Pandit Ravi Shankar 2012

We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have, our doubt is our passion, and passion is our task— the rest is the madness of art.-—Henry James

Most people are so busy knocking themselves out trying to do everything they think they should do, they never get around to do what they want to do.-—Kathleen Winsor

The familiar, high pitched voice welcomed the audience in his clipped Indian/English accent with self-effacing humility about how we may not recognize him now with his long white beard. At 91, he was thin and walked with a cane and assistance, but once seated in the familiar cross-legged posture with his hands wrapped around the sitar, he exuded passion and energy with skill undiminished by time. Then, weaving his spell with his sitar and the familiar sounding but unknown to this listener, ragas of India, the crowd of thousands instantly became still and silent.

A combination of concert, spiritual pilgrimage, and reunion of the tribe, the recital at Disney Hall in Los Angeles, seemed to be a miracle. Twice postponed, it stretched the mind that this unlikely musical avatar of the Sixties still played concerts. And played very well.

George Harrison studying sitar with Ravi

He and his ensemble sat on carpets that we magically rode to a place that crossed the veil into the timeless, the eternal, and the unity of life. In the Sixties, he opened a door to his world and with the support of his since passed friend, George Harrison, helped a generation to discover world music. Never compromising in his fealty for authentic, classical Indian music, he enthralled us with his devotion and humor. On the Concert for Bangladesh album, the crowd applauds early on and he says “I hope you enjoy the concert as much as you did the tuning.”

During this concert I kept having flashbacks to 1967 and his concert at the Hollywood Bowl that I attended as a teenager.  At that concert, patchouli incense and cannabis sweetened the air and the transcendent mood. At the new Disney Hall in downtown L.A. (minus the fragrances and supported by an ensemble half his age), Raviji was just as vital and relevant as then.

Ravi Shankar became more than a musician. That performance was more analogous to a saint or guru, but with no schtick (no hugs, no workshops, no obtuse philosophy), just his music. His depth of commitment to his art transcended the music. It exemplified the message of gurus, peace, harmony, and presence. He attracted an eclectic crowd with ample measures of old and young yogis in Indian prints, traditional dress suits and heels, and multi- generational Indian families dressed in saris and kurtas.

Ravi’s daughters: Anoushkar & Norah Jones

Ravi’s music attracts individuals who step beyond the mainstream and into one of the rich tributaries of world culture. Stronger than his music was Ravi’s powerful passion. Undimmed by age and now seasoned by 75 years of performing, the music explored the etheric realms. His joy was infectious as he egged his musicians and the audience to new heights. He clearly lived to share his music and that passion taught much about a life well lived. His silent gift was his devotion to craft and art.

Seeing, hearing, and experiencing Ravi Shankar reminded me of sharing one’s gift. It propels me now that I am in the last third of life, to uncover and then pursue an interest until it becomes a passion. A passion can become one’s life purpose and as in the case of Raviji, his passion was a benediction for the world. Overtly, Shankar played music but the covert gift is the experience of harmony, self-expression, peace, and unity.

A career counselor, Richard Leider, surveyed older adults to find out what makes them happy. He discovered that the prime factor is a sense of purpose and service in their lives. But many don’t know how they can contribute. Uncovering and pursuing gifts and interests later in life can be our service and legacy. A talent not developed may deprive others of a rich legacy. But even more problematic, we maybe denying ourselves of the fulfillment that comes from living with passion at 91 or 81 or 61.

I strive to drill down, discover, practice, and give away my gifts. Then, like Ravi Shankar, perhaps I’ll receive the boon of a life well-lived.

Inner Journey:

Dive into your memory to recall a former passion that you gave up many years ago. Did you get bored of it or did you quit in frustration or some other reason?

Action Steps:

If you were stumped on the above questions, try this for a few days: Before falling asleep, ask your unconscious to reveal a hidden passion.  Do it, and give it a fair chance, no less than ten weeks of regular practice or experience.


[Ed.s’ Note:  This, like other essays found in RW Klarin’s memoir/ self-help book—Living the Dream Deferred (2015)

brings many of us back to a time that is too interesting to forget.  I’m adding to this piece the advert for the 1967 concert RW mentions… it’s in our Musical Notes section.  Before going, consider doing  the Inner Journey and Action Steps.  They are like the books’ format and can help move you forward on your own mission. Or maybe you’ll want to do them as you listen to Ravi play at our LAFPMusic FB Page.]