People have traditionally turned to ritual to help them frame and acknowledge and ultimately even find joy in just such a paradox of being human – in the fact that so much of what we desire for our happiness and need for our survival comes at a heavy cost. We kill to eat, we cut down trees to build our homes, we exploit other people and the earth. Sacrifice – of nature, of the interests of others, even of our earlier selves – appears to be an inescapable part of our condition, the unavoidable price of all our achievements. A successful ritual is one that addresses both aspects of our predicament, recalling us to the shamefulness of our deeds at the same time it celebrates what the poet Frederick Turner calls “the beauty we have paid for with our shame.” Without the double awareness pricked by such rituals, people are liable to find themselves either plundering the earth without restraint or descending into self-loathing and misanthropy.
― Michael Pollan, A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder
We will be able to depart this life with the quiet peace-giving notion, that we were permitted to contribute to the happiness of many who will live after us. In our long lives we endeavored to unfold the collective consciousness. In our lives we have known hell and heaven; the final balance, however, is that we helped pave the way to dynamic harmony in this earthly house. That, I believe, is the meaning of life.
Most of us are searching–consciously or unconsciously–for a degree of internal balance and harmony between ourselves and the outside world, and if we happen to become aware–like Stravinsky–of a volcano within us, we will compensate by urging restraint. By that same token, someone who bore a glacier within them might urge passionate abandon. The danger is, as Bergman points out, that a glacial personality in need of passionate abandon may read Stravinsky and apply restraint instead.
We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a ‘resource.’ This is crucial, because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet.
To my mind, faith is like being in the sun. When you are in the sun, can you avoid creating a shadow? Can you shake that area of darkness that clings to you, always shaped like you, as if constantly to remind you of yourself? You can’t. This shadow is doubt. And it goes wherever you go as long as you stay in the sun. And who wouldn’t want to be in the sun?
―Yann Martel, Beatrice and Virgil
Half of me is filled with bursting words and half of me is painfully shy. I crave solitude yet also crave people. I want to pour life and love into everything yet also nurture my self-care and go gently. I want to live within the rush of primal, intuitive decision, yet also wish to sit and contemplate. This is the messiness of life – that we all carry multitudes, so must sit with the shifts. We are complicated creatures, and ultimately, the balance comes from this understanding. Be water. Flowing, flexible and soft. Subtly powerful and open. Wild and serene. Able to accept all changes, yet still led by the pull of steady tides. It is enough.
If the Great Way perishes there will be morality and duty. When cleverness and knowledge arise great lies will flourish. When relatives fall out with one another there will be filial duty and love. When states are in confusion there will be faithful servants.
Jazz presumes that it would be nice if the four of us–simpatico dudes that we are–while playing this complicated song together, might somehow be free and autonomous as well. Tragically, this never quite works out. At best, we can only be free one or two at a time–while the other dudes hold onto the wire. Which is not to say that no one has tried to dispense with wires. Many have, and sometimes it works–but it doesn’t feel like jazz when it does.