A Reflection in Honor of Black History Month by Thomas Davis IV
As a contemplative artist, dharma student and teacher, I am oftentimes exploring the intersections of Tradition and their Contemporary Counterparts. This offering is a lens for you to view my perspective of how the Divine Abode of Equanimity was embodied through Duke Ellington.
Duke Ellington, 1899-1974: African-American Composer, Pianist, Band Leader and Humanitarian; was 66 years old when his name became the central focus of an internal dispute amongst the Judges of the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1965.
The New York Times -1965 report: The advisory board for the Pulitzer Prizes rejected a unanimous recommendation from the music jury to award Duke Ellington, the jazz musician, composer and bandleader, a special citation for long-term achievement, it was learned yesterday.
This contretemps resulted in 2 of the 3 Pulitzer Jurors: Winthrop Sargeant and Ronald Eyer to resign from the Pulitzer Board in direct protest to the decision.
Duke Ellington’s response to The Press surrounding this controversy was graceful and equanimous, stating:
“Fate is being kind to me.” “Fate doesn’t want me to be too Famous, too Young.”
Equanimity / Upekkha: is a Sublime mind-state that offers Protection from the 8 Vicissitudes, sometimes called the 8 Worldly Winds:
(Pleasure and Pain, Gain and Loss, Praise and Blame, Fame and Insignificance)
Exactly how did Equanimity protect Duke Ellington from the biased, pernicious views of the Pulitzer Board and the Vicissitudes of Fame and Insignificance?
Duke Ellington embodied Equanimity, and thereby was protected from the effects of the critical views, mis-informed opinions and even exclusion of the Pulitzer Prize Board. Sometimes, we must also consider the source of where the Vicissitudes may originate. In this case, the Pulitzer Board viewed Jazz, despite its popularity and public demand, as an illegitimate art-form (primarily because of its African American affiliation and origin) and thus deemed not worthy of the prestige and accolades awarded by a Pulitzer Prize. Contrarily, every Pulitzer Prize award for Music was given solely to the Western European Classical genre, without exception.
My own practice of embodying Equanimity is informed by similar experiences in my own world. I’ve been inspired by Duke Ellington’s courageous spirit, responding to an injustice with presence, composure, and humor. As a Contemplative Artist and Dharma Teacher, sharing my experiences and perspectives of the Dharma publicly has at times drawn critical attention from my peers, raising questions about my training, qualifications and overall legitimacy. I find great encouragement in how Duke Ellington’s embodiment of Equanimity aligned his heart with Fate: “a development of events beyond a person’s control”. And in his trust that Fate was actually extending a kindness through Exclusion from the Pulitzer Prize!
My embodiment of Equanimity aligns my heart with a Proverb of Solomon 18:16 … “One’s gift will make room for them and will bring them before great people.” In both cases, aligned with a principle that allows us to Let Go, to trust that our present experiences are not without merit, and that we will be met and understood. There is a trustworthy unfolding of events that are greater than the current conditions.
May you who are reading this reflection find the courage to explore the protection Equanimity offers while you commit to staying aligned with the voice of your own heart.