Just Listen

when music and meditation meet

by Sw Satyam Namateet

i, I'm Namateet. To those of you who don't know me, I'm a SWM who likes sensitive women, the great outdoors, long walks and hates phony people... Oops, wrong magazine!

Anyway, like I was saying, I'm a musician and sannyasin. Welcome to my article; I'm going to ramble about music and meditation. I was recently asked if I have a hobby... Well, I play the bass. I teach the bass. I study the bass. Oh, yah, and in my spare time, I build the bass. That's me, Namateet Bass. Howdy.

Maybe I'll start by talking about how music and meditation meet for me... STOP! LISTEN!

...OK, what do you hear? Do you hear the rain? The rain is a symphony if you listen. So complex – louder, then quieter, now in bigger droplets, now gushing or sprinkling. The guy working the jackhammer down the street – what does it sound like? Deep or metallic? Repetitive or changing? Your roommate padding up the stairs – does she walk softly or clumsily? Can you tell who it is by the sound of her footfalls? Can you hear the lights buzzing in your room, the traffic – your mind humming away?

Try setting aside some time today to listen. Just listen. Listen to the sound of the night, or sit under the Granville bridge and hear the rush of cars above, go to the Endowment Lands and hear the overwhelmingly joyous song of birds at dawn, sit by a playground and hear children laughing... that is music.

So, music is about receptivity; maybe that is the only thing it is about. Musicians know that you can't play anything well unless you can hear it. This type of hearing is more like imagining sound inside your head. Have you ever had one of those days when "I Just Called to Say I love You" is playing incessantly in your brain and you can't shut it off? We need to learn to "change the channel" instead of letting that song go round and round. This gives us the ability to imagine whatever music we want to. That's the kind of hearing I'm talking about. Nothing can be played until it's heard inside first.

Most of us were taught by Mrs. Peele in Grade Three that music was something you did. Music is about repeating a bunch of songs you hate that some dead guy wrote, practicing them over and over again till you get to crack open the next book of boring songs. Remember? Well, sorry. You're a nice old lady, Mrs. Peele, but you just don't get it. Listening comes first! Music is something you do; I still spend countless hours trying to play a perfect C Major scale. But I hear the scale in its perfection already. If I'm wrong, it's because I'm not listening. Before we "do" music we have to receive sound and imagine it clearly. A musician is someone who listens.

Music is Zen. Attention. For a musician who meditates, music is a koan. How to make the notes in time, in tune, at the right volume, with just the right amount of space between them. How to link them up with all the other notes in the air. Or if it's jazz, what notes to choose out of a whole wide range of possibilities. All that and a quiet mind.

Music is a great opportunity to watch the mind. How you ever noticed how long you can listen, just listen to music? The problems in your relationship are usually louder than the third trumpet! For a musician this level of attention is complicated by performance. We work hard at being receptive while being active – how to "hear" more than "play."

Take another time out... How has the sound around you changed? Is there more sound, or less? Is it more complicated, or simpler? How much more do you notice this time?

I hope you enjoyed my article, and that you will take the time to feed your ears some rich new sounds. It always amazes me that when I really listen I suddenly know where I am, and who I am. And at the same time, I move out of the way to make space for the glorious sounds in the air to fill me. BE HEAR NOW.


Truth will descend where there is music.
So life must be turned into a melody.
Only through music can one reach the truth.
You too have to become music;
the entire life, every little act,
has to be turned into music:
this happens through love.

Osho, from A Cup of Tea

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