There’s a profound and exquisitely beautiful stillness after mantra; a force so huge you can almost wrap your arms around it yet also feel yourself enveloped by it, though you are its co-creator; both inside and out, all at once. It’s an experience of divinity.
The first time I experienced it (“hear” doesn’t get close), it near moved me to tears of joy. I was hooked…which was at my first live performance of Deva Premal and Miten, five years ago…and by year three, which was at the Union Chapel in London, I became truly addicted. At that gathering (“concert” doesn’t seem to be the right word either; this is “sangha”), the sound of silence following a sustained group-om, which had roared through the space like the rhythmic roar of the ocean for several minutes beforehand, was like being able to perceive LOVE made manifest as the colour of the vibration we had collectively generated in that beautiful space-in-the-round with its high domed ceiling. A single clap would have broken it and dropped it to the floor but nobody did. I took that feeling home with me and drew on its well all year.
This year was in the same venue but was different. Well, it should have been different; Miten underwent open heart surgery this year and it was an unexpected bonus that he was on stage for the entire performance as this wasn’t predicted. You could tell from his social medial posts that this London gathering meant more to him than most, being his home venue, and I expected a certain degree of enhanced warmth and enthusiasm from those who had been following his recovery progress, in fact I was thrilled to be part of this reception. I could only imagine how our profound gratitude for his remarkable recovery would manifest as a sacred feeling in that wonderful space, which was a ticket sell-out.
What we got, instead, was a whole lot of clapping. Well, we all did when the couple first appeared on the stage…which was to be expected; but anyone who has attended “Deva” before knows already that clapping isn’t expected or desired after mantra. To quote Deva: “clapping after mantra is like clapping after sex…”
So, as usual, they explained this once…then twice…and it must have been six or so times by the end that the couple had to say “please don’t clap”, let silence finish the mantra, hold the space… So when the clapping just continued and continued, getting louder, spreading around the space like a contagion, I wasn’t the only one at a loss and feeling fire rise up in my belly.
Looking back, I still don’t get all these people who couldn’t seem to hear the polite request not to clap (couldn’t…or didn’t want to hear as they were enjoying themselves too much to care about other people). You would think that those attending sangha, even for the first time, would quickly feel into the vibe and get the ropes but they couldn’t seem to comprehend, or to know better, than to keep forcing on these people, and everyone else, what they wanted to give; regardless of whether it was welcomed. Their clapping only seemed to get louder and more dreaded by those who didn’t, like they were at a rock concert. I began to wonder if this small but noisy minority had arrived half-cut or were the ones keeping the bar busy during the interval. By now, I felt deeply embarrassed of this very British audience; I was reading the facial expressions on stage and sensing their disappointment too.
Surely, when you truly love someone, you love them the way they want to be loved and don’t force on them whatever you decide you want to give, even if unwanted…
In this circumstance, you find yourself willing the clappers to stop…your body tense, your breath held at the very moment when you should be holding the silence with your calmness and breathing; then the first sharp sound like a thunder-clap would cut through it and gain momentum as others joined in and you could, simultaneously, feel those who weren’t clapping slump a little in their despair. So, did I contribute to this outcome with my worst-case-scenario-ing; did the collective, powerfully negative expectations of those of us dreading that these others would keep “spoiling” our moment feed the likelihood, pushing our own tranquility over the edge? You could see how divisiveness occurs, all the more potently for this being a gathering where we had all came expecting to experience oness. At any other venue, this might have turned into a punch-up but, instead, it was held as a pronounced tension in the air. It was a humble reminder, to me, that I get to choose how I respond and what I take home from this. Thank goodness, I think the majority that were rattled by it took the most gracious stance that they could, whilst rolling their eyes.
You also find yourself willing the people closest to the clappers to take them to task…but then I had a clapper right behind me, yet I lacked the nerve to so much as turn round and glare at him, internalising all my displeasure until I felt like I might burst. How very-like our behaviour in the “small” matter of world affairs in general, I thought to myself…those of us who really care tend to wish and long, taking all our angst inside of us, but how often to we dare to say something or call to account?
But then I’ve felt the audience at this annual event change over the last half-decade, as Deva has become more popular and, I suppose, “mainstream”. Perhaps its a sad inevitability that what starts out so beautifully niche becomes diluted and loses the very quality that made it so rarified once it becomes “bigger” and more accessible; we see this at every level of human experience but especially where art, beauty and sacredness are concerned. The original intention, somehow, gets trampled on in the rush to grab as popularity takes over. What once was the treasure of the few loses its shine as it rolls out to the masses so what does that say about our prospects of evolving into a better world?
Perhaps its best not to speak to me on this topic, however, as I’m biased. As a highly sensitive INFJ personality, I’m one of the 1% “rarest type” of human in all of my key traits so I really don’t relate to most people; though (ironically) I do perceive things about them that they often don’t know about themselves (a classic INFJ “skill”…or bugbare). Which kind-of undermines my faith in humanity’s future on a near daily basis; one of the reasons I lead such a hermit-like existence. I find so many humans abrasive and ignorant and want to shake them by the shoulders.
Yet perhaps, therein, lies my task or core challenge, also my gift from all this…to learn how to love them anyway. Not “to forgive them”…there should be no call for forgiveness in this inner space of “all is as it should be”, from which I challenge myself to respond to this irritating circumstance. Rather, to love them as we would love small children who misbehave because they know not what they do. If that sounds condescending then, sorry, but I know of no other way to redirect the irate response and disappointment that has bubbled in my gut over this for days. After so many polite requests, their behaviour was no different to pissing on their host’s floor, like an untrainable dog. I find I have to go for the “ruffle their hair like children” approach to keep it in perspective…just as I stroke down my own feathers of annoyance. Its a very human response to cry a little over broken things. Be grateful, I guess, that only silence got broken.
Its been a humanising experience for me…there is the gift. Its brought my higher values down with a bump and reminded me that I can still gnash my teeth like the next person. As I did when, at the end, the row of women in front turned to us and we all shared our exasperation at those who had broken our precious silence in a moment of togetherness. In there somewhere was a moment’s laughter and a less other-worldly than usual moment of connection so I took that home with me, along with these ponderings. Namaste to all.