The Unnameable

a free version of Kabir’s poem 3/69

The Name that can’t be uttered is unique.

How then to comprehend the formless?

What name for a circle with no circumference,
or a square with no corners?

Name reflects form: form defines name.

Forms yield clarity: clarity amplifies form.

Duality and form have propagated the world:
yet the Name is within all.

The formless is seed: its fruit is form:
knowledge the branches: the Name a hidden root.

Throu form seek the formless:
within duality conceive unity.

Within the winter trunk nestles the summer leaf:
cause and effect being rarely linear.
Spirit is not in root alone, nor flower,

nor in the vital sap – yet life is within all.

Everywhere pleasure lies. Happiness 

lies nowhere but in your unNameable root.

Seek where you are fertile, resolve your nature:

in each upheaval see growth husbanding you.

The unspelled Name pervades all matter:

yet is visible only by a beating heart.

Encountering the Name transcends language:

yet is known only by a beating heart.

The resolution of this paradox ends all enquiry:
yet the Name can be uttered only by a beating heart.


Apocryphal Wisdom

At first wisdom will take thee by crooked paths, but at last she will bring thee out into the straight way.


To you I write, blade in hand to harm yourself.

You have come here to learn: allow yourself the space
and time to grow: do not fear what you might be.

The spirit of life resides in every breathing form:

each finds a place with the great ecology:

don’t think you do not fit – you do, where you belong.

You were made for a unique task. Don’t blame yourself

for what you aren't; rather, hold the space for what

could be – even if the emptiness becomes unbearable.

It is into that void you must be born: you are the form

which this new life must take. It's awaiting you.

The form your healing takes is the world’s rebirth.

Look, I reach toward you, cut my arm instead.

See the rage, the grief, the isolation well up.

Allow that energy to transform into prayer.

Pray to the space in which the new you is to be born.

You were made for something more than your tiny world: 

allow the shadowed universe to enter you:

broadcast your news from the dark side of the moon.

You don’t know who it’s for – allow yourself to flow
freely into the space, trusting you will be heard.

You are to pioneer new forms of feeling:

you alone have powers to heal a broken world.

The richness of transformation is the space that calls you.

To be sure, big steps are called for. Look despair

in the eye as you say your last good bye.

The road may be long and hard but he's no companion for you.

Instead, find your other friend, your indwelling seed.

Nourish your goodness with all the care you'd give a seedling.

When it grows tall and flowers – that will be your reward.

We are all that is wrong within the world:

we are all that is right within the world:
it's by our choices we declare which side we’ll join.

You can be different – this you must believe. From it
a thousand flowers bloom even in a wasteland.

Have compassion to whom you are. Put down the blade.


Christmas - oy vey!

    Jung says
  • If you are boys, your God is a woman.
  • If you women, your God is a boy.
  • If you are men, your God is a maiden.
  • The God is where you are not.
Thus we see that actually the world’s sentimental celebration of the ‘harmless’ Christ child is the opposite of what it appears, and is actually a tacit acknowledgement of the world’s own irredeemable cruelty – for if people actually wished to explore & integrate their own unacceptable rapacity they would actually come to terms with what the cross symbolises. But that aspect of Christianity is now almost wholly excluded by our greed. Christmas is a collective pretence that we accept the idea of a second birth, while in practice The West wholly ignores its implications and continues on its plundering murderous path, while blaming its contributions to the world’s ills on Communism or Islam or whoever’s next!   
    Ho ho. You see I'm in the Christmas spirit already! 


James Agee

but will not, oh, 
will not, not now, 
not ever; 
but will not ever tell me who I am. 

In saying who our gods are – we acknowledge who we are.
In defining our selves – we identify our gods.


Mastery is clear moral insight

What distinguishes the true artist is hir response to truth as manifested in the integrity or virtu of the artwork. I must all have the courage to trust what emerges from within me.

As we move to the place where we can say what we have to say we also evolve towards realising of what mettle we are actually composed.

We think the Divine Being is the entity we perceive as God in our minds, but in reality whatever it is that we sense is like looking at landscape throu the lens of a camera - we see only a slice of the terrain, not the infinite totality of the Creative Force, who exceeds the mental limitations of humanity as the universe exceeds the power of human imagination.


Advertising as Capitalism's Revenge on Art

Our tragedy today is that we have allowed commercialism to deface all sense of the inner sacred, and thus modern art is no longer able to fulfil art's true function of fostering any sense of the inner sacred.

In an environment where so much pressure exists to conform to trends, the challenge is to find your own meanings, and balance inner truth with outer pressure/s.


We cannot be sure that prayer changes anything in the exterior world, but we can be quite certain that it changes our own interior world.



My shattered shards of thought lie spread out,

an incoherent jumble brought
to light by an archæologist.

Lines of individual beauty that don’t 

connect, more dug up all the time. 

What am I seeking? Evidence
that I exist/ed? Buried treasure?

 Or do I want it all miraculously
to spring together like a tape played backwards, 

where the big bang is reversed, and a beautiful 

vase forms in one immaculate gesture?

Thus I, a human, caught between being and doing,

unable to rise or fall, held in suspense
between the polarities of my desire
fully reaching neither sky nor earth,

examine the inner world, searching
for things of beauty, things of coherence – 

perhaps the runes of my existence?


Michelangelo's Epitaphs

I paraphrased this selection of Michelangelo Buonarotti's poems for a friend whose dauter had suicided.

Epitaph 2. Deh Serbi
Don’t pity me who lies here,
I am free of the world:
Pity rather yourselves
who must still endure it.

Epitaph 7. Qui son sepulto
Buried here, a mere child
in death’s embrace. Stealthily,
craftily, he stole my soul
so that I never knew I’d lived.

Epitaph 12. Qui son morto
You who loved me may think me dead,
yet if you love me still, see me
in the many thousand lovers
who never knew of my existence.

Epitaph 18. Se fussin
If you weep for me
you return me to life.
Have pity, I am free.
Do not invite me back.

Epitaph 41. Qui stese
When death beckoned
my flower became his fruit,
returning to the earth
in love with darkness.



Meditation is where you allow what you do to fall away, so that you can (re)encounter who you are.



If you have music in your soul the whole universe will hear your melody.

If you realise that all things change, there is nothing you need to hold onto. If you are not afraid of dying there is nothing you cannot achieve.

I often ask rhetorically why my work is not recognised? And I believe the answer is that as it expresses a dharmic view, which is not generally acknowledged these days, it is like the sword in the stone that must await someone with an appropriately complementary view of life to draw forth sound from its current silence.

Listening to … what?

When we talk of listening to God in fact we mean attuning to the 'voice' (/thoughts) that are latent within our transpersonal unconscious, the impulse/s to wholeness that are part of our make-up.


'If the fool would persist in his folly he should become wise.' W Blake

If you meditate on the question of your ultimate nature, then in time you come to understand the end point at which to aim, and so (after the journey throu 'otherness') you ultimately arrive home at the true self you never left.


Schumann 200

EBU Schumann Sunday celebrating the bicentenary of his birth in many ways deepened, rather than enlightened, the mysteries surrounding his personality. He was obviously a person of demonic energy: in his 20s publishing his music journal twice a week as well as composing. It certainly points towards a schizoid or bipolar makeup, where he was conscious within the mania that drove him that there existed an unresolved aspect of his personality, but instead of making any rapprochement with it, he kept it at arms length (by naming it Eusebius) until it overwhelmed him.
Alarmingly, Clara was only 8 when he started teaching her. If ever there was a case of anima projection, that would be it.
 What it makes me think, as I have often in other contexts, that whatever the gifts people have, where they do not seek to ground & integrate them in a search for transpersonal wisdom, then ‘all that raised the hero [sinks] the man’ - their very talents are sometimes what leads to the irremediable personality distortions by which they become known. People say they have no need of God, but that is what the need is.


Blessings & Curses are intertwined

I realised recently that whatever wisdom I have acquired throu direct experience (for instance by poking my tiny fingers into an electric plug when <2!) has led me on the path to the 'owned knowledge' of the direct mysticism that is now an integral part of my life. Contrariwise: the way in which I have never been able to assimilate knowledge from books, despite being a fair bookworm, was one of the reasons I ran away from school, and to this day can never bear to read a computer program handbook, or grasp it if I do.
First I must do: then I can theorise. But thats not the way education works these days.


Ethical Christianity / welcoming synchronicity

As a European, I don’t think I can adequately apologise to people in the rest of the world for the immoral mixture of high ideals and low motives with which Europeans set out to subjugate their countries. It was a kind of good cop /bad cop routine which remains current to this day, whereby a cat’s paw (eg Bush) proclaims noble intentions while the cat itself (eg Cheney) goes right ahead & helps itself to whatever it fancies.
A cynic would say: well that’s just what happens when races clash. Dress it up in whatever language you like, but ultimately there will be winners and there will be losers. The guy with the big stick gets to call the tune.

In the light of this discussion I thought it relevant to post this piece which I wrote in response to an article Canterbury Cathedral Old Choristers Association journal by one of my closest boyhood friends (whom I've never met since), who had a successful career as a jazz drummer with some q celebrated English groups, but ultimately felt a vocation to the Anglican priesthood.

Some of my most abiding ethical roots are grounded in my childhood Psalm singing. I quote these verses from memory as they’ve always stayed with me:
Keep innocency, take heed to the thing that is right: for that shall bring a man peace at the last. –
Commit thy way unto the Lord, and put thy trust in him, and he shall bring it to pass. –
I have been young, and now am old; and yet saw I never the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread.
[Whoever wrote that never freelanced for a media corporation!]
And finally Ps49, Man being in honour hath no understanding; but may be compared unto the beasts of the field which perish. [or as William Goldman succinctly put it: ‘In Hollywood noone knows anything.’]
Winter evensongs, where the choir often outnumbered the civilians (& thus under Equity rules would not have been obliged to perform!) remain an abiding definition of the purity of true worship. To this day I detest applause. Why, in the name of…?? I recently had a dream in which I saw the interior of Canterbury Cathedral without choir stalls, screen or any ornaments as a naked building: and that expresses my sense of what a mother church needs to be: Christianity stript of the accretions of time & tradition as these mask its rebirth as an ethical force by slowly turning into objects of veneration instead of vehicles for it.
As a former pupil of [cathedral organist] Allan Wicks, I regret that my life doesn’t often have space for organ playing, and thus this year I went to discuss the question of taking up the post of organist & choirmaster in my village, which has a good instrument & a choir which can call on a lot of enthusiastic singers locally – but after going to a Eucharist I really couldn’t stomach the pre-Darwinian faith statements: tho I have no difficulty whatever with the Bible as a kind of bardic poetry which, like Early Music, forms a numinous hotline to ‘palæo-emotional’ worlds foreign to 21stC consciousness. I say this having just taken 5 years to read the Bible cover-to-cover in the light of contemporary archaeology, prehistoriography and scholarship,
My difficulty with the so-called apostolic tradition is exemplified by my recent time in California, where I took the opportunity to study the Catholic church’s relationship with the ‘first nations’. I’ll spare you the details; suffice it to say that to many peoples around the world the name of Christ is more associated with cruelty & dislocation than with love or inclusion. Slavery, forced conversions and the centuries of religious persecution shaped the current world, and it seems to me that the mainstream churches need formally to acknowledge their own participation (as German Protestants did with Nazism) before they can be renew themselves as spiritual powerhouses.
There have of course been remarkable Christians who have understood these issues: Anglicans Trevor Huddlestone & Donald Reeves, both Rectors of St James’s Piccadilly, among them: but that does not appear to be the direction in which contemporary Anglicanism is heading. My own attempts to interest Wiltshire churches in coming to hear a visiting Sufi were met with a comically antediluvian set of responses.
Apart from dear naive Hewlett Johnson’s popular Sunday evening sermons about the marvels of Communist society,* or Canon Standon’s ‘cricket commentary sermons’ where runs would be scored according to his gestures, my one abiding memory of a Canterbury sermon was that of a visiting preacher in about 1958. I've no idea of his name, but remember as he processed between the choir stalls behind a verger how diffident & uncomfortable he appeared in a borrowed cassock & surplice amid the pomp of ecclesiastical ceremony. However, once in the pulpit this youngish man spoke eloquently & authoritatively without notes about the churches’ responsibility to the developing world. Most of the content went over my 12 yearold head, but I do remember the immense stir it created, and Canon Bickersteth’s aside to Precentor Lawson after the dismissal prayers: “I shouldn’t be surprised if that young man ends up as one of the church’s martyrs.“ Therefore I understand that churches can be vehicles for such ‘enthusiasm’ just as the most stolid orchestra can be galvanised by a charismatic conductor. It's just that, for me, other vehicles do it better.

My own life, which has included several profound spiritual experiences, most recently in front of an ikonostasis in Moscow, but I have found my most sustained source of transformation throu Quaker worship, which my wife & I practice every morning we're together. (She is often away for extended periods, currently 3 months, in her profession as a costume designer.) Tho if I have a regret, it is that as a result of being brought up in the Society of Friends our kids don’t know any hymns.
For 10 years I was coordinator of the Ethics/Spirituality/Philosophy Field of the Big Green Gathering (an alternative to Glastonbury’s assimilation into the mainstream) and had the privilege of hosting a number of remarkable speakers from the gamut of faiths. The thing that I observed with sadness was that, generally, representatives of the established Christian denominations were unable to get off the high horses of their traditional right to privilege, and thus utterly failed to communicate with festival-goers in the way that Buddhists, Krishna-folk and other even weirder sects did – as the growth and energy of their movements attest.
How does all of this relate to my work as a musician? Very intimately. A visionary percussionist few will have heard of named Frank Perry once said to me: “When I'm over there, I'll be able to hear the effect of everything I did here: so I'm extremely careful not to make any sounds I don’t want to spend eternity with.“ I used to get deprest that none of my ‘heart music’ seems likely to come out in my lifetime – as opposed to all the cheap & cheerful claptrap I wrote during my broadcasting career. But now actually I can cherish in its silence the beauty of those winter cathedral evensongs, an ageless mysticism exprest by the 15thC Urdu poet Kabir: ‘The unstruck drum of Eternity is sounded within me. The dance of God goes on without hands and feet. The harp of God is played without fingers, it is heard without ears: For the universal ear is hirself the hearer.’
What I have come to worship is the privilege of Life, flowing like a spring from an invisible source we can only wonder at. The bigger picture clicked into place for me when I saw that evolution and love are simply expressions of the same dynamic of re-growth which exists in all organic matter. And, yes, I see the persona of Christ as central to the unfolding manifestation of divine wisdom in human experience – but as a facilitator of the flow, not as a rock standing up in the river’s natural path.
The stained-glass sound of Anglican psalm chanting has a profoundly beautiful meditative quality, yet like all ritual it can also serve to mask the passionate urgency of the life & death issues which the psalmist faced, and which face any-and-every-one who engages personally with the Spirit in their lives.
*The ‘Red Dean’ wore a pectoral cross given him by Stalin. I can vividly remember the outraged incredulity on my grandmother’s face as he held it up to her, in the reception after my Confirmation, as proof of Stalin’s commitment to the place of faith in his new society.

What I would add as a postscript to this, is that I think the real challenge in life is to retain the freshness of one’s impulse to spiritual self-actualisation with a groundedness & flexibility that shows one where /when things (have) become unreal, so that one doesn’t become what VF calls ‘one-sided’ - for instance locked into a formulaic belief system, or politically committed to an ethical perspective resulting in the ultimate moral enantiodromia where ‘mights’ become ‘shoulds’ and ‘shoulds’ become ‘musts’ so the synchronistic phenomena become an unwanted reminder of what has been sacrificed in order to achieve the expedient outcome.
Synchronistically, while I was writing this para my dauter Sefa’s track Public Spirited came up on my iTunes. I recommend it as a listen: http://itunes.apple.com/pt/album/public-spirited-ep/id287669201


Thoughts on the early Spanish missionaries to California & their relationship with the Mexicans

Being here, with time to reflect while Clancy has been labouring industriously, Ive given a lot of thought to the psychic resonance of California, particularly relationship between the Catholic Missionaries & the indigenous peoples; trying to see how the balance-sheet stacks up.

In Alta (present day) California the 'first nation/s' were hunter-gatherer tribes living at survival level, but in Baja California & Meso-America they were elaborate civilisations which the conquistadors shattered. As far as I can see the population of the latter were so cowed by the outrageous cruelty of their belief-system, that they therefore adapted relatively easily, indeed willingly, to the brutal simplicity (or simple brutality) of the Franciscans - who were allowed by their order to administer up to 25 lashes by way of 'correction'. An idea that their founder would have found 'surprising', yet in which they found no paradox. For an actual 'punishment' military force was required.

By the missionaries emphasis on the cross, the redemptive suffering aspect of Christ, it seems that both conqueror & conquered were united by their separately-interpreted cult/s of death in a sado-masochistic pact - where violence & death were simply a given part of their 'realities'. The one mutually-enjoyed sport was bull fighting! (Indeed you could say that this legacy persists in Hollywood where any amount of violence is permitted, but two people are not allowed to be seen in bed naked.)

When Clancy & I visited Portugal 6 years ago we were struck by what I termed the cult of ecstatic death. And the existence of this was very much confirmed by what I read about the recent Zurbaràn exhibition in London, tho didnt see it. The whole theology that the Franciscans were preaching in the new world appeared to be that suffering was the way to heaven, a suffering they doubtless experienced themselves in the very harsh conditions, and were happy to enforce in the belief that they were assisting 'the natives' path to (their) God. The very opposite to liberation theology.

What has been interesting to study in the various museums is the way in which Mexican* art & rituals remain fixated by death of this very day: altho most surviving art is veneered with Christianity, no doubt sincerely, the frequent presence of the skull or death-mask in 'native' art indicate not a culture of transfigured death but a starkly intractable, almost pornographic, obsession with the death, not as final but as an occult reality: where the spirits of the disembodied can be prayed to and invoked, as happens in candomblé & other chthonic South American religions. There is an amusing series of models in one museum of skeletons dressed in everyday Mexican clothing cheerily but spookily performing normal tasks such as riding a bicycle or knife grinding.

It is as if the prevailing 'folk view' of death is of people continuing to live exactly the same life as they did before but dead. There is no heaven, no transformation, just 'life(/death) as normal'. In the centuries after the missionary era the Catholic church seems to have assimilated this subtext in a way that allowed both Western-Christian & indigenous South American interpretations to coexist by carefully never articulating a received understanding of the death cult symbolism.
I saw a film a couple of years back which showed that the font of a large basilica in Mexico City is actually carved from a basalt sacrificial altar. I think it probable that the indigenous peoples here dont see any contradiction in this - anymore than Europeans do in the fact that our calendar & religious ideas are based on a Christianisation of Roman customs. In one museum I read a report that early ethnographers had the utmost difficulty in discovering what the various celebratory practices actually meant to those who performed them, because the fetish-wearers would usually reply simply “it is the custom”.
  • *All California was Mexican after the collapse of the Spanish empire until the US invasion of 1847 captured Alta California. As a matter of fact the AmerIndians, supposedly freed from their serfdom to the Franciscans where they were kept confined in what were essentially self-supporting concentration camps of up to 2500 neophytes (Christian converts), suffered worse under Mexican measures designed to liberate them & make the mission stations into pueblos (self-governing communities), because, without experience of business, the AmerIndians were easily duped out of their rights, often by corrupt Mexican Govt officials themselves. This was compounded after 1847 when unscrupulous American lawyers registered ownership of land which the Indians believed they owned by hereditary right.
My conclusion, after a great deal of study & reflection, is that the coming of Christianity to MesoAmerica was probably beneficial, as the social order that existed there was truly bestial for all its sophistication. (eg this altar stone in the form of a python's head) The replacement of that myth with a benigner one can only have been good, notwithstanding the negative aspects of its imposition.

In the case of the AmerIndians I see little evidence that enforced Christianisation was in their interests, either in intention or effect. As with Australian aborginals the tribes lived reasonably peaceably within the rhythms of the land, occasionally migrating & skirmishing with neibours as European nation-tribes had done in the prehistoric era, thus Catholic attempts to convert, settle & 'civilise' their people as individuals without regard to sensitive tribal balances led to the more-or-less unmitigated disaster all over America Norte. OTOH you could look at it that phenomenologically and say that when cultures collide it's inevitable there will be a winner & a loser.

Another interesting question is why the MesoAmericans evolved a highly elaborate social organisation & the AmerIndians didnt? Given that theyre the same Asiatic ethnic stock the only explanation seems to be a Marxist one, that environment in which the former lived was economically productive enough to allow settlement and ultimately social diversification. Thus people could be released from agriculture to socially productive tasks like building and art. Whereas the latter's environment made even the transition from hunter-gatherer to pastoralist infeasible.

At least one of the local AmerIndian tribes, whose land I visited, seems to have got its act together rather conspicuously http://www.palatribe.com/. But that may just be a function of its survival at all. It has a vast casino & resort.

Others, such as the native Diegan Kuméyaay (kumI-A), exist only as names. Interestingly, for those who have studied the distinction between tribalism & larger social groupings, the name for the Kuméyaay shamans was Kuseyaay indicating philologically how this role more than the temporal leadership was the central role of their existence.


A further clue to the relationship was given in a meeting I had with some San Diego piano teachers. One said of a pupil: because of the tears I knew she had made a real link to the music. In the context of this article, the relevance of that remark is that I at once saw that the Friars would have quickly learnt that drawing tears from their illiterate audience was the clearest form of connexion, and that the best way to touch these unsophisticated people was to preach to them about the physical pain & suffering of Christ. And that the peculiarly Spanish hyper-realistic evocation of the pain of the cross must both have touched these simple credulous people, but also served as a reminder & warning of the pain they might experience if they did not follow the church's teachings - both here & hereafter.

Given that Spain was the nation that created the grisliest game show ever, the Auto-da-Fè where the accused were invited to recant of sins without even knowing exactly what they were charged with, where the public entertainment was that if their recantation didnt match the (invisible) charge-sheet, or even if it did, they were likely to be burnt anyway, pour encourager les autres; and given the literalistic view of the Spanish that whatever torment they inflicted was justified if it 'saved' the sinner from 'a worse fate'. And how would the Friars know who had truly repented & been saved unless they wept? And how would they make them weep? I suspect there are some very dark links that bound the missionaries to their neophytes and that was where the secret of the strange occult link between persecutor/s & victim/s lay.


Beside the Famosa Slough

We are the sum total of all the experiences
that brought us to this point –
the open hiways, the dead ends,
the musts, the shouldnts,
the love, the scorn,
the gifts received and given,
the times alone and in company,
the elation, the grief,
the connections, the disintegrations.
More than this,
we’re a product of all those we kissed.
Looking at a birth chart,
so much was predictable:
yet we did not know it,
or weren’t ready to hear:
the tasks given to each alone, which we sought to fulfill,
some with applause, some indifference,
some useful to the world, some only to us.
For each a different footpath to discern;
having in common, discovery of a topography of meaning
to populate each self-made landscape
wherein we seek an authenticity, within constraints
which sustain the ego, and give each life its form –
probabilities as programd for us, as for a palm or samphire:
snake and deer alike, products of environmental logic.

So …
sitting above this lagoon at high tide,
I watch the fingers of water caress the web of knowing plants,
all unaware yet fully-conscious of a life heuristic.
When I come down I shall be different:
in descending I do not change.
If I become what I was not,
then I have already been what I could be.
The subtle dynamics of life lying always
between the hills of irreconcilable opposites,
over a pass that is invisible
until we have left the valley.
Each outcome a new birth, neither one nor other:
change lying only in our acceptance
of the new synthesis, without
clinging to its parent duality.

The hearing eye, the seeing ear –
The unwritten novel, the unrecorded CD –
The seconds before the avalanche of love …
In pregnancy of doubt we cherish a divine uncertainty all fear:
a nomansland that is neither hesitation nor commitment:
the silences in music when all possibilities open –
engulfing terror as we await our entrance –
These release the ego into volitionless being,
articulating the paradox within which lies truth.
It is not in the nature of the universe to provide unequivocal statements:
Everything is conditional and contingent, until, suddenly,
without warning, we see all the elements aligned, and then,
if we seize the moment and respond, revelation comes.

Looking here within this poem to discern its dynamic
I wonder what it called me here to hear?
At standing water between two tides, in a salt-water sanctuary
beaten by sun, for what message I am merely the secretary?
What enigmatic meaning is seeping out like marsh gas, unnoticed …
silently amplifying itself to apocalypse or epiphany?

Looking here within this life to discern its dynamic
what am I told? How? Who is speaking?
At high tide, does the foaming water demand
immersion, or advise retreat?
Only the heart knows which direction this synchronistic moment invites …
On (or back) to triumph? Back (or forward) to defeat?
All turns on openness of attitude to the unknown.

So …
The search for truth: an attunement:
an unmediated negotiation
between beauty, economy
and proportionality;
And the delicate thing in all this:
the role of the inner teacher –
the absorbed otherness,
the indwelling not-I
With whom we must make peace
before fertility comes;
the heredity to be embraced,
willingly or otherwise:
Often, as a healing crisis
in which the collapse of ego
allows one's separate I to drop
into its embracing ocean of not-I.
Some dramatise this encounter in terms of
angels or Jedi; but it leads back, finally,
to a naked encounter with a burning bush,
in whose crucible the sacred I AM is forged.


Teaching /Taming Tantrum-driven Teens

To teach adolescents the teacher requires a fairly robust ego, as it’s important not to respond to the provocation that can be attempted. Just as some play games with their sexuality, so others enjoy experimenting with their power: and no power is so cherished as the ability to wind up (or put the wind up) teachers, especially these days when pupils know how vulnerable teachers are. It's not to say that every teenager will – of course not – but the more confident the teacher is, the less likely the pupil is to express hir own insecurity by seeking confrontation.
    The great teacher Shinui Suzuki said: ‘first I trained myself not to show frustration; and then I trained myself not to feel frustration.’ From personal observation teachers are most likely to feel /show anger when they themselves are unable to see how to explain to a pupil the correct way of doing something. (Elgar apparently was so volatile that outgoing violin pupils would issue ‘weather warnings’ the incomers.) My general view is that ‘a pupil only has a problem if the teacher has a problem.’ I have found that if I can conceptualise the problem clearly -& appropriately for that pupil- s/he can invariably overcome it. I see my own role as that of the sweeper in ice hockey who smoothes the passage of the puck towards the goal.
    The delight of teaching kids and teens is that once you’ve found out where their ‘blue touch paper’ is & ignited it with repertoire they enjoy, they go like rockets. But that doesn’t always make it plain sailing. I have one particularly ‘vivid’ young lady of 12 whose parents bring her a considerable distance. This means that she enjoys piano enough to give up two hours of her Sunday, but unless her mother* is present there are some lessons in which she argues the toss on every comment I make. “What’s the matter with that?” she’ll say aggressively after playing a piece with 90% accuracy. So I tell her, and the reply will be “Well I did that!” or “What does it matter? I like it that way.” Having had two dauters myself I've learnt that such behaviour is often hormonal, hence it’s irregular manifestation, but it’s particularly important as a teacher not to respond – because a) young people don’t mean it, or aren't aware of the ‘adult’ overtone to their words, or b) they're picking a proxy fight that they can't have with their parent. Either way it’s important not to trigger a war since while the teacher may win the battle, the longterm casualty will be music.
    I'm fortunate in that I teach entirely privately, and thus have a 1:1 relationship with pupils & parents, which makes it simple to unravel complications if they emerge. The part that I hated most about teaching at the RCM was the need for everything to go throu hierarchical loops, and the fact that the ‘professor’s’ power to facilitate radical alterations to the student’s overview was essentially limited to changing the lightbulb.  
    This brings me to a deeply held conviction that what adolescents need in /from learning a musical instrument is a ‘rumpus room’. Amid the fearful amount of examining and the rigid control applied to their lives, they benefit colossally from being given a space where they can be responsible for their own learning. And for this reason, as much as for any other, I consider music exams positively injurious to an adolescent’s psychological well-being. I believe this applies just as much to intending musicians as to casual learners.
    Children actually want to learn. If ‘uninterefered-with’ they're little sponges, soaking up new skills. If you make it clear that they control the pace of their own learning, and pupils feel that as the teacher you really understand the kind of musical experience they want, then, unless there are other hidden inhibitors, they will generally go full ahead. The problem comes with the ‘interference’ of curriculums & regulations that require them to learn things that are emotionally irrelevant. No wonder they turn from sponges into crabs with impenetrable shells. Who wouldn’t?    
    In the case of the ‘vivid’ pupil, her blessing /curse is that she is a brilliant sight-reader, and thus it’s precisely because she can usually wing it that what makes her particularly angry is to be made to concentrate on the difference between ‘good enough’ and ‘excellent’. Especially as she feels she should be congratulated for getting so much right with so little practice. The teaching point in all this, as I see it, is to try to help her value her own potential excellence, in order to achieve ‘ownership’ of what she does.

    And this leads me to the deeper issues. This girl comes from a socially well-connected background (her excuse for not practising in the recent halfterm was that she was in Caribbean!), and one of the big problems for rich kids in private schools is that our elitist /technocratic education does nothing to encourage personal introspective engagement. Without the emotional grit of having personally to overcome adverse circumstances there is no ‘alterity’ in the lives of middleclass kids, no balancing negativity to help them locate themselves within all the positive opportunities thrown at them – by which alone they might acquire some traction in developing their own inner self. That’s why drugs are so attractive: they represent a shadow existence which is absent from the adolescent’s conscious environment.
    However learning to achieve excellence in a performing activity can simulate the necessary adversity, safely – because confronting the fear that performance brings, within an environment where it’s ok to fail, creates a favourable heuristic dynamic in a teenager’s life. If all their other learning environments are driven by externally directed (& emotionally irrelevant) goals which they can more or less skate throu, then why bother to invest in anything personally? Especially since in the rest of their educational existence who they are personally doesn’t matter: each is just a blob of protein in a vast educational sausage who, provided they don’t seek the path of individuation, will be force-fed throu the system until they emerge with life on a plate in front of them.
    The thing about my ‘vivid’ pupil is that she's too emotionally aware to accept that, and thus her bolshiness is a way of creating an adversity that allows her to achieve some kind of individuality, albeit of a negative kind. It may not be much of an ‘achievement’, but it’s the adolescent application of a ‘baby tool’. I have always told her parents (who are not far from their wits’ end about her) that I feel within her there is the kernel of a future authenticity, to achieve which she may ‘choose’ in young adulthood to place herself in negative situations – which is simply what the robust psyche knows intuitively to be the best school for self-realisation.
    As it happens, she enjoys the piano and has considerable ability. Throu learning the piano I hope her juvenile ‘palate’ may become aware that what is unsweet may have a deeper longterm value in life’s gastronomy than what is immediately tasty. She's resisting this because to achieve personal excellence (she knows) will demand differentiation from the pack & that’s not a price she's willing to pay - yet.

    I'd like to close by alluding to the longterm emotional damage inflicted on individuals, and thus on society as a whole, by forcing young people to study things without engaging them in the moral dimension of learning. It seems to me such a colossal, elementary, and wholly avoidable, psychological mistake. If you make music, or any other subject, emotionally relevant to children then you engage them whole-heartedly and equip them with a resource for life. My punch-line about the piano is that: whatever repertoire kids learn must work for them in the playground. (The caveat being that what ‘works for them’ in the playgrounds of a comprehensive vs a specialist music school will be completely different.) This doesn’t mean that you can't wean pupils onto more demanding repertoire, it just means you need to be aware of how music fits into the overall ecology of their cultural environment.
    It seems to me completely pointless to demand all young pianists achieve the same technical or theoretical requirements of grade exams as intending musicians. In the long run it's more likely to turn them off music altogether. I often hear colleags bewail ‘how hard it is to retain the interest of adolescents’ and think, but never say, ‘of course it is, with the exam music you give them!’ Whereas by listening to what they want (& often by tippexing so-called ‘Easy Play’ into pianist-friendly versions) I've been particularly successful in keeping teenagers’ love of music alive. It gives me pleasure to hear that one young ex-pupil was able to support himself by playing bar piano during training as an RAF pilot! And another is still playing, despite being a motor mechanic. I don’t think you'll find that kind of music on the syllabus of the ABRSM, but the fact that both already understood the lingua franca of contemporary pop made it easy for them to pick up new tunes.  
    A society made up of people who can relate to their skills to the world they encounter is more likely to be a happy society than one made-up of over-educated people ‘qualified’ to do things that don’t engage them.



Dear John

You’ve touched on an important point: who wouldn’t love to have a benign synchronicity ruling their life? Unfortunately, to think that you can produce that without doing the work on yourself first is to put the cart before the horse.

The dream of every ‘natural’ human is to think that we can rule the natural world. Unless you're a born witch you can't. I hardly need to tell you, I'm sure, that a second ‘birth’ is required where you are brought to discard your ego, and begin to listen to your environment & then, infinitely slowly, learn to pick up cues from it & so synchronicity grows from you attuning to it (for it is only the expression of your own inner dynamic or true self).

For me it has taken two decades of conscious intention to renounce conscious intention! Have you noticed how the truly untouchable human beings are the least defended? The great saints have reconciled their own inner contradictions & therefore no longer arouse contradictions (& thus aggression) in others – therefore they don’t consciously bring peace, they are peace, and so synchronicitously Peace is what happens around them.

I doubt that you can produce synchronicity by studying it, because you can only study presenting symptoms, you can't study the occult process by which these occur. We all have days when the bus comes exactly as we want it, or we somehow magically manage to get round all our appointments without missing a beat - or a boat. But this is small potatoes: all we want is to have our cake & eat it. True synchronicity only begins when it happens the other way round: we allow ourselves to be used by it – we allow ourselves to be moved & changed by the forces of universe acting in concert with & throu our psyche ... When we truly ‘will to will thy will’. Then we miraculously begin to turn up where we're needed, and find that our plans sync with people who are willing to support them because they're motivated by the same calling and were just waiting for someone to sound the right note.

Writing this has been broken into by a phone call from a friend who has ridden to the rescue of the Big Green Gathering, a long-standing eco-festival that was going to collapse into bankruptcy at its AGM y/day – which, synchronicity if you will, was happening in my village! This guy, also John, saw how the BGG could be transformed & because he had vision & a clear grip of reality (which wasn’t true of the founding directors who had led the cooperative into debt) & his energetic commitment has convinced a seriously loaded individual to underwrite the recovery of the festival, to which he had already lent £60k.

If you want it to happen for you it won't: you have to be willing to happen for it, without any preconditions about what it is. In my own life, by being willing to walk away from everything I'd worked for (my London music+broadcasting career) I have been rewarded a millionfold. Yes, there was a big dark night that lasted years [whose documentary record is on this blog], but everything ‘horrible’ that happened actually had the effect of teaching me ‘real’ values. All the good things that have started to happen to me this year have come about, I believe, because I have at last been able to accept that I don’t need anything: at the point where I've stopt grabbing at things & people they’ve given themselves to me naturally.

Just keep your faith on the journey: you're given darkness to test your navigation system. If you can continue to steer straight by the stars you'll find you’ve traveled far farther by night than you imagined possible, and far farther than those who simply rolled up into a ball & hibernated in despair when the lights went out.


'The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom'

When we are without fear it is as if we are not fully present. Not because we should be timid, but because we should be awed by the wonderful of life itself.

”Wiser and more capable men that I shall ever be have put their findings before you, findings so rich and so full of anger, serenity, murder, healing, truth and love that it seems incredible the world were not destroyed and fulfilled in the instant ...“ (James Agee)

”Duende alone makes us live.“ (Lorca)

We do not begin to discover, let alone, live a creative life until we enter into a relationship with our otherness, and that alterity is defined by a consciousness of the void within and over which we live.

When we are conscious of how we could fall, or indeed when we are brought low, then we see, sometimes for the first time, what reality is. Because for each of us, our personal reality is defined by our own alterity.



Write what?
Write that your job is to bring love into the world. You do this by following your path, becoming fully conscious /present in the world, and seeking opportunities for harmony to emerge.


St Nicholas, Khamnoviki, Moskva

The priest withdrew to the chancel, attended by acolytes
and followed by worshippers – straggling throu the rough stone arch,
a hundred in all maybe: the old ones wearing black,
but also young urban families with anxious mothers in head-scarves
and youngsters with quilted jackets; plus a smattering of well-dressed
middle-aged women the communists would’ve labeled class enemies.

The low square nave slowly assumed a flickering stillness,
every painted inch absorbing the veneration
of a second wave of solitary iconophiles,
nondescript figures who moved and paused, and moved and paused,
mouthing prayers and crossing themselves continually.

The distant intonation of a homily
did not engage these private devotees, nor
the punk in street clothes with a fist of candles, lighting
them at random stations. This ancient heart of Russia
still beating fervently for all its long submersion.

Discreetly photographing faith’s timeless pageant, my eye
is drawn to a queue for a silver icon with blackened images.
The faithful mount a dais, triple-cross themselves,
kiss its covering glass – for a moment illuminated
in the bright reflexion – triple-cross again,
and descend once more into obscurity.

I join the shuffling queue, uncertain of how to behave.
Before it, touching my head to the glass I am visited
by a sudden rush of physical energy, as if
‘Our Lady, mother of victories’ had thrown a pan of heated
water at my face, drenching my head and shoulders
in a shocking baptism – delivered without preamble
or explanation. For me to decode its significance.

A mystical Russia now opens before me, where glory and savagery
coexist – this silent inner knowledge stretching
from here back to infinity, linking believer
and unbeliever in a majestic brutal bedrock
reality, unglossed by transient politics
or sentimental western ideas of normality.

Just then, the service ended and all the bells broke loose
as these indistinct individuals emerged to freezing sunlight,
honoured in the street by this majestic clangour,
and momentarily lightened from the oppressive city,
before melting back into their anonymous lives.
And I – left standing – uncertain if my life had changed
dramatically … or subtly … or not at all.

So, in all encounters, exists the option of change:
but how to recognise or unwrap these hidden gifts?
How to decode its meaning or reorientate our compass?
Experiences such as this show meaning itself to be plastic.
The challenge: to trust the unknown process moulding us into
an unfamiliar shape, during its amorphous phase.

The mystery of magic is the mystery of faith –
the way the fog of doubt dissolves when least expected
(like a crystal rainbow falling across the page) *
and we emerge to find an unfamiliar sunlight
with all the bells of heaven ringing in our ears –

and yet our human state’s unchanged, absolving us
from nothing that before was deeply troubling us –
but still we know, somehow, we’re indefinably different:
suddenly oppression’s lifted, and we have resources
to meet the challenges head on. Tho the final battle
may yet involve a descent from this very brightness into
the womby dark to tackle what we hoped to’ve escaped,
but was itself the gift that had come to change us for good.

St Nicholas of the Weavers,
Khamnoviki, Moscow
(Dec 2008) – 11/09/2009

*I had to include this line because it actually happened as I wrote! I will eventually upload the picture to prove it.