“There was once a king who ruled with a stern hand and was feared by all who knew him. One day, he became so angry with one of his ministers for making a simple mistake, that he condemned him to death. He had his soldiers fly this minister by helicopter to the top of the tallest tower in the kingdom where he was to be abandoned without food, and exposed to the elements, with no ladder that could ever reach him.
When the minister’s wife heard about the harsh punishment for her husband, she rushed to the tower and wept at the bottom. There seemed to be no hope, because she knew that if he jumped he would die, and there was no other way down. But the minister was a clever man and used to applying his intellect to problems. He remained calm whist he was thinking what to do. After a while, he called down to his wife with urgency in his voice, ‘Stop crying and listen. There is only one way for me to escape. Go quickly and bring me a reel of silk thread and a thick rope. Both of them must be as long as this tower. And two more things: bring some honey and a live beetle.’
‘What are you talking about? Of what use will these things be?’ But sensing that her husband had a plan, she did as she was told and soon returned with all the items he had requested. ‘Now, listen carefully,’ the minister told his wife. ‘Tie one end of the silken thread around the beetle, and the other end to the thick rope. Then put a drop of honey on the horns of the beetle and let it go up the tower wall. It will take time, but no problem. We have to be patient.’
“The woman followed the instructions and was amazed to watch the rapid progress of the beetle moving up the wall. It could smell the honey just ahead and was keen to find it, so it kept going. Slowly but surely it reached the top of the tower, where the man caught hold of the beetle and untied it. He then pulled up the silken thread until the thick rope was in his hands, which he attached to a railing in order to climb down and make his escape.”
“It is just a story,” Guruji concluded. “But we also have a silken thread in us – I am talking about the breath. If we can first “catch” hold of the silken thread that is the breath, then we will find that the breath is connected to mind. And once we start to “catch” the mind, we can pull the rope of consciousness up the tower (a central nerve or channel in the spine known in yoga as sushumna), in order to free ourselves permanently from the cycle of birth and death.
“Through meditation, it is possible. But just like the minister, we need to apply our intellect. In other words, we need some method. And we have to understand that the process is slow – we move like that beetle. The honey is Pure Self, always inside of us and urging us to move forward, because somehow we know that there is something higher than our present understanding. We want to experience peace, and freedom, and happiness, and to realise Pure Self. At any cost, we always want to save our lives.”
Remember how last week I started telling you about playing my songs at the festival of Gurupurnima and how it was one huge learning curve? Well, it was such a huge learning curve you could even call it a plate with a three-course meal dished up on it. Confidence was just the starter. The rice, dhal and veggies looked like this:
A Lesson in Concentration:
You have to appreciate that my regular daytime audience at home are Pearl, Binky, Sooty and Rainbow (the cat, the rabbits and the guinea pig), and they never interrupt. Plenty of concentration is still needed even when the children are at school and the house is quiet. So singing and playing in front of a bunch of people having a good old natter was quite another matter. It made me realise I should practise with the radio going full blast.
Towards the end of my set, most people quietened down to listen, but a few remained engrossed in conversation. Then, because of a growing sense of irritation due to the struggle to concentrate, I finally lost it to the point of no-recovery and had to begin the final song again. How unprofessional! How seriously uncool! To top it all, I gave the chatty pair one of my best ‘teacher stares’, usually reserved for naughty students. In retrospective analysis, it was funny to observe that this happened during the most apt song I have ever written regarding that state of concentration and inner peace. It’s called “Satisfaction” and is about finding that place of perfect yogic balance which I see through Guruji’s example.
A Lesson in Expectations:
Afterwards, one of Guruji’s disciples, a professional dancer, gave me some advice:
“If one person out of one hundred really understands and appreciates what you are trying to share, be pleasantly surprised. It is rare,” she said, laughing. “It is better to expect the opposite. It’s part of the course that we have to deal with noise and disruptions. No matter what happens: the show has to go on.” And for the benefit of the teacher in me, she said that she had observed that whilst young children could be good at sitting and listening, adults were quite appalling at doing the same thing. Oh…!
A Lesson in Surrender vs. Perfectionism:
She also shared with me her observation that most artists tend to be perfectionists, and how hard it was for her to gradually accept that no performance is ever going to be perfect. Her teacher used to say that your duty was to be faithful and disciplined in daily practice; to strive for perfection. But when you go on stage, anything can happen. You have to surrender and remember that everything is in God’s hands.
As I wrote in my notebook at the end of the day, “Performance has everything to do with focus and concentration. It’s about having a “one-pointed mind”. As usual, every single part of it comes back to Yoga. From the letting go of expectations, to the need for surrender.”
Ha! Not to mention the aim to let go of self (nervousness or self-consciousness in this case) with only a week to go until the album launch! Well I think the light is beginning to dawn. It seems as if most, if not all, of the challenges involved in starting to perform are simply physical extensions of my yoga practice…