Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Numbers Game

What motivates us to do things that don’t bring fame, fortune or food on the table? Things like countless hours of piano practice without an audience or daily Blog writing with small readership? Certainly the pleasure of the task itself, but also some sense of inner necessity, some unshakeable faith that bringing notes or words into greater coherence is a worthy venture that somehow is important. At least to the musician or writer, if no one else.


But being social creatures, everything feels more complete, more fulfilled, more worthy, when it is shared, when it connects with someone else and helps lift their spirit, brighten their day, affirm their own thoughts and feelings, clarify their understanding. Success is not measured by the number of people affected (though it’s part of the equation), but by the quality of the connection. Perhaps 500 people browsed through your words like hurrying to work on a crowded street, but one sat down in the midst of them and drank them as water for a parched tongue. Perhaps a large crowd heard the music like background sound on the elevator ride, while one sat astonished as the locked doors of the heart opened one by one and forgotten beauty poured in. 


I confess that every few days, I check the stats of my Blogposts, curious as to how many people read a piece. And while some part of me is happy when the numbers are high— especially for the posts I think are especially worthy of attention— another part of me doesn’t care. In fact, I worry that if one type of writing consistently got more hits than another, I’d be tempted to write to the audience instead of consulting my own heart to say what I need said. 


The other day, I was astounded to see a number far beyond the usual 50 or 100 and in fact, for several days, it hit over a thousand per day. Had a new group of people suddenly discovered the Blog and were jumping aboard to be faithful readers? Well, hooray for that! Was this a bot phenomena? Did a few thousand try it out and then jump ship? Who knows?

But the next day, after the brief flurry of big numbers, the number was … 1. 

Did 1689 mean a big success? (Though of course, modest next to the latest Pop star talking about their breakfast). Did 1 mean abject failure?

Well, it’s not my business to speculate. The other day, 25 people gathered in the room at the Jewish Home where I play piano, the next week, there were 2. Again, I welcome the larger numbers, but I’m not there to count, I’m there to dig down and play or say or write what comes from the depths of my capacity to think, feel and express, to see if I can bring some Soul into the room and slow the ticking clocks down. If it connects with someone else, I’m happy. If not, it can’t be helped.


And mostly, I’ll never know. When I voiced a mild complaint at the Jewish Home that the numbers were so small, they reminded me that many of the residents couldn’t leave their room, but could hear the music from there and felt refreshed by it. That’s an important image to keep in mind. I remember back when I sat 7-day meditation retreats at an old Boy Scout Camp in the San Gabriel mountains, I felt the power of what this small group of some 30 to 50 black-robed sentient beings were doing to heal themselves and the world. No cameras were recording it, no newspapers reporting it, hardly anyone knew we were there, but I could feel how we were invisibly blessing the world. 


So while public visibility and sold-out concerts and best-selling books count for a lot, they’re not the whole story. And I hope thousands of people read this post to consider that!



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