Transcript: Mathias Lefebvre aka Piano Man on What do we truly need in our lives? at TEDx Queenstown
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: What do we truly need in our lives by Mathias Lefebvre at TEDxQueenstown
Oh wow, look at this thing here, grand piano laying around, just by yourself? Oh, you need a friend baby? Want a ride? Let me see what you got. Oh, check this out.
Oh, hello! Hey everybody, wow! There are so many of you guys. That’s lucky I put my fancy shirt on today. Hi, my name is Mathias. I am best-known in Queenstown as the Piano Man.
So here is basically what I do. I put an upright piano on a cart with wheels and I pull it everywhere around town where I go and I play, I bask with it. So usually I’m facing the lake, telling the lake my story with music. But today’s a great day and I’m facing you and I will tell you my story with words.
This is a story about food, shelter and love. These, I came to understand, are the 3 things that I truly need in my life. So I came to this understanding through a little bit of a journey, but it’s a long story. To make it short, I finished my studies back home in Belgium where I’m from, and something didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like going from studying to working, I felt too obligated, something just didn’t feel right. So I left. I went traveling. I went to Africa, South America, Asia, until I got to New Zealand and — I was broke.
I remember withdrawing the last $140 of my account, the cash point wouldn’t give me $160, That was it. So that’s when the real travel started really. This thing that I was trying to escape caught me back. I had to work and do something about it. So I learned to live with a very little amount of money. I had to.
And then I got a job as a kitchen hand. I started to work, and as expected, I just hated it. It was just awful. I just felt like someone’s little slave, But you know I had no money, I had to. So I did it. I manage to do it for 3 weeks. Until that day, I was cycling to work peacefully, and I had one of these accidents, the front wheel of my bike came off, believe it or not, I flipped over, the bike came back into my face, and I walked into my working place bleeding and very angry. Well that was one of these accidents that didn’t feel like a coincidence. I knew somehow, that subconsciously I was harming myself for just hating my life. So I took it as a sign.
And on the next day I resigned, I quit, and I was just the most happy man on Earth, I gave a high five to my boss on the way out. True story. He was very surprised.
Then something very special happened. That only time would let me identify it and put it into words, I call it the shift. It’s like everything was put upside down, and I mean everything. I was coming from a place where I was super scared of insecurity. Well, that fear of insecurity was just building up and building up and on that day it collapsed on itself, could just not be sustainable anymore. So it collapsed and I was free of the fear.
Then, being empty of the fear of insecurity, and notice, it is not the insecurity that disappeared, but the fear of it, which is another thing. Being free of that insecurity, of that fear of insecurity, this gave me a lot of empty space and suddenly I had all the freedom in the world to explore my passions. So that was one of the best times of my life, I was fear free, I had no job, and on top of this, I had $1200 that the job gave me after I quit which after living from very little money for quite a while, about 2, 3 months, having $1200 felt like a lot of money. I felt like I was rich.
So I was on top of the world, I was fear free and rich and I would finally explore all my passions. This was great. So for me the passions were: grow some food, walk the mountains and play the piano. And so I did. I grew a big veggie garden, I learned how to grow food. This was very interesting and very exciting. And then I was in Wanaka back in that day, it was all mountains around, I’d walk in the mountains every second day. And then I got myself a piano.
Now, the piano thing, I have never learned it. I have never had a piano lesson or a music lesson in my life. I had a piano, not one of these. I had a piano at my parents’ place where I grew up. And that was it. I would just tickle here and there, I would be very attracted to it, but I never got to play much more. Until I left home at 18, went studying and then went traveling, so I would play very, very, very casually, only when I would see a piano. And, like tonight, every time I would see one, I would be drawn by it. I had to give it a ride.
But then I got this piano in Wanaka. And back in the day it’s my girlfriend that actually paid for it, $75 from the recycling center, because I couldn’t afford it. I was that broke. And I started to play every day 3, 4 hours. It was like this deep surge and craving that I had for so many years that could finally be expressed, that was the biggest of my passions and so was great. I had so much fun, I composed so many songs, and I could just not stop playing.
Then the thought of doing something a bit different new and to bring some extraordinary things into people’s lives came and maturing into my mind that I would go out and bask with my upright piano. And so it took some time, I got another trolley from the recycling center again, and I fixed it and one day one of my friends and I, we pushed that piano into Wanaka’s town center and I played. Well, guess what, people absolutely loved it. And so did I. It was just great.
And I came home that day with more money than I would ever expect from basking. So for me it was a bit shocking, it was a perfect combination of do what you love, fulfilling that surge that I had in me for so long, I would be out in the street, composing songs. It was just great. And then, as well, this would bring me the money that somehow I still needed.
So I kept going every second day, 2, 3 times a week I would go out and play the piano. And this I did all the way to today, 3 years later, where I have now 4 different albums of my compositions that I sell as I play in the street. You’re allowed to clap now. Well this is how I built for myself a life with as few obligations as possible. And by obligations I mean, all these buses and schedules and places you have to be that you don’t want to be, things that you need to do that you don’t want to do and days on and days off, and all these things that come in as a package with work. Right?
Now, what is interesting in this story is what I got to learn. I got to learn that I don’t need much. I’ll say it again: I don’t need much. I was very short on money and I realized that every day I need to eat. This is true. This is something very important. I need food. That’s one.
Then I get to realize too that it’s really good and important to have a place to stay, to feel warm, to feel secure, to sleep over night, to feel home. I need this. I need a home.
And then, I got to realize too how good it is to have friends to hang out with, to go for a swim, to have a talk, to go for a walk, hang out, play music. This is important: I need friends. So really the 3 things that I realized I really need are food, shelter and love. There’s nothing else that I need. Anything extra is mostly unnecessary. I don’t need the job or the money, I need the food and the home and the love. Which the job and the money is only a means for me to get these things. But I don’t need the job and the money. In fact, these things, I can get mostly from the land. So what I get to realize is that from the land I can grow the food, and I can build a home, and I can live with other people and have a good time.
So now in Queenstown, I live here, I rent a place with my partner, and we do this little experiment, which is to grow a little food. And I did this in the last 2, 3 months, all by myself, googling information as to make it. And it appears, as a result of this experiment, that it is extremely easy to grow food. It is not a rocket science at all. Anybody could do it, and in fact I did it. Now this is great because it provides most of our food for all of my family every day. And this is free, this is organic, this is fresh, this is healthy, this is pollution free. What else can it be better than this?
The point is that really, the only thing that I truly need is a land. Right? So now on that stage where I want the land so that I can do all this: Grow the food, build a home, live together, have a good time. But it seems that the only way to get a land is to pay for it. And I’m back into my old story. I have to work and make money, and that doesn’t quite make sense to me. Why should I pay to get a place to live on? I mean there is only one place, here it is, one planet, it is beautiful. It is loop circle, so I cannot go anywhere else, and I am there and I obviously need a place, this is one of my basic needs. So it doesn’t quite make sense. Why I should pay for it? Why does it need to be so hard? It sounds funny but –
Well, I believe at some stage someone must have built up a fence around a section on the planet and say: “This section, this is mine” and boom! Ownership was created. And then everybody else freaked out and just put fences everywhere to guarantee their own place too. Fair enough. Well, sooner or later, whole of the planet was fenced up and owned by someone. And what this did is that every next generation that came in was born homeless, including me, including you. We were born homeless. And so we all have to work and generate money in order to get sorted about our basic needs, which is having a place to live on. This is to me plain and simple slavery.
This is the world of competition that we live in today. This is the world where I have to generate money in order to get sorted. Well, I believe we can live out a cooperation just simply and together. But for this to work out we all need to put the fences down. These fences, the inner fences, we are just afraid of living together, and having a good time, we are scared of each other, so we protect ourselves from others, building fences. This is supposed to keep us away from insecurity. But instead it creates an overall atmosphere of competition and struggle which is insecurity.
Now my partner and I have just welcomed a little girl, her name is Melina, she’s 4 months old. She is the most gorgeous baby I’ve ever seen. She is. It is not about yours. Yours is gorgeous too. I’m afraid when she’ll get to ask about the world and life altogether, I will have to tell her that: we live in a world of competition, there’s a lack of space due to that competition, and only survival of the fittest is what rules the place, because it’s all about individualism.
Now this is going to create a lot of insecurity, a lot of a fear, which might out-grow into greed, and you’ll have to work, make money, which is a type of slavery. And this all together will lead, high chance, to stress and depression. I’ll have to tell her that the best way to get around this is to do what you love even though you have to do it under pressure because if it doesn’t work out, you are screwed. Good luck my dear.
This is the way we live now, it’s funny but it’s not funny. This is the world we live today and this is not what I would love to introduce my daughter when she gets to grow up and ask about the world. Instead, I would love to say something like this: That we live in a world of cooperation, that it’s plenty of space for all of us to grow food, to build homes, and that is about freedom. There is no need for money, no need for work, and that is about to bring true security and a quality of life, and health and allow and promote creativity. In this type of world you can enjoy yourself and have a good time.
Now this is what I believe we could be all of us experiencing, and I believe this is possible because it’s all up to us. I mean, we are the ones running this place. So we can do anything — we can change and shape the world the way we want it to be.
So I leave you tonight with an invitation: I invite each and all of you to think about what you truly need in your life because if I think that what I need is material, then I will enter the competition and I will fight against all of you to get out of this planet most of its space and resources for myself, because it is what I think I need.
But instead, if I think that what I need is mostly about love and having a good time together, then I enter the world of cooperation, and I am ready to share the world.
So what do you think you need? Thank you.