Sunday, August 23, 2009

Conducting From The Heart

Conducting From The Heart

by Aditi Sriram

In his autobiography The Journey Home, Sri Radhanath Swami writes about his struggle with two inner voices, one from his mind and the other from his heart. They push and pull him towards yogic gurus, geographical adventures, mental purgings and diligent observation. He demonstrates repeatedly that when his mind seeks an answer, he is befuddled with the choices before him, but when his heart seeks a truth, Krishna responds with a sign.

The mind can only respond based on the way it has been conditioned, but the heart knows what is pure, since it houses the purest entity in all of us – our soul. Hearing a beautiful song fills the heart with peace and stirs the soul; a person can immediately sense when his heart is happy. But the mind is much more analytic, weighing the attributes and drawbacks of every situation, factoring in external reactions to internal choices, and is thus diluted in its stance.

Sitting in Lincoln Center, watching the London Symphony Orchestra tune their instruments, I am impressed by each musician’s independent talent. But the majesty of a symphony lies in musical collaboration. The individual instruments play their prescribed parts, but the conductor leads the entire operation. Valery Gergiev, a large, spirited Russian with wisps of hair that he whips back and forth when he moves, charges the performance with life: sweeping his arms over the stage, he offers it to something higher and larger than himself and the music on the page. He is the heart in this act, and his musicians the limbs that he breathes life into. Compared to the heart, the mind is limited by its functional capacity – a violinist can only play a violin and not a trombone – but the conductor rules over all the instruments, like the heart over the mind, to produce divine sound and generate divine thoughts. As long as the musicians follow their conductor and the mind surrenders to the heart, harmony reigns!

In this way, Service and Humility are born out of the heart. The mind may think it understands these attributes, but its comprehension is limited. The mind can just as easily convince a person to be lustful as to be respectful, or to continue eating when one feels full. A group of musicians could play their instruments together and produce a beautiful sound, but they are truly flawless only when they are led with conviction, by someone wholly convinced of the cause and effect of that music – and that is where the conductor is crucial. If the heart is the primary voice, it will always be the song leading the step.

Service, if done sincerely, never gets tiring: the heart knows infinity and the most intimate loving exchanges when it is engaged in its rightful service, so how can it feel anything other than bliss? A teacher loves teaching her students, day after day; a Broadway performer repeats the same lines and songs every night and a devotee serves the Lord as his servant without any doubt. Without a contented heart, the mind can provide only temporary guidance and stability, since it relies on the external for value and action. The heart meditates on the internal, the divine, and finds uninterrupted love.

The closer one becomes to God, the smaller, meeker and more insignificant he feels on Earth, even as his followers exalt him. This paradox seems to highlight the stark contrasts between the fame and conditioning of material life and the simplicity and single mindedness of faith – how wrongly we are going about Life and Love on earth! Mother Teresa exclaims that when her beloved leprosy victims see Jesus in her, it is a “miracle,” absolving herself of any ownership of such praise. She defines service by example, noting that there is no hierarchy in service: it can only be real when it is done with humility.

The orchestra accelerates over arpeggios and punctuates the air with vibrant, resonant sounds. My eyes are on each musician, and I nearly forget Gergiev! In fact, he is turned away from this audience, for his job is not for show or for praise. He serves his musicians and he pampers every musical note, cherishing each moment. Hearing the pristine music, the conductor is humbled – those are the fruits of his labor, not the subsequent applause. Gergiev keeps the tempo of the orchestra; he is their pulse, their heart, beating before them in their mind. And with eyes only for his musicians, it is clear who he serves.

The heart speaks the transcendental language of Love. Throughout his journey, Sri Radhanath Swami witnesses yogis, devotees and passersby moved to tears by some divine feat. Great gurus and meager followers are never shy to express their happiness with tears, which spring naturally to their eyes and flow like the rivers that led Sri Radhanath Swami to his guru. Tears are the universal sign of humbled bliss, grateful joy, earnest appreciation, and they come to Gergiev as well – his eyes mist and beads of sweat drop from his face as his orchestra comes to the resounding conclusion of the symphony. He has completed his musical journey, just as Sri Radhanath Swami has found his true inner voice.

Graduating from Columbia University in 2007, Aditi Sriram works as a consultant in New York City. Her spiritual heritage and contemporary search for truth has led her to the fountain of Vedic wisdom.

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