(Note to reader: I wrote this on October 1st and then four subsequent blogs, but due to internet blockage in China, they lay dormant on my computer. Now newly arrived in Tokyo, I send the first out into the world, to be followed soon by others. Did you miss me?)
Where do I belong? Perhaps everyone finds this question rising to the top of their daily doubts, but then again, perhaps not. Those born into a particular culture and ethnic identity and place where they will live their whole life, those who are assigned a particular niche in their society that they accept without question, those who inherit a craft or profession that has awaited them since childhood, may find this question puzzling. But for this world-traveling New Jerseyian transplanted to California, this Russian Jew by blood, Unitarian by upbringing, Buddhist by choice, this fickle fellow leaping back and forth between musician, writer, teacher, this musician drifting from Baroque organ to classical piano to jazz piano to Bulgarian bagpipe to Appalachian fake-banjo to xylophone traditions of the world and beyond, well, thatís a very real question. I once went to a day workshop with poet David Whyte about the theme of belonging and asked where such a person as myself might belong. "Perhaps at the crossroads of all those identities and disciplines," he answered, affirming exactly what I suspected.
So as I returned from a satisfying Calgary workshop last night and then went back to the airport the next morning for the 12-hour flight to China, I once again found myself a bit puzzled that I could feel at home in such strange circumstances, that getting back into the airplane seat felt like returning to my monkís cell to continue my devotions. Or at least bring me to the workshop site where the real prayers are sung. And grabbing a book to keep me company, I reached for John O'Donohu's Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom and found yet another affirmation. He writes:
"People frequently need to belong to an external system because they are afraid to belong to their own lives. If you soul is awakened, then you realize that this is the house of your real belonging. If you hyphenate 'belonging', it yields a lovely axiom for spiritual growth: Be-Your-Longing."
Dang! Wish I had turned that etymological trick first! Just up my alley. But profound truth, at least for me. Belonging indeed means being your longing, finding the place where your soul can stretch its legs. And thatís exactly what itís doing, here in my Economy Plus seat that affords it ample room. When it comes to being true to my diverse longings, I have flown the requisite miles and earned the Gold Premium Card. And itís great! I get to check in faster, go through the quick security line and even hang out in the lounge with free snacks! Not to mention store up some points for a few free trips.
So here I am again, winging to China and Japan a year and a half after I flew to Korea and Japan and began this Confessions of a Traveling Music Teacher blog. With no effort on my part, Iíve managed to stay true to the teaching, the traveling, the longingóand the blog itself. And what awaits me at the airport? Not the old exotic excitement of being thrown into an entirely different world, stepping out into the air to the buzz of taxis and rickshaws and hustlers surrounding me, driving past folks out on the street cooking around open fires or playing street music or leading their camels or elephants or what-have-you through a bustling marketplace. I know what Iím in for and itís a waste of energy to even complain. The familiar faces of some friends, everyone checking their cell-phones, the drive on the freeway past huge billboards of Julia Roberts selling perfume, into town with the big buildings and requisite McDonalds, KFCís, Starbucks, signs in both Chinese and English. Familiar all, with a slight twist and that certainly makes things easier for me on some levels.
The age of the foreign exotic is passing, homogenized by media and technology and maybe thatís not all bad. Now the excitement is joining hands in the workshop circle and find out what old things will be preserved, what new things will be created from the genuine needs of each place and time. Find out what happens when each of us reaches beyond our inherited ethnic identity to become our longing. For the people who come to the Orff workshop have been tapped by a particular desire and when we gather together, that individual journey of each soul joins into a collective force, not only to further our private journey, but to publicly pass it on to the children and help them start growing their dreams. Thatís about as close to the real purpose of this traveling music teacher as this blog has touched. May it continue!