Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Unexpected Sacred

Music is an end in and of itself. I have briefly considered this in other contexts, but this gentle truth brushed itself against my heart today while watching my daughter and others perform in a great Williamson County (TN) arts camp called “Kids on Stage.”

One of the classes offered during the camp was African drumming. As I relaxed in a chair within the spacious gymnasium at a public school, I became lost in the rhythm and cadence of the performers. Nothing else mattered for a few minutes; the musicianship had eclipsed everything else. I began to think of what a nice departure this was from my weekdays’ corporate grind, where all that matters is what can be measured and improved and distilled into profits and customer service ratings. The music simply was; it was non-evaluative nor quantitative, but simply a multi-faceted expression of human creativity and a celebration of togetherness.

This epiphany is particularly pronounced in non-vocal performances, such as the drumming I experienced today but notably in jazz and classical music as well (music typically free of the clichés coughed up by the pop culture). Beyond the basics of the price of a download, CD or concert ticket, it is hard to speak of music’s worth in business terms. Business is so much about developing goals, vision, strategies and tactics toward achieving particular economic ends. Music, and authentic arts in general, presents the opportunity to financially bless its most proficient practitioners but is more about becoming someone than producing something. To truly engage the wonder of the notes, instruments, melodies and the players is to change, to grow, to become the means and the end.

Too many of us spend each day toiling toward a measurable, pragmatic end. Music and other great expressions of human creativity allow meaning to become the goal. A meaningful sense of being leads to more creative fuel and focus, which offers the ironic by-product of making us more effective at our measurable, pragmatic work. Win-win.

But typically, we spend almost all of our emotional capital on attacking the pragmatic, and try to “catch up later” on what truly gives us an abiding sense of purpose and peace. It doesn’t usually work out. We’re too burned out to relax or pay attention to what our hearts are telling us when we encounter the unexpected sacred.

What to do, if this is your predicament? “De-tox” now from the prevalent mindset that defines you and everything you do in terms of supply-and-demand, and get away long enough to enact some new disciplines that will enforce healthier, daily habits. Practice spending time doing things and embracing relationships that truly are ends in and of themselves. Listen to the sound of the drumming, the rhythm of the jazz guitar, simply for what they are: something beautiful, archetypes of life’s prevailing beauty once hidden from you but now revealed.


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