Dear Friends and Students,
One of my absolute favourite things to do in life is drive… Like my kitchen, with cup of tea in hand, it’s one of those spaces where I feel very at peace and often have some insight.
The other day, as I was driving to do my shopping I had two insights, one on the way and the other on the way back, and I’d like to share them with you:
The on the way insight: Hope
I was thinking about an expression that we often use here in France, we say, “where there is life, there is hope” and it got me to thinking about what the word “hope” means to me now.
I used to hope a lot – I used to hope that my life would be better, I used to hope that things would go the way I would like them to, I used to hope a whole bunch of external stuff in the hope that I would ultimately feel good about myself and about my life, in the hope that I would ultimately be happy.
As I pondered the question, it dawned on me that I don’t hope any more (okay I do hope that my shopping isn’t going to cost me the skin off my arse and that I might get enough “me” time during a day in order to drink a cup of tea that’s still hot!) because, since growing within this understanding that our well being is non-dependant on anything that happens to be going on around us or that might come to us in a future moment, hoping for those things, and by doing so placing my future innateness on the realization of those outcomes, in the end seems somewhat pointless.
I’m not saying I don’t ever hope for external stuff, of course I do, we all do that, but even when I do, I quickly become aware of it and that awareness allows me to let that personal thought pass and to leave place for a wiser perception of life.
So, what does hope mean, for me, if there’s no necessity for anything to happen, nothing for me to achieve, if my happiness is not riding on whatever I may be hoping for?
What I see is a field of possibility… When I say “I hope” it’s because I fundamentally know there is that field of possibilty. I’m pretty sure that there’s a good chance that when the French first iterated that expression, “where there’s life, there is hope” what they were actually saying, the original meaning was, “where there’s life, there’s possibility” … and that’s really amazing because in that context, nothing is impossible… and nothing is hopeless.
The physicist Stephen Hawking is an amazing example of that. Despite illness, despite being told that he wouldn’t live a long life, despite being wrong in some of his theories, he’s still alive and, unless I’m mistaken, still looking for that one equation to explain everything (if we are to believe the film version at any rate!) He might not ever find it… but as long as he’s alive, the possibility is there for him to find it and the fact that the possibility exists means that, no matter how impossible it might seem, it can never be impossible… he can still hope for it.
In truth, the only thing that can close us up to “hope”, to “possibility” is our own personal thinking. Now, you might argue with what may come across as a very simplistic statement and say, “well, I don’t have the money for that” or “I don’t have the right qualifications or the knowledge necessary” or “I don’t have the right support, people are against me”… and this brings me to the second insight that I had on the way home …
My on the way home insight: Breaking the Rules!
On my way home, in some very surprising traffic jams, I switched on the radio and was suddenly bathing in the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. For those of you who don’t know this – depending on the period of music, each movement of a symphony has a particular form. Usually the second movement has a kind of free form where the composer can decide what to do with it but generally we find some kind of Theme-Variation-Theme form.
But bang in the middle of this movement Beethoven gives us a very complex form of music (a fugato) where the music and the instruments intertwine with each other – a thing of great beauty and grace and, as we would say in contemporary talk, “totally out of the box”. Beethoven was breaking the rules by stickin’ that in there – and thank God he did, it’s what makes that movement so very beautiful.
And it got me to thinking. All the really “famous” composers, the ones who are household names such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Ravel, Chopin, Prokofiev (list given to me by my hubby), if you look very closely at their works, every single one of them, in one way or another, either were pioneers or visionnaries and/or broke the rules.
At the time of Bach, certain chord progressions were completely forbidden – some of his best works contain those very same chord progressions, Mozart took music that had become very “steady” during his period and turned it into something ornamented and embellished that I happily sing while I’m doing the washing up. Vivaldi wrote what can only be described as the very first “programme music” with the Four Seasons – music that depicts a scene. Programme music wasn’t officially “invented” until the 19th century (almost 200 years later)
It seems to me that even though certain rules are essential in life – when I’m driving, the rule is to let the person on the roundabout pass first to avoid an accident and it would be dangerous to not respect that rule – in the creative domain, some of the best successes ever have come from complete “disrespect” of the rules. I don’t mean conscious or deliberate disrespect, just that the creative genius was so strong that it couldn’t be held within any kind of limitation …
When we say things like, “I don’t have the money, knowledge, support, qualifications, etc.”, we are closing ourselves up to the possibility of creation. Clearly, I’m not saying that creating something will automatically allow us to break those boundaries but there is certainly no chance of crossing any boundaries if we already closed up to the possibility, if we have already lost hope.
I remember one day, a very long time ago when I was still studying and working as a professional musician, having a conversation with one of my flute teachers and I was copiously complaining about all the barriers that I was perceiving in order for me to pursue my career as a mucisian: there were age barriers, qualification barriers, even self-esteem barriers stemming from the other perceived barriers. My teacher very simply said, “there’s always another door. You might not have been to the Conservatoire de Paris, but that doesn’t mean that all the doors are locked!”
What I am very aware of today is that truly what breaks those barriers and allows us to cross those boudaries is very simply being “very good”. But in order for us to be “very good”, we have to allow that innate creative power a space to work in, something we cannot do when we are caught up in our ego, our personal thinking. For me, being “very good” has nothing to do with social recognition and everything to do with being vibrant and alive and purely conscious in any task that I undertake.
We always have the choice to “play it safe” in life. We can content ourselves, and thrive, within the pre-existant societal rules. We can go and look for that safe job, play into what society “dictates” to us, live in the box or we can break some of the rules…. I’m not saying to throw all caution to the wind but to allow enough rule breaking for that creative genius the space to do what it will, to not thwart it and to maybe just create something so thoroughly beautiful that it may touch the very society that believes, for a good part, that we should rein ourselves in …
What’s interesting to note is that a lot of those pioneers and visionnaries, those rule-breakers, were not appreciated at their just value during their time. Bach wasn’t the well-known composer that people believe he was – he was a fairly “minor” organ master in a small town. People walked out at the premier of Beethoven’s Fifth. Mozart was heavily criticized for his style. Prokofiev was at the origin of a new genre of music with neo-classicism that was at odds with modern contemporary music, to cite just a few examples.
Nevertheless, what appears very clear is that those people who are still spoken of today, allowed the creative genius to flow through without getting caught up in rules, whether personal or societal, and what is also interesting to note, is that they didn’t do it with the intention of getting famous, even posthumously.
No creative idea has any guarantee of bringing fame and fortune and when a project is brought forth with that objective in mind, then the personal thinking will tend to get in the way of creativity.
Yet pure creation is what makes humanity move forward. Those composers, artists, inventors, scientists, mathematicians, physicists, writers, philosophers, etc – all of those people have helped humanity progress by simply allowing creation to flow through them, by getting their own ego out of the way long enough to open up a space for something new and something true.
From my own experience, I can honestly say that there is nothing more rewarding in the world than feeling that your mind and body have been taken over by inspiration, by creativity; when your personal thought becomes so quiet that you disappear into a state of pure consciousness. It’s like electricity and that creative flow obeys no rules…
I can just imagine Beethoven uttering a “verdammte Scheiße!” just before writing that amazingly beautiful fugato that people are still wooed by today …
You can listen to this beautiful second movement of Beethoven’s 7th by following the link here, the fugato appears around the 6 minute mark: http://youtu.be/J12zprD7V1k