Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Spontaneous Combustion

For 500 years, approximately from the 15th through the 19th centuries, music experienced a progressive exploration of the circle of fifths: the relationships between tonal centers and those tones most closely related to the pedal tones. By the end of that period, formal music had expanded in complexity until the concept of tonal center collapsed and all twelve notes in a scale gained equal value in compositions (Wagner, Mahler). Twentieth century composers who were still attached to the early concept of tonal center composing literally found themselves unable to compose music. New stop-gap and somewhat desperate alternatives were invented, principally among them twelve-tone scale compositions. These were short-lived, highly mechanical explorations of non-tonally centered compositions. Turn of the twentieth century composers like Debussy and Ravel chose to use fully chromatic music (no tonal center, or very minimal) to create "impressionistic" music inspired by the work of painters of their period; composers like Stravinsky and Bartok on the other hand, replayed the old tonal-centered model with a strong emphasis on rhythms and folk melodies. More recently, composers have begun devising retro reinventions of nineteenth century music combined with influences from other cultures; Philip Glass, Steve Reich and John Adams are examples.

Where does music go from here? Techno could be considered the extreme anarchic reaction to all this: music that deliberately and loudly destroys all sentiment for old models and places music firmly in the realm of physicality and sexuality; "IDM", intelligent dance music, then promptly emerged as a necessary antidote, whispering to us with modulated beats and subtle suggestions that validate our intellects as well as our bodies. That's where I believe the heart of music is at the moment. Where will it go next?

All of this is leading me to the conclusion that music, as a human form of expression, is deathless but constantly evolving; that its evolution is shaped by and reflects the evolutionary nature of human consciousness, especially as it's shaped by the encroachment upon our sensibilities by "civilization". I once thought music was doomed; I've never thought humanity is doomed, except that our relentless overpopulation of the planet must lead to vast reductions in our numbers, and that the soul of music is spiritual and celebratory (the chapel and the pub are its father and mother, respectively) and that "folk music" will always rebirth itself in every culture, large or small, springing forth like sudden flames from the earth around us, our own and best spontaneous combustion.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Change is the only constant

I've been thinking a lot about why I've found it hard to continue this series of reflections, or meditations, or chatty moments of self-indulgence, or whatever they may be. I finally had to admit to myself that one reason is that I've had no indication of having any readers, and I've allowed that to discourage me. It feels like walking into a seminar to deliver a message and there are no students.

And of course there are no students. For one thing, this isn't a seminar, no one has subscribed to it, and I have no reason to expect even a single reader. For another, I am no teacher. Quite the opposite. I've believed for many years now that we have one and only one teacher: the voice of knowledge and wisdom that emerges from within. We may hear it reflected in the voices of others, but we only hear it when we find ourselves ready to hear it, and the process of readying ourselves for important realizations is not something that can be done to us or for us by others. It takes work, internal work, thinking, reflecting, reasoning, absorbing what we can of understanding from as many sources as possible. You and only you can do that for yourself, and you must be motivated to do that work, because it's not always easy.

It begins to dawn on me that these blogs are my tool for processing my lessons. They are truly "reflections" in the sense that writing them gives me an opportunity to observe what I have begun to learn in a more structured way, in a way that my mind, especially my rational mind, can begin to make sense of. In an important sense, these reflections are created for one and possibly only one reader: me.

There are, of course, many others who can similarly read and absorb and understand and even benefit from these reflections. And truly I hope that happens. But when I am able to sufficiently quiet my ego to see it, I see that I write these words for myself.

I hope I also write for you, and I hope you also find value in these attempts to think ourselves out of the monkey trap. But I will no longer let that be my motive.

About the title of this blog:

Yes, it's a truism. All too familiar and obvious on the surface. I, for one, tend to think things like that very briefly and then dismiss them, unwilling to make the effort to think deeper, to appreciate the value being offered by little gems like that.

So this blog isn't about Change, or not just about change, though at this moment many changes are going on in my life and in the world. What I'm curious about at the moment is this: how it is that when we are presented with observations which have the potential to help us to integrate and to grow, we so often ignore them or, like a flat stone over a lake, our thoughts merely skip lightly over the surface of ideas and miss their potential entirely.

For one thing, it's quite tiring to think seriously about things, isn't it. (Another reason this series isn't for most readers, right? It's just terribly terribly serious, isn't it - quite an exhausting prospect to think about being insane and how or whether to want to change that. I don't blame you a bit). So we don't, normally. Or only when we're in distress and we need something - anything - that might help us find solutions to problems. Then we might make the effort to learn something new, entertain thoughts that might open doors for us, make our lives easier.

It's the monkey response. (Here he goes again with the monkey thing - when's he going to get over that?). Have you watched monkeys on TV or in the zoo? They're lazy. Incredibly, irresistibly indolent creatures. And I don't blame them for that. What's being industrious and hard working gotten us? Industry. Commerce. Merchandise. And the need to market that merchandise. It's made us consumers first, and humans second, or worse.

Still, monkeys equals lazy. And thinking beyond the simple and the obvious takes work. Growing mentally and spiritually takes work (and the opposite of work - the lessons of zen - but that's another blog). So is there any good reason for you to worry about learning and growing and evolving and emerging as more fully human? I know, phrasing it like that, the question contains its own answer, but it is a valid question. Why deal with the pain and effort and time and frustrations involved in being more than you are, more than you have been?

One answer: joy. Even something much greater than joy, something hard to name because we have little experience with it. Something much deeper and more lasting and more satisfying than happiness even. Feelings of deep knowledge, deep understanding, and deep connectedness. My ability to express it fails; it's what Tollard is trying to express when he says being fully in this moment, in the NOW, produces a lasting sense of ecstatic awareness.

Just the possibility of such existence I find motivating, at least some of the time. Those times when I have enough energy, enough elan, to even think about it.

The rest of the time? Well, I'm a monkey too, aren't I.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Listen with your heart

A good friend of mine, a woman who is rapidly emerging into sanity, subscribes to the "Daily OM". This one feels especially useful to me:

Inner Hierarchy
Listening With Your Heart

Most of us were born and raised in cultures that value the head over the heart and, as a result, we place our own hearts below our heads in a sort of inner hierarchy of which we may not be conscious. What this means is that we tend to listen and respond from the neck up, often leaving the rest of our bodies with little or no say in most matters. This is a physical habit, which sometimes feels as ingrained as the way we breathe or walk. However, with effort and awareness, we can shift the energy into our hearts, listening and responding from this much deeper, more resonant place.

The brain has a masterful way of imposing structure and order on the world, creating divisions and categories, devising plans and strategies. In many ways, we have our brains to thank for our survival on this planet. However, as is so clear at this time, we also need the wisdom of our hearts if we wish to continue surviving in a viable way. When we listen from our heart, the logical grid of the brain tends to soften and melt, which enables us to perceive the interconnectedness beneath the divisions and categories we use to organize the world. We begin to understand that just as the heart underlies the brain, this interconnectedness underlies everything.

Many agree that this is the most important work we can do at this time in history, and there are many practices at our disposal. For a simple start, try sitting with a friend and asking him to tell you about his life at this moment. For 10 minutes or more, try to listen without responding verbally, offering suggestions, or brainstorming solutions. Instead, breathe into your heart and your belly, listening and feeling instead of thinking. When you do this, you may find that it’s much more difficult to offer advice and much easier to identify with the feelings your friend is sharing. You may also find that your friend opens up more, goes deeper, and feels he has really been heard. If you also feel great warmth and compassion, almost as if you are seeing your friend for the first time, then you will know that you have begun to tap the power of listening with your heart.