Saturday, 24 April 2021

When we let the dust settle

Some week ago I had a few notes or maybe even a phrase of music in mind, I can't recall how or why it came to me but I tried to get enough of something, some lyrics or a few more notes that might help me recall what it was. I tried Googling a few potential lyrics - nope, couldn't find it. I tried Googling sax solos  - nope, couldn't find it. Then last week by chance I heard it on the radio - Hazel O'Connor - Will You. Now, for years I think I may have mis-heard the lyrics, hearing 'Or will you just politely say goodnight' as will you adjust the light beam. Which may or may not in the past have resulted in my missing the scene described by the lyrics. However, I doubt anyone could really miss the meaning in the music. Both the voice and the sax sing it out but of course in the sax it's absolutely out there. And it's in Vaughan Williams -The Lark Ascending in a more Apollonian, spiritual form. In Will You it's in its passionate Dionysian form. Yearning. Both manifestations, one the longing to return home out of form back to the source the other to be so one with experience as to totally merge with form(s) are I think at the heart of the human spiritual journey. We are suspended between heaven and earth. Each moment (of experience) comes into being with us, is us and we feel separate and want not to feel so. Somehow we know... Know what? That we come out of the garden (to have experience) and whereas that sax in Will You paints that yearning as for experience, and the lyrics describe the tipping point where a relationship between two people could develop into romantic / erotic love,  The Lark Ascending points to returning. Joni Mitchell pulls all sides nicely together in We Are Stardust. And I read in today's Jade Mountains post a poem pointing to the Nothing that is. Which seems to me to be on the same page as the music above when you let the dust settle. (That's to say settle so as to not obscure rather than gather.)

So I was musing about the sax in Will You today as DC and I were out and about and started talking to him about it. We quickly came to the same place about yearning with DC noting that the saxophone has a distinctive passionate sound that doesn't easily blend in. I said I like that about it and we both agreed much the same could be said about me. Of course I like to see that in a creative and colourful way rather than its flip side which is less appealing. It's all very well to each be the forms through which the mirror of awareness reflects but it's less appealing to be be the dust that can gather (and thus obscure). I love the storey of Huineng and the illustration of the roles of practice and understanding in his addition to the stanza by Shenxiu. It came to me writing this post pulling the music, the emotions and thoughts together and then adding in the Jade Mountains post.

Friday, 2 April 2021

The Third Man

Last night DC and I watched the film The Third Man. We didn't set out to watch it but instead it was one of those fortunate turns of evening entertainment.

The Wikipedia entry says - The atmospheric use of black-and-white expressionist cinematography by Robert Krasker, with harsh lighting and distorted "Dutch angle" camera technique, is a major feature of The Third Man. Combined with the iconic theme music, seedy locations and acclaimed performances from the cast, the style evokes the atmosphere of an exhausted, cynical post-war Vienna at the start of the Cold War.

Having read part way through the movie (and rightly DC will tell me off for Googling things when we're watching a film) that the film employs the above techniques we did indeed notice them and in fact commented just how obvious they are. Setting aside the cinematography and concentrating on the plot we might note that the character Harry Lime whom the movie revolves around doesn't appear until relatively late and his character is only gradually revealed. Indeed, what becomes apparent is that we never get to know much about him and those who have had lengthy and / or close relationships with him it seems don't really know him either; what they seem to have is a projection, a fantasy. But neither do we get the chance to explore the character and the version of him the other characters hold in their minds. No, the protagonist in this movie is not Lime but rather Vienna. Anna, who we gather was in love with Lime does indeed appear exhausted and cynical at some level. And whilst the role is no doubt a cypher for Vienna at the time, she does I think raise a question about the difference between who people are and who they're seen to be. If she has painted Lime as at least lovable to her and she remains unchanged in her view even when she knows of his dreadful deeds, then Holly Martins who reappraises his view of Lime upon discovering his deeds seems no less to see her as someone he cares about. There is here then Martins looking at Anna looking at Lime. But it is their versions of the people they look at. There is the sense in the movie that all the characters are in their own world, all coping with this post-war world in which they find themselves. Vienna is divided into sectors and there is a sense of compartmentalisation throughout the movie. Yet at the same time there's a sense that beyond all this there is still humanity. It is then I think, interesting that the book and film versions have different endings - in the book Martins and Anna get together, they don't in the film. The film stays focused on separation but in so doing evokes connection.

What this film prompted me to post about is this mixture of separation, projection and connection. The interconnected nature of our existence and the paradox of our apparent separation seems to me to be at the heart of the storey.


Tuesday, 16 February 2021

It's a Sin

I've just watched the final episode of Russel T Davies' It's a Sin, a drama about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's. I'm reduced to that place of our deepest humanity where we see the madness of our human condition: the struggles and anxieties, the joy and the sorrow on the canvas of our sacred nature. This is a special place for in it there is acceptance and forgiveness and we expand in a timeless peace. And yet it includes a tinge of the prospect of more pain. Pain which of course gives joy and love part of their meaning. There are tears and I wonder - what is being felt here? Accepting my homosexuality only in my mid twenties whilst compounding the shame and isolation society's homophobia had sewn into every fibre of my being, had protected me in the 1980's from HIV and AIDS. But it had also robbed me of the friendships and loves that the epidemic might have taken away from me and/or me from them... Life of course has thrown up other challenges and those struggles rise through layers of being to be felt in the space unfolding now. And there is a gentle holding of the shame, the fear and the confusion. Time is passing; I'm no longer in the timeless space. Sat at my desk I write this. A 5 Rhythms wave I assembled is playing; I'd been playing it earlier and knew the tracks would help with the writing. There is emotion, energy, joy and life in the music and the feelings produced are good - the dissolving of little lead jackets on each cell which in turn releases the knowledge of their forgotten existence producing both relief and pain fades and is replaced by a light playful gratitude for life and the need to dance. I move sympathetically to music, the emotion and the process of writing as Le Vent  Nous Portera by Noir Désir plays...

It is good to have combined this music, a 5 Rhythms wave, with the process of writing. I realise how valuable both practices (writing and dancing) are! The tracks flow on: Baby Elephant Walk by Henry Mancini, La Valse à Mille Temps by Jacques Brel, Waltz From Maskarade by Aram Khachaturian... and at this track I am back fully in the expressive vitality of life - the yearning and the swirling, the sheer joy of the madness - marvellous! I started putting these tracks together back in 2018 but couldn't fully get the whole wave finished to my satisfaction. The theme is mystery and the motif is a swirling motion but there is also a digeridoo track with a strong focused energy... I should finish this wave and play it with the dance collective. Oh how I miss dancing the Rhythms together with other people in a big space. The Covid pandemic has put a stop to all that just now. Across this planet we humans are faced with yet one more plague. And the thing about this one is that to control it we are forced to stay physically apart from each other. We cannot gather, hold each other even in sexless embrace, see and feel the light each of us radiates... In to My Arms by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds plays now. It's the last track of the wave... The lyrics are:

I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms
And I don't believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that's true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
To each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my…

This post is for all the ways of loving and all the losses our coming out of the garden facilitates and for the space in which see that garden.

Sunday, 7 February 2021

God's Own Country

Last night DC and I watched God's Own Country. We'd seen it before when it first came out, at the cinema (oh happy pre-Covid days) but it had come to my mind a few times in recent days and I wanted to see it again. It's a beautiful film about struggle and softening. Gheorghe a Romanian migrant worker comes to work at a small struggling family farm run almost single handily by Johnny, an isolated, frustrated young man who has too much placed upon his shoulders and reacts with binge drinking and aggressive casual sex. Johnny lives with his father, who has had a stroke, and his grandmother. There is bitterness and anger in all three characters, and the life is hard. Gheorghe is used to harsh conditions; calm, wise and gentle, he coaxes life into all he comes in to contact with. But this is not Cold Comfort Farm; there's no romanticism or satire here. The film turns on the relationship between Johnny and Gheorghe, a relationship which opens Johnny up to love. Johnny is emotionally unavailable; there is anger in the furtive casual sex he engages in and he is lost to himself, struggling to square the circle. The sex he has with Gheorghe is transformative. Gheorghe arrests the anger in Johnny's sex and allows a powerful space in which it is naturally allowed to soften in to love. The sex between them, in contrast to the tight, addictive, restrictive bursts of lust fuelled release Johnny has previously known, affords opening; it cleaves the men open and thence together. In the process Johnny eventually releases the fight with himself and his situation and sees what it is he wants: Gheorghe and a life together as lovers running the farm - together. Again this is a gritty path and not a romantic one; but the concluding scene where Gheorghe opens the farmhouse door for Johnny to enter what is to be their home is a metaphor for the film: Gheorghe has opened Johnny to life.

What I find stimulating in this film is the exploration of confusion and struggle counterpoised with acceptance, softening and love, and the role sexual energy plays in the process. This is a film about embodied existence: weather, mud, farm animals, physical work, the human body and its reaction to life. Johnny's grandmother alludes to the life having been in part responsible for his father's debilitation and calving and lambing show the fecundity and vulnerability of life and the raw visceral reality of flesh. The breath, heat and desire between Johnny and Gheorghe explode through the cold damp environs of the landscape and later resonate with the spectacular scenery. The film stays real, and whilst a flash of DH Lawrence crossed my mind, I smiled at the irony of the flash and saw the half baked creative madness of our fetishes and fantasies. Johnny's impulsive eye-eye, eye-crotch, eye-eye pick-ups and associated fast sex before returning to his pint or whatever he was halfway through contrast with Gheorghe's love making and Johnny's learning to love. This too is visceral. And there is a sense of something trying to come through, to emerge. Here I think we see the contrast of struggle - an attempt at forcing and controlling life - with allowing; not as separate aspects or ways of being but rather informing each other and weaving us. The Tao flows effortlessly, but is it not in our relationship with it that our spirituality is to be found? Somehow, for me this film pulls together the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of what it is to be human and invites softening. It is a film about transformation.

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Our True Home

And so I have found myself slightly swimming about in strange waters. DC and I are in the process of moving house. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster but we're increasingly becoming excited by the proposal. What of course is so stressful about moving house is that it is not just a big financial step to sell and buy a house but that it is fundamentally moving home. And it is home which is questioned here. What do we want our new home to be, to be about? What is home in the deeper, spiritual sense. The second question informing the first. And so practical questions about physical location, build quality, and all related potential  unknowns merge into the most important existential question of all. A question that this morning DC and I found ourselves sharing whilst getting ready for the day in the bathroom (such is the wonderful mix of the mundane and the profound that is our habit). It seems we had both been sitting with it - him in his traditional Indian singing practice earlier and me both on and off my cushion (ie in formal and everyday meditation). The conversation unfolded so as to posit an axis spanning the materialist view at one end and the mystical at the other and set parallel with an axis of there is no God at one end to we are all God / Source / Buddha at the another. The conversational path towards these axes traversing for DC the notion of an all powerful, all seeing and perhaps directing or intervening God in the western Christian sense as existing or not, whilst for me traversing the way in which our karma, our conditioning, reveals our Buddha nature, for we are conditioned beings. And so together we stood there and came to that place where the ever present but more often than not hiding in plain sight question came into focus- what is the relation between our everyday experience and the deepest reality? With life somewhat shutdown due to covid restrictions, social interactions curtailed and the world viewed through the window of video conferencing (MS Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp video calls) DC and I have been other than our constitutional walk around the local streets and for me very occasional site visits for work, largely holed up in our hutch together. And it has been a busy time not just due to the potential house move but also with work. (I am grateful for that and find I really enjoy my work and like my colleagues.) So, due to covid it has been for almost a year now a different sort of everyday to that which we are used. For some covid has meant a time for inward reflection and there has been time for that. However, as I've been still working I've not had the space to go on an inward journey in the way that can be renewing spiritually. And because I've not been able to properly meet up with the folk who in one way or another make up my sangha I've been feeling my way through all these recent months have been bringing up in a somewhat haphazard way I suppose. So this morning in the bathroom when DC asked me about karma I understood straight away that what we were both sitting with was something that might be put thus: is the unknowable ground of being to be seen in simple rational western philosophical terms, ie to acknowledge that there is no Archimedean point but to believe that that alone does not have any mystical significance, or in terms of the perennial philosophy, ie to make that acknowledgement leads naturally to believe in a greater significance. Or to put this more succinctly where are each of us sitting in our experience of emptiness. Those strange waters are a kind of testing of faith. A faith in nothing which somehow becomes everything. I walked from the bathroom to my study, to the book shelf, to look for something which might ground this (no doubt through the poetic) in to some... I went to The Gateless Gate book of koans and flicked through the introduction and contents pages. DC joined me as I read from Mumonkan, Memorial to the Throne:

        Blue sky, broad daylight, and a peal of thunder,

        The earth and creatures' eyes are opened;

        All the universe is making profound bows,

        Mount Sumeru dances to the ancient music. 

I was just considering this, did it speak to me now, might it convey something to DC... when DC said yes! And we both at that time alighted on the thought that a work of art does this - it lets us see something deeper. I could feel our question encompassing the nature of a work of art; it is an illuminating consideration but I feared we might loose the purity of the original existential question in philosophical contemplation. My intuition was to stick with the felt sense of the unspoken question; the nature of the divine.

It's now evening and I've written this post in exploration of those waters- just what are they? What are those thoughts and emotions? What has come to me is captured by the title I've given this post and is I think perhaps summed up thus; it is our engagement with life as a dialogue internal and external, that is both mundane and profound, our own experience and yet not separate from anything or anyone, empty in the fullest way and in many ways immediate and yet unknown, that is our our home. Where is it and who is it that sits there? Do we not somehow know that we are so much more than we can see? I sense we do.

Sunday, 24 January 2021

The White Crow

Last night DC and I watched The White Crow, a film about the young Rudolf Nureyev. The title is, I feel, particularly fitting. The portrayals of both Nureyev (by Oleg Ivenko) and his teacher Alexander Pushkin (by Ralph Fiennes) were exemplary and in each for me could be seen something of the utmost importance. The tension towards the end of the film as events narrow in at the airport and around Nureyev's defection from the USSR to the West bring to focus the many ways in which this 'something' is so often stifled. And, even though I knew as an historical fact that he would make it, somehow the chance that he might not was palpable. And yet by the end of the film I had that feeling of having only seen something 'as if through a glass darkly' and yet for all that more clearly and there was a slight feeling of needing a drink, the thought of which I decided to let pass without action, rather to sit with the feelings.

Reflecting upon salient aspects of my experience watching this film I recall: the calm, centred expansive and controlled Pushkin; the form of a chair in Pushkin's apartment; the depiction of Nureyev's wonder as a child at the world and his thirst for experience of what was important to him; the clarity of focus in Nureyev as he cut through the stifling conventions of society. It is perhaps, too obvious to remark that (whilst understated) the whole film is perfused with Nureyev's potent sexuality. What then, in this mix and my own karma to elicit my feelings of having seen something 'as if through a glass darkly' and with the attendant (dismissed) thought that a night cap might be in order? It is I think this, that what we see in each of these; Pushkin, the chair and Nureyev is the emergence out of chaos of beauty and it is seen dimly because it exists in relation to the observer. And that fleeting thought of a nightcap was in reaction to the enormity of the perceived gap between my everyday experience and the possibility of a perfection so impossible as to render itself little more than a perverted glimpse of the deeper possibility afforded by a harmonious allowing of natural unfolding of the Tao. It is then obvious that a softening in to this allowing reveals the illusion of the gap and at the same time demonstrates the natural eroticism of experience and the beauty of it when attended by clarity.

I've read that Nureyev was like a child trapped in an adult's body. But is it not that he was to an extent simply less trapped than the bulk of us are? This returns me to Pushkin; his self control is liberating and he makes the point in the film that he teaches technique but that the dancer must use this to say something. And here I think we have the nub of the matter. Just what is it that we each really want to say? And more fundamentally to whom? What is seen through a glass darkly is the reflection of oneself as the very mirror itself, it is the resolution of the paradox of separation and the answer to the koan is the experience of beauty. Somehow in the portrayal of Pushkin and Nureyev both Fiennes and Ivenko bring this to life. And for me personally there is something in the Russian idiom the white crow - the outsider, which (at least in this film) is evocative of the shaman. There is I think, a shamanic quality to Nureyev as he's portrayed in this film and it elicits the potential for transformation.

Sunday, 10 January 2021


I just did a zoom session with the dance collective I usually dance with. We danced at home in lockdown to the music and connected as best we could through the small video images and chat log. I quite quickly felt so sad; memories of dancing together in a public space with the feel of the floor, the space, the people, the sounds, the altar, the hugs and smiles... all so many months ago. And it's not just a social dance, no, it's the heart connection; the inner and outer connection; beings together setting aside the wrestling with any struggles to just be in them and to feel the space, the vast vast space that holds us, and to dance it. To dance it what ever it is, good, bad or indifferent, happy and joyous or more difficult. To hold a space for ourselves and each other, to let the body feel it and breath and move. Oh how my body mind and spirit need that. No wonder I've felt ill at ease without quite being able to say what was the trouble... oh sacred space to dance how we need this.

I've not been doing these zoom dance sessions as I found at the start of lockdown that they didn't really work for me. But I'm glad I had this connection. The dance at the physical level was little more than a jig about, barely a warm up by my usual energies BUT the memory of breathing and dancing oh so important! Dance dance wherever you may be...

Oh how I hope we can all dance together again soon!