Lessons In Living

I learned a lot of lessons tonight while going to hear the fantastic Columbia Chamber Players perform at Carnegie Hall. These were lessons of a particularly valuable variety, the kind I had thought I learned but actually hadn't. Thankfully, the great school we call life has an excellent review policy and readily serves up new scenarios to learning a lesson.

So, some background: my motivation for going to this event was to see a beautiful flautist whom I adored.

Plans are nothing, planning is everything

I had, of course, planned to show up on time. Instead, I arrived late and missed all but the last three minutes of that certain flautist's performance. Clearly I should have planned to have more contingencies surrounding the subway. Alas.

I also didn't check the weather in the afternoon before this excursion. This is a major strategic failing, especially from someone who has read The Art of War three times and should by now understand the importance of weather. Typically I don't mind rain in the slightest and I'm happy to just be rained on. I figure I take showers anyway, and I wash my clothes, so what's the big deal? This particular night I did want to be dry upon arrival, though, so I should have planned ahead and brought rain gear.

Expectations are worse than nothing

I've gotten decent at freeing myself from expectations. But tonight my emotions got the better of me, and I created all sorts of elaborate expectations for the night. These were summarily shattered as I listened to the (amazing) last three minutes of Mozart's Flute and Harp Concerto K. 299 through the lobby speakers. This I felt as a massive wave of disappointment at unmet expectations. Very silly. Fortunately, I was cognizant enough to recognize the disappointment for what it was, replace it with disappointment in my inability to avoid disappointment, and then replace that with a restored sense of neutrality and openness to experience.

Still, better to just avoid the feeling of disappointment entirely by releasing all expectations. I've found this allows me to embrace every moment of life for exactly what it is, which is the way I want to live.

Pure experience is so worth living for

Thankfully I was able to pull myself together midway through the fifth movement of Dvořák's Dumky Trio, Op. 90 and actually listen to the music. What a novel concept. It took a long time to clear my head. Infatuation is probably the most challenging emotion/thought I've faced in my meditation. It ranks above even old bogeys fear, pain, depression and such because it is so darn pleasant I almost don't want to clear it away.

Finally, finally there was silence in my head, and I could fully hear the music. And how exquisite it was. When my mind is totally empty I have what I can only describe as an experience. It's totally beyond my capacity to explain in words. It's as if I am seeing clearly for the first time. Everything looks just so vivid, so detailed. There is so much depth and beauty to objects. Sounds are crisp and deep and broad and totally filling. Every texture and smell and feeling is just so immediate and overwhelming. The best way I can describe it is that it is like being a child again, taking delight in the simplest of experiences. There is no jadedness, and nothing is filtered by words. When I'm in this state I am not eating a burger. I'm eating the burger and intimately experiencing all the peculiarities of that particular patty, that particular bun, the specific arrangement of toppings and condiments, the oozing melty goodness that is the cheese. I'm not having the experience I've had hundreds of times of “eating a burger”. I’m having the once in a lifetime experience of “eating that burger”, but of course, the experience itself goes above and beyond words. In fact, it is not possible until I cease to use words. Words are like a filter that stand between us and the pureness of experience.

The rest of the concert was pure bliss. There’s so much richness to live music. I really love it. Not that I don’t enjoy recorded music, but the sound is just so alive and thick and immersing when it is live. And you get to see the performers pouring their souls out into their music. I’ve always loved Rachmaninoff, so I was delighted to hear his Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 19. I hadn’t heard much Dvořák before this evening, but I must say, I quite like him. I greatly enjoyed this fantastic piece called Shu by Somei Satoh, that was apparently composed in 2004. I don’t get to listen to a lot of modern classical music, and it was very interesting. I don’t think I’d ever heard a vibraphone live before that.

Follow the heart

After the concert I had a brief opportunity to speak to aforementioned flautist, which I missed because I didn’t want to look like a fool and run after her. Silly me, ignoring my own advice. Note to self, always run after women, they can disappear like ninjas.

All in all, despite ostensibly “failing” this was a wonderful day. I was expecting to pay $20 for my ticket at Carnegie Hall, but it ended up being free, so I gave it to this excellent street performer in the subway who was really rocking the voice + keyboard combo. By the time I got home my spirits were up again, I walked slowly in the rain and enjoyed it, was able to laugh at myself, ready to write about what I’d experienced and reflect. I’m cautiously optimistic about the progress I’ve made. Two years ago an experience like showing up late might have had me moping for a few days, if not a week.