Sunday, November 6, 2011
Jazz and Spirituality
I may not have shared this before, not sure if it had ever come up in any of my earlier posts, but apart from what I do for a living, my true passion is that of a professional musician. I play a few instruments, and among my favorites is the saxophone, especially tenor and soprano. I love the way it responds to me as I play, the resonance of the sound through my body as I blow through the mouthpiece. When all things are clicking, it can truly be an extension of my conscious intention. Considering that today, November 6 is “Saxophone Day” in honor of its inventor Adolf Sax (born in Belgium on this day in 1814) it seems only fitting that I pay homage to this wonderful instrument and the art form that it calls home. The saxophone to me is an honest mistress in that it rarely cuts me any slack, meaning that if I’m not on my game and prepared to give it everything that it needs, totally committed to the instrument fully and completely, it will let me know in no uncertain terms. But when I give the instrument what it requires, the rewards are immediately gratifying.
I’ve been playing for many years now, but have yet to come close to mastering this temperamental tempest. In many ways it’s served as my own personal barometer in terms of where I might be spiritually at any given moment in my life. When I’m in the zone, there is no sweeter sound and feeling, no greater unification of improvisational intention and tactile fulfillment – no greater temporal unification of cause and effect. When I’m not in the zone, it can be a mentally frustrating staccato exercise of force vs. allow. I like playing all types of music, but more than any other I love traditional and contemporary jazz. The free-flowing improvisational nature of this medium allows me to express myself in ways that nothing else seems to. It is one of those rare forms of expression that is both instantly fulfilling and potentially transcendent, where the musician can become the actual music; much like when the dancer becomes the dance.
I bring this intimate partnership of self-expression to light because I have always found a very strong and consistent correlation between my ongoing musical journey and what I experience in my everyday spiritual life. The importance of commitment to cause and being in the moment at any given time are truly the aspirational exponents of a life fulfilled as a conscious spiritual being. The ability to creatively improvise during the course of one’s life experience, especially when life throws you curveball after curveball, is what often separates the successful individual from the one filled with stress, strife and dis-ease. Also, the commitment to engage and practice your craft on a regular basis is an absolutely essential component to anyone’s success, no matter what the focus of attention may be. All of these factors go into our daily journey as spiritual beings inhabiting a physical body and living in this 3D realm. This is what we all must do in order to ensure success in our daily life experience.
But please take in the significance of what I am trying to share with you as a metaphor for life; in order to achieve any level of improvisational proficiency, whether it is musical improvisation or creatively working through the challenges of life, you need to practice your craft; you need to engage. I muddle through my scales and arpeggios regularly to enable me the enjoyment of free-form expression that is musical improvisation. As this relates to life, we must proactively engage life in such a way as to determine our own course, taking into account the importance of improvisational/creative flexibility in the process. We cannot be so rigid as to be unable to adapt to change and creatively work through the curves that life often throws at us. Within the framework of this proficiency lies the importance of maintaining a strong spiritual foundation, and maintaining it regularly. This comes down to practicing your spirituality on a daily basis; your spiritual scales and arpeggios take on the forms of your prayers, mantras, visualizations and affirmations. Balance is key, not sweating the small stuff is essential, and being conscious cause as opposed to unwilling effect is crucial. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, “…When you know better, you do better.”
The same skill sets that I apply to my quest for musical proficiency are the same skill sets that I apply to my life; it’s just a matter of application. What matters most is the courage to engage life in such a way that you are fully committed to creating what you want in such a way that it expresses your full potential. Sri Shakti Gawain expressed this sentiment in a wonderful passage that she wrote in one of her books entitled, Creative Visualization. She said, “I like to think of myself as an artist, and my life is my greatest work of art. Every moment is a moment of creation, and each moment of creation contains infinite possibilities. I can do things the way I’ve always done them, or I can look at all the different alternatives, and try something new and different and potentially more rewarding. Every moment presents a new opportunity and a new decision. What a wonderful game we are all playing, and what a magnificent art form…”
We are all truly the masters of our respective universes, and despite any attempts by outside forces to manipulate and limit our full capability of expression, we must never forget our true nature, our true potential. You must never allow anything (other than your higher-self and your connection to Source) to dictate who and what you are in the greater scheme of things. As Eleanor Roosevelt so eloquently stated “…No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
So it’s time for you to play some jazz. It’s time for you to creatively compose and perform that beautiful music that is you. It is time to make a personal commitment to your own spiritual growth and development, and live as an aware and awakened Soul. You have the potential, you have the power. No one can take it away from you unless you let them. But you must also put in the daily practice to maintain the all-important Spiritual awareness and nature that is you. Just like the scales, arpeggios, and lyrical phrases that I play consistently to keep me strong in ability and fluid in my skill set, so too do we all need to practice our spiritual exercises daily, whatever that may mean for you, to keep yourself in balance and able to maneuver the treacherous waters that are a part of our everyday existence. If you put in the work, and remain conscious and in the moment, living in the now but creating your future by virtue of what you choose to think (NOW), you will become the spiritual master that you were meant to be. Yours will be the Spiritual Jazz that will forever be an inspiration to others. So play well, turn on some Coltrane or Parker, be inspired… and stay cool.