Om for the holidays

(Photo by Lisa Omarali)

Ask a number of people what the sound of “Om” signifies, and you’ll get as many answers. To practitioners of Buddhism or Hinduism, it’s a sacred sound. In the ancient texts of the Vedas, yogis maintained that everything in the universe has a rhythmic vibration, even objects that appear solid. The reverberations of the “Om” sound – made up of three Sanskrit letters, aa (“ah”), au (“ooh”) and ma (“mmm”) – are believed to contain all of the never-ceasing sounds of the universe, and when used as a mantra, “Om” connects a person with that energy.

But one doesn’t have to subscribe to any particular set of beliefs to find usefulness in a mantra, which is really just a tool for reflection and the cultivation of awareness. Any word can be used to center oneself. And for those of a less metaphysical bent, one can look at “Om” as simply an extension of the breath and a way to calm down the “monkey mind”: the tendency of our thoughts to leap about from one topic to another without rest.

The calming influence of “Om” will be put into practice worldwide on Easter Sunday, March 31, when people of all faiths and beliefs will gather in groups at 6 p.m. EDT on that day to add their voices to an extended, shared “Om” as a meditation for peace.

Locally, Baird Hersey and his vocal group Prana will host a gathering at the Mountain View Studio in Woodstock. There is no charge to attend. This is the 11th year that Hersey has hosted a group for the annual meditation for peace; it usually draws around 100 participants. “It’s just a really amazing sound, to have that many people singing,” he says. “It’s a very peaceful, lovely sound.”

No musical experience or aptitude is necessary – just a willingness to join in and add your voice to that of others in the subtly changing chorus of sound. “It might pause and start up again; it depends on the community that’s there to make the sound,” Hersey says. “The idea is that you listen for the note to sing that will support the sound, rather than singing a note that’s going to change everything. It’s really about the idea of community. And it’s beautiful just to sit and listen to, as well.”

The gathering is usually around an hour in duration. “From speaking to people about it over the years, what happens is that you close your eyes and get lost in the sound and think, ‘Well, that was about 15 minutes,’ and then you look up and most of the hour is gone,” Hersey says. And, he recommends, even if one can’t get together with other people on that day at that time, “Sing on your own, knowing that people in other places are singing with you. Do it while doing the dishes; it’s just the idea of knowing that this is going on in other places, too.”

Om for Peace, Sunday, March 31, 6 p.m., free, Mountain View Studio, 20 Mountain View Avenue, Woodstock; (845) 679-0901, www.mtnviewstudio.com, www.pranasound.com.

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