A Musical Life

I’ll have another go at the whole video thing. Hopefully this time there’s no crying! 🙂

The video has some very religious overtones, as many people on Digg pointed out. The message is Taoist, I guess, although I’m not entirely up on my Taoism… but I do know that it’s a key belief that life shouldn’t be rushed away… that every moment is valuable and to be cherished.

Christianity, of course, believes the same thing, although it’s not as centralized. The passage most cited is the one about the birds of the air, although there are numerous other examples of such teachings, both from Jesus himself and from the other teachers of the Bible.

However, it’s important to note that Christianity at least — and perhaps Taoism, although again my knowledge here is far more limited — do not proclaim a message that is purely “musical” either. And I think that’s important. The little slip about “perhaps getting to heaven, after you’re dead” in the video shows the alarming tendency of people to slide to one extreme or the other when it comes to issues of this nature.

There are two poles to consider. One is the present, and one is the future… and although the past is in there, it’s a lot more sticky to deal with. Overlooking the fact that some people (many people) dwell on the past and fail to work in the present or the future, it’s possible to see that two major world views emerge: One that says preparation for the future is pivotal, and one that says relishing the present is of prime importance.

Both are correct, despite the fact that people tend to argue one or the other. In the past, it has been construed that this hierarchical system which forces people to progress through education with the hope of attaining “success” is the perfect system. We live in the aftermath — a world which sees itself losing touch with the everyday joys that make life so enjoyable. As a result, more and more people are voicing the concern that we should really just be enjoying, and forget about this whole “success” idea… that it’s a “hoax” or an illusion, or whatever else you want to label it.

Balance is key here, although it’s a harder thing to attain than either pole. Yes, it’s very important to be able to make the most of every situation, and to appreciate the present while we’re in it. However, to act simply for our own amusement, and to overlook that actions now have repercussions, is irresponsible and will lead to a future that far outweighs the present.

From a scholarly perspective, it would be ideal to teach kids that they should enjoy the time in school, making friends and learning cool facts about the world, but at the same time emphasize that they are here to learn things which will help make them happy and productive adults. From a religious one, it’s good to appreciate that we can look forward to heaven, but also to point out that we should be maximizing our ability to appreciate everyday activities, so that we can properly gain spiritual understanding and can affect those around us. From a parenting perspective, it’s wise to allow kids to appreciate the joys of childhood, while still focusing on raising adults, who will eventually leave home and start families and careers of their own.

It’s easy to gravitate towards one end or the other, stating that one is more important while the other is destructive. But what’s really damaging is overemphasizing one while the other is overlooked. And in that, the music analogy can continue… if the players were to focus overmuch on the notes in the middle of the piece and not feel how the notes progress towards some climax, then the notes towards the end would appear flat and boring. To dance and sing along with the music while still gearing oneself up for the ultimate finale is the only true artistry!


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Zayna
    Apr 02, 2008 @ 14:14:28

    “Hopefully, there’s no crying this time.”

    A crack at me eh? Well, touche.

    Actually, I’ve seen this video before and I absolutely love its message.

    How does music sound when we use only our heads to compose it? Flat and boring. Same thing with life…we need to be “allowed” to incorporate reverence and joy into our experiences if we really hope to get the most out of them.

    I’m not sure that’s exactly what you’re referring to in your post, you made some very interesting observations that I never even considered when I first saw it…or when I watched it again.

    Anyway, no I didn’t cry this time. 😛

    BTW – Did you know that the creators of South Park animated this video?


  2. Stephen
    Apr 02, 2008 @ 17:47:32

    The video is new to me, and I loved it!

    Alan Watts was a Buddhist (author of numerous books on Zen Buddhism), not a Taoist. But the differences between the two religions are subtle enough to be lost on a Westerner like me.

    I have studied Buddhism and Taoism, just a little, as a very instructive counterpoint to the Christian worldview. (Lao-Tse, quoted in the sidebar, was a Taoist teacher.)

    Christianity is teleotic — end- or goal-oriented — despite Jesus’ warning that we shouldn’t be preoccupied with “tomorrow”. Christianity begins from the notion of a perfect primordial period, from which human beings and creation as a whole have “fallen”. The faith is teleotic insofar as its orientation is to the perfecting of the individual person and, again, the whole of creation. (Restoring it to its original state of perfection.) Whatever happens to us here and now is a part of the journey toward that goal.

    Buddhism, on the other hand, is well summed up in the phrase “be here now”. A Buddhist could happily lose himself in the contemplation of a single blade of grass, trying to appreciate it for what it is: without being distracted by thoughts about photosynthesis, or how it compares to a blade of grass in some other part of the world, or what use it might be put to (e.g. providing nourishment for sheep). The “goal” is to set aside all those superfluous mental gymnastics and allow oneself to actually perceive what is present. Here. Now.

    I agree with nebcanuck that both worldviews are crucial. First, from a Christian perspective — I think it is good to see life as a journey toward a goal. I want to be a better person when I turn 50 than I was when I turned 40 — a better husband, a better father, a better employee, more at peace within myself, with greater personal integrity, etc. I may lose some of my physical skills as I age, but I hope to make progress in terms of character.

    Indeed, I don’t think a Buddhist or a Taoist would disagree with that perspective. But the Buddhist would remind us not to miss the present, because the present is all we actually possess. The past is past; the future is not yet; there is only now. If we don’t appreciate the now, life passes us by and, in a sense, it is wasted. There’s great wisdom in that observation. Life is not a series of constant thrills, but even the most “ordinary” thing — e.g. a blade of grass — is wondrous if we are capable of truly perceiving it.

    That’s the principle Watts is directing us to here. Not the last note of the symphony, but each and every note of the symphony. That’s what life consists of: there is no other note than the one I am hearing right now.


  3. Stephen
    Apr 02, 2008 @ 20:55:48

    btw, Zayna, I’ve added you to our blogroll since you’ve become a regular commenter.


  4. Zayna
    Apr 03, 2008 @ 15:50:09

    Yeah, I noticed and am flattered, thank you. I also added you to mine. 🙂


  5. nebcanuck
    Apr 03, 2008 @ 17:08:18

    Zayna: A crack at me eh? Well, touche.

    No, not a crack at you. It certainly wasn’t meant to poke fun for your earlier comments! If anything, it’s a crack at my poor choice in videos. But we can just call it an inside joke and leave it there, if you’re willing! 😀

    Same thing with life…we need to be “allowed” to incorporate reverence and joy into our experiences if we really hope to get the most out of them.

    It’s a nice analogy! And certainly there should be a great deal of joy in what you do! I wouldn’t agree with many of the people on Digg, mind you — they were spewing off about how we should just have an endless stream of sex and that’d make the world perfect and other such crass ideas — but I think that the magic of inserting Joy into your life is that you can enjoy even the things that aren’t innately “pleasurable”. As Dad pointed out, it works well with something “boring” like staring at grass, and I would argue it even works with situations that are potentially miserable, such as having to get up early to go to work. If you can begin seeing positives in situations, there’s not much reason to really get down on life! (although there’ll always be some ups and downs … even Taoists can’t deny that!)

    BTW – Did you know that the creators of South Park animated this video?

    I had no idea! But then, I don’t watch South Park whatsoever, so that’s probably why! But it’s a cool fact!

    Stephen: The faith is teleotic insofar as its orientation is to the perfecting of the individual person and, again, the whole of creation. (Restoring it to its original state of perfection.) Whatever happens to us here and now is a part of the journey toward that goal.

    Goal-oriented? Sure. But it’s not goal-centred to the point of losing any sense that the present is important, which is kinda my point. You can, of course, seize onto some really hefty ideas, such as Calvinism, and have a ball with what really defines “the present”, but from our perspective it’s still pretty important to be willing to rely on God for provisions and work our hardest at maximizing the moment, instead of letting it pass us by for the sake of running off to Heaven!

    Not that I think you would argue that, anyways. Just picking qualms! 😀

    And as for the rest, I agree that it’s good to keep in mind that the moment is important! I enjoyed the video, too, despite my over-analysis!!!


  6. Zayna
    Apr 03, 2008 @ 18:02:26

    No, of course not. I did not at all think that you were poking fun at my comments…I just liked the reference. 😛 Inside joke it is!

    As for South Park, really, you’re not missing much. Even the episodes that border on metaphysical topics (and some do – just like the video you posted) can be considered interesting but are so riddled with toilet humour that much gets lost.

    Yeah, I thought it was cool fact too.


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