The meaning of “guru,” as we understand it in Kundalini Yoga, is “that which brings me from darkness to light.” I hear the guru — this energy that moves us through the darkest of times and into bliss — in music legend Belinda Carlisle’s new mantra-pop fusion album, Wilder Shores.
The singer/songwriter has crossed an ocean — an ocean of chaos, addiction, and a lack of self-love. According to her autobiography Lips Unsealed, life on the road and in the limelight was an uncertain and often dark ride. Now, she’s arrived in a new land of sobriety with the foundation of a committed Kundalini Yoga practice. Carlisle was introduced to Kundalini Yoga 26 years ago when she was pregnant with her son.
She said she didn’t really understand the practice at that point, but 14 years later she had a profound experience in a re-birthing kriya and that changed everything. Today, she practices and chants nearly every day, and she’s gifted us with Wilder Shores, an album that features the mantras that have resonated with her most, adding her unique pop twist and the depth of the ocean she’s crossed and the sweep of the storms she’s weathered.
This first album of its kind offers seven mantra tracks, a hip take on Kundalini’s traditional end-of-class song “Longtime Sun,” and a new version of the hit Carlisle is perhaps best-known for “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” My favorite mantra tracks on the album are “Aad Guray Nameh,” “Ek Ong Kar Sat Gur Prasad,” and “Light of My Soul.”
The mantra of protection and projection of the heart, “Aad Guray Nameh,” can be chanted whenever there is potential peril. Some people chant it after they put their key in the ignition and before they start their cars to create a protective shield around their journey. Carlisle’s version begins as a slow, soulful yearning, a calling out, a plea to surrender to the wisdom within and the wisdom of the universe. But then the tempo picks up and the spirit changes, as if the Cosmic Soul has heard the call of the Inner Soul and it becomes a celebration. Absolutely beautiful! Darkness to Light. The Guru.
Then there’s the magic mantra… “Ek Ong Kar Sat Gur Prasad” has the power to stop anything negative and remove obstacles. Carlisle sings it with a similar feel and it’s arranged in a similar way as “Aad Guray Nameh,” growing out of darkness and into the light. The magic mantra moves from slow, deliberate, even painful to joyful, upbeat, and even ecstatic. It’s easy to imagine belting out the chorus of “Ek Ong Kar Sat Gur Prasad” in the stands of a huge arena. And why not?
Why couldn’t mainstream audiences use these ancient tools to cut through negativity? Carlisle has talked about the fact that if Wilder Shores were playing in another room, you’d think it was a regular pop album. Maybe the familiarity of that, the comfort of that, the catchiness of that will encourage some to give chanting a try. The Gurmukhi mantras work so well to help us go beyond the thinking mind so the soul can blossom.
What also works well (but may involve more resistance by the practitioner) are mantras in English. Carlisle’s “Light of the Soul” is a gorgeous English mantra — I am the light of the soul. I am beautiful. I am bountiful. I am blissful. I am — a wonderful affirmation for self-esteem. The problem is we don’t always believe affirmations, even as we repeat them to ourselves. On Ramdesh Kaur’s Spirit Voyage radio program, Carlisle talked about how she put some angst in this song. While it’s an uplifting sentiment, it can be difficult to embrace. Again and again, on this album, I feel the acknowledgement of the darkness on the way to the light. From this yogi’s point of view, that acknowledgement is helpful because that’s the reality of everyone’s journey and it carries the spirit of guru.
Perhaps the most special part of this album is the new version of Carlisle’s 1987 smash hit “Heaven is a Place on Earth.” This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of that iconic song. By Carlisle’s own telling, her life 30 years ago did not always feel like heaven on earth. But perhaps this spiritual anthem foretold her journey within, from darkness to light, bringing heaven down to earth, connecting to Source. For Wilder Shores, she’s recorded a new, slower, calmer acoustic version of what is perhaps her best-known song. The new version is enriched by all the living and self-discovery Carlisle’s done in the interceding decades.
May you be guided by the guru within and may you feel the guru in these words:
In this world we’re just beginning
To understand the miracle of living
I was afraid before
But I’m not afraid anymore
Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth.
Cate Baily discovered Kundalini Yoga by accident nearly 20 years ago and was surprised and thrilled by how engaged, energized, and inspired it made her feel. She’s been practicing ever since and now co-owns Montclair Kundalini Yoga, a yoga studio in New Jersey dedicated to community and keeping up. Cate is grateful to her teachers and to all of her students who show up to find inner peace and connect to their inner wisdom.