Imagine a world where the majority of your time was spent working to just pay for your existence. Imagine that after a long day spent working at a job that you were less than passionate about, that at the end of the day you went home and had more errands and responsibilities waiting for you. Imagine living in a culture that was consumed with materialism, status and running the rat race in some sort of manic attempt to appear “important” and to “keep up with the Joneses”. Imagine a world where most of your time was spent pursuing a future goal or goals that promised to bring you happiness once you achieved them, but that even if and when you did finally achieve your goal it left you feeling empty inside, longing for something more.
Not a very hard world to imagine right? To one degree or another, we all probably live in a world that at least somewhat resembles the above scenario. Now imagine living in the above world but take away things like music, art, cinema, poetry, literature and so on. Imagine a world void of all the things that gave life meaning and beauty. Imagine if there wasn’t any love or kindness and that instead we were reduced to simply living an essentially “robotic” lifestyle going through the motions and playing the role that society and government dictated to us. Sounds like a pretty horrible scenario, right?
The sad thing though, is that the above scenario isn’t really that hard to imagine either. It’s all too easy in life to lose our way and get swept up in the currents of culture and society and forget about the things that really matter in life. We all have a lot of demands and expectations placed on us by default. We don’t choose the family, culture or economic system we’re born into. If we’re not careful, our entire lives CAN easily be reduced to lives that our essentially us being slaves to a system that wasn’t of our design or choosing. If we’re not careful, it’s all too easy to let years go by as we try our best to appear as a “responsible” and “productive” member of society, while deep down inside we’re longing to do something more meaningful and contribute something more profound to the world that we’re a part of.
The good news though, is that we have a choice. We can choose to focus on the things that excite us and that bring more meaning to our lives and the world around us. We don’t have to buy into “the system”, at least not completely. In many ways, we’re living in very exciting times. It’s never been easier to connect with people around the world and share ideas via the internet and social media. It’s never been easier to create a rewarding and independent lifestyle if you have the will and determination to do so. We have access to more tools and more knowledge than we ever have before in history. It’s really amazing when you stop and think about it. The world is far from being a utopia, but in many ways it’s never been better.
But yet, despite all this advancement, many of us still feel stuck. Many of us are still trying to figure out how to break free from the chains that bind us. Many of us still feel like we’re slaves to the system and society we live in. We have to work, we have to pay bills, we have to feed ourselves and so on. As artists, we can see there is a “holy grail” out there. We can sense it and feel it. We know deep inside it’s there. But…still…. life happens and often gets in the way. How do we reconcile this conflict?
Well, I don’t think it’s as hard as we make it out to be. It really comes down to a matter of perspective and what your priorities are. So many of us complain about the harsh realities of life and how things are unfair and then we perpetuate the very issues we complain about. We say we value things like art and beauty, but then we spend all our time and energy focusing on things we say we don’t care about like trying to raise our status or by seeking fame and fortune. So many of us say we don’t value these things, yet we constantly chase them, like they’re somehow the answer to the very problems they create.
I was watching a video recently of my former lyric writing teacher from Berklee College Of Music, Pat Pattison, and he had a great quote about the music business and the pursuit of money. Pat said, “If you want to be rich, Harvard has a great business school, maybe you should go there. But if you want to be rich in your heart and learn who you really are, learn to write songs”. It’s such a poignant idea that it almost brings tears to my eyes. Songwriting and great art are not innately about money. You might get rich pursuing these things if you’re really, really good and you work really, really hard and you’re really, really lucky. You might, and if you do, that would be amazing. I have nothing against money or fame, per se. But art is not about money, it’s about moving people and affecting people in a positive way. Trying to get rich writing songs or making art is probably one of the dumbest ways to try and “strike it rich”. Obviously if you choose to make music a profession you need to figure out a way to get paid for it, and that’s more than doable (See my video on how to make $60,000 a year as a musician for more). But music and art are first and foremost a means of expressing yourself and connecting with other people. There are much simpler ways to get rich than from making music, if getting rich is your goal.
I do things like make music, write blog posts and make videos because it brings me joy, and I hope it brings others joy and that when they’re infected with that joy they go create something that brings them joy and they share that with the world and that it brings other joy and so on…. Doesn’t that sound better than just being slaves to corporations so we can earn enough money to buy designer clothes and genetically modified foods to feed our kids so they can go on surviving and have children who end up doing the same? Life doesn’t have to be a meaningless series of events culminating in our inevitable deaths. Life can be a beautiful dance filled with passion, joy and meaning, if you want it to be.
We’ll never completely break out of the Matrix we’re all born into. But what we can do is change ourselves, which will in turn change the world we’re a part of. Like Gandhi said, “be the change in the world you wish to see”. After all, humanity is simply the sum total of billions of humans, one of which IS YOU. Maybe we can’t single-handedly change the entire social structure and political system we’re born into, but what we can do is create beauty and meaning within the system we’re a part of. Maybe instead of trying to change the world, we can work within it to create meaning and art that lead to change. Maybe if enough of us do that, the entire world will change.
You could say I’m a dreamer, but I know I’m not the only one.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.