It was late, maybe about 2 a.m. or so. I was trying desperately to get the melody for the bridge of a song that I was writing. This song seemed to be haunting me because, though unfinished for a long time, it had refused to "go away." Now there was little time left before my upcoming concert. I knew I had to get it ready for my singer, who would have to learn the lyrics. Then I'd have to start rehearsing it with the rest of the musicians for the concert.
The song I was working on was called A Silent Tear, and it was originally inspired years ago by the death of my dad. He had not been feeling well and I had to drive him to the hospital. For some reason, I sensed that things might be more serious than they seemed. Maybe it was the way he was acting, so unusually quiet. Maybe it was the concern on my mom's face. There was also something in the way the doctor had asked that my dad check into the hospital, something that indicated a serious condition.
On the way home from the hospital, a melody had popped into my head. It was both pretty and yet kind of melancholy at the same time. As I kept singing it in the car, it occurred to me that it was probably an expression of my feeling that day. It was just a fragment though, and would have to be developed to become a song. However, even though I knew intellectually that the feeling I wanted to express was one of both sadness and love, I couldn't quite seem to finish it. Still, something kept telling me it could be a good song, and I kept thinking about it from time to time. As it turned out, my dad passed away a few days later at the hospital of heart failure. I tried to finish the song, but maybe it was just too painful then. I kept thinking how I didn't really know him...and how it was too late.
Now, a few years later, I had this upcoming concert. Silent Tear was one of the ideas I wanted to finish for the show. I remember sitting in my studio thinking things like, "maybe I should go to the sub-dominant chord here for the bridge...that always seems to work" and, "starting the bridge on the relative minor might work too." The only problem was, I'd been doing this for days, trying one "trick of the trade" after another. I guess I was hoping that eventually, if I tried enough variations and tricks, I'd find one that worked. In desperation, I had begun to resort to something that, to a composer at least, is not unlike "cheating." Certainly, we all need to use "tricks of the trade" and "expertise." But there is no substitute for inspiration. Suddenly, the absolute futility of my efforts overcame me and I stopped in utter frustration. I sat there with the lights dimmed low and just kind of spaced out. My brain was "fried" and there were no more thoughts to think. I remember feeling "defeated," and wanting to give up. I was angry at myself and wondered if I secretly enjoyed banging my head against the wall.
As I sat there in near darkness, I began to recall the bittersweet memory of my dad next to me that day as we drove to the hospital. Then, almost simultaneously, the memory of other painful experiences in my life also started to flood my consciousness, as if saying they were not to be denied any longer either. I recalled experiences, some recent and some in the distant past, when I had felt the pain of losing someone close to me. Sometimes this had been due to an unkind and selfish act of mine, as when I've said things in anger to the ones I loved and they, in turn, pulled away from me. At other times, the loss might have been due to circumstances beyond my control, as in the death of a loved one. In the case of my dad, it wasn't until after he passed away that I began to realize what I had missed. It suddenly hit me how self-centered I am, and how that has often made me not only act in unkind ways, but also be so unappreciative, even of people I love. Maybe the best way to describe the feeling is that it was like the opposite of feeling "in control," the opposite of feeling proud and accomplished. It was as if my life experiences were all shouting at me, "You jerk! Can't you see how blind you've been, how you've been caught up in your own little world?"
Sometime later - I'm not sure how much time had passed - I began to feel so much energy. I wanted to "tell" these people how much I loved them, and how sorry I was for not being more considerate and appreciative when I had the chance. I wanted to apologize for my mistakes. I wanted to express how grateful I was for having had the opportunity to be close to them, and how much they had taught me about life.
Suddenly, as I listened to the song again, something had changed. I wasn't just sitting there listening to it, analyzing it, counting the bars, or plotting out the harmonic structure. This time, I "became the music" and was truly feeling it. I was crying. Before I knew it, and without trying to, I found the melody for the bridge. I knew it was right even without trying 10 variations of it. I had the tears to prove it.
On that evening, I came face to face with my true nature. My self - my ego or pride - was devastated and blown away. But then, almost mysteriously, the stagnation I had felt was also blown away. In the empty space where my self-centeredness and arrogant self-reliance had once been, a new energy and creativity rushed in, and with it, a new appreciation of those close to me. I wasn't "getting in my own way" because there was no "me" there. Only the reality existed, the very experience and feeling itself.
Where once there had been darkness and despair, the light of the Dharma illuminated for me - on that one night at least - a new awareness, appreciation and creativity.
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