We live in a culture that values youth and change. We seek the latest and newest. Many products—like this computer—are designed to be obsolete in a few years. That way we will “need” to buy a new one with all the latest developments and new technology.
Things break and wear out. Nothing is permanent. That is one of the laws of creation. Our bodies age. We grow old and eventually die.
This fact of life covers most if not all things. Perhaps because I am growing older, I look for things that last. I want to associate with things and activities that have the capacity to endure.
This is not so much for the purpose of denying or avoiding the fact that all things are impermanent and must fade. It is more to remind me that in all this flux, there are certain things that hold their value and embody a sublime ability to persist.
I admire people who exemplify this capacity to endure—those who carry their age with dignity, humor, and grace. They inspire me and give me hope for the future. I also admire old things—old houses, redwood trees, beautiful landscapes and other treasures of nature that have been around a long time. They remind me of strength, stability and that some things stand the test of time.
There are a few man-made objects that seem to have this capacity to endure like the best we find in nature. Rare among these are a few things that even seem to improve with use and age.
I play the violin and was reminded that some very old instruments not only increase in value but actually get better as they age. This is somewhat of a miracle. There are things that do not just increase in value as a commodity over time, they actually improve if they are used and treasured over their lifetime.
The very fine instruments made by the violin makers of Cremona, Italy—Amati, Guarneri, and Antonio Stradivari are highly valued because they have this quality. They are highly sought after and prized because of their beautiful sound and capacity in the right hands to express the highest forms of art.
But what is it that makes these instruments such treasures? Certainly the care and exacting craftsmanship that went into their creation contributed to their value. But is this sufficient to explain their value and uniqueness as instruments?
I believe these rare instruments improve over their lifetime because they are loved and valued as they are used. They become natural extensions of the human body and spirit, vibrating with sublime expressions of human imagination. To fully realize their value they need to be played!
It is a well known fact that fine instruments that are in museums or collections do not do as well over time as those instruments by the same makers that are played daily. This is perhaps the most direct evidence that musical instruments need to be used to realize their full potential as vehicles of musical expression.
But what is it about playing them that improves their quality and beauty of sound? There are any number of possible explanations.
Perhaps the physicality and exertion in playing them actually adds to their life if they are not abused. Human sweat and oil from the bodies of musicians actually join with wood, varnish, and rosin to add subtle qualities to the sound they make. Perhaps it is simply that they are loved and cherished for what they can do. There may be something about the way gifted musicians set the instruments vibrating that transforms their nature from merely being a natural object into something animated and lifelike.
It seems clear that whatever is involved, the fact that they are loved and held with such reverence and tenderness adds to their value and contributes to their ability to improve with age.
In their use they are reminders that what we choose to become involved with over our lifetime add or detract from the quality, beauty and value of our lives. Like a fine instrument we age beautifully if we are loved as we are played. Our lives—our postures, our eyes, our hearts—reflect the way we choose to interact with what life brings us. The more I live the more I have come to see that we are works of art shaped in the act of living. Our lives are precious as instruments of sublime expression. They must be cherished and preserved like the fine instruments they are. Through this we have the privilege of participating in creating great meaning and beauty.
About the author:
*Robert D. Rossel, Ph.D. is a Life Coach living and practicing in Los Altos Hills California. He is a long-time practitioner of self-relations psychotherapy and Ericksonian hypnotherapy. With an abiding interest in music, art, yoga, and other mind-body practices, Dr. Rossel is also a Buddhist who has sought for many years to find ways to apply meditation and mindfulness in his practice. He may be reached at 10490 Albertsworth Lane, Los Altos Hills, CA 94024. Address all correspondence to his E-mail address: Rosselrob@aol.com.