When we meditate, we shine a bright stage light onto this same reality.
Meditation is instinctive, natural, and expressive. People slip into meditative states spontaneously whilst watching a sunrise, listening to a brilliant crescendo of riffs and drums at a concert, or lying in bed after lovemaking. Even whilst experiencing a car crash recently, time seemed to slow down and for a brief moment, I was hyper-aware of what was going on.
In this meditative state we are safe to fully feel and express our rage, as well as our bliss. The same thing happens in a mosh pit: as angry as the music and dancing can get, it’s one of the few socially appropriate venues to express those feelings. And afterwards, those emotions have been expressed and diffused, at least for a little while.
Meditation is a vessel for awareness, a container into which you can pour your entire being. All your thoughts, your emotions, your physical sensations, whatever your current reality - it’s all observed under the looking glass of meditation. All of it is acceptable. All of it can be felt. If meditation were a musical genre I dare say it would be metal and all of its subgenres. Here’s a few more reasons why:
It’s not pretty.
The bikini-clad yogini on Instagram sits in lotus pose on a tropical beach, eyes closed and smiling blissfully. But meditation is not perfect, and it is usually not pretty.
The birds eye view offered by meditation includes not only blissful panoramas and ecstatic peaks of being, but also the dark valleys, exploding volcanoes, and raging torrents - the “ugly” or less socially acceptable emotions like anger, fear and even hatred. It includes physical and emotional pain. It includes your darkest thoughts. This is the un-pretty side to meditation that people sometimes freak out about. Meditation is one way of getting closer to yourself and your reality, but we don’t always like what we find.
Take anger, for instance. From an early age we’re taught to suppress our anger, only to have it seep out via other avenues, or explode at the most inopportune times causing even more damage to ourselves and those around us.
Like meditation, heavy metal and its many genres aren’t pretty as such. Beyonce is to photo-styled yoga selfies, as RATM is to gritty, unglamorous meditation practice. I indulge in my share of mindless pop and thoroughly enjoy it – it gets me dancing, and starts getting me out of my head. But without an adjunct meditation practice of some sort, a contortionist mermaid pose on a tropical beach is merely fodder for garnering likes and offers little substance for personal growth.
One of my most learned and badass teachers, Santina Giardina-Chard of InSan Yoga has a mind-blowing physical practice, yet her willingness to expose her vulnerability keeps her real. Despite her ability to float up to handstands with the greatest of ease, she also experiences low times. Santina once told me that, “some days I just go to my mat, curl up into a ball and cry.” A full spectrum practice that includes meditation and genuine self-enquiry just isn’t pretty, at least not all the time.
It’s often a lonely road.
In the circles I hang out in (yogis, spirituality buffs, hippies, health and natural medicine geeks) it’s hard to find people who passionately share my musical tastes. Once a few years ago I was desperate to go to a Tool concert in Sydney but had no one to go with. So I packed my stuff and went alone. I sat in the shitty back seats and still cried with joy when they played this song:
The same goes for meditation. Since having a baby I’ve frequented yoga studios and Buddhist communities on a far less regular basis than I used to. So my interaction with other meditators is limited to a few of my friends and my Dad –I’m lucky to have them! With so many different meditation techniques and ways of adapting them, it’s unrealistic to expect to find someone with the same penchant for my mix of Tibetan Buddhist, insight and new age meditation. When I find out someone I’ve just met meditates I want to fist pump.
When you’re starting to meditate you might feel alone, clueless, and weird. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying the most incredible concert ever – your own inner world, full of light and sound and chaos and beauty.
Learning without experiencing is not learning.
This is pretty straightforward. Just like reading a shoddy Pitchfork review is light years away from experiencing a live concert; reading about meditation isn’t nearly as useful as actually sitting down and practicing it. So go to classes. Gather with like-minded people if you can. Create a space somewhere in your house to practice – even if that is sitting up awkwardly in bed with a teething baby attached to your boob like it has for me lately. Just give it a go and with practice, it will pay off eventually.
It can be wisely used, or abused.
You can use meditation to numb out, or to tune in. In the past I have mistakenly turned to meditation to make me feel better, to deny the so-called “negative” emotions I was feeling at the time and try to replace them good vibes or a sense of being above it all, and pretending that nothing affected me. That didn’t work.
You can use emotive music like metal to block things out, like I did as a teenager in a less than peaceful household. Or you can use it to express your inner world through singing, dancing, and shouting, and owning your emotions through that expression.
You might not like it at first.
Like many avatars in metal, you may need to listen to a good album a few times to really start to get it and feel it. Although I fell in love with Tool at age 16 it took me years to actually discern what some of the lyrics meant. The same repetition goes for meditation. After a break from practice, I find it take a good 30-40 days of daily practice to really start to feel the benefits of meditation. After a few sleepless months with a newborn, I slowly picked up my meditation practice again and it has been a game changer. I’ve remembered that I’m a real bitch when I don’t meditate. But I’m noticeably more accepting of life’s ups and downs, and more adaptable when I meditate regularly.
Metal sign or mudra?
Another awesome metal-loving yoga teacher, Alison Nankivell of 8 Limbs Yoga pointed out to me that the sign of the horns used in metal culture replicates one of many yoga mudras. Mudras are a gestures formed by the hands, used in yoga to stablise the mind. They are energy seals have been in use for thousands of years. According to wonderful Wikipedia, the sign of the horns is the same as Karana Mudra and was first used by the Buddha. More recently it has been identified as Apana Vayu Mudra, or at least close to it. Mere coincidence? Probably. But it’s a heartwarming thought that seas of goths pumping their mudras in the air are doing a fine job of performing the ‘gesture of the heart’.
After a good session you feel better.
Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly pissed off about something, I like to rock out to some 80’s thrash metal, even if only for ten minutes. This description by meditation teacher Camille Maureen, of her own personal practice one morning, also describes my sentiments during and after a good metal session:
“I spent the first five minutes growling, hissing, and shaking. In the next five, my breath turned to sobs. Then for ten minutes more my body hummed with the currents of electricity. And the last few minutes I just sat there with my eyes open, smiling with dangerous glee. I’m more like a wild animal than serene. But I feel all of one piece, my fur is smoothed out, and… I am definitely refreshed!”
It can be truly transcendental.
Metal, like meditation, can expose you to your highest inner peaks and the darkest depths. Meditation is a container that allows you to hold and witness the huge spectrum of emotions we experience – the dizzying highs of love and joy, and exciting new insights, as well as the depressive and fearfulness hidden in the shadows we often choose to ignore. And everything in between, including boredom.
I leave you with the words of one of my favourite prog metal songs ever, lyrics that I sat up and analysed one night whilst on a Buddhist meditation retreat as the day’s teachings started sinking in and these lyrics started making sense. I enjoy Beyonce but her music only goes so deep - I haven’t yet heard her sing about the transcendental realities of the universe, unlike these guys:
“Over thinking, over analysing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition leaving all these opportunities behind.
Feed my will to feel this moment urging me to cross the line.
Reaching out to embrace the random.
Reaching out to embrace whatever may come.”
Tool - Lateralus