Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Beauty of Water, of Whiteness, and of Silence

Just as spices and herbs were originally used to mask the off tastes of decaying foodstuffs, anything that flavors water has its origins as a masking agent. Most of what we enjoy about cuisine has its origin not in delighting the palate but in hiding rot.

It's only recently that un-doctored water has been widely safe to drink, and many of us retain an aversion to its seemingly lackluster flavor, much as people habituated to chile pepper find un-spicy chow horridly bland. Accustomed to masks, we are recoiled by purity!

If you're not drinking water, you are drinking something designed to mask water, not improve it. Call to mind, say, Pepsi, Yoo Hoo, or supermarket orange juice. Can you even think of water while drinking such things? I challenge you to sip a soft drink while visualizing a pristine mountain spring. You can't. The water which makes up the vast majority of the content is unrecognizable. It's thoroughly masked. We've gotten good at it!

The same is true even with delicious drinks. A terrific strawberry milkshake, a fine pint of beer, or a fancy glass of wine are still just premium-quality water-maskers.

But here's the thing. Having tasted 1929 Chateau Lafite, and many of the very greatest sakes, wines, beers, Chinese teas and spirits of the past century, I can report that those diverse experiences all triggered a similar observation: they all struck me as improvements on water. They uplifted its essential purity rather then masked it. All I've thought about while drinking those masterpieces was....water. I reveled in water. It's a miraculous feat! While anyone can mask water, improving on it is a seemingly impossible task because water is perfection.

Similarly, nearly all artists mask the blankness of white, rather than improve upon its perfection. And nearly all musicians mask silence rather than improve upon its perfection. The masks may be beautiful, brilliant, and inspiring. But it's important to understand the stagecraft - the intentions behind the things you're appreciating. Nearly everything humans do involves cleverly masking perfection.

The beauty of water, whiteness, and silence is perfect and unsurpassable. So improving the unsurpassable is quite an accomplishment. It's a magic trick pulled off only very rarely.

If you're about to play or compose music, try holding back until you have a note to offer that can improve upon the perfection of silence (if you haven't yet fallen deeply in love with silence, you have no business making music). If you're about to paint, try holding back until you have a brushstroke to offer that can improve upon the perfection of the white canvass. And if you're creating some sort of drink, try holding back until you can improve upon the perfection of water. With this perspective, you can't fail.

It's only after realizing that everything's perfect, as-is, that one is in a position to make a contribution that contributes.

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