There has always been confusion around the spiritual, the religious and the mystical. Three currents flowing down the same river. Three rivers leading to the same ocean. The mind attempts to contradict, to evaluate one more than the other. Yet, if try to approach this inquiry with a non-judgmental perspective we’ll see that though paradoxical, all three compliment and somewhat depend on each other.
The simplest approach would be to see all three as different styles of playing music. The spiritualist is a solo multi-instrumentalist. Someone who can masterfully play a few different instruments – a guitar, a flute and a piano. They are accustomed to play on their own. They have practiced in solitary. They know the nuances of string and air, the silence in between the notes. Their music is exquisite and will lead you to close your eyes and experience the divine melody within your own heart.
The religious follower in most cases would play one instrument but within the context of an orchestra. A violin, a cello or even timpani. They play beautifully intricate melodies, with a defined rhythm and precision, they follow the guidance of an experienced conductor. When listening to their music, you would be elevated; you’ll feel a divine inspiration and a deep sense of transcendence.
The mystic is also a multi-instrumentalist. The sound of their instrument varies between the beat of a loud drum, the trance inducing maracas or even the clapping of their own hands. They seek to compliment the religious orchestra or add their silence to the spiritualist. Their aim is not music but harmony. They oscillate between the stillness and the crescendo. In listening to a mystic play you’d be inspired to seek for your own tune and pick up your own instrument.
To say that classic music is better than bachata, or that waltz is deeper than a Hindu raga truly means you have missed the entire point. That you are trying to evaluate music with your head and not your heart, body and feet. There will be moments in your life that the comforting cries of the bansuri will sooth your soul and others where the African bongos will rock your feet to a celestial dance of communal rhythm.
To masterfully play any sort of music there are two requirements – dedication and a deep calling for expression. All musicians of spirit, the religious follower, the spiritualist and the mystic, share those qualities. Their music is nothing more than a focused dedication to self-expression. A deep commitment to follow an inner calling to sing their song whether that is a solo tune or a complex symphony. Their music is somewhat an obsession to share, to communicate, to express the way they see the world around them. They simply must describe their heart’s delight and understanding.
Similarly to favoritism in music, some of us love Jazz and others hip-hop; one person would listen to world music and another to samba. There isn’t truly better or worse, more or less. Yet, if you look around you, you have different clubs, and concert halls for the different types of music. Those are the mosques, the synagogues and temples. Each plays a different tune, a different melody. The insistence of a musician to stick to the type of music they like affects no one other than themselves. Your ability to go sit in a rock concert and then a Jazz club doesn’t affect one or the other. You sitting in silence does not necessarily imply you hate all kinds of music either.
Religion is there so you can enjoy playing your music with others; learning the intricacy of playing in harmony with other instruments. Learning how to compliment and connect, how to follow the guidance of a conductor who bears in mind the collective and not just a singular sound. The religious symphony brings about a deep sense of belonging and connection; it is a reminder of our human bond and our familiar sense of family.
Spirituality is there so you can learn to deepen into silence. To expand the space between the notes. Master the inner art of vibrating with your own heart. Finding the tune of your soul. The sound of spiritual music isn’t defined with notes and frequencies but with the vibration of silence it induces within your heart. It allows you to find the depth of your individuality, the sound that only you can make and the silence only you can hear.
Mysticism is found in the in between. The delicate balance between song and silence. More than anything, mysticism is the art of listening. The knowing that in order to hear sound, one must become silence. In order to experience silence, one’s heart has to offer song. Mystical music is formless yet defined, nameless yet so familiar. When listening to any mystical music you will remember that you have never forgotten to consciously forget. That your forgetfulness is a conscious choice to remember. That your heart sings of distant melodies and your soul a silent background for life to play its music through you.
Three currents flowing down the same river.
Three rivers leading to the same ocean.
One ocean filled with infinite waves and endless hope.
Never-ending notes in one harmonious melody.