I have always felt that my music speaks to the innocence in all of us.
The message in my lyrics contains a simplicity that is re-iterated with every song; to remember the LOVE that we are.
As we get older, and life becomes more complicated, we tend to forget the inherent love that defines and informs us. When we are in touch with that love, it spreads into all aspects of life, including self-love, love for others, and love for life itself.
I have learned so much from my daughter Tulsi, now 7, who maintains her connection to love with so much grace, and ease. In fact, children, as a whole, have this capacity, to love with their whole being, unconditionally. For a child, it’s a spontaneous expression of their true nature. For us, though it is also our true nature, we tend to be less in touch with it, so it becomes a practice… the practice of love.
For us, as seekers on the path, returning to the innocence of our youth, is one way of describing the goal of the spiritual journey. The practice is to return to love, again and again, seizing each opportunity to choose love over fear. We make the choice to love, until like a child, it becomes a choiceless choice – and grace takes over.
One way in which children express this love effortlessly, is in how they share their self expression, without judgment. It reveals itself also in the way that they open their hearts to others, without first vetting the worthiness of the other.
This reminds me of a quote I heard once about true unconditional love, or ‘bhakti”, as it is called on the yoga path:
“It is like a big beautiful oak tree that gives shade to everyone who sits under it; worthiness or eligibility are not considered. The giving is spontaneous and complete, without exception.”
On my recent album, The Beloveds, I included a song called “Love Light Spirit Essence.” The song describes how my daughter, Tulsi, loves and gives in this way. The lyrics are: “I have a child who wakes happy. She never wonders what she’ll take from the world. Her heart is open and her mind is free. She brings such joy to her family.” And I should add, that she not only brings joy to her family, but to all she meets; because she radiates this love. Why? Because she is this LOVE, and she hasn’t forgotten that!
The path that I found years ago, “bhakti yoga”, focuses on reclaiming this love. Remember, we don’t attain it, because it’s never been lost. We simply remember.
Bhakti yoga, the path of universal, unconditional love, uses practices to re-awaken this love, practices that access the source of that love, the heart!
One way of understanding how bhakti works is that the practice finds a way to go straight to the heart by bypassing the conditioned mind. The conditioned mind is made up of all the reasons why we shouldn’t love, what I call strategies of ego… the reasons why it’s not safe to love. Simply put, the conditioned mind is composed of past experiences of how we’ve been hurt. It keeps track of those memories to remind us to protect ourselves, so that we don’t get hurt again. Contrary to this, the path of love guides us to keep our hearts open even though we’ve been hurt in the past. It reminds us that it is safe to love, that the greatest pain of all, is to close our hearts! But, how can we do this? Why is it safe? Why might we want to experience the same pain again? Why should we let our guard down and open ourselves up to being hurt again? The answer is quite simple… it is our heart’s desire to love! Easily stated? Yes. Easy to manifest? Not exactly… at least in the beginning.
None of us really know exactly when and how these ancient yoga practices came into existence. However, I can speculate this; those who developed the bhakti yoga path knew this… you cannot escape the mind through the mind! They must have known that we need tools and practices to get out of our heads and into our hearts! And in bhakti, one of the primary ways of accomplishing this is, SINGING together!
Bhakti practice engages a practice of group singing to facilitate a dissolution of the barriers we place around our hearts; between us and our feelings, between us and others, and between us and our true self, as love! In bhakti practice, we use powerful mantras that embody a technology for becoming less “self” conscious and breaking down the resistance to trusting our inclination to love. In this practice, something curious often takes place. When we begin to chant, we experience ourselves, and our voices as separate from each other. As we continue to sing, we begin to harmonize with each other, and our separation begins to fade, and we feel that we are singing together, with others. Eventually, something magical happens… we are all singing, but there is ONE voice. It feels as if we are being collectively moved by the same force, the same spirit. In this space, it is easy to love! Why? Because there is no other!
This sense of connection, is what a young child often feels!
This is why a child loves so freely. They are not threatened or fearful of the other; because to them, there is no other! Yes, as we grow older, it is natural that we learn to discern, and it is appropriate that we sense danger and act accordingly. However, having this capacity should never intrude on our ability to give and receive love. As human beings, this is our greatest gift; it is what we are made of.
Learning to love another even amidst opposing ideologies has been a great lesson for me. I’ve learned that I can move in the world, stand up for what I believe in, and at the same time never stop loving. My daughter, Tulsi, has been a great teacher for me in this respect.
I remember some years ago when Tulsi was around 2 years old, we were traveling to play an event in Saskatchewan, Canada. Almost everyone on the plane was traveling with their rifles on a hunting expedition. A man seated next to me was reading a book about hunting and killing deer. I was immediately offended by this as I began to think of the beautiful deer that ran across my backyard on a weekly basis. I remember feeling tense, and experiencing some animosity in his presence. He turned to speak with me a couple times during the plane ride, but I kept my heart closed, and did not open to him or engage him in conversation. Simply put, because he was a hunter, I could not love him. However, as we were walking off the plane, I noticed that him and Tulsi were smiling at each other, then giggling, and ultimately making a sweet heart to heart connection. As I watched, I suddenly realized that Tulsi could love this man freely because she was not encumbered by her judgments. I also realized in that moment, that I could too! Something quite powerful struck me! I could disagree with someone, have strongly different beliefs, even actively oppose another’s ideas or actions, but I never had to stop loving them. In other words, differences and unconditional love were not mutually exclusive; they could exist side by side.
Watch the children around you. Observe how they love. Take it in. Know unequivocally that you can be an adult, responsible, informed, engaged, and at the same time, love innocently, and unconditionally, like a child. Yes, this takes practice!
Find those activities that foster a sense of release from your resistance to love. Take the journey from your head to your heart. As I’ve stated above, singing, is one way to refresh this joy within you. Doing it together, in a group, is even better, as it fortifies that sense of connection to others. The icing on the cake is enlisting the power of ancient mantras that embody the technology to break down barriers and reveal that behind the veil, there really is no other.
As my spiritual guide Neem Karoli Baba would say often, “Sub Ek”, which means All One…and yes, in love, we are all one!
Don’t miss David Newman’s Living the Ecstatic Life: A Journey Into the Bhakti Path of Love at the the Art of Living Retreat Center, November 8–10, 2019.