Meredith Monk

Acknowledging Your Fear Rather Than Pushing It Away

Excerpts from "Meredith Monk's Voice," a conversation with Krista Tippett, On Being, February 16, 2012:

Krista Tippett: I always see you also insisting that music is about waking up. I mean, I don't know if those two things have to be in tension, but I sense that, if you had to choose between transcendence and waking up and being right there in that moment, you would choose the latter. Just saying, I mean, live performance is as direct and awake and experience one hopes as anything we do.

Meredith Monk: That's also, again, so interesting because actually I don't see those two things as opposites. I actually think that, when you are that present and you are that awake and the audience actually experiences themselves, you know, the deepest part of themselves, then the whole situation becomes transcendent because we're not — the way we live our lives is not necessarily with that level of presence.

And also certainly in this society, we're taught to actually be distracted and diverted all the time from feeling, in a sense, you could say the pain — the good pain, you know, the pain as in openheartedness and rawness of the moment, the pain as well as the pleasure, everything in one in that moment.

...

Meredith Monk: Your practice is very simple, but it's very much about how are you in the world? You know, how do you look at the person that's counting change for you in the grocery store or how do you deal with a person that you don't get along with well? How are you waking up all the time to see what the moment is? How are you on the subway? How are you when something really bad happens to you? You know, just how do you become a citizen in this world and perpetuate nonviolence and, you know, there are many, many aspects to it.

And one of them is about and fear and fearlessness. And it's about acknowledging your fear rather than pushing it away because a part of the violence comes from not even acknowledging that you're afraid. It's actually that you're afraid of the fear.

And then what happens, that gets pushed down and then that gets transformed into anger or violence. I mean, so much of the world that we're living in now, you know, what's going on and the way that people are manipulated or these wars or violent situations come from basic fear and terror, not in terms of terrorism, but terror, human terror. So I started thinking about that and then I've started working on a song that's called "Scared Song."

meredith monk - scared song from jean&jeano on Vimeo.

I've been noticing that the older that I get, the simpler the work gets in a way. I mean, in a way it's more refining it from something very complex to something very simple. One of the beauties of being an artist is that it is timeless. You know, the funny thing is, it doesn't get any easier. I mean, you would think that I've been working for so many years that, oh, I can make a piece so easily, but I think what I do is I put myself through the same process of going to zero every time and, you know, this kind of risky situation, so sometimes I think why do I do this and why isn't it easier now after all these years?

But I actually think that that's what does keep you very young because you're always questioning. You know, I think that making art is actually about questions and that you never take anything for granted and you're in this slightly dangerous situation, which I think is really good. Then I always say that I'm scared to death.

We learn in Buddhist practices to tolerate the unknown, because that's reality. The reality is that we don't know anything, and we really don't know what's going to happen in the next moment. So you learn to tolerate that discomfort of not knowing and fear. I mean, every time, I'm just terrified. I'm actually terrified. I realize this even now working on this piece.

When I perform, I'm still nervous, which I think is a good sign because it means that you still have passion for what you're doing. But every time I make something new, it's never like, oh, this is going to be so easy. No, it's always this terror and then I sit with that for a while and then I say to myself, "Step by step," and then I just start working and it's a step-by-step kind of process. And then, at a certain point, I realize I'm so interested in this. Then once that interest comes in or curiosity comes in, then the fear goes away. So it's very interesting that curiosity is a great antidote to fear.

 

Trickier and Trickier as You Go Along

Excerpt from "Authentic Voice: An Interview with Meredith Monk," from Mountain Record, Summer 2004:

Emptiness is what allows for something to actually evolve in a natural way. I’ve had to learn that over the years — because one of the traps of being an artist is to always want to be creating, always wanting to produce.

I remember once I had a long period when I thought; “I’ll never have another idea again! I’ve explored everything.” Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, August 13, 2011You’ve got this backpack of your history that you’re carrying around — how do you throw that off and really start from beginner’s mind? That gets trickier and trickier as you go along, to not fall into your habitual patterns in the way that you create, in the work itself, or anything.

Well, during that long period when I was feeling really down I read about the Taos pueblo in a book by Mabel Dodge Luhan. She was a society woman in the early twentieth century, and she ended up going to Taos and marrying a Native American from the pueblo. During the winter she wondered why everyone tiptoed around wearing soft moccasins and there was a keeping of so much silence in the pueblo. She asked about it and they said, “We have to make sure that Mother Nature gets her rest. She needs her rest so that everything will bloom in the spring.” I was so touched by that and I realized that that’s the nurturing of those periods that you think are fallow but are actually rich with possibility. You’re alive then and part of the ebb and flow of creation.

Something Fresh and Inspired

"Although my way of life and understanding have been thoroughly saturated by Zen, I am still a Westerner, so I have found in the Psalms a very familiar music that seems to express my own approach to enlightenment: the passionate, prickly, and lively noise that naturally seems to rise from the silent depths of my own heart.”

~ Norman Fischer

Impermanence

Impermanence "How do you convey a sense of change? How do you convey that everything in our lives — everything — is constantly changing and that one cannot hold on to anything? And certainly the impulse was coming from the sense of the preciousness of life and that every moment is the only moment that we have."

~ Meredith Monk, discussing her recent work, Impermanence, with Lara Pellegrinelli on All Things Considered (May 13, 2008)