Drink up the nectar called raga
and be joyful, O my mind..
Those who know that the musical tones
and the primordial OM compose
the body of Siva
are liberated souls
Drink up the nectar called raga
and be joyful, O my mind..
Resonating Tones by Tim Jones
: Published AYS newsletter Winter 2006
Songworlds - Part of the Curriculum developed at Arturo Schauspielschule, Cologne by Michael Dick and Tim Jones
This is the first of 2 articles. It is a story from a particular time and place, with the resonance of 2 particular notes, the notes of the ground and the heart.
Music has become (it crept up on me!) my devotional path, a line of inquiry that began 25 years ago with a question. Confronted with the 'time theory' of Indian music where notes and ragas (melody forms) are linked to times of day and seasons, and with the concept of 'rasa' (a codification of emotion and feeling common to all Indian art forms), the question arose, "what is the reality of that?" I still ask the question.
In this first article I hope to convey the feeling of receiving teaching both from experience and from my teacher. The second article will look at the concept of 'rasa', a concept common to all Indian arts and found in both Ayurveda and Jyotish, and at its development in meditation (both 'sound' and 'sitting') as 'a perceptual organ of intuitive awareness'.
Indian music is based on notes named as they are sung and heard against a drone or ground tone. Each is always a relationship, the note in relation to the ground. The notes are called Sa; Re; Ga; Ma; Pa; Dha; Ni. The kirtana 'Sobhillu Saptasvara' by Tyagaraja, names them the 'Seven Shining Tones'.
I begin with a memory, of my father taking me to his factory on the Isle of Dogs. He worked as an industrial chemist making colour pigments. In the factory, huge vats sat in rooms the walls of which were splashed bright with primary colours. What a great job, I thought, aged 6, stirring huge paint pots all day.
In Sanskrit the word for musical note is 'svara' which holds a meaning of 'self-shining'. Amongst the many echoes and correspondences for each note (gem stone, planet, animal cry) are, of course, colours.
My search began. Which colour for which note?
I saw Krishna's blue seeping from a bhodi tree in the temple at Amballapura, enveloping me in its mist, imbuing me with a spirit that loved and accepted all I had to offer. My teacher, Sivasankara Pannikar, was a temple musician there for 27 years.
And that blue is the note called MA, the note of the heart, a melting note.
Part of my play with this music is to put musical patterns on graph paper, each tiny square a note and time value, and with magnifying glass, ink and pen colour each note - green, gold, red. But which colour for which note?
My search continued. I visited a professor at a music school in Tripunithura. He sent me further on to the temple at Guruvayur which houses the beautiful image of Bala Krsna, originally worshipped by Brahma. Here is a famous school of mural painters who, tradition has it, have that esoteric knowledge matching colour with note. They grind the indigo plant, the gallnut, charcoal, substance disintegrates and their brushes dip into visible sound which flows into the painted deity: Ganesh, Visnu, Devi.
In one of the Upanishads it says that singing a raga is like painting your beloved - each curve caressed, the mouth, the eye, the navel, each line, each curve sung until the beloved sits before you.
And SA is the pink/white of the lotus, containing all notes, the ground, the earth. Hearing all the harmonics buzzing from one string of the tambura, the girl said, "That sounds like a rainbow."
I took this esoteric knowledge back to guruji. He was proud his compositions could be painted as he had wanted. He sat stick thin and tired from diabetes and a gangrenous infection, swathed in a purple wrap on his white hospital bed. He was taking a short break from teaching (nurses, doctors and visitors had all begun singing during his stay.)
"Of course, the colours don't really matter", he said. He put his hand on my heart. "You will always have the notes here".
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Last summer I was crossing a stretch of sea at night, on a sailing boat with a friend. During the long night we talked of many things and at some point I was trying to explain what social dreaming is. Inspired by the vast cosmos surrounding us, undisturbed by artificial light, I said that it is a bit like the starry sky above us: we, human beings, need to recognize the Big Dipper and to see the connections which create the constellations: it is necessary for shared communication and navigation.
But in the sky lit by an infinite number of stars, the possible ways of connecting them are equally infinite and we become more alive when we let some of that infinite inspire our life with a multitude of new patterns.
The infinite is one of the doors to access creative thinking, where unknown patterns and connections can manifest.
Social dreaming, particularly in the work of the matrix, is a powerful way of coming into contact with the infinite.
I have experienced this over the years through a sustained practice of looking at dreams as they appear within a collective of people, by turning my focus away from the temptations of discerning individual stories and group dynamics, by keeping steadily to the task of "transforming thinking through exploring dreams by the methods of free associations, amplification and systemic thinking so as to make links, find connections and to discover new thinking and thoughts" as stated at the beginning of every matrix, when those words are repeated each time as a ritual for entering the uncharted space of our dreams.
My experience is that letting oneself go into that sea of connections and dreams, the excitement of truly finding a new thought which frees us, albeit momentary, from the binding of repetition compulsion is a real gift.
"Neural memory works by prototype extraction, the distillation of pure principles from the muddle of diverse experience. We have distinct linguistic labels for 'memory' and 'condensation', but within the brain they are one. The structure of human thought is shaped accordingly. The prototype team constitutes an Attractor - a coterie of ingrained links that can overwhelm weaker information patterns. If incoming sensory data provoke a quorum of the Attractor's units, they will trigger their teammates, who flare to brilliant life. An Attractor can overpower other units so thoroughly that the network registers chiefly the incandescence of the Attractor, even though the fading, firefly traces of another pattern initially glimmered there. A network then registers novel sensory information as if conformed to past experience. In much the same way, our sun's blinding glare washes countless dimmer stars from the midday sky."(Lewis, Amini, Lannon 2000)
It is interesting to picture the physiology of repetition compulsion and of attachment to the known; it invites to consider how the work of the neural system and of the patterns creating memories in the brain is paradoxical: memory exists in order to help and to make life more workable (like the recognition of the Big Dipper in the sky); at the same time its selective function and bent for the known may block out any new input that is not strong enough to bypass the ingrained patterns. In this way change is missed and so is the opportunity to find a possibly more appropriate and creative response to events.
Dream-work and social dreaming, as the awake state expression of the former, seem to afford a means to loosen the binding of the many attractors in the brain; they provide a door into the unknown/unconscious, both social and individual, where new thoughts can grow and are waiting to be found. However this is not always so clearly visible, and it takes time to recognize the deep work of a matrix and to appreciate it as an end in itself. There is often a recurrent question - very relevant - at the end of a social dreaming experience: it is related to the domain of application/use in the various contexts of one's life,
Usually my tendency is to believe that we don't always need to process experiences; on the contrary, at times when the experience is bigger than our individual boundaries, it is necessary to let the experience process us in time. But still the need to bridge a gap between the 'social-istic' (in the sense of Sphinx) event and the application to one's life and professional projects exists, particularly after intense experiences like social dreaming conferences or social dreaming as a tool applied to the many levels of organizational life.
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Each SONGWORLDS project begins, after initial basic work, with a 'Song Circle'.
In this, literal, circle, each participant sings a song they have chosen to sing. This can be a song from any time in their life, a love song, nursery rhyme etc. They then tell the story/memory of their connection to this song, and having told the story they once again sing their song. In this way we go round the circle.
Song we see as having constituent parts: melody and text, these animated in what we term the 'resonant field' of memory. In this resonant field, students stimulate and remember parts of their history (through their choice of song) that are important and vivid in the now. In their choice can come a recognition of intuitive action and intelligence at work, to be trusted and developed.
In setting up SONGWORLDS we see memory acting as a doorway to essential experience; to permeability, to vulnerability and humanity, qualitiies for acting, improvising and for life. We also see memory as a doorway to transformation.
FROM SOUNDING TO SINGING
In the journey from sounding to singing, body sound (sounding the body freely) links to shaped sound (vowel/consonant/word) and to musical sound. This is not seen as a sequential process but as a dynamic interplay between each. This opens awareness of both the organisation of the organism (understanding of deep structure linking mind/body/feeling) and helps orientation for the student (trust in sound/expressive sound/their own experience).
The process is often assisted by the use of a continuously sounded drone or ground tone from an harmonium, sruti box or similar instrument. This development has its origins in basic structures of Indian music.
The drone provides support and orientation (tonal and physical) and begins the awakening and development of "awareness through feeling".
This awareness is termed, in both Indian aesthetics and the Javanese meditation practice of Sumarah (Surrender), rasa, the "organ of intuitive feeling perception". Rasa here is understood as an organ or constituent part of human psychology, a refined, codified intuitive sense.
Rasa is both the substance, vibration or quality of what is apprehended/felt and the organ that apprehends. In this part of the SONGWORLDS curriculum where the medium is vocal sound, it is body and musical sound that is used to help the students' sense of 'feeling recognition'.
First the ground tone is sounded and then each note in its relationship to the ground (the 'ground' recognized itself as an evolving sense). This awakens a feeling sense that can be identified as rasa.
At first this can be as simple as: which note do I like? Is it easier for me ascending a scale or descending? This links the student with their immediate feeling sense and allows them to begin to discriminate in and from this sense. The feeling sense is aimed to provide a home for the emotion of the personal journey, and to give some sense of the universality of feeling.....
I often introduce the idea of singing by saying that it is not something one takes a breath to do, more it is a sounding of your breath.
I have formulated a sloka or verse to help in the understanding of this, taking the elements of singing - breath, feeling and form:
Breath in the feeling of form
Form in the breath of feeling
Feeling in the form of breath
Feeling in the breath of form
Form in the feeling of breath
Breath in the form of feeling
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Photo; Tim Jones