Some books look slender. Such as Biography of Silence by Pablo d’Ors. It is a meditation by the author on what it feels like to confront the self in a noisy world. Originally published in Spanish, English translations are available and this book has our attention.
“Like many of my contemporaries, I was convinced that the more experiences I had and the more intense and stunning they were, the sooner and better I would become a complete person. Today I know that that is not the case: the quantity of our experiences and their intensity serve only to bewilder us. Experiencing too many things tends to be prejudicial. I do not believe that humans are made for quantity, but rather for quality. Experiences, if one lives to collect too many of them, jostle us, they offer us utopian horizons, they inebriate and confuse us… Now I would even say that any experience—even one that appears most innocent—tends to be too vertiginous for the human soul, which is only nourished by pausing the rhythm of the experiences it is offered…
“Today I know that it is a good idea to stop having experiences, whatever the genre, and to limit oneself to living: to allow life to express itself as it is, and not to fill it with the artifice of our travels or readings, relationships or passions, spectacles, entertainments, searches… All of our experiences tend to compete with life and almost always manage to displace it and even cancel it out. True life is located behind what we call life. Not traveling, not reading, not talking: not doing these things is almost always better than doing them when it comes to the discovery of light and peace.
“Of course, to discern something from all this that is written so quickly and understood so slowly I had to familiarize myself with my bodily sensations and, which is even more arduous, to classify my thoughts and feelings, my emotions. Because it is easy to say that one has distractions, but very difficult, on the other hand, to know from what type of distractions one suffers. It took me more than a year to begin to give a name to what appeared and disappeared from my mind when I sat to meditate. Until that moment I had been a spectator, yes, but hardly an attentive one. At the end of a sitting I could describe little of what had really happened to me during it.
“To be attentive to the distractions themselves is more complicated than one imagines. In the first place because distractions, by their own evasive, nebulous nature, are not easily understandable; but also because in trying to retain them long enough to memorize and then be able to give an account of them, one winds up distracting oneself with that new activity.”
Have a peaceful day!
In this issue
- India’s water crisis
- The ideal practice hours
India’s water crisis
In an interview with IndiaSpend, Mridula Ramesh, founder of Sundaram Climate Institute and author of The Climate Solution: India's Climate Change Crisis and What We Can Do About It, highlights how one’s income determines how one looks at water.
“How visible water is to you depends on where you are as India's water is so geographically varied. It also depends on where you sit on the economic ladder. For the wealthy, water is peripheral—during a flood, they can escape, their homes are dry and their generators run. If you go down, that is, to the middle class, it's a concern of uncertainty, whether the water will enter our homes or will they get water in the drought. And you might think that floods and droughts are different but you have to understand they are the same phenomenon—the intensely volatile and variable water that is India's water. When you go down to the economically vulnerable, their stories are just tragic. That story is repeated in every city in India. You have to beg, struggle, cajole, bribe to get two or three buckets of water.”
For the policy maker trying to address the issue, there’s another problem—lack of data. Ramesh says, “The level of metering is so poor and that's part of the problem. If we can't have good data to agree there is a problem, how are we going to summon the political will to take the kind of decisions to actually solve the problem. There is a huge variation. Some states and municipalities get it, and are going ahead with solutions. Others prefer to live in a black hole. An often quoted statistic, and one I have used in my book, is that India will be unable to meet half its water demand in 2030. In 2021, there are parts of India that are living in day 0. In the summer, they are not able to meet water demand. Factories are shutting down because there isn't enough water.”
The ideal practice hours
How many hours ought we practice? This is a question Tyler Cowen, economist and author asks Ana Vidovic on his most recent podcast, Conversations with Tyler. We listened in with much interest to this fascinating interview with Vidovic, a classical musician who was acclaimed as a child prodigy. While she dismisses the idea of “child prodigies”, how many hours of practice is an idea that had our attention.
Cowen: You once said that you don’t practice past seven hours a day. What would happen in that eighth hour if you were to go there?
Vidovic: [laughs] I would probably go crazy.
Cowen: Is it mental? Is it physical? Or… ?
Vidovic: I just had a conversation with a friend of mine about that — how the amount of hours are actually not important as much as the quality of the practice. As a child, I used to practice many, many hours because I didn’t know, I didn’t find a way. You kind of experiment over the years. At this age, I finally learned that it’s more about concrete work, focused work, working on things that give you trouble, either if it’s technical or musical, and then you practice in sections. That takes less time.
You practice very slowly before playing fast, and then you put it all together. It just takes a lot of years to get to a point where you know what you need to work on. Two or three hours of focused practice is more efficient than seven or eight hours because sometimes there is a danger of just playing the piece through and not really working on sections and things that we should work on. I think at the eighth hour, we should all stop. [laughs]
Cowen: What’s the main physical constraint on what you do? Is it the wrist, the back, concentration, memory? What gives out first, so to speak?
Vidovic: It’s all of those things together, I think. Of course, as we age, there are physical limitations. Our mind decreases as well, but you can be careful and be vigilant about that.
For example, our body, of course, cannot sustain seven or eight hours of continued practice. It’s just too much. There are injuries that happen, so people have to be very, very careful. You also have to make sure that your posture is correct. Your back is straight, and your shoulders are relaxed. Your hands should be relaxed. That’s a very big part of it. Our body decreases as we age, so we have to find a way to compensate that.
Also, our mind is a very, very important part. Actually, I think it’s more important than the physical because everything comes from your mind. If your mind is relaxed, if your mind knows what it’s doing, then everything else will fall into place. For example, when you perform live, your mind has to be very, very relaxed because if your mind is constantly worrying, that creates a lot of tension in your hands, in your shoulders, in your back.
Everything has to come together, but again, that’s something that takes many years of experience. Learning how to—as we talked about—efficiently practicing how to relax on stage. There is a way to preserve that over the years, and I think as you age, there is a different quality. You mature, and your music starts sounding different, more mature. But it’s a good question.
How to negotiate
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