ALL or NOTHING

I am often asked why I chose the title of this album to be ALL or NOTHING. Because it’s something that means a lot to me, and because I often wish I could say more when condensing my verbal answer into a couple of sentences, I have decided to write a little about it here, on my blog. I hope it becomes an ongoing discussion among any who are interested in this dialogue. So please feel free to write your own comments here about what ALL or NOTHING means to you, or a comment in response to what anyone else here has said…or write just whatever comes to mind. Your participation is welcomed!

ALL or NOTHING refers to the resolve that is required in order to know life’s true potential. ALL or NOTHING is about complete commitment to one’s truest voice, regardless of the risks or the consequences. It means to be willing to face whatever appears without any hope of avoiding it; it means to turn toward whatever is uncomfortable, rather than away from it; it means to let go of whatever is being held onto, and to leap into the unknown.

Conventional wisdom is defensive; it advocates never placing all our eggs in one basket, and this may be a useful strategy for practical matters. But true wisdom knows no strategy. True wisdom moves us to place all of our eggs in one basket in a heartbeat. It knows only what it is called to do, regardless of what may be ‘right’, ‘good’ or ‘sensible’.

What keeps us from accessing this wisdom is our strategies of running from or reacting to what appears. The primary choice we are faced with at any moment is between, on the one hand, avoiding whatever is unknown by following what is instead perceived as safe, comfortable, and defined; and, on the other hand, giving up our usual avoidance, and saying Yes to the unknown. The most critical turning points occur when this choice is taken to the extreme: when being true to ourselves requires us to put it all on the line, and the choice is one of ALL or NOTHING.

This creates an opportunity to allow life to become an exploration; an unfolding; a process of discovery. Instead of living defensively, there can be an openness to what life presents. We can allow ourselves to be touched by it, rather than insisting on protecting ourselves from it. Then, its true potential begins to become evident.

ALL or NOTHING might ring true about something particular happening in our lives – it may mean a determination to see an undertaking through until its conclusion, no matter what the obstacles, simply because you know you must. It may mean telling the truth to a person or a group of people under the most uncomfortable circumstances, regardless of the expected messy consequences, simply because, for you, it is the truth. It may mean being willing to expose yourself, without putting an ounce of energy into the strategies of hiding or protection, and to show yourself as who you are right now, without apology. All of it involves a willingness to meet the challenges of one’s own internal space of emotions and identity, and to look directly at whatever is revealed in this ongoing exploration.

No one can say what will be revealed, or where this embrace of the unknown will lead – only that where it leads will no longer be the result of a life driven by fear and a sense of lack or incompleteness. When this commitment to the core of who we are brings us face to face with all that we would rather avoid, it’s ALL or NOTHING. It’s an opportunity to commit so fully to what moves one most strongly, that in that commitment all that has been held onto – all our need to control, our need to know the outcome, our clinging to our identities – is dropped. In these situations, anything less than an absolute Yes, is simply a No. We can justify a decision to say No, to turn away and never know what lies on the other side. Or we can say Yes to what is moving us, and without any hope of escape, without any safety line, without looking back over our shoulders, walk right into the unknown. The choice is ours.

Ultimately, one’s entire life can become a total commitment to what is moving a person; an extended, resounding, ‘Yes’ to life and to all its challenges and discoveries. In letting go of our requirements for what we think we need to be free; in loosening our grip on the conditions that we think will finally give us happiness; we can give our ALL to life, right now, without further procrastination, and know that this freedom of saying Yes to life is a choice that is available at any moment.

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7 Responses to ALL or NOTHING

  1. Zoe says:

    I wanted to add another quote from the Prophet that Matt’s post reminded me of…

    “You can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and fulfillment.

    You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief, but rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.”

    I couldn’t say what ALL or NOTHING means to me any better than this.

    -Zoe

  2. Dawn L. says:

    Hi Simon – I’m love your album, and have finally been inspired to post to your blog. I’ve been thinking for a while about what you’ve written here and the piece I wanted to add has to do with why “Dying Daily” really resonates for me.

    The challenge for me is how continual the kind of choice you speak of here can be. In my life, just as I feel I’ve jumped into the unknown – that I’ve experienced falling, have enjoyed letting go – that’s often when I suddenly find myself back on a known road, a comfortable, familiar place I thought I’d already moved away from. I don’t necessarily know how I ended up back there, and it can be so surprising and so disconcerting, I don’t always know what to see, or where to go from there. It can be seductive in it’s known-ness. The risk is that I’ll believe I’m supposed to stay there, that I’ve ended up back there because it is where I am meant to be; rather than confronting my fears, once again, looking back at myself, finding the next precipice.

    So we can’t just fall once, stop strategizing once, let go once. We have to keep coming back to our choice, as you put it, to say yes to life, in each moment. The unknown doesn’t get known, it doesn’t lead us to security, safety, or feeling comfortable. Familiar fears can come up again and again – we find ourselves protecting, strategizing, trying to hold on again.. but each time there could be something new to learn, something else to open ourselves too. But gently and generously. I often find it hard when old fears or feelings come back up to be kind to myself when I confront them, and I think that is also key. One of my favorite quotes from Ticht Nan Han is “Hello my little fear, it is nice to see you, what have you to teach me?”

    I hope people keep posting! So interesting to hear other’s perspectives….

  3. Matt says:

    Roberto, I think that’s a perfect example of what’s being talked about. Authenticity always carries risks. School – what a crazy place that was! Long time ago for me.

    Picking up on the poetry theme (nice work Mia and Michael), a perspective on all that we avoid in the name of staying comfortable:

    From The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran.

    …Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?

    Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.
    Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.
    It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh.
    It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.
    Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.

  4. roberto says:

    hmmm…what do i avoid? many things probably! i think i would rather stay safe than take a huge risk. but there’s probably some truth to that saying “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. its amazing how difficult it is to really be myself at school, or even with people who know me well…could that be what you were saying about telling the truth, even when there are risks? is being scared to be me avoiding something, like you were saying?

  5. Lindsey says:

    Simon you are so cool!!!

    I love your music and I just read this post and it really shows how much more there is behind what you are saying in your songs. I think you are so right on that there really is a choice between all or nothing for all of us and what more is there? I think I’ve always felt this way but could never have put it into words like you do… I want to give my ALL to life! 🙂

    Love & Peace, Lindsey

  6. yes and yes. I have used Rich’s poem for a number of years as the very first page of my Syllabus when teaching — seeking a similar consciousness, but I never quite thought of it as a means of saying a kind of all or nothing “yes” to the choices we are daily presented with. The academic life is so filled with nit-picking qualifications. I like the clarity of casting it in the light of all or nothing.

    Also thinking of a quotation attributed to Goethe
    which my own experiences have validated over and over:

    “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), but the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too and all manner of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.”

    and then again, I might speak for a shadow side
    of the notion as well (or amybe, better put, the reverse side of the same coin — but one that is left wanting without both sides, perhaps?

    A Blessing for Saying “No”

    Blessed be the light that shines in
    saying “no,”
    the courage of self
    singing its claim into the world.

    …Michael S. Glaser

  7. Mia says:

    This is beautiful Simon, thanks for sharing it! I thought you might appreciate this poem, by Adrienne Rich – I think she touches on this same choice. One that exposes us to ourselves, and one we each have to make for ourselves.

    Prospective Immigrants, please note:

    Either you will go through this door
    or you will not go through.

    If you go through,
    there is always the risk
    of remembering your name.

    Things look at you doubly
    and you must look back
    and let them happen.

    If you do not go through,
    it is possible to live worthily,
    to maintain your attitudes,
    to hold your position,
    to die bravely.

    But much will blind you,
    much will evade you,
    at what cost, who knows?

    The door itself makes no promises
    it is only a door.

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