In the early days of my pagan studies, I attended a workshop on chanting at a Dianic Temple in Portland. We practiced with a beautiful chant to Tara; and though I have not worked with Tara since, what I learned from the chant has stayed with me. The leader of the workshop talked about the importance of repetition as part of the magic or power of the chant. She explained that repeating the chant over and over is a transformative act. When we begin, she explained, the chant feels new. We are learning the words and melody and appreciating their beauty. After a while, however, repeating the line over and over again becomes boring. A little longer, and it begins to sound like nonsense, like senseless babble. This is where it becomes truly tempting to stop; where we might begin to feel foolish. But if we can keep going through this phase, we will come to a place where we begin to feel transformed by the chant. We repeated the same line again and again, and it was just as she said. At some point, it was like the chant began to sink into my body, like it was absorbed by my flesh and bones and became a part of me, or I became a part of it, somehow. And I felt myself changed by it, touched by the loving, compassionate energy of the goddess we sang to.
Walking the same route over and over again–mindfully, as part of one’s spiritual practice–can be an experience very much like the one I had with chanting to Tara, but the process can take weeks, months, years. I’ve been walking the same route for a little over a year now–though not, I must admit, with perfect consistency. There have been plenty of times that I’ve taken my walk and thought, “there’s nothing new to see here,” or “it’s really stupid to walk the same circle over and over again.” But I always come back to the walking.
Yesterday I walked in the dark, cold drizzle of the afternoon. When I started, I felt like I wanted a better walk, a different one. A more magical one. But at the park the graceful lindens raised their arms to the washed-out sky, and I remembered why I come back again and again. I do it so I can learn to see, to feel. I do it because walking the same path again and again is like a chant or a mantra, but also like a relationship–over time, we see the flaws of the beloved more clearly. But if our love is strong enough, we understand that flaws and weaknesses are part of the beloved’s beauty and individuality. If you are willing to do the hard work of love, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. It breeds intimacy, compassion, unity. The deeper and longer we gaze into the spirit of the ones we love, the more we treasure them, the more they become part of us. Prayers and mantras–and mindful walks around a city park–can function in a similar way. It can require persistence and attention to learn to see in this way, but I find it’s worth the effort.