardy but also thrives in extreme heat.
There are hundreds if not thousands of essences to choose from, which can seem a bit overwhelming at first. So my advice is to call the essence makers directly--these kind and caring people will usually offer intuitive suggestions based on your personal needs and constitution.
Some of my personal favorite flower essences for Seasonal Affective Disorder are:
Swamp Candles or Summer Snowflake
Yellow Rose
"Lighten Up" or "Solstice Sun" combination essences from Alaskan Essences

Most aromatherapists agree that citrus oils are the best choices for Seasonal Affective Disorder It makes sense if you think about it, given that citrus typically grows in warm, hot, sunny places.  Think California in a bottle! Organic essential oils are best, distributed with cold-mist  diffusers.  Spirit Voyage blogger Donna Shepper wrote a wonderful piece about the use of essential oils to help treat SAD:  Read it here.

Depression can be uncomfortable and painful. There's no doubt about that. But when approached from a spiritual standpoint, it can also be beneficial. Yogi Bhajan used to stress that  "In all darkness, there is a light and in all light there is a darkness."  Author Michael Beckwith also points out that "a dark night of the soul may be considered to be a moment of gestation; a new inner realization that is gestating. Just as a seed needs to be in the darkness before it breaks into the light, there are spiritual realizations gestating within us. We may be giving birth to something, so it doesn't feel comfortable."

I also like to remind myself something I learned long ago: Whenever you feel like giving up, recognize that you have reached a moment of great change. That's your moment of power. Like Yogi Bhajan says: "Keep up, and you will be kept up."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I am staying at the guesthouse at St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the holidays, because I love to sit with the monks as they sing. They have the most amazing, soul-shuddering harmonies.

Anyway, this morning at prayer service I sat right in front of a beautiful manger display from Jerusalem. My eyes kept returning to small statues of the animals depicted in this particular scene: the cow, the ox, the donkey, sheep, goats and even some camels. I could picture dogs and cats running around happily in the background, off-camera, so to speak. And it really warmed my heart to know that these sweet and gentle creatures were present at the birth of the Christ. They stood witness before and therefore were part of this sacred family. That's no small thing!

I know there is debate as to whether animals were actually present at this sacred birth, but regardless: we 21st-century humans should try to remember that these animals are all noble and sacred beings and deserve to be treated with respect, love, and reverence. As do we all. Their (and our) ancestors knelt at the cradle of the Christ. May it be so!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Laurie Anderson on Lou Reed's "Good Death"

As a meditator, I was very struck by Laurie Anderson's farewell tribute to her husband Lou Reed in Rolling Stone magazine.  Sometimes it can feel as though our meditation practice isn't "doing anything" or "getting us anywhere."

But Laurie Anderson's essay gives a clear example of just how beneficial a strong meditation practice can be: it can help transform the moment of death from one of fear and uncertainty into one of peace.  I encourage you to read this.

Grief has changed my voice...

Grief has changed my voice. Usually when I sing lead there's this inner flame that I can access and pull up and out through my voice. I can't find that flame right now. I'm not saying that this is a permanent situation or a catastrophe; it's just interesting to go inside oneself and discover something missing. But....I am going back into the studio with Gaura Vani and friends to record more vocals in a few weeks. Please pray that my voice returns by December 8th!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The latest installment of "The Chloe Chronicles" is here.

The new print edition of Bark magazine just came out and I just re-read the latest installment "The Chloe Chronicles," which I handed in about three weeks before Chloe died. In this piece, I wrote about how Chloe was slowing down and showing signs of aging. I wrote about how I was starting to worry that some day she might get sick and die. I had no idea she was actually quite sick, yet as I re-read the piece, the signs are there. 

I don't know how to react. I could feel ashamed and horrified that I treated her "signs of aging" so lightly; or I could feel awed that, at some level, we got to say goodbye in such a deep way.

What awes me most is the pull-quote Bark chose to use. A few months ago, when I expressed my concerns about Chloe that I wouldn't be able to handle it if she got sick, she said (telepathically, of course): "Don't worry. We are together now. That's all that matters. And when the time comes, you will still be with me and I will be with you."

Thank you, Bark magazine, for publishing The Chloe Chronicles and allowing me to honor her in this way.