Recently, I heard singer-songwriter Glen Hansard (The Swell Season, Once) being interviewed on CBC. He said a lot of amazing things, but one line in particular had me running for a pen and paper.
“There is a responsibility if you’re a musician, if you’ve been given this sacred gift of being able to make music on any level, then you should really be using it to inspire.”
Wow. That’s quite a statement, and it could come across as a bit heavy-handed. I personally find the word “responsiblility” loaded because there has always been this sense of something being imposed from the outside, rather than by my own internal motivation.
But that word aside, I agree with Hansard’s sentiment here. I think our gifts are meant to be shared. I also think that some pretty incredible things happen when we take action that comes from a deep place inside of us. When we use our gifts to touch others.
This ties into a documentary I watched in the summer. I AM, by director Tom Shadyac (of Ace Ventura fame), delves into the notion of who we really are by talking to some of the world’s leading thinkers, scientists, historians, scholars, and leaders.
When asked, “What is the most important meditation we can do now?,” the Dalai Lama said this:
“Critical thinking, followed by action. Discern what your world is. Know the plot, the scenario of this human drama. And then figure out where your talents might fit in to make a better world.”
Another wow. A big one.
You may have noticed that I am quite entranced with this notion of action, especially small acts that have a big impact. I’ve written about this a few times. Making eye contact with people on the street, saying hello to strangers, or initiating conversation with someone in the grocery store line-up. These are small things we can do literally every day to make the world a little bit brighter.
But what the Dalai Lama and Glen Hansard are talking about, and what I want to write about today, takes this even further: how we can use our individual talents or gifts for some sort of greater good.
I can remember the lightning bolt epiphany I had at one of my monastery writing retreats when I suddenly realized that while I was proud of myself for building a writing business that would support me, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to do more than just make a living from my writing. I wanted to touch people with my words and with stories. I wanted to affect and delight and inspire. I imagined the feeling of satisfaction I would get if I wrote something from my heart that actually impacted someone else. If the telling of my life experiences could actually help another person.
Today, that feeling I imagined at the monastery is a reality. No type of writing that I have ever done has felt this deeply meaningful and I am so grateful to those who have taken the time to write or talk to me about how my writing has touched them.
Hansard talks about songs can connect us. “I like to write a song that will have a place in people’s lives.” Whether that’s a song that someone shares with their friends, or one they listen to over and over while getting over a break-up, or one that someone chooses for their walk down the aisle, Hansard likes to think that his songs have a use in other human’s lives.
“A perfect song is like a prayer,” he says, citing Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire and Bob Dylan’s Forever Young. “They might not be religious songs but they are deeply connected to the bigger picture.”
Hansard talked about the great number of songs he’s written over his life and the distinction between the ones that came that from his heart and the ones that didn’t. “If they’re not the truth, then they don’t stand the test of time.”
I like this thought a lot. That the things we do that are connected to our gifts, to our essence, and to our hearts, have a far more powerful effect on the world. For Hansard, it might be the difference between using his talent to create commercial jingles or a song that’s played at someone’s funeral.
What is it for you? What is your gift? And how are you using it?
p.s. take a listen to this version of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” (Norah Jones singing at Steve Job’s memorial service in 2011).