We were talking about the space between us all, and the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion, never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late, when they pass away. We were talking about the love we all could share. When we find it, to try our best to hold it there. With our love, we could save the world, if they only knew. Try to realise it’s all within yourself, no one else can make you change. And to see you’re really only very small and life flows on within you and without you. The Beatles, Within You Without You
Exactly what listening to these lyrics at the tender age of 8 does to a psyche, I really don’t know. I tend to think if my mind had not been somewhat open to the sentiment of these words, I would have dismissed my father’s rather unusual birthday gift to the exile of discarded things and never thought of it again.
Either that or I’m completely justified in blaming dad for my being such an anachronistic freaked-out flower-child.
But I did not discard it. In fact I listened to that cassette of The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band until it wore out. And then I bought the record. And not just that record, but every Beatles record, and any other psychedelic 60’s band I could get my hands on, but more on that musical journey in this previous post, The Shamans Blues.
My dad loved the Beatles and he loved India. He went to India well before the whole 1960s psychedelic, Maharishi Yogi ashram, hippie craze, but in my mind – thanks to The Beatles – these were all inextricably linked.
I happened to mention recently to a friend that the reason I am making a pilgrimage to India is because my dad gave me the Sgt. Peppers album for my eighth birthday. He looked at me askance. And rightly so. I know. It makes no sense, but I’ll try to make some sense of it here anyway.
Because really and truly, The Beatles pretty much taught me everything I know about life.
As a child I lived 90% of my life in my imagination, I read voraciously, I loved magical realism, The Faraway Tree, The Water Babies, The Neverending Story, C S Lewis, Celtic fairy tales. I had no doubt that although Santa and the Easter Bunny were definitely made up kid’s stuff, these magical realms beyond ordinary reality were absolutely real.
So it’s no wonder really that the psychedelic visions of Sgt. Peppers were, quite literally, music to my ears.
Picture yourself on a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies, somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, the girl with kaleidoscope eyes. The Beatles, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
It’s a little sad loving a band so much after the fact. For starters, I was absolutely devastated when I found out that John Lennon had already died. It would have happened only months before my eighth birthday – before I really knew what it meant, what he meant.
The Beatles sang about love. 613 times to be exact. In some archetypal way, to my mind, they each represented an aspect of love.
Paul’s love was romantic love. Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy wants girl to hang out in slippers when they are 64. Ringo was the jester who made us smile and laugh. He sang songs about underwater worlds, and often with a mock Western twang or some other funny voice. Well, let’s face it. His normal voice was a funny voice.
Nothing you can know that isn’t known. Nothing you can see that isn’t shown. Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be. It’s easy. All you need is love. Love is all you need. The Beatles, All You Need is Love
George’s spiritual love was subtle and esoteric, and beyond my understanding at this age. And in truth, he was often overshadowed by the dynamic duo of John and Paul. But once you listen and understand the impact of his burgeoning spirituality in the band, his influence is always there.
But John’s love I could relate to, it was an idealist’s love – that uncompromising, unconditional dedication to the principle of universal love. “Why can’t we make love not war?” He asked. I tended to agree.
John’s murder seemed a brutal answer to that question. There were forces in the world that didn’t come from love and would do anything to silence that love in others. That was a dark lesson for a child to learn.
But The Beatles taught me everything. Even the hard things.
We poured over the songs, listening endlessly to George Martin’s layered, chopped, and backwardly arranged lyrics in order to try to decipher some secret message. Back in the day when you could play a record backwards to hear the lyrics.
They even helped us learn French and German, She Loves You was translated and recorded into both languages.
We spoke a ‘secret’ language of Beatles lyrics. We sang in our best Liverpudlian accents.
We had deep and meaningful conversations about who really was the walrus? And more importantly, why?
Well, she was just 17. You know what I mean. And the way she looked was way beyond compare. So how could I dance with another (Ooh). When I saw her standing there. The Beatles, I saw her standing there
My first teenage love was a boy I knew for only one night. He escorted me to my high school dance. He was a few years older and had a reputation for smoking weed and deflowering virgins so I had high hopes for the night… But instead we sat up all night, as the fumes of Southern Comfort leached from my pores, and we sang Beatles songs and shared our deep love of them.
He was a fan of their early stuff, while I loved the psychedelic later years. He was a musician and by about 3am had convinced me of the genius of their early song compositions. He sang And I Love Her. To me.
At the dance they had played I Saw Her Standing There and we had danced. And I was just seventeen, you know what I mean.
But life was not always a Magical Mystery Tour.
The Beatles were torn apart by conflict. Charles Manson stole Helter Skelter as his demonic signature for the Tate massacre. John was murdered. He and Paul who’d once lived and breathed each other, had not even been on speaking terms for years.
It seemed that love was not enough after all.
In my own descent into nihilism, from my late teens to mid-20s, I lost that psychedelic light entirely. I drugged and drank not to see and seek anymore but to stop from seeing, to escape.
She’s not a girl who misses much. She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand. Like a lizard on a window pane. I need a fix ’cause I’m going down. Down to the bits that I left uptown. The Beatles, Happiness is a Warm Gun
The Beatles went to Rishikesh in 1968, along with their partners, Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence, and the British musician Donovan, and much of the White Album was written at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram there.
The White album is incredibly diverse – random even – and signals the disparate ways the band members were heading. Perhaps it was also a reflection of each member’s reaction to going within during that transformative time at the ashram.
The White Album is a soul-searching album of disconnection. What happens when we go within and things are not all peace and love? What do we do with the anger, the disappointment, the nihilism.
It was only in researching this post that I got a true sense of how bad things were for the band after the ashram trip. When they went to record The White album back at Abbey Road, the band fell apart. Yoko was always there, Ringo left the band for a period, and the other members even filled in on drums on some of the tracks. In fact, only 16 out of the 30 songs on the album were recorded with all four members in the same room.
There’s something about hearing music that you’ve been listening to for 35 years. The sounds trigger layers of memories and associations, the music plunges deep, like an arrow through the memory skin and this variegated essence of me across the years is exposed.
From these familiar sounds dance a prism of memories, an augmented reality, in which I can simultaneously see the various projections of my self across the years. The eight year old me, the fourteen year old, the seventeen year old, the young adult, and the middle aged me, all bopping along together.
No matter where I have found myself, what dark places, the music of The Beatles has always been a lifeline back to my true essence.
I too descended into a place of dark nihilism during my “White Album” years. But I came from that dark place with a hunger and a thirst for spiritual connection. Again there was something in George’s sitar and those words that kept drawing me back to Indian mysticism.
We were talking about the love that’s gone so cold. And the people who gain the world and lose their soul. They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them? When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we’re all one and life flows on within you and without you. The Beatles, Within You, Without You.
George Harrison was most permanently transformed from the ashram experience, for the other Beatles it was a more transitory phase, although they all remained convinced by the benefits of meditation and continued to practise in one form or another.
John Lennon in particular was put off by the somewhat dubious practices that went on as the Western pop culture came crashing into Eastern mysticism.
The energy that I’ve found doing meditation, you know, has been there before – only that I could access it only during good days when everything was going well. With meditation I find that it could well be pouring down rain; it is still the same amount. John Lennon
George however found a spiritual practice that would strengthen and sustain him all his days. He connected with musicians such as Ravi Shankar, who became an inspiration and mentor, George felt he could see how music was an expression of spirit, a call to spirit.
The Beatles connection with India goes back further than George’s interest in transcendental meditation. The first time I heard the names of the Hindu goddesses Kali and Lakshmi was in The Beatles movie Help! Where the band are on the run from a crazed Hindu cult after Ringo inadvertently steals their sacred sacrificial ring.
In various interviews around the time The Beatles became interested in the Maharishi Yogi, they describe how they came to know of him and his practice.
All of us, except Ringo, attended the lecture given by Maharishi at the Hilton Hotel. I got the tickets. I was actually after a mantra. I had got to the point where I thought I would like to meditate; I’d read about it and I knew I needed a mantra – a password to get through into the other world. And, as we always seemed to do everything together, John and Paul came with me. George Harrison
Recently I watched the wonderful Martin Scorsese documentary film, Living in the Material World, on George Harrison.
It struck me that his trajectory into the spiritual was similar to mine and many others I’ve known.
When he met the Maharishi Yogi in 1967 he was lost in a world of booze and drugs.
Cocaine especially had taken hold and his life was on a roller-coaster of empty highs and lows.
With drugs, you are still on the relative level. Just waiting and dreaming – all this is relative, only on this grosser level. Whereas when you meditate, it is all on a subtler level. So really you cannot compare them. With drugs you do have a glimpse of a few things, they heighten your experience. But if you take a drug and hope that it will bring the subtlety out of this grosser level – well, it will never work. George Harrison
In transcendental meditation and later the Hindu faith, George found a means to access spirit and all the higher realms of consciousness without drugs. In the same way, I found the journey within and connection to spirit was way more of a psychedelic trip than any hallucinogen I’d been on. And this time it had meaning.
The Beatles inadvertently taught me my first meditation mantra, jai guru deva OM जय गुरुदेव ॐ. It was in the song Across the Universe. I thought it was French and John was singing “I’m a guru already.” I’d been singing it for years before I understood what it was. In sanskrit it means “Glory to the Heavenly teacher.” Guru Dev was the Maharishi’s guru.
OM is the vibrational sound used to resonate with the vibration of the universe. In Sanskrit, these sounds have a vibrational resonance that has great power, the effect of reciting this mantra is to lull the mind into a state of higher consciousness. I remember having this mantra floating around in my head for days after listening to this song.
Images of broken light which dance before me like a million suns. They call me on and on across the universe. Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box. They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe. Jai Guru Deva OM. The Beatles, Across the Universe
This blog has always been about intentions. I have watched this intention for India bloom from a deep, but nebulous, wishing “wouldn’t it be lovely to go” to a shift where it became a vague possibility, to the multitude of signs that cropped up almost every day once I had said to myself “I really want to go to India.”
First, I kept seeing pictures of Alana Fairchild everywhere. She was promoting her Lakshmi Invoking the Goddess Retreat, during Diwali, the Festival of Lights, in Varanasi.
Diwali is the celebration of the inner light over spiritual darkness, knowledge over ignorance, right over wrong, good over evil.
In addition, the first day of Diwali is seen as the birth day of goddess Lakshmi, born from “the churning cosmic ocean of milk,” and the night marks the union of Lakshmi and Vishnu.
During the five day festival, the Ganges river comes alive with lanterns, fire offerings, and floating lights, every dwelling is lit up as the whole city is festooned in light.
It is said that, in Varanasi, an aarti, or devotional ceremony, has been offered to the Ganga morning and night for five thousand years.
Although logically I knew I could do India a lot cheaper on my own, every time I read the description of this week of full immersion in Lakshmi worship, in one of the great holy cities in the world, beside this river that represents the spiritual and literal lifeblood of India, my heart would leap up and pant, “please, please, please.”
During this time of deciding, the signs popped up everywhere, every newspaper and magazine I picked up seemed to have India on the cover. The Taj Mahal was everywhere! So I said to spirit “Okay, you want me to go? Show me the money.” The $500 deposit was due in a week and I was broke.
As I prayed at my altar I noticed it was pretty dusty so I gave it a good spring clean. I opened a special jewellery box I call my God box, where I place little notes and symbols of people and things I want to pray for or get help with, and out popped $250. (More on God Boxes in this previous post.)
It was the day after my entreaty to spirit.
At first I couldn’t understand where the money had come from, then I remembered my cancelled trip to Bali. I had exchanged money at the airport and had to get a refund when my flight was cancelled. I had come home and put the money in my god box, ostensibly for Bali. But here I had half my deposit.
Within a week I was offered a professional blog writing job, the Chakradance bookings were coming in and so I paid the deposit. When the intention is right, the money comes. I just had to trust my heart on this stuff.
I can’t remember when the Rishikesh idea came to me but once it did it took root immediately. A pilgrimage to the place the Beatles, well at least one of them, had got connected with their spiritual destiny? How could I not!
Looking a photos of this glorious town in the foothills of the Himalayas, I realised that this was near the source of the Ganges. The very same river I would be engaged in worship with for a week in Varanasi. Was this river calling to me?
Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream. It is not dying, it is not dying. Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void. It is shining, it is shining. Yet you may see the meaning of within. It is being, it is being. Love is all and love is everyone. It is knowing, it is knowing… The Beatles, Tomorrow Never Knows
In Hindu traditions the Ganges, or Ganga is divine, part mother, nourisher and sustainer of life, part goddess incarnate in elemental form, she is worshipped and revered.
According to Diane L. Eck in her wonderful book India: A Sacred Geography,
Her true headwaters are not really in the highest Himalayas, but are said to be in highest heaven, emerging from the very foot of Vishnu. She was carried in the water pot of Lord Brahma, and when she plummeted from heaven to earth, her cascades fell first on the head of Lord Shiva. It is no wonder the most famous hymn to the river calls her “the embodied goodness of the gods.” Diane L. Eck
To go to her waters and be blessed by mother Ganga is a great privilege. It is the pilgrimage of a lifetime for many Hindus, and I feel honoured and humbled to have this opportunity.
The river certainly called George Harrison, he had such reverence for her and the Hindu traditions surrounding her, that his ashes were scattered in the Ganges at Varanasi.
When I say I am going to India because of The Beatles, I don’t mean to flippantly disregard millenia of Indian mysticism. Of course my fascination with the Hindu Tantra tradition is the reason I am drawn to this place. The role of The Ganges in that religion makes my destinations particularly pertinent. I trust this is the beginning of many Indian journeys for me.
I guess the point is, at a very young age this wonderful band came into my life and shaped me in a fundamental way.
Through The Beatles I was exposed to Indian mysticism at a formative phase of my psyche.
Not everyone who loves The Beatles develops a fascination with the Hindu spirituality, so I think for me it sowed a seed for something that my soul longed to be part of my incarnation at this time.
Or not. Who knows, really? All I do know is that when I wax and wane with indecision, as I am wont to do, this journey keeps cycling back to the sound of that sitar on that first album I ever owned.
There have been times over the last few months where I have questioned my decision to go to India. I can’t really afford it, the day after I paid for my retreat I found out my car needs $1400 worth of repairs.
But The Beatles taught me to live from the heart, to live as love would have me do. So I drive around with a noisy muffler, and play The Beatles really loud, and every time I hear that sitar, well don’t you know…
Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright, alright, alright. The Beatles, Revolution