Soon after my father died, my mom and I yearned for a place where we could find solace in community. Neither one of us are religious and yet we were drawn to spiritual experiences — especially ones that might help soothe our grief and make us feel more connected to the stuff of “out there” and the feelings of “in here.”
A friend recommended that we try the Shoreline Unitarian Universalist Church, for no religious background was needed and yet there was community and support in a place that honored the realms of both humanism and spirituality.
At the time, the UUC had a once-a-month evening of music, meditation, ritual, image, dance, and poetry called SoulSong. My mom and I craved these evenings, for we were able to engage all our senses in a space of love and mutual respect. We sang, we watched nature images and meditated, we listened to poetry, and we learned chants and dances from various traditions.
The most powerful SoulSong for me occurred on an evening when we learned the Buddhist song Om Namo Amitabhaya. My mother and I joined about twenty other people we barely knew, formed a circle with them, and for about twenty-five minutes we sang the Buddhist chant and danced. I remember feeling calmed by the repetition, and found myself feeling almost in a trance-like state as we repeated “Buddhaya, Dharmaya, Sanghaya,” while gently touching the tops of our heads, our foreheads, and our hearts. I turned into myself then and felt my grief deeply, but I also felt lifted somehow. Perhaps it was a feeling of lightness of being in community or maybe the song itself made me feel more connected to realms beyond myself. In any case, something shifted in me that night, and I think the mantra was a powerful salve for a wound that I knew was deep and wide. Ultimately, I learned that grief was natural, that moments of peace would come (and would come more frequently) and that I was not forever broken.
Here is a video of a community doing the Om Namo Amitabhaya in the same way we performed it at the UUC: