Darshan: I know who I am when I see what I do

You are surrounded by darkness on all sides. You don’t know the destination, or the way forward. You have a sense that you are made for something, but you’re not sure what, exactly. You don’t know who you are. You are in a dream. All you can do is imagine — and so you do. Your work is to make that fragile vision into something real.

In the creative process, it’s incredibly seductive for us to seek these answers in the world — to demand that others give us reassurance. But as Seth Godin says, “reassurance is futile”. We are alone, in the dark, casting about for something which feels real — and yet, all we can do is imagine the next step.

The creative process is a metaphor for life: we can go about making ourselves in the image of our calcified egos — or worse, living in someone else’s version of ourselves. Real vision, real imagination takes the courage to dream beyond the safe edge, beyond the cliff of what we thought was possible — and to take the first step.

“I know who I am when I see what I do.”

Early in the pandemic, my friend Chester shared this quote with me, and I wrote it on the mirror of my studio in dry-erase black marker. I wanted that quote to frame and reflect my best self back to me: my hours of practicing, of working out, of staff meetings and calls.

Though that quote, I changed my relationship with myself. Through the process of moving closer to a vision I had imagined for myself, I was becoming the vision itself. The destination — some grand dream which existed in the future, became articulated in simple choices: does this action, this step, this bite of food — fulfill the vision I have of myself?

Even on the days when I was filled with doubt, filled with fear — I was motivated not by some great ambition or purpose or momentous cause, but by simply looking into the mirror for yet another day. The looking itself becomes the motivation.

“Darshan” means “vision” in Sanskrit. Darshan can be a vision of the divine — a mystical experience of seeing God in everyday life — or it can mean visiting with a friend and having a “darshan”, or a glimpse, of them. In a way, they can be one and the same: we are every day visions of the divine, seeking to manifest some greater purpose, seeking to know who we are. As we see ourselves unfold in the vision of our imaginations, we might glimpse a facet of ourselves we never even knew was there.

As creators, we reach deep inside ourselves to create something from a fragile, wispy vision — a scrap of imagination. And ultimately, for that work to be complete, it must be offered back to the world — it must be seen. We make a life of making an offering, over and over, until we know who we are — because we have seen what we do — for ourselves, and for the world.

Darshan means ‘vision’ in Sanskrit: a mystical vision of the divine, or seeing one another in the world. Darshan is a five-movement Partita based on a different Hindustani raag, and this opening movement, set in the sweet, melodious raag Bihag, is associated with the deepest, darkest night. This movement is a dream, a beginning in wisps of unreal imagination — the violin playing in stratospheric colors.

Slowly, the raga is introduced as the violin descends into the realm of the real, eventually reaching the “bandish” (or “tune”), played on the lowest string with a drone — commonly played by the tanpura instrument in Hindustani tradition.

That drone turns into a pulsating, throbbing triplet, accompanying the bandish throughout the rest of the movement, reaching ecstasy, before climbing back to the heavens.