Spiritual Lessons from an 89-Year Old Jazz Icon

Spiritual Lessons from an 89-Year Old Jazz Icon March 1, 2020

Sonny Rollins at the beach, courtesy SonnyRollins.com

As you grow older, do you really begin to figure it all out? Do you start to realize what your purpose was here on Earth and what you need to do before your departure from this life? After years of reading about and talking to elders, I think the answer is mixed. In short, some people just don’t figure it out—but the flip side is that some people do.

One person who seems to have a grip on what was and is his purpose is the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins who, at the age of 89, was recently profiled in The New York Times Magazine by David Marchese. Over the past few years, due to health issues, Rollins has stopped playing live concerts but during this interview he seemed as alive and vibrant as ever.

Rollins is no stranger to spirituality. In as article published in Yoga Journal, Rollins says he first began his spiritual quest in the 1950s, when “his yearning for something deeper” led him to the book Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. In the 1960’s, during a concert tour in Japan, he got into yoga and he has practiced it daily for decades. He says helps him “find his center” and gave him a clearer understanding of his role in life.

When asked in The Times article if he was happy, he replied “Happy is not the word, but I am the most content I’ve ever been. I have most things figured out.” It should be noted that as Rollins was interviewed, he was seated on a couch at home in Woodstock, NY, under a large painting of the Buddha. He commented that he avoids TV and doesn’t listen to the radio much, preferring silence. In his words:

Silence to me is meditative. To get into that silent space is a huge thing.

Rollins talked about the several occasions in his life where he sensed the presence of what many of us call God, though he does not use that term. One time, early in his career, he was playing an outdoor show when he looked up into the sky and in his words, “I felt a communication; I felt that I was part of something. Not the crowd. Something bigger.”

What follows are edited excerpts from the interview. They show that Rollins, at 89-years old, is fully in tune with reality and anticipating what is still to come.

  • I’m working toward why I’m here — what it’s all about. At this point in my life, I don’t want to say satisfied, but I feel that I’m closer to an understanding.
  • It’s always been my idea that the golden rule is a good thing, but I wasn’t quite able to understand if the golden rule was possible. (Now) I believe that living by the golden rule is possible. Not only possible but the reason we’re here.
  • Giving is better than getting and is the proper way to live. Live your life now in a positive way. Help people if you can. Don’t hurt people.
  • Music is not on the same level as trying to understand life. We’re here for 80-something years. One lifetime is not enough to get it right. I’ll be back in another body.
  • There’s nothing I’ll miss about this life. There’s a big picture, which is the afterlife, and this life is a little picture. There’s also karma: What you do, you’re going to get it back. So this life is a trip, man, and you’ve got to go through it.
  • I know I’ve done a lot of stupid things and hurt people. I’ve got a lot of stuff that I’m paying for, and I’m trying to get good karma by not trying to hurt somebody or doing things for my own pleasure or aggrandizement.
  • This world is not what it’s cracked up to be. This world is just a place to pay off our karma. That’s all. There’s something huge happening, and it’s a matter of feeling. It’s different than having book knowledge. The thing I’m talking about is more like intuition. Something is there. I’ve had experiences which have allowed me to know that.
  • I get lonely on occasion. Fortunately, not too often. I like being alone actually. I have my yoga books. I have my Buddha books. I have a lot of spiritual material that I need to get with. At my age, all my friends are gone. At one time I began to lament that and then I said, “No, this is good that I have nobody to call and waste time talking.”
  • Every now and then I do go, “Yeah, man, I’m lonely, let me call somebody up,” but to me that’s a weakness. I have to deal with myself. That’s what it gets down to for each of us.
  • Understanding is up to you. It’s up to me. There’s no escape. I got pains and aches all over but spiritually, man, I feel better than I’ve ever felt. I’m on the right course.
  • Dying, it’s funny. Everybody is afraid to die because it’s the unknown. But my mother died. My father died. My brother died. My sister died. My uncle died. My grandmother died. They’re all great people. If they can die then why can’t I die? I’m better than they are? It’s ridiculous to feel, oh, gee, I shouldn’t die. My body is going to turn into dust. But my soul will live forever.

If you liked this story, you might also enjoy: “My Wise 86-Year Old Friend Passed Away. Here are His Final Words.”

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