Sing, Sing, Sing: Thoughts on Psalm 105
We all have habits of mind, well-worn neural pathways down which our minds go racing when we are anxious, when we lie down to sleep or simply when we are idle.
Rebbe Nachman calls these habits לסטים הדעת - thieves of consciousness. They are the habits of mind which draw our consciousness towards harmful, destructive places, places from which it can be difficult to extract ourselves.
Its easy to see these “thieves” overtake children who, even more than adults, are confronted by a world they can't fully understand or control. So, when they are frustrated, they cry and scream and tantrum, which seems to be a worse experience for them than it is even for those around them. They are overtaken by the thieves of consciousness and don't know how to extract their minds.
Often, we adults often don’t know how to do that either. We lie awake at night, our consciousness drawn to places that are neither productive nor pleasant, and we are often as powerless as a child to bring our awareness somewhere else - anywhere else. Sometimes we try to escape consciousness altogether with drugs or alcohol or mindless TV (which is called “mindless” for good reason) but we often lack the resources to deliberately take control of our consciousness.
The Psalmist reminds us, however, that we can not only elude the thieves of consciousness, but we can resist them as well. The Psalmist opens Psalm 105, the 8th of Rabbi Nachman’s Tikkun HaClali, like a slam poet, spitting out ten ways of claiming control over our minds. The first, of course, is to give thanks always, a powerful practice that is prominently part of Psalm 90.
The second is to sing - שירו לו זמרו לו. Sing, sing sing! Singing is the antidote to panic. It forces us to breathe, gives voice to our soul even - perhaps particularly - when we don’t have words. As R. Nachman put it “A holy melody has the power to bring one to the level of prophecy. Music is the foundation of true attachment to the Holy One.”
Or, as our local sage Pete Seeger put it “Once upon a time, wasn’t singing a part of everyday life as much as talking, physical exercise, and religion? Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in this world, sang while pounding grain, paddling canoes, or walking long journeys. Can we begin to make our lives once more all of a piece? Finding the right songs and singing them over and over is a way to start. And when one person taps out a beat, while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.”
It is, without a doubt, beautiful and powerful to sing with another or sing with a group. But even quietly, even alone, even when it is just us being tortured by the thieves of consciousness, we can sing, we can sing, we can sing. and even the saddest song can help us bring our consciousness where we need it to be.