“Jazz” — Part 4/4: Being Born Again (and again, and again…)

“My Grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

— 2nd Cor 12:9

Being “born again”

(Layperson’s Disclaimer: These thoughts are just from the perspective of an “aspiring contemplative” and a “still-green” meditation coach — I am in no way a scholar or theologian.)

What is it to be “born-again”?

It may make sense to understand being “born-again” as simply meaning to experience a reformation of oneself; a transformation into a different version of being; or a growth into the new state that make me, “me” (like an acorn turns into a tree). Realistically speaking, this must happen many, many times a day, but why is it something special? If it is so important, how should we do it well?

It seems like obvious areas of life when “being born” takes place are the processes of:

Birth: being born into the physical body

Aging: being born through transition

Death: being born through relinquishment 

All of these forms of “being born” essentially mark different modes of change in experience — we are un-embodied, then we are given form; we are young, then we are older; we call our body “home”, then we can’t do that anymore. [side note: the concept of being “born-again” (as in the Christian tradition) may, in fact, be related to the principle of anicca (as in the Buddhist concept of impermanence: one of the “3 marks of existence”)… it’s just that either need to be recognized and deeply acknowledged to be important]

Birth, aging, and death are things we cannot decide upon — THEY WILL HAPPEN. Although they are all expected, predictable aspects of life, usually we have the automatic feeling of being happy about births, ambivalent about aging, and terrified about death…

Hamartia, Metanoia

I’ve tried to move away from he habit of letting etymology.com give me the right to act like I know what I’m talking about. But, that being said…

Learning about the words used to talk about ideas is a central aspect of how I personally come to find meaning in things. There is a step beyond that, however: learning how to experience the meaning found in words and ideas.

The word commonly translated as “sin” in the Holy Bible is “hamartia” (“chatá” in Hebrew) — this (so I’ve read) is a term that comes from archery that means something like “missing the mark”. It can also be thought of as “to err”, and, in literature, hamartia is considered the “tragic flaw”: that error in the hero’s personality that leads to his/her downfall [not dissimilar, in my mind, from St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” or Jung’s “Shadow” — that which has the potential to become the tragic flaw in us all].

I’m not sure any of these meanings necessarily refer to missing the mark of perfection; I think (in practical or “moral“ terms) it could probably be understood as something more like “unskillfulness”.

Another context-giving term is “metanoia”: a transformation in one’s way of being (commonly, maybe mistakenly, translated as “repentance”) — [“meta-”: beyond] + [“nous”: heart-mind]. It could be understood as an “about face” or a change in moral or spiritual direction.

When there is hamartia (and there most certainly will be), there is always opportunity for metanoia. A beautifully perpetual (almost karmic) spiritual system of being “born again”.

Grace, Music, and More Grace

As we are present with the experience of being “born again” (greeting hamartia in ourselves with patient metanoia… so to speak), over time something new arises — something like 1+1=3.

Time and time again we allow ourselves to be renewed, revised, and “reborn” through (rather than in spite of) our unskillfulness in life; and eventually there is a pure taste of grace — after much practice, we receive the blessed gift of equanimity.

This brings to mind for me a few instances of influential change in the history of music that could have originated as beautiful performance mistakes (or, moments of unskillfulness met with a patient grace):

  • “blue notes” (as in THE blues)
  • “outside playing” (purposefully playing melodies that briefly “visit” in a key totally distant than the written chord)
  • “polyrhythms” (instrumentalists playing different numbers of beats in the same space of time simultaneously — e.g. “2 against 3”)
  • “poly-tonality” (intentionally playing in more than one key at once — e.g. Alberto Ginastera: Argentinian Dance No.1 [left hand plays only black keys and right hand plays only white keys])

The experience of equanimity (I CANNOT overemphasize) is beautiful. It is the experience of little ‘ol me (small, flawed, insignificant) being embraced by the whole of Being (full, complete, eternal) without condition, without hesitation, without, reservation — the Way of reality telling me, “yes, you are Good”, despite all the reasons “i” could think of to argue with that Truth.

Equanimity can be practiced, but it’s more like “practicing” being susceptible to the gift of equanimity. It is tending the garden (tilling the soil, clearing way for the light, ensuring the paths of water), then sitting back and watching growth grow itself.

So, remember (and it can be very hard to remember) that YOU ARE GOOD, and the things you think identify you as “bad” are nothing but weather patterns swirling around a mountain — the mountain is undisturbed, unmoved, and unshaken. Let yourself be that Stillness, that Silence, that deep Certainty.

again and again and again…

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