“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Friedrich Nietzsche
I don’t want to be one of the people who spend their whole lives not hearing the melodies and the rhythms that run through Nature, like wind playing the woodwinds of the tree branches. Even more importantly, I don’t want to be resentful of the aspirations and enthusiasms of others just because they are dancing to melodies that I cannot hear.
The stars are dancing in the great firmaments, and interstellar clouds are swirling among the galaxies like scarfs on a twirling ballerina. I wonder what they hear that I cannot?
Is Nietzsche merely complaining about people who are deaf to music? Or is he reminding us that when we judge, we are deaf to the motivations and aspirations animating those around us?
We don’t have to look far to see that the religious practices of those who adhere to traditions other than our own often elicit our embedded prejudices. And we don’t have to look much farther to notice that it is the unknown that feels threatening to us at such times.
The victims of witch hunts and Inquisitions were tortured and murdered in the name of religion. Yet those victims understood the soul of humanity better than their executioners. More recently, the witch hunt of Joseph McCarthy targeted creative, independent thinkers, accused of being Communists or Communist sympathizers. This is a dark road never far from our own footsteps.
There is a meaning to be found in Nietzsche’s image that points beyond judgement of others. For those who honestly, even if fitfully, try to live lives that do no harm and contribute to the common good, I hear another interpretation. When we catch ourselves judging others because we do not understand their motivations and concerns, we can ask ourselves whether fear is causing us to look away. I am such a one; I look away when I am gripped by fear of what I don’t understand; when I am deaf to the music that they can hear. Then I lose my chance to join in the dance of a greater whole; reverberating in the music of the present moment, which knows nothing of prejudice, separation or hatred.
We can only dance in the present moment; and we can only hear music in the present moment, even if–like Beethoven towards the end of his life–it is playing in the silence of our minds.
We may well wonder why we keep repeating the past? Is it because we don’t remember and learn from what has already happened? When we are stone-deaf to the wider sweep of time, we will be condemned to walk in circles around memories that we can no longer feel afresh, and then we will be bound to endlessly repeat all our painful mistakes and their consequences.
Our only chance to escape the chain of cause and effect, and the dismal repetition of what hasn’t worked well for us in the past, is to step out of the patterns in which the same causes keep producing the same outcomes. Perhaps when we lift our minds and hearts and hear the symphony of everything in us and around us, we will finally see that there is another path forward.