Composing The Song of Our Life

1293 Relax and Succeed - Composing the Song of Our Life

A record label recently ‘signed’ an algorithm to a recording contract. Should the idea of a computer writing some of our music bother us? It’s not hard for something like that to feel strange, or alien or even uncomfortable or unpleasant. But it might not be as weird as it initially seems. And this really does have something to do with how our minds work.

Firstly, this initial record deal is more for mathematical, Brian Eno-like soundscaping than what we’d think of as composed songs. But it’s only a matter of time. After all, notes are mathematical divisions of natural vibrations and instruments simply create their own unique vibrations. When those waves hit our ears it’s our minds that turn them into music.

We don’t have to feel threatened by this new idea. Even if computerized songs get as good as humans, that does not mean humans have to stop writing songs. Human music won’t be suppressed, it will be added to. But learning about this can help us.

Algorithmic music (it even sounds musical), will be just another form of music, much like dividing acoustic and electric performances, or bands from DJ’s, or how we recently added new genres like Blues, the various forms of Jazz, many forms of Rock, R&B, Disco, Grunge and, Hip Hop/Rap.

Each of those types represent groups of patterns that have a rough mathematical border that can overlap other borders for other types, hence country-punk, and jazz-funk etc. I’m hyper conscious of patterns, but the fact that you know the differences between those music types proves that you comprehend this math as well. It’s just that you perceive your results more as a feeling or a reaction or a definition (the name you give the genre).

Note: if an older person has never listened to newer music then their brain won’t have learned that math and they may misidentify two Rock forms –say, Metal and Grunge– as one group, much like a kid in elementary can know odd numbers from even numbers but they have no idea which ones are prime.

So what’s this got to do with our spirituality or psychology? The answer is that explains why we get bored with things after doing them for a long time. A common reaction to music for people in their mid 30’s to 40’s is that they find they suddenly become far less interested in new music. This isn’t to say they’ll never enjoy a new song or that they are not open, but they are representing what it is to be full.

By full I mean that our brains have heard enough songs and enough patterns that by those ages we know those patterns so well that little can sound new to us. Evidence of this is the way that, around those ages, we start thinking of these patterns (in music or movies or shows) as being, like this meets this, or that meets that with a bit of that in it. Rather than new sounding fresh, instead you can hear combinations of known patterns mixing.

1293 Relax and Succeed - Like people some songs are popular

Now that you can see you have this skill, consider that you also divide up humans very much like that. Stereotypes like optimists, pessimists, leaders, shy people, Scottish people, mothers, bankers and firefighters are all groups of patterns on top of other patterns, because our mothers are also sisters, and accountants and baby sitters etc..

Personality types are also a part of those patterns, and when families say things like, “Dad’s being Dad again,” or “Raj, why are you always late?” they are expressing what they perceive as that person’s unique pattern. This is why family caregivers carry so much information about loved ones without even realizing it. They simply sense that something is wrong yet they may not know why, even though they are being kind of mathematical about it.

Since these patterns impact personality types it makes sense that it also informs how we know how our friends or co-workers are likely to meet the various patterns in the world (like songs, or traffic etc.) For instance, at a rest without influence, some people think in patterns that create sadness. Others idly create happiness, and still others worry or plan or create. For every type of person there is a pattern to our thinking, and our current conditions will influence those patterns in real-time.

The problem comes in when people see another pattern and wish it was theirs. This is to misunderstand the nature of the universe’s orchestra. Yes, we can improv portions and any song can change its genre at any time, but it also important to note that none of us is wrong being as we are. We just need to enjoy and capitalize on being whoever that is. Some people will like that pattern of being and others won’t. But that’s not personal. It’s just how the patterns go, just like some people like jazz and some don’t.

People’s appreciation of us is a separate issue, but all lives are like beautiful songs. Indeed, some are sadder, some happier, some angrier, still others confused, or even profound. But just as music contains flats a sharps, there are no truly wrong notes for us to play in life, and we can always change our style if we feel it’s worth it.

Even if we feel off-key, or that our timing is off, rather than turn our thoughts against ourselves we are better to simply learn to stop that critic. Because no matter how weird we or others think we are, in the end, the only way for us to play our special song is for us to ignore all judgment and to simply be natural.

peace. s

PS If you are not in Canada but would like to listen to the podcast linked, the international version if available here: CBC Q Podcast

Momentous, Monumental Experiences

1242 Relax and Succeed - Roger Waters Us and Them 1You know them. You’re excited before they happen, you’re fully involved in the moments they’re happening, and afterwards you glow with excitement. That immediate sense eventually subsides into a deep appreciation that the event ever took place at all. In fact, the secret of the whole thing is that we value it so much that we slow down to give it our full and undivided attention. During these times our inner thoughts are completely silent.

These are the monuments of our consciousness. These represent aspects of our lives that stand tall and permeate everything else we do. It might be the day you escaped a war, or the day you got your citizenship, or your marriage, the birth of your children, the day you opened your business or your first trip overseas. Sometimes it’s just an arresting sunset with someone you care about. No matter what it is, these are the moments where gratitude and appreciation are at full volume. They create our sense of life’s richness and it is those feelings that drive us to make even more of our lives feel like those wonderfully wide-awake moments.

These events can happen in conjunction with other people and sharing that excitement with others feeling the same way is both beautiful and unifying. Despite that, these experiences remain deeply personal, existing only within our own consciousness, interconnected with virtually everything else in our lives precisely because they affect us so much. I recently had such an event in my life and the feelings around it reminded me of how exalted every day life can be when we’re deeply in a state of gratitude, and that feeling of inspiration lead to this piece of writing.

1242 Relax and Succeed - Roger Waters Us and Them 2I’ve always said I have a few heroes in my life. They’re the people in my life and the influences I’ve had that inspire the very best in me. Anyone who’s a friend of mine is like this. I’m always friends with people I admire for some reason that’s important to me. But there’s also key people I’ve modelled myself after; people like my parents, or my best friend, a particular aunt, a particular uncle, plus the fictional character Hawkeye Pierce from the TV series M*A*S*H and Roger Waters, the composer and creator of Pink Floyd‘s sound. This particular momentous, monumental experience involved Waters’ final concert tour.

Waters’ music is extremely artful, and yet it is deeply social and political poetry. The audience was understandably wildly varied, with people ranging from 14 to 80, and there was everything from a groups of nerdy looking political men, a group of girls in niqabs, a Sikh fellow with his father, a row of old ladies in outrageous clothes and some aging rockers. And everyone was on the same open page. Not a wisp of judgment from anyone. In fact, it was particularly accepting and welcoming. The influence of that kind of milieu has informed many of the ways in which I conduct my life and my own art.

I was attending the concert with a dear friend who is also a long time fan. His connection to Waters is like many Eastern Europeans–around the time of the fall of The Wall (Berlin’s, not Waters’), many states descended into dark nationalism and my friend witnessed first hand what propaganda and belief can do to otherwise excellent human beings. Mere thoughts could turn good friends into lethal enemies and he values Waters’ vigilance against such ugly motives.

1242 Relax and Succeed - Roger Waters Us and Them 3
Being his last tour, I will choose to miss Roger with a joyful poignancy.

For my part, Waters’ was inspired to write about peace by his father’s death in WWII. I was inspired by my father, who survived the war, but who maintained the same dim view of conflict and the same hopeful view of humanity that Roger Waters shares through his music. With that kind of awareness and motivation, I feel like we had similar childhoods strangely enough.

My friend and I deeply share Waters’ distaste for things that confine human freedom or that assigns labels and values, and we also share the love he feels for other people of all types. We connect with the idea that humanity is always at its best when things are at their worst, and that in the end we are all in this together. The affirmation of that, with tens of thousands of your fellow citizens, is like going to the most celebratory peace rally you could possibly imagine.

Waters is 74 and he’s announced that this will be his last tour. Knowing that, my friend made it all that much better by securing us seats dead center, in row two. My seat was even my “lucky  number;” the one I put on all of my hockey jerseys. It got even better when the four people in front of us turned out to max out at 5’2″ (155cm). They could stand and we could stay seated and still see the entire stage perfectly.

1242 Relax and Succeed - Roger Waters Us and Them 4
Roger feeling grateful over a 10 minute standing ovation.

As I watched Waters perform from such a close distance, I found myself in a deep state of gratitude, knowing not in words but in feeling that from this man’s life had grown weeks if not months of joy, of solace, of discovery and inspiration. I was in tears at times due to the gratitude I felt for even being able to have such an experience. It felt like my entire being was in a state of saying thank you for the entire show.

It all culminated in something that neither my friend and I could have expected. Early in his career, Waters had misunderstood audiences and hadn’t always been charitable–something he’s always regretted. That being the case, and it being the final show, Waters descended from the stage and he walked along in front of it, he proceeded to fist-bump about three quarters of the people in the first two rows.

I’m not one into celebrity at all, but this felt like touching the hand of the doctor who gave birth to a beloved child. From that very hand, a pen had scribed some of the most powerful moments in my life. That I got to ‘shake the hand’ of the man who gave me all that was deeply rewarding. It couldn’t have had a more fitting ending and fills me with gratitude.

1242 Relax and Succeed - Roger Waters favourite quote
Roger carries this with him like a talisman. I love seeing the handwriting from The Wall liner notes, and I’m also with him on the philosophy.

Despite my personal sense of fulfillment, what I love most is that I know with certainty that feelings like this lay in the future of virtually everyone reading this. No matter where you are right now in life, just remember that if we keep our eyes open and we live with the knowledge that life is abundant, it is only a matter of time before life rises up to remind of us of the incredible value of simply being present.

Thank you Roger Waters. Thank you so much.

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.

Meet Your Brain

1228 Relax and Succeed - Rowboat and whaleThere’s a lot going on under the surface. You imagine your physical life. They anesthetize your brain, not the part of your body they’re operating on. Your pain, your loves, the very idea of your self are all concepts that exist within the confines of your consciousness. They exist as energy–as information moving through your mind and the way you do it is like no one else. No other human being will have your perspective. Ever.

Stop trying to manage the details of your external life. Study how your thoughts translate to your day. Rather than ruminating, spinning and literally being your own thinking, take a step back and meditate instead. Ask who you actually are, and ask where does your pain take place? What is that pain made of, and how can an anesthetist make it go away so easily?

Even when you think you’re failing, that failure is only happening within your personal consciousness. Others won’t even notice, they’ll be too busy building their own ideas of failure for themselves inside their own consciousness. So just relax. You are a wonder. Get to know yourself. Meet your brain.

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.