Sunday, April 17, 2011
After some enlightening and engaging presentations, lunch was served. I sat with Rory Dickson, a PhD candidate researching Sufism in the West. We then proceeded inside the hall, where Fred Penner would give his keynote address/performance. He sung our favourites, he played the jaw harp, he told stories, he chatted to the little ones sitting on the floor, and he shared something that we will never forget.
Over dinner the night before, Helen spoke of Rumi and Penner was so inspired by the conversation that he found a Rumi poem (translated by Coleman Barks) and composed music to it. He performed it for the first time at the conference. The lyrics posed a question that we were all seeking the answer to, "Who am I". The question is one we pose throughout our lives, and perhaps our answers change depending on our experiences. Artists ask the question often, coming up with new answers through literature, music, dance and visual art. Borges said it best in his Parable of the Palace, claiming the poet "shall never find, the word for the universe." And perhaps that is why we can never find one word for ourselves. We are everything and nothing, simultaneously. To have Fred Penner, who we sang along with as five, six and seven olds, remind us of this truth in our early adulthood, was just the assurance we needed.
After Penner's heartfelt performance, Helen and Laura gifted him with a tapestry depicting the Tree of Life. The roots firmly planted in the earth, the branches reaching for the sky- what greater gift could he receive, and what greater gift could he give? It was no coincidence.
I would perform less than an hour later, and was ready to share what I had learned and forgotten. Forgotten in the sense that in order to perform fully, you must forget every expectation you have of yourself and you must forget that *you* as an individual, exist. This was a rare occurrence for me, as I am a relentless perfectionist and have to consciously stop myself from thinking while I perform. But this, this was different. I was there, but not there. I felt as though the audience was inside of me, and I was speaking through them. There was no separation between us, and my words were in fact, my being. "I" as a physical entity, did not exist. It was as though I had entered a vortex where time had been suspended. Nothing existed but the words. The spotlight was so bright that I could only see darkness infront of me, but in that darkness, there were intricate patterns. I did not know what it meant, and I don't need to.
As I left the stage, emotion overwhelmed me. Helen hugged me and I broke down in tears.
These are the moments we live for, and the moments we stop living to simply exist.
My performance was followed by an enchanting performance by sitar maestro, Irshad Khan, who sang a Rumi poem in English while playing the sitar. It was the perfect trinity to the conference. We had all mentioned Rumi in our performance sets. It was as though he was speaking to us and through us. The dance of the dervish never ended and never began. It is the act of the earth revolving around the sun, as natural as breathing.
It is quite a challenge for a young writer like myself, trying to revive an ancient poetic form (old school, as we know it) in an industry where the literary darlings are city dwellers with a hipster aesthetic. I was trying to stay motivated and remember why I was doing what I was doing. The validation I was looking for was found in the colleagues and contemporaries I met at the WLU Interdisciplinary Arts Conference. They are the ones who came before me, who will come after me, and who I will, Inshallah, have the great privilege of collaborating with again. They reminded me of the fact that we are interconnected, that we are moving towards a world that craves unity, diversity, peace and true art. A world that is waking up to a new reality. We may be Greek, Mormon, Sufi, Hindu- We may be from Kenya, Nebraska, Kitchener or Winnipeg, but we are all striving to answer that unanswerable question. "WHO AM I?"
I am life in a circle
I am spinning and turning
with the music eternal
I have wings to fly
That's the answer to the question
Who am I
(sung by Fred Penner at the Wake Up Conference- Wilfred Laurier University, March 26th, 2011)