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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.

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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.

 

A Conscious Struggle for Following the Law of Nonviolence

Excerpts from All Men Are Brothers by Mahatma Gandhi:

I have been practicing with scientific precision nonviolence and its possibilities for an unbroken period of over fifty years. I have applied it in every walk of life -- domestic, institutional, economic, and political. I know of no single case in which it has failed. Where it has seemed sometimes to have failed, I have ascribed it to my imperfections. I claim no perfection for myself. But I do claim to be a passionate seeker after Truth, which is but another name for God. In the course of that search the discovery of nonviolence came to me. Its spread is my life mission. I have no interest in living except for the prosecution of that mission.

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No man could be actively nonviolent and not rise against social injustice no matter where it occrred.

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Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have use his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence. Hence it was that I took part in the Boer War, the so-called Zulu rebellion, and the late War. Hence also do I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.

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Perfect nonviolence is impossible so long as we exist physically, for we would want some space at least to occupy. Perfect nonviolence, whilst you are inhabiting the body is only a theory like Euclid's point or straight line, but we have to endeavor every moment of our lives.

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In my opinion nonviolence is not passivity in any shape or form. Nonviolence, as I understand it, is the most active force in the world...Nonviolence is the supreme law. During my half century of experience I have not yet come across a situation when had to say that I was helpless, that I had no remedy in terms of nonviolence.

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Love is the strongest force the world possesses, and yet it is the humblest imaginable.

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I have found that life persists in the midst of destruction and, therefore, there must be a higher law than that of descruction. Only under that law would a well-ordered society be intelligible and life worth living. And if that is the law of life, we have to work it out in daily life. Whenever there are wars, wherever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love. In this crude manner I have worked it out in my life. That does not mean that all my difficulties are solved. Only I have found that this law of love has answered as the law of destruction has never done.

It is not that I am incapable of anger, for instance, but I succeed on almost all occasions to keep my feelings under control. Whatever may be the result, there is always in me a conscious struggle for following the law of nonviolence deliberately and ceaselessly. Such a struggle leaves one stronger for it. The more I work at this law, the more I feel the delight in my life, the delight in the scheme of the universe. It gives me a peace and a meaning of the mysteries of nature that I have no power to describe.