MeditationIn our pow-wow of geographically displaced Master Choi students, Sa Bom Nim asks us about tradition. Our responses are quintessential in that they seem to belong exclusively to us. John first, then me, and then Jackie who has nothing to add. There is a pause and Master Choi says, "Well, nobody ask to me, so I don't answer."
We all laugh, "We just assumed you'd tell us." And then we ask.
Tradition, he says, is about what is natural. We nod our heads like bobble head dolls for the next ten minutes as he shows us a perspective on tradition that we would have never thought of, but yet always knew in a way. That's the way his stories feel. Like you had the information all along, it just took someone telling you for you to know it. Tradition is not habit, it is the earth and the animals and humans all working harmoniously and positively. They are actions that create a circle, a flow. Never negative, or against a grain, never hurts the next day or two years down the road. These types of pains are the result of what is not natural, and in them we cannot find tradition. That's what he says, or my closest approximation. We all nod our heads. Master Choi nods back in jest. "What, you have nothing to say? Just nod along?" He wants a dialogue and we're all momentarily stunned. Bjork keeps flashing through my head and I can't imagine how I can connect this conversation to her, so I say nothing. John asks a different question and Master Choi says something that really strikes me. "People get the wrong impression," he says, "they think that it's just physical motions and everyone is yelling and fighting. The martial arts get the bad name because the people don't fully understand. It's not like that - it's artists and it is very sensitive."
Sensitive, and I think - what an incredible word. I start to think about tradition again and I realize, suddenly, what he is saying.
This is something I've been thinking about lately, something I'm always thinking about. I spent three hours the other night watching Bjork with adoration on youtube. She is possibly one of the most compelling and endearing people I have ever seen. When she talks, the good energy flows up from the ground. Her discussion of her work and her process always sends me into meditations on what it really means to be an artist. It is why I love her, why I love and admire so many of the people that I have come to know. Why I admire Master Choi. In every interview from the Sugarcubes to Medulla she says that she's not there yet. That her best album hasn't been beaten out of her and that even after an accomplishment like Medulla, her creative work still has not reached its maturation. She describes the plights of authors whose best works are written at age seventy and says, "It takes a very long time, I think, to be what you are." And it floors me.
I think about Master Na, and the night we all sat around in Central Dojang drinking green tea and talking about life. He told me that his goal, above all things, was to be human. I have been realizing lately that the artists I'm drawn to, the ones that are so magnetic and unusual, are the ones that create as if it is an act of God. Bjork says she sings because it is the most natural way for her, like breath, she cannot be totally stable without it. She creates because she is, she has no other choice. If I were to rephrase Master Na's goal for myself it would be to be like him - to be like Bjork - to be like Master Choi. To be what I feel they all are - utterly myself. My best self. Weighing in with what I have, balanced against nature, a part of the earth. I start to see what tradition is by Master Choi's definition. Tradition, I conclude, is a path to what is natural. It shows us ourselves. It is the argument I'm always making about higher education and the usefulness of knowing a system - be it in music, the arts, or in writing. They are tools, they show us a way, they show us several. They challenge us and teach us about the spirituality of our art. We pull from them and find our own enlightenment in the cushions of what Beethoven and Mozart once knew. We do with it what we will.
Traditions exist to remind us of what we value and why we value it. They force us to reflect. It is art. It is sensitive. It is alive. This is what I do - because I have to. Because I am compelled to. The tradition, the people - they are reference points. They help me define what I am. They push me not to let that definition stagnate.
I think I'm going to take up gardening.