An excerpt from "Divine Attunement: Music as a Path to Wisdom"
I could hear the seagulls’ calls and smell the salty air of the Sea of Marmara from the small café by the grand Blue Mosque of Istanbul. An old man pushed a cart loaded with freshly baked round bread covered with sesame seeds. I felt at home. It was a beautiful warm day in early June 2011, and I was getting ready to start a Peace Mission tour of Turkey. It was a time when I would read one Rumi poem a day and seek wisdom from the great Sufi mystic’s timeless teachings.1
I opened my book to a random page and received a gift. I was about to spend two weeks with the Sufis and Roma gypsies of Turkey, and Jalaluddin Rumi’s poetry provided me with a much-needed perspective. Eight hundred years ago, he observed that artists – unlike seekers who enter the fire of ecstasy – merely flirt with the Divine, flirt with the Creator, the Source of life.
I often have felt transitory connections to a mysterious energy, during graceful and blessed moments that highlight my concerts and workshops. We, the artists, touch this great mystery momentarily … and then it is lost. The bliss is there one moment and gone the next. Here it is, and there it disappears. Are we flirting with Source, or is it teasing us?
Whenever we support dervishes with devotional music, as when we participate in the hidden rituals of our Turkish Sufi friends, we provide a runway for which they may fly higher and reach an ecstatic state, the true fire. The sacred ecstasy they experience is above and beyond the mere “flirtation of artists.”
This quest for ecstasy has fascinated the Sufis of Islam, the mystics of Judaism (Kabbalistic and Hassidic), as well as the ancient Greeks. Often, ecstasy is connected to music and dance … the kind that has been practiced for centuries in tribal societies. It is also an important part of Sufism, Hassidic Judaism and the mystical practices of East Asian religions. The terminology may vary, but the essence is the same: It is an attempt to transcend individual perception, the sense of separation between us and our fellow humans and between us and the Creator, and the illusion that the physical world around us is all that exists.2
Sacred ecstasy takes us beyond this limited view of life. But the journey toward ecstasy is difficult because of the way we are wired. The nature of our mind, our consciousness and possibly even our physicality belie our connection to the All.3 Is it possible to go beyond ordinary perception?
From ancient time onward, the motivation for attempting this seemingly impossible quest was always connected to the human desire to utilize and to benefit from a superior creative force. For example, a connection to the Divine was deemed necessary for success in shamanic medicine, music, dance, and other spiritual rituals. If a person could connect with or channel super beings or spirits, he or she could become a powerful healer, magician, dancer, musician, or tribal leader. Thus, the mystics of all traditions have advised that if we go beyond the mere physical, we may unite with the metaphysical, intangible, spiritual aspect of life.
From the Greek, ecstasy means “to be outside of oneself.” In other words, ecstasy permits us to transcend individualistic perception, to sense beyond the regular senses which normally lead us to believe that we do not exist beyond our own flesh and mind. When we truly reach an ecstatic state, we are able to feel that we actually exist beyond ourselves. That we are everything!
In a sacred, ecstatic state of mind, we feel connected to all living things. We feel that we are within all of creation, and that all of creation is within us. Some might cry out at such moments, “God is in me!” as some Sufi saints have expressed. But the words are not important; we may call Source anything we like. A deep sense of the unity of all things is what we are seeking – not an intellectual understanding of the idea of unity. It is a gut feeling, a sensation, a perception. Yet, is this a true perception or just another illusion?
The mystics of old have been saying for centuries and in various terms that the unity of all things is the true reality. They have insisted that we do exist beyond our bodies. Isn’t it fascinating that recent research is now confirming that our brain neurons actually reach beyond our bodies, connect with, convey information to, and affect living things outside of our bodies!4
Even though the concept that “you are everything” is extremely difficult for many of us to truly internalize, there are numerous ways to experience it. Within ancient shamanic wisdom, it is told that music and ecstatic movement can move us outside of ourselves so that we may reach an altered state of mind – a state of sacred ecstasy – the same goal of ecstatic rituals and celebrations conducted by Hassidic Jews, Sufi Muslims, and Pentecostal Christians.
Therefore, the question arises: Which music and what kind of movement should be used for such an ecstatic journey? It is interesting that both Sufis and Hassidic Jews use circling movements to commence the journey toward sacred ecstasy. The Sufi whirling dervishes take the path of turning around the heart, a practice credited to Rumi, the 13th Century Sufi master. This practice, however, is more ancient than Rumi, as it has been a native practice of the people of Central Asia and the Middle East.5
Circling is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as a form of worship and ritual practiced at the first Jerusalem Temple built by King Solomon. Indeed, the Hebrew word for “holiday” – chag – means, literally, to “turn in a circle.” Sacred circling also is a movement used in ecstatic dances at Hassidic wedding parties and by brides during Jewish Kabalistic wedding ceremonies. Similarly, in the Islamic tradition, circling is part of the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca – a tradition that dates back to the 7th Century, six hundred years before Rumi. Circling the Kaaba, which contains the holy “Black Stone” of Mecca, likely has its roots in pre-Islamic pagan Arabia. This tradition is one of the most ecstatic and hypnotizing rituals in human history.6
The Sufis, as with all mystics, prefer the deep poetic meaning over the literal one. And so they ask: Why go to Mecca, as the real Kaaba is in you? It is in your heart. Circle your heart. That is the sacred stone on which you should focus your attention. That is where you may find the Beloved (the Creator). They therefore turn and circle around the inner beauty, the inner “honey,” around the divine spark of Light (Kabbalistic terminology),7 or the Atman (in Hinduism). They circle around their own hearts on the way to sacred ecstasy … just as atoms circle within all particles of nature, as the Earth spins on its own axis while at the same time circling the Sun, all of which are twirling in our galaxy in an ever-expanding Universe.8
The secret of the circle is its expression of hypnotic repetition. And repetition is crucial for the initial stages of the ecstatic mind-altering process, as we will soon see in the case of ecstatic music. How does it work? First, the lack of new stimuli calms the mind, which then ceases analyzing the sound, movement, or image stimuli. In other words, looping the stimulus tricks the mind into a state of rest. At this point the “guard” is taking a break and the mind is primed to advance toward an altered state, ready to receive a new perception of reality.
Music and audio stimulation provide another great method for relaxing, hypnotizing, and altering moods and mental perceptions. That is why the devotional music of the Sufi and Hassidic traditions includes constant repetition of the same melody. What changes is the rate of the musical pulse or beat. People, especially kids, get excited when music and dance are slowly accelerated. The intensifying rhythms help us forget about our inhibitions and promote release of the intellect.
The lyrics of the Sufi devotional songs, the Illahis, often use poetry from the “School of Love,” the work of such masters as Rumi, Yunus and Hafiz, who favor the imagery of lovers – an intimate relationship between the seeker and the Divine. In these poems and songs, the seeker is the lover and the Beloved is the awesome life force behind the reality we see with our eyes. Just as with the Sufis, Hassidic lyrics often express the longing to unite with the Creator. One such song repeats the mantra Tzama lecha Nafshi, which means in Hebrew, “My soul is thirsty for you.” In the biblical “Song of Songs” (traditionally credited to King Solomon) and in some mystical Kabbalistic poetry, we find the same metaphor of lovers that Sufi poets often used to describe the ecstatic path to Unity.9
The embrace of lovers that the Sufis seek is called Dvekut by the mystic Kabbalists. This is a difficult word to translate into English. It comes from the root of the Hebrew word devek, which means “glue.” In our context, it means “to bond,” which suggests strong connections like friendship, marriage, and ultimately Union – all of which are a part of love. This incredibly emotional process of bonding with the Divine – reaching out and attaching one’s soul to the Source of life, getting glued to it, and potentially achieving Union – is perfectly encompassed in the loaded Hebrew word Dvekut.
Whether it is an embrace of lovers or a fiery bonding of the soul, the Sufi and Hassidic paths to Union are paved with soulful music, circular movements, and gradual acceleration of the musical pace and the pulse of the human heart. The fire … the blade … the drum … the soulful cry of the reed flute or the singer – all tell the intellect to take a break so that the mind may stop analyzing and allow the soul to fly as high as a dove and to circle, whirl, and entwine itself about the Beloved.
Note: Yuval Ron and his publisher, Rev. Laura George of The Oracle Institute, will appear at the Building the New World conference in May. For more information see: www.BTNW.org.