Leonard Cohen and Me

June 1, 2009 Leave a comment

I was one of the lucky Bostonians to see Leonard Cohen (famed poet, folksinger and Zen monk) perform to a sold-out Wang Center audience this weekend. He is seventy five years old and noted that the last time he was in Boston was fifteen years ago when he was sixty and just “a kid with a dream”.

There was a tremendous sense of the sacred in his performance, from the way in which he interacted with his back up singers and his band to the care and honor that he showed to the audience. In a New York Times article Cohen was quoted as saying: “There’s a similarity in the quality of the daily life on the road and in the monastery. There’s just a sense of purpose in which a lot of extraneous material is naturally and necessarily discarded, and what is left is a rigorous and severe routine in which the capacity to focus becomes much easier.

And it was that sense of purpose and level of focus that was experienced in the concert hall and that monastics have been modeling through the ages: get rid of the extraneous; focus on the moment like a laser beam and you will be fully alive…hmmmmm…must try that…again and again and again!

After the concert, I was prompted to go back to a Shambala Sun interview with Leonard Cohen that I read and that has stayed with me, it is about love and a very Zen understanding of life.

In fact, Mr. Cohen appears to see performance and prayer as aspects of the same larger divine enterprise. That may not be surprising, coming from an artist whose best-known songs mingle sacred concerns with the secular and the sexual and sound like “collaborations between Jacques Brel and Thomas Merton,” as the novelist Pico Iyer put it.

One of Cohen’s most quoted verses captures it all:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

How do we apply THAT to Social Change?

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  • Curtis says:

    Beautiful, and how apt given today’s event! It seems to me that the crack is the precise opening and moment to focus, to breath, and become present. Much like Em’s breathing today during the birth, during the particularly painful contractions. As she put it, everything else fell away and she gave herself over to the pain and the fullness of the experience, which was by turns excruciating and beautiful. What if we all embraced life like that, rather than practice avoidance? What if change agents fully accepted the imperfection of their offerings/efforts? What might we birth?

  • Linda says:

    Great post! I’m reminded as well of Pema Chodron’s talks describing that it’s in the cracks in the sidewalk that things grow. And I was curious about your use of the word “sacred” in describing his practice. Would love to know more!

  • Charlie says:

    Love the post. Love the message. Our ‘cracks’ are what make us individuals. Ummm, I could have worded that better – sorry – but (oops) I think you know what I mean.

  • Gibran says:

    This trip to Brazil is the manifestation of so many intentions come together, I am joyful here, this is my work and my purpose, it is a gift from my Guru and as I read your message I remember (though it seems so far away) that it was a HUGE crack in my heart that made all this Grace possible!

  • Santiago says:

    That line of lyric of his seems to be on point. It couples with the notion that there are no absolutes…but then again, there must be some things that are constant…right? One might say God, another might say gravity, another might say both. It’s one of those questions that could make you go round and round.

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