Monday, October 09, 2006

Pure Experience

Years ago Christopher and I drove through a wintry landscape to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where we sat in the front row of a college auditorium and were absorbed in the experience of live jazz played by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. It was one of those high-point experiences--live music, spontaneously created and released into the air all around us. I had one of those crystal clear thoughts that stayed with me (which, when you first look at it, may seem to make no sense): "Jazz is a perfect moment."

To me, that statement meant that the improvisation that happens--that expresses itself as music--in the jazz solos performers create--is a perfect moment of creation. The solos aren't notated or memorized--the notes, the patterns, the riffs come naturally, arising in the heart, mind, fingers, and breath of the artist and released freely, never to be repeated exactly the same way again. It's a perfect moment of creation and gift--involving those who create it and those who receive it.

In something I read by Jung over the last couple of days I happened across the phrase "pure experience." Pure experience is what happens when you can arrive in the present moment clear-minded, open, and free of the burdens of the past or the fears of the future. It seems to me that so much of the thought that fills our minds is really clutter that has to do with rehashing the past or protecting ourselves against the future. We live our lives in our heads, trying to figure out the next thing to do, understand the thing that happened in the past, or check off items on our mental to-do list so we can feel like we accomplished something at the end of the day.

Being open to "pure experience" is more than an intellectual experience. It means feeling life in your whole body--letting the music reverberate in your heart, your hands, your toes. It means welcoming your whole self--mind, body, and spirit--into the presence of life happening now.

When we can notice that we have arrived in this moment--with its cool breeze, its noisy traffic, its sunlight, its music, or its quiet--we find the simple and profound gift of pure experience, already here, waiting for us to notice.

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