Monday, December 23, 2013

The Lessons from the Dark

Season's greetings and MERRY AXEMAS, comrades! 
 HEY - have you heard the holiday EP this year?  Grab a free download over at

Wow, what a fun year 2013 has been.     It's been so rockin' to fight bad music with the Guitarmy, and I hope the holiday season is joyous and full of light for you.

For many, however, it won't be.

  It's a complex time of year.  As you may know, I've been working on something to bring some light into this time.  I call it the Kindness Exchange, and I've learned many things since launching it in November.  As the rain falls down here twenty minutes south of Washington DC, and the cars jockey for position in a long line of hope, stress, and headlights, honking at each other on the street outside my studio, I'd like to share one of those insights.First, the beginning.  The Kindness Exchange is a project inviting people to post their kind deeds online using the hashtag #KindnessExchange, rendering their post visible to a search.  I'm printing out the acts on little pieces of paper, and putting them on a lit "kindness tree" in my front yard - a literal beacon in the darkness.  It's been just over a month into the project, and the results have been phenomenal.  Accounts are arriving from all over, and people seem to be pondering kindness more, and examining it's place in our daily lives.  (Feel free to join in the fun, too!)  The Facebook group is full of kind, dedicated people who are consistently out there doing good in the world, and Twitter and Instagram keep getting word of good news.
I've been traveling around, playing music in places like hospitals, on the street, in nursing homes, homeless centers, and the like.  The place where I've been filled with the most Christmas spirit is when patients in the psychiatric ward at a veteran's hospital started spontaneously singing carols.
There has been much laughter, joy, and meaningful stories.  However, even the most well-intentioned and enthusiastic projects are prone to doubt when the sun has set and the temperature drops.  Driving home one night recently, I noticed how dark the night seemed to be.  A mile ahead, the traffic lights beamed out mixed signals through the blackness as my car trundled like a tired moth to the illumination.  I wondered if the whole idea of a kindness project was absurd.  After all, the world is a big place, and it's filled with much darkness.  Is an effort of light just trying to write a fairytale of denial with the ink of naivety?  After all, the world does seem to be hell bent on it's own destruction.  Can little actions ever make a difference in the face of such injustice?

When I turned 20, as silly as it sounds, I was shocked to realize that adults don't have it "figured out."  My grandfather died when I was 22, and I was stunned to realize that a happy end to life isn't a guarantee.  At 27, standing in the Times Square Subway station playing Texas Blues on my guitar, the neutrality of the world struck me.  So - this is it.  No epic music, just the clanging and wooshing of the trains on the platform below, and the footfalls of a thousand hurried souls.  Nothing more, nothing less...just - now.  

Back in the night, and back to the present, driving and staring at the lights in the darkness...I started thinking about how the world got the state that it's in, and how we keep it so.  of My mother has told me often that "Life is Choices", and I think those are some of the wisest words I've ever heard.  I had been angry about something all day, and how one deals with anger is a choice.  Simmering along at 50 miles per hour, I met the piercing gaze of the traffic lights in the distance with an equal intensity. The easy choice was running through my head in delightfully witty and vengeful combinations, but the right choice was in the silence and the solitude.

Then the insight showed up in a flash!  (Hey, who knows if it's right or not, but take it as you will.)

If life really is choices, perhaps the darkness is just a swarm of poor choices.  Not only that, when we see the utter blackness, we're seeing that we have the freedom to choose, and although the choices that led to the situation have been bad, the depth of the moment means we're operating with a full dynamic range, and live in a world where supreme light and height is possible.  A sharp knife can kill - or feed the masses with skill and dedication as it prepares a meal for the world.  The cut is the result of the choice,  the sharpness the power and the freedom. The powerful car can get wrapped around a tree, or cruise into the sunset, while a dull twig does little, good or bad.    I had never thought of the darkness as the illustration for the possibility of light, and an indicator of the breadth of the canvas upon which we may paint.
People of high achievement stand on a pillar of accomplishment - which, in turn, stands on a mountain of - most exciting to think of -  little choices.  "Today, I will work hard.  Today, I will practice."

"Today, I will be kind."

If the world is a sum of our daily choices, not only do the little things count, but they're the only things that count.  If life is a castle built entirely of little tiny blocks - I'm going to do my very best to use the right ones.
The lights turned green, and I made it home safely.
So, as the rain falls, and you turn to face what may be a picture perfect holiday...or not... I wish you not only peace, but metaphorically speaking, mindfulness of the canvas, and the most brilliant red and green paints on your palette - unless, of course, you should take this literally if you're an artist.

But then again, aren't we all?

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and best wishes for a rockin' New Year.
- Josh 

Copyright 2013 Josh Urban