SChubert: Der Leiermann
There’s a lot going on in the world right now. Chances are, if you’re a regular social media user, your anxiety spikes whenever you scroll your feed. Perhaps this experience even feels more isolating or lonely, as some studies have begun to suggest.
As the German Democratic Republic began to lose many of its great artists to the West in the late 1970s, those who remained in the East began to see the failings of the state against larger socialist ideals corrupted through political exchange. Philosopher Wolfgang Heise gifted author Christa Wolf a copy of Schubert’s Winterreise at that time, which she described as a “form of consolation … (‘we are not the first’).” So after another week that seems to have taken all it can from us on a political and social level, let’s start this new week with the Dharma of Schubert: We are not the first.
Pick any historical era and you can map onto it, if not the same events as we see today, then the same emotional reactions to those events. Winterreise was born in an era of social, political, and personal suffering for both Schubert and the poet whose texts he set. And yet, through this meeting of writer and composer, the result was a form of consolation.
The final song in the cycle, “Der Leiermann,” is another form of consolation: The hero of the work, the eponymous winter-wanderer, meets a street musician grinding away at his hurdy-gurdy without an audience. The Leiermann keeps playing, even though he knows that no one hears his song, eventually someone does.
Through this, we’re reminded that we’re not the first. That our suffering, our emotions, are not our own, and certainly not our defining characteristics. We may feel alone in the moment, but in the bigger scheme of things, they are a shared experience that we all have as humans. Therefore, we can see whatever we’re experiencing in any given moment (good, bad, or neutral) as more ephemeral than rock-solid.
Today’s Contemplation: Sit with Schubert, or sit in silence. Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling. Perhaps it is stress and anxiety, triggered either by the political or personal. Perhaps it’s something more positive or neutral. Allow the emotion behind the storylines that triggered it to rise to the surface, and give it the attention it’s due. Can you see the wispy edges of it? Can you sense where it may not be a permanent state so much as a passing cloud? Can you imagine all of those beings throughout history who have experienced the same emotion? Can you find some consolation in picturing this?