Ode to the piano god

When I first began tuning pianos by ear (with only a single tuning fork for reference) in 1970, each piano would take about 4 hours for me to tune the 225 strings. I would listen and get lost in it- caught in unfolding sound. Then I went to work for a piano store. They turned me out, into a room filled with hundreds of green (newly manufactured) pianos. I was paid $10 an hour. While I don’t recall how long I worked in that room, (it may have been three weeks or three months), I gradually began to get faster and faster in completing tunings. Because I was being paid $10 an hour, I stopped caring so much, how exact I could get each string to sound the way I thought it should sound. And green pianos are notorious among piano tuners for quickly going out of tune because of how stretchy new piano wire is. So I would tune a green piano, caring less and less how perfect each string was, or how the final tuning came out sounding. The green pianos did go quickly out of tune- but less and less so, the longer I worked. And something strange began to happen; my tuning times began to go down, and my accuracy increase- This was something the old tuner-technicians knew would happen, and why, I think, that they turned me out, into that vast room with the hundreds of green pianos. I began to trust my body in the way it handled the tuning hammer (wrench). By the time I got out of that room, I could go through a piano in about an hour, which is my tuning time today, after 46 years of tuning.

Now to be certain, when I do a concert tuning, I’ll go through a piano twice, which takes me a couple of hours, to make sure the piano is rock-solid stable before a performance. I learned that my hearing is (and ought to be as a professional) better than that of most people- and so if I listen closely, I can still detect errors in the tuning- and can fuss and fuss over certain uncooperative strings. Yet when I am able to meet the piano, to find what the piano wants, and embrace its natural imperfections, while working with it to come to agreement between the 20 or so tons of tension that is on the piano, and myself, there is this lovely thing that happens, which I’ve mentioned before- the piano disappears- and only the music remains.

Zhuang Zi talks about this as “forgetting the self.” Dōgen Zenji took it up from Zhuang Zi, in saying “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self…” Mihaly Csikszentmihaly has written about this experience in his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.” How wonderful and curious that I would fall into flow with a piano- The experience becomes a portal to flow that transforms myself, the piano, and the space the piano is in, as far as the sound travels. In my recent talks, I call this state of consciousness the “music of awareness.” Biologist Rupert Sheldrake once said to me in an interview, “All of life is vibratory organic pattern.”

I am deeply thankful for these experiences in partnering with the piano god. And to my surprise, this story has bloomed into a blog entry!

©2016 Anthony S. Wright, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.

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The Social Contract

I sit alone tonight, thinking about what has happened in the election. I haven’t tuned in to right-wing radio or TV yet; it’s too early for that. At the university today, the atmosphere was somber. My class of freshmen were stunned, and subdued. I said the times felt like the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster- yet the situation is much farther reaching than that. There is a sort of gap in reality right now, that is not to be filled just yet, by any reassurance, or excitement, or protest, or something else.

Curiously, concurrently, Leonard Cohen has just left us.

And this isn’t simply about who was elected to arguably the most powerful position for an individual on the planet. It is more the choice that was made, in the experience of rising intensity, by those who would attempt to protect ourselves from that which we would rather not face; elements of the human shadow. James Hillman, quoting Carl Jung, once said “the shadow material we do not turn to embrace, will possess us.” In the current choice, the shadows that were sought to be avoided by that choice have begun to be unleashed.

It seems that this gap I spoke of earlier is an interval of grace, before the new government is in place. Time for each of us who are so inclined, to kindle an inner flame of compassion, ethics, and empathy. To shelter that inner flame in the coming gales- To fiercely love, each in our own way, never victim to circumstance or ignorance, deeply calm and certain of all the kindred spirits who are the majority in this land. The challenge of the present rising intensity is to continue to embrace, process, and release any programmed or hallucinated barriers to our common humanity and common vitality with the singular consciousness of which we are a part.

To quote Chico Marx, regarding any remaining sanity in the social contract, “Everybody knows,” he said, “There ain’t a no sanity clause…”

©2016 Anthony S. Wright, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.

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Kintsugi 金継ぎ

There is an old story I dimly remember, perhaps it was a story told by Alan Watts; where there was once a Zen master who loved ceramics, and tea bowls in particular. The story goes that there was a man who was studying with this Zen master, and had found what he felt was a particularly beautiful tea bowl. It was beautiful for its simplicity, uniqueness, and character. The man presented it to the Zen master with respect and ceremony- and the master picked up the bowl and smashed it on the floor. The man was so shocked he left the presence of the master without saying a word. One of the temple attendants was nearby and understood the distress of the man who had offered the bowl. The attendant gathered up the pieces, and had the bowl repaired with a Japanese technique that is called kintsugi (金継ぎ), which is the process of repairing broken pottery using lacquer mixed with gold dust for the seams. The attendant presented the repaired bowl to the master, and the master called in the man who had originally given it to him. “You were attached to the form of this bowl when you first presented it to me,” said the master. “So I had no choice other than to smash it.” The man bowed and said, “Before, it was beautiful- but now it is perfect.”

©2016 Anthony S. Wright, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.

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Making the Invisible Beautiful

For most of my professional life, my passion has been to make the invisible beautiful. To practice the art of developing, structuring, and minutely adjusting relationships. Sometimes these relationships are under great tension, and my art is to help make those relationships sing. The intention is that they sing together to the point where a deep and resonant flow state can spontaneously happen, between and within all who are involved. I am as comfortable and pragmatic about working with people in this way as I am from 44 years of experience of tuning a piano. So that the instrument falls away and only the invisibility and flow of great richness and beauty under tension of many individuals is present.

Ebola. ISIS. Afghanistan. Income disparity. Political polarization. Student loan debt. Adjunct anxiety before tenure. Emergency lockdowns. Apathy and ignorance. It seems that everywhere one turns, fear and anxiety are lurking. This is surely the case if one chooses to focus only on the numerous surface messages of what is going on in the world that are offered to snatch at and capture the attention. Certainly one must be on guard and entirely practical in response. Yet there is also a deeper way to orient oneself.

If one looks for them, the patterns in human life are discernable. These patterns in ourselves and others can be mindfully shaped and developed and deepened. In practicing together, with kindred spirits in good faith, a multidimensional group consciousness emerges that has a wisdom beyond any single member of the group. With particular care and attention, colleagues, students, and community, beyond their immediate awareness of it, can reflect a deepened, compassionate, and ethical involvement in the world.

©2014 Anthony S. Wright, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.

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Men in the forest

There are these men in the forest. They have been called by the landlord to cut down tall trees that would fall across the road in a high wind storm after or during rain. They sing in a lilting Spanish while they work in the trees. Perhaps their songs are about women they have known or would like to know. They climb high into the branches, sometimes over a hundred feet off the ground, with a running chainsaw hanging from their belts, carefully belayed by the expensive climbing ropes, tossed over forks in the tops of the trees they are cutting. They step with great care onto long branches that are no thicker than a wrist.

These men have great awareness of the forest- and there is a kind of thoughtful approach they take, as one would approach a lovely woman for the first time. They are aware of dangers that even she herself doesn’t know. To move among the branches, defenses, and know which to take first, so that later, without conscious thought, one is not caught by what is unplanned.

Perhaps that is also what brings these men to the woods. Along with as heady and sharp a perfume as ever adorned a female human, “the talls” (Los Altos) bravely bleed stiff scent into the air as their conquerors take them, as a man takes a woman- to the surprise of both.

There are those who have long ago found trees to be phallic- yet I might suggest that these beings are as to the forest as hair is to us. Maybe that’s inaccurate also, as our human hair is not alive as it is grown from our bodies. These trees are living beings- and the men who take them know this- and are full of care, and respect, and technique- to do their work and stay as safe as they can- knowing full well, that there are those individuals who will fool them particularly when one is distracted-

Life can be lost this way- when distracted- when work with the sacred becomes routine, or mechanized. Such a slow death-life transformation we are undergoing from the willful ignorance of the corporate persons, who find their sustenance from a sole pursuit of unthinking and limited value games within the context of the whole.

Its so plain to see. The Apollo astronauts saw it- Not that our lives as human beings are a zero-sum game- yet we might just want to consider a bit more thoughtfully, not only the intrinsic nature of our being, and not only how we may be inhabiting it, but how we are perhaps literally compromising our own body- in (many times willful) ig-norance.

The ancient Greeks who declared that our world was made up of elementals were not so far wrong- yet instead of fire, air, water, and earth, we have vibrating strings and membranes. And now there is more and more confirmation of the Higgs field, that gives otherwise weightless particles mass, in concert with these vibrating energies.

Of course, we will have to continue to look more and more closely at the nature of Reality- and we will continue to find more and more to be aware of-

Yet there is a kind of orientation of awareness that we can embrace, that allows us access to this infinite unfolding. This awareness is other than finite- it must be infinite- as only the infinite can attend to the infinite- yet the good news is that each human being, each human interface is as capable of this infinite interface as was anyone through time. The recipe, the hackneyed recipe is ego-death.

©2011 Anthony S. Wright, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.

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Tiny Lights of Being

The other night I decided to take a walk on a beach. It was quite dark, and I didn’t know if I would be able to see where I was going so I brought a flashlight. Curiously, even though there was fog and no moon, after my eyes got adjusted to the darkness, there was enough light to see where I was walking, but just barely.

I like to walk at the edge of the incoming waves- and after walking for a while I looked down at my feet as I walked. Every time I took a step, the sand lit up. I had never seen anything like it. I knew what it was- but had never before seen them- tiny bio-luminescent sea life that gave of their own light when they were disturbed. And then I really looked at the small breakers coming in, and just as the waves broke, they too lit up from these same bio-luminescent organisms. (Possibly Noctiluca.)

The decision to walk on the beach was a spontaneous one, and had I chosen to do something else, or walked earlier when there was still daylight and not the near-absolute dark, I would not have seen these tiny bio-luminescent creatures.

Sometimes there are such amazing things that go on in our lives, if we can only let go to do something unusual, out of our normal expectations, in a time frame that is completely spontaneous. How much have we already missed, and as yet continue to have the opportunity to experience?

Though the flashlight was useful in that night time walk, I’m glad I chose to turn it off, and notice the subtle presence of those small creatures. Alan Watts talked about our focus of attention being like a spot-light. If we turn our thinking off, like the flashlight, there is no telling what we may notice, with our spontaneously enlarged awareness, such as tiny lights of being, glowing in the dark.

©2011 Anthony S. Wright, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.

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Parts of Ourselves: talking

From here, we look so small. While those who have made different choices, about truthfulness, and ethics, and valuing, have found the center values of human culture that seem to allow them to be supported in high style, by what we humans apparently find most valuable. They fly about in private and corporate jets, and send their children to camp in those same jets. No more road trips to summer camp. I wonder if these children ask the pilots; “are we there yet?”

Where is the true value of our lives? Is it in hyperbole, of an artificial allegiance to some black and white assessment of the stratified will of some radical group? Such a rigid dichotomy will of itself consume itself. And that is the lie that a militant viewpoint fosters. That purity of ideology says that there is no room for another viewpoint. If we are “fundamental” enough, we will be “safe,” say the control freaks.

Though we may yearn for such an Euclidian “purity” of “form,” its already too late. From the moment of the Big Bang, there was a plurality. Anyone who seeks to deny this plurality, denies vitality itself. If we are pure, we are dead. Not even the stars, especially not the stars, nor the black holes that they will become, are ever “pure.”

I cling to the idea of a kind of power that results from a deep inner alignment to the truths of the cosmos. These are beyond any kind of posturing, or accumulated wealth, or position, or connections that accrue through family, fiat, or corporate whoring. Though it must be said, as it was so long ago, that thieves recognize one another- this idea goes back to a kind of resonance between personalities, but that topic is not what this essay is about.

There are these infinite pathways by which we can come to know the infinite. Each of them tailored to the demands of the moment, and the ways that our complex adaptive systems of conscious iteration happen to attempt to make a personality, or a “self.” I’ve been chastised by more than a few powerful people to be full of care about using such a “slippery” term as “the self.” Yet it is this term that has such fluidity, such flexibility, in its opening to a simultaneous embrace of individuality, collective awareness, and cosmic wholeness.

Maybe those at Harvard or Yale or Berkeley already covered these topics of human questions in their beginning philosophy classes. How is it that we continue to re-enact these discoveries? And truly, how do the Chinese shed light, in perhaps a most patient, compassionate, and humoring fashion, on the human experience?

They struggled with a mistaken nihilism of Buddhism- and yet the Tao continues to be present. Several philosophers, Chuang Tzu, Lao Tzu, and Confucius, to be later revived by Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi, cut to the chase, and were able to track to the deepest core, the iterative complex adaptive systemic qualities of the cosmos. But they couldn’t talk about it like that, because language is always too separating. They could only allude to it. But skillfully they did, with a holistic language that allowed layer upon layer of more exquisite meaning; an understanding of the hologram-

For the language (of ideograms; Mandarin) is the language of poets. It and of itself, it incorporates, for those who are native to it, the subtle beauty of the complete participation of human beings as parts of the vital expression of the cosmos. In English, a couple of our masters were Shakespeare and Yeats. They knew, the deeper we look, the more there is to see. (Marks-Tarlow 2009) The more we accept, the more we become who we are not, we who are more than we are; parts of ourselves, talking to one another.

©2011 Anthony S. Wright, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.

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Quidditch and Learning

I saw an attractive young woman, trotting about the Memorial Glade on the campus of  University of California at Berkeley this afternoon, holding with what seemed to be fierce concentration,  a two and a half foot dowel protruding upward from her crotch. I watched as she departed and realized that what she was holding between her legs was actually a small child-sized straw broom. I looked around a bit more, and saw that she was part of a group of Berkeley students, all holding these child-sized brooms, attempting to play Quidditch- the ‘wizardly’ game described in some detail in the Harry Potter chronicles. One of the constraints of the game may have been that one had to have at least one hand on one’s broom at all times.

I was stunned. To see the hoops and the accoutrements of a game described in a fantasy novel attempted to be played without the resources of wizardry or sorcery is plainly courageous. Quidditch doesn’t really work without the magic of levitation of Wiccan broomsticks, and these young people were attempting this magic without the benefit of such realized belief.

Who is to say that the vision of courage is not to be supported beyond the belief of the usual Newtonian laws of cultural perception? Perhaps one of the most important things of our lives is to embrace how we may have been enthralled (in other words, hypnotized) by repetitive ideology and response that is rather other than what a truthful engagement of our own comprehensive awareness might be. In other words, to dispense with the bullshit that is offered to us, again and again, for the true intuitive feeling that we cannot deny.

They think they know what will persuade us, you see- from long experience, of working with people who are careless with their thoughts, and who have no personal ethical basis of relating in the world. Those people are, sadly, spongy- meaning malleable and uncertain.

A story I heard recently, and cannot recall at present the source, said that the most precious gift that would be offered in return for a certain kind of deep and knowledgeable awareness, was the gift of doubt.

There is no greater capability to focus upon what the truth may actually show itself to be, than doubt. And doubt, being the one of the most powerful cleansers of awareness, needs to be judiciously applied.

If doubt is applied thoughtlessly, it turns into corrosion of belief. One turn deserves another, without remorse. And rather than to say that belief is incorruptible- it is to say that the capability to believe has power beyond those who would corrupt it.

Mencius believed that people were inherently good. And Xun Zi, and Han Fei Zi were of contrary opinion. I prefer to believe in this inherent goodness of people.

Yeah, the Dao is neutral. It ‘only’ makes space for the seed to grow. It gives nourishment to all who come. And it prevails after all distinctions fail.

Whether we put the ball through the hoop, in competition that enlivens us, the question remains- how are we going to choose to find Harmony among and with our fellow human beings? And how do we, in the breaths that define our mammalian experience in the world, come to find commonality with our arboreal, mineral, and cosmic brethren?

Just because the stones and trees, and for that matter, our very bones, are less vociferous than our cognitive minds- does this mean that the value of what they have to offer us is somehow less than what we might care to learn?

©2011 Anthony S. Wright, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.

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The most well-spent

I heard earlier tonight a commentary about how trees have a molecule in their sap that is nearly the same as our hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the molecule that helps us bind the oxygen out of the air to vitalize our cells. Where the flowers have bees, we have trees. The trees take the CO2 that we breathe out in as nourishment that fulfills them, and they exhale oxygen that nourishes us…

And I sense that this is true of our true friends. This is how we nourish one another, as part of our whole being.

Bravely do we carry through as we find ourselves cleansed by the fires of circumstance.

New Moon in Virgo tomorrow- and everyone is concerned for details, yet the Few of Us find the details to serve Us in the mounting wave, of shifts in consciousness-

We’ll never be the same, coming to this realization; from having been separated and alone… with the darkest places now flooded with startling awareness…

How can I help? It seems that many have been so fearful and consumed- it is such a short step to giving up who we thought we were- though one of the most difficult.

There is an enlightened evangelist who said the evangelistic movement needed to be ‘born-again!’ (Richard Cizik [interview with Terry Gross on “Fresh Air”])

This being born-again is to allow the rigidity of egoic structures to fall away in the context of the sacred. It is truly a surrender- and to trust our own lives. Which happened at one time for many, if not all, in the ‘born-again’ movement, in their initial realization that they were both less than and more than who they thought they were, but they forgot they had to continually be born again (it is an ongoing process!)- one of the embedded and presuppositional structures within the very movement itself.

It is the continual shedding of “ego.” Which process, when abandoned part-way, leads to a worse enslavement of ideology, than if there had never been a first stripping away of the ego in the first place. Those who stop part-way become stuck, rigid, in their partial cognitive comprehension of what they think had happened. Standing on the river-bank with a small cup of water in-hand (some trying to sell it!), rather than diving in to the river on whose banks they stand.

Alan Watts had it right- when he said that those who had initially had this experience and had not completely shed the allurement of the ego, found that they attempted to gain status by having been more Worthy of The Love of God by having been Greater Sinners than anyone else. Which is the ego game all over again, but in a negative sense. Mid-western Lutherans have this down to a Fine Art.

The Buddhists call this “chains of gold,” (of having ego about being “enlightened,”) versus “chains of iron,” which are from those who have not yet realized that they are other than separate.

I interviewed a guy a couple of years ago who was so proud that he had meditated an hour a day for the last 40 years. Actually, the goal of meditation is not about how many years one has meditated; it’s about quieting the mind- and the fact that he had such pride in it, was a clear indication to me, despite how much monetary wealth he had accumulated, that he was caught- by those “chains of gold.” “My mind is quieter than yours!”

The King’s son, Gautama Shakyamuni, died penniless.

I do truly seek to impart value to our human life, and that implicitly and explicitly implies that there is breakthrough to be made. That value is independent of the conveyance of value, which has been horribly manipulated.

The true value is to know how we are one being, in the most literal sense- and the time we spend discovering this is the most well-spent.

©2011 Anthony S. Wright, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.

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None-the-less True

I was with a good and trusted friend tonight, who said: “is there anything I fear, or anything I desire?” If there were, my friend would discard them, and be free. We talked about being in the present moment, moment after moment- and how loving and being completely open to receive love was the most important thing in our lives.

I went to visit her on her invitation to talk when I was feeling quite vulnerable. As she and I talked, it became clear that it was the same thing that was being talked about, which is not able to be talked about…

That’s the problem, to put into words what we know unequivocably, which then loses some truth when put into words. But words are all we have- well, words and music- and music helps to a remarkable degree to communicate the non-cognitive.

Yet the mystics and “ascended masters” understood, more than we do, perhaps, at present, how words might be all we have to pass on to future thoughtful people- And we ponder- how is it possible to pass on the accumulated wisdom of those who have come before us?

Its all there, plain as day. With certain presuppositions, the sacred verses fall open, like ripe fruit. That analogy is a bit banal, I admit, yet perhaps none the less accurate.

We are challenged, in this moment, to come to know what can be known- beyond thought-

I know, this is all over the internet. Yet here is the difference. It is to surrender to what we, each of us, already knew, already know, in our very vital existence, what is true.

Lots and lots of bullshit and confidence games out there- and the Endless instructions: check it with yourself, to see if it has any meaning to you. Only then, said Gautama, ought we to invest. Not because of Him, but because of us.

Ok. Time to turn inward. Checking, and checking- what is it that I know to be true? This, and that, and that. Yet beyond a certain place, I find that I am unable to take thinking, and this is the very threshold that is the very first step in self-transcendence.

Opening and opening and opening. Surrender. These are ancient exhortations, though you may be reading them for the first time. Whether or not that may be the case, the tenets are none-the-less true. Stay tuned for the next step.

©2011 Anthony S. Wright, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.

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