Urban legend has it that Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman once played through a violin concerto after having broken one of his strings. Perlman was afflicted by polio as a child so walking is difficult for him. The story goes that he made a decision to play on rather than to make the prodigious effort go back off stage to replace the string and come back again.
For the complete text and a critical review of this story, read the Snopes analysis
. There is no evidence to corroborate this story and it doesn’t make sense if you really think about it. If his string had broken a handler would have brought the string out for him. There is documentation that after breaking a string at another concert and while waiting for repair he engaged the audience in a stand-up comedy routine.
Despite its apparent lack of veracity (if you were at this concert I’d love to hear from you!), this story still makes a good metaphor for the wisdom of acceptance. We are confronted with situations where we must decide what to do. Should I put effort into fixing this situation? Should I let it go and work with what I have?
If you are cold and the window is open and readily closed, it makes sense to close the window. If it is not readily closed then what? How much effort should we expend? Of course if you are waiting at a bus stop you can’t close the window and acceptance is the wisdom choice.
How do we know? First we must know ourselves. Mindfulness practice will help us to know at an intuitive level. This is the wisdom of our bodies in action. Next, we must perceive the situation accurately. Strong emotions may bias our view of things. Collecting ourselves through mindfulness practice can help us to see what is required in the situation.
This metaphor is also an example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Do we ever have the perfect condition — all four of our strings? Perhaps sometimes we do, but often we are working with whatever we’ve got. We are tired and have to do something. This may not be the ideal conditions for creative work, but it is what is so in the moment. We can allow the story “less than ideal” prevail or we can move forward without that story, doing the best that we can.
I addressed this tendency in my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness, in the metaphor “Perfectomy.” Perfectomy is using mindfulness as a non-surgical and safe way to address our perfectionistic tendencies.
Suzuki Roshi said, “Everything is perfect, but there’s always room for improvement.” This captures it nicely. Embody acceptance; work towards goodness (or whatever your goals are).
When we’ve got all four strings intact, enjoy the beautiful sound. When we’ve got only three and we can’t get that fourth back just now, play with three and appreciate the sound you can make. Perhaps you’ll find strength and resources you didn’t know you had.