Is the secret to a good life to be found in achieving the
ideal balance between control and surrender at any given moment?
Gentle reader: How much do you allow the element of
randomness into your life? How much of your own life is about taking and maintaining
control? How often do you permit yourself to let go? What’s the worst that
I’ve always been a great believer in the power of the
universe to provide. This blog is a very minor case in point. I never have a
plan for what I want to write here. I wait until inspiration occurs.
Inspiration always arrives in the most random of moments and from the most
unexpected of sources. It can be a long time between posts. But if inspiration
doesn’t arrive sooner, it will always arrive later.*
In a very small way, such trust in the inevitability of
inspiration is a kind of surrender.
the right place to be at any moment in your life
Every moment of our lives finds us at some point between control
and surrender. I happened across this compelling idea the other day, in an
extended Quietus interview with Brian Eno**
– specifically in a passage in which he considers why gospel music
speaks to him so. For Eno, gospel is about joyous surrender to a higher power (even
if – as is the case for Eno – you’ve no belief in said higher power). It’s about letting go:
“Humans are good at two things: we’re good at controlling –
we know that because of all our technologies and our ability to take over the
world and fuck it up – but we’re also good at letting ourselves go and being
carried along with things.”
He argues that surrendering, permitting a kind of randomness into your life, is a sensitive, intuitive and trusting response to what’s
around you, to what’s beyond you:
“You have to stop trying to push the control button all the
time. Ideally, what you’re doing on the axis between control and surrender is
you’re finding the right place to be at any moment in your life. Sometimes you
can take control, sometimes you can do precisely what you wanted to do without
interference. There are lots of times in your life where that isn’t going to be
possible so you have to have another strategy and that involves some kind of
Strategies for surrender are what Eno’s approach to art and
music has always been about. Cursed or blessed with a short attention span, Eno
spends his life coming up with new ways to make things interesting. This involves embracing randomness, accident and surrender. I always think that Talking Heads’ The Great Curve – produced by Eno – is a good example of this. With three different choruses sung simultaneously, it should be unlistenable chaos. But it isn’t. The elements combine into something extraordinary, trance-inducing and joyous:
“Finding things by accident is really difficult,” says Eno.
elsewhere in the Quietus piece. The easy and near universal digital availability of
music ironically makes the truly random discovery of that tune that could change your way
of thinking or even change your whole life that much harder. But it can still happen.
Eno shares a delightful story
of recently hearing an unfamiliar piece of music drifting out from a North London kebab
shop. So taken was he by the “erotic wobble” of the singer’s voice*** that he investigated
further. Learning from the kebab shop owner that this magical piece was from an
unmarked CD containing thousands of unnamed music mp3 files, he persisted in
his quest, eventually managing to haggle the kebab shop owner into parting with
“Can I buy the record from you?“ He didn’t want to
sell it, you see, because it was the only music they had in the shop. So I gave
him £55 for it. He saw a sucker [laughs].”
A sucker? Or a small price to pay for the joy of random discovery and of surrender to what the
How can you permit randomness into your own life today?
What’s stopping you from letting go?
In the spirit of embracing randomness, the image at the top of this page is from a tweet via @oneperfectshot that appeared in my Twitter timeline while I was blogging away. It’s from Wong Kar-Wei’s very controlled and very beautiful film In The Mood For Love. The universe will always provide.
* I must own that I borrowed this formulation from Martin
Amis’ brutally accurate view on mortality: “If life doesn’t get you sooner, it
will always get you later.”
** I’ve blogged about Eno probably far too many times
before (most recently here).
I could easily dedicate my every post to Eno – a gent whose most casual and
offhand thoughts are more profound than any I could ever hope to think.
*** Perhaps illustrating Eno’s point about music now being too easy to get hold of, it was simplicity itself to find the selfsame song for which he’d had to haggle with our kebab shop proprietor friend. Was it too simple for me to find this piece, or is it a miracle of the modern age? Gentle reader: you decide.