A musical play, The Quest, composed and directed by the extraordinary Kenneth Johnson ( ) in which I have a small part , June 5 and 6th at the Pender Harbour Music Centre, has me thinking about the different interrelationships among personal quest, creative search, and asking the right questions. We know, if only from Disney movies like THE SORCERER”S APPRENTICE and kids’ books, the importance for the magician of getting the spell exactly right. Magic will not happen if the words are only kind’a right or sort’a special. That won’t cut it. Like the difference between real poetry and “flowery” phrases. In spiritual quest, as the play shows us, we have to be able to express what we want precisely, there in song, or in everyday life using whatever means we have.

Is it "Om Mani Padme Hum" or is it Mani um Pad um?

Is it “Om Mani Padme Hum” or is it Mani um Pad um?

In creative search, asking questions is also crucial. One of the reasons we have to rewrite a manuscript or re-do a painting is that we’ve been following only the vaguest of clues left by our subconscious. And it’s in the midst of creating that the real story emerges, prompted by a direct question. Maybe a question about character. Why does X not leave his home earlier? And we realize that the answer is connected to his hidden motivation, which itself is waiting for a “trigger” to appear on the scene. In Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”, the narrator, a lawyer, tells us about Bartleby the law clerk, who one day stops working, simply responding with “I prefer not to” whenever he is questioned. Bartleby stares at a wall until he is carted off to jail. We never learn why Bartleby suddenly begins acting the way he does. But the real mystery, I believe, is how the appearance of Bartleby is a trigger in the lawyer’s own life, which is forced for a time out of complacency and smugness. The lawyer never “gets it”, but he is brought at the end to a consideration of human helplessness in front of the Universe.

In our own work, we ask what we have to do to bring our work to fruition. But that is only a preliminary question and even its answers are just preliminary. It’s only when the real question of the work comes to us, maybe like a seizure in the middle of the night or maybe like the delicate descent of butterfly that we realize we can now begin.

Be Sociable, Share!
Skip to toolbar