Nothing to gain and nothing to lose!


As tough as it was to leave the Big Apple behind, as much it also has freed me. I wrote in past blog post (you can go to the archive here) a lot about the ego. I spoke about how it is created and sustained  but also about how to let parts of the illusionary self go.

When I left the city I realised how much my self identity and New York City were tightly fused together. If, even only two years ago, somebody would have asked me if I would ever consider leaving the city, my answer would have been “never”.

Why would I leave? I had lived there for almost half my life and where should I go in the first place? Where do you go after living in New York City? To my ego self any other city would have been a huge step down.

Then things stared to shift, the main influence being the death of my father. Shortly after that I found myself back in Germany with two suitcases, just as I had left 17 years earlier. I was uprooted the second time in my life.

Who am I without the New York photographer story? Is a life without a story even worth living? How to get used to a different lifestyle and the much slower pace of life? Where is the excitement, the rush, the adventure? What is really important in life?

Then suddenly I saw the power of the situation. I had left my old life with all those big dreams in New York. Nobody even knew me in Berlin. I had freed myself of any becoming or losing. Now I had nothing to gain and nothing to lose any more.

This reminded me on a story I had read in the best book about creativity I know called "Free Play". I highly recommend it! It doesn't only inspire you to being creative as an artist but also  to be creative in life. 

This Japanese folks tale is from the books prologue. It moved me deeply when I read it:

A new flute was invented in China. A Japanese master musician discovered the subtle beauties of its tone and brought it back home, where he gave concerts all around the country. One evening he played with a community of musicians and music lovers who lived in a certain town. At the end of the concert, his name was called. He took out the new flute and played one piece. When he was finished, there was silence in the room for a long moment. Then the voice of the oldest man was heard from the back of the room: “Like a god!”

The next day, as this master was packing to leave, the musicians approached him and asked how long it would take a skilled player to learn the new flute. “Years,” he said. They asked if he would take a pupil, and agreed. After he left, they decided among themselves to send a young man, a brilliantly talented flautist, sensitive to beauty, diligent and trustworthy. They gave him money for his living expenses and for the master’s tuition, and sent him on his way to the capital, where the master lived.

The student arrived and was accepted by his teacher, who assigned him a single, simple tune. At first he received systematic instruction, but he easily mastered all the technical problems. Now he arrived for his daily lesson, sat down, and played his tune – and all the master could say was, “Something lacking.” The student exerted himself in every possible way; he practiced for endless hours; yet day after day, week after week, all the master said was, ” Something lacking.” He begged the master to change the tune, but the master said no. The daily playing, the daily “something lacking” continued for months on end. The student’s hope of success and fear of failure became ever magnified, and swung from agitation to despondency.

Finally the frustration became too much for him. One night he packed his bag and slinked out. He continued to live in the capital city for some time longer, until his money ran dry. He began drinking. Finally, impoverished, he drifted back to his own part of the country. Ashamed to show his face to former colleagues, he found a hut far out in the countryside. He still possessed his flutes, still played but found no new inspiration in music. Passing farmers heard him play and sent their children to him for beginner’s lessons. He lived this way for years.

One morning there was a knock at his door. It was the oldest past-master from his town, along with the youngest student. They told him that tonight they were going to have a concert, and they had all decided it would not take place without him. With some effort they overcame his feelings of fear and shame, and almost in a trance he picked up a flute and went with them. The concert began. As he waited behind the stage, no one intruded on his inner silence. Finally, at the end of the concert, his name was called. He stepped out onto the stage in his rags. He looked down at his hands, and realized that he had chosen the new flute.

Now he realized that he had nothing to gain and nothing to lose. He sat down and played the same tune he had played so many times for his teacher in the past. When he finished, there was silence for a long moment. Then the voice of the oldest man was heard, speaking softly from the back of the room: “Like a god!”

Magic is possible, but you have to be willing to let go. Nobody has come to one of my shoots or to one of my yoga classes and softly said “like a god!” But letting go of the pressure to achieve  and  the fear to lose something has made my life considerably lighter and more fun.