The power of the chant connects us to the ancient spiritual art of singing shamans, swamis, lamas, rabbis, ministers, and priests. However, just as many of the world's religions have neglected to adequately promote the sacredness of the land, so the modern religions have neglected to adequately promote the sacredness of the land, so the modern versions of these faiths employ many forms of chanting devoid of any meaningful connection to the natural environment. The ecoshamanic chants described in this section, as well as earth-centered spiritual chanting in general (including, of course, the chanting of ancient and current indigenous peoples), work in a very special way that actually expands one's identity outward into the natural world instead of driving consciousness inward or toward a non-incarnated god, as in man traditional forms of spiritual chanting.
Chanting encompasses and enormous variety of musical and vibrational expressions of the human voice. While some forms of chanting employ a repetitive series of sounds or words, other forms allow for improvisational melodies and rhythms. Chanting includes recitations of sacred texts and stories as well as prolonged single tones; it can be performed a cappella or accompanied by drums, rattles, flutes, and countless other instruments of sound. Traditional chanting is done in temples, churches, ashrams, mosques, and kivas, as well as in forests, on mountaintops, and by the sea. It graces meals and weddings, the rise and fall of the sun, and the passing of a loved one.
Through the chant we engage sound and silence with the resonance of the world so that our perceived boundaries of self melt away as we perceive ourselves being part of something much larger. Chanting is moving meditation, it sings our prayers, and at the deepest levels we no longer sing the chant, the chant sings us.
When employing ecoshamanic chanting, we are not merely working with the mechanics of "singing" so much as we are experiencing a bodily connection with the world through the use of our voice, which then can lead to a psychic connection and spiritual dimension. For this reason it matters not whether you have a "good voice" or not. The only criteria for ecoshamanic chanting is that you come to it with an open heart and mind.
Learning to Chant
Before going into the specific practices of ecoshamanic chanting, it's important to "find your voice," which is really more about opening your heart than learning how to sing. Listed below are some important aspects toward this goal.
One of the main physiological benefits to chanting is simply the deep rhythmic cadence of breathing that chanting encourages. While learning to chant, you will also be learning a new form of breathing that will develop quite naturally as you progress. To begin, it is enough to simply notice and place attention on the difference between shallow breathing, which mainly comes from the upper part of the chest right below the throat, and deep breathing, which develops much lower, toward the abdomen. Both levels of breath, and all levels in between, will be used while practicing ecoshamanic chanting. However, it is good to practice the deep breath coming from the abdomen because all this breath will provide for a wider and longer chant cadence, and also will help you develop a deeper and healthier breath, especially if you are a smoker or if you are not accustomed to physical activity.
Toning and Resonance
For those of us that lack previous affirmative life experiences with singing (including yours truly), one of the basic boundaries we need to cross is simply allowing ourselves to use our voice in a manner other than simply talking. This can be easily facilitated by exploring the basic vowel sounds that we already know. Thoroughly exploring these tones and the vibrating resonance they create in your body will also help you to explore your various levels of breathing. To start, simply breathe in and then vocalize the "A" sound (as in the word play) through one exhalation—"a a a a a a a a a." Then breathe deeply and vocalize "AH" (as in father—"ah h h h h h h h").
Now do the same with the other vowel sounds. "E" as in free—"e e e e e e e e e." Then "I" as in fly—"i i i i i i i i i i." Then "O" as in boat—"o o o o o o o o." Then "U" as in cute—"u u u u u u u u." Vocalize these individual tones through one fully extended breath a few times, and then vocalize all six in the same breath a few times. Now explore all the various sounds and tones that surround these vowel sounds. Our English language is very flat and choppy when compared to many other languages, and those of us who are currently limited to the use of only the English language have probably not even experienced many of the sounds and vibrations that we are capable of creating. Start with a familiar sound like "O" and then sing through all the variations of the sound— play with it, let it dance on your tongue, and feel it vibrate throughout your whole body. Take your time. Then explore different sounds, invent sounds manipulate them, and sing them through long, sustained breaths and short, choppy breaths, at high volume or mere whispers. Let the sounds lead you.
Let It Flow
Truly engaging the chant takes disciplined practice, but also requires a certain amount of abandonment. This is another form of the shamanic paradox—to fly while keeping your feet on the ground. During the chant we surrender to the flow of the world and the merging of our voice to that flow, but we also ground that experience by attending, at varying degrees, to what is happening with our human organism. This is especially true when chanting while engaged in physical activities such as walking, climbing, attending the fire, immersing in water, etc.
Although we certainly don’t want to injure ourselves by losing touch with the physical reality of the moment, the one trap we have to overcome is to not let attending to our human organism interfere unduly with the flow of the chant. For example, it is common for us to wonder if we are "doing it right" or to ask ourselves, "How long have I been chanting?" or "I wonder how much longer I should continue?" When these types of mental questions disturb the flow, it is usually best to try and simply meld these thoughts with your chanting experience. Treat the thoughts as just one more input that you are receiving. You can even sing these questions out and see where they lead. When you are engaged in the chant, normal timekeeping by clocks and watches loses its value and is replaced with unscheduled and spontaneous events.
Excerpted from Ecoshamanism: Sacred Practices of Unity, Power and Earth Healing by James Endredy