I’ve recently come back from Buddhafield festival in Somerset. It was a beautifully free and open place to be with plenty of opportunities to grow, learn, laugh, stretch and be stretched.
I went to early morning ashtanga yoga classes with Joey Miles and enjoyed cups of chai with my yin teacher Norman. I caught the end of a Shamanic Journeying workshop where I was supposed to identify my power animal. No idea. I furrowed my brow when I realised I missed the ‘how to stop frowning’ workshop. I looked deep into strangers’ eyes and said what I felt in my heart.
But for me, the highlight was Mahasukha’s singing workshops. In essence, he’s a smiley bloke with a drum who teaches people songs with nice harmonies. But really, he does so much more than that.
On Friday evening there were maybe 300-400 people at his Beauty of Mantra workshop. He announced that we’d be singing the Padmasambhava* mantra:
Om ah hum vajra guru pema siddhi hung
You can listen to a recording of it on his website but it’s not the same as doing it surrounded by hundreds of people.
Split into groups according to our singing voice, he taught us the tune each group would sing. And then we were off.
Now I know that singing and chanting makes me happy. I’ve talked about it often enough on this blog but there’s a deeper connection to voice. I know for me it offers a release, a connection to emotion held within my body.
People sang with heart and I got lost within the words and tune. My voice became stuck. It’s like it catches in your throat and the only way through is to allow the emotion out. Tears fell. I didn’t know why I was racked with sobs, but they came. At times I was able to come back to the music, and at other times, the tears were the focus.
People were going up to the front, doing prostrations and lighting candles and incense in front of a statue of Padmasambhava. The candle light lit tear tracks down people’s cheeks. And you knew there was no need to hide. We were in a safe space and it was ok to let it out. The last time I felt anything close to this was when I was at Amma’s ashram in Kerala (read about it).
I’m not sure how long we sang for but at the end, there was a feeling that we’d all been through a cathartic experience and there was hugging and smiling. There were words and silence. We’d created something beautiful together. Harmonies created by humanity. We were singing sounds that have been sung by cultures and communities for centuries.
The next day I went to Mahasukha’s Soulful Singing workshop and we sang South African songs – one sung during apartheid that translated as ‘white men, we are coming’. It was Nelson Mandela’s birthday so we sang his song (hear song). Again, it was all stirring stuff but it felt much more joyful and celebratory. People let go. There were beaming smiles. We moved our bodies in ways that felt good and natural.
I took a short video and you can watch it here: Morning workshop. You may need to turn your screen 90 degrees…
Towards the end of the festival, I was sitting drinking chai with friends around a fire and Mahasukha came into the tent and sat nearby. We got chatting and he spoke of his enjoyment in bringing people together and the connectedness that singing creates. He said, “As clichéd as it sounds, the harmonies create harmony.”
And they really do. The human connection creates happiness. It doesn’t matter if you get a note wrong or you come in at the wrong moment. You’re simply held in the space by everyone around you – whether you’re bawling your eyes out or grinning like you’ve never grinned before.
I guess that’s Buddhafield in a nutshell.
Have you been to Mahasukha’s workshops? What are your experiences? Feel free to comment below.
Learn more about his workshops in Brighton.
*Padmasambhava is a central character in Tibetan Buddhism who is said to have brought Buddhism from India to Tibet.