My Journey with Bhakti

After many decades of personal inquiry, I’m finally beginning to understand and acknowledge the power of emotions and their importance to our wellbeing.

My interest in spiritual practice and tradition began with hatha yoga 28yrs ago. Although music was always there calling my soul, I tended to go for a very body-centred approach to my personal development.  I became strong and flexible, but my relationships still caused me pain.

Carl Jung, in his memoires, mentions how he would use yoga (whether he meant asana or meditation) to repress the uprising of unconscious material when it became too much during his self-therapy work.  Thus he learnt to open and close his psychic processes at will. It’s easy, I think, for disciplined physical practices, such as hatha yoga, to be an effective distraction from unconscious emotions.

Eventually I let my intellect out of the prison I had kept it in and made friends with it. I embraced jnana, or ‘right knowledge’ as a good thing, but felt distrustful of emotionalism in spiritual practice.

It has been said that ‘enlightenment’ involves integrating the shadow, which is met as uncomfortable feelings that we tend to repress. You can perform all sorts of clever physical postures, slow down your breathing, fast, sit in the snow, hang weights from your genitals and debate the subtleties of Vedanta and Sankhya, but I am convinced that until your unconscious feelings are in harmony with your Being, you will be unhappy. Repressed emotions need to be brought into the light of the conscious mind so that they can then be honoured as expressions of life-force.

I can see the Indian Bhakti path as a celebration of healthy emotions (for more explanation of Bhakti, see my previous post: Kirtan a personal reflection…). In the relationship with the divine, or with Source, we cultivate love, surrender and gratitude. The sentiments of Bhakti verse are amplified by the music. Music also is a study in healthy emotions. Its essence, after all, is harmony: it gives us models that resonate with our soul.

They have this elusive concept in Indian music called ‘raga’, which names the emotive colour of melody. A raga is something that has to be experienced rather than explained, but I like to think of it as a harmonic blueprint for emotional intelligence. That means, a particular raga sounds good, and has been carried through the musical generations, because it steeps our heart-mind in a revered sentiment, something that reconnects us to our being.  In my experience, each one reveals a higher intelligence in what we feel, transforming the feelings that we tend to shun into things of divine beauty. Every emotion is a deity whose presence we conjure through a beautiful constellation of harmonic intervals.

This is the power of melody: to show us the beauty in what we are afraid of. Poison becomes an elixir. Music shows us how to turn rage, grief and hatred into gratitude, trust and love. Is anything deserving of deep devotion as much as sound itself? We can trust the teachings of good music, as well as good poetry and story, to lead us towards emotional integration. This is the Way of Bhakti.

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