Music and Meditation
Music transcends the barriers of nations, nationalities and religions. It is through music that the universal feeling of oneness can be achieved in the twinkling of an eye.” – Sri Chinmoy.
Have you ever wondered about the realm of spirituality and consciousness and intuition while playing or performing on a musical instrument and pondered on how to get in touch with these capacities more easily? It’s that lovely realm that we sometimes access when we go beyond technique and mind and become one with the music itself, as though we ourselves are an instrument and some beauty that is not our own is flowing through us. Athletes call it ‘being in the zone’ – a rapture of pure consciousness when the mind is free of all thought, constraint, self-consciousness and everything we do flows from some deeper part of our being. The ego ‘I’ that separates musician from music has gone and we have become the music itself.
The artist Paul Klee compared the artist-performer to a tree and wrote,
“From the root, the sap rises up into the artist, flows through him, flows to his eye. Overwhelmed and activated by the force of the current, he conveys his vision into his work. And yet, standing at his appointed place as the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what rises from the depths. He neither serves nor commands – he transmits. His position is humble. And the beauty at the crown is not his own; it has merely passed through him.”
How can we gain access to this intuitive and deeper part of our being? Meditation is the easiest way that I know. This is the process where we learn to cultivate an absolute stillness in our mind and body and by gradually mastering any one of a number of possible techniques such as concentrating our awareness on our breath, we can enter into a much deeper and more intuitive part of our being.
My own interest in meditation was greatly heightened when in the mid 1980’s I attended a free concert featuring the musician-composer and renowned spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. It was at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York city and I had heard much of Sri Chinmoy’s music from a pianist friend.
Seated in this great vault of a cathedral, I could clearly feel that people around me were meditating – there was a stillness and a peacefulness that came from some inner dimension. On stage Sri Chinmoy stood before us, hands folded over his heart, as though in prayer or invoking some higher force. Then he sat and began playing on an unusual triple bamboo gourd flute, one of over a dozen wooden flutes presented to him, my host told me, by the New Zealand flute maker Leo Cappell.
At first nothing much seemed to be happening. Then as my mind quietened and my heart opened a little, I began to feel something, as though glimpsing through a small, clear window another, peaceful higher world. His melodies were simple and unconcerned with technical virtuosity, yet somehow they evoked the fragrance of a meditative inner reality, the musical downpour nourishing the wide-open spaces of the human soul itself. What a wonderful concert that was!
If you practice meditation a little, this window will gradually open wider. Some days, seated at your favourite place, you might be overwhelmed by a feeling of indescribable beauty and peace, your eyes fill with tears at this engulfing joy and you’re having the best meditation of your life.
If you play a musical instrument in this consciousness you can really bring your spirituality, the unique qualities of your soul, into your music. You are not mind-centred, focusing on technique and musical scores, you are heart-centred, expressing through your music the essence of yourself and the beauty of the soul. If you can play like this, your music can become very powerful because it will embody something eternal and profound.
Sri Chinmoy describes this process in his book The Source of Music:
“Silence is the nest and music is the bird. All peace, all joy and all confidence are inside that nest and from there the music-bird comes out and flies all over the world. While flying in the firmament, it offers delight to the lovers of music as well as to the Universal Consciousness. The Universal Consciousness is fed constantly by the immortal, divine and supreme music of the Absolute.”
“There are seven higher worlds and seven lower worlds. Each world has a music of it’s own and a note of it’s own. The higher worlds have a music that awakens us, inspires us, illumines us and fulfills us. The music of the higher worlds constantly comes to us as the harbinger of the highest Height. It is not only the higher and lower worlds that have a music of their own; each individual has his own music; each movement has it’s own music; each action has it’s own music.”
“When we listen to soulful music, or when we ourselves play soulful music, immediately our inner existence climbs up high, higher, highest. It climbs up and enters into something beyond. This Beyond is constantly trying to help us, guide us, mould us and shape us into our true transcendental image, our true divinity. When we hear soulful music, or when we play a soulful piece of music, we feel a kind of inner thrill in our entire existence, from the soles of our feet to the crown of our head. A river is flowing through us, a river of consciousness, and this consciousness is all the time illumined.”
Meditation is a wonderful life-skill for musicians to master, and offers many positive benefits especially in the area of composition and creativity because so much of our artistic, creative talents have their origin in a deeper part of our being, the ‘nest of silence’ which Sri Chinmoy speaks of so lucidly. Most of us think of ourselves in very finite terms – this personality, this mind, this body – but these aspects mask a deeper reality, for we are not simply a human being having an occasional spiritual experience but a spiritual being having a human experience. Most forms of meditation have this belief in the inner life, a divine self or soul, as their starting point, then follow a particular method to reveal and develop it.
We begin meditation with a variety of different motives – to relax more, to sleep better, to overcome stress or personal difficulties, to explore more of our inner life – but along the way find that we have embarked upon an immense journey. For meditation is the expansion of our consciousness and there is no end to the progress we can make.
When learning how to meditate, you must learn first how to concentrate, to bring the energies of the mind to focus on a single point like a magnifying glass harnessing the sun. Simply to still the mind for a few minutes is difficult. Try it! More than ever before you will become aware of how busy the mind is, like a river flowing by, a river of thoughts, daydreams, fantasies, desires, memories. There are breathing techniques, mantras, visualisations and other techniques to help in this process. Meditation follows quietly in the wake of these skills, which lay the foundations. We tend to look for spectacular results, to evaluate our progress, but each attempt at meditation is itself progress – rather like running a marathon, each step we take is bringing us closer to our final goal.
If you learn to meditate, there are many benefits. You will have more dynamism and energy, more joy in your life, more capacity to cope with this world. You may suddenly need less sleep, and yet sleep better; have more awareness and compassion for others; lose your anger, aggression and frustration or your insecurity and fear. You will slowly gain access to your soul’s qualities, which are all perfection, and feel yourself guided from within. Your whole life will begin to change. Your practice of meditation is also the highest thing you can do for others.
If you have not meditated before try this simple exercise; find a quiet place in your house where you will be undisturbed for the next ten minutes, remove your shoes and sit with your spine reasonably straight. Simply notice your breathing for a few minutes and when your mind is calmer breathe in peace, a feeling of serenity and calm and imagine all your restlessness and negative qualities leaving you. Don’t be disturbed by external sounds, these will always be there – just dive within. Cultivate an absolute stillness in your body, mind and breath. Let your mind be like a calm clear sky; if thoughts come don’t attach any significance to them. If you can empty your mind even for a short while you will feel more peaceful and meditative. With practice all your life can be your meditation. But you have to make a start!
About meditation Sri Chinmoy writes:
“Meditation is absolutely necessary for those who want to have a better and more fulfilling life. If you feel that you are satisfied with what you have and what you are then you need not enter into the field of meditation. But if you feel that there is a barren desert deep within your heart, then meditation is the answer. Meditation will give you inner joy and peace of mind.”
“When the soul’s power is expressed, it is like a huge wave in the sea. Immediately it inundates the entire consciousness. Once the soul’s will is expressed, you are bound to feel that your inner consciousness is inundated with divine energy, inner joy, inner delight, inner power and confidence. Everything negative is swept away by the surge of the soul’s force.”
Beethoven once said that whoever truly understands his music will forever be free from sadness. I think too that anyone who can feel and understand the spiritual heights and realisations embodied in the music of our spiritual composers like Sri Chinmoy will be equally rewarded and nourished by their experiences. Free of all limitation, mind, ego, theirs is a celestial music born of the artists’ own oneness with the highest, inspiring our hearts and spirits on the great journey of self-discovery that we all share.
“Chosen are those artists,” wrote Klee, “who penetrate to the region of that secret place where primeval power nurtures all evolution. There, where the powerhouse of all time and space – call it brain or heart of creation – activates every function, who is the artist who would not dwell there?”
Through the capacities developed by meditation we too can penetrate to that ‘secret place’, the reality behind the shifting surface of forms, the realm in which, in Sri Chinmoy’s own words, “The eye of vision knows the many in the One and the One in the many.”
About the author
Jogyata Dallas is a writer and musician who also teaches free meditation workshops for the Sri Chinmoy Centre. A student of the highly regarded meditation Master Sri Chinmoy since 1980, Jogyata introduces spiritual music, instrumental performances and singing into his classes and encourages people to explore their musical capacities.