Feb 12


amarnath 1

Many years back I found myself hanging out in the mountains of Kashmir in the village of Aru.  This place was situated along the pilgrimage route to Amarnath Cave where hundreds of thousands of people trek each year to receive blessings from the naturally self created Shiva Lingam.  However what I wish to share with you is a different pilgrimage.


Pilgrimage is a loaded idea and recently touted by many on how to approach travel.  Essentially, pilgrimage is an activity requiring some effort in the service of arriving at a prescribed destination that is considered holy or spiritually charged.  Many pilgrimages have become institutionalized over the course of time.  These prescribed pilgrimages crowd out other equally significant ways to visit what is holy.  It really depends on attitude. 


Any place when approached from a stance of reverence can elevate to a pilgrimage.  This is especially true when such action is repeatable.  It is in this respect that I wish to share an experience I had while staying in Aru.


As mentioned in the beginning, I, too, wanted to trace the steps of the pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave.  However, I was not feeling well having some sort of stomach complaint at the time.  While recuperating, I arranged to have some villagers share some of their local songs that I intended to record on my portable tape recorder. 


That evening a handful of musicians showed up where I was staying and started to joyfully play and sing.  I was ecstatic with what I was hearing as I started to tape.  Suddenly this teenage boy joined in and from my way of appreciating things totally destroyed the mood.  He couldn’t carry a tune and was apparently tone deaf.  I tried to explain when possible that I wanted to record their music and that this boy was messing it up for me.  After many attempts to change the circumstances I gave up and reluctantly resigned myself to what was happening. 


As a result I was annoyed and disappointed.  The recordings I made I felt no one would listen to.  In the moment I just let the whole thing go, knowing it was better to be polite and preserve good relations.  I must have really buried this memory since I haven’t thought about this experience until recently, over thirty years later. 


And what a shock this memory was for me.  I totally missed the point of what I was experiencing.  I was so set on capturing the moment that I wanted to have that I was oblivious to what was unfolding before me.


I had been given an opportunity to rejoice in being in community through the medium of music making.  Here was a situation where regardless of one’s talent all were invited to participate in being together through music.  The reason for making music was not to perform for an audience.  Rather it was a vehicle for people to be in communion and to feel their hearts open!


What I was confronted with was my narrow egoistic approach about acquiring rather than allowing.  My grasping blocked the invitation to join in and be part of something bigger than myself.  From the perspective of my guests there was room enough for everyone in their music playing.  We all have a part to play.


And this attitude, this being part of something bigger than my individual self, can lead to a more expanded and joyful state of consciousness.  Perhaps I have matured in the last thirty years.  I would like to think so.  It is a reminder that life is happening while you are making plans for something else.


Lately I have been listening to a lot of the music of the Grateful Dead and their most recent incarnation (sans Jerry Garcia) Furthur.  You might say I have become a Dead Head!  I was listening to them a lot because I play an instrument and I was interested in jamming with others.  The Dead were the consummate jam band. 


One of their signature songs is “Playin’ In The Band” (1).  As you listen to how they play together you realize these guys never stop playing.  Each has their own voice.  They are constantly weaving in and out of each other’s melody lines creating some amazing tapestries of sound.  And through it all you can track each of their contributions. 


At times I would try to play along on my horn and began to realize that with deep listening I could add to the music I was hearing with my own unique voice.  As I explored this more it began to dawn on me that there is this grander idea that The Grateful Dead were developing. 


Each of us, in our own way, can Play in the Band.  There is a place for all of us.  As long as we are true to what is our own unique voice we can be a member of the Band.  And to have such a space held for this possibility is healing and even holy.  To come to a community that can allow for this is very special.  And when found is like making a pilgrimage.  You might say that the Dead Heads following the Grateful Dead around to all their concerts were embarked on a pilgrimage.


So to return to Kashmir.  These musicians knew what The Grateful Dead had stumbled upon.  They were part of a long lineage of sacred sojourners.  They understood that there was a place for this young lad to be in the Band.  And because the support and invitation was there he could participate in it with his full being.  He was included.  In fact, there was a place for me if I had recognized it then. 


My pilgrimage, unbeknownst to me, was to get beyond those artificial boundaries that I try to establish to manage life.  Instead it has more to do with opening to my heart and being fully me, trusting in my inherent goodness.   And, from my unique position, seeing I can add my voice to Playin’ In The Band.  And isn’t that what life is about!


(1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wz4W4YThKOc