Spiritual Recitals

1355 Relax and Succeed - Don't Perform Let your soul sing

Recitals. Every year, we invite our relatives and friends to help celebrate our development as a musician. The feelings that go with these events are good reflections of how we feel about our lives too. It’s like the song we play is our year played out in quick time.

Despite the fact that in the first recital we are clunky and awkward, no one cares because our mistakes are so cute. Later, it’s our enthusiasm others are attracted to. Over time, we improve and others are impressed with our development. By the end of our studies we are so good as to amaze.

Despite others impressions of their development, often times on the inside the musicians themselves feel a lot like they did as that clunky little ham-fisted kid. As their standards raise their playing appears to recede.

This happens because at each step were are attempting to master a group of brand new skills involved in playing music. This reflects how we perpetually face new situations in life and how we are always stumbling, yet we all grow wiser and more capable through the year whether our experience is good or bad.

At the start of life we are emotionally clumsy but authentic, near the end we become smoother but struggle to find the unselfconsciousness that used to come so naturally. The difference is our impedance. We hold ourselves back be worrying too much about the performance part of our playing.

Music teachers will often tell students to play as though the audience isn’t there. This is like the ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ phrase‘ that gets used about people’s emotional lives. The song simply won’t become the most beautiful version of itself if it is merely a performance. The song is not for the recital audience, it exists in its own right. People are just allowed to watch it be.

1355 Relax and Succeed - Each unique lives their own song

Likewise, our lives are ours to live. Life is not a recital or performance, it is more like a song itself, and it can only be made better by us singing it more fully –by breathing more life into it. And the way we open up that opportunity is by forgetting the audience. We sing for our sake. For the joy of it.

This doesn’t mean we stop loving everyone in our audience. Quite the opposite: we start. We free them from our expectations as we free ourselves from theirs. That’s the unconditional part of unconditional love.

If we love people then they are allowed to be them. And if they deserve love so do we, so that means we can also be ourselves. What the other egos think will depend too much on how their day went anyway. We all know when we’ve played well and when we haven’t, whether we get praise or blame. We should trust that. That’s us.

Don’t perform your life. We can work well with others and find joy in many strange places with a great attitude, but we don’t need to stifle our being. Sometimes endurance is required in life, but whenever possible, it is up to us to consciously shift our lives toward ever-less stifling circumstances so that we can find the beautiful music that lives within us.

If we play unselfconsciously often enough, it will soon meld with a form of creativity that allows us to go beyond the composition and into improvisation. We become the song in every sense. This is the height of skill both in music and in life. When we are that free, we stand on a constant precipice of the unknown, and the beauty there is a marvel to behold.

Don’t perform. Sing. The songs might sound similar to a listener, but a performance versus soul singing can be so different for the singer that, in the latter case, the people listening can see the singer glow.

peace. s

Consider the Source

1352 Relax and Succeed - Opinions are other people's realities

A local afternoon radio drive show wanted to know what their listeners thought of the star-based rating system for plays or movies. Opinions came down on both sides, but which opinion someone has is irrelevant to this post. This is about how human beings routinely and unwittingly demonstrate the flexibility of reality.

What separates choosing using reviews vs choosing based on those with the most stars, is that the star system presumes a universal reality. 5 Stars is seen as a fact for anyone to experience, and yet we all know one person can love a movie or play and another person can hate it.

A quick example easily illustrates that using the star system has an invisible and significant qualifier attached –the person assigning the stars may have little in common with many of the people using them.

Let’s say that someone sees a play in a Fringe Theatre Program. Let’s imagine it’s called “Ugly Business” and the description says, “The sale of a family company and the arrival of a long lost sister complicate a family’s feelings over their roles and what they believe they are owed.”

Some of them will read that and think to themselves: Ah! I’m more of a creative person, I’m not interested in stories about business or people fighting over an inheritance. Plus it only got two stars.

And if they think that, then they often won’t think it’s relevant for them to read the full description or any reviews. And yet a review might be half way through before it says something like, “I was largely disappointed because this wasn’t what I went in expecting, so consider that. It takes place in a business, but it’s really more of a complex emotional story about the assumptions humans make about their roles in families.”

“Maybe if you’ve been adopted and had a reuniting process go badly this play might have depth I can’t feel, but this reviewer couldn’t find her way into this material despite very able performances and direction.”

1352 Relax and Succeed - Value happens within us

Now, let us also imagine that both the playwright/performer and the person picking the play share the fact that they were both adopted at the same age. And imagine their experiences attempting to reunite with a birth parent went terribly.

Add the fact that the performer and the prospective theater-goer are around the same age and will have shared many of the same major social and cultural experiences and suddenly that feels like the perfect play.

This is the connection all performers want with the audience, even in a comedy. If a play can establish any form of genuine empathy with us, rapport can easily build between the performer and audience. That effect can easily turn something from a two star rating into a five.

People have preached efficiency and brevity and ease as though they are religions. But as things like the Slow Food Movement, pedestrian based neighbourhoods and the resurgence of things like board games and dinner parties demonstrate, many people are more interested in connection than efficiency.

In movies or plays or restaurants, star systems have a real validity. But using them –along with other abbreviations of complex life experiences– threatens to alter the notion of ‘value’ in the same way that facebook accidentally changed and shallowed the definition of ‘friend.’ Those kind of redefinitions are not things society can double back on.

We can use stars if they work for us. But no matter what ‘systems’ we use to ease our decision-making in life, there will be trade-offs. Any decision can be fine depending on the individual and context, but we should know not only why we’re making any given decision, but also why we’re not making the alternate decisions.

We can’t just look at the upsides of something, we have to ask what price or consequence goes with each system or decision and weigh each one on the basis of both realities.

Choosing to use stars to judge art by is completely legitimate. That legitimacy is made wise if we also use that system knowing full well that our approach may cause us to occasionally miss out on value that can only be found by slowing things down to a speed where we can read life’s fine print.

peace. s

Nothing is Something

1269 Relax and Succeed - They are the chosen onesThey were sitting in a coffee shop. The decidedly unsettled woman twitched a statement his direction. “I can’t paint.”

“You painted all of those beautiful paintings in your house, and quite a few hanging in other people’s houses too, like mine.”

“There’s no point.”

“You enjoy it.”

“Not like this.”

“This isn’t painting, this talking about painting.”

She was already done her coffee. She leaned over toward the garbage and ditched it. “This is a kind of torture, being stuck like this. Constant procrastination, no work. No achievement, no sense of self-respect. But how could I think I was gonna get that from something so fated? So pointless?”

“I like the paintings I own of yours. I take pleasure from seeing them. Don’t you enjoy people liking what you’ve offered?”

“Praise is uncomfortable for everyone. It’s too rare. Feels weird. And my problem is bigger than procrastination–although that’s huge–my problem is metaphysical. It’s… philosophical. It’s spiritual. It’s so huge it’s not even my problem it’s the problem. With everything”

“Oh oh. Then it’s a problem for me too. What is this problem we have again?”

“Everything comes from somewhere.”

“Why is that a problem?”

“It’s just a giant universe of pool balls, clicking and clacking away. We live inside a math formula.”

“What?”

She caught the eye of the bearded guy behind the counter then looked at her companion. “You want another one?” He signalled he still had 90% of his existing drink. She held up one finger and the barista nodded in understanding. “This whole thing. Everything in the world was predetermined by every other thing. It’s all just billiard balls.”

“I’m going to need a bit more detail.”

“Just think about it: why are we speaking English?”

“…Because we’re in Canada? Because our parents speak English?”

“Exactly! See! We had no choice. English came to us, we didn’t pick it off a list of German and Japanese and Italian and Swahili. Our lifestyles. Why do our Dad’s both own businesses–because their Dad’s did.”

“We’ve got friends who own businesses whose parents worked at jobs.”

“Yeah, but those people didn’t want to be like their parents, so in a weird way the parent still dictated what they did. It was all inevitable. All billiard balls. Every song, based on the notes developed by others, using the timing systems developed by others, and played on instruments invented by others. Everything is so derivative. There’s no point.”

1269 Relax and Succeed - Millions long for immortalityThat last statement shot the eyebrows of her companion up. He was thoughtful while she fidgeted even more, checking her phone. He broke her attention away from it when he spoke. “What if it’s not balls?”

“What?”

“What if it’s not balls? What if the reason it feels like there’s no point is that we’re not all individual balls in search of individual achievements. What if we’re all just one big flowing mass? Then aren’t your actions both kind of predetermined and also awake and alive? Isn’t it possible to be fully occupied with fulfilling our ‘own’ aspects of that flow? Doesn’t an ocean crash on anew on every shore? Isn’t that both ours and the–and part of the ocean of everything?”

She seemed genuinely impressed that it hung together in the end, but it didn’t line up with what she already believed, so her initial reaction was rejection. “That’s too easy. It ignores the nihilism of it all. I cannot paint with any kind of meaning. All anyone is ever going to get is just another reflection of every force I ever encountered as life unfolded me like a predetermined plan.”

“Can’t all of that be true and still leave you space to feel like you’re a part of a great oneness? Isn’t that what a muse is? The hand of God needs fingers right?”

Eyebrow. “Hand of God?”

“I was shooting for poetic.”

“Ah… no.” In the background the barista was foaming her latte.

“You’re the one going on about metaphysics and nihilism. I’m not even sure either one of us knows what those words mean exactly.”

“I just want my life to have meaning. Is that so much to ask from the universe?”

“How would I know? What’s meaning? Meaning changes as we mature anyway. I don’t see the crap we did at 10 years old the same way now that I did then. I can only assume that since everything else in my life is like that, now will be like that too. So what’s meaning? Meaning’s some floating idea we temporarily layer over an experience or a memory. But what’s so great about that? People have different opinions about the same book. Why can’t that be wonderful? Why do they have to agree on a meaning?”

“What’s the point?”

“That’s like asking for a meaning. Can’t life be the point? Can experience itself be the point? What do people who find out they’re dying want? They want more experiences. They might have had a lifetime of crappy ones and they’ll still want more when you tell them it’s over. There has to be something to that. Picasso was billiard balls too. I remember you getting pretty excited about Picasso. Wasn’t that joy real? Wasn’t that a thing? Isn’t that a point? To just…–live that? Doesn’t the universe need witnesses?”

This catches her attention. “Witness?”

“What if we’re not here to do anything? What if we’re just here to be? To see it. What if we’re just all witness-actors in the universe? What if this whole wondrous thing only happens because each part does its part, for every other part?”

1269 Relax and Succeed - A life worth living“Can’t be. I’m sitting here. I’m not doing anything. I’ve stopped the flow of the balls.”

“Ooo. Look at you. The grand ball stopper. The whole universe? Come on. But: what if this procrastination is just you misunderstanding that this is not when you’re supposed to create? What if you’re living this, but you don’t even understand why yet, like the Kierkegaard quote? But what if this is all part of that big flow? What if you being stuck is perfect? I don’t know art, but I’d bet another coffee that Picasso got stuck too.”

She’s thinking. This logical explanation has thrown a wrench into her nihilistic negativity. Despite herself, she’s finding some gleeful exuberance bubbling down low. “I dunno. Seems too easy. And where’s it leave us anyway?”

“Under that explanation there is no ‘us’ and no ‘where’ anyway, so it’s a nonsense question.”

The barista drops down her coffee and quickly swipes her cash card. While he’s going through the motions she continues her conversation. “Right. Oneness. Flow. That was good”

It’s as though he’s realising it more than stating it. “If everywhere is the same place then your lostness is inside foundness. Right?”

She’s confused herself. “Now you’re getting too deep for me.”

“You wanna get out of here?”

“Actually if it’s cool with you, I think I might head home. This actually makes me want to paint.”

“What’s the point though?”

She tosses a sugar wrapper at him. “My own joy of the doing.”

“That sounds worth it to me.”

“I’ll hate you during the hard parts.”

“What are the hard parts?”

“The parts on which there is no paint.”

“Ah. I get hated right to the end then.”

“I get a painting out of it though.”

“A nihilistic painting?”

“I dunno. I’m going to experiment with flow.”

“I guess I’ll wait to see it.”

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.