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Experts, Wisdom and Experience

Experts, Wisdom and Experience

I have been struggling with the fascination our world has with experts. Please understand, I, too, am also amazed at the facts experts bring to light: studies that reveal the previously unknown, or theories that explain phenomena we don’t understand. But what about a personal experience you may have had years ago that’s only just now receiving confirming “expert” research?

A book I’ve been reading called “Seven Thousand Ways to Listen” by Mark Nepo helped me in the paradox. What Mark Nepo refers to as “saging” — being wise — holds a certain truth about experts that I feel is relevant today.

As Mark Nepo tells it, in ancient Greece, seven sages were identified as the wisest of all thought leaders. Everyone agreed…and then began to debate which of the seven was greatest. In Western civilization, this marked the beginning of the sagacious “middleman” and the demise of wisdom based on direct experience.
There’s still plenty of saging based on direct experience these days. But when it comes to “acceptable” fact, don’t we still look to the great writers and thinkers and poets and philosophers and scientists and researchers for the conventional wisdumb, instead of going to the well ourselves? It’s convenient, I suppose, to take someone else’s word for it as opposed to actually doing the hard work of self-saging. Whole religions are built on this model, and schools, and even governments. Certainly businesses in the industrial age are working models of how a wise middleman can massively change the world and profit from doing so, perhaps to the detriment of the ones who borrow wisdom instead of winning it for themselves…

…and the detractors, especially those who are themselves educated scientists, are still maligned for daring to doubt the mass acceptance of the “fact,” whatever it may be: the world is flat, the Earth is the center of the solar system, the atom is the smallest particle, nothing travels faster than the speed of light, etc.

Also this last week an email arrived wondering whether I have any music “programs” for sale. It would be nice to have a shelf full of ready-made programs with music wisdom in them — click to add to your shopping cart, free delivery in five to seven business days. Or better yet, streamed online to your mobile device. There’s probably a business model there somewhere. I could probably make a lot of money doing it. There’s only one flaw: I can’t give you the music you need. I could teach you something about how to listen to your own inner musical wisdom, but even at the moment I put that into a “program” and offer it to you for sale, I’ve foreclosed part of the magic of your own experience of discovery — and caring for your self is as much about the experience of learning how to do that as it is actually giving yourself care.

It rankles me that some yoga teachers feel the need to license their methods, and then prosecute other yoga teachers who they feel are teaching something proprietary without a specific license. I worry that Music Therapy may be headed in this direction, and that, at some not-so-far-off day, music venues will have to pay a fee to some licensing board somewhere in order to cover the possible transformative experience some in the audience might have….

How does it serve you if I compact all of what I know about music and transformation into a 12-minute TED talk? Even if that was both feasible and marketable, your momentary thrill of hearing the talk wouldn’t last, and would definitely never take the place of your own self-aware transformation. There are already plenty such talks, and while mine might be a little different, what I want for you is to spark your own inquiry into the power of music, not to give you all the answers. I want you to learn to sage yourself.
Does it serve you to soak up expert knowledge? Of course it does. But recall the paradox: Buddha may have had it right when he turned his followers away from him and toward his teaching. If the expert you trust opens you to your own experience of his or her knowledge, your trust is well placed. If the expert you trust has you convinced that he or she is the only arbiter of the wisdom you want, in my humble opinion, that expert is suspect.
I believe an expert — a sage — ought to open you to questions. A true expert can lead you right up to the paradox and show you great grace as you begin to wrestle with it. But no study or theory or religion or science can take your place at that moment, and neither can any expert, no matter how wise. Only you, armed with whatever inspires you and gives you courage and strength, can wrestle with your personal paradox, and either you will win the deepening you want…or not. No sage (or therapist or doctor or minister or guru!) no matter how wise, can do this for you, and anyone who claims to have that ability — again, in my humble opinion, — ought to be regarded with suspicion.
I know how heretical this sounds, but please think carefully about what you believe: can you prove it for yourself? Are you content to lean on the purported wisdom of others without testing it? Is it even possible to test your own beliefs? These are big questions. They are hard to answer without a lot of thought — without a lot of experience. Maybe it’s easier to let the experts do the thinking…….?
And that, too, is a paradox.
Why does any of this matter to you?
Simply because the quality of the music you choose, just like quality of the food you eat, the water you drink and the air you breathe, is fundamental to your quality of life.
I know this fact because I have experienced it, and I’m passionate about it because I want you to experience it for yourself. Research and expert opinion have weighed in on it; “anecdotal evidence” is plentiful. When your own experience matches the expert opinion — especially when you can prove that opinion for yourself at will — well, that, my friend, is the best kind of wisdom, because you won it for yourself. That is self saging.
It doesn’t take a PhD or a board certification in Music Therapy to experience the  wisdom of music for yourself. All it takes is becoming aware of the “music” that is around you, and how it impacts you. If you can distinguish between how you respond to the sound of a jackhammer and how you respond to utter silence you have made a start. If you can put together a list of the music you like to hear when you work out or bike or run or swim versus a list of the music you use to relax, you are more than halfway there. To go all the way, simply become more conscious and make informed choices about your sound track. That’s it.
Can this simple starting point open you to an experience of transformation that is uniquely yours? Try it and see. Choose music you can use to amplify every single aspect of your life: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual. If you are healing, music will help. If you are hurting, music will help. If you need answers, music can open them up to you. If you are alone, music can care for you. If you are with others, music can connect you more deeply than you can imagine. Using music, perhaps, is a way toward self saging. Or not. You decide.
The world needs your wisdom, your well of feeling, your strength, your insight. If you prove for yourself that music — or anything else you can find! — has power to open these four aspects of your being, you will meet the paradox of expert versus experience more skillfully, from a place of deeper trust in your self, and you will come to trust your own wisdom more powerfully, and become a powerful voice of reason in the world, perhaps even an expert. Or not.

You decide.