The World of Tone

Schopenhauer attributed to music the power to directly portray the very essence of the cosmos. I didn’t quite know what he meant until yesterday evening, when my son brought home his first violin and I my first cello.

Several of my family were over for dinner and we entered at the end of the meal. We unpacked our instruments, played a couple of notes and shared them around.

Though no real music of any kind was played, the mere vibration of a couple of strings set in motion the innermost heart strings of everyone present, both young and old. It was as if the gates of hope, joy and encouragement were suddenly opened in the room as the bows tickled and caressed the strings to life.

When I think of how music has affected my life, I must say that in most cases it has been thoroughly liberating. I have had occasions wherein I saw a reflection of my spiritual home through no other influence but from the world of tone in which I was engulfed. It was a place of almost overwhelming connection, spacious yet somehow intimate, peaceful but flowing and active like a rushing river.

Music awakens faculties that normally slumber in man as he now is. It stirs a remembrance of the soul’s home; it reconnects, regenerates and replenishes.

Whether I will progress to the point where Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 eventually pours out from my heart, through my hands and onto the strings at my command or whether my 7 year old manages to master “Taco Bell’s Canon” as my 5 year old cheekily calls it I cannot be sure, but one thing I know for certain is that music in particular and art in general has the power to effect enormous change in the world we share, whether we are aware of it consciously or not.

Causa Causam

For me, one of the major reasons to move beyond just the planting of trees was that I have tendency to look at the causes of a problem. We often preoccupy ourselves with the symptoms, whereas if we went to the root cause of the problems, we would be able to overcome the problems once and for all.” – Wangari Maathai

There are a great many causes to which you can dedicate your life. You can save the whales, the earth, feed the poor, immunize the vulnerable, teach the poor to read, convert the savages and much much more, but at the end of the day the root cause of the imbalanced state we have come to accept as normal will have yet to have been addressed.

We human beings like to convince ourselves that we are doing a great deed by resolving the symptoms of deeper problems. The tools of this approach are medicine, money and good deeds, and we work tirelessly alone and together to wipe the symptoms of the underlying disease from the earth.

The trouble with this approach, of course, is that the beast that rules this state is a Lernaean Hydra, an ancient many-headed chthonic water beast that grows two heads for every one that is cut off. The Greeks were familiar with this beast and every great civilization since then has been plagued by its noisome and quarrelsome presence. The more you struggle with it – internally or in relation to the world around you – the stronger and more fearsome it grows.

If you fail to right the underlying imbalance in any unhealthy, unwholesome or cursed state, the symptoms will continue to reappear, typically in increasingly complex ways. When an underlying cause is not addressed, the cause may even be driven deeper as the natural laws governing the system work to compensate for the weakness or lack of harmony.

Continue to strike at the heads with the cold steel sword of knowledge and you may win the battle, but you will ultimately lose the war. Only the golden sword of wisdom ensures a deep and lasting victory. There is but one immortal head on the beast of which I speak and it is kept alive by one fruit: judgment. Cease judging and the beast within you will starve to death and lose its control over your vital forces.

Dedicating your life to a higher cause is admirable, for many waste their lives in the passionate pursuit of comfort and self-aggrandizement. Saving the whales, fighting for the rights of man and cleaning up the environment may help to cauterize the regrowth of future heads on this beast, but there is literally no point to any of these if great care is not taken to deal with the causa causam, otherwise known as “judgment.”

Happy the man who has been able to learn the causes of things.” – Virgil

Walls of Life

The finest triumph of civilization, in every phase of human activity, is the tearing down of walls of separation, aloofness and antagonism between nations, classes and individuals. Commerce has done much, the telegraph, the telephone and wireless have had their part, increased travel and the spread of education have also been factors in sapping to a degree the walls of ignorance and intolerance.

The great walls of life that shut us in so that we can neither give our best nor be our best, are those of repression, of prejudice, of ignorance, pride, fear, suspicion, selfishness, and misunderstanding.

This world of ours needs fewer walls but more roads, open roads, sunlit roads to the minds and hearts and lives of those around us. Walls separate, roads connect; walls exclude, roads invite; walls have the limitation of an accepted finality, roads the spirit of adventure into the land of new hope; walls speak ever the “mine” and “thine” of proprietorship, roads whisper the “ours” of trusteeship; walls mean imprisonment, roads freedom; walls proclaim aloofness, roads smile companionship. Consciously or unconsciously, purposefully or idly, day by day, we are all either builders of walls or makers of roads. Walls encircle us within ourselves; roads enshrine us in the hearts of others.” ~ William George Jordan

Where there is an underlying respect for human dignity and a passionate desire to not only know the truth but to live life according to its framework, the great walls built by men are pulled down brick by brick. The personal walls fall first – the pet peeves, the cynicism and jaded vision, the accusatory and condemnatory attitudes towards others – and the resultant increase in radiance gently heats and melts away the glue that holds together the walls of those within your sphere of influence.

I remember the first time I realized that children in any country, of any socioeconomic background, of any race, color or creed are fundamentally similar. Young children deal with one another based on the roads they perceive between them. The walls have not yet entered the picture. This was one of the many valuable discoveries made while traveling at a young age, a recognition that has nourished my faith in the possibilities for mankind when everything else in and around me screams “give up on them, there is no hope, human nature is indomitable…”

That state of innocence is not lost with adulthood, it only recedes to the degree that you fall prey to the “great walls” to which Mr. Jordan points, attitudes and stances like prejudice, ignorance, selfishness and fear. Cleanse yourself of those defiling qualities and the innocence fills back in as surely as a garden does when cleared of weeds. Innocence cannot be lost, it is only withdrawn.

How are you cleansed? The primary tool of which I am aware is forgiveness. You must accept forgiveness deeply within your own heart and extend it as widely as possible into the world around you. Forgiveness is a healing balm like no other. The process of cleansing is as much about what you do as what you don’t do. Both are equally important. To grow a garden you cannot satisfy yourself with simply removing the rocks and weeds and preparing the soil. You must plant seeds if you are to expect a new harvest.

Unfortunately, building walls or roads is not optional. It is the nature of our design. It is what we do. You are always doing one or the other and it is in your best interest, in our best interest as a race to be educated about and conscious of the nature of your creative influence. It is one or the other and only you can decide for yourself as to what it will be.

So, what will it be?

Of Sound Mind and Body

It seems to me that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be of sound mind and body in the world we’ve created for ourselves. We surround ourselves with all types of toxic substances – plastics, VOCs, chemicals and impurities – all the while increasingly isolating ourselves form the experience of the great outdoors. More often than not, the climate is controlled when we’re at home, while we travel around in our vehicles and while we’re at work and the air we breathe indoors in well-constructed, air-tight homes is often more deleterious to our health than the polluted air outside.

The environmental xenobiotics affect more than our bodies, in fact, they also impair our mental function. The extracellular matrix is increasingly befouled and research now shows that our cells themselves are being compromised by the increasingly toxic food we eat, air we breathe and water we drink. Such is the price of progress.

I mention these trends not to alarm or bemoan, but instead to raise awareness. The world we live in is the net result of the choices made by the body of humanity in the moments prior to the present. Change the choices and you change the world. It is that simple. Change your choices and you change your world.

Of even greater importance than what goes into you, in my book, is that which flows out of you. You have a choice as to whether your expression blesses and uplifts, purifies and inspires no matter how toxic the world around your might be. If that which flows out of you is not pristine, or at least the finest of which you are presently capable, the work you do on your body or mind will be of little import, for you will be like an attractive piece of fruit with a rotten core…worthless and unsatisfying.

Any step you take in the direction of greater soundness of mind or body influences the world beyond you. You are a part of a whole, a connected albeit not always integrated whole, whether you like to admit it or not. I’d like to challenge you, dear readers, to deliberately choose this weekend to move in the direction of soundness, be it of body, mind or heart.