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Joshua Bell is one of the world's greatest
violinists. His instrument of choice is a multimillion-dollar
Stradivarius. If he played it for spare change, incognito,
outside a bustling Metro stop in
By Gene Weingarten
Excerpts and spoiler alert: The whole story may be read from the Pearls link, and makes more sense there than the few parts highlighted here. Also, there is an audio link to his entire 43 minute concert, still good even with the background noise. You might listen while you read it, that is, if you can spare the time. You can also see short videos of the people going by interspersed within the article.
What if he's really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn't you? What's the moral mathematics of the moment?
On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities -- as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?
[..] It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened.
Things never got much better. In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look. [...]
Even at this accelerated pace, though, the fiddler's movements remain fluid and graceful; he seems so apart from his audience -- unseen, unheard, otherworldly -- that you find yourself thinking that he's not really there. A ghost.
Only then do you see it: He is the one who is real. They are the ghosts.
IF A GREAT MUSICIAN PLAYS GREAT MUSIC BUT NO
It's an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)? [..]
A couple of minutes into it, something revealing happens. A woman and her preschooler emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She's got his hand.
"I had a time crunch," recalls Sheron Parker, an IT director for a federal agency. "I had an training class, and first I had to rush Evvie off to his teacher, then rush back to work, then to the training facility in the basement."
Evvie is her son, Evan. Evan is 3.
You can see Evan clearly on the video. He's the cute black kid in the parka who keeps twisting around to look at Joshua Bell, as he is being propelled toward the door.
"There was a musician," Parker says, "and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time."
So Parker does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body
between Evan's and
"Evan is very smart!"
The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.
There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the
people who stayed to watch
Souza nods sourly toward a spot near the top of the escalator: "Couple of years ago, a homeless guy died right there. He just lay down there and died. The police came, an ambulance came, and no one even stopped to see or slowed down to look.
"People walk up the escalator, they look straight ahead. Mind your own business, eyes forward. Everyone is stressed. Do you know what I mean?"
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
-- from "Leisure," by W.H. Davies
Let's say Kant is right. Let's accept that we can't look at what happened on January 12 and make any judgment whatever about people's sophistication or their ability to appreciate beauty. But what about their ability to appreciate life?
We're busy. Americans have been busy, as a people, since at least 1831, when a young French sociologist named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the States and found himself impressed, bemused and slightly dismayed at the degree to which people were driven, to the exclusion of everything else, by hard work and the accumulation of wealth.
Not much has changed. Pop in a
"Koyaanisqatsi" is a Hopi word. It means "life out of balance."
In his 2003 book, Timeless Beauty: In the Arts and Everyday
Life, British author
"This is about having the wrong priorities," Lane said.
If we can't take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that -- then what else are we missing?
The Most Important Dimension
of Human Existence
By Eckhart Tolle
An extract from Stillness Amidst the World
We're here to find that dimension
that is deeper than thought.
This teaching isn't based on knowledge, on new interesting facts, new information. The world is full of that already. You can push any button on the many devises you have and get information. You're drowning in information.
And ultimately, what is the point of it all? More information, more things, more of this, more of that. Are we going to find the fullness of life through more things and greater and bigger shopping malls
Are we going to find ourselves through improving our ability to think and analyze, and accumulate more information, more stuff? Is "more" going to save the world?? It's all form.
You can never make it on the level of form. You can never quite arrange and accumulate all the forms that you think you need so that you can be yourself fully.
Sometimes you can do it for a brief time span. You can suddenly find everything working in your life: Your health is good, your relationship is great, you have money, possessions, love and respect from other people.
But before long, something starts to crumble here or there, either the finances or the relationship, your health or your work or living situation. It is the nature of the world of form that nothing stays fixed for very long and so it starts to fall apart again.
The voice in the head that never stops speaking
becomes a civilization that is obsessed with form,
and therefore knows nothing of the most important
dimension of human existence:
"What does it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose yourself?"
It has been said: There are two ways of being unhappy: not getting what you want, and getting what you want.
When people attain what the world tells us is desirable wealth, recognition, property, achievement they're still not happy, at least not for long. They're not at peace with themselves. They don't have a true sense of security, a sense of finally having arrived.
Their achievements have not provided them with what they were really looking for themselves. They have not given them the sense of being rooted in life, or as Jesus calls it, the fullness of life.
The form of this moment is the portal into the formless dimension. It is the narrow gate that Jesus talks about that leads to life. Yes, it's very narrow: it's only this moment.
To find it, you need to roll up the scroll of your life on which your story is written, past and future. Before there were books, there were scrolls, and you rolled them up when you were done with them.
So put your story away. It is not who you are. People usually live carrying a burden of past and future, a burden of their personal history, which they hope will fulfill itself in the future. It won't, so roll up that old scroll. Be done with it.
You don't solve problems by thinking; you create problems by thinking. The solution always appears when you step out of thinking and become still and absolutely present, even if only for a moment. Then, a little later when thought comes back, you suddenly have a creative insight that wasn't there before.
Let go of excessive thinking and see how everything changes. Your relationships change because you don't demand that the other person should do something for you to enhance your sense of self. You don't compare yourself to others or try to be more than someone else to strengthen your sense of identity.
You allow everyone to be as they are. You don't need to change them; you don't need them to behave differently so that you can be happy.
There's nothing wrong with doing new things, pursuing activities, exploring new countries, meeting new people, acquiring knowledge and expertise, developing your physical or mental abilities, and creating whatever you're called upon to create in this world.
It is beautiful to create in this world, and there is always more that you can do.
Now the question is, Are you looking for yourself in what you do? Are you attempting to add more to who you think you are? Are you compulsively striving toward the next moment and the next and the next, hoping to find some sense of completion and fulfillment?
The preciousness of Being is your true specialness. What the egoic self had been looking for on the level of the story
I want to be special
obscured the fact that you could not be more special than you already are now. Not special because you are better or more wretched than someone else, but because you can sense a beauty, a preciousness, an aliveness deep within.
When you are present in this moment,
you break the continuity of your story, of past and future.
Then true intelligence arises,
and also love.
The only way love can come into your life
is not through form, but through that inner spaciousness that is Presence.
Love has no form.
Reprinted with permission from Eckhart Tolle's Findhorn Retreat: Stillness Amidst the World, © 2006 by Eckhart Tolle, Eckhart Teachings Inc. www.EckhartTolle.com. Published by New World Library www.NewWorldLibrary.com.
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