Improvisation, Freedom, and The Will to be Yourself

“In a self-protection mode, we are not truly free to teach, learn, create, improvise, or love.”

In going through some old papers the other day, I came across a remarkable little article by Dennis B. Plies, a professor of music at Warner Pacific College, in which Professor Plies addresses improvisation.  The title of the article is a quote of Kierkegaard: To Will To Be Himself Is Man’s True Vocation.  (Click on the title for the full article.)

In brief, Professor Plies links an inner move from doing to being to the ever-present, crippling trio of pride, guilt, and fear.  His purpose is to theologically address the problem of essential human freedom, the source of both “our dignity and our misery,” an exercise prompted by his experience of teaching improvisation to jazz musicians.

Rather do a long summary of the article, let me just encourage you to go read it.  And below I have pulled out some of the salient quotes that Professor Plies uses to underscore his points.   Any one of them can be fuel enough to help me soar through the day, assisting in the ongoing battle to push back the Resistance.  (see Pressfield’s The War of Art for what “Resistance” refers to.)

  • “Double-mindedness is an attitude of willing the good for external reasons: desire of reward; fear of punishment; approval of others. Only the man who wills the good unreservedly and for itself alone really draws near to God and makes it possible for God to draw near to him.  And only then, i.e., as God draws near to him, can a man, by God’s power, become single-minded and pure in heart.”  –Soren Kierkegaard
  • “The more lucidly we think,the more we are cut off: the more deeply we enter into reality, the less we can think.  y ou cannot study pleasure in the moment of the nuptial embrace, nor repentance while repenting, nor analyze the nature of humour while roaring with laughter.” –C.S. Lewis
  • To exercise freedom is to determine what we want and then to give ourselves permission to do it.”  –Dennis B. Plies
  • “Self-protection and love and opposites.  Since love is the ultimate virtue, self-protection is the ultimate problem.” –Larry Crabb
  • “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.  Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid. I am with you.  Nothing can ever separate us.  It’s for you.  I created the universe.  I love you.”  –Frederick Buechner
  • “For true guilt is precisely the failure to dare to be oneself.  It is the fear of other people’s judgment that prevents us form being ourselves, from showing ourselves as we really are, from showing our tastes, our desires, our convictions, from developing ourselves and from expanding freely according to our own nature.  It is the fear of other people’s judgment that makes us sterile, and prevents our bearing all the fruits that we are called to bear.”  –Paul Tournier
  • “Perhaps there is no gift more precious than the gift of spontaneity, the ability of certain men and animals to act straight and fresh and self-forgettingly out of the living center of who they are without the paralyzing intervention of self-awareness.  –Frederick Buechner

Makes me want to go sign up for an improv class…

2 Replies to “Improvisation, Freedom, and The Will to be Yourself”

  1. Jeff, this may be the best blog you have ever written. I sometimes wonder whether you are writing from your personal experience or personal longings or both. In either case, I believe I know that all these writers in the article you referred to are telling the Good News, the gospel, as it was meant to be taught. They do not mention the Holy Spirit, but they describe what He does in our lives when we are yielded to Him. The biggest battle is in the yielding. He does the rest.
    May God fill you with His peace.

    1. Thanks, Neita. I write from, as you say, experience and longings both. Ultimately, I’m just trying to figure things out by the grace of God, just like everyone else. Thanks for stopping by to read so often.



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