Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The yoga of music

Feeling a tremendous rush of energy from the satisfaction of being able to do something that had seemed completely mysterious or impossible.
Have now finally got pretty well under my fingers the sthai of a gat in raga Bhairav. It's a complex dancing pattern of intricate movement. It's a fractal process. Now that I have (after much effort) the skeletal infrastructure of it, bends and slides, expressive movements around and between, are beginning to reveal themselves. The process of learning has a beginning but no end.

After a period of intense concentration when I get up for a loo break I examine the quality of mind in which I'm suffused. It is taught and sharp - like a steel string. And, like a string, it is a line with no breaks. If a space appears, of cloudiness or haziness, there is no string, no tightness. Just a flapping, flabby, floating meander.

Interesting that right concentration - samadhi - is often described as a laser. A string of light. Pointed, focused, sharp. And ordinary, untrained awareness is a generalised, diffuse, dim light. I wonder if there is a universality about this experience. And if so, does that imply some physiological structuring? Is there a material line being drawn somewhere in my body? Thinking in terms of neurons, what is the difference between the electrical activity in the body when it is in an ordinary lax state, and that when it is focussed, as in musical performance.

But I have played lots of kinds of music and this feeling is rare. There is something very particular about the quality of mind cultivated through this particular technology. The sarod requires a tremendous amount of concentration because of its fretlesness. There is a lot of rhythmic complexity in the right hand picking. And the gat I am learning, because it is a single melodic line within a raga, has a very clear structure but also tremendous openness to expansion and contraction. New twists and turns and weaves grow in response to this particular moment of perception. It combines structure and improvisation.

Yoga is to yoke. The spirit hitched to something fixed. Freedom by itself is amorphous, indistinct, ultimately without content. The structure of a technology gives a form to consciousness. The asana acts as a lens to focus the mind. The instrument is an asana.

So is the core use of technology. It's a yoke for the oxen of one's will. Not a means to an end but a hitching post, a marker, a medium. Of course ends inevitably result. They are indeed the catalyst. Eg, I want to practice yoga asanas in order to look fit on the beach, or to achieve immortality, or to feel comfortable. Of course a laser can be pointed in any direction - by a surgeon or a soldier. Technology is inherently dangerous. So it must have an ethical basis.

Even a musical instrument can be mastered with a view to winning applause or wealth. The long term viability, the sustainability of any technology rests on it's ethical foundation. WHY is it?

A sarod is relatively inactive in the world - in comparison with a plough, say, or a spear. So it has many of the benefits of a technology to which to yoke consciousness, while avoiding many of the dangers. But still the motivation behind it's mastery needs to be constantly examined. This is vipassana - the binding together of concentration and detachment, awareness and equanimity.

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