"This is really neat!" wrote Michael Wallacavage, as he sent around a link to this fascinating clip of Eric Whitacre's virtual choirs. Watch it, and I think you'll agree.
The singing starts at 6:27 and then again at 12:12 on the timeline. But don't skip what comes before! Whitacre's introduction is very interesting and engaging. He not only talks about the project itself, how it came about and so on, but also explains how he got interested in classical music. As a youth, his dream was to be a pop star. (He wanted to be the fifth member of Depeche Mode. Remember them?). But when he got to college he joined a choir instead. Not for love of music, mind you, but because it included a free trip to Mexico and the soprano section was full of "hot girls."
But then, Boom!, during the very first day of practice, as the choir launched into the Kyrie from Mozart's Requiem, he had a profound and life changing experience:
My entire life I had seen in black and white and suddenly everything was in shocking technicolor. The most transformative experience I've ever had. In that single moment, hearing dissonance and harmony, and people singing, people together, the shared vision, and I felt for the first time in my life that I was part of something bigger than myself.
Wow. I love it. What a powerful testimony to the influence of great music on the human soul.
Whitacre's experience contains, in a concentrated and intensified form, elements that are found in any deep encounter with value and beauty. I'll try to draw out a few of them, and hope you'll add your own reflections in the comment section.
Whitacre's experience opened his eyes to the depth, richness, and significance of reality. It wasn't merely a different perspective, it was a deeper one. What previously seemed humdrum and ordinary is now revealed for what it really is. All of a sudden, everything has color and meaning, including (though Whitacre does not say so explicitly) his own life and what he decides to do with it.
This doesn't mean that everything is honky dory. All of reality is revealed in technicolor. Not just the things that are noble and lovely, but also those that are ugly and painful. And yet, if the experience went deep enough, I suspect it also inspired a certain confidence that light is stronger than darkness, and that it has the final word.
It's worth underlining that the experience of a single thing of beauty, in this case Mozart's Kyrie, does not just affect one's perception of that one thing, but spills over onto everything else as well. In that way the experience of beauty is truly eye and soul opening. It improves our general ability to see and respond to value.
Whitacre's experience is also transformative. It does not just change his perspective, it changes him. That is why he is now a classical composer and conductor instead of a pop star. The change in his career is a reflection of a deep change in his person.
And note the manner in which beauty works these changes: not through force, or by leaving him with no other option, but by affecting his heart, and inclining it in a new direction. Whitacre is not compelled to give up his previous dreams, he wants to do so. The change, though sudden and drastic, is entirely free and organic.
This gentle, natural way in which values exert their influence is one reason they are so important in education. Exposing children to high values is a way of forming and enobling them that goes deeper and is more congenial than other methods of education involving discipline and rules. (Not that the latter can be eliminated altogether!)
Another fact about Whiteacre's experience is that it was totally unplanned and unexpected. Unlikely even. This also is a general feature of experiencing beauty. We can open ourselves to such an experience, and long for it, but we cannot simply decide to have it. If we are going to be swept up into something higher than ourselves, something (or someone) higher will have to do the sweeping.
This powerlessness on our part seems like a bummer. But really it is part of the blessing of beauty. Too much control is stifling and oppressive. Letting go is liberating. Or at least, it can be liberating. Everything depends on whether one is lifted up by something higher or dragged down to something lower than oneself. The former is liberating, the latter enslaving. (As an example of the latter, there's a song I sometimes hear during spinning classes at the YMCA, that challenges the listener to "disconnect from all intellect," "lose this inhibition," "break away from tradition," "get stupid," and so on.)
One last conspicuous feature of Whitacre's experience is that of a deeply felt communion with other people. "People singing," he describes, "people together, the shared vision… I felt for the first time in my life that I was part of something bigger than myself."
This unifying power is something that all genuine goods have in common, and it is related to the soul-opening power I mentioned above. Dietrich von Hildebrand explains this very well:
The human person has an "outer" and an "inner" side. When he is closed off, he touches the other only with his "outer side" and also touches the other from the outside. Something completely new happens as soon as man opens himself, lets his inner side appear and lets it touch the other person. Every experience of being deeply moved by value means such a breakthrough of the inner side, a self-opening of the person towards all others … [T]he crust of indifference, of egoism, and of pride, which forms on the outside of the person and closes him off from the other, melts under the influence of being moved by the world of values, [and] a union with all other persons constitutes itself simultaneously. The breakthrough of the depth of the person who is taken by the embracing rays of the realm of values … is simultaneously a falling away of the separating barriers between persons.
I think honesty is the number one requirement for just about anything good in life and I agree it's difficult to do it. It's actually the easiest thing in the world to do if you are around honest people but if you find yourself in with dishonest people it's nearly impossible. I'm glad honesty was brought up here because this is the first step towards any kind of personal healing.
I believe its not hard to access our past in the sense of understanding what happened to us as babies and toddlers, but this is not important according to Hawkins. He recommends just dealing with the feelings as they come up and staying the course. Eventually those difficult ones from infancy and toddlerhood will surface but you don't have to know the circumstances, you just use the letting go technique.
I should maybe clarify that I don't take "speak what we feel" to mean that we should always and wherever "spill our guts", without discretion. I think Shakespeare's dramatic context lends an important qualification. It was the weightiness of the moral moment they found themselves in that called for speech—and speech of a particular kind, viz. "from the heart."
There are other moments too—not particularly weighty perhaps—when we are asked (by people with a right to inquire) to give an opinion, to say what we feel. In those, moments, too, it seems to me, it's incumbent on us to say truthfully what we really feel, as opposed to saying what we think we should feel.
I've read only three or four Alice Miller books. I agree with you that she's brilliant. I've learned much from her. But I tend to find her anthropology not entirely sound. She seems to me to neglect reality of our falleness, and to be too optimistic about our ability to access our entire past.
Hawkins actually says that you can talk about your feelings to alleviate the pressure if you are in a crisis, but only to a point where you can get out of the crisis zone, then go back to the methods that I described in Jules' post about subjectivity and objectivity of emotions. If this information helps anyone that would be great, if not I hope people can find something that works for them. I think Alice Miller is brilliant, but I found that her methods were asking too much in regards to the help that I was (not) able to find. I'm sure there must be some true "enlightened witnesses" out that may be helpful. Hawkins' thing about not talking about your feelings is that he says that when you do this it tends to increase the energy of the emotion rather than decrease it and that is not an effective way of letting the energy behind the emotion go. One last technique in this book is having the willingness to be open to higher states of being like courage, acceptance, forgiveness, love and peace. In doing this it helps facilitate the letting go of the negative emotions.
I enjoyed the post. I read 10-11 of Alice Miller's books and studied them well. It took me two years to do it and I felt like I had a good grasp of her ideas. I tried to find an "enlightened witness" for the next 5 years, speaking with people, going to different therapists and trying out her ideas. Not one person out there understood her ideas as I did, or if they did, mainly after me explaining it to them, they became petrified that they would have to get on the same level with me about real feelings. No one I found could do it. I was pretty frustrated not only because no one could help me but because I was continually expressing my feelings at work and with friends, etc. and my it did not help my relationships or work life at all. I was at a loss for awhile and although I had been familiar with David R. Hawkins M.D., Ph.D. books ten years back, I had not read, "Letting Go, The Pathway of Surrender". I read the book and applied the methods and had good results.
If, for the Catholic, all religions share the same God, then for the Catholic, what is left for all religions to hash out is merely language, culture, disparate historical references and philosophies and not differences in Gods. Is this true for the Catholic?
For the Catholic is it merely a matter of language, culture, historical learning and selection of philosophies employed that amounts to preferences made by free choice, which define and therefore separate the world’s religions because it can’t be differences in Gods?
"Yes, God is the God of all persons, not just Catholics. It doesn't follow that all persons understand Him rightly or follow Him truly."
I have already affirmed this above as being square with my conclusion that, for the Catholic all religions share the same God and that it doesn't follow from that that all persons understand him rightly or follow him truly.
"He is omnipresent, but He isn't all there is. There is also His creation, including demons, and human beings, who, being free, are capable of creating idols and false religions, and religions that are mixed bags of truth and error, good and evil."
I have already affirmed that to be square with my conclusion above.
Insofar as other religions are true, and insofar as any human person's religious acts are sincere, they are directed toward the One True God.
I affirm that comment to be square with my conclusion.