In my study of great musicians, I have noticed that the very greatest are also very spiritual. Bach, Beethoven, Barrios, Santana - anyone of whom I have ever heard or read, and believe to be a divinely inspired musician, has a very strong spiritual sense.
I believe that Spirituality, or the forms it takes when encased in Religion, is rather simple in its essence. I believe it is the expression of three things, a Sense of Mystery, a Sense of Beauty, and a Sense of Grace. If you have these three things then you are a truly spiritual person, if you lack these, you can pray all day, but your words will be hollow to elevated ears.
I think it is essential for everyone on the artistic path to know about these things, because although you can be a person in this world without these things, you cannot be an artist in this world without them. These three things are waiting inside all of us. If you can locate them, touch them, and hold onto them throughout your life, then what you bring out into the world will be real art, and real religion.
A Sense of Mystery
The most primary spiritual quality is a sense of mystery. To be able to contemplate the unfathomable vastness of the universe, and feel it enter into your very cells, filling mind and body with excitement and awe, is the mother of true reverence, and true religion. It has been said “ a fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom”. In those days “fear of God” was how the perception of Mystery was described. It simply meant a proper understanding of your place in relation to the vastness of creation.
This sense of mystery is the wellspring of all human creativity, and so it is essential for the artist. Every artist feels that their creative work “emerges” from some mysterious source within, and it is their job simply to connect with that source, and, like a mother, be the vehicle for its birth into the human world. There is nothing worthwhile that has been produced without having begun from that intensely emotional feeling and foundation, so peculiarly human. All great music proceeds from there.
The greatest minds, intrigued by the curiosity that the sense of Mystery inspires, are constantly probing into themselves and into the world, seeking to deepen their understanding. At the end of the day, it is with a childish laugh that they dissolve back into Mystery, resigning themselves, like the great Issac Newton, to the realization that they are merely “children playing on the shore with pebbles, while the great ocean of the Universe rolls on.”
The eminent scientist Sir James Jeans, in his classic exposition of the philosophical implications of 20th century theoretical physics “Physics & Philosophy”, concludes:
”To sum up, physics tries to discover the pattern of events which controls the phenomena we observe. But we can never know what this pattern means or how it originates; and even if some superior intelligence were to tell us, we should find the explanation unintelligible. Our studies can never put us into contact with reality, and its true meaning and nature must be for ever hidden from us.”
I agree. Our immersion in mystery is built into the system, guaranteed!
A Sense of Beauty
After the knee and the head are unbowed from the overpowering experience of contemplation of the mystery of existence, we are left with a feeling of separateness, limitation, and dependence. We realize our seeming insignificance in the universe, we are a separate little dot in infinity. But now we are positioned to discover the most amazing and wonderful birthright of a human being. We can now look out to the world around us, and find ourselves in it.
Beauty is the silent language of the universe, through which it communicates its nature to the beings it creates. The language of Beauty imparts to us the knowledge of our oneness with nature, other people, indeed, all of existence.
To feel beauty is to feel a oneness with what is outside you, because on a deep level, you are feeling yourself within that other. Whatever brings you to this state of union, you will find to be beautiful.
There are common altars at which we gather to converse with reality in the silent language of Beauty, such as Music and all of the arts, all the forms of human contact, and especially Nature. From whence comes the power of Nature to inspire us with such transcendent feelings of awe and beauty as we contemplate the mountains, oceans, or stars? It is the very recognition of our own nature in Nature.
The rocks of our skeleton, the flora of our intestines, the water of our blood, and our inmost soul, recognizes itself in the world without. Just as the earth has birthed all the rocks, oceans, and trees and animals, so has it birthed us.
In our confrontation with Mystery, we realize the limitation of our nature to ever fully comprehend the ultimate reality. Having accepted that, we simply claim this part of our human birthright and enjoy direct communication of that unfathomable reality, which is the experience of Beauty.
The life of the artist is an immersion at one of the altars of beauty, and working to gain proficiency interpreting and speaking the language of Beauty. The job of the artist is the communication of ultimate Mystery, spoken in the language of Beauty.
A Sense of Grace
Mystery has revealed to us a sense of that which is greater than us. Beauty has responded by bringing that which is a part back to its Source, creating union, and Love, the desire and the fulfillment of that desire, to “be with”. Now, there directly arises, as a consequence of this positioning of the soul, the sense of Grace.
The word “grace” is from the Latin “gratias”, which means “good will”. There naturally arises in us now an overwhelming feeling that the universe, the Source of creation, has good will toward us. “It” is bestowing blessings, all blessings in fact, upon us. This becomes a powerful emotional experience, this ever present feeling of being the recipient of good will, of being loved. It seems to be not just a feeling, but a recognition. All religions contain this concept of Divine Grace. It is essential.
As the sense of Mystery imparts the feeling of awe, and the sense of Beauty imparts a feeling of love, so the sense of Grace imparts a feeling of gratitude. This is the distinguishing difference between someone who professes to be religious, and an atheist. The atheist has no one to thank.
The sense of gratitude is the purest human attribute. A person who is constantly and firmly founded in the sense of grace in response to everything life delivers, can never be corrupted, but will be and remain pure.
For an artist, this sense of gratitude becomes the reason, and the fuel, for creative work. The desire to use what one is given by grace is the form our gratitude takes. For each of us, in whatever way we sense the good will of the universe, in that way will we direct our good will outward, and that offering is our creative gift to the world.
All of this shows why it is true that many people who think they are atheists are not, and many who think they are religious are not. If you have within yourself the sense of Mystery, Beauty, and Grace, you are a religious person. It will be evident to anyone who knows how to look. If you do not, it is equally so.
All that I have ever achieved as an artist has come from my sense of Mystery and Beauty, and all I do for guitar players always has, and always will, proceed from my sense of Grace, my gratitude for what has been given to me.