Why Gratitude Means Missing the Boat

 Photo: CK

Photo: CK

Alright, it's been a while, and now is time to reveal other particular colors of my plumage. As a way to debut the new season, and to say in the voice of the late great Majel Barrett,  "...Last time, on the Breathe Blog", this is a place where I have shared my reflections on zen and investigations of commonly held and even celebrated aspects of human existence, in an attempt to come to a greater clarity. Doing so has informed who I am as a person, artist and singer. If you are new, welcome! 

There is no way a singer can know when to start singing the exact microsecond as the rest of an ensemble. We must in fact rely on the reality that we do not know, in order to then tap into our sense of being able to feel precisely when not to come in. Then, something happens of its own accord. It is perhaps impossible to quantify, and the results are frankly miraculous and life-transforming. We are basically improvising together on when the next sound will be made. Recently, I have joined an ensemble, Mruta Mertsi, led by André Pappathomas, with very skilled, classically-trained vocal improvisers, and here, elements of pitch, vowel, harmony AND time are completely improvised. I'll never forget how the first example of an improvised 4 notes out of 4 singers came out to be something like a V4/2 chord--without any previous pitch reference. Those were veteran singers of the ensemble who gave us that example. Since then, there have been really striking harmonic and melodic, gestural occurrences in our workshops. These are feelings one can perhaps only get to by going beyond conventional notation and structures. I had been seeking to have this in my diet recently and I'm happy that this opportunity came along! Now, onto the meaty bits...

 

To observe correctly is to act correctly, is to know, is to have life become what life wishes to become next. So, what is the correct observation, then? If you think you are apart from life, it is a grounded falsehood. There is no protection. You are IT. Everything you perceive IS your perception of life. Everything IS you. There is no adversary unless you can't understand why you think you need an adversary. It really is all on your side. How you react to something informs who you are. It tells you nothing about what you perceive because what you perceive is only your perception of what is and your perception IS you. Why do you keep needing to perceive it, then? Ah... 

 

I can say from experience that there is much we observe that is unneeded, and the scope and extent of this statement may surprise you. Some may label the aforementioned unneeded as "constructs". I recently realized I disagree with this word entirely. A construct implies causality, that either you or someone else built it with intention. This isn't true. It is simply the leaves that have gotten swept up by a wind's journey and amassed in the alleyway for fluffy cats to trod upon. That is the summation of our perceptions, both good and bad. If you take it more seriously than that, you will have difficulty. That is the first incongruence I wanted to address. 

 

The second, is gratitude. Much of our lives, from a Western standpoint, but perhaps too in other arcs of the definition, is based upon struggle, challenge, overcoming, self-improvement, achievement, and paradoxically, self-humbling. We habitually do not appreciate what we have, these good things, and much of the conversation that arises, and that which receives focus, is which of these things needs to change, the bad, the mistakes, the pain, the suffering. First off, trying to go through life without pain or suffering is akin to trying to live with your bones outside of your skin. Yet we still try. We suppress, we deny, we justify, rationalize, ignore, redirect, occupy and try to forget. We twist and subvert our very flesh. It is considered much more noble to plough forward through the obstacle and be bruised and scraped and marked. You can nurse your wounds later, and will find others on an island to do so with company. Which is actually quite beautiful in its own way. It is a human experience. After a while, it all catches up to you, in two ways: the crisis, and in gratitude. What is gratitude? We see it as a ray of light that awakens us, quiets the mind and helps us to connect with ourselves and those around us. It happens every once in a while. We see it in the movies. Suddenly we see what is around, the ducks, the colors, the shapes, the technology, the non-profits, the kindness, the risk, the fact that nothing has the same amount of weight as it did a few moments ago. Everything has brilliance. We feel oddly terrible, arrested, yet happy to obey to... something...The thing is...

 

Calling it "gratitude" is a betrayal of the gift. It is still your perception, a learned twitch and habit, not reality. It is a story. It is a costume. It is another redirect. It is the safe way out. You have seen the unknown, the forgotten, the overlooked quality of life, and you are labelling it with something "beautiful" and playing a recognizable role--because it is recognizable and familiar. This is why it is safe. It is the "children's exit" to the haunted house located early on in the excursion. I would posit that there is no such thing as "gratitude", but, instead only the realization that we are presently ungrateful. It is realizing that in a sea of white, there is this dark grey splotch that doesn't quite belong. When the dark grey splotch is acknowledged, it becomes white as well. Then there is only white. You, in fact, haven't gained anything. There is instead, wholeness. This wholeness has been appropriated as a story of "gratitude" towards something, but life is rather much more anonymous and unknowable than that. A paperclip does not fear volcanic eruption. Saturn is ok with you forgetting the milk again. The next time you feel grateful, pause, say "no", and then see what happens afterwards. Keep going through the haunted house for just a little while longer. Things are much less of a "big deal" than we think, and the perceptions of our understanding, held arbitrarily as universal common experiences, is one of the ways we are missing the true end of the ride, one that perhaps gets us a little closer to the Gift Shop and a place to cash in our tokens for a stuffed snake. I think that much of these human experiences can be explored, and investigated fully. The idea of saying "no, not yet" can also be observed in Alexander Technique, to determine our habitual reactions of tension and unnecessary and hampering involvement when it comes to spontaneity and involuntary motion and action. 

 Photo: CK

Photo: CK

 

This all circles back to meditation. The above is a ticket to get on the boat, and arrive at the right time of departure. I think there is a wonderful opportunity to observe our experiences of gratitude/ungratefulness to see what is actually happening in the reality of things, of itself. Let yourself show yourself to yourself. Know, just like in meditation that you cannot do anything to help this happen. You cannot will it to happen. To try to meditate is like attempting to dry a damp surface by spraying it with more water. We have always been spraying it, never seeing the fully un-refracted color of it, its unvarnished quality. So how do you do that? You have much better chances in trying to eat a skyscraper than you do in trying to meditate. If that helps. We don't really like to stop. We exist in a state of panic. When was the last time you weren't on duty? Who are you watching? Who put you there? What are you watching for? 

 

It's funny. This was going to be an article about homeopathy for singers. I guess that will be the next time. The above was perhaps brought to you by Kali Bichromicum 30ch, as I try to ease the exit of this cold.