Looking Back to Move Forward with Confidence
A few days ago, I was diving into one of the hard drives populated with digital memories of my life, or ‘past lives’, as I like to refer to the many hats I have worn over the years. I was taking a look at projects, some of them realized, others only imagined or written, lots of draft ideas, pictures, documents… Music performing, music production, theatre projects, drama in education, commercial performances, artistic, corporate events, festivals and a long and varied list of endeavours to which I have devoted different stages of my life journey.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to keep track of everything in my mind, I believe we always tend to think of us as a finished product: we have always been the way we are now, and will always be only that. It helps me to stumble across these materials from time to time in order to keep a certain perspective, and refresh the idea that everything, including us, is impermanent.
One of the pictures I was revisiting was taken at the 2007 IDEA conference in Hong Kong, can’t remember exactly where in the city it was held. Back then, I was immersed in the practice of Arts in Education and focused on teaching as well as educating myself using those valuable tools. I will try and keep my rambling to a manageable level on this one, I just can’t thank enough Drama in Education and my mentor on this path, my good old friend Chad Leslie, for the uncountably amazing doors that opened up in my understanding about the arts, my mind and life in general as I got in touch with the ideas and processes that AIE propose.
A truly remarkable time in my life that deeply shaped who I have been since and who I am now. Newly arrived in Asia, a personal journey that lasted for almost 15 years, I was amazed and deeply touched by the diversity of cultures there, almost to a sense of reminiscence. Young, energetic and with lots of opportunities around… everything seemed possible at the time. And to some extent, everything was, actually, possible.
I am meandering now.
I was looking at the pictures and reflecting about the breadth of exciting lectures, talks, seminars and conversations that were held there over those days, and I started to think about how many people in so many times and places through human history had done similar things during thousands of years, so that today we can enjoy and utilise all that accumulated knowledge and give it new meanings and practical uses. From prehistoric men and women painting caves, telling stories and playing music, to theatres in classic Rome and Greece, Gamelan music, traditional mask carving and performances in Bali and all the way through Indian classical, Sufi, western classical, jazz, soul, rock, ambient and everything else, it is amazing the unfathomable scale of the artistic and cultural diversity human societies have been able to develop over the ages.
Usually, we have a tendency to think that only because we are the most recent, we are also the most advanced, the most knowledgeable, that we have come up with all the original and interesting ideas. Often we don’t offer due respect to tradition, lineage, history, whatever way we like to think about this. Particularly in the West, where the learning process has been encapsulated in a series of rigid cycles where information is conveniently packed and instilled in our minds, frequently devoid of context, history and humanity. Where the idea of a master sounds like something from another era, something to get rid of as if all we have achieved in life is due to our diligence, intelligence and hard work only. Knowledge has been somehow separated from the process of learning and the people who devoted their time, the most precious resource there is, to practice and polish concepts, skills and tools. Constantly chasing chimaeras, productivity and financial output, we run the risk of losing touch with the ground and forget what really matters along the way.
There are cultures that exist and have existed for thousands of years, sometimes hundreds of thousands, that have created an environment that’s harmonious in their relationship to the natural environment and by extension, to the world.
These days, their knowledge seems to dissipate or assimilate to dominant cultures which have invaded or colonised them, be it literally or culturally. They are seen as remnants from another era, useless leftovers from uncivilized cultures, and we are too quickly ready to get rid of them using overused and wildly misunderstood concepts like science or progress.
From time to time we will find a sentence or two on our social network of choice. Sometimes it looks as if we would take those words, add a beautiful background, and suddenly, as we look at the message with attention, maybe research a little and learn where it comes from and who said it, we understand that knowledge has been passed from generation to generation, possibly through centuries, until reaching us. In many ways, it’s clarity and wisdom refined through experience. Not an idea about some philosophical teaching, but through the direct experience of thousands and thousands of people before us. It is through the understanding of other cultures and ideas that we can live a fuller life… Frequently in our daily lives, we completely ignore thousands of years of understanding, of direct experience.
So all of these thoughts came rushing in while looking at those pictures, and later on, talking to a friend about it, he was telling me about many ancient cultures where the focus is not so much on this generation, on the right now, or even on the next generation. Rather, they always live their lives, right now, with the idea of seven generations down the line. They are somehow thinking about the future, living with the sense of what they are doing, right now, is going to affect people seven generations down the line, and how in thinking this way, it completely changes the way they act in the present. We tend to live, and this is understandable, with the idea that we have very limited time, so we must maximize everything: experiences, career, money… we are willing to make harmful compromises in order to achieve this, entirely from the perspective of the so-called self. But it is possible to put it all together in a healthy way for us and the reality surrounding us. It is possible to maximize our experience and happiness in life while we live with a healthy respect for those who have come before us and also for those who will be our heirs.
They really don’t need to be big actions. These are small, positive changes we can incorporate and keep introducing to our lives in a continuous self-improvement process. I find it helps to wonder, from time to time, what are those things I could do. Easy and immediate behaviours I could modify in my life that will have a positive impact on future generations. Sometimes, the answer is simply being present, instead of distracted, and being able to identify and make those choices when we are presented with the opportunity.