Rewrite Your Reality
When beliefs hold us back.
Published: June 18, 2012
by Gregg Braden
One man’s guitar spells freedom.
“I see my life as an unfolding set of opportunities to awaken.”
— Ram Dass
In 1986, I attended a concert in Boulder, Colorado, and the headliner was a man who changed my life. His name was Michael Hedges, and he was arguably one of the most gifted guitarists of the 20th century. In the summer of that year, he was on a rare solo tour that included the intimate venue where I met him.
Rather than the usual concert seating in a huge stadium where the artist looks like a speck on a distant stage, Michael chose to play in a casual restaurant setting. Pedestal tables were arranged around the stage, and no one was more than a few feet away from the performance. Everyone in the room could see everything, and see it very well.
Michael simply walked onstage, and, with little more than a “Hello, I’m Michael Hedges,” something extraordinary began to happen: Suddenly his hands were doing things that I’d never seen a guitarist’s do in my life. As he began his unaccompanied performance, his fingers stretched and bent in uncanny ways to form the chords and create sounds that gave the room a feeling that I can only describe as surreal. And not everything that happened was on the strings. Never missing a beat, the back and sides of his guitar became the percussion section for the taps and bumps that he was playing between the notes. What was even more amazing was that his eyes were closed throughout the whole concert!
I was so moved by what I’d seen that I strolled past his crew and walked right up to him during the intermission to thank him for such a powerful evening. Surprisingly, he greeted me as if he’d known me for years. He welcomed me to the stage, and together we walked to his instruments and he began asking me how certain effects sounded throughout the room. We chatted until the program resumed and I returned to my seat. I was absolutely enthralled by the rest of the show.
I never had the chance to speak with Michael Hedges again. While I felt that we probably would do so at some point in time, his sudden death in December 1997 prevented that from ever happening. Although my evening with him was brief, it was a life-changing experience. I’ve been a guitarist since I was 11, and playing the instrument remains one of the most consistent passions of my life today. During the first six months when I was learning to play, I was indoctrinated into the form and style of classical guitar. The name says everything. There’s a special posture that the body of a classical guitarist is taught to assume. The hands are positioned to hover over the strings but rarely touch the face of the instrument itself. While it’s beautiful to watch in others, it always felt awkward and stiff to me.
The reason why I share this story is simply this: Watching Hedges that evening in 1986 forever changed the way I thought about playing a guitar. In the 90 minutes or so that he was onstage, he absolutely blew away all of the rules and any preconceived ideas of form and style that had been ingrained in me years earlier. It was so freeing for me to see him in his passion that it freed me in mine as well.
All that Michael Hedges had done was to share his gift. But in doing so, he became the living demonstration of a greater possibility. And that’s the key to transforming what we believe to be true about our lives and our world. To change the limitations of our personal pasts, our minds need a reason to change what we believe—and a good one at that.
History is filled with examples of beliefs that were entrenched for hundreds or sometimes thousands of years and then changed overnight. History also describes what happens when the long-held ideas that support such beliefs are replaced by something so radical that an entire worldview suddenly topples and falls. Sometimes the changes are small and seemingly insignificant, such as watching a guitarist for 90 minutes on the stage. Occasionally they’re so huge that they forever transform the way we think of ourselves and the universe.
New York Times best-selling author Gregg Braden is internationally renowned as a pioneer in bridging science, spirituality, and the real world.