Embracing our natural selves – with Victor Wooten
Grammy Award Winning Bassist, Composer, Author and EducatorVictor Wooten, now a five-time Grammy winner, hit the worldwide scene in 1990 as a founding member of the super-group Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Continuing to blaze a musical trail with the band, Victor has also become widely known for his own Grammy nominated solo recordings and tours.
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Hi Victor, first off thank you for taking some time from your busy schedule to chat with me and the readers at Andy’s World of Bass, it’s truly an honor for us all!
Andy – I recently was reading about naturalist John Muir, the prolific writer who stressed how wild places are necessary and vital for the soul. He believed that God resides in all natural things. His dedication to his beliefs were a significant influence on president Theodore Roosevelt and ultimately instrumental in the creation of several of our magnificent national parks. I find great inspiration for all areas of my life from nature, and my spiritual foundation is built on this love and appreciation. You have developed an incredible nature and music camp that provides students the opportunity to learn and grow. Will you please share with us how nature inspires you, and your inspiration to bring music and nature together in a learning environment?
Vic – I recognize that we are all trying to become “natural” at whatever we are doing. When we play music, work a job, write, walk, or talk, we strive to do it in a relaxed, comfortable, and natural manner. The word “natural” means, “to be like nature,” but it also means, “without sharps or flats.” So, whether we realize it or not, musician or not, Nature is our common goal.
Nature is a part of everything and is the most natural thing on the planet. A bird doesn’t have to go to a conservatory to learn how to sing. A squirrel’s knowledge of building a nest and storing food comes from within. To chew trees and build a dam is in a beaver’s nature. Humans are part of the natural world and have our own natural abilities, but when it comes to learning music, we do the most unnatural things.
We musicians lock ourselves in a room (called the Woodshed) with the false assumption that the longer we stay in there, the more natural we will become. Think about it, we didn’t learn to talk by locking ourselves in a room. Well, I don’t think it’s beneficial to learn music that way either. Don’t get me wrong. Yes, we can learn much in the Woodshed, and there are times when we need to go there, but spending too much time inside is sure to guarantee that we’ll come out speaking with an accent.
So, if our quest is to be more like Nature; what would happen if we allowed Nature to be our most influential teacher, as well as our main classroom? That’s what my camps are about. That’s why they’re held in the wilderness. Nature has a conscious and unconscious positive effect on everyone.
My approach: Practice a little. Play a lot! That’s the quicker road to claiming our naturalness.
Andy – I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to South Africa in 2014, my love of wild animals lead me there, but the people and music filled me with a joy I had never fully felt before. For me it was a magical experience that changed my life. I now felt differently connected to an ancient simplicity of purpose. You also had an opportunity to travel there, and had an experience interacting with some very special people. Will you please share a bit about what you learned and how it affected your feelings?
Vic – I love visiting old cultures. I was fortunate to be with a group who spent a lot of time with an indigenous tribe in Botswana. We learned so much from them while we were there. There’s a feeling you get from these native people that can’t be denied. They are definitely “one” with Nature.
One of the main things I came home with was an awareness and respect of their reasons for playing music. They didn’t play for money, acceptance, or appreciation. They played for enjoyment, expression, or healing. Everyone joined in playing, clapping, singing, or dancing. It was powerful! It really caused me to look at myself and my reasons for playing.
Andy – I really love to ski, I love the rush of speed, the breathing, the fact that when you are skiing 40mph you can only think about your next move in that instant, nothing in the past matters and looking too far ahead might cause a potentially painful crash and burn. It’s a perfect exercise of literally living in the moment. Music can be like that too, Do you ever work on ways to be focused in the “here and now” musically, in sports or otherwise?
Vic – Sure. There are many ways to practice this, but looking at life as honestly as possible is my main tool. I realize that whenever I focus on what’s happening in my life “right now”, things are really good. My problems pretty much exist in the future or the past.
Being in the “now” can be done (or practiced) at any moment. A powerful tool I learned from one of my nature teachers is to periodically stop during the day and ask myself, “What am I missing?” At that moment, I look around, listen, see, and experience what’s happening “now.” It can be very powerful. Also, when we catch ourselves worrying about something, we can ask ourselves if what we are worrying about is actually happening to us at that moment. Usually, it’s not. Therefore, why worry? There’s a book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker that states: “What we fear is proof that what we fear hasn’t happened yet.” That’s a powerful statement (and worth re-reading.)
Here’s another one. I don’t remember where I first heard this, but I like it:
“The past is history. The future is a mystery, but now is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”
“Now” is a powerful place to hang out.
Andy – On one of your albums you included a recorded phone call between you and your Mom, in that conversation she asked you “If the whole world decided to follow you today Vic, where would you lead them?” your answer was “back to themselves”. I listened to that many times and thought long and hard about it, it really was a powerfully beneficial bit of wisdom for me to embrace. I’ve heard you say – believe your own truth while respecting that of others. Your positivity and respectful nature resonates and connects with many. Will you please share some of your core beliefs on the subject of tolerance and kindness?
Vic – Thank you for your flattering comments and wonderful questions. It’s really refreshing. But, don’t you want to know what kind of strings I use? Just kidding. (DR strings by the way.)
Basically, it comes down to this. Whatever attributes we display, whatever thoughts we think, and whatever we see, whether it be on the landscape or in another person, is all a reflection of who we are. We are the one who’s thoughts we hear everyday, the one who makes our decisions, the person we see when we look in the mirror, and no matter how hard we may try, we are the only person we can never get away from. If we don’t already, we should learn to love that person. If we do already, we should help others find that love also. It’s the most powerful!
Here’s something to think about: If we want to give anything away, we must posses it first. To give me twenty dollars, you must first have twenty dollars. It works the same way with kindness, opinions, love, or hatred. When we love, hate, or are opinionated; we are ‘giving’ these feelings or thoughts to someone or something. What we think we are seeing on the outside is really a reflection of our inside. Our thoughts and feelings come from within. A lot of what we are “giving” is being done unconsciously. That’s why self-reflection is so important. To become conscious of who we really are and what we are giving to people through our actions and thoughts takes conscious effort at first. Recognition, willingness, and practice is the key. Remember, we can’t give what we don’t have.
To be tolerant or kind to someone takes discipline and acceptance of both the other person and our self. Because a person doesn’t act how we think they should act means that we are not getting the returned action or response we desire. We then have to deal with their actions as well as our own feelings. That can be overwhelming. Being accepting and honest with ourselves can help us be more accepting and honest with others. Again, Practice is key. With practice, we can achieve this ability. It is well worth it.
Considering my mom’s wonderful question, I still feel that leading people back to themselves is an awesome task and a rewarding journey. Many of the great mystics, leaders, writers, and inspirers did just that. They shared their truth in order to lead us towards our own truth, wisdom, and power. In many cases, we find that the power was in us all along. But, when we can’t quite believe in ourselves, these wise teachers allow us to believe in them, knowing all along that what we see in them is only a reflection of ourselves and our potential.
The wise master doesn’t remove himself from the pedestal that the apprentice places him on. He helps the student rise up onto the pedestal to stand beside him. Now, the view is great for both.
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