Archive for the ‘from the music room’ Category

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “didn’t I see that photograph yesterday?” Well, you did. And if you didn’t you can see it now if you scroll down to yesterday’s post “The edge of the Storm”.

I don’t know how this universe works, but one thing I do know is that synchronicities occur which are both attention-grabbing, and have the potential to take our understanding to a whole other level.

Let me start further back…….back in the 1960s when I was a child. One year we took a family holiday to the Isle of Man. We took the ferry from Scotland, a thrill in its own right, and as we sailed through the Bay of Ramsay, if my memory serves me well, we passed a boat with the name “Radio Caroline” emblazoned on the side. Radio Caroline was a “pirate radio station”. Which kids don’t want to be pirates? I loved Radio Caroline. I loved the fact that it was broadcasting outwith the control of the British state. Pirate radio stations were ones which didn’t have approved licences to broadcast, and even at that age I wasn’t fond of Establishment controls which tried to tell us we could only listen to the BBC. So it was a thrill to listen to Radio Caroline. You felt as if you were part of some underground movement. But as a radio station they just played fabulous music. I discovered several artists on Caroline who I don’t think I’d ever have found on mainstream radio.

Fast forward to last year…….I got a pair of pro AirPods for my birthday, and I just loved/love the quality of sound which they deliver. I found an app, called “sTREAMs” which made it easy to find radio stations which made full use of the surround sound capabilities of the pods. Guess what I found there? Radio Caroline! Hey, it’s still there! Of course, not a pirate station any more, and now with internet radio, is there any such thing as pirate radio any more? What a joy! But, a little browsing on the app took me to another station I’d never heard of before….Radio Paradise. Well, I’ve been listening to Radio Paradise A LOT in recent weeks. There are no ads, no “stuffing”, just one good, high quality, track after another. It delivers old favourites to me, so I know “I’m on their wavelength”, but it also serves up lots of artists I know nothing about. It’s like opening a door to a new treasure room of delights! I love it!
Well, yesterday I used the photo of the storm, and I wrote the post “The Edge of the Storm”, contemplating about our reactions to looming storms, our ways of both reacting to, and responding to, threats. Then in the afternoon, I’m sitting out in the sunshine and I’m listening to Radio Paradise and on comes this song……..”Storm comin’ “ by the Wailin’ Jennys. I’d never heard this song before and I’d never heard of the band either but I was hooked! What a great song……..here’s a link to the youtube video so you can hear it.

Ok, that was surprise enough, and counts as a synchronicity for me, because how likely is it that I’d write a post about a storm coming in the morning, and here this song, apparently, “just by chance”, on a radio station in the afternoon? But listen to the lyrics. This isn’t a song about the fight/flight/freeze reactions I wrote about in the morning. It’s a song which says “don’t run for cover” – “let whatever is coming rain down on you” – in other words, have courage, and don’t hide, but go with the flow, lean into it, and continue to be present. Well, that’s a whole other level of response from the ones I wrote about in the morning, so listening to this deepened and broadened my understanding of how we might respond to the challenges and stresses which come our way.

Maybe in acute situations, freeze/flee/fright might be just what we need, but I suspect in the longer term we need to face whatever comes our way, allow ourselves to be present with it, and live the experience. There’s a teaching about acceptance in here. There’s a teaching about adaptation. There’s a teaching about immersing yourself in the full flow of LIFE.

Isn’t synchronicity wonderful?

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During this pandemic our horizons have been drawn closer, our worlds have become physically smaller and our social worlds have either diminished completely, or have been translated into the virtual world of messaging, video calls, and emails……something which can be enriching, even vital, but which still seem second best to the physical-social world of shared time AND space, and, especially of touch.

It’s a time where there’s a sense of collapsing into ourselves, of withdrawal, and of separation. Which is one of the reasons why this image is particularly appealing to me today. It reminds me of the fact that in Nature there are cycles and seasons. There are times, for example in the winter, when creatures and plants withdraw into themselves, hibernate, go dormant, on in old Scots “courie in“. In other words, there is a time in Nature when it makes sense to fold inwards, to snuggle, to curl up. But the appearance of a first crocus plant in my garden this week reminded me that there is another season around the corner – Spring – and that in the Spring time we see the opposite direction of movement…..a shift towards expansion, reaching up and beyond, of unfurling and unfolding.

I chose the French word “epanouissement” for my word of the year this year…..it means to flourish, to open up, to unfurl, in the way you see a plant move from the phase of a bud to a fully opened, multi-petalled blossom or flower. So I think of that word as I look at this fern unfurling.

I don’t think this unfurling motion is something we need to wait for. It’s not just that we are in winter and spring is around the corner (if you live in the Southern hemisphere, of course, you are in summer, and it’s autumn that’s just around the corner!).

No, I think that every day we can find a way to tune into this unfurling – this expanding, developing, growing, shift from potential to realisation. One way I try to do that is to deliberately choose two activities every single day – one activity of learning, and one of creating. Because I think learning and creating are our two most fundamental ways of growing and developing.

I have had a love of learning all my life, and my curiosity and appetite for discovery and understanding has only grown over the years. It utterly delights me to learn something every day. Amongst my learning activities I do language learning. Every day I learn a little French and/or Spanish. It’s become a habit (I use Duolingo to embed that habit) and I do it formally, following exercises, and informally reading in French, every day. I’m just a beginner at Spanish but I’ll move on to reading Spanish soon. I’m always learning other things too. Questions pop into my head as I live an ordinary day, and I pursue some of those questions online, using wikipedia, blogs, youtube, podcasts and articles.

I also love to create – for me that’s primarily photography and writing – but playing music is part of it as well. Well, in the creative areas of life, I find there is also always something more to learn – whether that be at the piano, on the guitar, on the computer, or in writing exercises.

So, I think unfurling happens all the time for we, humans. We just have to choose to become aware of it and give it some time and attention.

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Every year I’m amazed to watch the butterflies appear in the garden the very same day the buddleia bushes flower. I’m convinced they both appear at exactly the same moment. No idea how that happens! Are the butterflies just hanging out around the corner somewhere waiting for the blossoms to appear, then zip round as fast as they can the moment that happens?

However it happens, it’s a delight to see so many varieties of butterfly (and the hummingbird moths, which are incredible creatures!), to watch how they fly in such utterly unpredictable directions, how they spread their wings in the sunlight, or close them up so they look like little leaves.

But here’s one thought which comes up for me time and time again when I see butterflies….they make me more aware of the cyclical nature of life. These little creatures have such different life stages, so different you wouldn’t realise they were stages of the same life. Do we think of them as having a beginning and an end? Starting with an egg, progressing through their caterpillar stages, becoming a chrysalis, then emerging as a butterfly which lays eggs, then dies. Is that the life?

I suppose we do all think of ourselves as having a beginning and an end. But where do we begin, and where do we end?

It depends on whether or not you want to reduce a person to just a physical body. My physical body began with a single fertilised egg and this body will die.

But what about ME?

Do I really think I’m only a physical body? Don’t I have a sense of something immaterial too? A consciousness? A sense of Self? A personality? Characteristics, behaviours, values, beliefs, creative acts, destructive acts? Is there anything I can do which doesn’t ripple out into the world beyond me?

When I look at Rodin’s “The Kiss”, or “The Thinker”, what do I see? The product of the imagination and creative skill of the man called Auguste Rodin. When I listen to music composed and performed by people who are long since dead, isn’t there something I’m sharing there which only they could have created? Aren’t these great works of art the ongoing ripples of unique human beings? Or do you think these are just their footprints? (It doesn’t seem that way to me….these works seem full of life and the potential to continue to create and send out ripples into the universe)

And what about those characteristics, quirks or tendencies that I have which others in my “family tree” also exhibited, even perhaps before I was born? Anyone who explores their genealogy encounters remarkable “coincidences”, talents, life events, behaviours which echo down through the generations. Weren’t those threads present even before the egg which became me even existed?

I think it’s inadequate to narrow a person down to a physical body.

But even if we did, there is still the fact that the body changes continually. It never stops. There is a constant turnover of cells, new beginnings, new endings, every hour of every day. There is a continuous exchange of energy, materials and information between my body and my environment, and we all share the same environment, the same atmosphere, the same air, water…..we are all made from the same molecules, all created from the same “star stuff”.

So it seems to me that beginnings and endings are everywhere……wherever, and whenever, we happen to look.

But it also seems to me that they are nowhere. They just don’t exist. We all emerge from, and dissolve into, the great cycles of the universe.

Beginnings and endings are just where we choose them to be. But we can always make a different choice. We can always take a broader view, a bigger view, a longer view, a more holistic view.

I’m reminded of a song from my school days….it’s by Jeff Beck, and it’s called “Hi Ho Silver Lining” – he sang this truth right there in the opening line of this song…in the first five words……

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I suspect a lot of us have a lot of music in our heads. Sometimes we start to hum a tune or sing a song and only after we’ve started do we become aware that we’re doing it. Then we might pause to wonder “why did that particular song, or tune, come into my head just now?”

I find that when I look at some images something similar happens. Take this for example. I took this photo of an old couple sitting in a public park in Limoges a few weeks ago. They are both engrossed in their books. Their body positions and their physical closeness tell us they are close, that they are connected, as well as the fact that they are both enjoying reading in the park.

As I saw them, and as I looked at this image again just now, certain songs popped into my head and I could hear them as clearly as if I was playing them on a stereo.

This because of the line “You read your Emily Dickinson and I my Robert Frost. We mark our page with bookmarkers which measure what we’ve lost”

And, by the same musicians….


“sat on a park bench like bookends”

OK, so that example was a pretty obvious one, but sometimes the music which starts to play in our heads is not so easy to nail down. Sometimes we just enjoy that it’s there without even wondering “why this music?” “why now?”

I know I can use music to match or create mood, but this phenomenon of the music just seeming to appear has all the quality of somebody else hitting the “play” button. Even if that somebody else is also me!

What music started to play in your head today, and do you know why?

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In his essay, “On Experience”, Montaigne wrote

Nor is there anything more remarkable in Socrates than the fact that in his old age he finds time to take lessons in dancing and playing instruments, and considers it well spent.

Socrates? In his old age? Dancing and playing music?! Well, I never…..

I thought about that the other day when I saw the starlings gathering again in the trees at the top of vineyard. They gather in their dozens, then their hundreds, and then, I suspect (because I haven’t tried to count them), in their thousands. As they settle into the trees they begin a great commotion, all singing and whistling and shouting it seems at the same time. They can keep this up for several minutes and so far I haven’t been able to figure out whether or not they are singing together or just all singing at the same time.

No matter really, because all of a sudden the whole flock falls completely silent – not a cheep! The silence is always, and I mean always, followed by flight. Suddenly they take off as one and fly away from the trees.

Then you can see something quite remarkable. The flock will divide into sub-groups and be joined by yet others you hadn’t even noticed coming. They will swoop down onto the vines, or soar high into the sky. I have no idea how you predict which way they are going to fly next and I can’t see that they all follow a single leader.

They really do seem to fly as one great organism.

I don’t know why they gather and behave like this. I fancy they just like singing and dancing. A bit like Socrates did, it seems…..

When they fly directly overhead the sound of their wings beating the air can take your breath away.

I’m sure they enjoy what they are doing even more than I enjoy watching them, but they affirm for me somehow how one of the best things to do in life is to enjoy living, to celebrate your music and your movement and your ability to join with, and flourish with, others…..

starlings in the tree

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September’s issue of Philiosophie magazine has an interview with the Japanese author, Kenzaburô ôe who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994.

It’s a fascinating and striking article. He has been a controversial figure in Japan because of the subject matter of his novels, one of which challenges the official version of what happened in Okinawa at the end of the Second World War. Officially, 100,000 Okinawans committed suicide claiming loyalty to the Emperor rather than be over-run by the invading Americans. Kenzaburô says this is a lie. He says the Imperial Army massacred the Okinawans and they died called for their mothers, not swearing loyalty to the Emperor.

He has also shone a clear light on the reality of life for those who survived the blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Telling their stories shows how these particular bombs didn’t just kill and wound when they were dropped, but continue to damage those who survived right into the present day.

It’s no surprise then to read that since Fukushima he actively campaigns for the abandonment of nuclear power in Japan.

A big part of the story of his life is the birth of his son in 1963. Hikari was born with a severe brain defect and his parents had to decide to either let him die, or have an operation which would likely leave him severely mentally handicapped. They chose the latter. In addition to his severe handicap he has autism and he didn’t speak until he was six.

His first words were actually a sentence. The family was walking in the forest and at the sound of a particular bird call, Hikari said, in exactly the same way a radio presenter of a nature documentary would, “that is the call of the (such an such bird)” – and it was! After that his parents started buying bird song CDs and Hikari learned them all. They moved on to music, playing him Bach and Mozart, and were astonished to find, as he got older, that he could transcribe into musical notation perfectly any piece of music after hearing it just once. More than that, he went on to compose his own music.

Kenzaburô says his son has never expressed any emotion but his music is deeply emotional. His first CD sold 400,000 copies in Japan.

Here’s a video clip of one of his pieces.

Kenzaburô’s daily life is spent in his study reading and writing, while his son sits by him listening to, and writing, music.

A remarkable man.

Right at the end of the interview he says of creative work that it is important to find your own voice, or your own style – to be careful not to “get lost in the universal”.

I like that a lot. Too often we lose our singular uniqueness by trying to be accepted, or to fit in, or to be popular. Isn’t it more important to be the one unique person who only we can be?

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The Mission

I recently received my first “Discover Weekly Playlist” from Spotify and so far, I’ve really enjoyed every single track. So, does Spotify “know” me?

We have more and more services like this around us – Amazon telling us what other people who bought “this” also bought (or even looked at!), Apple telling us what other apps other people bought who bought this particular one….and so on. This is something which Maria Popova has written about in her excellent Brain Pickings

I recently found myself in an intense conversation with a friend about privacy — why it matters; how much of it we’re relinquishing and what for; whether it is even possible to maintain even a modicum of control over our own privacy at this point…….It suddenly struck me that our cultural narrative about privacy is completely backward: What we really fear is not that the internet — or a prospective employer, or a nosy lover, or Big Brother — knows too much about us, but that it knows too little; that it fails to encompass Whitman’s multitudes which each of contains; that it reduces the larger, complex truth of who we are to a few fragmented facts about what we do; that it hijacks our rich, ever-evolving personal stories and replaces them with disjointed anecdotal data.

I hadn’t thought of it that way around when it comes to the internet, but she is definitely onto something. The underlying truth of what she is referring to is similar to what I read years ago in Mary Midgley’s “Wisdom, Information and Wonder” where she wrote –

One cannot claim to know somebody merely because one has collected a pile of printed information about them

That observation seemed absolutely true to me in the domain of health care where sadly, far, far too often, “data” or “information” is ALL that is known about a particular patient as individual narratives are dismissed as “anecdotes” or “unscientific subjectivity”. That dominant way of practising Medicine always seemed to me to be just the opposite of how it should be done. Information, or data, can tell you something about some aspect of a person’s disease but it’s a long way from the person’s own narrative.

One of the dangers of substituting data for narrative is the presumption of knowing – I used to say to patients that each of us spends a lifetime trying to really know ourselves (and I’m not sure any of ever complete that task!) so how can I presume to know them from hearing just a little of their story over the course of an hour or so? Frankly, reducing their stories to a few data points just takes doctors and nurses even further away from knowing their patients.

Maria Popova’s recommendation to counter this is to “master the art of personal narrative” –

Perhaps the most potent antidote to this increasingly disempowering cultural shift is to grow ever more thoughtful and deliberate about how we tell our own stories

Thought provoking, huh?

Even when someone uses the personal data we’ve shared to offer us more music, books, restaurants etc, that we may like, I think its best to keep these things as hints. That’s why “discover weekly” works for me – it doesn’t assume the impossible – they don’t know me – but I’m happy to have them help me discover new music. And I’ll use some of their suggestions to continue to make my own playlists.

Where are you with this issue of information, privacy and how we make ourselves known to the world?


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To the sea again

I’ve reached “Y” again in my “A to Z of Becoming”, and the first “becoming” verb I thought of for the letter “y”, was “yearn”.

This is a tricky one, because yearning has a bit of a bad press. It’s often associated with wanting what you don’t have, or, in other words, with dissatisfaction. But I think it emerges from something very positive and creative.

When we yearn for something there is the possibility that we are getting in touch with our heart’s desire. The French philosopher, Deleuze, whose writings were the original spark for this blog, talked of “lines of flight” – and interesting metaphor to change the way we think about things. When we look up at the sky and see a plane flying past the moon
Flying past the moon

, we can see a bit of a trail. We can see something of where it’s come from and what direction it’s heading in. It’s an image like that which came to my mind when I read about the “lines of flight” and for me it’s an encouragement to see something in its context – the context of where it’s come from and where it’s going.

When I think of yearning from this perspective, it seems to me that yearning arises from our heart felt desires, from our deepest longings. So, one of the benefits of yearning is to become aware of what our heart’s true desires are.

As K D Lang sang in “Constant Craving”

Maybe a great magnet pulls
All souls to what’s true

Do these heart desires push us forward from within, or are they magnets pulling us towards something, somebody, some place?

When you stop and reflect and wonder about what stirs your longings, your yearnings, you have at the chance to get in touch with some of your most heart felt desires.

There’s something else about yearning – it pulls us out of balance.

I know people talk a lot about balance as a good thing, but it isn’t everything. All living creatures are “complex adaptive systems” and one of the main ways that such systems grow and develop is by tending towards the “far from equilibrium” points. At those places the system can fall to pieces, tipping into chaos, or it can transform to a whole new level, as we see in “dissipative systems“. The “far from equilibrium” points are where our yearnings take us.

So, there’s something potentially enormously creative about yearning. It can pull us towards the new and the heart-felt.

Remember John Masefield’s poem?

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
                                                          And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

zen seascape

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Take me to the church

I think you can look at various elements in this photo and be stimulated to reflect on the “life of the spirit” – in the countryside, in the vines, in the barrels!, in the “place of worship”, in the sky, in the sea…..

When I first looked at this photo I heard this song in my head (I like this version from Postmodern Jukebox) –

ooh! And you can FEEL it in this music!

So, how about you? What does “life of the spirit” mean to you?

What stirs the invisible in you?

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les jeux. Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

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redstart on the antenna
I haven’t posted any music here for a while, but this photo I took the other day instantly reminded me of one of my favourite songs…..

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