“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
Jalāl ad-Dīn Mohammad Rūmī, 1207-1273
Several years ago, I stumbled across this quote by 13th century Sufi mystic, Rumi, and thus began my fascination with his clear, yet profound and remarkably current, wisdom on the human experience. I remember sharing this particular quote with one of my choirs, and referring back to it throughout the year, though I don’t recall the piece or the context. It didn’t matter, really, because like any Rumi words that draw me in, there seems to be wide application to all areas of our life.
Conductors are not usually seen as “acting small,” given our public persona and responsibility of leadership. Yet, we do act small when we follow the path of others instead of our own; when we are afraid to make our unique form of art or to share our voice. These actions can be seen as necessary or even self-protective but in the end, the energy wasted by not being fully ourselves can be depleting—physically, mentally, and at a soul level.
The universe is a big place, full of possibilities, percolating with energy and ideas yet to be manifested. Ecstatic, I think, because of the freedom that comes from motion—growth, exploration of ideas, changes of approaches, and opportunities to recalibrate and maybe somewhere in there, to gain insight into our personal narrative.
“Start a huge, foolish project, like Noah . . . it makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.”
I think the “huge, foolish project,” more than anything, is the project of our story. Are we still following the expectations of others, believing there is a cookie-cutter choral director model we must fit into? It doesn’t matter if you are 28 or 68, you might still be unknowingly following the path of others and wondering why you feel unfulfilled, though music and people are still your passion. Are you giving into the “oh, well, that’s just how it is” or “I’m too young/too old” or “I’m not as accomplished as . . . ” or “I’m just at this small school” (or “lost in this huge school”)? What is the story you are telling yourself . . . and do you realize you have agency to redirect it towards its original source?
At this point in the academic year or concert season, our energy is low, particularly this year. That’s OK. We can take time to pause, to rest, to play, all so needed right now. But then, let us allow the motion of the universe within to remind us of the largeness of our spirit and the ecstasy that comes from being only, and wholly, ourselves.
“But don’t be satisfied with stories,
How things have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth,
Without complicated explanation,
So everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you.”
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) with training in yoga history, philosophy, meditation, energetics, pranayama (breath work), anatomy, Sanskrit, and the teaching, sequencing, and adaptations of asana (posture-based) practice. Reach her at:
“55 Great Rumi Quotes to Give You a More Positive Outlook on Life,” Flavia Medrut
And a book search will lead you to several collections of Rumi’s poetry and wisdom!