Archive for the ‘music’ Category

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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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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Opera Paris


That most human of practices. Yes, I know birds sing and so on, but look at the place of music in human life.

Is there any other creature which creates and enjoys music as much as human beings? I don’t think so. Indeed, I think we tend to hear the music in Nature, or rather, that we turn the sounds we hear into music. We even talk about the music of the spheres, as a way of thinking about the structure of the cosmos.

Iain McGilchrist, in his wonderful The Master and His Emissary, discusses the theory that music preceded language and that rings true for me.

Music is as individual as we are. How easy we find it to recognise a particular singer, or guitarist for example? Or to recognise the work of a particular composer?

Music moves us. It can affect our mood, lifting us up, getting us going, slowing us down, calming us.

Music opens the floodgates of memory taking us back in an instant to a particular time of our lives, or to a particular event.

Music connects us. It connects us to individuals in our lives, both those still with us, and those who have passed on. Sharing the experience of a concert can create an intense feeling of solidarity and belonging with the others in the audience.

Music moves us physically too, affecting our heart rate, our breathing, the release of a cascade of hormones in our bodies which change our internal environment…..one of the ways in which music can heal.

Music can inspire us, stimulating our creativity or helping us to achieve certain goals.

These days it is so easy to create playlists, to gather together particular works of music which can influence us in certain ways. And we can share those playlists with others too.

So, here’s an idea. Why not make yourself some playlists? List some of the ways in which music affects YOU and then gather some particular examples together to make playlists for each of those ways. Then use those playlists where and whenever you desire. Experience for yourself just how music can re-enchant your life.

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According to a government report workers who retire early risk “boredom, loneliness and poverty“.

Well, that’s something to look forward to, huh? Strange report – probably part of a fear campaign to try and keep people in employment for longer. What are they suggesting, actually? It’s better to retire later? Or that if you are working, even on a minimum wage, zero hours contract in your 60s and 70s you will avoid “boredom, loneliness and poverty”?

I suspect this kind of thinking says more about how we live than it does about the respective benefits of employment and retirement.

Funnily enough, I just stumbled over this quote from Goethe –

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’ll be continuing to do that once I start my early retirement next month! And much else besides. I’m anticipating that the post-employment years will include lots of discovery, creativity, personal development and fun.

Meantime, here’s a little music

and a little poetry

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

– from Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day


Here’s a fine picture

glorious seedhead


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Wonder is one of my most favourite verbs.

I like the French word émerveillement which captures the essence of wonder for me. I think this is a great way to approach Life.

There are two aspects of the verb wonder which really appeal to me.

The first is to wonder in the sense of curiosity…….as in “I wonder what this is?” Here’s an example – “Is this a rock, or a tree? I wonder how these markings formed on this rock?”


rock weathering

The second is to wonder with a sense of amazement……as in “Wow! look at the patterns of the rock and the patterns on the stream, and how similar they are!”

rock waves

sparkling water


I would like to propose that an attitude of wonder increases the quality of your life, whereas, an attitude of scepticism, or nihilism…..hmm….well you tell me if you find those attitudes life enhancing.

Just as a wee bonus today, here is a great song about wondering…..


And, another bonus (well, it is my birthday!)


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Spotted these tadpoles in a pond up near Aberfeldy yesterday. This shot of them captured only a small portion of the hundreds swimming around the edge of the pond.

What do you think about when you think of tadpoles?

I bet you don’t think what I do.

Here’s what happens when I see tadpoles. I hear a song in my head. “Share it” by Hatfield and the North.

Do you know that song? Do you know why I hear it when I see tadpoles? Well, when I was a teenager, my friends and I were great fans of bands like Soft Machine, Caravan, Camel, and Hatfield and the North. So when Hatfield and the North played the Student Union at Edinburgh University we went along. My friend Ian seemed to know all the words of their songs and sang along. At the end of the concert, Ian made for the front and asked Richard Sinclair, the singer a question. The question?

“I can make out all the words of ‘Share it’ apart from the first one. It’s “something is screaming in my ear” but what’s the something? Richard Sinclair leaned down from the stage and whispered one word into Ian’s ear. What was the word?


If you don’t know the song, here it is


Listen carefully to the very first word. You’ll see he wasn’t kidding! 

But do you know what amazes me most about tadpoles? Metamorphosis.

During metamorphosis, a tadpole loses it tail, grow legs, loses its gills and grows lungs, rewiring it’s nervous system and on and on…..the number of changes are astonishing. How does it do that? We know a little bit about some of what’s involved (hormonal changes and different responses in different tissues to the same hormones) but we absolutely don’t know how these these massive changes are co-ordinated. 

Amazing. Completely amazing

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