The Song of The Gods

Long ago, a new kind of flute was invented in China. A Japanese master musician was taken by the subtle possibilities of expression it offered, and brought it back to his home country. He took out the new flute and played one piece at the end of a concert. When done, there was complete silence in the auditorium, so moved was the crowd. Then the oldest listener spoke softly from the back of the crowd. “That,” he said, “was the song of a god.”

The next day, as the master was preparing to leave, the townspeople brought to him their brightest young flutist, requesting the master take him on as a pupil on this strange new flute. The master agreed and took the young musician with him on his journey back to his home in the capital city.

The teacher assigned to the student one simple tune, on which the young man would practice incessantly. Each time the student played the tune, the master would start by nodding with approval, then change his expression along the way.

“No,” the master would say, shaking his head. “Something is not there.”

The student begged the master to let him try another piece, just once, but the teacher would not relent.

“No—something is still lacking,” the master said.

The student practiced the single melody for months and then years on end. He came to realize he would never make his teacher happy. One night, he packed his bags and snuck away from his master. He stayed in the city until his money ran out. Feeling overwhelmed by his failure, he began to drink and behave erratically in his drunkenness. Dejected, he retreated to a tiny hut in the countryside not far from his original village. He lived in rags and occasionally gave beginning music lessons to children of the local farmers to earn a little bit of money. He took out the special flute once in a while, but felt no inspiration to play it. His life went on this way for many years.

One morning there was a knock on his door. The musicians of his village had finally found him. That night there was to be a concert and they all agreed it could not happen without him. Overcoming his sense of shame, he picked up the special flute and went along with them.

The concert began, and many musicians played much music on the old kind of flute, but no one played the new. Near the end of the concert his name was called. He stepped onto the stage disheveled. He put the flute to his lips and played the only tune he knew. At last he had nothing to gain and nothing to lose. When he finished, there was a long silence the likes of which had not been heard in many years until the old master, now very old indeed, called out softly from the back of the room. “The song of the gods is with us once again.”


Adapted from the story as retold in “Spontaneous Effort: Improvisation and the Quest for Meaning” by David Rothenberg, Parabola, Fall 1996

“know thyself”

Living inside one’s head for an entire lifetime, you must learn how to be happy there first before being capable of ever achieving happiness in this world. This is the essence of the ancient Egyptian maxim inscribed inside the Temple of Luxor: “Man, know thyself”

The Universe Owes You Nothing

One day master said, “Stop believing that the universe owes you anything. It gave you your life and it shall give you your death too. It owes you nothing. The only being in the universe who owes you anything is yourself.”

“But master, what then is it that we owe to ourselves?” his students asked.

“To be fully awake and seek truth. This is what you owe to yourself.”

Quote

“Surround yourself not with those who wish you success but those who will not allow you to fail.”

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Meditations 9:32

Some ancient wisdom for modern times from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

On Going Bald

My wedding photo contains a secret that I pass by every time I head downstairs to my office to stare out the window and pretend to write.

In the photo I’m young, just 22, and have a coif of thick hair covering my head. But already, I’m going bald. Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) molecules inside my body are secretly working to slowly shrink my hair follicles and choke off each strand. I’m alive but my hair is dying. At the time of the photo, I don’t know that though.

Today, some 25 years later, I’m nearly bald. My only remaining hair is on the sides and back of my head with a small stubborn tuft on top.

I’m not alone. Thirty percent of men begin showing signs of “male pattern baldness” (MPB) by age 30. That goes up to 50 percent by age 50 and 60 percent by age 60. This progression continues until you reach 100 percent of men going completely bald when they’re dead.

DHT is a sex hormone produced in your testicles. Specifically, it’s an androgen hormone. The prefix andro is from Greek meaning “masculine”. We tend to mistakenly credit only testosterone as the elixir of our masculinity. But DHT, which is produced enzymatically from testosterone, is key to our maleness. It’s what gives you a deeper voice, muscle mass, chest and armpit hair, facial hair, a prostate, and yes, the hallmark feature of being male: a penis. Only about 5 percent of testosterone is converted to DHT, but DHT is five times more potent than testosterone.

But what DHT giveth, it also taketh away. While DHT is necessary for the growth of body hair, it is detrimental to the growth of the hair on your head, which grows in three distinct cycles: anagen, catagen, and telogen.

Anagen is the growth phase. Unless you’re already bald like me, most of the hair on your head is in this phase. The longer the anagen phase lasts, the longer your hair grows. Catagen is when a hair follicle renews and telogen is when a hair follicle is dormant.

DHT attaches itself to the androgen receptors in the hair follicles on your head, resulting in a shortening of the anagen (growth) phase and a lengthening of the telogen (dormant) phase. Over time, DHT-saturated hair follicles atrophy and eventually stop producing hair.

Can you stop MPB? Yes. A sure fire way to do this is castration, which I don’t recommend. Can you reverse MPB? Again, yes. There are a number of pharmaceuticals (both oral and topical solutions) such as the popular Rogaine that you could use. These are chemicals that basically act as DHT interrupters or inhibitors. I don’t recommend these either as they can mess with your hormones.

Alternatively, you could undergo Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) hair transplant surgery, which removes hair from the back of your head and transplants it to the areas where hair no longer grows. FUE is expensive (about $15,000) and doesn’t always work for everyone. I don’t recommend going to the expense and trouble.

Here’s what I do recommend for those of you with MPB: purchase electric hair clippers. My personal favorite is the Wahl Chrome Pro Clippers, which can be purchased from Walmart for $30. You then use these to shave off the remaining hair on your head that DHT hasn’t yet decimated. I personally go guard-free and shave my hair down as close as possible to my scalp. Takes about 5 minutes. I do it weekly.

If you have MPB, I recommend you own your baldness. While your high DHT levels have brought about the untimely demise of your youthful coiffure, it may have endowed you in other above-average ways. And if not, don’t lose any sleep over that either. Being a man is holistic, defined by much more than the hair on your head and body or the size of your dick.

For sure, there are worse ways to go bald: cancer, radiation poisoning, burn victim. Be happy that the death of your hair isn’t a major health crisis or the untimely death of you. Embrace your baldness and set yourself free. In the end, the only person who cares about your being bald is probably you.