In 2005, Ruth Cunningham and I recorded our first album as HARC (Hernandez Ana Ruth Cunningham). At the time, we were chanting many of the same mantras in our personal practices and there’s a depth and a playfulness that comes through on the album because of it. Ruth and I had a singing relationship at the time and the benefit to our listeners was clear. We haven’t sold very many albums, but have given away hundreds of download cards to people who look like they might like it. 13 years later, I go months without hearing anything about HARC or our other album, but the last two weeks HARC is everywhere I turn. I awoke this morning to an email from a new friend with a recording of 150 Mennonites singing Open My Heart. I got an email late last week from another friend who wrote “We’re putting together a promotional video for The Hymn Society. I gave the videographer a ton of different options for music to use and they chose Open My Heart.” He also said this: “BTW – I use that CD as a personal devotion sometimes, like when I’m flying in an airplane and need to center myself.” Also last week, a woman wrote about using Inside Chants to lull her babies to sleep, and that she sometimes still hears the strains of it coming from from her now college-aged daughter’s room.
I was visiting a friend in rehab (a new knee) this morning, and handed the parking attendant $3.00 to park, when he noticed my tattoo:
Dharmendra: “What is that?” (He looked and sounded like he was from India)
Ana: “Is this a quiz? It’s the Om symbol in a stylized lotus flower.”
Dharmendra: “Do you know what it means?”
Ana: “Ah, so it is a quiz. Om is so many things, but mostly I think of it as the sound of creation.”
Dharmendra: “Yes, and so many things.”
We continued chatting for perhaps twenty minutes, sharing our favorite mantras and speaking about chanting as a spiritual practice (he couldn’t believe that’s my job :), him quizzing me on the Gayatri mantra, the Maha Mritunjaya mantra, me trying not to get tongue tied, because he can recite them as fast as the Dalai Lama can pray the Green Tara mantra (geschwind!). I had to listen hard to understand his accent. He was mostly surprised that I knew a lot of mantras and love the same books: The Vedas in the Panikkar translation, The Gita in the Easwaran translation, etc. I was excited to learn from him, because mantras I’ve known for 20 years, he’s known for more than twice that long, and they live in him as deep heart knowledge. Here’s the translation of the Gayatri Mantra that he knows by heart in English (not his first language), which I recorded on my phone so I could hear his voice of sweet devotion:
“O God, giver of life, remover of pains and sorrows, Creator of the universe and bestower of happiness. Thou art most luminous, pure, and adorable.
We meditate on thee. May thou inspire and guide our intellect in the right direction.”
He looked up after reciting it, and with raised eyebrow said: “You can find it on Google.” I replied “I know, the universal mantra!” It’s also the first song on Inside Chants. I quickly Googled up the HARC version of the Gayatri Mantra to play him a clip. At first he didn’t believe it was me, but I gave him the look and then he did. He asked for a business card, which by the miracle of Zephyr Interactive I had! I scrawled HARC on it, and handed it over.
I hope our paths cross again, because the relationships we build through the connective tissue that is each piece of music, mantra, or song – those relationships are what’s important. Today we learned each other’s names and found that we have a love of mantra jaap in common. Tomorrow, who knows? He was very kind; maybe I’ll learn something else. I also dug out a download card. He might like it.
We tend to walk away from chance encounters and think, what a nice chance encounter, or isn’t that great; or, we’ll take the time to write down a song, but not the person’s name who taught us the song. However, the possibilities for humans in relationship, whether now or a dozen years ago are as endless as the stars in the sky. Relationships: one by one. It’s how the beloved community becomes the beloved community.