Krishna DasWhere is this One? How can we find that One? The saints say that the One is hidden in the Name. The Divine Name. The name of Love. And that by constant repetition, gradually but INEVITABLY, the Presence that is hidden in the Name reveals itself. Where? In our own hearts! The medicine of the Name, hidden in the sugar syrup of music, begins to cure us of our sadness…
  Krishna Das

 

Five years ago, if you would have invited me to attend a night of devotional singing, I would have responded that I have better things to do with my time than listen to my voice crack on a Saturday night (thank you very much).

After puberty, I was contemptuous of singing, perhaps out of jealousy for those who had the skill, perhaps out of embarrassment that I could never seem to sing in tune. For a long time, I abstained from letting my voice flow because I didn’t want to make myself an instant target of ridicule. Out of courtesy (or perhaps fear), I didn’t dare subject any ear in shouting distance to the creaks and cracks of my pitiful voice.

And yet, despite all my initial resistance and embarrassment, singing has now become one of the most important aspects of my life. I haven’t succeeded in training my voice to carry a proper melody, but I have succeeded in ceasing to care whether it can.

Perhaps this is the secret of how singing has come to rejuvenate my soul in a way that no other practice can. At various kirtans, zikrs, and shabbat dinners (Hindu, Sufi, and Jewish practices, respectively), I began to see that it wasn’t necessarily about the quality of voice, but the sincerity of intent.

When I realized this, I began to ignore the voice that said “you suck at this”, and simply let myself get lost in song. As a result, I began to experience moments of peace, silence, and even bliss with increasing frequency and intensity. Whether I sang to angels in Arabic or hummed melodic fragments of Yiddish words, singing freed me from my habitual preoccupation and attachment to the rational mind.

 

 

Paradoxically enough, it was sound that taught me how to bathe in the silence out of which all thoughts arise. It was the energy of powerful chants that lead me to befriend the Witness aspect of myself, the part of me who is content to simply observe the comings and goings of the phenomenal world without judgment or attachment. Singing cleared away my resistance to this ungraspable, wordless reality, allowing me to enlarge my experience of the energy flowing through and around me all the time.

Something similar happens in an electrical short circuit, which (in technical terms) is the result of  “unintended contact of components and consequential accidental diversion of the current.”  Normally, in an electrical circuit, resistors slow the flow of electricity to a safe and manageable rate. If these fail, however, the power source delivers too much energy in too short a time, resulting in “circuit damage, overheating, fire or explosion.”

Our daily lives are usually controlled by the mind, which acts as a massive resistor to the vibrancy and power of the present moment. Busy as it is dwelling on the past or anticipating the future, the mind often prevents us from becoming fully immersed in what’s in front of us.

In certain controlled environments, however, the mind’s resistance is momentarily aside. Various practices of yoga (union) are designed to remove or minimize mental resistance, allowing you to open up to the dimension of yourself giving rise to the mind and everything else around it.

Singing is a form of bhakti (devotional) yoga, but many other paths and practices lead to states of absorption and insight, including bodily movement, silent meditation, controlled breathing (pranayama), love, communion with nature, and psychedelic substances.

There are, of course, certain dangers in tinkering with yourself this way, which is why many yogic paths require initiation and guidance. In some ways, we’re fortunate to have resistors that protect us from the power and grandeur of the energy-force of Life, and that most of the time, the ‘short circuits’ that yoga produces give us only a tiny hint of this power. There are instances, however, when some people tap into this energy too quickly- where they really do receive too much in too short a time. This can result in excessive ego inflation (at best) and psychosis (at worst).

 

These are rather extreme and uncommon dangers; my own experience of trying all manner of practices to insitagte a temporary short circuit of the mind in order to achieve ‘spiritual’ highs is more common. There was a time when every night in my week was filled with a different type of practice. Meditation, chanting, drugs- you name it- I’d take anything that would lead me back into the feelings of spaciousness and peace, which seemed so distant and removed from my everyday state of being.

 

While it’s true that there are some steps you can take to create favorable circumstances for these states to arise, yogic states come and go on their own accord. All states, no matter how pleasurable or insightful, are impermanent.

And as the Buddha taught, as long as we’re caught in self-centered desires- for people, objects, or spiritual states- suffering is bound to continue. This is why I’ve found that the real work consists not in honing my skills to dive into ever deeper levels of bliss, but in integrating the knowledge that such states bring back into the drama of everyday life.  

Any insightful or peaceful state is a gratuitous grace given to me, rather than a reward that I’ve earned.

This is where an electrical and ‘yogic’ short circuit diverge. An electrical short circuit is a failure, while the type of ‘short circuits’ that yoga provokes can, in many ways, lead to improvements in how we function.

With guidance and rigorous honesty, you can take the insights that yoga produces to put yourself more in line with the creative flourishing of the universe. When you find that capacity to silently witness and absorb all arisings- a part of you that was never actually lost- you touch the source of patience, understanding, wisdom, and compassion. Petty personal concerns and drama drop away, eventually leaving the sole aspiration of how best to honor and serve this precious gift of conscious awareness.

When things get tense and I get lost in worry, doubt, and confusion, I try to take a moment to chant or observe my breath- to provoke a short circuit to shut the mind off. But since it’s not really a function of will, it doesn’t always work when I want, and too often I remain consumed in the suffering that invariably accompanies selfish attachment.

Occasionally, however, these practices lead to moments of calm in the storm and I open up to the power of the present moment in all its contradictions, tensions, and beauty.

Have you had similar experiences? Do you agree with this metaphor? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.