Collaboration - Journal of the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

Summer 1995, Vol. 21, No. 1


In "Salon," Collaboration readers address a variety of issues in relation to Integral Yoga and the spiritual endeavor. Topics are intentionally broad to allow for a wide range of interpretations. Future topics include "Aging," "Rejection," and "Leaving."

Readers discuss "Music"

Music, music everywhere

We can't get away from music; it's everywhere. We put the radio on in the morning and listen to music while having breakfast and reading the morning paper. Music is played in restaurants, cafes, elevators, on the car radio. We have stereos, CD players, and Walkmans. It doesn't matter what we listen to; we are tuned in all the time.

From childhood I can't remember a moment without music. My mother always had the radio on in the morning and we listened to music while having breakfast before leaving for school. My father had a pleasant voice and sang in a Welsh choir, although he was not Welsh. My mother sang at church. At school we had singing classes twice a week and were taken to the Standard classical radio broadcast in downtown San Francisco once a year. The San Francisco Symphony had matinees on Saturday afternoons which my family attended regularly. My father bought a large radio phonograph, but recordings were expensive, so I went once a week to the San Francisco main library and brought home as many albums as I could carry. The recordings were often scratchy and the fidelity on our phonograph was really not very good. I liked the fact that I could be instantly transported to the world of Bach or Mozart without leaving the house.

I quite blissfully ignored all other music until one evening listening to the radio quite late I heard a recording of jazz at Massey Hall. I had discovered JAZZ! After that all I could think about was Diz, Bird, Lester, Miles, and Billie Holiday. Jazz recordings weren't readily available at the library, so I spent all my allowance on any recordings I could find. This went on for years until rock came in and I was forced to listen to music in another way. I enjoyed it but slowly drifted back to classical and jazz.

Now, I like nothing more than coming home and stretching out on the couch and putting on something of Mahler's and drifting off into another world. I still listen to jazz, but usually while I'm fixing dinner in the kitchen.

The wonderful thing about music is that we all hear something different. We can't put into words what we hear because we each have our own experiences.

--Surama Bloomquist, Berkeley, California

A rendezvous with music

I got a late start in music, but it could have been different. In grade school in the 1940s, my friend Vance took up the Hawaiian guitar (the guitar sits flat and you use a steel slide bar). I wanted to learn to play the guitar, but my mother said no. She was probably right. Baseball was more impor tant.

At my fraternity at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois, I was singing in the chorus for a skit when the director noticed something amiss. This was my first exposure to a novel concept singing in key. I was sent packing. This was in the early 1950s.

In the 1960s I took guitar lessons, hoping to learn some classical music. As I traveled around California on business, I would practice on the guitar in my motel room. I liked my teacher, who was from San Salvador. But then he dropped his students, except for a few bright ones, and sent me to his brother. Disaster. I did my own packing that time.

I liked quiet music then. I had to keep reminding my daughter to turn down the radio; the music was too loud. Then something happened in 1968. My protective cocoon developed some holes. I listened to the snappy rock music every chance I could. And loud! I couldn't get enough of it. I took dance lessons and met a nice girl from Sweden. We'd go to Bill Graham's Fillmore West in San Francisco. The music was loud and piercing but I loved it. My Rip Van Winkle days were over. And then after six months it too was over as I started getting heavily into meditation and studies.

In November 1973 in Pondicherry, Surama and I would go to the classical music program every week at the Sri Aurobindo library. The lights were turned off. It was generally balmy. The palm trees swayed in the breeze. I could hear the ocean crash against the rocks. It was the first time I really sat and listened to music.

One evening, after Vivaldi's Four Seasons, a gigantic full orange moon hovered over the horizon. Surama said to me, "You know that current you talked about in the spinewell, something just happened to me!"

I read somewhere the voice is the purest instrument. I'm into voice now. I like operatic arias and Emmylou Harris and silence.

--Wayne Bloomquist, Berkeley, California

Entering the New Year gracefully

Rarely do I go out on New Year's Eve among a crowd, but this year I decided to try something new. I heard that Grace Cathedral was putting on a late-night organ recital on New Year's Eve for the public, and the idea struck the top of my head like the resonant pulse of a tuning fork.

Grace Cathedral is located in San Francisco among the typical sites, yet every time I come upon this huge Gothic structure, I'm struck by how intensely it contrasts with its surroundings. Like some strange mystical fortress guarding a secret from the past, to me Grace symbolizes the same paradox of spirit in matter that exists in the heart of man.

Setting out on New Year's Eve, I struggled with the usual traffic and parking dilemma of coming into the city; however, once inside, all this seemed to matter little. With the 100-foot-high ceiling and stained glass windows stretching up the wide walls, there is an unworldly feeling of vast expanse. Surprised by the few number of folks who turned out, I walked around the circumference of the walking meditation circle and then the art display to explore the inner sanctuary.

Moving closer to the front, I found a seat among the numerous pews. I sat quietly with my mind musing on the many conversations as they seemed to mix and softly reverberate upwards. I felt a gentle feeling of anxious anticipation in my chest and remembered how going out first thing in the morning on a warm summer's day used to bring up this same feeling.

Suddenly someone stepped up to the podium in front of me and announced that those who were interested could come up front and sit in the choir seats next to the organist for the recital. This was something I had always longed to do. My body seemed to jump out of the seat on its own, as if I had been sitting on a spring.

Finally the organist came out, and after a short introduction began to play. Starting with the Nutcracker Suite and ending with some of Bach's most famous work, the music was indescribable in its breadth and detail. Sitting directly behind the organist, I could see the two banks of choir seats facing one another with the beautiful brass organ pipes spanning the walls on three sides. Everyone looked spellbound as I occasionally gazed at those across from me. I remember at the moment thinking of Ramakrishna in his latter days and how the littlest things would send him into a bliss that would render him nearly physically unconscious. Would I ever develop the capacity to hear the "music of the spheres" in my day-to-day life? I felt grateful for another year to try.

--John Powell, Menlo Park, California

The healing power of Vedic mantra

As one listens to the chanting of the Vedic mantras, their vibrations enter one's being. One can actually experience these vibrations dancing in one's inner space. They dance in the outer atmosphere, they dance in the inner atmosphere. And if one listens very closely, one can hear them ringing on in one's own subtle consciousness.

I lived in an ashram in India for several years, and one of my favorite activities was the chanting of Sri Rudram, which is considered to be the cream of the Vedas. It is originally from the Krishna Yajur Veda and is a symbolic representation of many philosophies.

To this day, I continue to chant the Rudram regularly. While doing so, I experience the chakras spinning and vibrating in different ways, and bliss wells up from within. It's as though the Divine is tuning and refining my consciousness through the melodious vibrations of Sri Rudram. It's a beautiful experience, and certainly a purification on many levels.

Since sound can have such a purifying effect on one's consciousness, it's quite fascinating to consider its profound effect on the body and mind as well. It seems possible that as the vibrations enter one's consciousness, they reach places where ordinary medicines cannot. It has been said that by chanting the Rudram, all negative feelings become positive, enemies are turned into friends, and jealousy disappears. Whoever chants the Rudram will have their difficulties removed, be protected from disease, and experience peace of mind.

These are not empty words. There is a great science behind this. Indeed, the chanting of Vedic mantras has a subtle effect upon one's psychic centers and entire nervous system. I have already described my own experience of the mantras vibrating in the chakras. Through this Divine tuning, this purification, mental and physical health do follow. No wonder today so many new age healing therapies emphasize chakra balancing. But they have really only hit the tip of the iceberg. If the chakras are purified and finely tuned, what follows may very well be good mental and physical health, but ultimately what follows is much more extraordinary.

Sri Rudram is a great medicine, purifying the entire body. In the past, the Ayurvedic doctors had always chanted the Rudram 11 times while grinding their medicinal herbs. This gave their medicine full power to cure. Nowadays the medicines are made in factories without the Rudram, and thus are much weaker. The medicine of the Rudram and the ancient Vedic mantras have always had the power to enter and deeply fine-tune the physical and subtle bodies. It is this power of sound that is so subtle and yet so powerful that it can enter one's consciousness, purify one's body and mind, and ultimately transform one's consciousness.

--Lisa Rachlin, Boulder, Colorado

Gifts beyond measure

Far too many to list are the realizations the Divine has brought to my life through music. What has become important to me is the knowledge of what I owe the Divine in return.

When I was younger, and my family's household was in constant inner and occasionally outer turmoil, I would often retreat into music, isolated in my room with the additional isolating factor of headphones. Music at that time brought me harmony, emotional expression, form, and resonance. When I began to play and write music, there was the beginning of a connection to creative energy; and from practicing, a sense of the energy available through discipline. In fact, music saved my life.

Later, as my musical interests deepened and broadened, music helped bring me out of isolation and into contact with many extraordinary people. In musical situations, I experienced a sense of community, oneness, and the benefits of working in a true group. (One of the remarkable experi- ences was in a group of 33 guitarists, improvising together, when it seemed as though we were a flock of birds, changing course as with one mind the group mind.) As my career has developed, because of music I have traveled around the world, and sometimes experienced the unique communion of music, musician, and audience that a performance situation can offer.

As a teacher, I have learned many times over the value of silence, of calling for help, of the varieties of humans and our experience of life, and our interconnectedness. Through practice, performance, and teaching, I have learned about struggle, perseverance, ease, letting go, compassion for oneself and others, seriousness, lightness, joy, and the importance of even a "small" experience of quality. And I have learned that the gift of music is available to anyone, if we allow ourselves to hear it knocking and learn to open the door!

Before a performance, lesson, practice session, or recording session, I take some time to be quiet, to enter a state of relaxed attentiveness, to ask for help from the Mother, and to remember what part of my audience I wish to communicate with through what part of me. For the sake of the Divine's work, the music must be constructed in forms which welcome and invite the spirit; I must practice so that my physical instrumentality is as transparent as possiblethe fingers will do what they are called upon to do at any moment (whether they've done it before or not!); and I must have enough attention available to the music, the audience, and myself to respond should the spirit move. I cannot guarantee the outcome, but I can use the tools I have, my work, and my aspiration to help create the conditions where something is possible.

Through it all, with the help of guides and teachers, I have been led to the beginnings of understanding of the larger significance and workings of the energies I have encountered. And I have begun to see that my task is to somehow take what I have received through music, synthesize it, and release it into the world. Again, I cannot guarantee anything, but if only five people get some sense of the world of potentials and the infinite mercy of the Divine through "my" music, that is a 500 percent increase.

I haven't always had such a clear sense of the work I am being led to (now my life is much easier). For many years, I believed that if I worked hard enough at music, eventually music would owe me a living. As a result of a personal crisis, I recognized that it is not so: music owes me nothing. It has already given me undeserved gifts beyond measure (and I know I have missed many of its offerings, as well). It is I who owe so much, my life indeed, to music, to the Mother's joy and sorrow and love made audible.

--Tony Geballe, New York City

Noteworthy implications

Several years ago, I spent two days meditating in Yosemite National Park during one of the quieter seasonsearly spring. The outdoor meditation was nothing less than exhilarating, and although spiritual renewal was the goal, there was a side benefit that has always left me wondering what would happen if Pavarotti (and maybe he does) or anyone that can really sing would meditate outdoors for somewhat lengthy periods of time. My own voice is OK, but for two hours after I left Yosemite and drove back to Sacramento, I could hit notes that I never thought possible. I'm sure there is a "chorallation" between these experiences. Do we know if there are any vocalists who meditate for long periods of time? Tonally speaking, the implications could be noteworthy.

--Dian Kiser, Spokane, Washington

I saw Her standing there

Way back in 1987, Mother's centenary year, Paul Winter released his Common Ground album, one of the first to use authentic animal calls as an integral part of the music (in this case, eagle, wolf, and whale). Not only was this a ground-breaking venture in musical ecology, but also in world music, involving musicians and music from Africa, Brazil, and Guinea.

Shortly afterwards, the Paul Winter Consort gave a performance at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston. My wife Amy and I went, even though we hardly ever splurged on live concerts, because we loved the album so much we couldn't pass it up.

That night, there was magic in the air! The Consort performed much of the music from the album, with the animals putting in recorded versions of their performances (perhaps lip-synching from their various perches or habitats!). Paul Winter even brought a live wolf up on stage, with trainer, and encouraged us to howl for him to get him to howl back. (He never did howl, but the TV cameras in the audience picked up our efforts for the evening newsand Amy and I were caught in the act!)

But as they played, and performed the music, the spirit of the music became more and more rich and compelling, as the entire audience was caught up in the mood. By the middle of the concert, I felt like I do at the most powerful meditationsfilled with sacred energy, lifted and enlarged and refined in my being until there was practically no center, but all was Center. And then I saw Herit could only have been Mahalakshmidancing over the stage, over the musicians, filling them and the whole hall with Her bliss and divine harmony.

After the concert, Amy and I practically floated home. We've been to one or two other concerts with similar vibrations, but this one was special. This one was Graced.

--Will Moss, Watertown, Massachusetts