Pop! Goes The Dharma: Be Here Ahora
:: Submitted by Jūken Zach Fehst ::
“Ahora,” (“Now”; translations from the Spanish are mine throughout), a track from the most recent album by Columbian electro-cumbia duo Bomba Estéreo, manages to do two wonderful things at the same time. It is a powerful musical meditation on acceptance—that, while drawing you into its encouraging uplift, stealthily grows an undeniable beat. Once it reaches its crescendo, in a sway of earthy bass beneath buoyant synths that are reminiscent of electrified pan pipes, I challenge you not to move…something.
The lyrics expand in widening circles of acceptance. The song begins with spoken words of guided meditation. “I’m here,” says singer Liliana Saumet. The very first possible acceptance is of the given reality of oneself. I recall a Suzuki Roshi line about how the most basic fact I can understand is that there exists someone who is called by my name. All inquiry starts from this point.
The meditation goes on to demonstrate what total acceptance of the present is like. “I’m sitting in the right place,” Saumet continues, “in the right moment.” With the mind of wisdom, she suggests, each place is the right place, each moment the right one. As Pema Chödrön puts is, “This very moment is the perfect teacher.” Only when we treat each moment as the right one—not a fluke or mistake—can we open enough to meet it.
Saumet then adds, “In the right time.” This is not exactly the same as the right moment. I like to think it refers to historical time. My wife, Heather, has been known to lament that she was not born in a bygone era—the Belle Epoque, say, or during the heyday of big band swing music.
I would love indeed to have been born in a world that is not in the throes of a catastrophic climate shift, or perpetually poised a few bad decisions away from complete nuclear annihilation. But our karma is now. The moment we are responsible for is now. And that means we are the people for this moment. For us, it is the right time.
“Let your heart open,” comes next, as the singer instructs us that total acceptance of the moment doesn’t only mean mental assent. True acceptance is recognized by its fruit: compassion for oneself and all others.
“I am well, I am well, I am well,” Saumet intones. “The wounds begin to leave / Taking with them what they should.” Positive mantra practice is not much of a feature in Zen, and such things can seem like so much wishful thinking. And yet as any practitioner knows, there is a certain power in repetition, as well as in visualization. Both can be skillful aids to practice.
Then, a short list: “I can walk barefoot on the sand / And I can hear the sound of your voice / I can see the brightness of all the stars / And in all of those things, I see myself.” The sensations she evokes—the touching, hearing, seeing—root this musical meditation in physicality. We have now been led through acceptance of the reality of oneself, of the present circumstances, of this historical period, and of other people. Two more layers of acceptance are now added: joyful acceptance of our embodiment, and acceptance of all phenomena as not separate from myself. In other words, non-duality.
This is only the first few lines of the song! The rest is also filled with evocative statements (“With a thought everything can change / Everything in this life comes in its time”) and encouragements. “You can wake up each morning / And look at the beautiful things in front of you,” Saumet reminds us. The things are there, and they are beautiful. The only question is whether we will see them. You can do it, she tells us; it’s possible. Will we?
Finally, as though impatient at having had to conceal her natural exuberance, Saumet bursts forth with something like the song’s refrain. “I am here, you are here, I am here. Now.” She repeats it again and again, seemingly delighted with the simple, miraculous reality of it, and inviting the rest of us along on the same ride, offering us the same balm of presence and acceptance.
The medicine is working. On the YouTube page for the song’s video, the highest-ranked comments are filled with expressions of peace, ease, and relief that the band, and this track in particular, have brought into people’s lives. The commenters mention undergoing difficult circumstances like suffering an assault, a depression, or the death of a loved one, and that this sonic meditation brought them closer to healing. It’s a moving testament to the power of music, and to the making of music as a Bodhisattva act.
Jūken Zach Fehst, a Minnesota native, is a graduate of the film school at the University of Southern California and holds a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University. His novel, American Magic, was a Library Journal “Summer Best” pick. He is on the path toward ordination as a Soto Zen Buddhist priest.
Jūken is also an undisciplined piano and guitar player, a world traveler who has explored dozens of countries, a fluent Spanish speaker (gracias a la previsión de sus padres), an English teacher, and the former host of the Discovery Channel’s Emmy-nominated show, “The Ultimate Guide to the Awesome.” He has been married to author Heather Demetrios Fehst for at least a few lifetimes.
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