Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sacred Triangle and Listening

I went to Bryan Stevenson's lecture and book signing at Carter Center last night. A big crowd showed up and he exceeded everyone's expectations. He is a charismatic speaker and his words come from his heart.

Unfortunately, he did not pay any attention to me. A few times, I had the opportunity to approach and talk to him, but I didn't. In my fantasy, it was him who should have discovered my wisdom. I just had to be present. I could have forced myself to talk to him but I didn't. I gave myself a suggestion, a hint, but nothing more. It's been a while that if doing something is not absolutely necessary, I do not force myself to do it. That's it.

I am not angry though, maybe a little disappointed but not angry. Between all his preoccupations (founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, professor at New York University School of Law, recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Award (1995), the Reebok Human Rights Award (1989), the Thurgood Marshall Medal of Justice (1993), the Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award (2000), the Olof Palme Prize (2000), Stanford Law School's National Public Service Award (2010), a visiting professor of law at the University of Michigan School of Law, lecturer at Harvard and Yale Law Schools, a member of Obama's task force for police practices) and his attention to his lecture and all the audience, I did not expect him to give his full time and attention to me! Anyway, I had an important message for him. Too bad that he did not want to hear it. Well, I never asked him, so too bad that he did not find out about the message.

This morning, however, I realized that the message was really for myself, to the part of me that identifies with him: ``If you want to keep your humanity, empathize with the oppressor, the persecutor, the bad guy!" Sympathizing with victims, oppressed, condemned is a convenient position, but over time makes you angry and self-righteous! Understanding the fears and anxieties that drive a seemingly powerful, fortunate, arrogant person, now that is difficult.

``Hope'', ``spirit's orientation'', and ``willingness to witness'' form a sacred triangle. Each one reinforces the others. At the center, is the ``art of listening'', of being present, calm, open, and curious, and containing one's anxieties. At the heart of the ``art of listening'' is a simple and powerful observation. We play the role of oppressor and victim, at the same time, all the time: when we make a decision, based on reason or emotions, and then force ourselves to go through with it. We all have grown up in a global culture that glorifies internal hatred and violence.

Another name for ``hope,'' in the sense I am using, is faith. The fundamental trust, in the face of all imperfections and uncertainties, that we can follow the ``spirit's orientation'' if we allow ourselves to stay witness, and refrain from becoming oppressor or victim, and instead try our best to listen to, and empathize with, all the sounds and characters within ourselves. And the trust that this is the most important, and the only, responsibility that we have in this life.

At this point in time, the most mysterious element of this picture, for me, is the ``spirit's orientation.'' 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hope, Orientation of Spirit, Willingness to Witness

I feel a strange significance in the following passage from Bryan Stevenson's book, ``Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.'' I am not sure why, but I know that in time I will. So I write it down here, forget about it, and let it come back to me in its time.

I'd started addressing the subject of hopefulness in talks to small groups. I'd grown fond of quoting Vaclav Havel, the great Czech leader who has said that ``hope'' was the one thing that people struggling in Eastern Europe needed during the era of Soviet domination.
Havel had said that people struggling for independence wanted money and recognition from other countries; they wanted more criticism of the Soviet empire from the West and more diplomatic pressure. But Havel had said that there were things they wanted; the only thing they needed was hope. Not that pie in the sky stuff, not a preference for optimism over pessimism, but rather ``an orientation of the spirit.'' The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong --- p.219, Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Voices and Destiny, Counterpoint and Fugue

Bruce Adolphe [link to his web site] has written one of the most beautiful album notes I have ever read for the ``Bach, Beethoven, Haydn: Juilliard String Quartet 50 Years, Vol. 2'' CD. [link on allmusic] Here are some excerpts:

The word fugue, to many music lovers, implies a technically complex musical edifice, cerebral by nature and rigid in its architecture. Actually, a fugue is---like all valued formal procedures of our musical heritage---the embodiment of a metaphor, a way of understanding the world. ...

Counterpoint exists everywhere in life; it is as natural as overlapping conversations at the dinner table, ... Our minds, too, are involved in constant counterpoint: even as we cross the street while thinking about our work, we are engaged in higher-order counterpane activity. Counterpoint, in music, is the simultaneous but independent activity of voices. The degree to which the voices are heard as separate but equal (which works in art if not in life) or as co-dependent is up to both composer and listener.

Fugue is a particularly spiritual kind of counterpoint: it has to do with destiny. The question of free will and destiny is fundamental to human discourse, and naturally has its artistic manifestations. By virtue of its controlled procedure, its predetermined technical to-do list, it projects in music a sense of something larger than self. The self is fairly obviously represented by the subject (as the main motif of a fugue is called). The musical journey that is then designed by the composer---following a much freer procedure than most noncomposers imagine---related the story of the protagonist (subject) asserting his will out in the deterministic world (fugue). ...

Bach is regarded by musicians as the master of fugue because he found the perfect balance between vertical and horizontal music, that is, between harmony and melody. What this means is that the metaphor is at its richest. Harmony is destiny, it is the controlling element, the underlying foundation; the melody is free will, it is the movement between vertical pillars, the assertion of self. Because Bach perfectly balances harmony and melody, he creates a profoundly complex spiritual design which is universal in meaning. ... --- Bruce Adolphe, album notes, Bach, Beethoven, Haydn
I am not sure if he fully appreciates the depth and relevance of what he has written. In my experience, people (specially artists) often have profound wisdom without knowing it! :)

Clear Shallow Water

I started reading this novel, `` The Driver ,'' by Hart Hanson , and I did not like it much and decided to stop. But then I came ba...