Parable of the Guitar Strings

Back in Hunterdon County, Murina is finishing up middle school and about to enter adolescence where things are not always as simple as life used to be as a child of innocence among the rolling hills of Hunterdon. It feels to her more and more that things are not as they seem. Too often she just does not quite seem to understand – not anything, not her friends, not her self, especially not her mother who had just gotten too weird for words almost overnight. Ugh. Life was tying her up in knots, she felt wound up and stretched tighter than a drum.

And now her mother wanted her to take music lessons! Guitar of all things! How incredibly 1960’s! How just like her mother! The woman who thought reading tea leaves meant reading the tags on the teabags! The woman who would only buy tea bags with tags that had quotes or sayings on them! The woman who collected teabag tags! Other kids had mothers who put their drawings or pictures or best papers on the refrigerator door. Murina’s had a mother who covered their refrigerator with tea bag tags: Bliss is a constant state of mind, undisturbed by gain or loss; practice kindness, compassion and caring; by listening you comfort another person. Ugh. Why couldn’t someone listen and comfort her? Why couldn’t someone really hear her? Murina thought she was going to explode!

And now her mother wanted her to take music lessons! What was the point?

But Mama was wearing her down, so Murina finally agreed. She dug Grandma’s guitar out of the storage closet, dusted it off, and set off for her first guitar lesson. At least the guitar teacher was cute and kind of an interesting guy. If nothing else, for 45 minute every week she would be away from her mother and could enjoy a bit of eye candy and dream.

Mayer was alright. He took his guitar seriously, but he took himself lightly. The first week she knocked on his door for her lesson, he just shouted out: “if this house is rockin’, don’t bother knockin’” and he laughed. “come on in. let’s make some music.” He wasn’t half bad, all in all.

But today Murina was just not in the mood. She just was wound too tight. She couldn’t settle in.

Mayer looked at her, looked at her guitar, sighed, smiled and said, “OK. Let’s get at some basics – tuning the guitar.”

“Mayer, I’ve got a guitar tuner, see? I just clip it on the headstock of my guitar here and it shows me if I’m out of tune.”

“Murina, that’s all fine as wine, but you also gotta know. Some things you gotta know here” and he patted his heart.

Murina could tell she was not liking where this was going, but she was still too polite to do much more than roll her eyes. So she sat and listend.

“Ok” Mayer went on. So, he took his own guitar played with the machine heads and then strummed the strings. “How’s it sound to you?”

“Pretty awful. It’s all screachey” Murina winced. Mayer could always make his guitar sing. What was he up to?

“Hmm.” He said as he fiddled with the machine heads and the strings again. “How about this?”

“Ugh” Murina muttered before she could edit herself. “Now it sounds all flabby.”

Mayer smiled. “So, check it out, Murina. A guitar is not going to sing with you if you tighten the strings too much. And it won’t give you any good vibrations if you loosen the strings too much either.  You and your guitar. Its all about tuning. Neither of you wants to be wound too tight or you will snap. Too loose and the vibrations aren’t right, you can’t resonate the harmonics. Tuning isn’t about seeing the green light on the tuner, it’s about feeling the harmonics in your heart. Not too tight, not too loose. And when you have it all in balance, if you just touch the string here, and strum ever so lightly, you can hear the voices of angels in the bells tones of the strings.”

“Murina, all change is tricky. Its white water – you gotta learn where the big boulders are and figure how to paddle around them.”

“You are your guitar, my little grasshopper of a student. As you walk around in the world, in the new world that you are growing into, if you are too demanding of yourself and others, you will snap like an E string on Charlie Daniels fiddle. If you sink too deeply into the land of ‘whatever’ you will too loose to find your vibe or to ride a harmonic. Strings, guitars, music, life. It’s about being in tune.”

Murina looked at Mayer, thought about what he said, “But it’s hard to stay in tune when the weather is changing. Sometimes it’s cold, sometimes it’s so humid. The strings keep getting tighter and stretching and I’m not doing nothing.”

Mayer smiled. He knew they were not talking about guitars anymore. “I know little darling. I know. You just gotten keep tunin’ in and  listening to the music of your heart. Go slow enough to listen, fast enough to strum and keep tunin’.”

It’s kind of like the Taoist practice of the Way. If you are too hard-working in your practice, you will strain your mind and become too tense. However if you relax your mind too much, then you will be overwhelmed by laziness. You must strike a balance in your practice of the Way, you must strike a balance in your life. (From Treasures of the Heart, by Daisaku Ikeda) 

Work for social justice and human rights can be – it IS daunting. As we engage in that work, we too need to strike a balance, to find a way to keep in tune.

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