The holiday season is about to start, yet most of us are separated from family and friends by national or regional lockdowns. Every family has some sort of tradition or long-established habit involving the festive season and the end of the year. Having to break with those leaves many feeling oddly bereft and unmoored.
However, it is also a chance to contemplate on how deeply connected we are, and how much we depend on those ties. Over the past weeks, I have often urged you to reflect on your self-perception and your sense of identity. We have explored how your self-expression shapes your being. Now I would like to continue this flow of contemplation and look at how our relationships influence us. Human beings are social creatures, and our wellbeing is intricately linked with our community and our social networks. Cut off from those structures, we are set adrift, and confronted with feelings of insecurity, fear, loss and loneliness. Are there ways to meet such challenges in a constructive way that empowers us and helps us grow? Absolutely!
Before we enter into a state of frenzied activity aimed at fixing a situation we feel uncomfortable in, we need to take one crucial step. We need to stop and FEEL the feelings, experience them, and understand them fully. Otherwise, it would be like putting together a complex piece of IKEA furniture without looking at the manual.. you might get lucky, and guess correctly where each part fits in. But even if that were the case, it would have taken you a lot longer than it otherwise would have.
Learning from your experience and integrating your feelings alongside your intellectual knowledge leads to wisdom. This is why the masters of Zen Buddhism used Koans to teach their students. A Koan is a question to which there is no clear answer, a paradox that cannot be solved by the intellect. Used like a mental Mantra, it is meant to help the student to experience moments of oneness, where knowing, feeling and presence merge.
The question "What is the sound of one hand clapping" is one of them. Here, I use it to illustrate two things. One is the fact that our intellect can take us only so far. We need to feel and experience life to realise our human potential.
The other is a feeling, a mood that you can tap into when you engage with this question. One hand clapping creates a soundless sound.. the idea gives rise to a feeling of being incomplete and isolated. One hand alone cannot fulfil its purpose in this context, it cannot clap - it is missing something, and longing for its counterpart.
Naad Yoga has a central pillar around all the other elements revolve, and that is the concept of Raag. Raags are musical codes from Ancient India, which evoke specific moods in both the listener and the performer. This mood is created by combining a set of particular notes, each with a distinctive emotional signature. Nanakian Sound Alchemy uses a total of 60 Raags.
I would like to introduce you now to one of those Raags, called “Raag Maahj”.
Raag Maajh is the Raag of longing, calling up our existential need to belong, to connect. As human beings, we are wired to seek our place in the world, within our family, our culture, our relationships.. it is an urge present in all of us, and it goes far deeper than the level of materialistic survival and emotional comfort. Our soul and mind strive to know and feel our place within creation, our connection to the divine and here is where all other longing has its root. The ultimate goal of our human life is to break through the illusion of separateness and rediscover the truth that we are all one. Everything is connected.. this is where Raag Maajh ultimately leads us to if our longing is focused on the realm of the soul. Nothing has such a strong pull on the world of our psyche as the mood of longing.
Your longing is like an engine. It draws you on, in the same way as the moon moves the tides. It is not happy or sad – no more than the sea is happy or sad to be pulled by the moon. It is merely a fact, like your circulating blood. Longing is what drives us, keeps us moving on through life. For some, it manifests openly as a longing for spiritual development in one way or another, while others look for fulfilment in a relationship with others. We are not feeling whole, we are searching for fulfilment – for a way to become one. Longing lets us move mountains and reach way beyond what we think ourselves capable of, it makes us grow beyond our limitations and imagined boundaries – a force for growth, creation and creativity. The pull of longing bundles our energies and teaches us focus, keeping us on our chosen course even when we encounter diversions, distractions or setbacks.
I would like to invite you to explore the mood of longing in the coming weeks and use it as a compass to navigate your inner world. What is it that truly drives you? What is it that matters to you? If you let go of all the conditioning, the expectations heaped on you by your environment, your culture and your family - what do you really long for, deep down?
To help you with your contemplation, listen to Raag Majh while you are undisturbed and in a safe, comfortable space. Let the sound enter your whole being and simply observe yourself - your thoughts, the emotions that arise, the feelings in your body.. let it all unfold without censure. And then, while the Sound still echoes in your soul, reflect on it. What did you notice? What did you learn about yourself? Where did your thoughts go? I recommend that you keep a diary and make notes each time, and at the end of two weeks, go through them and highlight any new insights, conclusions and ideas.
You can listen to Raag Mahj here:
Raag Majh is a beautiful way to enter into contemplation at the end of the year - while one chapter closes, a new one opens that is still full of possibilities. So let us gain some clarity and insight about what moves us and what matters most before we step over the threshold into 2021.
Next time, I will share more about Sound and emotions, and how a tone can have an emotional flavour - so stay tuned!