Albert Einstein was once asked to provide “the ultimate explanation of the world” or what in everyday terms might be called the meaning of life. His response is both humorous and thought-provoking:
“I can not tell you in words, but I can play it on the violin.”
It’s interesting how the ultimate intellectual Einstein explained his beliefs not in language, but in the feeling a violin can evoke. And maybe he’s right. Some things can’t be explained in words, especially when they are felt more in the heart and soul, than the head.
I’m reminded of a passage by Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet and mystic, who mirrors Einstein’s thoughts in this verse:
“Do you know what the music is saying? Come follow me and you will find the way.”
For Rumi, the music serves as a stepping stone to the truth, bringing us to its doorstep to witness it first-hand. From this up close and personal vantage point, the way of life may be understood.
Henry David Thoreau has also spoken of the mysterious power of music, stressing its ability to melt away problems and broaden our perspective of life. According to Thoreau:
“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”
Nowhere did Einstein specify which piece of music was able to convey so much to him that it could explain the world. But I imagine it sounded something like this Bach piece performed by Hilary Hahn:
This post originally appeared in Elephant Journal December, 2011.