I spent some of the summer all by myself living in, and looking after, a beautiful house. One day, as the time was coming to an end, I took my attention off my practice and looked at the room around me. I thought: ‘When I got here I intended to enjoy these wonderful books, listen to all this music and play the piano every day as well, but I’ve barely touched the surface. I should try to squeeze in as much as possible while I can!’ And my enjoyment of the beautiful place subtly faded, for a moment, into generalised faint guilt and anxiety about time and whether I’d made the best use of it and how much I had left. I stopped existing and flowing through the serene moments of my days there, and started chilly-hearted calculations, becoming a sort of hybrid of the White Rabbit and Scrooge.
Then I remembered that time is always limited and nobody is going to get around to everything. This is the problem with life, and it needs to be grasped; once you understand this, you can embrace what you do have, make a start with trying to create the life you want (no mauvaise foi here) and let the moments embrace you until they run out (at which point you won’t be aware of it anyway). You can try to participate in as much stuff as possible that you think is of value, and try not to waste time. But in looking around a room at all the books I haven’t read and abandoning the task I’ve set myself in favour of generalised regretting, I’m jumping outside of myself and of the moment. In checking for the value I’m missing, I’m making my life less valuable.
Because true, intent participation is the really exciting part of life. (Maybe that’s what I was getting at in my comments on the desirability of focus in my previous post). The best kind of living happens when you embrace what you do, rather than skimming over other possibilities and choosing none. Luckily, we musicians follow a discipline which teaches us intense focus in the moment. I may not have read the books about engineering as I meant to, but I did make the walls of that room vibrate with violin and viola sound. I didn’t play the piano much, but I did pick out a few of the lines of a Bach fugue, and maybe that was all the time I could devote to that instrument at that time. So it was an intense and productive time after all, in an undemonstrative, low-key way. I’m not quite wise enough yet to ‘not regret what I haven’t had’, to quote Tagore in translation, but I know that a positive kind of divide-and-rule, even if I don’t get around to everything, is my only way of having anything at all.