humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

The Dance of God

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 9, 2010

For some reason I’ve been listening to two versions of the Gayatri Mantra over and over and OVER these last few days, pondering the gateways to the divine. I think there are many ways to have a mystical experience, depending on what works with your personality. Music is a common gateway, and certainly one that works for me, at times.

This is hard to write, because so much of my academic side wants to challenge and define things like “spiritual”, “mysticism” and so on 1. Today I’m just writing about experience without over-analyzing too much.

While named for the goddess Gayatri (mother of the Vedas), I think anyone who believes in a deity can sing this mantra with integrity as the words are honoring to any true g0d.

Om Bhur Buvaha Suvaha
Thath Savithur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dhiyo Yonaha Prachodayath

God! You are Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Almighty.
You are all Light. You are all Knowledge and Bliss.
You are Destroyer of fear; You are Creator of this Universe,
You are the Greatest of all. We bow and meditate upon your light.
You guide our intellect in the right direction.

The other version I’ve had on repeat is by Ravi Shankar, as it turns out. There is so much more music I could add, some mentioned during music week but I’m keeping things short, mmkay?

I found you not, O Lord, without, I erred in seeking you without because you were within. ~ Saint Augustine

I’d be remiss in describing Augustine as a mystic, he’s famous for his logical philosophy. This is the feeling side of him, perhaps? I think warmly of Charles Hodge, a christian theologian in the “Reformed” or “Calvinist” school which is traditionally suspicious of mysticism. Hodge is wary too but almost plunges in, writing of those whose “heart” theology is deeper than their head theology 2. “Until recently it was widely believed that India is ‘mystical’ and the West is ‘rational’, and many still hold this view. But in fact Indian thought has a strong tradition of rationality”. 3 There is so much more to write in this area, but insh’Allah, another time.

All this makes me desire to find a group of intellectual mystics. Now, THAT would be something! Practitioners committed to exploring the ways of both reason and the spirit.

Here’s a track that invariably made me cry, and can still do so. Tilt | Invisible

Listen to my voice
You won’t see me
You won’t see me with your eyes
Listen to my voice
I am a feeling
You will feel me deep inside

When I was a christian, I interpreted these words as speaking of the Holy Spirit (who is sometimes considered feminine), the part of g0d who interacts with us here and now. I have this record on vinyl, it’s one of my treasured possessions.

Music… wine… drugs? Ah, it might just be a feeling, but if that feeling hints at anything true, how wonderful that would be. When I was a DJ, it was these moments I lived for. To dance – preferably outdoors – to ecstatic music and maybe feel a glimpse of something special. It didn’t happen often, but when it did…

Here’s a film of an outdoor party I curated. You can even get a glimpse of me DJing at one point.

The particular music doesn’t matter – that tends to be an individual thing. For some it might be opera, for others heavy metal. It’s the sense of beauty and transport the music evokes, in the best of moments at the best of times. If the transcendent is there, if there really is something more, and if we can somehow touch it… How can we not yearn for this?

Is music a gateway for you?



1. Check some of my loose definitions and writing on atheist spirituality if you’re uncomfortable and want to go down the intellectual path.
2. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1871). Hodge spends considerable ink on mysticism, and it’s gold, for a post-christian like me.
3. From Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Sue Hamilton (Oxford University Press, 2001).

21 Responses to “The Dance of God”

  1. Hal Brown said

    Interesting, “intellectual mystics.” Personally, I’m neither agnostic, nor do I believe in religion – organized as it were. I usually say, I believe in God, not religion.

    BTW, many years ago, I joined the TM movement. Some part of it works. What that is, I don’t know.

  2. meryl333 said

    “Experience is the only source of knowledge. In the world, religion is the only source where there is no surety, because it is not taught as a science of experience. This should not be. There is always, however, a small group of men who teach religion from experience. They are called mystics, and these mystics in every religion speak the same tongue and teach the same truth. This is the real science of religion.” This quote is from Swami Vivekananda… and intellectual and spiritual giant that rocked the Parliament of Religions at turn of the century with his address challenging fanatics & sectarianism. His complete works contains the Four Yogas– the science of religion– methods that have been proven, time and time again, to unite those with the determination, discipline & Grace with the Self/God/That. http://bit.ly/abGdqK

    • Thanks Meryl, we’ve been having exactly that discussion over the last few posts here – experience vs intellect as the source of knowledge. I don’t claim i have finalised my answer yet 🙂

      • meryl333 said

        While you are searching, I urge you to check out Swami’s works. I’ve led you to a door of a great teacher.

        • He is known to me.

          I can’t say that “experience is the only source of knowledge” for me – yet.

          I will read more, also saw your tweet about him, thanks 🙂

  3. Anne said

    Music is a gateway, as you so aptly say. Gateway, as to open. I experience things on a different level, where words can’t go. I move further into (or, is it transcend?) my brain and perception through music. Words can only go so far, and I believe what you’ve presented here is a spiritual experience.

    Lots of energy in the Wonderland video; what a treasure. Love the fire dancers!

    When you say “intellectual mystics,” the Benedictine monks come to my mind. Unlike the Trappists, the Benedictines contemplate on the meaning of text. The “intellectualism” only goes so far, because they’re bound by the borders of their belief system.

    • Ooo, lots of good stuff in there, thanks Anne. Meditating on a text is an old Christian practice, one that I used to get a lot of benefit from. Wonder if I should try that again?

  4. leesis said

    i sat once at a Barbra Streisand concert and my being took wings. No one has ever understood my joy in her voice and Ive never been able to explain it because I’m not fond of her songs that much!

    But when I heard her live with the amazing musicians behind her she hit these notes and I swear something in me, my soul, my psyche rose from my body and travelled the notes with her. The sense of liberation with joy was intense though these words now seem banal in comparison.

    I think these experiences show where reasons limits are and something much more…mmmm…expanded?, limitless?, extra-ordinary exists. Something we only get glimpses of usually. But personally, those glimpses have always excited me.

    • Those glimpses excite me too. Forgive me for being amused, I never thought a Barbara Streisand concert could be a spiritual experience! 😀

      • leesis said

        Hmmm…embarrasing but true 🙂

        • “embarrassing but true” might sum up all spiritual experiences, truth be told.

          In my best moments I never ridicule others’ musical tastes. That’s like ridiculing someone for liking the colour blue. Personal taste is just that. 🙂

        • leesis said

          “embarrassing but true” might sum up all spiritual experiences, truth be told.

          You’re right Jon at least I too struggle with this, and that on its own is worth deep attention.

          I have been trying to write a piece about the first non-rational absolutely true spiritual experience I had that forced me to confront the limitations of intellect; yet I find myself absolutely chicken, not to mention ridiculously anxiety ridden by every term I use. Yet, by common standards I ain’t no wimp :).

          Oh and musically…my friend, as a person who listens to folk, country, classical, Pink and Suzi Q, I’m used to being stirred about my music taste. Neither Dolly Parton or I mind! 🙂

        • “I find myself absolutely chicken, not to mention ridiculously anxiety ridden by every term I use. ”

          I really understand that, as per my introduction above, wanting to qualify everything and make it more “reasonable”.

          Music is all good. I like Pink and Suzy Q, and some of everything.

  5. sarah said

    I love this post! I agree with a lot of what you say! I especially love the whole music as a gateway. As a musician, I want to speak to my audience, my students, to whomever wants to listen. I had a bit of an experience last week when I went to see john mayer. I was moved. I was amazed. I want to become a better musician because of him.

    • SugarPop said

      Hi Sarah – nice to *meet* you 🙂

      When I sing, especially with at least three more voices, the sounds we collectively make creates a whirr of excitement in me. Performing live as a musician is powerful. No two performances are the same. Not only is the audience affected, but so am I.

      Daniel Levitin’s “This is Your Brain on Music” and his second book “The World in Six Songs” are great reading.

  6. SugarPop said

    “Until recently it was widely believed that India is ‘mystical’ and the West is ‘rational’, and many still hold this view. But in fact Indian thought has a strong tradition of rationality”. Interesting. I guess I disagree with the statement that the West is rational. Focussed on the material or physical is to me perahps more accurate.

    As for the mystical potential of music, I wholeheartedly agree – based on my experience. I saw Leonard Cohen last January and was moved to tears four times. When he recited and then sang “Let the Bells Ring” I just wanted to scream and keen with ecstasy.

    Being immersed in sound; in nature; in physical acts have all, at times, transported me. These moments are largely unpredictable. I understand the space I need to be in for such a moment to pass, but that doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to occur. So I try to remain open to their potential. Always. I chose to believe that these moments are mystical. They are deeply personal. I feel the individual that is me ceases to exist and I’m inexplicably connected a million-fold to everyone and everything around me. I feel simultaneously terrified and joyous beyond words.

    The scientist in me wants verifiable evidence. I have sought, over the years, explanations for these moments. From neuroscience and psychology to metaphysics and theology. I’m still looking. The innocent in me, though, just wants the experience and the memory to remain undissected. To just patiently await the next moment with g0d. I can live with this paradox in me. I like the mystery.

    I have surrendered.

    Let’s wiggle 🙂

  7. SugarPop said

    Oh, I almost forgot – Jonathan – I LOVE this post 🙂

  8. ‘This is hard to write, because so much of my academic side wants to challenge and define things like “spiritual”, “mysticism” and so on 1.’

    Um I get it but I’m a spiritual academic who used to love to dance, a lot…

  9. leesis said

    um, a late comment I know but as I was reading this thinking of some folks need for rational explanation it came to me that some recent works of Oliver Sacks has been about the impact of music on stroke victims, folk in coma etc. He has some outstanding findings that raise many a rational and mystical question.

  10. […] be Vaishnavites as above. I intend to visit them one of these weekends. The food is good, and as I’ve said, music could be a pathway to the spiritual for […]

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