Music as a Spiritual Metaphor

1035-relax-and-succeed-nice-people-dancingEssentially everyone likes at least some pop, that’s why it’s called popular music. At the same time, a lot of people find jazz’s unpredictability and flexibility to be frustrating and unpleasant. So it is with freedom. If you’re looking for me to pick favourites I don’t see the world that way. I like both genres, but this is a metaphor so don’t take offence to the surface details; focus on what it is I’m trying to convey about you relaxing more.

Pop’s danceability and group-shared head-bops and food-taps grow directly out of the fact that the genre asks all of the players to meet very often and very regularly. Every four beats to be specific. In this way Pop is like ego: to be acceptable, both the players and the dancers alike must agree to meet according to external rules mounted to an external framework.

There are genuine emotional rewards for pop’s kind of synchronisation and the dancing certainly makes more sense, but as satisfying as those group experiences can be they are not the same as the rewards received when experiencing the soul of jazz. In jazz people meet you because that’s what they chose to do, not because something outside of themselves instructed them to do so.

1035-relax-and-succeed-art-enables-us-to-find-ourselvesJazz is willing to go for many more beats before the musicians meet, with some forms seemingly never meeting. Even more uncertain is the fact that the musicians can each themselves impact the others through their choices, so in this way jazz is like causality. One musician makes no demands of the others; the others are still free, and yet it behooves them to find a way to cooperate. In that way it expands the space they all get to move around in.

The pop-like ego is focused on and is all about pattern-matching, whereas the soul of jazz is more like cooperative freedom. If pop is communism then jazz is tribal. Interestingly, pop can fit within jazz, it is however more difficult for jazz to fit within pop, precisely because it challenges the mass cooperation that pop requires on a regular basis.

You can have diversions of jazz within pop, but it must be framed within the tight constraints of pop or too much of it will take the pop apart. At the same time, a lot of pop within jazz makes jazz broader and more capable of plugging into other forms, although the pop aspect cannot go as far as including those cultures that naturally use larger scales than western civilisations. Jazz has more opportunities to incorporate those additional notes, whereas the more rigid form of pop simply cannot fully make use of all of those possibilities. This is how racism can exist in ego but not in our souls.

1035-relax-and-succeed-love-is-like-playing-the-pianoThere is nothing wrong with pop bands and dancing. These things have their place and are of great value to us. At the same time, having to tap your feet can get tiresome, and maybe you don’t want to dance or even sway. Maybe you want something surprising or unexpected or new. And when you’re ready to step out of the box of certain-acceptability, jazz–and your soul–are just waiting for you to give them the power of your consciousness.

There are times to dance and times to be free just as there are times to live James Carse’s  finite game in ego, and there are other times to live in what Carse calls the infinite game, where the point is nothing more than enjoying the act of playing the song at all. There are rewards for getting along with other souls and yet at the same time science has shown us that there is nothing more like the mind of an enlightened monk meditating than one of a jazz musician improvising.

Tap your feet when you feel like it. Be free when that’s your nature. Your freedom might feel problematic to people trying to maintain the certainty and predictability of four-four time, but that won’t make it wrong, because just as the pop people will find your freedom troublesome, the friends prepared to play jazz will be happy to have another friend joining them in their exploration of freedom.

A lot of your life and work are likely to be built around pop-like forms. Do not see this is a problem, for nothing ever prevents you from enjoyably using those sections of pop within the larger framework of the free creative space in which you live your personal jazz-like life.

peace. s

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

Get Lost

1017-relax-and-succeed-getting-lost-is-not-a-waste-of-timeWhere did you think you were going anyway? Even if you did manage to live your A-List life with no divorce, no cancer, lots of money; you’re still gonna have some bad days. You’re still gonna have problems. But even problems and bad days are just sets of experiences.

Wherever we had them, whoever we had them with, doing whatever we were doing, all we can ever have is experiences. There are no good or bad lives, although I know fashion and celebrity magazines and websites sell the idea that there’s a route through them to the good ones. But what’s a good one?

I’ve got a friend with a five and ten year plan and he never varies from it. It’s gone perfectly. He’ll be able to retire by 40 with everything paid off and lots invested. He’s also a bit uptight, so his wife is bored and the marriage is shaky. I’ve got another friend who travels and he works as a welder when he needs money and he mostly just hangs out with locals visiting until he eventually leaves to meet other people in other places. He’s got a woman in every port and they’re always happy to see him. Each of those guys thinks the other’s life is irresponsible and nuts.

1017-relax-and-succeed-when-you-danceWe can argue freedom versus responsibility but that that’s an ego-argument because in the end both of these people are simply having experiences, the same as you and me. That’s what’s being alive is; having experiences. That’s why you’re only technically alive when you’re in a coma. Your ability to process experiences is greatly reduced. That’s like starvation to your soul. You’re consciousness is a flashlight. What it shines on is what you feel. To stay still is painful stagnation. Otherwise there are no mistakes, there’s only what you shine on.

Most people imagine their spiritual growth as steps up some mystical staircase of wisdom, but in reality it’s not really a gaining of knowledge; our eyes just adjust to the dark and we gain an increased awareness of the world that was always around us, even if it hasn’t been in the spotlight of our attention. The darkness can be made of many things, including everything from traffic rules to ideas about love , and even really strange things like; does it really make sense that a bunch of wildly varied physical types, doing wildly varied amounts of physical activity could all share a common dinner time? That’s an idea, not a thing. Most of our lives are invisible agreements like that.

When we get lost we lose both our certainty and our identity. Forced to live in the moment we wake back up. You might know this feeling if you’re an enthusiastic traveller; when you first get somewhere it’s like your senses are all on steroids. Plus, when you travel no one knows you so your identity is irrelevant. So you’re really awake and aware and you’re not giving much thought to who you are in the world. That sounds like enlightenment. No wonder vacations are so relaxing!

1017-relax-and-succeed-dalai-lamaMost of your suffering is due to being knocked off course. But whose course? What gave you the right to write lives out for everyone you meet? Do they get to do that to you too? Of course you’d hate that. But you have to meditate on this set of facts. If it really is a bad idea you have to let it go. And I mean let it go like; totally surrender the idea as completely unworkable. You can’t have it hanging there like a remote possibility.

You cannot direct the ocean’s waves. The world is too huge and too complex. Our lack of acceptance of that reality binds us to our hopes and dreams and those are what rise to the heights from which our disappointments topple. We’re better to act wisely in a moment of being lost than to be unconscious but on track with some theoretical plan that isn’t taking the present moment into account.

We can catch glimpses of life matching our hopes and then extrapolate that it’s possible to do that with an entire life but those are more the exceptions than the rules. This isn’t to say that life can’t still be awesome and that you can never plan anything, but if your life is rewarding it will become that way because you are consciously building the experience you’re having, not because you’re fumbling the present because you’re busy planning for a later time and a different set of circumstances that will likely never come anyway, (and even if it does the best you can do is enjoy it, which could have been done in the current moment were it not for the planning for later moments).

There is no way, no route, no road, no path. There is only a way of going, and it isn’t happy and it isn’t sad; it isn’t calm and it isn’t excited, it’s just going. It is the act of having experiences. It’s less time than we all think we’ll get, so invest it wisely. By the end of your life, where you’ve been and who you’ve been won’t be nearly as important as how you’ve been.

peace. s

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

Something’s Gotta Give

971 Relax and Succeed - c'mon inner peaceWe’ve seen it reflected in elections and unrest around the world. We can see it in the fact that the world never really has bounced back from the economic card game that collapsed in 2008. Once people had maxed out their credit trying to survive the world hit a limit. With no more money available and no ability to work harder or longer, even in the richest countries there are a lot of scared people and frightened individuals create an angry and defensive society.

Added to the financial stress is time stress. Everyone’s rushed. Everyone’s phone now gives work access to them 24 hours a day and work will use that time if it can get it. Work isn’t human. Work is a creation of mankind. It is an animal that perpetually wants to be fed more and more every month, every day, every year. No sales manager ever told his team to sell less next month. If someone’s over 40 that’s really starting to add up to no personal life.

In the days where your landline waited at home while people were at work, people used to answer their phone maybe once or twice a day for a personal phone call. No texts. No instant messages. No collection of 20 messages at 10 different social media sites. No classes, just maybe the odd kid taking piano or in judo. Rather than organised sports most kids played pick-up neighbourhood games. Just remove all of those responsibilities from your week. That is a huge percentage of your day. And how much of that would you care about on your deathbed? None. You’d care if your kid was there by your side, you wouldn’t care whether or not they could play the piano.

971 Relax and Succeed - Dream more complain lessSo what did people used to do with all of that time and peace of mind? They used to pursue hobbies or took courses to expand themselves not to make more money. They didn’t need that money because they didn’t have to buy a microwave VHS Walkman CD juicer iPod monitor DVD gym membership X-Box Blu-Ray smartphone Occulus or 70% of the restaurant food now sold. They used to spend way more time with friends and family. Most people didn’t hire anyone else to build decks or fix a toilet or do basic work on their car. If they didn’t know how to do something they found a friend or neighbour who did and you know what? They had the time to help and they did and it was often very enjoyable time.

The challenge with the technological world is that it has created the image that we’re all connected when we’ve never been further apart and it’s not just grey-haired people that can feel that. I’ve taught college kids who were stressed by 25 that they couldn’t keep up with technology. Most people have given up by 35 or they’re stressed. So what’s it all for if we just want to surrender it later?

The pain tells us that it’s information. It’s not life going badly, it’s information about how life is going. Pain is like a gauge in your car. The thermostat isn’t overheating, it’s telling you that the car is. Pain isn’t you failing, it’s the universe telling you that what you’re doing isn’t working. The problem today is that a lot of people can’t figure out how to get enough time to eat or sleep let alone find a way to find some other path that can work for their life, so the problem isn’t the humans it’s the machine.

The machine distracts us from being human. Rather than looking at a face and hearing a voice we contort our hands into machine-shapes and type a message on a keyboard that appears on a two-dimensional screen in symbols that strip out the valuable human information that would be transmitted by having in a person’s eyes right in front of you. It’s shallow when what we seek is depth.

It can seem strange then that I might suggest giving as a solution but I don’t think I mean it in the way you might imagine. I know a lot of people would be almost angered by the thought: how is giving everything not enough!? But I’m not suggesting adding more giving, I’m suggesting that you alter where your giving goes. Only by reintegrating ourselves back into our communities can our communities reintegrate back into us. We must know our neighbour before we can do them favours, and if enough of us do that then we’re not doing each other favours, we’re cooperating on a larger goal to create a safe and healthy society. That’s how drops become a drink.

971 Relax and Succeed - It's not about havingWe’ve spent too much time being sold the singular, cool, proud, branded, I gotta be me; loaded with achievements and never needing help. That is not how humanity got here and it won’t be how it goes anywhere. You’re not broken if you’re tired and worn out. We accidentally built an inhuman world and you’re hardly alone. Even the so-called winners are often alcoholics and drug addicts to cope.

Start cutting the selfish in favour of the selfishly selfless. Rich and poor alike, we don’t need another app or another website or another tool of efficiency. What we need is some restful time where we’re connected to others, but that will not happen until you stop and do a serious assessment to figure out how your time can be better invested in your future happiness.

Set aside some time right now to do that this weekend. Look at a normal week and be brutally honest about where the time goes, even if it is frivolous. And then ask yourself where it could go? And if you ask long enough… I guarantee you’ll find something that’ll feel enriching and rewarding–something you’ll get excited about. I do hope you give yourself that time.

peace. s

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