Bhai Baldeep Singh said that you have to lick the dry stone a thousand times before you can taste the nectar. It is a good description of practice. Practice is not just for the days you feel motivated and inspired. The value of practice is not measured by how great you feel before, during or after. They say 80% of success is just showing up and sometimes that’s all I can do, just show up.
People like to talk about the shabds that move them to tears, the elation of an ecstatic moment, the warm feeling of the Guru’s presence. Sometimes practice can feel quite ordinary, or even uncomfortable, discouraging and yes, tedious. They are all precious moments.
The spiritual experience is not just one thing. The shabds speak in many different voices, with many different emotions, to many different states the practitioner might encounter along the way. Fast, slow, dramatic, quiet, happy, melancholy, churning, content, the music recounts the journey.
I started this hike through Gurbāni Sangeet almost six months ago. The path has been well-marked by those who have gone before and I’ve had good guides to train with. There have been wonderful surprises, magical moments and stunning vistas along the way. There have also been challenges as I have come face to face with my own limitations.
The past few weeks have been like trudging through the wilderness, the part of the hike where you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. As I turned the page to rāga wadhans the rain started falling…dhan sarandā sachā patishā…even the sky weeping in the love of the Lord. Drenched in a cleansing shower, I walked a little further and the woods began to clear and then opened on a pasture…goila āiā goili…how can a song be this beautiful? This shabd was tugging on my heart, but I kept walking forward, turning the pages, enjoying the continuing drizzle of rāga wadhans…dhan su velā jit darsan charanā. Finally I turned back to walk around in the beautiful pasture a little more. The rain of wadhans had settled into a little pool to swim in for awhile along with the peacock who also enjoyed the water.
The translation of the bāni uses the word ostentatious– what good are ostentatious displays? This shabd is itself free of anything ostentatious. A simple melody in a moderate range that never rises past nikād. Har gun gāo manā satigur sev piār. Swim one lap with breast stroke in chanchal tāla, then turn the page and take a lap in backstroke with choti teentāl. Reluctantly climbing out of the water, sitting in silence at the edge of the pond, the world has a new clarity.
Like many other beautiful melodies in this book, this shabd was originally sung in a different rāga and I wonder how Guru Arjan Dev sang it in sri rāga. I wonder who the travellers were who heard these words coming in rāga wadhans and melded rāga and bāni so seamlessly in one tāla and then another. They have reached across centuries and continents with a gift of water to touch the heart of a weary traveler like me.