Don’t let the good get in the way of the perfect
It’s as important for yoga practice to be fed by daily life as it is for daily
life to be fed by practice. Yoga is the complex interaction of growing and responding to reality.
I never was a captive of other people’s ideas about me. – Philip Glass
The sower went out to sow seed. Some fell on the side of the road where the birds ate it. Some landed in the stones where it sprouted and withered in the sun. Some dropped among the weeds and as it grew it was choked by thorns.
When I was a child I heard this story many times. It was presented as sorting the good from the bad: good people get rewarded and bad people got choked. If you don’t want to be punished, be good.
Fifty years later, it seems to me this isn’t just a story about there being two kinds of people, some good and some bad; it’s also deeply a tale about shades of gray. It’s a story of the sun coming and going, the earth turning, a journey, the landscape, and change.
Accepting perfection is better than being good
It’s not just about some people and other people, it’s about some experiences and other experiences in our own lives. It’s a story that says we aren’t most defined by what happens to us, but how we make sense of what happens to us and the shifting, unreliable context within which we must constantly make choices.
The quote from Philip Glass above opens Scott Hicks’s film Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts. Glass is a prolific and world renowned composer who has written operas, chamber music, concertos and film scores. For years of his career he was hissed at and booed on stage, and today he remains controversial.
In the film we see Glass riding the Cyclone on Coney Island. In a voice-over he says that what other people think of him doesn’t influence his work. Over the course of his life, he says, “It saved me a lot of trouble. Even when it came to writing music, I didn’t care what people thought.”
He doesn’t sound angry, exasperated or defiant as he speaks. There’s even a sort of kindness in his voice. “You know, there’s a lot of music in the world. You don’t have to listen to mine. There’s Mozart, there’s the Beatles… listen to something else! You don’t have to listen to this.”
Give up seeking approval
His words point to the relationship between who we are, what we choose, and the context within which our choosing must happen.
We spend so much time in judgment of ourselves, distracting ourselves with opinions instead of allowing ourselves to recognize reality. The idea that life should be some other way than it is drains away our power to notice and respond to what does root and grow, to invest our lives in what’s fruitful. Some things go by the wayside, some wilt, some of what we try to accomplish is thwarted. It’s unfair that there are rocks where we want there to be good soil; we suffer in everyday life – disease, death, dishonesty – because that’s part of what is real.
It’s one of our habits to feel embarrassment about things we try that don’t pan out, to feel ineffectiveness as a judgment of our worth. We end up trying to be good in order to stop being punished. Yet the point in the story of the sower is in spite of all the many places the seed didn’t bear fruit, some seeds landed on fertile ground, took root and thrived, some of it multiplying thirty, or sixty, even as much as a hundred times.
Thriving is gratitude
In a way, Glass is telling us the story of the sower. Some people will hear his music and not like it, and there’s nothing in that to judge or be judged by. It’s just what is. It doesn’t distract him from allowing what turns out to be fruitful to multiply.
So often when we look for meaning, we begin in judgment of ourselves and our lives. We take up a practice that cuts us off from our dissatisfaction and offers us peace, and a community that approves of us.
It’s thankfully true that retreat and renewal are a vital part of effective living and a rewarding aspect of practice. Yet it’s as important for our practice to be fed by our daily lives as it is for our daily lives to be fed by our practice. The story of the sower is a story about the complex interactivity of growth, about responding to reality.
Have your cake and eat it too
We don’t find perfection in taking ourselves away from who we really are in our daily lives. The perfect is there in the embrace of everyday life, as we follow what bears fruit into becoming fully who we are.
Don’t be fooled: what flourishes doesn’t often come easily (that would be the stuff that sprouts on the rocks and dies). It’s just our lives do seem to feed it organically. In a separate interview, Philip Glass told Details magazine that constantly working in the noisy midst of family life taught him to focus more deeply and honed his ear for music:
When I was living on 14th Street years ago, my two older kids, who are now 39 and 35—we lived in a one-bedroom apartment with a cat and a girlfriend and two parrots. They would be watching television, and in the same room I was sitting at the kitchen table writing music.
Q: That didn’t interfere with your process?
A: I didn’t have a choice. I learned to shut out sounds that I didn’t need to hear. I was trained by life.
Q: What about the romantic notion of the composer in an isolated chamber?
A: You’re dreamin’.
He who has ears to hear, let him listen.
Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts by Scott Hicks
available on DVD and currently an instant play on Netflix.
Q&A with Philip Glass by Jeff Gordinier
on-line in Details at details.com
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.