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Looking For Space – A Song About Learning The Tao

January 4, 2011

Over the past few years, I’ve discovered a variety of musical pieces and collections of music that are loosely aimed at Taoists. I say “loosely” because almost all of these artistic endeavors seem to embrace two similarities:

  1. They are solely instrumental works (having no lyrics), and:
  2. They are ‘catch-all Asian meditative tunes’ that tend to encompass the relaxation aspect of any form of ancient Oriental philosophy that embraces peace and tranquility, such as Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and so on.

I’ll be addressing my disagreement with the second similarity in greater depth in another journal entry entitled “The Myths of Inner Peace,” so for the moment, let’s just say that not everything about Taoism and Taoist thought is ‘peaceful’ and ‘meditative’ and therefore the music shouldn’t be limited to such either.

Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not suggesting that the Black-Eyed Peas or Lady Gaga should be writing and performing Taoist songs. However, I also don’t believe that Taoist musical selections should be limited to pan pipes, acoustic guitars, and soft-toned techno-rhythms. There are songs that have been recorded that – intentionally or not (mostly not) – have a decidedly-Taoist aspect to them in their lyrics. From time-to-time, I’m going to examine these songs and share them here, beginning with this blog post.

My first music selection for consideration is John Denver’s 1976 release “Looking For Space” from the album Windsong. Denver described the song to Billboard magazine as follows: “It’s about looking for the definition of who you are, by finding out where you are, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.” Though I could find nothing in my research about the artist having anything to do with Taoism, even his description of the song carries heavy overtones of the learning the philosophy of Tao.

I don’t necessarily see this song as being representative of ‘living the Tao’ so much as I see it as an excellent piece about learning the Tao, especially considering the world we live in today. I’ll post the lyrics in their entirety first, then break them down and explain how I see them afterward. The chorus will be in bold print to remove redundancy.

If you’d like to listen to the song while reading, click HERE.

Looking For Space

On the road of experience and trying to find my own way,

Sometimes I wish that I could fly away.

When I think that I’m moving, suddenly things stand still,

And I’m afraid ’cause I think they always will.

And I’m looking for space,

And to find out who I am,

And I’m looking to know and understand.

It’s a sweet, sweet dream;

Sometimes I’m almost there.

Sometimes I fly like an eagle,

And sometimes I’m deep in despair.

All alone in the universe, sometimes that’s how it seems,

I get lost in the sadness and the screams.

Then I look in the center, suddenly everything’s clear,

I find myself in the sunshine and my dreams.

And I’m looking for space,

And to find out who I am,

And I’m looking to know and understand.

It’s a sweet, sweet dream;

Sometimes I’m almost there.

Sometimes I fly like an eagle,

And sometimes I’m deep in despair.

On the road of experience, join in the living day.

If there’s an answer, it’s just that it’s just that way.

When you’re looking for space,

And to find out who you are;

When you’re looking to try and reach the stars.

It’s a sweet, sweet, sweet dream;

Sometimes I’m almost there.

Sometimes I fly like an eagle,

And sometimes I’m deep in despair.

Sometimes I fly like an eagle

Like an eagle… I go flying…

High…

Free.

I do believe that this song is an exceptional piece for the modern person that wants to learn more about the Tao and inner peace. Now I’ll explain why:

On the road of experience and trying to find my own way,

Sometimes I wish that I could fly away.

When I think that I’m moving, suddenly things stand still,

And I’m afraid ’cause I think they always will.

 I know this sentiment all-too-well and have heard so many people express this outlook on life far too often. When we look at the world around us and our lives, it’s very easy to get emotionally wrapped-up in everything and just want to ‘escape’ from the turmoil that surrounds us. Life is a chaotic series of cycles and humans are, by conditioning, creatures of habit that tend to make and repeat the cycles of their lives. Not only do many people believe that they want to ‘fly away,’ but they also believe that things will never change or improve. The Taoist knows better of this, and recognizes that some changes in life must be made by one’s self by first accepting that he or she is the reason the changes have not yet occurred on their own.

All alone in the universe, sometimes that’s how it seems,

I get lost in the sadness and the screams.

Then I look in the center, suddenly everything’s clear,

I find myself in the sunshine and my dreams.

 Being emotionally-bound to one’s circumstances can make it exceptionally difficult to see things objectively. We are conditioned to recognize the negative aspects of our existence and dwell on them as reasons for us to not be happy (there are literally hundreds of industries that profit from human miseries). We are taught to believe that we should act in certain ways, have certain things in our lives, maintain ourselves to appear within prescribed boundaries, and fit various molds. Looking impartially at what is expected of us, it can become obvious that most of the social standards we are expected to conform to actually have no real value other than compliance with another’s principles and a fabricated need to ‘fit in.’ Knowing that we are all unique individuals should be the first reminder that social standards cannot be unilaterally applied. Taking a brief step back from the social circus and remembering that happiness and contentment come from within, we can achieve these things in any circumstances.

 On the road of experience, join in the living day.

If there’s an answer, it’s just that it’s just that way.

 Mr. Denver does an excellent job in summarizing what we should be doing and offering explanation as to why life isn’t always so kind to us. We should be living every moment of every day rather than wasting our days worrying about what we don’t have. Life has so much to offer to those that choose to be completely present in the moment and see what is happening around them. Of course life isn’t always going to give us what we want, but that’s just life being life. People and the entirety of the universe are just too chaotic for any one of us to reasonably expect that everything will go exactly as we’d hoped with any kind of regularity. Misfortune is a condition of existence for any person that has been taught to see a difference between good and bad. The instant that a person identifies something as favorable or beneficial, they have immediately assured that misfortune will find them because it is unreasonable to assume that a beneficial thing will always be present and accessible. A wise person accepts misfortune with benefit because they understand that in order for one to exist, its opposite must also exist.

 Chorus:

And I’m looking for space,

And to find out who I am,

And I’m looking to know and understand.

It’s a sweet, sweet dream;

Sometimes I’m almost there.

Sometimes I fly like an eagle,

And sometimes I’m deep in despair.

 In learning the Tao, we are first-and-foremost learning ourselves. To live in harmony with life requires that we know ourselves well-enough to be changeable to our environments and circumstances. For the purposes of this interpretation, ‘looking for space’ means that we are looking for the opportunity to step back from the chaotic world around us and take the time to look inward at ourselves. Whether it’s a ‘moment of reflection’ or ‘meditation’ or ‘self-examination’ (call it what you like), to better exist in the world and learn the Tao, we need to take the time to understand ourselves first. The polarity of our existences – good and bad, right and wrong, fat and thin, ugly and pretty, etc. – places us in a position of constant emotional back-and-forth. At the very core of learning to accept other things as they are in life is the essential step of genuine self-acceptance.

Learning the Tao is a lifelong process, a journey, and the Taoist knows that there is never a destination but points where we pause. In learning the Tao, we never really “arrive” at any place in body, mind, or spirit – it’s the persistent travelling through life and existence in harmony with all things.

It’s a sweet, sweet dream, and sometimes we’re almost there.

————————————————————————————–

NOTE: I hold the highest regard for proprietary rights and copyrights. If you have enjoyed the song, I urge you to purchase the music legally to ensure that the appropriate parties receive their royalty entitlements.

The digital download of this song is available for just $0.99 from Amazon by clicking the link below.

PURCHASE “LOOKING FOR SPACE” BY JOHN DENVER FROM AMAZON.COM

Additional Note: The link provided is a “free link,” meaning that the author of this blog receives no payment whatsoever from your purchase of the song.

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