3 Things to Learn from a Child, 7 from a Thief: Bob Dylan’s Favorite Hasidic Teaching

The value in remaining true to yourself.

3 Things to Learn from a Child, 7 from a Thief: Bob Dylan’s Favorite Hasidic Teaching

The 36-year-old was born just before Christmas 1977. Bob DylanJonathan Cott was my host for an extended conversation. Included in Cott’s endlessly wonderful book Listening: Interviews, 1970–1989 (public library), it remains Dylan’s most soulful and deepest-fathoming interview, replete with his reflections on vulnerability, the meaning of integrity, and the power of music as an instrument of truth.

One particular fragment of it has stayed with me over the years — the kind of pure mountain spring on which the spirit is refreshed again and again with each visit.

Bob Dylan (Library of Congress).

Two decades before string theorists formulated the holographic principle — a property of quantum gravity under which the three-dimensional universe we perceive might be a two-dimensional hologram — Dylan tells Cott:

We’re all wind and dust anyway… We don’t even have any proof that the universe exists. We don’t have any proof that we are even sitting here. We can’t prove that we’re alive.

When Cott asks what kind of life Dylan believes in, in the absence of such proof, he holds up “real life” — the reality of life he experiences “all the time,” but which lies “beyond this life.” (I am reminded here of Saul Bellow’s superb Nobel Prize acceptance speech from the same era: “Only art penetrates… the seeming realities of this world. The real reality is something we often forget about. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we can’t receive.”)

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This prompts the ever-erudite Cott to read for Dylan a teaching by the Hasidic rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezeritch, in which he sees a mirroring of Dylan’s creative ethos and way of being in the world. It so captivates Dylan as “the most mind-blazing chronicle of human behavior,” exceeding in wisdom any of the “gurus and yogis and philosophers and politicians and doctors and lawyers,” that he asks for a copy to pin to his wall.

As a child, you have the ability to learn.

1) Always to be happy
2) Never to be idle
3. To cry for all you desire

Learn from a thief

1) Work at night
2) If you don’t get what you desire in one evening, you can try the next day.
2) To be kind to your co-workers like thieves are to each other.
To be open to taking on a small risk for your safety.
5) not to attach too much value to things even though you have risked your life for them — just as a thief will resell a stolen article for a fraction of its real value;
To be able to endure all types of tortures and beatings, but still remain who you are.
7. To believe your work is valuable and to not change it.

Complement with Dylan on the unconscious mind and Leonard Cohen’s lessons in the art of stillness, then revisit the four Buddhist mantras for turning fear into love.

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