While singing kirtan, I have no trouble being “carried off” in a flood of devotion and loving thoughts of God. Or while practicing silent or guided meditation, I am able to quiet my mind (somewhat!) and concentrate on healing, awareness, etc. But, I have struggled from the beginning with what exactly I should be DOING while chanting. There was one time, years ago, when I read in a book that a wonderful form of meditation was to simply close your eyes and list as many names of God as you could think of. I did this for about 20 minutes and had an amazing experience, but I have never felt that ecstatic feeling while chanting on my beads- only while singing kirtan.
To me, japa is my private, quality time with God. I simply remember that Krishna is present in His name, so when I chant japa on beads, I am personally talking to Krishna, one on one. Grammatically, all the names in the Maha-mantra are in the ‘vocative’ case, which means we are directly addressing Radha, Krishna, and [Bala]rama.
I also like to take long japa walks and meditate on Krishna’s presence everywhere: in the hearts of all the humans I pass, in the trees, birds, land, water, sky etc. Whatever beauty I see (I usually walk in beautiful places), I try to remember to be grateful and thank Krishna as I am chanting. In general, I try to open my heart and find Krishna there, within and without.