Nicolae Tanase: Mark, what is the meaning of life?
Mark Summer: Responding to the query “what is the meaning of life?” is an extremely thought provoking question. First of all, it can be debated as to whether life has any meaning at all, or just “is.” It seems to me that man ascribes meaning to something that can easily be seen as having no objective meaning at all. And we pull God into the equation to help us find that meaning. But ultimately as we grow older and begin to have the normal experiences that come with age and wisdom we are faced with answering this question.
For me, life’s meaning comes with cultivating consciousness. I think we are here on this earth to wake up to our true nature, something much greater and much more magnificent than we ordinarily experience in our day to day living. By becoming more conscious, we expand our awareness and are able to better understand our place in the cosmos. We live in a world not just of other sentient beings, but a vast playground of water, trees, rocks and animals from which to work with our own minds. I am a Shambhala Buddhist practitioner doing practices as originally taught by the Tibetan teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. By practicing meditation and working with my mind, training in coming back to the present moment, I begin to understand that the present moment is really all we have to work with. Walking on the spiritual path allows for the discovery of the meaning of life. It is only in this present moment that growth can be cultivated, and that wisdom can arise.
Music and the other artistic disciplines are the vehicles that artists use to develop this wisdom and awareness and it’s the artists who have shown a steady progression of this growth that I look to for inspiration. Musicians and composers like The Beatles, John Coltrane, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Yo-Yo Ma, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms among others are my teachers in the musical quest to find meaning in life.
This lifetime is over in the blink of an eye. For me, the study of meditation, music, composition both in words and music is the path of self-knowledge. And without knowing myself, how can I possibly know the meaning of life?
~Mark Summer, Cellist
Widely regarded as one of the outstanding cellists of our time, Mark Summer is known worldwide for his groundbreaking percussion and pizzicato techniques combined with virtuosic bowed jazz, classical and crossover playing. Mark is a co-founder of the two-time Grammy®-winning Turtle Island Quartet, and was the quartet’s cellist for 30 years.
He has been the subject of feature articles in Strings and Bass Player magazines, and has published numerous pieces for solo cello; his best known and beloved “Julie-O,” has been performed by cellists all over the world, and was featured in a recent Apple Watch commercial as well as on two episodes of NBC‘s “Parenthood.”
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