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Facing The Music

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

When I was young and had ambitions of becoming a singer, I sang for my mom. In preparation for this performance, I hadn’t practiced along with a tuned instrument at any point. I sang alone, navigating by what felt right. When I finished singing, after a long pause, her first question was about the lyrics, the emotions communicated by the words. The fact that she didn’t comment on the qualities of my performance said everything she wouldn’t. She was afraid of hurting my feelings, perhaps of inciting my pride and instigating a conflict between us. The source of all human folly is communicated in this childhood memory. We experience such an aversion to the truth that we will instead live in any imaginable reality that doesn’t bruise the ego. Our world is built out of these imaginary realities, and it is defined by the moments when our fictions crumble, when forces apathetic to our pride hold us to account. In the years since, I have discovered a mode of vocal practice common in North Indian classical music, in which an instrumental drone is held and the singer matches the pitch. Coming so close to the waves of sound reveals the true margins of consonance and dissonance. One can physically feel the slightest discrepancies between the pitch of one's voice and that of the instrument. When you're close but not perfect, you can hear an unmistakable interference pattern. When you're dead on, you seem to hover in air.

As a child, I simply sang what felt right without any external standard, and wandered into a fog of wishful hearing. In such wishful states of mind any dissonance with reality, rather than being welcomed as a hint leading toward the truth, is greeted as falsity, as hurtful as it is untrue. Aware of our fragile emotions, others will avoid conflict by allowing us to carry on living our illusions. No human being is immune to this. Our allegiance to lies over the truth is a consequence of the ego, and unless there’s no you, it afflicts you too. The only treatment, given there is no cure, is stillness. Only when the petty hustle of daily life is put on pause does a sense of context bubble up to awareness. I’m going to die. All the affairs of today’s world will be forgotten in the inexorable drift of time. This moment, and only this moment, is my opportunity. These realities can guide us like the pure tone of a droning instrument, and if the accompaniment is dissonant, the fault is not with the truth. Sit still for ten minutes and receive the context of your existence. In stillness, the dissonance between reality and all those ego-abetting thoughts and emotions cannot be ignored, nor should it be. The dissonance is our guide. Pause often enough and sincerely enough, and experience moments of unison with the truth. There could be no more beautiful tone than that.


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