File this one under personal attitude, because we’re not going to be diving knee-deep into tritone-infested waters here. More of a generalised New Year type reflection, really.
We’re all prey from time to time to concerns about how we’re perceived by others – band members, other musicians, management, audience, the press, the world, the dog… It’s natural.
I’d like to introduce you to Hakuin Ekaku. A very influential figure in Zen Buddhism and a distinctive artist well ahead of his time, but he’s probably best known for the following little incident…
[GRAMS: bamboo flutes, that sort of thing, to get you in the mood…]
There was once a monk living in the hills above a fishing village in Japan. He was kind and wise and helpful and friendly and fun, and just generally cool. The villagers would approach him and tell him how wonderful he was, and his response was always the same: “Is that so?”
Then a young girl, who had been observed spending some time with Ekaku, fell pregnant and there was scandal. Everyone assumed the monk had been up to no good. They rounded on him and accused him of corrupting an innocent girl. His response: “Is that so?”
When the child was born, they gave it to him and he took care of it. The villagers shunned him and all agreed that he was not cool at all.
Then a fisherman came forward and confessed to having fathered the child. The girl’s parents went up the hill to see Ekaku and apologised fulsomely. He simply smiled and gave the child back to its family. Everyone praised the monk, telling him he was so patient and kind and forgiving and wise, and just generally cool (again). His response: “Is that so?”
[GRAMS: record scratch.]
ALL VERY WELL, OBI WAN, BUT…
Yeah, I know. As I’ve remarked before, you’ve got to do some bragging about yourself or you’ll die of hypothermia before anyone’s even heard what you do. It is possible to die of modesty (and you can be so philosophically detached you become practically unhinged).
Buddhist monks don’t tend to sell out stadiums, well except warrior ones, perhaps. And sometimes in life you’ll have to go all “Tiger Claw!” about things. But I honestly believe that the “Is That So” philosophy is a great personal baseline that will keep your self-belief safe and honest in any number of situations. It’s a good defence when people are ripping you in reviews and on social media. And it’s an especially good defence against those bits of yourself that can often, shall we say, trip you up. You know, when you get too big for your sandals…