Lament for Jo Cox

Nine months from conception to realisation. A group of friends and Cherubim recorded it at the Savile on Guy Fawkes night. Not a bad record given that some of the compositions that mean most to me have languished in limbo for years.

There is a sense of completion when the hypothesis which is composition is validated by proof which is actual sound. Of course the greatest prize is if others come to love it like the one who loved it into existence, but moving it from mind to external form to independent reality is a start. The rest is the gods’ business.


Donald J Trump at the Pearly Gates

Now here’s what you gotta do
To Make Heaven Great once again.
Start selling sin
To get ’em all in:
And guns can do business for you …
You understand what I’m sayin’?
Look around you, who are all these bums –
The poor and the lame and dumb?
Just clear ’em away
And get folks who’ll pay.
Tell God He’s not doing His sums:
Get ’em right, and the Right people come. ;)
And all this stuff on forebearance!
These days who thinks it worth bigging?
When I’m feeling bitter
I take to Twitter
And never lose sight of a chance
When I’m in a hole to keep digging.
Sompnelse that you’re getting all wrong –
the approach road so steep and unsteady.
Just do it my way
And build a broad highway;
Those footpaths to wisdom? Too long!
They’re sad and old-fashioned already.
St Peter was moved to reply
But Trump held up his hand like an oar:
Don’t argue with me:
Here’s how it’ll be
From now on! St Peter just sighed:
This we’ve all heard before.
But now he replies with impatience
To this ignorant comb-over fool
With inherited money
And no sense of funny –
It seems you learnt nothing at school
And considerably less from experience!
Trump, I don’t know how to say this,
But really you haven’t a clue.
Peace demands trust –
Which you never discuss –
While another must is
A desire to see justice.
Would you say that you helped other races?
No. You simply don’t care who you screwed.
Good day to you Mr Trump!
The last thing we want is a dump
Of your nuclear arsenal
Or anything personal
Here. So do us a favour: stomp
Off and return to your swamp.
You think we lack ‘modern amenities’,
So given your taste for obscenity
Not far away
Is a great place to stay –
Where they’re sure to look after you swell –

May I cordially recommend Hell?


Bruce Parry is known to a wide audience from his BBC ethnographic documentaries where he has undergone tribal initiation rituals in many different aboriginal cultures. But now he has moved far beyond this with Tawai - a luminous feature film exploring the states of mind of two hunter-gatherer tribes’ spirituality of place in their respective rain forests in the Amazon and Borneo. The title is untranslatable but covers the ideas of Belonging and the sense of Presence within the harmony of the natural world.

Parry handles all the issues with supreme sensitivity. Both communities are under threat from logging for palmoil or oil pipelines; but Parry compares the balanced consciousness they hold within their environment and unbalanced consciousness held by we Westerners who are driving the destruction not merely of their world but our own. He does this with the aid of psychologist Ian McGilchrist whose book on brain hemispheric function, The Master and his Emissary, is a valuable new model for understanding how perception works and how  consciousness and human cultural behaviour interact.

I hope that doesn’t make it sound dry, because the film is incredibly rich in spiritual insight and most sumptuously shot by Mark OFearghail with stunning drone footage of the rain forests and the Kumbh Mela – where Parry goes in search of further understanding, and receives eloquent guidance from sadhus.

Why does this matter? And what would anyone gain from seeing it? Because I have not seen any other film that so clear demonstrates the word-defying experience that lies at the heart of shared consciousness. In this film Parry goes far beyond the permitted bandwidth of TV discourse and gives two peoples under threat from global capitalism the space to show the authenticity of their hunter-gatherer world and their sense of complete and conscious spiritual identification with their natural environment.

For this alone it would be valuable –  I would say among the best 100’ I’ve spent in a cinema – but what is truly impressive is that in his own search for Meaning Parry not only manages to make 'the subtle voices of magic' heard but to present an extraordinarily compassionate and penetrating picture of how the human race is eating itself, destroying the very infrastructure on which life itself depends. Parry blames noone, hectors noone; he simply joins up a tremendous number of the puzzling dots and dashes that dance before contemporary eyes to show anyone with eyes to see what spirituality means in the 21stC and how it cannot be divorced from the environment we all inhabit and compassion for all lifeforms.

Bruce Parry is touring the film in cinemas at present. I saw it in a packed cinema in Glastonbury. Visit www.Tawai.earth to find where it’s on near you or to consider organising a showing yourself. It is about being present and compassionate in the world.   


How did Music originate?

The view that music evolved from animal calls is psychologically implausible. I would suggest the evolutionary pathway is as follows.

The mechanism that permits human speech is a tiny bone called the hyoid, which anchors the glottis and makes its usage consistent and reliable for the vocal articulation, as opposed to mere vocalisation. Obviously human language evolved from similar survival requirements evident in other animal ‘languages’. But beyond this  an evolutionary byproduct of the earliest bicameral brain would have been the capacity to become aware of and articulate the reflexive sensations of pleasure /pain /attraction /disgust – which might be called proto-aesthetics.

I would hazard that the discovery of Song can be traced to enjoyment of the duality between the speech and calling - and the discovery that sustained vocalisation by its psychological nature induced a heightened awareness which, when used in a ’safe’ context, was amplified by listeners’ inner responses to the emotional vibrations (or intention) encoded onto it by the caller/singer.

Again, bicamerality has to lie behind the other major characteristic of Music: rhythm. No animals have access to continuous metricality, because it is an acquired skill wholly dependent on aesthetic discipline. Animals and children perform ‘musical’ actions by virtue of physical responses to brain impulses, and the nature of these impulses is conditioned by motor response (muscular energy) to the passing mental focus motivating it. It depends entirely on the evolution of bicamerality to be able to conceive of the existence of a right or wrong way of performing an action other than in terms of immediate pain or reward. And without that conception of a beat as existing abstractly from our own gesture/s, rhythmicality is impossible. I think one can see within the difference between single percussive sounds and sustained coherent rhythmic activity a very similar psychological mechanism unlocking the aesthetics of entertainment (or entrainment, if you will).
For further thoughts on the relationship between of timbre & consciousness

Many years ago, in VHS days, St Attenborough made a TV film exploring Animal ‘Music'. Essentially his conclusion, which I paraphrase, was that while animals make sounds for many purposes, there are no real examples in nature that would correspond to the self-reflexive intentionality which lies within human Music. (Well, some of it!)

Some animals, elephants for instance, can be trained to drum a beat just as they can be trained to paint pictures; but it is manifestly impossible for them to understand or attach emotional significance to actions which they would never have performed naturally - since the mental circuitry by which they could have invented them autonomously is not present within their limbic system.
We learnt from Blue Planet II this week that whales appear to be the only non-human species where sustained vocalisation (song) is shared equally between genders, and not an evolutionary trait of males. 

But there’s a further reason why birds or animals can’t be seen as the origins of music; and that is because if they were we’d still be doing it like them. Whereas the near-universal bedrock of evolved musical languages is a version of the stepped scale. 


What happens after death?

Where to start answering such a question?
    Where does knowing come from? How do we know anything? What distinguishes knowing from believing?
    Possibly it comes from the sense of having penetrated to beyond surface experience to an archetypal level that transcends conventional consciousness? In this sense that Jung famously answered John Freeman’s question "Are you a believer?" with “I don’t believe, I know.”
    What then distinguishes such a claimant from a madman? Absolutely nothing. I make that as a personal disclaimer.

My first way into the question is to say that all the highest expressions of religious awareness depict life as a continuum which dips into and out of terrestrial existence for the traction it offers for soul growth. ‘The only planet of choice.’ The literalness of physical existence reduces the limitless fluidity (or airyfairyness) of spirit existence to hard facts which act as quern stones to grind the spiritual flour out of the physical corn. Or to take another analogy, where and how we focus our lifegoal/s represents the tip of the pole a vaulter practices placing in order to leap over the bar.

So what is that bar and its metaphysical implication/s?
    If each human consciousness is in essence a seed kernel, then as Christ said, to germinate its protective enclosure has to ‘die’, ie be broken. If this is in fact one of the objectives of an evolved life perception, then it’s unsurprising that the unevolved fear the loss of ego identity as much as death itself – indeed they fear death for the same reason. Because to those whose consciousness is body-wired there can be no (cap L) Life except throu sensation.
    But for those who use their incarnation to accept soul-(re)wiring there is the opportunity to leap off the earthplane altogether - to be finished with needing a body to process and decode perception.

So as I see it, a post-incarnation existence within the multi-dimensionality of ultra-consciousness is not essentially different to terrestrial life except without the anchor point of bodily or material forms. The difference between discarnate souls is that those who achieved understanding of what is to come by spiritual practice in this life will know where they are, and why they’re there, and be ready to move on - whereas the others don’t. And indeed can’t, for the reasons given.

So what then is moving on?
    The nature of the Source of all Life can barely be glimpsed on /from the earthplane. S/he exists beyond all duality and the capacity of human consciousness to understand, let alone to describe. To be ready to step onto the lowest plane of non-duality requires us to have been purged of all anger, (self-)hate, misery, lust for objects, power, money or even (selfish) love. In fact, I believe, it is like stepping into your most exalted dreamstate where everything makes sense and you are embraced by the love and fulfilment of everyone and everything you have ever wanted.
    It’s my belief (which I hope I’m not called upon to prove!) that martyrdom and mortal sickness are gifts enabling those with the appropriate consciousness to surrender all attachment to their physical form, and so to vault to immense ‘heights’.
    The consciousness with which we pass over is tremendously important to our spiritual trajectory and initial level within the hierarchy of non-duality. We are all immediately embraced, but those who are unprepared for the nature of the embrace will find it as hard to accept there as they do here.
    Nevertheless, to those who can is offered the pathway to whatever intensity of union with the Source of Existence that their ongoing karma (moral perception as defined by multi-life choice/s) and creative imagination are preparing them for.

So, finally, what may we find beyond the veil?
    The same truth Jung articulated: the unconscious always shows us the face we show it. People will find whatever their heart has truly yearned for. Men and women of goodwill are certain to find others of like mind, just as the Trumps of this world will. Each to their own! The difference is, marvellously for the pyramid of Existence, the latter will be utterly impotent; whereas the spiritual power of the former will equip them to full-fill roles as angels and ministers of grace in the great unfolding of evolutionary love which is the story of creation and the emergence of conscious lifeforms.

Two further things come to me to add. 
    I have used height & depth metaphors because it’s easier linguistically, but really the appropriate imagery is a scale or index of density. The spiritual-evolutionary process, I believe, involves relinquishing frivolity, self-interest and disconnectedness from the needs of other life-forms (everything that money is used to buy) and acceptance of becoming a molecule attuned to, embedded within, and vibrating with the mighty cloud or swarm of consciousness whose nuclear epicentre is the Source of Life. 
    Whereas in life we may be attracted by a manifestations or aspects of this cloud, yet we can do little more than glimpse its nature while we are embodied. And only when we are disembodied, naked, and have purified our motivations throu conscious actions (karma) can we begin to understand the organic functioning /breathing /living /instantaneous interaction of this mighty cloud or swarm of like-minds that sustains and supports all life throughout the multiverses. In this matter, words are worse than useless, and can only serve to misrepresent.

Secondly: What is the role of Christ and of ‘salvation’?
    If you discount nearly everything that the church & evangelicals tell you, then I think the figure or persona of Christ does offer is a unique real-isation or vision of a route-map to the noblest ways of being human. The caveats are that the noblest way/s of being are not ‘Christian’ any more than the property of any other sect or religion, even tho each religious thought-form does have a unique ethical timbre. Secondly the realisation does not immediately hand you a free pass to ‘heaven', as Born Agains teach, but gives you a vision to cherish and follow. It’s not that it overrides karma, so much as give guidance on the ethical priorities that enable us to move quickly throu the bewildering range of moral choices that can bog people down.
    There is an interesting psychological factor about the role of a white-robed teacher. I think we all have embedded within us the idea of a pastor bonus, someone who will have compassion on our confusion and lead towards the light. And I think our expectations are broadly that this is a male figure because the incisive use of the logos principle relates to the male end of gender spectrum. But it’s interesting that this image is found in all religions; and this leads me to believe that, as with medieval art, it is not the literal personality of Christ that matters – as if we could ever know who he was – so much as a Christ (or Buddha et al) shaped space of innate inner wisdom which this persona invokes. 
The ethical difficulty for us today is that by objectifying Christ as a both literal and super-human religions have A) ossified that image so that it's no longer dynamic; and B) failed to take into account the culture-driven way in which the ethical ‘shape’ of the subjective space of innate inner wisdom has evolved so that the ancient ‘verities’ are no longer congruent with contemporary folks' moral compass.     



Having spent much of yesterday afternoon editing and uploading this wonderful performance of Brandenburg IV from our Cherubim Youth Music Festival I am once again awed by the musical mind that could have created such a perfect structure. The conception, scale yet intimate intricacy to me expresses the finest achievement of the religious mind's contemplation of the harmonious potential of being alive – similar to the refined abstraction of Islamic art – yet exceeding it because the nature of Bach's musical perfection is dynamic. There can never be a single exclusive interpretation – it is reborn anew in each performance, and that is the privilege we have: by (re)creating a gossamer web of sound we are not merely participants in a miracle but can actually sense the nature and quality of the mind that brought forth this masterpiece from the Great Mind in an intimate and personal way.

To say that Bach is a cosmic singularity is no understatement. I have long believed that his phenomenal intuitive calculating ability indicates that he was a savant. I cannot see any other explanation for his super-natural structural sense; for tho his music is remarkable for its intellectual coherence, its energy (innergy) and dynamic speak clearly of a subconscious or ultra-conscious origin.

And the re-creational power of Bach's music comes precisely from this, to give us mental and emotional access to at-one-ment – an ability to put us in touch with a dynamic metaphysical reality which we sense within us, but which we Westerners have intellectualised ourselves out of sharing as a unifying human experience.

As George Herbert put it:
A man that looks on glass
On it may stay his eye;
But if he pleaseth through it pass
And then the Heaven espy. 


Our Lady of Pew

As to exactly who or what she was see the Westminster Abbey site.

Last Friday I attended a mass venerating Our Lady of Pew in the Abbey. I only knew about the event because my friend Greg Skidmore was directing the choir and mentioned it. I thought I'd go because he always conducts superb performances and it sounded intriguing. I hadn't the slightest idea what to expect, and if I had had it certainly wasn't what I encountered.

My wife and I arrived at 1830 to see a large queue forming to enter the Abbey after it closed. At length we were admitted by super-efficient vergers marshalled by near-invisible earpieces (!) and directed to the choir stalls. The evening sun streaming in throu the west window was a real trip in itself.

I have been present at a great number of indifferent religious ceremonies in my life; but this was quite different. Once the mass started we were conscious of being in the presence of  committed believers, and the sincerely conducted ritual lead by the Dean, accompanied by superb singing of renaissance settings by the Lacock Scholars, caused the whole nature and energy of the ceremony to break open a hyper-reality. Somehow the officiants moving quietly and efficiently around and behind the altar reredos made me think of the sense of wonder GM Hopkins captures  in his visionary poem The Starlight Night.
    This piece-bright paling* shuts the spouse
    Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.
*the starlit sky

The core perception that I took away from the mass was seeing throu a perfectly aligned wormhole in time into a profound truth: namely, the means by which transcendence is manifested in time, and how such manifestations can only be preserved if they remain as pure transmissions. In other words, the specialness of this occasion could only exist because it was an esoteric ritual of faith preserved from deep time (into which I had interloped) - and which could never have withstood the glare of an exoteric daylight.

This is perhaps why Celts believed that religious truth could only be imparted experientially, and we can only really intuit what their view of the cosmos was?

Afterwards the congregation of 300+ filed out to venerate the statue of Our Lady of Pew in a nearby side chapel. (George Fox would've had conniptions.) This iconic image in alabaster perfectly fits its role of connecting believers to an aspect of the eternal feminine, but is in fact modern and was carved in the 1970s by an Anglican nun (Concordia Scott OSB) who has focused her skills like a medieval sculptor to create an image both deeply personal and wholly transpersonal.

The unified commitment of clergy and congregation created a powerful Presence. It was like encountering the upwelling of an underground river that had apparently been dormant for centuries and was momentarily visible before just as mysteriously disappearing. As we entered the tube afterwards Clancy and I were glad we had each other there to be sure we hadn't dreamt it.


Kabir - Inside Out & The Temple

If God is within the mosque, who is without?
If Ram is the object of your pilgrimage,
who journeys with you? Are the devout
reward only by place and image?
Hari is in the east you claim. To find
Allah go west. Yet if Karim and Ram
exist, don’t seek an answer on the wind,
it’s only in your hearts you'll find that calm.
All men and women living on the earth
are children of Allah & Ram. I, Kabir
am but one of many who have found rebirth:
within my heart the Guru speaks, my Pir.
Bk3:2. #69 in Tagore’s translation MMS 5/12/2010

The Temple
In the temple of this life
Honour your inward focus.
’Twas already late when daylight awoke us,
Don’t wait for the arrival of night.
Your lover has patiently waited for ages,
Alert from the very first light,
Standing outside your door to catch sight
Of you: don’t deny wages
To one who asks only a sign from your heart.
Give ear to the inaudible song
Whose lyrical tune you have known all along
Yet requires your assent for its start.
The melody’s hidden from every ear
That is closed to the feelings of love:
It comes from the highest of heavens above
To bring rapture to all who can hear.
Bk3:96. #86 in Tagore’s translation MMS 13/1/2011

Kabir (1440-1518) was a mystic poet of Islamic origin, who reached enlightenment under Ramananda. the saint of the S Indian bhakti (heart worship) movement. He went to live in the holy city of Benares where he worked as a weaver, arousing hostility from the orthodox Hindu priesthood by teaching his followers to ignore the rituals of temple worship in favour of openness of heart. Kabir was a considerable influence on the emergent Sikh movement.
I became interested in the meanings behind the translations made by Rabindranath Tagore and Kshiti Mohan Sen first published by Evelyn Underhill in 1915. These are, if I may so, distinctly prosaic; and as clarity of rhyme and metre are almost invariably the hallmark of mystical or epic poetry I wanted to rediscover what these poems might originally have felt like.

Kabir - The Divine Bird

The Divine Bird
In this tree a single bird
with dancing song almost unheard
swoops & thrills its deepest leaves
with the enchanting tune she weaves.
Who knows its purpose? For at night
she comes, and leaves by first light.
For whom she sings, if not for me,
who knows? It may be nobody.
Suddenly present, as if from nowhere,
she may as quickly disappear.
I was not told about this tree,
far less the bird – nor have I seen
either its colour or its form,
nor e’en what dance it may perform;
yet its etheric call I hear –
its ballet, tho unseen, is clear.
Beside an abandoned path, this place
is missed by those who’re ruled by haste.
Few there are who know the way,
and fewer still who choose to stay.
Brother sadhu, Kabir says,
don’t invite the race of fools,
who’ll drown the songs and cut the branches:
rather, merely leave them clues.
One or two within your days
may note your path and share your gaze –
them you’ll know without a word:
for in their silence sings that bird.
Bk2:95. #33 in Tagore’s translation MMS 10/11/2010

Kabir (1440-1518) was a mystic poet of Islamic origin, who reached enlightenment under Ramananda. the saint of the S Indian bhakti (heart worship) movement. He went to live in the holy city of Benares where he worked as a weaver, arousing hostility from the orthodox Hindu priesthood by teaching his followers to ignore the rituals of temple worship in favour of openness of heart. Kabir was a considerable influence on the emergent Sikh movement.
I became interested in the meanings behind the translations made by Rabindranath Tagore and Kshiti Mohan Sen first published by Evelyn Underhill in 1915. These are, if I may so, distinctly prosaic; and as clarity of rhyme and metre are almost invariably the hallmark of mystical or epic poetry I wanted to rediscover what these poems might originally have felt like.