It’s fun to be a pilgrim traveling to a sacred place at Thanksgiving. This week my family drove down to the Ananda Village in California, where we lived from 2001-20013.
As soon as we arrived, I felt the essence of what makes this place sacred.
So what exactly is this essence of sacred?
It’s something I’ve felt often on pilgrimage to holy places in Italy, Israel, and India. The experience is a little hard to explain, but I’ll compare it to subtle musical phrasing.
If you want to sensitively play a delicate phrase with subtle nuance, you need:
- inner stillness
- a refined sensitivity
- a receptive sense of attunement
Inner stillness is crucial for a musician. If your mind is all over the place, you can’t focus. If your body is restless, you can’t master intricate bowings and fingerings. But when you begin to develop inner stillness, you begin to develop a growing sense of peace that opens up the door to deeper understanding.
A refined sensitivity is the ability to feel deeply, just as a calm lake can be stirred by the drop of the smallest pebble. Likewise, nuances of vibrato, tone, and timing can make a phrase extraordinary with enough stillness and focus.
A receptive sense of attunement is the ability to ask “how is this phrase supposed to go?” and receive an answer, impression, or idea that you might not have been able to come up with by just using your intellect. This attunement comes by spending time and attention tuning in to someone or something, whether a teacher, an idea, a style, or a piece.
Stillness, sensitivity and attunement can lead to extraordinary musical experience.
But what is that musical experience? Is it only something you hear, or is something beyond hearing—something felt?
We speak of how music moves us, touches us, or strikes a chord in us. This sometimes indicates that there is something else going on in addition to an amazing amount of brain activity. I believe that conscious high level musical performance directly affects us on deeper levels of energy and consciousness. We feel these deeper effects of music with something beyond our outward senses.
I bet you’ve able to feel the sense of a place just by walking into a room or building. Places absorb the energy of whatever happens there. You can walk into a bar and feel one thing, walk into a museum and feel something completely different. We tune in and feel this sense with a faculty beyond taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing: our own receptive consciousness.
Performing in uplifted places is thrilling. The energy of the space can deepen the experience for both performer and listener.
We arrived at the Ananda Village on Tuesday. As I began to relax and unwind with a sense of receptivity, I could deeply feel the presence of something holy. For nearly 50 years people have been meditating, chanting, and working on this property, and now there is much Light flowing through the people and land. I could feel it.
What does it feel like? A safety of the heart. An uplifting vibration or energy, almost a buzz. An invitation to keep thoughts and attitudes as uplifted and positive as possible. An encouragement to find solutions rather than stay stuck in the problems.
Once again, it’s hard to explain, but it’s there. Yes, it’s there! In this time of challenge, discord and darkness, Light is pouring through whatever openings it can find.
I highly encourage you to find your own places of pilgrimage, but music can also provide the essence of sacred. Take time to go on Pilgrimage into a favorite piece, sacred or secular. Look for that small opening of Light in whatever you might be playing, for any uplifting inspiration into which the composer attuned. Allow yourself to become still, to deeply feel, and then to amplify whatever sense of Light (or whatever “opposite of darkness” term you are comfortable with) you can perceive.
Be the change. We can’t drive out darkness with a stick. Amplify the Light.