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What gives you joy? Some sources of joy come from deeper within us than others.
Right now, on a mass scale, many people feel we are undergoing a shallowing-out of our inner life. One area where this comes through has to do with the way we experience music.
In the past, nearly everyone sang, knew countless songs, and perhaps even played an instrument or two. Music, especially when sung and played in groups, gave people joy. In some places in the world this is still the case. But as information technology advances, spreads, and becomes more portable, recorded music is gradually replacing live music. With that change, we’ve begun to lose the spiritual character of the experience.
Live music resonates in the heart and soul in a way that can’t be captured in a recording. When the music is live, it doesn’t matter as much if the song is mediocre or if the performer isn’t perfectly skilled. There is a power to the experience of live music, and especially participatory music, that goes beyond mere sound quality. It isn’t just the sound waves that matter. The presence of other human beings matters too.
In music, just as in life, having a person respond to and engage with us in real-time is absolutely life-affirming. Raising and harmonizing our voices in song unites us, and makes us feel one with each other.
That’s one of the major reasons music has always been a part of true religion. Sure, everybody loves music—but music is also a reliable medium for connecting with the spiritual reality of other people’s souls. A beautiful passage from the Baha’i writings affirms this principle:
Let your joy be the joy born of My Most Great Name, a Name that bringeth rapture to the heart, and filleth with ecstasy the minds of all who have drawn nigh unto God. We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high. –Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 39.
It might seem that modern recording technology would enhance our experience of music because it allows us to listen to only the very best performers, not just the amateurs we know in our daily lives. But because the human element only appears as a recorded representation, the recording starts at a huge deficit. No matter what the music industry does to modify their product, they can never replace the living, responsive, spiritual presence of another human being.
This social transformation of music points to a larger phenomenon of modern life: the dominance of media representation over our immediate experience of the real world.
Our souls desire beauty. But oversaturation in media can fool us into thinking that something is only attractive if it has been crafted by professionals and presented to us as a commodity. The world is beautiful. People are beautiful. We lose sight of that when we forget how to make use of our souls.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” It’s usually interpreted to mean that everybody has different opinions or standards for beauty. But it can also be taken to mean that beauty is a way of beholding.
We make things beautiful because we are spiritually capable of looking at them in a beautiful way. Connecting at a personal level with others through music is one way of stimulating that spiritual power within us. A recording of a song is an image of that kind of experience, but the people are not there, only the sound waves they once produced. The representation lacks essential features of the reality it represents.
In modern culture the word entertainment is gradually becoming synonymous with the media. Each new generation is more inclined than the last to think that happiness comes from listening to or watching something using an electronic device. Because of this, our society must examine its assumptions about joy, desire, and happiness and give thought to the value of being among others, joining our voices together in harmony.
We are social creatures. We were not made to be alone with our possessions, devoid of human contact. Connecting with other people is the secret to human happiness. The Baha’i Faith teaches that when our hearts are made pure and are illumined by heavenly attributes, our interactions with others take place on a more elevated spiritual plane:
Become as true brethren in the one and indivisible religion of God, free from distinction, for verily God desireth that your hearts should become mirrors unto your brethren in the Faith, so that ye find yourselves reflected in them, and they in you. This is the true Path of God, the Almighty, and He is indeed watchful over your actions. – The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 56.
Be most loving one to another. Burn away, wholly for the sake of the Well-Beloved, the veil of self with the flame of the undying Fire, and with faces joyous and beaming with light, associate with your neighbor. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 316.
We would look at these words of encouragement too narrowly if we only saw them as expressing our duties and responsibilities. They’re not just about ways we should be and things we should do if we follow our conscience. They invite us to spiritual joy. They welcome us into our true emotional home which is fellowship and communion between souls.