Almost 20 years ago, Sarana Miller went to her first kirtan. It was with Jai Uttal. She was blown away. “It was like finding a piece of me I didn’t know I had lost,” she said.
Miller learned about Uttal when a CD of his found its way to her. Not long after, she went to his first kirtan “camp,” — seven days of learning to play harmonium and lead kirtan. “I left high as a kite and [was] inspired to start leading kirtans myself. I had a kirtan band for years and we traveled around the Bay Area.”
In advance of Miller’s upcoming workshop, Aligning With Nature: A Winter Solstice Yoga Retreat, she shared her history, journey, and insight on how chanting changed her forever.
Christine Chen: Why did chanting resonate with you? Then, and/or now?
Sarana Miller: When I chant now, it brings me a sense of comfort, connection, and joy… in challenging times holds me.
CC: Is chanting part of your family's heritage?
SM: I am Jewish, and we sing for Shabbat on Friday night. I have also led some Jewish kirtans for Jewish holidays.
CC: How do you honor the culture and roots of this practice when you share it?
SM: I invite students to join by letting them know kirtan is a prayer, not a performance… and just to stay curious as to how the chant lands in their body. I also like Jai's invitation to let "the chant be a vehicle for our prayers."
CC: What is your favorite and/or go-to mantra/chant at this moment, and why?
SM: My favorite all-time mantra is Om Namah Shivaya. It goes straight to my heart every time.
Experience Miller’s chanting and join in on Esalen’s IGTV, here.
“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.”
“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.
What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?
Miller will be at Esalen December 17-19, 2021 for Aligning With Nature: A Winter Solstice Retreat.