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The Cagey Truth About Nothing September 5, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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“Every moment is an echo of nothing.”

 

– John Cage

Listen. Do that 90-second thing. Just for a moment, be still and be quiet.

Notice what you hear.

Notice what you see.

Notice what you feel.

Because, as long as you are alive, these things are always happening.

“Everything we do is music.”

“The world is teeming; anything can happen.”

 

– John Cage

We refer to the absence of something as nothing, but in actuality there is always something. Our understanding of nothing or emptiness is based on our perception and awareness of the truth. Zen Buddhism, which John Cage practiced, focuses on self-restraint, meditation, insight into the nature of the mind and the nature of things, and the personal expression of this insight – especially as it benefits others. This, truly, parallels the focus of the yoga philosophy. It’s tricky, cagey even; however, if we pay attention we start to notice that the truth about nothing leads to the truth about everything – and Patanjali tells us that being dedicated to to the truth leads to everything.

Yoga Sūtra 2.36: satyapratişţhāyām kriyāphalāśrayatvam

 

– “When a yogi is established in truthfulness, actions begin to bear fruit. [Truth is the foundation for fruitful action.]”

Born today in 1912, John Cage was an artist and composer who’s most well-known work is often misinterpreted. Even as musicians – even heavy metal musicians who understand the piece take it on, there is often a level of interpretation and improvisation that changes the tenure of the piece. Some say Mr. Cage would approve of such things. Others say otherwise, but the truth of the matter is that he was a student not only of art and music, but also of Zen Buddhism, Indian philosophy, chance, and (yes) improvisation. He turned more towards music than art because more people commented on his music and, in some ways, music was harder for him. He combined his two art forms by composing music for “prepared piano,” a piano that had been altered with blocks, pins, and other objects – and essentially turned into a percussion instrument. He also collaboration with his partner Merce Cunningham, the choreographer, and spent years composing via the I Ching, a resource for divination.

Divination comes from the Latin word for “to foresee, to foretell, to predict, to prophesy” and, it is related to the Latin word for “divine,” it can be translated as “to be inspired by God.” It is, like randomly opening a page in the Bible or your favorite book, a way to gain insight into a particular situation. The I Ching or Book of Changes (sometimes translated as Classic of Changes) is an ancient resource for Chinese divination and one of the oldest Chinese classics. It became one of the “Five Classics” in the 2nd Century B.C. and has provided influenced art, literature, philosophy, and religion around the world since the Western Zhou period (1000 – 750 B. C.).

The text is the primary reference for interpreting a sequence of hexagrams which can be formed with numbers or by throwing coins containing the symbols for “yin” (a broken line) or “yang” (an unbroken line). Just like other users of Chinese divination, John Cage would form a question, throw the coins, and then create a musical interpretation of the resulting hexagon sequence and its corresponding message. While he had previously composed “by chance,” using the I Ching became his standard method of composing music after one of his students gave him a copy of the sacred text in 1951. In a 1957 lecture, he described music as “purposeless play” and “a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”

“If something is boring after 2 minutes, try it for 4. If still boring, then 8. Then 16. Then 38. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

 

– John Cage

It was also in 1951 that Mr. Cage had two other highly influential experiences. His friend and colleague Robert Rauschenberg produced a series of white paintings which appeared to be “blank” canvases, but which actually changed based on lighting and the shadows of the people viewing them. Around this same time, Mr. Cage spent some time in an anechoic chamber at Harvard University. The chamber was designed so that every part of the room absorbed sound, rather than reflecting it, so that it was meant to be completely silent and externally sound-proof.  He expected to hear silence but, instead, he heard a high pitched sound and a low pitched sound. The engineer in charge of the room told him the high pitch was his nervous system and the low pitch was his blood circulation. Instead of silence, he was treated to the music of his own existence.

There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”

 

– John Cage

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 5th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (FAIR WARNING: The volume on these tracks is quite dynamic, more so on the Spotify list. I love this music, however, I know some folks hate it; so, feel free to “randomly” pick another list or…practice in “silence.”)

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Pure Cage

“Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself.”

 

John Cage

 

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