New Year’s Reflections / Music as a Portal to Presence

Happy (I really, really hope…) New Year!   In last week’s post I mentioned that now is the perfect time for reflection on what matters most given the Great Conjunction. Given this year and how it compelled many of us reevaluate our lives, I offer a particularly potent way to find the answer around which you can orient your life.

All you need is to take out a journal and pen, or enlist another person, and do a repeating question exercise.  You can do it with writing or with another person. The question can be some version of, “What matters most to you?” If doing it with someone it goes like this:

Person A: What matters most to you?

Person B: short answer, first thought that comes to mind.

Person A: Thank you. What matters most to you?

Do it for 10 – 15 minutes each direction.  You may be surprised to find what comes out as you draw from newfound inner depths. If writing, set a time container and continue to write the question and then your answer.  It’s important to write the question each time as it provides a reset for the mind. If you care to share what you find I welcome hearing it in the comments below.

In reflecting on this question in my own life the answer became clear that what matters most to me is continuing to cultivate the quality of presence. For a while now I have been exploring the theme of “human being vs. human doing”, as I often fall into the human doing mode because guess what – I ain’t the Buddha!  So, I do various things to remember my being-ness, and of course, fall short on a daily basis. But that’s why I love that it’s a practice!

A mainstay of my daily practice to connect to the being-ness within is 30 minutes of quiet sitting. In that time, on some days, there are touch points of presence, quiet, spacious, deep, wide, open expanses. Then there are some days when thinking, planning, judging, etc. take over, with rare moments of waking up to the noise of the mind and returning to sensing what is present within.

 I notice what sensations are arising, being with them as they unfold, and then wake up some time later to realize that yup, I was planning, judging, thinking, and again, gently return to presence. This busy mind is a condition of human existence, and it is especially  so in our production-oriented society. Most of us have all but forgotten the Earth, it’s rhythms, and how to live in concert with them.
I sometimes have fantasies of leaving modern society and just sitting by a lake in the quiet. All day. Doing nothing. Just sitting. What I’ve come to realize is that sure, I could do that, give it all up, exit society, leave the world of production and consumption all together.  But, wherever you go, there you are. And in truth, while it’s nice to sit by a lake sometimes, the real longing is for that internal sense of wide open expansive spaciousness, aka sustained presence or contact with the essential self, whether I’m sitting by a lake or sitting in my car. Some might call it God or Goddess, and to others it’s Nature, or the Universe, or Essence, but whatever you call it, this over the top intense year has brought so many of us in touch with a longing to reconnect.
Because returning to quiet is the general path I take to come home to myself, I was delighted when a teacher recommended using music as a means to BE with my experience. I mean, we can use anything, really, but it is rare that I listen to music with dedicated mindfulness. As it so happens my dad is a jazz pianist and he had just released a song on facebook so I decided to listen with attention.
I felt moved, touched, and brought back to the present moment as the sound waves flowed through me. I noticed the texture of the music change as the song dipped into river valleys and soared to the sky, and it was as if I had an internal texture that changed with the song – from flowy and smooth, to pointed and striking, to subtle and soft, to layers of richness, and more.  So, if you too care about cultivation of presence in your life, I invite you to mindfully listen to a song of your choosing, and if you want a particularly moving musical portal to presence, you are welcome to listen to my dad, Mark Kramer, performing this mindfully created improvisational jazz rendition of Silent Night. Silent Night in Jazz

Cheers for a New Year that is full of hope, health, happiness… and presence!


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