Meditation is for cravings so deep they cannot be fulfilled by ordinary experience – Lorin Roche, in Meditation Made Easy
Where Rock 'n Roll Comes From
Many years ago, I heard from a drummer that much of what we now know as popular music had its origins on the Silk Road, the camel caravan trail from China, through India, Persia, and Arabia, to Europe. As the caravans travelled though all the various regions, they traded rhythms and chords.
Nusrat was a foremost singer of Qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis. "Often listeners, and even artists themselves, are transported to a state of wajad, a trance-like state where they feel at one with God, generally considered to be the height of spiritual ecstasy in Sufism."
Everyone has some secret desires they consider sinful according to some scheme of things. Something that feels like a vice. You may have had experiences being wild at concerts, or drinking and dancing all night. Times when you felt really good being bad.
Every vice has a secret to teach us. The secret is in the desire for a certain quality of experience: intensity, freedom, wildness, vivid colors, aliveness, total joy, free-flowing sexuality, innocence, a heightening of all senses, universal love, lack of inhibition. These are all good qualities. There is much to be said for each. As a matter of fact, they are much too important to be left to chance, or to imported illegal substances, or complicated arrangements of people. Using substances to experience these qualities can physically destroy you. Face up to it, drugs are obsolete.
Meditation is for passions and cravings so deep they can’t be fulfilled by ordinary experience. All of us have desires that can’t be fulfilled — we want to live forever, be perfectly thin or muscular, have unlimited money, be on vacation eternally, have all the love in the world. In meditation you ride these cravings and they take you into something, some level of life where the joy of movement is itself enough delight; where it is better to be in movement, playing with life, at peace inside yourself, than it is to have arrived at any goal.
Even the ancient word meditarai, from which meditation is derived, speaks of this connection of mindfulness, rhythm, and the harmony that heals. All this means meditation is an interior Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. The sex is the passionate current of desire. It’s subtle, but sexy. Relaxation is very sexy, and most people get turned on when they are deeply relaxed. The drugs part is the body’s own internal pharmacy as it heals itself. Dozens of scientific studies have shown dramatic drops in the stress chemicals and increases in the natural opiates during meditation. The rock n roll is the inner music, the pulsation of the heart beat and breath. The harmony can be a measure of music, a measured sound such as a mantra, or exactly the right song played at the right moment to satisfy the soul. The meditation traditions of the world have explored ways of paying attention to flow, pulsation, and inner songs so that you never tire of them, but actually get more and more interested.
Meditation is taking the same circuits you use when you are having a good time, and then underwhelming yourself. We should be bored, but we aren’t. It is a delicious underloading of the senses and something very magical happens. When you do this, when you let yourself be shaped by these moments, your whole body and heart and mind realign with life. Believe it or not, this is what the sacred traditions have been saying for thousands of years.
The ecstatic longing to be transported is the same whether we are at a rock concert, the opera, watching our favorite television show or in a totally silent meditation room. The main difference is that in meditation you follow the impulses of pleasure beyond themselves into the silence and you rest there. In meditation you learn to respond more and more to less and less, so that the more quiet the music, the more intensely you feel it. In meditation even the simple action of breathing or listening to the rhythm of the vowel sounds becomes intensely pleasurable.
Meditation is not taking something away or denying ourselves something. Meditation is adding something: the willingness to follow the music into the silence; to follow the beat into the space between beats; to follow the rhythm of breath into the great interior dance.
You never know where your spiritual part is hidden. Because this is meditation, and not the Army, your impulse to rebel against discipline is as important as your desire to change yourself for the better. You may have noticed in the past that when you try to get yourself to do a self-help program, you wind up tyrannizing yourself. Then you rebel against the tyranny. The rebel becomes a saboteur of your program because you left her out. The way through this is to embrace the rebel right from the start.
The greatest danger for meditators is deleting parts of the self. The parts of yourself that you snub and do not invite to the party cannot give you their gifts. This is a danger in the sense that in so doing you limit your vitality and limit your range of expression. In the long run, this will mean that you either go through life as an overly peaceful meditator or you quit meditating because you have made it a kind of prison.
Think of meditation as a party you are giving for every aspect of your humanity, every aspect of the soul. Invite even the street people, the homeless, the witchy bitch, the cranky skeptic, though they seem incongruous. Maybe they stink and don’t know how to use the silverware, but feed them. When any quality is integrated, when it gets to rub shoulders with all the other parts of the self, it changes and is socialized. Each has a gift to give you.
Everyone has parts of themselves they have lost. A feeling tone you had when you were in college, maybe you were athletic or you sang in the shower a lot. Maybe you were a passionate movie lover, rejoicing in Italian cinema. Consider this, something a wise old man said to me one day at Esalen: The purpose of life is to get survival taken care of so you can get on with being as individualistic as you can get away with. Many men lose the lover in them when they hunker down to work long hours. Women lose their free spirit in the midst of marriage – or imagine that they have. In the process of gearing up to be successful, many people find that they lost the person inside who was capable of enjoying the success.
You do not have to give up any passions to meditate; on the contrary, you celebrate them even more, follow the trail they made in your nerves and body. The peacefulness and tolerance of meditation is complemented by the richness of experience represented in wild vices.
What is this desire we all share, to move with abandonment, to numb out some pain, to be intensely stimulated? Whatever the vice, there is a legitimate calling behind it. Use meditation to explore that calling.
Consider the following questions. Ask them silently to yourself and then listen for your answers. Call up your memory. You may be moved to actually speak them out loud. Come on. You won't be arrested:
• What is your favorite vice? • What is a vice you loved but had to give up? • What is the best you have ever felt while doing some wild & sinful activity?