How I decided I no longer wished to just be entertained, much less indulged in the gloomy feelings we all know and share as humans, if it is not to be followed by being expanded and inspired.
I appreciate anything that expands the soul, be it for a fleeting moment. I count myself lucky to reach such a state frequently through prayer and meditation. Yet there are many ways to get transported to that place that dwells beyond our accepted limitations, usually for brief but yet impactful moments. For some people such an experience has occurred spontaneously through being in love, witnessing breathtaking sceneries such as a marvelous sunset or rainbow, practicing sports, and through the arts. Art in its extended sense, in all its creative expressions, provides a temporary escape from our restricted individual perspective to connect us to the universal themes that reflect our human condition, regardless of our differences.
Of all the many forms of arts, I find anything to do with sound to be the most impactful. I think that is the reason why Kundalini Yoga immediately struck a chord with me (;-) with its royal2 fusion of Naad yoga (yoga of sound) and physical yoga. Chanting is an intrinsic part of Kundalini Yoga and the one thing that may deter newcomers, for various reasons. Chanting never leaves people indifferent, because there are few things as powerful as the sound current, whether we are aware of it or not.
There is plenty of scientific evidence that the way we form sounds, how the tip of the tongue hits the hard palate, the rhythm and sequences of the sounds we use, directly influence the cerebrospinal fluid which is the only pathway of communication between the different parts of the brain. There is no other link between the segments of our brain but this fluid for information to circulate, and it is greatly altered by sound3 (and according to yogic technology, by the movements in the mouth).
Additionally, there is the meaning of the words we use and hear, which influences our perspective. Cultural differences can be so hard to bridge sometimes, because the mere translation of a word doesn’t necessarily convey the understanding the impact the word may have in another language; the same meaning may result in different consequences. The meaning of the same word may have a different emotional impact according to one’s culture. But that’s another topic of reflection.
Altogether, sound in all its aspects influences our momentary moods and outlook on life. These moods and outlook in turn influence our physiology. When we’re depressed, our shoulders cave in, our head comes down, our breathing is thus affected and so on. Conversely, it is hard to remain depressed if we stand up straight and hold our head high, hence the expression. So we actually can change our state of mind by changing what we listen and sing or chant to. Yet sometimes, we choose to play music that reflects a current disposition of ours, songs that echo the feelings inside so we have something or someone to validate our feelings. When it’s a sad disposition, this indulgence makes us despondent. Yet we often get seduced into indulging those feelings further with tunes that engulf us deeper, even though what we would really need in these moments is a sound current that lifts us up and brings us back to our center.
I have a rather eclectic musical taste that happens to include opera. So this summer I was psyched about the highly reputed Santa Fe Opera presenting La Traviata. Good seat, good impromptu equally tri-lingual company: it all boded well. The extraordinary landscape around the open-air theater was lending itself to add to the beauty and tragedy of Alfredo & Violetta’s story. Imagine an immense panorama on each side of the stage: on the right, far into the horizon, a magnificent sunset, seemingly blushing at “la traviata”’s initial life of debauchery; on the left, an ominous storm, lighting the sky like giant silent flashbulbs. Magical setting.
On stage, the acting and the dancing were perfect, the direction was intelligent and the singing was just, sublime. The lead singer’s voice had the purity and the stability of a perfected recording. From the first notes it was hard not to cry already.Thus my company and I left the theater content and fulfilled… or did we? I had felt something deep inside soar along with the musical movements, but it had stayed at the level of the tragic story of the protagonists. Now I could feel a vague yet nagging anxiety nesting around my solar plexus. I was not the only one: melancholy obviously pervaded the lively discussion my company and I were otherwise happy to have. Beyond being moved by the beauty of the music we heard and the story, we felt sad.
The sadness persisted after we parted, like an invisible layer of goo that simply wouldn’t wash off.It is a function of the arts to make us reflect and think, beyond entertaining, so I didn’t mind being in such a pensive mood. But I noticed that the reflection kept generating sadness, stuck around the issues of the story: the doom of true love, misunderstandings, missed opportunities and fate in general. It was unable to reach new heights from there, to get some benefit out of the internal dialogue. It kept hovering low, like a bird with laden wings unable to ascend. That evening I was happy to have tools from my meditative practice4 to lift myself back to high spirits again.
I contemplated the difference between the experience generated by the opera and the one that followed generated by the meditation. Both were expanding, but one had left me at the level of emotions, reflecting on the hurtful events and disappointments inherent to the human life. The other followed the expansion with a sense of elevation, which my brain interpreted as “hope”, which in turn gave me renewed energy.I don’t know about you but at this point in my life, I already know about disappointments, betrayal, broken hearts and broken hopes. I have already been told that you “can’t have everything in life”. But I also know about the incredible resilience of the human spirit, second chances, synchronicity, compassion, love that can defy the assaults of life and the test of time, and that’s what I choose to focus on. For the rest, who needs a reminder? Appearances try to convince us every day that it is wise to limit our expectations. But I refuse to resign to the ordinary conventions of our limitations, summed up in a word as “fate”.
I want to expand on the extraordinary that I have felt and that I know lies inside of me and inside of each of us. I want to support the hero in me that transcended the impossible more than once to make it possible. I want to promote the victor inside that got to be the exception that made it through the rules. The grander part of me that chose to pardon instead of resent. And for that, I cannot fuel the fears nor nurture the hurts within conveyed by conventional ideas… no matter how beautifully and artfully they are packaged, being through poetry, film, songs, etc.
These are crucial times for humanity and we need all the inspiration we can get. So I only want to feed myself with what stimulates the extraordinary within me, my internal hero. And I will only tolerate to share in the hardship and sadness of human life when it ultimately serves to illustrate how it can be transcended to make this world a better and more understanding place for all. Sat Nam.
2 Kundalini Yoga is a Raj (royal) yoga
3 Dr. Masaru Emoto’s experiment: “Water, Consciousness & Intent”. Although criticized, very interesting. It resonates true to me, seeing how sounds & music affects us and that we happen to be made of 50-75% water. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAvzsjcBtx8
4 Practical exercises such as Pranayama (specific breathing patterns) will change your mood instantly