Category Archives: led zeppelin

To Be a Rock and Not to Roll: A Yogi Reflects on Stairway to Heaven

            I’ve been doing yoga for the past 18 years.  I’ve been playing guitar for nearly 33.  Picking up the guitar in the early ’80s, early songs that were de rigeur for a young guitarist were, of course, Iron Man and Smoke on the Water.  And after that, Stairway to Heaven.  Almost everyone back then wanted to see me play Stairway.  I just learned the opening chords and that was enough.  Though I loved Led Zep, I didn’t get as much into Jimmy Page’s playing as my other heroes: Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, and Eric Clapton.
           Years later, after being deeply immersed in the yoga tradition, I see the profundity of this song way beyond just the chord progression.  Robert Plant has said that the words came to him one night sitting in front of the fire place at Headley Grange, contemplating “spiritual perfection.”  Despite all claims to the contrary (that the band was in league with satan, etc.), the message of the song is ageless.  Let’s consider just the last verse:  
And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last.
When we all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.
     And she’s buying the stairway to heaven.
             This really is the essence of Advaita Vedanta expressed right here, and in words that are timeless and of this time.  There is a seeming war between the ego and God.  From our perspective, being in the throes of the ego, the odds are greatly against God, for the ego’s illusionary “reality” seems so real, so solid.  So much so that some of us need a kickass hard rock song to get the message through to us!  And yet, there is still a still, small voice of Spirit that we can listen for, tune into, and it will lead us to the place that is eternally golden light, to Heaven.   If yoga is a lifelong path (and possibly for many lifetimes — “rolling” here can be seen as an allusion to reincarnation, which is only real within the ego’s illusion), it is so only because this process of awakening is not an overnight thing, it’s gradual, lest we blinded by the light (see my next blog on Bruce Springsteen ; )
             So, it’s really nice to see Robert Plant’s eyes well up in this video.  I’m sure it wasn’t just pride in the song.  It was knowing that this song truly is ageless, timeless, immortal.  It will be with us quite a long time, it’ll be interesting to see how things develop, and yet, most important is to truly take in its message.
           ps.  If you’re interested in reading further, I would suggest reading the Katha Upanishad, which talks about two paths you can go by: The Good (shreyas), and the merely pleasant (preyas).  Also, I will blogging soon about another one of the greatest rock songs on all time, Hotel California, and how it connects with the deeper teachings of yoga.