- Asher Osiris Projansky Stern, age 2.
I have always had an “I-will-do-it-myself” streak. It must be congenital, for as a child, I was usually alone, attempting some feat of derring-do. Indeed it appears that the gene has been passed on—my two-year-old, Asher, frequently yells, “Don’t help me!” Natural or nurtured, it doesn’t really matter. But recently I have been struck by the power of working together with others as a team, or simply gathering and inviting the appearance of meaning. Three recent experiences have brought this lesson home:
1) The April Cafe Chronogram, at the Muddy Cup Coffeehouse in Beacon. The line-up was Greg Martin, the photographer responsible for the cover art for the March issue of Chronogram; Pamela Pentony, an amazing jazz singer and teacher; and Da Chen, the inimitable writer/flutist/performance artist.
When Da Chen stood up, he joked about how his publisher at first demanded that for marketing purposes he must do something other than write. He acknowledged then, and to those assembled for the Cafe, that he plays the flute. Producing a simple bamboo flute he began to play, and at that moment the place became still. Yes, the notes that emitted from his instrument were clear and precise, and the traditional Chinese melodies were beautiful. But there was something else that caught my attention about Chen’s performance: Despite his otherwise playful and light manner, he played (and perhaps that is the key word) his flute with great intensity. Eyes closed, but relaxed in concentration, shoulders hunched around his instrument, Chen’s presence created a sense that his entire body was involved in the playing. “This is Kokopelli,” I said to myself. (Kokopelli is the humpbacked, flute-playing, Hopi god of fertility. His playing chases away the winter and brings about spring.)
After his performance Chen signed his books with brush and ink, rhythmically rendering Chinese characters and hand-stamping his signature—different characters like prescriptions for the person who sat before him. I mentioned that his flute playing resembled the characters he drew on the pages. Like the characters, he became a conduit for something that could arguably be called an archetypal quality to be channeled into the room, and into the world.
Of course for a quality to be brought in requires more than the conduit himself. It requires that there be some people present (and not just physically, but with their attention) to match the activity of the performer with an equal receptivity. The small group assembled at this event was ready to be brought into such a state of receptivity, and the effect was that for a few moments the event became an Event in the true sense of the word. I am reminded of an introduction to a Sufi parable by Idries Shah. He writes:
When a number of people come together, and if these people are harmonized in a certain way, excluding some who make for disharmony—we have what we call an event. This is by no means what is generally understood in contemporary cultures as an event. For them, something which takes place and which impresses people by means of subjective impacts—is called an event. This is what some term a “lesser event,” because it takes place in the lesser world, that of human relationships easily produced, synthesized, commemorated.
The real event, of which the lesser event is a useful similitude (not more and no less) is that which belongs to the higher realm.
We cannot accurately render a higher event in stilted terrestrial representations and retain accuracy. Something of surpassing importance in a higher realm could not entirely be put in terms of literature, science, or drama, without loss of essential value. But certain tales, providing that they contain elements from the high-event area which may seem absurd, unlikely, improbable, or even defective, can (together with the presence of certain people) communicate to the necessary area of the mind the higher event.
2) The evening before the Cafe Chronogram I had the privilege of hearing Al Gore speak at Omega Institute’s Being Fearless Conference in Manhattan. If only he had been so candid when he was running for president, the votes in his favor would have been so numerous as to prevent the election from being swindled.
Gore’s message was clear: The problems of environmental distress and global human conflict are a direct result and reflection of the state of consciousness of humanity. We are afraid—afraid to give up the comforts we know, afraid to look at the results of our actions beyond the immediate personal gains we might enjoy, afraid to stop lying to and about ourselves. The talk was a brilliant tapestry of interwoven themes, all pointing back to the central theme of the conference: How to overcome fear and acknowledge the inherent unity of humanity and indeed all life.
When Gore stepped down the group of several thousand stood and clapped, continuing long after he had left the stage. There was a palpable sense that something real had been touched in each and all.
3) “What’s that noise?” Asher asked, as I pushed him on his swing in the back yard.
“Yes, what is it, Asher?” I asked in return, for I knew he knew.
“A bird is talking to me!”
I stopped his swing and we looked in the direction of the sound. There, silhouetted against the darkening evening sky, was the outline of the long-beaked bird on a high tree branch. The bird’s knock-knock-knock resounded in the calm of dusk.