Archive for December 2008

Seeing the Music

December 24, 2008

In an oft-quoted letter written by Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille she speaks of  “a vitality, a life source” that is unique to each of us.  Later in the letter she urges de Mille to “keep the channel open”.  That letter echoes in me everytime I think about life as a dance.  But how does one “keep the channel open”?  I think we have to learn how to hear the music, which, if Orr is correct, is everywhere.  So, I started thinking about different ways to be aware of the music.  The most obvious is to hear it.  But now, we’re talking about a much broader understanding of what the music is.  I’m more and more convinced that all sounds are available to be experienced from this perpsective.  It doesn’t take that much practice to get the knack of hearing all sounds as a kind of music.  What if we expand our channel to include the other senses?  For esample, how do we see the music that is everywhere?  Once the idea presents itself it’s really pretty easy.  Everywhere we turn our eyes – inner and outer – there is music to be seen.  As usual there are sights that we like better and worse because of our limited visual point of view.  But when we relax a bit and can stop naming everything we see and simply see it, then the music starts.  Or, more to the point, we start to make ourselves available to the music.  I can’t imagine listening to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” without seeing New York; or, to “An American in Paris” without seeing Paris.  Movie soundtracks have been crossing this threshold for decades and we often hardly notice that our “seeing” and our “hearing” have begun a dance of their own.  And gathered us up in the process.  My wife and I kid about how she hates musicals because no one breaks into song in the middle of daily life.  Basically true, but what a shame.  Of course there is singing in the shower and in the car as long as we think no one is looking.  Taking that a step or two further what if we don’t wait for “official” music to show up?  What if we find, hear, see music everywhere we look?  Try it, you might be — I was about to write, pleasantly surprised, but what came out was, presently surprised.  I think both things are true.  Stop, look and listen.

Dancing at the Threshold

December 21, 2008

I have just changed the name of my blog to Dancing at the Threshold.  I think I am slowly getting a sense of what it is I am trying to do here. There’s a poem by Gregory Orr that I use with emails that goes like this:

To be alive: not just the carcass

But the spark.

That’s crudely put, but…

If we’re not supposed to dance,

Why  all this music?

For a long time the idea of the threshold has intrigued me.  My first meaningful encounter with it came from my interest in Trickster mythology.  One of the main characteristics of the Trickster in all the mythologies about him/her around the world is the idea that he is always on the move.  This resonated when I got a beginning understanding of some of the new physics which emphasizes the idea that everything is motion all the time.  Piet Hut of Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Studies puts it this way:  “There are no things. That’s right.  No thing exists, there are only actions.  We live in a world of verbs, and nouns are only shorthand for those verbs whose actions are sufficiently stationary to show some thing-like behavior.” Putting these two together it seems to me that the best verb of all may be “dance”.  But where is all this music that Orr refers to?  And then it dawned on me; the music is everywhere.  The variety of the music is as broad as all human experience.  Some music we like and some we don’t.  As I write this I can hear music coming from my front room.  And I can also hear the music of the traffic on the nearby highway.  I can hear the music of my wife clicking away on her computer as she answers email.  Then there is the music of the blank page that I referred to in my last post.  And then I realized that what we experience as blank or empty is the context for all the different kinds of music that exist.  And that’s when the threshold idea came back to me.  We are always dancing on the threshold between the infiniteness of possibilities and the “thing-like” world that we orient ourselves around.  When we, as the Buddhists might say, grasp the thing-like stuff the dance stops.  One last quote from an old Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers movie: “Pick yourself up.  Dust yourself off. And, start all over again.”  May I have this dance?

It’s just a draft

December 19, 2008

I stare at the blank screen and feel the anxiety to say something profound.  And nothing profound shows up.  Then I see the word “draft” up in the corner of the page and realize that I can write whatever I want and do whatever I want with it.  What I do know is that you can’t steer a car that’s parked at the curb.  Which I did as an 8 yr. old sitting in the driveway of my home behind the wheel of our old Plymouth.  I turned the wheel this way and that and convinced myself that I now knew how to drive.  When I came back in the house and proudly told my parents of this major new accomplishment they all laughed.  I think many of us have had some equivalent experience and after enough of them we decided to not only not tell anyone, but to not even get behind the wheel of the car and imagine.  I think that one of the reasons I am drawn to try this whole blogging thing is because it is a combination of imagining and actually turning on the engine.  So, Ladies and Gentlemen, Start your engines!

First step

December 17, 2008

As in “journey of a thousand miles starts with a”.  This blog is a resource for me to give voice to whatever I want to give voice to.  At that level it is just for me.  It just happens to be going out into cyberspace to have a life of its own.  I do have hopes that some of what I write will resonate with people.  Make them smile, make them think, make them argue; make them share their voices.  I am drawn to this format because of it’s flexibility, immediacy and potential creativity.  Even as I write this I experience ideas and options about how to do it.  For example, I am about to change the name of the blog to A Pilgrim’s Process. Because even these first 124 words have stimulated and clarified for me what I am exploring.  Over a number of years I have gathered bits and pieces of things that I find interesting.  I often think of them as bumper stickers or t-shirt sayings.  I remember the first time it dawned on me that something as simple as a couple of bumper stickers could make an impact beyond the moment.  I was driving down hwy 101 just South of Santa Barbara and I spotted a pickup truck with two bumper stickers on its rear bumper.  The one on the left said, “Life’s a bitch, then you die.”  The one on the right said, “Have a nice day.”  I thought to myself, I can live with that as a guideline.  Two truths representing a philosophy based on reality at it’s harsher level and still open to all the amazing things that life has to offer.  So, that’s it for my first step.