Only the artist can turn the ‘not yet’ into reality.
When the financial “squeeze” is on in a P-B society and budgets are being cut, the “heart” of the human community is often seen as expendable. The arts, sports and nature programs are cut from the school curriculum and similar programs in the general community also suffer loss of financial support; federal funding is also often reduced.
We call these “superfluous” programs the heart of a community because of the profound effect they have on the healthiest aspects of our identity as human beings.
Take our relationship with nature and the human insights and the profound healing effects that many of us have experienced spending time surrounded by the beauty of sand and sea, forest and steppe. If you are a student of religion you are probably aware that the central insight or epiphany of every religious tradition occurred in the wilderness.
But in this essay we are witness to the extraordinary transformational power of a young man’s inner wisdom and the inspiration provided by classical music, an all too undervalued aspect of modern human culture. We would not expect there to be a connection between the world of opera and the mean streets of America’s ghettos but there is as we shall see.
The point that we shall never tire of making is that an experience of beauty is transformational and can empower human communities and individuals in their heart-felt longing for a vivid and authentic experience of life. This principle is one of the central values of Simple Reality.
Now for our example! Enter Ryan Speedo Green (b. 1986). At the time of our New York Times article in 2011, he was age 25, six-foot-five, and 300 pounds. Ryan is African-American and grew up in low-income housing and a trailer park in southeastern Virginia. When he was 12, he threatened his mother and brother and spent time in juvenile detention. During high school his shack-like home was across the street from a drug-dealer’s headquarters. There were bullet holes above his mother’s bedroom window from stray gunfire.
What is the distance of the gap from the environment described above and the stage of the Metropolitan Opera? What are the odds that Ryan could make such a quantum leap? And by what means could such a radical paradigm shift occur? First, we know that Ryan, like all of us, is connected to the Implicate Order and therefore, has access to what we call his inner guidance system, his inner wisdom, although the likelihood that he would come under the influence or be receptive to that resource would seem remote.
Watch that connection in action. In elementary school Ryan remembers fighting and flipping over chairs when he did not get his way. He was placed in a special classroom for “the utterly unmanageable.”[i] His mother remembers his behavior. “But when something happened that he didn’t like, he had a problem with his anger.”[ii] Most of us at this point have a sense of the general direction Ryan was headed and there would have been little room for optimism.
Ryan’s story continues to get darker. As we illuded to previously, he threatened to knife his brother and mother to death when he was 12 and ended up, after a psychiatric evaluation, in a detention facility. He had hit bottom and as is predictable for all of us embarked on the archetypal “hero’s journey.” At this low point one of his “helpers” shows up. His former special classroom teacher, Mrs. Hughes, called him twice a week while he was in the detention facility and these calls gave him hope. He apparently began to get a handle on his anger. In the silence and solitude he found while “locked up,” he must have naturally discovered The Point of Power Practice within himself. He was learning the difference between reaction and response.
Back in mainstream classrooms by the seventh grade Ryan continued to respond to his True-self, the guidance of his intuition. His identity began to shift. “He was going to trade in his street slang. ‘I imitated people I thought sounded intelligent. I studied the speech of news people; I studied the characters on ‘ER.’”[iii]
With his Self-transformation well underway, his next intuitional insight is the importance of self-reliance. “Black kids mocked him saying, ‘I don’t speak white,’ and calling him an Oreo. But he kept on cutting his own path, continuing with his self-designed transformation.”[iv]
In junior high looking for an easy credit, Ryan took the advice of his football coach and enrolled in the school choir. His next “helper” was the choir teacher who convinces him to audition for the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk. Again, in Ryan’s search for truth and beauty, the odds of music being his path of Self-transformation seemed unlikely. “He felt badly out of place and out of his depth among kids who arrived with private preparation.”[v]
And now his first “helper” Mrs. Hughes, joined by her husband who happened to be the Governor’s executive director, returns to aid Ryan with his next task. She paid for him to join a class trip to the opera in New York City. Notice in his own description how the experience at the Met put Ryan in touch with his “feelings.”
“He saw ‘Carmen’ at the Met, and when the toreador sang his triumphal aria, Ryan was transfixed. Everyone was. ‘I don’t feel like I breathed for four minutes. I don’t even remember looking at the system with the words, but I knew he was singing a song full of masculinity and power, and after the ovation at the end of it—I’d never heard applause like that—I knew I wanted to have that power, that feeling [emphasis added] that regardless of the language, people were mesmerized.’”[vi] Walking out onto the plaza at Lincoln Center, light-years from his shack in Virginia, Ryan announced to his choral director, “I want to have that effect on people, I’m going to sing on that stage.”[vii]
Fast forward through many years of hard work and courageous choices we catch up with Ryan as he auditions on the very stage he vowed to occupy when he was in junior high. The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions had started five months earlier with more than 1,200 singers. What were the judges looking for in the eight finalists that included Ryan Speedo Green? “They scrutinized the pronunciation of German, French and Italian consonants and looked for the theatrical talent that is seen as increasingly crucial to opera’s survival and tried to glean decades of a singer’s future from a few minutes in the present.”[viii]
Miracle of miracles, Ryan was one of the five winners and after auditioning for James Levine, he was accepted into a program at the Met that could mean he would sing supporting roles in Met productions after a few more years of training. He has yet to reach his final goal of singing on the stage of the Met at Lincoln Center (as of 2011), but Ryan Green has already learned a lot about the quantum leap between P-B and P-A.
More importantly, he has experienced what it means to create one’s own reality. He continues to move toward Simple Reality, an attainment that transcends even singing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.
[i] Bergner, Daniel. “Sing For Your Life.” The New York Times Magazine. May 22. 2011, page 23.
[v] Ibid., page 24.
[vi] Ibid., page 25.
[viii] Ibid., page 22.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.