Saturday, April 10, 2010

Simplicity: How would you live then?

Last night I started reading the book "How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: 10 Ideas that Matter Most" by Marietta McCarty. It was one of several books i purchased when my partner and I were up north in Nisswa, Minnesota. What caught my attention were sentences from the opening few pages:

"What is the good life? ... so many of us are longing for richer, more vibrant emotional and mental lives. We're tired of running in circles, flitting from one barely finished task to another in the pursuit of things that likely don't matter all that much. Sadly, while we're busy spinning, curiosity and awe are cast aside. All too often, we do not take the time to think and therefore have little idea what it is that we need for the good life ... Ideas are the building blocks of our lives - they help us find our way and know what really matters."

There was one sentence in particular that resonated, like a note on a piano ... i digress, for just a moment ... My first year in college began with aspirations of becoming a concert pianist. I had received a full music scholarship to study piano under Ruth Slenczynska, a renowned concert-pianist. She was woman of tiny physical stature but a presence and aura of a magnificent mountain. I practiced piano 8-10 hours a day, seven days a week. Ruth demanded excellence and she asked us to reach deep into our soul, "these aren't just notes. These aren't black dots on paper. You must feel the notes. You must feel the music." She taught me, in essence, to be the note. I wanted to play Beethoven because there were many more notes and it sounded more majestic and powerful. Instead, she challenged me to master a Bach fugue  ... "you think it's simple because there are fewer notes? No. It's much more difficult. Every note counts. Every voice counts." Even then, as a youngster entering college, I was being taught the importance of simplicity.

I return to the sentence in the book that resonated to me like a single note on  piano .. a note that took on a life of its own through tone and some unspoken interpretation by the artist ... "Simplicity is living close to the marrow of life."

There's a poem by Mary Oliver I love - it reminds me of simplicity and of returning to my essence.

How Would You Live Then?

What if a hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks
blew in circles around your head?  What if
the mockingbird came into the house with you and
became your advisor?  What if
the bees filled your walls with honey and all
you needed to do was ask them and they would fill
the bowl?  What if the brook slid downhill just
past your bedroom window so you could listen
to its slow prayers as you fell asleep?  What if
the stars began to shout their names, or to run
this way and that way above the clouds?  What if
you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerful sang
from its painted branches?  What if you suddenly saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver
of money?  What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
and every day -- who knows  how, but they do it -- were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?

I encourage you to read Mary Oliver's poem several times ... slowly. As you do, the words will come to life and they will seep into your pores. 

So, what would we do if we finally saw that sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day and every day --- who knows how, but they do it -- were more precious, more meaningful than gold?
p.s. Check out a great article by Ruth Slenczynska here.  She ends with "Advice to fill a musical lifetime ... 'a song is not a song until YOU sing it' [from Rodgers and Hammerstein]. Sing your heart into your music. You loved this composition a lot to give it life; now it is your's to love always, to share, to enjoy ...."

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