Thursday, 31 May 2012

Slip Slidin' Away?

When I first heard this song, on its release, I thought it melancholy, even gloomy. It seemed to say to me that life is slipping away from us even when we think we are being purposeful; it seemed a bit hopeless.

It seems to me now to be liberating and enlightened. Maybe the more we try to be purposeful and control everything in our lives, the more it slip slides away from us. And in any case, life itself moves through us until it ends, whatever we do. Understanding this rather better these days helps me to value now, here. I think it's one component of mindfulness. It actually stops me worrying so much about the brevity of life.

When I first heard this song, I enjoyed popular music well enough. I don't think I ever derided music because it is categorised as "easy listening," or "middle of the road." Listen with your ears, not your file index, someone once said to me. But I didn't expect to find anything very profound in it; intensity of youthful feeling, yes; a sound-track for our life and times, sure.

It seems to me now a total masterpiece, full of wisdom and acceptance, rooted in the fabric of our 20th/21st century lives yet not swamped by it, not merely echoing it. It's even better, I think, than "Trains in the Distance." In my mind, it  sits with Karine Polwart's "We're All Leaving" as a song of profound acceptance and understanding. And this  performance, I hope you'll agree, is absolutely beautiful - flawless. I won't put up the words, they are so clear.

Thank you, gentlemen.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Trouble In Mind - Humph

I think we can reasonably expect people at a funeral to be troubled in mind, to feel blue, even if there's also the "celebration of a life" going on, as no doubt there was at Humph's funeral, after his long, creative and productive life, which brought so much pleasure to so many people.

This track has a stately melancholy which I think would be perfect for processing into a funeral.

Revivalist, later to mutate into "trad," jazz doesn't get much attention nowadays. It probably seems quaint, remote, sometimes over-excited, to many people. British jazz suffered then, perhaps a little less now, from an inferiority complex compared with jazz in its country of birth, which of course is understandable. No need for such feelings here. Just listen to Humph's musical, perfectly judged improvisation on the last couple of choruses, behind the beautiful shrilling of the clarinets.

The effect of such music, if it works for you, is to take you through the blues to somewhere calmer. Which is what a successful funeral should do.

Take it home, Humph - and: thanks.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Time and NOW

OK, so we aren't all lucky enough to be able to put our feet up on a lakeside veranda whilst we stay with "the bloom of the present moment;" but we can all help ourselves by developing techniques for doing so, wherever we are.

In a comment on my last posting, the one about Henry David Thoreau, Charles, and thanks to him for so many lively responses to my meanderings,  asked how one empties the mind so as to escape from the usual sense of onward time. My entirely predictable answer was "mindfulness meditation," and it probably always will be my answer to such questions.

A moment's reflection on time is likely to yield puzzling paradoxes. It can be elastic - "marvellous how time flies when you're having fun," or "as the catastrophe approached, time went into slow motion." No matter how astonishingly accurate our timepieces may be, they only measure a net - clock time - which we throw over the universe to make sense of it.

Einstein (I'm getting nervous here...) showed that time and space are relative to each other (I think - didn't he?) and that if you travel away from home at light-speed, when you get back you'll have aged at a completely different rate from those you left behind. i.e. they'll be dead, and you'll still be young (though possible also dead from trying to travel that fast. I digress, sorry.)

So - how can time be an absolute? And even if it were, our perception of it, the way we actually live in it, is very relative.

Then there's the paradox of the present. It's all that exists, it contains the past and the future - memories of times gone by are events in the present - yet how long IS the present moment?

This stuff makes my head swim - which is good, because it encourages me to step outside of sequential event-type time, allow the train of thoughts about past and future to subside, and spend a little time in the NOW.

I've come across a website, "Wildmind," which could be a very useful resource for anyone in search of the general benefits of spending at least part of each day entirely in the present moment. It has some Buddhist names, terminology and concepts - which is OK by me, because that's where the mindfulness meditation thing comes from, but might put some people off. I hope not, because in any case, some of the articles to be found in it are entirely free of such specialist background. Here are links to a couple of articles about meditation, the present moment, and the strange reality of NOW.

Finally for this post: TS Eliot may have looked and sounded like a slightly prissy bank manager of the old school, but his insights into meditation and into time itself seem to me profound and valuable. This bit of the "Four Quartets" is pretty well-known, but if you stop and let it sink in...

“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.”

Time is unredeemable, so only the present truly exists, vanishing as soon as it arrives....

Monday, 7 May 2012

The bloom of the present moment

With thanks to Vale, over on the Good Funeral Guide,

for reminding me of something crucial about Henry David Thoreau. 

Here's something he wrote in "Walden:"

"I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. 

I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller's wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. 

I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. "

Or indeed, what we mean by mindfulness meditation.

"The bloom of the present moment." "I grew in those seasons like the corn in the night."

It's all there.