What is there to say about the legendary Steve Vai? The guitarist is is such a titan of his field that even if you're just friends with a rock guitarist you probably know him. Approaching such a ubiquitous subject can be challenging. If you have more than a casual familiarity with Vai, you might know that he works off of a very in-depth philosophy. With this in mind, we decided to explore Steve Vai's outlook in an exclusive 2-part interview.
In part 1, Vai talks about his approach to success, personal choice, and overcoming the troubles of the mind.
Moxipop: You've talked before about the power of personal choice and how even you still have your struggles with simply deciding to change your negative tendencies. Do you believe that too many people resign to their circumstances?
Steve Vai: What makes sense to me is that we all create our circumstances by the way we think. The concept of resigning yourself to your circumstances implies that your circumstances are just happenstance or coincidental but I believe we create them based on our thoughts and feelings. If a person wanted to change their circumstances they would have to change the way they think.
The power of personal choice starts with the realization that, for the most part, we are completely imprisoned in our own self-created and perpetuated thought patterns and beliefs. Pulling our attention out of this prison and taking the initiative to change the thought pattern is the one true freedom we have. This is the power of personal choice. But it’s illusive.
MXP: The idea of visualizing your goals and personally choosing to want it more to the point of fruition has a lot in common with the "positive thinking" movement from books like The Secret. Are you familiar with that movement/book and do you have any thoughts on it?
SV: I haven't read that book but I believe the principals in it are not new. They are as old as the Universe. They are at the core of the creation of the Universe, the law of cause and effect.
It’s possible for a person to be completely happy and not have achieved any of the things that the world might consider successful.
MXP: One of the criticisms of "positive thinking" as a movement is that it casts unsuccessful people as not wanting it hard enough or not trying hard enough. How much of a burden do external factors, like economic standing, carry in the positive thinking/personal choice model?
SV: A person’s external factors, economic standing and everything else, is entirely a reflection of their inner world. Just choose the thoughts that make you feel good at whatever level you can feel good at given the circumstance.
But positive thinking is only part of the equation. It’s positive feeling that really matters.
You have to define successful and unsuccessful. It’s not uncommon to see people striving and wanting something really bad and actually getting it because they aligned themselves with it. But the satisfaction of fulfillment of having it can be short lived and before you know it, they're onto wanting the next thing. It’s also not uncommon for a person to achieve great worldly success only to realize it’s totally unfulfilling.
Achievements, in the eyes of the world, can be deceptive too. We think that great athletes, inventors, artists etc. have made great achievements and they are praised, but in reality they're just doing what’s natural to them. A truly great achievement is when a person can retrain themselves to think, act and feel in a more positive way than they would normally.
What we think we want is to be loved and to love, to be wanted and respected and we try to find these things in the world. But what we are all really looking for through those things is perfect peace and liberation from fear. But we can never find these things in the world because everything in the world changes and this includes thoughts. They may bring a moment of happiness but eventually when the things we have based our happiness on change, we are usually unhappy.
There’s many ways to define success in life but one way is to say that success is leading a life free of stress. Free of the anxiety of wanting something and not having it. Success in life is discovering the peace, freedom and inner joy that is actually at the core of who we are, beyond ego and even beyond thought. It’s possible for a person to be completely happy and not have achieved any of the things that the world might consider successful.
MXP: You’ve talked before about finding truth. What does 'truth' mean the way you use it? If it's such a nebulous idea, how do you know when you've found it in your life?
SV: Like most people I believe my answer is the correct one and that answer is, “I don’t know”.
Having said that, there are some things that make sense to me. Absolute truth lies underneath the activity of the mind, and that includes any belief system a person may have. Absolute truth is the unconditioned, timeless, formless, pure consciousness that just is, and it is at the core of who we are. You know you have found truth in your life when you see the oneness and profound perfection in everything.
The one thing that is absolute and not subject to any change is unconditioned consciousness. It’s the backdrop that gives rise to all phenomenal things in the world, including thoughts. This pure consciousness is at the core of our being and is formless, timeless… it just is. It can be recognized in a human being as the “I am.” The formless sense of being that has nothing to do with a person’s identity or beliefs.
It’s the thing in us that gives light to the world. It’s our consciousness without thought. It’s right in front of us, the simplest thing there can be and we don’t see it. It is inextricably linked with the present moment and in essence is the present moment in its deepest chasm. It is eternity itself and has no past or future. It’s the now.
So I can’t define truth because any words that are written about it are not quite it. And how do you know you found it in your life? It can be found when we are able to be still without thought. To be totally aware and perceptive without criticizing, judging, labeling or thinking at all.
MXP: On conquering your own personal issues, is this a battle that can ever ultimately be won? Or is it just something you gain ground on, little by little?
SV: Again, I’m not an authority on these things. I can only tell you what makes sense to me and I could be completely wrong. Having said that…
Our own personal issues are all just thoughts in our head. In reality they don’t actually exist as issues. They are just repetitive thought patterns that keep playing themselves out in our external world. In essence that’s what Karma is, repetitive thought patterns that bear fruit. All personal thought creates some kind of reaction.
But the fruit of our thoughts and actions is necessary. The process is a perfect design because it eventually brings us to the point, (and maybe not in this particular incarnation) where we come to the truth by rising above thinking and desires. That’s the end of karma and incarnating. Then we are in total sync with the Universe and primordial intelligence can guide us. Then perhaps there is no more need to come back to this particular “lens”. But something tells me that the evolution of consciousness is infinite and inexorable and there are myriad lenses.