Meditation music for musicians
Meditation music for musicians
In the previous article we looked at how playing meditation music can help us in our meditation, especially when we are finding it difficult to still our naturally restless minds. In this article we will look at this in more detail and also consider how meditation and listening to meditative music might help us as aspiring musicians.
It was established that the meditation music we use should be performed by someone in a good state of mind so that our consciousness is raised rather than lowered. Clearly, and this is not to make any moral judgement about its quality, much music we hear today is more focused on stirring up our lower vital energies and passions rather than our deeper spiritual yearnings. Regarding what might constitute the best kind of meditation music, Sri Chinmoy makes an interesting analogy with water.
Water symbolises consciousness. Consciousness, like water, is neutral. What we put inside water is of paramount importance. If it is something harmless, sweet and divine, then we will get joy. But if we put something undivine, poisonous and destructive in the water, then naturally when we drink it we shall die. What we mix with the water before drinking it is entirely up to us. When you hear music, if it lifts your consciousness, then you will know that it is spiritual music. Sometimes the musician is aspiring and also he is playing spiritual music; at that time you are very fortunate, because you get both.
In the second half of this quote reference is made not only to the performer but also to the kind of music he or she plays. The performer might be aspiring for higher things whilst the music itself might not carry a higher vibration or it may be the other way round. If both boxes are ticked then we can count ourselves lucky!
So if we are a performer or even just a budding musician, it is also important that the music we offer back is elevating and does not lower the consciousness of our fellow human beings. If it has been meditative music that has inspired us then there would seem to be a necessity to reciprocate and offer something equally uplifting through our playing.
If we are born with a musical talent then well and good, meditation can help us develop it and perhaps channel it in a positive direction so that it can be of benefit to others. However, even if we lack musical capacity, all is not lost as meditation can help us to develop it. Through sincere effort we can slowly acquire skills that we never possessed. As Sri Chinmoy reassuringly tells us:
Many people are not born poets or artists. But by practising meditation, they bring into their system literary capacities, painting capacities, musical capacities, because meditation means new life. When new life enters into you, you become a new person. Before you were not an artist, let us say. God gave you a particular type of life, with particular capacities. But when a new life enters into you, that means a new opportunity, a new avenue, a new light enters. At that time you can easily acquire creativity.
Meditation music: becoming an instrument
Meditation music helps us reach a deeper part of our nature, something higher that we have all glimpsed and felt from time to time. We get the inspiration to go beyond our limitations and mundane thoughts to touch something that we know is there but often remains elusive.
So as we develop capacity through meditation and listening to meditative music, at the same time we need to make sure our new capacities are used for the right purpose. It is not about playing to receive name and fame or trying to impress others, rather it is about furthering our own inner development and inspiring others along the same route.
Just as when we play an instrument (and this would include our own vocal muscles if we are a singer), we expect our instrument to do what we want it to do and not follow its own whim and do its own thing. Likewise we can think of ourselves as the instrument and this deeper and more expansive reality that we experience through listening to meditative music as a force that is playing through us. If we play with a view to fulfilling our own more personal desires then we block this energy from expressing itself. This is in no way to throw cold water on self-expression but in a sense the opposite, it’s about working towards expressing a profounder and more real part of ourselves. From this place we are in a better position to transmit something positive to the world through our own music.
So as aspiring musicians it is key that we also meditate, not only to develop our musical capacites, but also to understand better what it is we are trying to communicate. This is where our real talent lies and perhaps the real reason we are inspired to become musicians. Mediation music will inspire us and teach us inwardly as well as help us to understand what we are to do when we perform.
It also makes us feel that God Himself is the Supreme Musician. When we play soulful music, we come to realise that we are not the musician; we are just an instrument. We are like a piano, violin or guitar, and it is God who is constantly playing on us. If we really play soulful music, we will see that we are just an instrument, that somebody else is singing and playing in and through us, and that somebody is our Inner Pilot, the Supreme.Sri Chinmoy
Performing music: serving a higher purpose
There is a lovely story from the times of the great Mogul emperor Akbar which illustrates how a musician’s role is to serve a higher purpose. Akbar employed the great musician Tansen in his court. One day when Akbar was deeply appreciating Tansen, Tansen said, “I am not a great musician.”
Akbar said, “You are not only a great musician; you are the best musician.”
But Tansen said, “No, my Guru, my teacher, Haridas, is by far the best.”
The Emperor said, “Then bring him to my palace!”
Tansen replied, “No, he will not come. He does not care for name and fame. He plays only for God. God’s Compassion is his sole reward.”
Akbar said, “Then I will have to go to him. Take me to him.”
Tansen agreed, but he told Akbar, “You cannot go as the Emperor. You have to go in the guise of my servant, my slave.”
So Akbar went to Tansen’s teacher as a servant, and Tansen begged his teacher to play for Akbar. Unfortunately, Haridas was not in the mood to play. Then a brilliant idea struck Tansen’s mind. He started playing, deliberately making many mistakes. Haridas could not believe his eyes and ears. How could his best student make such deplorable mistakes? Out of great surprise and shock, he started playing in order to correct his student. In this way the Emperor came to realise that Tansen’s teacher was indeed far superior to Tansen.
When they came back to the palace, Akbar asked Tansen, “How is it that you cannot play as soulfully as your teacher does?”
Tansen replied, “I play for name and fame. I play for you. He plays for God. Here is the difference. If I played for God—for God in you, for God in everyone—only then would my music be supernatural, heavenly, supremely soulful and perfect. But I play for money-power, for name and fame. How do you expect me to play the way my teacher does?”
Having considered improving our playing and performing capacities, it also follows that our experiences with meditative music can help us develop our creativity. The silence and stillness embodied in deep meditative music is a powerful wellspring of creative energy.
Meditation on the heart centre is very much connected up with identification and becoming one with something greater than our own limited selves. Through the expansion of the heart in meditation we can identify with the source of music and tap into it for our own use.
Although it may never be the kind of thing that could be proven scientifically, many artists and composers report feeling that their creations originate somewhere outside of themselves. Throughout history people have talked of creative inspiration as originating somewhere outside and beyond the limited self. The ancient Greeks, of course, had their muses, who were seen as the source of much art.
Composers report hearing whole symphonies in their heads and rushing to try and write them down before the inspiration disappears. Poets have often talked about whole sections of poetry appearing to them in dreams or visualising poems already written down in other places and having only to copy them down again. Mozart had already written thirteen symphonies and a number of other works before he reached the age of fifteen and we only need think of Mendelssohn’s famous Octet for two string quartets, written by him at the age of sixteen.
There are countless other examples from all different areas of artistic endeavour. Again there is no question of denying individual creativity or that these great people were geniuses in their own right, but again it is more the idea that they are expressing something deeper within themselves. Perhaps the true genius lies not only in having the creative excellence but also being able to combine it with going deep inside oneself to receive the higher inspiration.
In our discussion of silence in relation to meditative music we mentioned John Cage and his work 4’33, where the performers are directed not to play for the duration of the piece. As well as drawing our attention to the nature of silence, it is also thought that this piece was a way of showing how difficult it is for an artist not to be bound up with his creation.
Can a piece be a reflection of a deeper spiritual reality or is it just a reflection of the times and the culture that the artist lives in, as well as his or her own personality? In our discussion so far of meditation music we’ve suggested that as an artist or performer we need to try and be an instrument for something higher or more inclusive rather than trying to advertise our own limited selves. It is suggested that this is perhaps the meaning of real self-expression and that composing and creating can be an integral part of our meditation practice.
If somebody has already gone to the top floor of a building, it means that there is a staircase. You have to identify yourself with the staircase and also with the person who has already climbed up it. Then only will he be able to show you how he climbed up and where the staircase is. Appreciation means identification. If you become one with the staircase and also with the person who has created the staircase for you in his music, then you also can reach the top floor.
If you can identify yourself with music, at that time you become the source, the composer. Also, when you listen to spiritual music and identify yourself with the singers, if the music is being sung very soulfully, this is nothing short of your own prayer and meditation.
Performing in front of people
On a more practical level, listening to meditation music can be very helpful for preparing us to perform in front of other people. Whether playing in front of a big audience or just a few friends, many people find the experience nerve-wracking. This is where meditation and listening to meditative music can be of real help to us.
Here are some ideas for exercises you can try for overcoming nerves or fear of playing to an audience. They are taken from Sri Chinmoy’s book…….which can be read on line here and offers a more detailed discussion of them.
- As soon as you start to play imagine yourself as three separate parts. One part of your existence is playing, another part of is listening and then the third part is the music itself. Try to imagine that it is somebody else who is playing or listening, but at the same time that the other person is part of you.
- Imagine two hearts. One small heart which is you playing and one big heart which is the audience listening. Imagine your small heart growing into the larger one and then imagine it is the big heart that is playing and the small heart that is listening.
- Feel that you are not performing in front of a group of people, rather there is only one person listening to you and that person is a two year old child.
- Imagine the Supreme or the highest imaginable being in front of you listening. Then imagine that you are also the Supreme.
In conclusion we can see just how much is possible when we listen to meditation music. Our blossoming musical capacities can be increased hugely and meditation can help us create music as well as still our nerves when we want to perform it. Having read this, though we may still feel that our own capacities are too limited for all this. Perhaps there is solace then in the words Sri Chinmoy wrote in reply to a question on this subject.
I cannot sing. I sing in a monotone, and I cannot learn an instrument. Can I still create music?
Creation, when it is oneness with God’s Will, need not be on the physical plane or the vital plane or the mental plane. It can be on God’s own plane, through oneness with God. Suppose somebody has composed a beautiful piece of music. If you can identify yourself with the inner cry of the music, then you become a co-sharer, a co-creator. I always suggest that my students identify themselves with my songs, with my music and poetry. If they can do that, they have every right to feel that they have also composed these songs, that they also have written these poems, that they also created these paintings. It is one hundred percent true. On the physical plane, I used paper and pen, but that is immaterial. On the inner plane, the real creation is oneness.
Further reading suggestion
To gain a deeper understanding of meditation music it is also highly recommended that you read some writings of an expert in meditation or from a real spiritual master. You might be interested to read the following book:
The height of silence and the might of sound by Sri Chinmoy.
available on line here:
Music and mantra
Karteek Clarke has been studying meditation for over 20 years, being well known for having swum the English Channel 11 times. For a living he teaches English as a foreign language and customer service for businesses. He plays violin in the music group Ananda and in his spare time enjoys learning foreign languages for fun.