Music Cultivates Holistic Functioning

The word “holistic” is used a lot. It’s a fashionable term, but it sounds so very abstract and vague. Does that word have a precise, practical meaning?

In terms of Consciousness-Based education, yes. A holistic experience is an integrated expression of parts in terms of wholeness. I’ll use music to give a concrete illustration of this principle:

If you’ve ever performed in a band, orchestra, or choir, you’ve learned about blending: All the musicians need to come together to create a well-blended, balanced whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. How do the musicians achieve that?

For me, the powerful implications of this dawned on me in college one day, when our choral director told us, “If you can only hear yourself sing, you’re too loud. If you can only hear the others sing, you’re too soft. You must be able to hear both simultaneously!”

That’s trickier than it might seem, especially when your part is difficult, and it took a bit of practice to accomplish that on a consistent basis. But then one day, it happened for all of us, and everybody knew it. The singing felt easy, and our choir sounded more wonderful than we ever thought possible. This is an example of holistic functioning: We cultured the ability to focus on our own parts while maintaining awareness of the whole group, thus creating a harmonious expression of parts in terms of a greater wholeness.

This is a primary principle of Maharishi’s Consciousness-Based approach to life. The powerful experience of well-being and joy that such moments of wholeness can create, are an indication of being “in tune” with the underlying basis and goal of life, which is the integrated expression of parts in terms of wholeness. This is expounded upon in many Vedic texts, such as the Rig Veda:

Sam gachchhadhvam sam vadadhvam sam vo manamsi janatam deva bhagam yatha purve sanjanana upasate

samano mantra samiti samani samanam mana saha chittamesham samanam mantramabhi mantraye va samanena vo havisha juhomi

samani va akuti samana hridayani va samanam astu vo mano yatha va shasati

Go together, speak together, know your minds to be functioning together from a common source, in the same manner as the impulses of creative intelligence, in the beginning, remain together united near the source.

Integrated is the expression of knowledge, an assembly is significant in unity, united are their minds while full of desires. For you I make use of the integrated expression of knowledge. By virtue of unitedness and by means of that which remains to be united, I perform action to generate wholeness of life.

United be your purpose, harmonious be your feelings, collected be your mind, in the same way as all the various aspects of the universe exist in togetherness, wholeness.

—Rk Veda 10.191.2-4


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Take Me There


Where towering mountains exalt the sky
Like temples from eras gone by
Adorned by million-year altars of ice
Magnificence blesses the eye

Take me there

Where pristine forests of snow-laden pines
Stand silently, moon after moon
Untouched, undefiled, mysterious shrines
Givers of breath throughout times

Take me there

Where glacial springs carve into stony terrains
To form rivers, the earth’s living veins
Where the wolf rears her young in remote, humble dens
The eagle in peace still reigns

Take me there

Where the ego’s big dramas — confused, petty thrills
Are sentenced to merciful still
By the primeval presence of God’s panoramas
And grace is the soul’s joyous will

Take me there


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Songwriting, Joni Mitchell, Refined Emotion and Pure Consciousness

“Music is what feelings sound like.” —Anonymous

When I ask my MUM students about the purpose of writing songs, they usually say that it is to communicate feelings. That launches a class discussion which goes something like this:

I argue that when someone rants on about their love or their sadness, while plunking a guitar, this is also a communication of feelings, which is exactly what they just described. Is it?

No, they say, a song is not the same thing as just any random telling of emotions. A song is an art! So I ask them to take this into account in their statements, and they write something like this: The purpose of songwriting is to communicate feelings in an artistic way, which gives them depth, beauty and power.

This begs the question, how exactly does that process occur? We do some reading on the subject. Joni Mitchell provides great food for thought:

“You could write a song about some kind of emotional problem you are having, but it would not be a good song, in my eyes, until it went through a period of sensitivity to a moment of clarity. Without that moment of clarity to contribute to the song, it’s just complaining.” —Joni Mitchell

We take apart her statement: “Complaining” is obviously not very charming or deep. To get past this superficial point, a good songwriter has to take his/her emotion through a “period of sensitivity”\ — a process of refinement. The process is complete once it reaches a specific goal, a “moment of clarity.” Someone comes up with a great analogy: “At first, the emotion is like a rough piece of coal, which the songwriter then polishes into a clear diamond.”

We try to visualize the “period of sensitivity to a moment of clarity.” How might one draw the layers of emotions, from coarse to very refined, to the final moment of clarity?

As the students draw, it dawns on them that their drawings describe the inner process of refinement that is intimately familiar to anyone who practices the Transcendental Meditation Technique. This practice effortlessly allows the mind to settle inward and experience finer and finer levels of thought, until even the finest thought is transcended and the very source of thought — pure awareness — is experienced (see image on the right).

That pure awareness is our innermost Self. Being the source of thought, it is also the source of emotion, creativity, clarity, and all other qualities of consciousness.

The correlation is evident. Since emotion is an aspect of thought, the refinement of thought brings about a corresponding refinement of emotion — Joni’s “period of sensitivity.” And her “moment of clarity,” from a Consciousness-Based perspective, could easily correspond to the inner Self, which is experienced in its pure state when even the finest thought has been transcended.

Joni Mitchell appears to have had spontaneous moments of great inner clarity, which informed her legendary artistry and depth of heart. The experience of transcending is of course a universal, human experience, not limited to those who practice TM.

Several students say they have had the same profound experience as songwriters or in other fields of life. But they find it very elusive. Although it is natural, it can’t be forced. That’s why TM works so well — it is completely effortless. It simply allows the mind to follow its natural tendency to settle toward its own source, and it does so systematically.

Some students mention that after learning Transcendental Meditation, they noticed their creativity expanding. This is because this technique also systematically develops our awareness, so that the refinement and clarity become more and more infused into daily activity. Then we can count on them to be there, effortlessly and spontaneously, when we write a song, solve a problem, talk to a friend, etc.

In conclusion, students re-write their definition of the purpose of songwriting once more, this time more like this: “The purpose of the art of songwriting is to refine and ultimately transcend emotions, and let the inner clarity, beauty, and power of pure consciousness shine forth. This rocks!”

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A Unique, Personal Song for Each Person?

That would be interesting, wouldn’t it. In a way, it’s literally true:

“Concerning matter, we have been all wrong. What we have–overnight/’ title=’ overnight’> overnight called matter is energy, whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.” —Albert Einstein

Since matter IS vibration, then that is what each one of us is too — an intricate assemblage of vibrations. A composition of sounds.

In Sanskrit, the term for “musical note” is swara, which literally means “reverberation of Self.” The word has two components: swa (pronounced “swuh”) means “self”. The sound r means “reverberation” (the ending “a” is not pronounced very much). Swara also means “vowel.” So, musical notes are considered reverberations of ourselves, as are the vowels of speech.

That’s inspiring but somehow so very abstract. Wouldn’t it be great if we could really hear our personal songs as actual music?

Well, apparently there is a society which does this very thing. See the description by Jack Kornfield below:

“There is a tribe in east Africa in which the art of true intimacy is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception as in other village cultures.

For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother’s mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive.

Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them. After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song.

After the birth all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. It is sung in times of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. This song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.”

Quoted from Jack Kornfield,
A Path with Heart (Bantam Books, 1993), p. 334

Now, that takes songwriting to a higher level! I would love to hear their songs. And I wish I had heard of this before I had children.


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Artistry, Intuition, and the Gap

My previous post explored the mind-bending ability of poetry to express the coexistence of unity and duality.

A lovely thing to see:
through the paper window’s hole,
the Galaxy.

In this famous haiku, Kobayashi Issa contracts the reader’s awareness to a tiny spot, then zooms in on an entire galaxy inside that spot. Or zooms out. Both. For an instant, we unite the very small with the very large. Duality coexists with unity. This principle is described throughout the Vedic Literature as an eternal truth:

Anoraniyan mahato-mahiyan
Smaller than the smallest IS bigger than the biggest
—Katha Upanishad 1.2.20

Anvaya vyati rekabhyam nishprapancham prapanchyate
By virtue of analysis and synthesis, the indivisible Unity is realized in the world of diversity.

The field of duality contains the outer, surface world of change and diversity, which can readily be seen, touched, and quantified. It is manifest. Unity on the other hand, as we saw in the previous post, is the infinite realm of non-change. Unity is pure, unmanifest potentiality. It is beyond boundaries.

Maharishi Vedic Science also states that Unity is the ground state on which diversity is founded, much as the H2O molecule is the ground state on which water, ice, and steam are founded. Thus, both realms — manifest diversity and unmanifest unity — are but different phases of the same reality.

An even more interesting part of all this is the junction where the two phases meet. It is known as pashyanti – the “junction point” or “gap”. Being situated in-between diversity and unity, the Gap is that area which sheds light on both. Maharishi has likened the Gap to a lamp at a house door, simultaneously lighting up the inside and outside of the house. Here is another haiku that “lights up” the Gap:

Behold the ego
Set in glowing emptiness
On the edge of time
– Noel Kaufman

In one stroke, we grasp opposite phases of reality: the time-bound ego against the backdrop of eternity. This shows that the mind, too, has two phases. Ordinarily, it is busy filtering through mutually exclusive options, such as whether to go left or right, get married or stay single, skip dessert or indulge in chocolate cake. Sometimes, it gets stuck in this way of categorizing the world into neat little black-and-white packages, since such packages don’t reflect the total reality of life.

But profound artistic expressions reveal a marvelous area of the mind capable of comprehending diversity in terms of Unity. It is an area which defies our usual intellectual filtering processes and sees the world through the more holistic, multidimensional lens of intuition. Intuition resides at the level of the Gap, which itself is neither manifest nor unmanifest, but which stands with one foot in each, so to speak, and commands them both. It is the gateway to infinite possibilities, solutions to problems and great works of art.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. More than anything else, this new century demands new thinking: We must change our materially based analyses of the world around us to include broader, more multidimensional perspectives.”
―Albert Einstein

Enjoy the Gap in the lyrics below:

Where the sky meets the future
Where the earth fades away
Where all dreams come together
At the end of the day

Where the length of the sunset
Meets the depth of the sea
Where horizons that seem empty
Are as full as can be

If the eye can see
For miles around
Then the heart can see forever
– Jane Roman Pitt, lyrics to the original song “Where the sky meets the future”

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Creativity: The Mind-Bending Skill of Uniting Opposites

If one wants to stalk the creative process, there are some fascinating and very revealing principles to be found in poetry. Consider the following excerpts:

Mystery rapes my reason – Maya Angelou

I cannot touch because they are too near E. E. Cummings

Till the ocean is folded and hung up to dry – W. A. Auden

This is your own voice echoing off the walls of God Rumi

These famous poets use many great literary devices. I’m asking you to notice just one: the juxtaposition of opposites. In each example, the poet is prompting the reader’s mind to bend a little, in order to be able to contain divergent, opposing elements at once. When skillfully done, this kind of juxtaposition creates a momentary experience of integration, transcendence of boundaries, and unity.

What is the deeper principle behind this mind-bending phenomenon?

Life seems to have two phases. On the surface, we see opposites and contradictions everywhere — yes or no, heart or mind, nature or nurture, like or dislike, right or wrong. However, the deeper, finer realms of life display a unifying quality, where opposites are found to coexist. Great poetry, and of course all art forms, are able to touch that subtler field and enliven it within us.

So, we can say that opposites exist. We can also say that unity exists. Both statements are simultaneously true. — Notice that this statement itself contains a coexistence of opposites. In this way, unity contains duality, and duality reflects unity.

Musicians, writers, painters, and artists in all fields intuitively understand this. By skillfully bringing opposite elements together, they prompt the mind to transcend limitations and expand to a broader, more holistic function capable of an incredible balancing act: simultaneous awareness of duality and unity.

Here a few of my haiku poems, reflecting the coexistence of opposites:

Physicist: Calculate infinite space
Poet: Hold infinity
In the palm of your hand

Children splash
In the dirtiest mud puddles
And cleanse hearts and minds

Artists, who connect
Opposites with elegance,
Paint philosophy

In the next post, I’ll explore how this Maharishi Vedic Science principle of Coexistence of Opposites relates to intuition.

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Haiku: Forest canopies

Forest canopies:

Engineered for breathtaking

Birdsong acoustics

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Math and Art

Artists who fear math:

Remember, math is seeking


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Sounds of Spring

Sweet sights and scents

And sounds of spring

Then – lawnmowers

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Birds at dawn,

Scent of lilacs –

Thoughts not needed


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