Love and destiny all hang on the xiao
THIS is the story of two people who followed their hearts and, touched by serendipity and synchronicity, found love and new lives as musicians.
About 20 years ago, Sahayek, as he is now known, decided to take up meditation and became immersed in a more spiritual way of living.
He was on a meditation retreat high in the Chinese mountains in 2006 when some beautiful music caught his ear.
“I heard an instrument being played,” he said.
“I sat on a rock and just meditated and opened my heart. It was completely silent, snow was falling, wind was blowing, and there was this haunting sound.”
He headed to an ancient temple and saw the source of the music: a Taoist monk playing a long flute.
Later, down in a village, he recounted the story to a friend, who reached into his bag and pulled out a long wooden flute called a xiao, which he had bought earlier, and said, “I want you to have this.”
Sahayek went home and began to play the flute, albeit in a limited way, as part of his daily meditation routine. A couple of years later, he fell in love with a wooden flute for sale at the Woodford Folk Festival for $350, which was out of his price range.
His head said, “Don’t buy it.”
His heart said, “Buy it.”
He walked around for half an hour, came back and told the flute maker he did not have any money – and bought it anyway.
“I’m so grateful that I listened to my heart,” Sahayek said.
He got to know the flute maker, and shortly after, both went to the Body, Mind, Spirit Festival in Brisbane.
The flute maker, who was scheduled to play at the festival, suggested Sahayek join him on stage.
Maia Kshemya was at the same festival. She happened to have with her an unusual instrument, the hang, which she had gone all the way to Switzerland to buy after hearing a friend of a friend play one at a jam session at her house.
When a guitarist broke his finger, leaving a gap in the festival entertainment line-up, Maia was called upon to take his place on stage.
And serendipity, synchronicity, fate – whatever you want to call it – stepped in.
“Neither of us was meant to be on stage at this festival, but as I was leaving the stage, Sahayek was going on,” Maia said.
The two were smitten.
Two months later, they headed overseas together on one-way tickets.
They were in Costa Rica in 2009 when they were asked to play at a Chinese New Year festival – their first paying gig – and word spread about the duo, who called themselves Samjjana, and the gentle, soothing music that floated from their unusual instruments like the sounds of nature on the wind.
The couple met percussionist Carlos Varga and played a concert together, and Maia and Sahayek went on to record in Costa Rica.
Sahayek, who used to work in fundraising at a hospital, and Maia, who had worked in the media and public relations, now make their living as professional
musicians. The turn their lives has taken in such a short time has surprised them as much as their friends and family.
Sahayek had never played music until he picked up the flute, and while Maia had taken lessons on instruments over the years, she had found them too restrictive until she touched the hang for the first time and began playing spontaneously.
“If you’d told me once that I’d be playing with Grammy Award- winning musicians, I’d have been as surprised as anyone else,” Maia said.
Samjjana’s music is a mixture of original compositions and improvisations, instrumentals, harmonies and chants.
The music “comes” to Maia in an effortless way – while she is in the shower, driving, eating breakfast,– which some people might call channelling but she calls “downloading”.
She believes everyone has music in them if they touch an instrument, and learn to listen and feel.
“A lot of people think it’s beauty in the mind .... but it’s beauty in the heart,” she said. “I’m playing from a place that is nothing to do with mind or ego. It’s playing from the heart, the soul.”
Now based at Belli Park, Maia and Sahayek enjoy the effect their music has on people. They see people of all ages stop and listen when they play at markets and festivals, and are told that their fans include a surgeon who plays one of their CDs before and during surgery because he finds his patients need less anaesthetic and recover faster.
Maia and Sahayek, who are recording their fourth CD, consider the way their lives have fallen into place a lesson in what can happen when you learn to follow your heart.
“Your heart is infinitely more wise and knowing than your mind,” Maia said.
Or to borrow the words of Sahayek’s late meditation teacher, the spiritual master Sri Chinmoy: “True happiness is when the heart feels quicker than the mind thinks”.
Think about it. Or don’t.