How often do we let ourselves express without allowing the voice of the inner critic to get in the way? This can be especially true when it comes to singing our own song. While in Mexico working on a theater project I had the opportunity to interface with some local artists and enter into their world of improvisation.
They were visual artists by trade, but musicians by passion and playing music and expressing their wildest most exuberant versions of themselves was their favorite past time. When playing, they went for it full on, the way some do at Karaoke, but instead of singing along to a track they allowed themselves to express their own inner rock star and just go for it.
When I first saw my friends play music this way I almost thought they were kidding. I mean, in the social circles I was raised around that sort of enthusiasm was either reserved for a Saturday Night Live style skit or some other comedic commentary. Rarely if ever have I seen someone go fully into an exploration just for the fun of it, without a guide or workshop structure to hold that space around them. These musicians / performers were doing just that.
I caught myself in my initial judgement and checked it. The inhibition that comes with the fear that you might be seen as too engaged, or excited about something is some of the most insidious and useless crap to come out of American culture ever. Why not be as energetically engaged as possible if it feels authentic and good?
Somehow we cross over from being gorgeously real and interested as children to become self-conscious-halfway-engaged teens and adults AND if we’re not careful in doing so train ourselves to suppress creative energy so as not to stand out. Once we are older we then wonder how some people “do it” and desperately want to find our way back to that raw state of being where our impulses were flowing freely and we could simply follow them.
Watching my new friends play music, I took a step back and simply took in the total commitment and passion that possessed them. It was raw and real and beautiful. And the best part, they were having a great time! Softening I was able to participate as a listener and enjoy what was being communicated. What was that critical voice I had heard at first about? I was surprised by it’s strength and questioned how much that kept me from really having a good time and expressing freely. I wanted to challenge it and step in.
We took to meeting up to improvise together. They would play music and I would dance and then we all somehow would end of up singing. A video camera would be set up or used and we would have an instant audience. The afternoons would stretch long into the evenings with the improvisations being open ended and taking many twists and turns before they ended. I would dance till I was sweaty and then break into improvised soundings and song. My friends would introduce all kinds of sounds and instruments and we, through listening would tell a story together.
The practice was exhilarating and fantastically freeing. It rested on our shared committment to expression and listening to one another. There were no other rules and all ideas were welcome.
Divine play. And why not? Why not move and sing and play and explore? When did it become the custom that only those trained in dance and or music get to play? Singing and dancing increases our vibration and thereby lifts our spirits. It is straight up good feeling and good medicine. Not to say there isn’t a place for training or doing things a certain way because you have decided to. But also we need to allow for an open place to explore and try and succeed and fail even to flush out what we are feeling or want to express.
Singing circles or ecstatic dance can be places to start to exercise these muscles... rooms full of accepting welcoming people who also are open to moving and making sounds together. The witness can be an encouraging catalyst to letting go.
When we gather for Kirtan we normally have a bit of a map for the chant, however once it begins, the unfolding is up to the souls gathered and the circumstances in that instant. I always encourage everyone at Kirtan, once they know the call, to sing and help build the chant with their voice, with harmonies and also to move or dance if they want to. As long as we are listening while we engage we are weaving a magic spell with each other and with the energies of the mantra.
Devotional music invites us to jump into the ecstatic and allow our emotions to flow freely. The repetition of the mantra, the rhythmic cyclical nature of the bhajan, or devotional song, entrains the heart and mind and encourages us to let go and enter into a state of feeling not often experienced in our daily lives. Coming together to praise and sing and cry out with love and devotion we create a safe space and are able to drop our guards and experience our shared humanity.
There is a special silence that comes after we've all been singing our hearts out for 2 hours or more straight... Not unlike the feeling at the end of a connected, improvised jam. A charged brilliance that pervades the room and feels bright and alive. That is the power of our open hearts. The vibration of our light as it grows in resonance with one another, like candles that have joined to become a bonfire. We give one another permission to shine more brightly and that is a good and necessary thing. Let's keep doing it. Thanks for the inspiration...