When I was a kid I grew up with the Buddhist religion as part of my culture. My grandmother would pray before an altar and my mother would pray before bed every night. In Thailand, Buddhism is more of a cultural practice than a religion, more of a community and ritual, than a set of prescribed tenets or values. While the culture internalizes certain values of acceptance, tolerance, and charity, they are not necessarily attributed directly to Buddhism.
The traditional Thai Buddhist prayer is Namo Tassa Bhagavoto, which monks chant in repetition for hours. It's quite beautiful and sonorous to witness this live, and it can be transfixing.
In yoga, we often begin with an invocation or chant. It's a bit reminiscent of the Buddhist chants of my childhood, except often with a musical Western spin.
We are told that yoga is preparation for meditation, that it prepares us to be still in both meditation and in life, which calls to mind the monks who sit and chant as part of their daily prayer and mediation practice. Perhaps it brings them closer to the cosmos, or God.
In college, I practiced silent mediation. It's challenging to 'watch' your mind and the way your thoughts wander and sit with your imperfect mind.
I often contemplate how to reconcile meditative practices with the Western world, how to bring sitting quietly into my routine. I've recently explored guided meditation, which I find more accessible, and also calming. As an addition to this practice, I decided to introduce chanting into to my meditation practice. I play a CD of chants and sit in a dark room in front of a window. It's calming and beautiful.
Today I tried it with a Western song, and I realized that music itself helps to access a different level of consciousness that is as close to God or meditation as it gets. After all, these expressions are all of them ways to tap into our higher selves, selves that exist beyond the scope of language.
So whether it's silent meditation, guided meditation, chanting, or just listening to music and focusing quietly, just takes some time to sit still, and enjoy it deeply.