header pic header text


The Magic of the Accidental Nigun


The Mysterious Case of the Open Heart

In the Dances of Universal Peace, many of the songs are based on languages that are completely foreign to the dancers. Nonetheless, under the guidance of the Dance leader, the group learns how to say the words and we go on merrily chanting whatever we have been told.

What if our pronunciation is so terrible that a native speaker would not even recognize the words?

What if the words are nonsense?

Or worse yet, what if we are actually using words by mistake, words that mean something far removed from our intention?

Despite our good intentions,  it's common for our pronunciation of foreign words or our intonation of sacred sounds to be far from perfect.

There are dances in which the words that we chant simply make no sense, some in which the sacred syllables are mispronounced, and others where the words that we are taught are not actually the intended words.

So, knowing that our lyrics might not be enjoyed by a native speaker of that language, yet also knowing that we are having a fine time singing the song anyhow, it's necessary to get back to that original question:

What if the words are nonsense?

What if we are not intoning the sacred syllables properly?

Does it really matter?

We're often told that certain sounds that we are using in the Dance have ancient spiritual powers as they resonate with the millions of voices who have chanted those same words through the millennia, only to find out later that we have totally mispronounced the words... yet they still had magical powers.

After watching the magic that happens in a typical Dance circle, regardless of how the words and sacred sounds are pronounced or mispronounced, it's easy to see that the pronunciation is not very important (except perhaps to an appalled native speaker of that language).

(Or at least it's not very important to those of us who do not know the "proper" pronunciation. For some thoughts about becoming more sensitive to the pronunciation expected by native speakers of the language, please see my article entitled Getting it Right.)

So, if the pronunciation of the words and intonation of the sacred sounds really doesn't matter very much, what makes the Dance work so magically? Where does the magic of the Dance come from?

Intention is the key. We intend to sing a sacred song, our hearts are proclaiming a sacred song, and thus it is sacred.

Yet there is more. Our sacred intention and the sacred atmosphere that has been created are the perfect opportunity for a shift in consciousness into a new realm of experience. Our sacred intention, coupled with a beautiful melody and a repetitive drum beat are a perfect atmosphere for a profound shift of consciousness.

The sacred intent of the gathering, the sacred words, the music, the group movements and the drum beat all work together to establish a harmonious relationship among the dancers. This state of harmony is a blissful state where the Divine outpouring of Love and Beauty is directly experienced.

When we are in harmony with our surroundings, we are in harmony with Creation, and we directly experience Love and Beauty all around us.

Toward the One
the perfection of Love, Harmony and Beauty....

                                                             ~ Sufi Invocation, by Inayat Khan

As the Sufi master Jami wrote:

Beauty and Love are as body and soul;
Beauty is the mine and Love is the precious stone.
They have always been together from the very first;
never have they traveled but in each other's company.

                                                                    ~  Jami,  The Mystics of Islam,  R. A. Nicholson

The key here is the atmosphere of Harmony which has been created with sacred intent, through which Love and Beauty are directly experienced.

The atmosphere of harmony promotes a shift away from the consciousness of the little self that lives in the world of separation and division, and into a higher consciousness of the greater Self that knows no boundaries, sees no separation, that Self who sees only Love and Beauty.

This is shift from the head to the heart.

A shift from the surface into the depths.

Ahhh... now there is a real transformation underway, a transformation based on experience.

Never mind that we have said the wrong words, never mind that our pronunciation is miserable... that's really not very important...

This new state of consciousness is a shift from our ordinary superficial awareness into the depths of the heart. This is a direct personal experience of the Divine.

Words are not all they're cracked up to be. It's not words that make us understand. It's not words that bring enlightenment. It's not words that bring joy or peace or understanding.... joy and peace and understanding have been there all along, just waiting for our arrival.

Our beloved Dances are not the first to utilize this discovery. The Jews have long used the idea of a nigun, (which is literally translated as melody or tune). Instead of words, meaningless syllables, such as ay-ay-ay, ya-ba-bim, lai-lai-lai, are deliberately used in the nigun, and the result is often more powerful than if actual words had been spoken.

Preach the gospel all the time.
If necessary, use words.

                   ~  St Francis of Assisi

The power of such a harmonious, yet wordless, atmosphere is illustrated in a story told by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin:

A simple, uneducated Jew with no great religious learning was invited to a Hasidic seuda shlishit (third Sabbath meal). The Rebbe presented a brilliant discourse on the Torah portion of the week, demonstrating his depth of insight and his rare oratorical abilities. "I don't understand," exclaimed the guest, with a puzzled expression on his face. One of the Hasidim then told a story, a wondrous miracle-story. "I still don't understand," whispered the guest, tears beginning to form in his eyes. At length, the assemblage began to sing, a tune of joy and of love, a song of peace and of yearning, a Sabbath melody which captured the desire of a people for God, the rejoicing of a people in its Law. Slowly, the stranger began to lift his voice in song together with the Hasidim, to move his fingers to the rhythm of the music, to join hands with his friends as they rose together to dance. "Now I understand," he declared, with glistening eyes and an open heart.

Beyond words and sounds there is an essence. Words or sounds are not the essence, the words and sounds can only point toward the essence.  The reality and depth of the essence can only be discovered by experience.

A word is like a nest,
and the meaning is the bird.

                                             ~ Mathnawi II - 3293,  Jalaluddin Rumi

Through the use of sacred intent along with music and movement it is possible to create an atmosphere of harmony, an atmosphere of such great harmony that Divine Love and Beauty are manifest and directly experienced.

That's the foundation and the magic of these Dances... experience. Sacred experience of the Divine.

This music and dancing is to increase Joy,
not awe toward another person,
but bliss in our own self. 
This is finding God within, through experience.

                           ~ Samuel L. Lewis

And through such sacred experience we find, much to our delight and amazement, that everything that we have sought has been at our fingertips all along.



Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,

updated 18-Oct-2005