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A Red Violin and 'just another weekday morning'

One Friday morning early last January, a busker played to the morning's rush hour commuters as they passed through Washington DC's L'Enfant Plaza Train Station.  But this was no ordinary musician.  The lone figure playing in the foyer was the internationally renowned violinist Joshua Bell, the same man who performed the extraordinary violin solos in the Oscar-winning soundtrack for  The Red Violin [1].... the one who won a Grammy for his performance of Nicholas Maw's  Violin Concerto.... and the man who has just won the Avery Fisher Prize, awarded only once every few years to classical instrumentalists for outstanding achievement.  His performance that morning was an experiment to see how passersby would react to one of the greatest musicians of our time playing some of the greatest masterpieces of all time.

Bell played  for about 45 minutes.  He began with Bach's  Chaconne  from the  Partita No. 2 in D Minor, a virtuosic tour-de-force.  Just three days previously Bell was performing to a full house at Boston's Symphony Hall.  The ticket prices for the cheapest seats was over $100.  The really good ones went for much more..... that's if you could get one.

It really doesn't get much better than this.  The violin he used was a multi-million pound 1713 Stradivarius.  Even if, like me, classical music isn't really 'your thing', you've got to admit that this was one of those wonderful opportunities to experience real genius and the beauty of something truly sublime.

That morning over a thousand people walked past as Joshua Bell performed.  Only seven of them seemed to notice.  That seven included a 3 year-old boy.  Of the other 6, only a few stayed for more than a few moments  before they rushed off.

This is absolutely incredible.  Not easy to take in really.  When some of the people who passed by were later stopped and questioned, many of them didn't even remember hearing music.  They were busy, caught up in their own world.... where they were going and what they thought they had to do when they got there.

But it's not just one-off  impromptu Joshua Bell gigs that we miss.  It's the little things that happen all over the place that can be the most exquisite experiences when we are present enough to be aware of them.  Who knows, maybe if we could open our eyes we'd see something good behind everything. [2]

So what can we learn from this?

The big thing for me was that this was no fluke or statistical anomaly - well over 1000 people passed by and  99.5% were oblivious to what was in front of them.  So this is not something that just some other people do  -  this is you and I  and all the people we know.  We are lost in a world of thought, oblivious to the real world and what is really happening around us.  This wouldn't be so bad if we could see it, but the thing is we don't even know we are trapped.  If we did know we wouldn't be surprised by the numbers, would we?

Why do with miss all these things?  I think it's because we operate under an illusion of free will.  We think we are free to do what we want and make meaningful choices in our life but in reality we are dragged through life unconsciously by a mind that gives us an endless list of things we think we want, we need and ought to do.  As John Lennon said,  "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans".

The other thing is, it's not just those that are recklessly seeking fame or fortune that are distracted and oblivious.  There are other mindless ambitions just as numbing.  The 'subject' of our obsession is irrelevant.  I've seen as many on  "spiritual paths" as blinkered as any seeking power and privilege.  Ironically, it seems that often those on a path to higher spiritual awareness are as unaware of the miracles before them as the most gung-ho of power brokers.  I know... I've been down both these paths.

This is probably why 'The Secret' and their interpretation of  'the law of attraction' sit so uneasy with me.  When we focus on creating 'good stuff' or busy ourselves in forging forward we are blinded to the opportunities that are already here, and trample on the flower of Beingness that is always present when we allow ourselves to just relax and enjoy 'what is'.

Others numb themselves to mask their inner unease with their opiate of choice --  romance, religion, trappings or some other entertainment or fiction.  And for others it's their concerns that take their attention away from the magic of life in the here and now.  Once we get hooked into a problem solving frame of mind, concern lead to new concerns, and life then seems as if it is just one perpetual problem.

So that old adage "Slow down and smell the roses"  seems like quite good advice after all.  But then again experience teaches us that good intentions and positive thinking rarely work well.  The trap is insidious because any way we plan to escape is just another part of the trap.

Perhaps we need to do a little soul-searching - isn't it our deep motives that determines what we think, and then what we think determines what we do and what happens?   Stepping back in our mind allows us to become aware of the whole show  - our Self, our thoughts and what is really happening all at once.  And when we are aware of cause-effect we are no longer trapped in a world of effects.  We can be both free and yet at the same time intimately involved in the rich tapestry of life without care or having to  'suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'.

Katie Byron  has done some marvelous work in this field.  She shows us how to question the reality of each thought - 'Is this thought really true?'  'Who would I be without this thought?'   Questioning our thoughts diffuses their power to live our lives for us, but also lets us see how fickle, fragile and mostly untrue they are.

But it seems to me that to question every single troublesome thought could end up a long and arduous task.  And that old snake finds ever more subtle ways to sneak back and bite us.  Why not have done, and question the very foundation that these thoughts are built on? -- Who is this 'me' that I think I am?  What is this vulnerable 'me' that gives rise to my need to try to control the world I seem to see outside of me?

When we take the quiet time to trace these thoughts back to their source we see there is no-one there - it's a Wizard of Oz, a fiction, a product of our thoughts and beliefs.  When I step back into this no-thing- ness and casually watch my thoughts as they come and go I know in an instant that I am not who I think I am.  How could I be? -  If I am what I think I am, then what is this Awareness that can so easily step back and be aware of what I think and believe?  ;-)

The huge paradox I discovered was that it is when we are willing to relinquish control of our lives - to let everyone and everything be exactly as they are, that the mind falls still.... and then out of this stillness, through the gaps where our thoughts used to be, shines a Presence whose love, energy and insight can resolve anything.

When we no longer shackle our mind to our thoughts we not only hear the music in the station and smell the roses again, but become open to what is beyond what we think we know - to a flow of gifts and possibilities that goes far beyond anything that could ever be imagined.  There is no edge or end to this Flow.  It is completely unlimited.


[1].. Clip from the film, 'The Red Violin'.  You may have to click through from feed readers to watch the video


[2].. The revelation came for me a few years ago when I recognised that when our purpose becomes to 'wake up' you start to see that everything serves us perfectly.  I saw that what is in front of me is absolutely the best thing that could be.  Where are we supposed to be?.... where we are right now.  Who is our best teacher?... whoever we are with.  What do we need to learn?..... look at what is happening in our life at this moment.  And when anything changes in my life then that is good too - it's only my resistance to change that causes the trauma.  I know it sounds like an 'arse over tit' way of seeing things but I found that as soon as I start to welcome whatever is here, I recognise that 'what is here' is what I really want.... that, unbelievable as it may seem, this here right now is my Will..... that 'life's purpose' is also my own.... that in fact, only Love is real.

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  • ..this blog stems from a recognition that our true nature is far more creative, loving and unlimited than we could possibly imagine... and it transforms everything... a practical, generic solution to all our problems.

    These are just my lesson notes as I try to  be true to that recognition... and  learn to fly.  So it's quite possible that everything here may be wrong.

    Thank you for visiting.  Email (to Nick Smith) is always welcome.

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