More Fun Than A Circus

“[Pauline] Oliveros’s compositions…can’t be disrupted. If anything, they are enriched by interference. I listen to them in an illusion of an apartment…within vomiting distance of six late-night bars. I’m not comfortable drowning out noise with louder noise; it makes me feel claustrophobic. A far better option is to play something…by Oliveros. Then something quite extraordinary occurs; the abrasive clanging and crashing…all around me isn’t obscured but rather miraculously incorporated into a mutating opus that makes no distinction between good sounds and bad ones. Dislodged from their mundane context, each pitch, each tone, every vibration, finds a new relation and contributes to a far-flung and evolving sonic universe.” — Claire-Louise Bennett

Life CircusMo Willems wrote a children’s book about Goldilocks trapped in a house with dinosaurs. He said the moral of this tale was that when you find yourself in the wrong story, you can leave. While some stories conveniently have exits, in others the only way out is to rewrite the whole damned thing. Easier said than done, although in fact we’re constantly writing and rewriting stories.

I read somewhere that “an estimated 70 percent of all continuous-loop thoughts running through our minds are negative, and 95 percent of our life activity originates in the subconscious, which was programmed by observing others.” And telling ourselves stories about them.

Which is why I found Ms. Bennett’s commentary so thought-provoking. Obtrusive noises surround her, creating disquiet. “Neutralizing” them by drowning them out with something louder makes her feel cut off from the world. So she plays a kind of music that, partly because it’s based on the sounds of everyday life, weaves the ambiance of the moment into itself, transmuting it from noise into music — simply another part of life’s ever-changing symphony, equal in worth to every other part.

Whenever I’m suffering, I wonder what I’m not seeing. My perspective narrows, and it’s often what’s left out of the frame that compounds the interest on pain, accumulating suffering. For example, I could tell the story of my persisting illness in many ways: as bad luck, as a blight on my life, as an object of unceasing curiosity, a challenge to grow in different directions, a Joseph Campbellian hero’s quest.

How I feel about my life will depend partly on which story I tell. And the story I choose will depend partly on how I feel; story and feeling are interdependent. Some might define a zen life as one freed of story — simply experience in a “pure” form without anything extra, such as interpretation or meaning, layered on. I don’t know if some people can live like that, but I’m pretty sure writers can’t. 

So my question is, how can we consciously create an inner composition rich and open enough to enfold events usually experienced as discordant so they become part and parcel of life’s music, rather than disturbances of it? One friend said that this would be enlightenment.

There are many interpretations of enlightenment; one is seeing the world whole, embracing it as such, and acting from this awareness of the unity of all things. This reminds me of the final lines of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, which convey the proof of Siddhartha’s enlightenment to a doubting friend, who bends down to kiss him and is startled to see reflected in his face the infinite forms of life and death, the countless joys and sorrows, and arching over them all a smile that “reminded him of everything he had ever loved in his life, everything that had ever been of value and holy in his life.”

How do we see the world whole, and love it whole, now? How do we hear every sound as music?

5 thoughts on “More Fun Than A Circus

  1. compassion and understanding that all that happens is life as it is, in this moment….. certainly cause and effect is to be considered, but then that’s the ever present dynamicof the universe.

    saying, ‘this is it’ and ‘being with it’ and then ‘letting it go’ have been suggested, as has ‘opening the hand of thought’ and ‘going beyond thinking’ in zazen.

    so many choices depending on the time and place of the moment. for me, it’s imagining (or actually seeing out my window) the cluster of fir trees stalwartly buffeted by wind, weighted down by heavy snow, bark eaten by insects, yet remaining tall over many years.

    peter wohlleben in his book titled ‘Hidden Life of Trees’ describes how trees are like human families: “tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers”.

    beauty in life gives us joy; nuturing acts show us love; and the magnitude of the universe fills us with awe. when suffering appears we have many ways to find our balance.

    • Thank you for your commentary, Joshu…I can imagine the fir trees as you describe them. I miss that connection with nature that I felt in Maine, more than here in the city. Although there’s a row of plum trees along my street, and the recent blossoms had the most beautiful fragrance. The book about trees and how they live sounds wonderful. Although as Dogen says, nothing is really hidden, there’s so much we don’t see and don’t know. But I wholeheartedly agree with your concluding remarks.

      • molly, good to hear your personal voice again. there are so many interruptions to our practices – your illness, my old age and non-functioning legs. etc. when i had to give up training in japan and couldn’t have transmission, i was decimated. but little by little i am realizing there are other ways to share my practice: being there 100% for someone in need; practicing nonviolent direct action when confronted by angry crowds; supporting those who have been victimized; writing peaceful op-eds and giving peaceful public talks…..just communicating from the heart in the public arena……as you do.

        thank you, i’ll look forward to your next piece.

        • Yes, but the interruptions are the practice too, as I know you know. The dharma is everything that is happening, and as someone (Meister Eckhart?) said, the world is preaching a silent sermon all the time. Everything is giving its teaching, no matter the robes it wears or doesn’t. There are ten thousand ways to share your practice, and it sounds as if you’re doing wonderful things!

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