ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
It's Monday, the day we bring you our series, This I Believe.
And today, we hear from singer/songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore. He's known for his unlikely blend of Eastern mysticism with the deep country sound West Texas. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.
JAY ALLISON: Jimmie Dale Gilmore once embraced the outlaw musician way of life. He says he used to think he knew everything. And the eventual realization that he didn't was hard earned. It was his own mistakes that led him to his belief.
Here's Jimmie Dale Gilmore with his essay for This I Believe.
JIMMIE DALE GILMORE: The question of belief has always been a source of confusion for me. Most of my life I have been torn between a deep longing for certainty and an equally deep skepticism. At times the ability to convince myself of vast, unprovable notions was kind of soothing, but the relief was usually short lived.
The truce with pessimism bordering on nihilism was a very tenuous one. My outer life mirrored this conflict as I went from one extreme to another, sometimes aspiring to mystical otherworldliness and other times living in the nightlife music world not far removed from the criminal.
I did my best to cultivate belief, but could only come up with what Alan Watts once called a belief in belief. The real thing remained elusive. Brief glimpses of beautiful, inspirational meaning would slowly fade into boredom or sorrow at the state of the world and even cynicism. It came as a great shock to discover that my real spiritual problem was not a product of the world's condition, but of my own self-centeredness.
I caused hurt and sorrow to those closest to me by living my life with my own gratification as the guiding principle. The old cliché that experience is the best teacher proved itself to me with a vengeance. For some of us, it seems, experience is the only teacher. I had to learn the hard way.
I went through a few years of just getting lost and more lost. The drugs, the sex, the alcohol. It sounds like a lot of fun - that is if you don't figure in the remorseful hangovers, the depression or the loneliness that is both the cause and the effect of the whole vicious circle. I went far enough down to have to either change or die. I basically managed to break my own heart.
But people are capable of learning, and learning that I had no wisdom on my own finally opened the way for me to learn from those who did. I was given a second chance. I found that what I once considered empty platitudes are actually descriptions of fact. Jesus said it is better to give than to receive.
I now know that to be the case, not by faith but by experience. I finally discovered the beautiful, paradoxical truth that genuine concern for the welfare of others is the gateway to the only real satisfaction for myself. I cannot claim to consistently live up to this ideal, but it is with genuine gratitude that I can say I have come to believe these words of the Indian philosopher-poet Shantideva:
All the joy the world contains has come through wishing happiness for others. All the misery the world contains has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.
ALLISON: Jimmie Dale Gilmore with his essay for This I Believe. He told us reading aloud isn't easy for him. He misses the melody and rhythm. This is Gilmore singing his song "I'm Going to Love You."
(Soundbite of song, "I'm Going to Love you")
Mr. GILMORE: (Singing) You found me when my heart was broken. And the cold world was closing in.
ALLISON: If you would like to contribute an essay to our series, or see what others have written, visit our Web site, NPR.org. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.
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