Friday, October 31, 2008

A Study in Contrasts

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a listening assignment, if you're so inclined.

This is a combination that my iPod kicked up for me over the summer.

First, listen to Devo's It's a Beautiful World.

Then, listen to Amy Correia sing Life is Beautiful.

You have to pay attention to the lyrics on both songs, and I strongly recommend that you minimize the window when listening to the Devo song. The video is brilliant, but I couldn't find video on the Amy Correia song, and I think it's unfair to do a comparison between audiovisual art and purely audio art. Most of us are such visual creatures that the video will always make a stronger impression. If you really want to do things right, open both links in different windows, play the Devo song, and then click over and start the Amy Correia song the instant Devo finishes up.

It's up to you whether you want to complete the assignment now, or read on for my own opinion on the two songs, but of course I'd like you to formulate your impression without contamination from mine (... again, if you're so inclined).

My reaction to hearing these two songs back-to-back was this (taken from a journal entry I wrote at the time):

Earlier this evening, my iPod thoughtfully followed Devo's It's a Beautiful World with Amy Correia's Life is Beautiful. The contrast literally made me cry, even more than Life is Beautiful usually does. I love Devo's wry cynicism, but it was fabulous to have Amy Correia immediately demonstrate how wrong that cynicism is.

I have so many frustrations, so much angst over things of trivial importance and greater significance alike. In some ways, I feel I have been stretched and twisted to my breaking point in recent months.

Yet I have also grown more and more ready to weep at pure beauty, and I would not give up that intensity of feeling for any reduction in stress.

Thank you, goddess of love, for exquisite juxtapositions.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Monday, October 27, 2008

Trust Your Instincts but Doubt Your Judgment

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you wearily but hopefully, in a certain amount of physical pain but with a spirit fairly bright.

Because I'm tired from overwork and my arms and shoulders are warning me not to type too much, I'll see if I can be succinct and to the point here.

What we feel, immediately, powerfully, when we encounter a certain situation or person, is not always correct. Instincts can lead us astray. But no matter what the eventual outcome, our instincts always tell us something. It may be something accurate about the specific incident, or it may be something about ourselves.

The point is, when you feel something nagging at you, or goading you, or enticing you, unbidden, you should explore it and see what it's telling you.

But you have to be careful about how you explore it. Because in pondering our instincts, we unavoidably activate our judgment. We weigh evidence, measure and mutter and debate with ourselves, until we reach a decision. That decision will in some way commit us emotionally, and if we make it incorrectly, the results will eventually be unpleasant.

A good question to ask would be, "Am I drawn toward this judgement because my instincts are telling me it's right, or am I drawn toward this judgment because I desire it?"

When we doubt our instincts, we become paralytic, unable to act. We have no basis for movement, and will usually follow robotically along some path that the world puts before us.

When we blindly pursue our instincts, we are just as trapped, because we are free to act, but we cannot discriminate or plan or prioritize. 

And when we put too much faith in our judgment, we grow arrogant, and will undertake ambitions that are likely to hurt ourselves or others.

But when we trust our instincts, yet doubt our judgment, we become empowered to act with humility. We can say to ourselves, "I choose this course because I have listened to my heart and I think that I know it. But I also know that I may be wrong, and that I may have to correct my course as I move forward."

Well. I don't know if that's coherent, but my arms and my head are too tired for more.

Thank you, goddess of love, for instinct and judgment and a sense of balance.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Three Principles, Revisited

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with the holy word, "Love."

Possibly, we all need reminders once in a while -- I know I certainly need a lot of them. I have about four thousand pages worth of journals in my closet, and when I go paging back through them I am often struck a bit numb by how regularly I encounter the same repeated problems, and the same wise lessons learned -- and then forgotten, and then relearned.

So in this entry, I'm reminding myself, and any of you who've read back to the start of this blog, of the three principles of my religion. (Most religions make a great show of repetition, so I'm not sure why I feel the need to justify this covering of old ground, but there it is anyway.)

The three principles are:




I'm not going to describe them in any greater detail at the moment. Hopefully, they don't really need that much explanation anyway. But they bear repeating.

They bear being dwelt upon.

They are their own reward, and I hope that you will help yourself to them.

Thank you, goddess of love, for good things known over and over and over again.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Be Patient

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with more unasked-for advice. If you're getting tired of this, have no fear: tonight I'm rounding out a sort of trilogy comprising the last three posts. Then I believe I'll be done pontificating for a bit. Here, then, is the capstone post.

You can do something well and still be unhappy.

You can know what you want, and yet find that it seems impossibly far from your grasp.

So the closing key to self-fulfillment must be patience.

It's said that patience is a virtue, but I would argue that it is something else entirely. To me, a virtue is that which in and of itself brings good: honesty, loyalty, generosity, empathy and so on. Because these things bring good, they also render us vulnerable to those who do not care about good. When honest, we put ourselves at risk of being misled or overshadowed by the dishonest. When loyal, we put ourselves at risk of betrayal from those who are disloyal. When generous we may be taken advantage of by the greedy, when empathic we may be abused by the egocentric.

Virtues, then, are noble and ambitious because they aspire to make the world better at the risk of those who undertake them. They are difficult. They are challenging. We must push ourselves toward them, because they are hard -- and because they are dangerous.

Patience, in contrast, is much more of a tool. The saint is patient, but so is the snake. Patience is the condition which lets us move through the world in search of our goals, instead of feeling adrift in it without control.

Patience is openness -- the willingness to wait and see.

So if you know what you want, but have not yet found how to do it well, be patient. Practice. Study. Keep an eye out for other things that you might want, and which might perhaps suit your talents better. A path will make itself known eventually.

If you can do plenty of things well, but do not know what you want, be patient. Exercise your capabilities. Look for new experiences. Talk. Read. Listen. Think. A passion will capture you sooner or later.

And if you know what you want, and you already do it well, and success still eludes you and leaves you stuck in circumstances that block your creative efforts and stifle your inspiration ... be patient. The moments in which you have your focus, in which you do as you wish and excel in your chosen desire -- those are treasures worth waiting for. Let yourself float through the tiresome intervals in between those gilded times. Do not resist the rest of your life, but embrace it with the certainty that it will sooner or later bring you back to the thing that you wish, give you a moment here and a moment there to progress toward whatever it is that you most fancy, and sooner or later will grant you the appropriate reward for all your many efforts.

Do not strive to be patient. Be patient so that you have the comfort to strive for your dreams.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the tool of patience and the knowledge of how to wield it.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Monday, October 13, 2008

Know What You Want

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with another notion gleaned from music, and I hope for your forbearance if you find yourself unable to identify with my admittedly peculiar tastes.

I bought a CD some months back by a band called Dragonforce. I bought it not so much because I thought that it was going to be genuinely good, but because I'd listened to some song samples on and a video or two on Youtube, and I found myself full of admiration for the purity of this band's ambitions.

Dragonforce is not a bunch of guys who thought, "We'd like to be musicians." They're not a bunch of guys who thought, "We'd like to be rock and roll musicians." They did not form their band because they wanted to be heavy metal musicians, or, more specifically, power metal musicians.

One listen to a Dragonforce song (assuming you're the kind of person who can listen to this kind of music), and you'll be certain, as I was, that Dragonforce was formed out of the burning desire of each of its members to be absolutely the fastest power metal band in the history of rock and roll, EVER.

Now, it's debatable whether this ambition is something that anyone truly ought to aspire to. I've come across people online deriding Dragonforce as a collection of simple-minded Johnny One-notes who have managed to completely master a single narrow form of instrumental proficiency at the expense of any real musical or emotional sophistication. And I'll admit, no one is very likely to say, "Wow, the evocative nuances of that latest song by Dragonforce struck something so deep in me that I almost choked up." 

But all of that is missing the point.

While I might wish that Dragonforce used a little more syncopation, made more use of varied dynamics, and explored some more experimental time-signatures or key changes, one fact is clear to anyone with an ear for a wide variety of music: Dragonforce is a group of musicians who have become successful by knowing exactly what they want to do and pursuing it with passion.

You may find Dragonforce pointless, superficial, or outright unlistenable, but you can't deny that they are sincere. And I think it takes a pretty small person to say it's not enough for someone to combine sincerity, desire, drive, talent and accomplishment in pursuit of art that others will enjoy.

Do you know what you want? Art? Travel? Spiritual enlightenment? Love? Have your efforts toward these things been directed and focused? Did you learn what it takes to be good at the thing you aspire to? Are the results something you are proud of?

If you can answer "yes" to most of those questions, then it does not matter how modest or how grand your ambitions are. It does not matter if you are Mozart, or Dragonforce, or Shakespeare, or just an anonymous blogger.

Knowing what you want and doing it puts you in the company of the most accomplished people in the world.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the path to an identity that is real and whole.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, October 10, 2008

Do Something Well

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a suggestion that limitations may not be such a bad thing.

Are you familiar with the theme song from the James Bond movie Moonraker? (And before you get sarcastic, yes, I'm aware of the irony of writing about Moonraker in a post titled "Do Something Well." The movie is silly and cheesy in ways that I love, but that I acknowledge are not for everyone.)

It's an amazing song, brilliantly composed by John Barry and featuring vocals by Shirley Bassey, who somehow manages to be both bold and elusive at the same time in just about every line of the lyrics.

The melody is astounding, and the singing is flawless, and both of those elements demonstrate what vast and prominent talents Barry and Bassey possess. Not many of us in this life get to be a John Barry or a Shirley Bassey, although it's a good thing to aspire to.

There is, however, another element of the song that you may never have noticed, even if you've heard it dozens of times. All through the song, steady and unwavering as the other instruments weave in and out, some percussionist is playing the triangle.

Who is he? Or she? I have no idea. I don't even have any idea how to find out. Probably, only a couple of his/her close friends and/or family members know, "Oh, yeah, s/he's the guy/gal who played the triangle on Moonraker." (Well, I suppose John Barry and the other members of the orchestra might also remember.)

My point is, it's a frickin' awesome triangle part.

Maybe you can't be John Barry. Maybe you can't be Shirley Bassey. Maybe you can't even be Richard Kiel, famous for playing a giant thug in two or three cheesy movies from the '70s and '80s. But maybe you can play the heck out of a triangle, because you have the patience and the rhythm and the ethereally gentle touch to master an instrument that most people don't particularly care about and many people don't even know exists.

Find what you can do well, and be happy that you can do it well -- especially if it brings happiness to others.

Thank you, goddess of love, for opportunities, whatever size, shape, or sound they come in.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Saturday, October 04, 2008

For Lack of Trying

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you fresh from exercise of the body and relaxation of the mind.

As I started my nightly walk this evening, a nagging desire to come up with a new post bedeviled me. What to think about? What to write about? Could I apply myself and distill some essence of wisdom to share?

Stride and stride and stride went past, squares of sidewalk under my tennis shoes, the bow of the yellow moon hovering glowful above the treetops. Despite having mulled the subject for only a few minutes, I felt utterly lacking in inspiration.

And then I rebelled against my hunger to be inspired. I thought, "Just walk. It's ridiculous to try to force something that's not there. You don't have to be wise -- just be."

I felt much better immediately. But more to the point, I had not taken another five steps when the following hit me, unbidden and uncoerced:

Wisdom will come, or it won't. There's no point in stretching, seeking, reaching, searching for it, because wisdom is not a goal. 

It is a consequence.

So there it is. If you must seek, then seek to have the right kinds of experiences. Learning will follow in due course.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the patience to just be.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee