Archive for the ‘music’ 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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Apparently we are the only creatures on the planet to create works of art. I know, you’ll have seen some painting done by a chimpanzee or an elephant, but they aren’t exactly spontaneous acts of self expression or interpretation are they? No, Art is something unique to being human. There are many examples of “wall art” or “cave art” in France, discovered in recent years but painted some tens of thousands of years ago. It seems that even way back when our ancestors were nomadic hunter gatherers supposedly spending most of their days on the survival needs of food, water and shelter, they still had time to create astonishingly complex art, and, for some reason, often carried them out in the most difficult locations deep underground.

I’m using the term “art” here as broadly as I can, but I mean the kind of art which included drawing and painting. I’m not excluding the fabulous arts of sculpture, of music, of storytelling, poetry, dance, and so on, but, for today, I’m focused on visual art.

For me, Art is an experience. I don’t regard Art as an object, or a collection of objects. It’s an event. It’s an engagement. It’s a moment where we connect to what is greater than ourselves. It stirs our emotions, sparks our imaginations, and stimulates our empathy……we connect to the artist and/or the world as experienced by that artist.

Every work of art was created in a particular place at a particular time, and I mean that not just in the externals of geography and history, but in the internals of a personal life story, an individual, subjective, lived experience. So when we encounter that work of art at some other time, in some other place, we experience a (sometimes) powerful connection with the artist, with the life of the artist. I put “sometimes” in brackets there because it’s certainly not the case that all art has a powerful effect, and I’m not even clear about what it is that makes the difference. I do know, however, that the power of art is dependant on both the person creating the art, and the person experiencing it.

All this came to mind when I looked at this old photo I took in Japan many years ago. It just looks like a work of art to me. It reminds me of the classic traditions of “Still Life” (which I find such an odd term because no life is still), or, as it is called in French “Nature Morte” (which translates as “Dead Nature” – nope, can’t say I like that any better!). The twig, the leaf, the petals and the stone all look as if they have been arranged in the most beautiful way.

But here’s the thing….I don’t think this was created by human hands. I just stumbled upon some fallen parts of plants, lying on a stone in a garden, crouched down, framed it, and took this shot. OK, so maybe I’m the artist. Maybe the work of art is the photograph. But what I mean is that so much of everyday Nature looks like a work of Art. Creation, the cycles of birth and death, the seasons and the weather, the light, the water and the air, the myriad of diverse lifeforms everywhere, all adds up to an infinite number of opportunities to encounter deeply moving Art.

Because this moves me, this image. Yes, I know, I have a set of memories connected the to event of taking the photograph, which you don’t have, but there’s something about the colours, shapes and nature of the elements in this arrangement which I find deeply moving……which stir in me, memory, imagination and wonder, which provokes joy and delight, which makes me amazed to be alive in this, this most astonishing, small blue planet, we call Earth.

In an image like this, the artist I connect to is Planet Earth.

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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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I can’t stress too highly the importance of art in life. We seem to be the only creatures on the planet who have the immense creative powers to produce drawings, paintings, sculpture, poetry, stories and music (OK, I know, there are other arts you can think of, but I’m just choosing these ones today)

In the Glyptotek museum in Copenhagen you can find these three sculptures in a room filled with many similar gorgeous works of art. Part of the beauty we experience when we look at these images is created by the way the works are lit (and there’s another layer of creativity between my experience and yours because I’m the one who took these photographs).

At the top, are two sculptures about music. Look at the violins, the bows, and the musicians fingers….all carved out of blocks of marble. Aren’t they incredible? The one on the right is titled “Young Mozart”, and I’m afraid I can’t remember the title of the one on the left (if you know, maybe you could let me know in the comments?)

I read in Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary”, that one theory of language is that human beings sang before they spoke. It seems there is some evidence to support the idea that the first humans created a variety of sounds, and only later, turned some of those sounds into spoken language. Written language followed a long, long time later. Also, in his book, he explores how music works, not as a collection of notes, or moments or sound, but as a combination of notes and silences between the notes. When you stop to think about music it’s incredibly difficult to pin down what seems so simple – where is the music, actually? It’s not in the notes by themselves. It’s not in the spaces. It’s in the whole – in the phrases, the bars, the themes, the entire melody and the rhythm. I love how it seems to resist reduction – you can only appreciate it, and enjoy it, when it’s whole.

Another thing about music is how personal it is. I bet you had the experience when you were younger of your parents just “not getting” the music you enjoyed. Perhaps always telling you to turn it down? Or saying “That’s not music!” Then as you got older, if you’ve had children of your own, you might find they like a lot of the music that you like, but I bet you’ll also find that they enjoy some music that has you saying “That’s not music! Turn it down!”

Music is intensely personal. It’s one of the best, most powerful ways, to evoked memories. A certain song can take you right back to a particular moment years ago, or can evoke all the feelings you have for a loved one. It stirs us, moves us, changes our entire physiology, affecting our breathing, our heart rate, the mobilisation of chemicals and hormones in our bodies. It affects our muscles, our movement, our stomachs.

I saw a short piece on French TV recently about Melody Gardot, who at age 19 had a serious bike accident. She was in hospital for over a year and had many difficult neurological problems. At one point a doctor suggested music therapy and her mother bought her a guitar. She taught herself to play it, started writing songs, and made a full recovery. She is now an internationally famous, beautiful jazz singer. Check her out. Quite a story! And such beautiful music!

The lower photo above is of Anacreon the poet. Poetry, like music, is handled mainly by the right hemisphere of the brain (whereas language, words stories are largely handled by the left). Poetry is closely related to music. It’s not about conveying instructions or information. It evokes emotions, changes our bodies the way music does, and also has the power to evoke intense memories. In this sculpture, Anacreon has two infants in his arms….and doesn’t he so obviously love them? They are Bacchus and Cupid. Bacchus is the God of Wine, and Cupid the God of Love. Well, not hard to see why he loves them so, huh? Bacchus is also known as Dionysus. You can read a bit more about him here. He’s the God of a lot more than wine. Cupid, the God of passionate desire, of affection and attraction.

Finally, here’s an interesting fact connected to this issue of how our two cerebral hemispheres engage with the world in different ways. Iain McGilchrist’s thesis is that we’ve become a bit stuck in our left hemispheres and we need to develop a better integration of the two halves. One way to do that might be to consciously use the right hemisphere more – so, what better way than to start with spending more time each day listening to music and reading poetry?

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This time of year it’s not uncommon to wake up and find that the vineyards have disappeared. They are hidden in dense morning mist. Just like in this photo here.

I can almost see some of the trees. I can see the nearest vineyard but I know there are several others beyond this one. I can’t see the next village.

The fog brings the horizon much closer. I can only see what is close to me. I’m reminded of a passage by the late, great John O’Donohue –

Today the light is very low so the fog is covering the mountains. When the fog is there, half of them are missing. But, in some sense, that is the duty of the imagination: to help us connect with that which is invisible but is actually very close.

What a great reminder that we need our imagination to “help us connect with that which is invisible but is actually very close”.

How do we see the invisible? Well, Saint-Exupery told us

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Sheer beauty.

What is it that I love so much about this world?

The wonders of the everyday. Or “L’émerveillement du quotidien”. It’s normal for me to find myself wondering about something I’ve just seen or heard.

I suppose for most of my working life my days were filled with patients. I never tired of that. I never got bored of that. Every day each patient would present to me a unique a story, a new, and singular problem, puzzle or conundrum to unravel. Each patient would be asking me to help them make sense of what they were experiencing and to support their abilities to heal, to cope, to adapt. Maybe they didn’t quite use that language but that’s always what I heard.

Before I became a doctor, way before, right back as early as I can remember I was driven by curiosity. I wanted to learn, discover and explore. It strikes me now that it isn’t a long way from curiosity to wonder.

People have always amazed me. They still do. Life has always amazed me. This Earth, this planet, the solar system, this universe which we all live in have always amazed me, filling me with an infinite supply of curiosity.

But there’s something else.


Look at this photo of a glorious, immersive sunset, where every single element of the sky and the Earth changes colour. Look at the palette! It is just breathtakingly gorgeous.

I see beauty everywhere. Which isn’t to say I find everything I see beautiful, I don’t. But there is “so much beauty in this world” (do you know what movie that comes from? Here’s the answer).

I am a very visual person. I think visually. I sketch and diagram as I think. I love photography and I think I “have an eye for it”. I see what I find amazing, curious or beautiful and I try to take a photo or two. Then I return to those images again and again, year after year, and I find that, like with this one, the delight, the pleasure, the amazement in beauty like this never fades.

Of course there are other senses and I don’t just experience beauty visually. I love music. I collected “records” long before people starting calling them “vinyl”. I still have them. I still play them. I spent hours and hours ripping CDs onto iTunes and I don’t even know where those libraries are any more! But I stream music now. Every day. Several times a day. I used to discover new music on the radio. I took the back off an old radio when I was a teenager, attached two wires to the speaker using clips, and fed the audio directly into a cassette recorder. I still have some of those recordings…..studio sessions on John Peel’s programme on Radio 1.

I’ve long had a love for movies. I love them for their stories and for their beauty, oh, and I often love them for their music. I compiled short clips of about a hundred movies to teach doctors and other health care workers about our unique human strategies for coping and adapting. I could have taught those strategies without movies but the beauty, wonder and emotional engagement which came with the movies made them much easier to learn and to remember. I probably have a whole vocabulary of coping and adapting based on movie characters, scenes and plots.

There is beauty all around us. I delight in images. I delight in music. I delight in movies.

Where do you find beauty? Where did you find beauty today?

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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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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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