In 1945, John Cage began 2 years of study under D. T. Suzuki. Through the Zen influence of Suzuki, the young composer came to learn that the quiet mind is one that doesn't attempt to curate the experiences that it takes in. “Our business living is to become fluent with the life we are living, and art can help this,” Cage later wrote.
So what happens if the art we make is a pure, unfiltered representation of the life we’re living? What if we made art without frames, to harken back to Kiarostami? Seven years after his first encounter with Suzuki, Cage pushed this notion to the extreme with 4’33”.
Written for any instrument — solo or ensemble — the effect is the same: The performer(s) doesn't play their instrument(s) for 4 minute and 33 seconds. Cage considered it to be his most important work. The real joy of the piece, as I see it, is that it only works in the context of a concert — despite no music coming from the instrument(s) onstage, the audience still plays the part of active participant. There’s no talking, no moving around, no break from the practice that is going to the concert hall.
We then begin to see our own contributions to the sonic landscape. We don’t get up and move around, but we shift in our seats. We don’t speak but we may sneeze. Buildings have their own sounds of settling, of filtering air, of air getting in the joints of seats or music stands and sending out the odd creak. Art, in this case, is waking us up to the present moment and our role in it. We are both performer and spectator. We develop a greater fluency with the life we’re living, which is continuously in this moment.
Today’s Contemplation: Take notice of your environment as you sit within it. The sounds, the textures, the sights, the smells. If the space you’re in for practice isn’t the space you’d ideally want to be in — say, because of traffic outside, the temperature inside — don’t attempt to rationalize yourself out of feeling this way. Instead, notice the dissatisfaction. Notice it with curiosity, and notice, too, how that feeling of dissatisfaction is as separate from the present moment itself as it is a part of the present moment itself.