What is the pandemic teaching us? Perhaps that the soul can become more readily known and grown during times of crisis. The sense of collapse and loss can provoke a deeper sense of wholeness in individuals and in the collective, evoke the inner resources that are called forth. The hidden unity inside life rises closer to the surface and calls for our attention. But do we respond? Families, schools, culture work best when they prepare us to pay attention, to answer the call. When the ways of misinformation and disinformation and the high tide of big lies and false beliefs are in the lead, the soul is neglected and the people incapable of intelligent response. So as teachers, we have a larger sacred trust than passing on mere information— to help the next generation to seek for the truth of who they are in their essential self and how they can offer their gifts to the community. One cannot be a “self-realized” individual without connecting to community nor can one offer genuine healing to the world without some measure of self-healing.
And so I tell my kids I have two goals for them in music class:
BLEND IN:The deepest gift of music, to blend into the larger sound, motion, voice, the place where “I” becomes “we.”
STAND OUT:The possibility of music as vehicle of discovering, of singing out, the essence of who we are. To find our voice. Our own genuine touch.
Here are the two poles of the needed conversation. We all have a deep and non-negotiable need to become who we are meant to be, but it is coupled with an equally deep non-negotiable need to feel part of a group. And herein lies the first challenge. Often the group doesn’t want to see that true self and that true self can’t breathe in the limited airspace of the group. To become who you essentially are and to feel a welcomed part of the community—two universal and non-negotiable needs every human being is born with, yet so few die having realized. Why is that? “We are all born originals, yet die as copies.”
To be who you are sounds easy but there is nothing more difficult in this life. We cannot be content with some surface version of getting enough likes on Facebook, think that if we shout “You’re awesome!” long enough, our deep self will believe it. Because let’s face it. We all know we’re the furthest thing from awesome. We’re a wreck, the walking wounded, the ones faking our way through it all, the jumbled, bundled, chaos of doubt and even self-loathing. The only way to arrive at awesome is to swim through those swampy creature-infested waters and if we do arrive at some pristine clear lake of wonder and awe, it’s not our small self that has arrived there. Only the deep self is granted that passport.
It may sound easy to become who we essentially are, to follow that genius or daimon or essential deep self that accompanied us at birth into this world. But we soon discover it’s it’s a constant game of hide and seek. And that the parts of our self most important to spend time with are precisely the ones our parents, our friends, our fellow colleagues, our culture, often doesn’t want to see.
Where can we find a group that is willing to accept all of us? There are scores of groups that will welcome us, but demand a high price. Join our political party, but you better follow the party line. Join our religious group, but don’t dare to have a doubt or question that disturbs our dogma. Claim our mutual identity of race or class or sexual preference but don’t consider that it’s not your whole self. Join our conspiracy theory but don’t forget to pay the dues of outsourcing your identity and never, ever, look inward or wonder if indeed it’s that other group that is wholly responsible for your misery. You get the idea.
In short, none of us get a free pass from our deep longing to belong nor can we choose to ignore what our Soul is asking of us. How we negotiate that tightrope conversation between these two apparently opposite truths is what makes things interesting. We might eschew the group together, but what’s the good of realizing a Self that can’t contribute to or feel part of the community? We might abandon the search in favor of belonging, but as noted, if the group requires us to check indispensable parts of ourselves at the door, then it’s a deal with the devil. So it’s a constant tug-of-war between two vital necessities, each pulling the other over the line and sometimes, both tumbling to the ground.
Music gives both the metaphor and experience of joining the blending in with the standing out. Releasing yourself to the group harmony by blending your voice, your rhythm, your dance to the larger universe of sound, feeling that small self dissolving in the greater self in the power and beauty of unified sound. And then comes your solo, where you soar into the sky with the full measure of your unique voice, both supported by and enhancing and being welcomed by the community of harmonious music. It is possible. But it takes a lifetime of intention, attention and disciplined practice.
I leave you with an extraordinary quote from modern dancer, Martha Graham, and her eloquent reminder to grow comfortable with a constant state of "blessed unrest."
"There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”