Pay Attention

 

Perfection does not exist for us mortal, quirky creatures, so I figure there is always room for improvement. In that spirit, I have become intrigued with meditation. Thus far, meditation does not seem intrigued with me. Settling the mind can at times be akin to getting a three-year-old on a sugar high to sit still for a family portrait.

This state of mind is not always a bad thing. It certainly plays a role in the brainstorming aspects of creativity, but as surely as the body needs rest, so does the mind. To allow the mind to ceaselessly career about the various realms of our lives is a form of chaos. There are many ways to focus and settle – reading exercise, etc. – but meditation strikes me as more than that; it is a transformation.

In an effort to learn more about the methods (and challenges) of meditation, I subscribe to the monthly newsletter of WCCM, the World Community of Christian Meditation, which I find quite thought-provoking and instructive on the topic.

This month they have introduced me to the idea of metanoia. While this term has a specific meaning and history in the Bible, it more generally means “a transformative change of heart; especially a spiritual conversion” according to Merriam-Webster. In an article written by Laurence Freeman, OSB, Freeman says “[m]etanoia is the contemplative call of our time.”

More to the point, Freeman says “[t]emporary change can easily be effected” and asks if we can “translate this into a sustainable, radical process of re-visioning the way we live and the effect we are having on our common home.”

Meditation is not, then, about a reprieve or withdrawing for a time, like a spiritual nap. It draws us ever closer to the truth and “changes the way we pay attention to the world and, as a result, changes the world.”

Well, now I feel daunted. Perhaps that is because, as Freeman notes, “today we all start in some degree of damaged capacity for attention.”

Leave A Mark

 

My primary guitar, the nicest one I’ve ever bought for myself to date, is a Taylor 114ce. Before long, I’m sure to upgrade, but for now it is my darling. I love the sound. I have played it and performed with it quite a lot since I bought it in 2012. It already has some wear along the sound hole where my furious strumming has left its mark.

 

I am not upset about this “damage.” When I first noticed the worn areas, I was proud. I realized that to leave your mark upon a musical instrument from playing it is a wonderful sign of life.

 

There are seemingly unlimited ways we understand music and attempt to define it, particularly as it intimately affects us in our lives. It has an arithmetic foundation, but it is so much more than that. It has a power of transcendence that countless preachers surely envy.

 

Leonard Bernstein wrote that “no art lover can be agnostic when the chips are down. If you love music, you are a believer, however dialectically you try to wriggle out of it.” Musicians know this. Echoing Bernstein’s avowal, Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili, quoted in the The New York Times, said, “People are religious or not, but Bach makes you believe in something for sure.”

 

Creativity generally possesses this positive power. American poet Kenneth Rexroth wrote, “Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense: The creative act.”

 

So when I see what I’ve done to my beloved instrument, I feel that I have, in my own creative acts, defended myself passionately against the ruin of the world. Hopefully I am also able do so for anyone who enjoys my music.

This Is My Tribe

 

I first wrote a song when I was less than a decade old. It was a silly, simple song about how I loved my family. I even took the time to write it down. Why did I do that? 

I had a good friend in college who was a writer. It was her self-evident and inescapable truth. I found her one morning in the dining hall writing, as always, in her journal. She was not only a good writer, but she had that insanely beautiful penmanship I've always wished I had. Myself having changed majors a number of times (I started in the music school and ended up a politics major), I told her that I envied her because she knew who she was. Without hesitation, she replied that she envied me. I asked her why. "Because you have a choice," she told me. 

Whatever choices I've made in life, that songwriting impulse has never left me, even when I had all but convinced myself it was nothing more than an odd, useless pastime. Well, it did serve some use as cheap therapy. Eventually, there was no longer any reasonable way to avoid the truth that songwriting is a fundamental part of who I am. Brown hair, brown eyes, songwriter. I did know who I was.

So I decided to attend a songwriting workshop almost four years ago, in Port Aransas, Texas.  When I first arrived, I had an odd moment of panic. I thought, what am I doing here, I don't belong here, this is stupid, what was I thinking?

Then I met the workshop organizers, fellow musicians and songwriters, and they were both so welcoming and generous that I did an about-face and spent the next several hours in my hotel room playing my guitar and singing in a gleeful state. That feeling persisted as I quickly got to know the other songwriters at the workshop. I had finally met my tribe. I felt like the prodigal songwriter.

Whatever happens along the way, I am better for choosing to do all I can, at last, to set myself free on this path. After all, as songwriters will tell you when they’re being honest, we’re no fun to be around when we aren’t writing.

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