We’re used to thinking of problems as a word that goes hand in hand with “personal.” Of course, there are problems in our professional lives. But when we struggle with things that happen or come from outside of that realm, we tend to look at them as personal. I’ve been interested in several articles I have read from various fields and sources that call this assumption into question, and today I post an excerpt from the first of them, with hopefully more to come.
As a musician, I’m interested in questioning this assumption because of the way that anything that doesn’t “rock out” gets labelled as “personal” songwriting. Even songs that do rock out are often seen – or satirized – as anthems that exorcise personal pain in a transcendent moment of catharsis.
One of the reasons I got interested in listening to a lot of instrumental music over the last 8 years or so is that it’s harder to slap this label on music that evokes slippery emotions. When you listen to a group like The Necks, you encounter a lot of introspection and emotional shadings. Yet you’d be hard pressed to label the experience a window into the cloistered soul of any one of the three musicians, especially because none of them sing on their records.
Even a solo performance by a master musician like Andrew Cyrille manages to be intimate without getting stuck in the exaltation of a Personality.
Thanissara is a teacher of Buddhist meditation who is the lead teacher at the Dharmagiri hermitage in rural South Africa. I took a year long online course with her and her husband Kittisaro a few years ago. Dhammagiri is politically active in their community. They’re involved with issues like food security and providing treatment to children and adults suffering from HIV/AIDS. She says that “when we work where we are in South Africa, I’m often overwhelmed because in the relational field there is so much trauma from what’s happened, from all the hundreds of years of colonization, apartheid, very strange effects that that generates in a whole society. Just being there, just a real sense sometimes of a low lying … pain.” She suggested that calling into question how personal our “personal problems” really are can help prevent us from becoming overwhelmed by them.
“They’re actually very collective. Each of us will have a different root, a different flavor, depending on our family, on our inheritance, the culture, the historic narrative of our class or race. It’s good to know that they’re not personal, actually, we can start to contemplate. As I started to really work with this sense, it became more and more clear how collectively there’s such a lack of rootedness, embodiment and ease within our body, with the earth, within our humanity. There’s sort of like a war that goes on.We’re at war with body, war with ourselves, war with earth. And we expect we’re gonna be peaceful?”
“The healing begins to come about when we have the capacity and the power of awareness to actually begin to feel into the wounding of our sensitivity. The symptoms that we experience of depression or anxiety or fear or self-doubt, some of these deeper patterns, they’re often really connected to either our personal development, or historical inheritance, genetic inheritance, familial inheritance, (or) ancestral inheritance. (There’s been) tremendous wounding to our connection to our body, to earth, to our culture, to our place, to maybe our land, displacement. And it’s very hard to tolerate. At a certain point this practice really helps when we see that. It feels very personal, but in a way it’s not very personal. When we can see it like that it actually helps us to tolerate. Not to just dwell in pain unnecessarily. Not to just be lost unnecessarily. But for the sake of releasing, transforming and healing.”