What I learned from Du

Our special guest at the ten-year celebration of thirdspace last week was Du Lapaine, an extraordinary musician from Croatia. As well as playing for us (and more about that in moment), he spoke with us about what had had him step out of his PhD programme in mathematics in order to take up music as a calling.

Like many of us, Du explained, he found out early on that he was very good at something – in his case solving complex maths problems. And he enjoyed it enough, and was talented enough, to be able to study it seriously through school and university, and to step into an advanced programme of postgraduate research.

But something very interesting and profound happened to him during this time. He discovered that he was falling in love, and with something quite different to what he knew himself to be good at. The other party in this growing affair was the didgeridoo, an instrument he’d come across in the corner of a local music shop as a young man. He’d spent some years struggling with it – and many thousands of hours of practice – and was gradually coming to know its contours and possibilities, as well as his own. And, over time, he was coming to feel the call that this practice had for him, and the deep aliveness he experienced while playing.

Unlike many of us, who do our best to stay on the path we think we’re meant to be following, or on the path others have designed for us, Du decided to treat the love and longing he was experiencing with the seriousness it deserved. And rather than forcing things, as he found himself with less and less energy for the studies he was pursuing and less aliveness in the teaching he was doing, he decided his heart’s call needed honouring with a respectful and sensitive response.

“When I told my PhD supervisor I was leaving, and why”, he told us, “he gave me his blessing right away. And he let me know I could always come back”.

Perhaps most importantly, Du chose to go all in – an act of both dedication and surrender. “I knew that to start with it would be like being caught in a big stormy sea,” he said, “but that there would soon be floating wood I could hold on to.”

Eight years on, he told us, he’d managed to build himself a sailing boat and, more recently, with continued dedication and practice, something more like a small yacht with which he has enough power and wherewithal to set a direction and weather the bigger waves and squalls that life can throw at any of us.

“It’s been a huge change in my life,” he said “but I haven’t suffered because I didn’t struggle against what was happening to me. I decided that I would fight for my life with the didgeridoo”, he said, “rather than fight against it”.

That, it seemed to me, was among the most important lessons I learned from hearing Du speak and play: what can happen when we give up fighting against what life is calling us to do, and instead use its energy to support us. Following a vocational call in this way guarantees nothing in the way of material gain (which may not come) or cessation of difficulty (of which there may be much). But it does, at last, offer an opportunity to live – and an opportunity to give up a particular kind of suffering. And this is something that many of us are very far from doing as we try to squeeze ourselves into pathways that others have laid out for us or with which we mistakenly feel we must bind ourselves.

Watching Du play in person is extraordinary. The separation between him and the instrument, and between the music and the audience, quickly dissolves away until it’s clear that we’re all up to something, together.

If you have the opportunity to see him (and I hope we will bring him back, before long), please do. He and his music are quite something to behold.

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