Thursday, December 30, 2021

Riding the Horse


In these times, science has risen to the top of the pyramid.  It has given us vaccinations, Zoom, electric cars and flush toilets. I, for one, am appreciative. But lest we forget, science also gave us the fossil fuel industry, nuclear weapons, assault rifles and fracking. It divorced the head from the heart, relegated poetry to the basement, disdained dancing, demoted music to mere entertainment and reduced the human being to talking heads on TV.


I laid it all at the feet of Descartes of “I think, therefore I am” fame. By equating the essence of our being to the organ of thought, he seemed to be discounting the body, the heart, the soul, the spirit. The elevation of rational thought as humankind’s greatest faculty threw the community of human aptitudes off balance, a move we would have to pay for later. The rise of dream therapy, yoga, social-emotional-learning in schools, jazz, Orff Schulwerk and drum circles are just some of the signs of attempts to rebalance ourselves. All well and good. Yet suddenly, there is an alarming demise in rational thought that has me yearning for the Age of Enlightenment and re-invoking Descartes as a modern day hero!


I’m a big fan of intuition married to intellect, improvisation alongside thoughtful composition, a playful spirit holding hands with a rigorous discipline. Descartes phrase (which ironically, came to him in a dream) feels more true to me with the clauses reversed: “I am, therefore I think.” And then paired with other verbs: “I am, therefore I dance/ sing/ dream/ create/ etc.” 


But let’s stay with thinking for now. As a beginning Zen student practicing meditation, I imagined the goal was to erase thought and just be.Yet as anyone who has ever tried it can testify, thoughts are endless. The issue is not to erase them (impossible) but to let them pass without attachment, without identifying with them, without following them and thus allowing a larger self to emerge. Thought indeed is a unique human faculty and not an issue with your pet dog or cat. Since thinking is part of us, learning how to dance with it seems a good idea. 


To live a full 3D life, as I suggest in a chapter in my Teach Like It’s Music book, we might consider the order of experience: Do something first, discuss it after (with others or with your own reflective self) and then do it again with an understanding gifted by rational thought. Life gives us a horse and our first job is to mount it and ride it, both for the pleasure and the journey. Then dismount and think about it, write about it, talk about it and tell others. Then back on the horse with renewed perspective and knowledge. Descartes was on to something— I’m just suggesting he got the order wrong.


And so the punchline that came in a dream last night and inspired this little meditation. 


“Don’t put Descartes before the horse.”     (Snare drum and cymbal here!)


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