Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Winter Winter

I've been thinking about Rilke's words, that winter is that mysterious time of year when the world turns inwards. I can't remember his exact phrasing, but it was something like that. A time for withdrawing perhaps, to re-evaluate things. Rilke was an artist who was profoundly aware of natural cycles, and how they affect us. We are not cut off from things in his world. We can certainly be cut off from people - either through choice or accident - but the world itself is always there. 'Trust in things', he once wrote (and this is a quote I can remember!), 'for they will never let you down.' Perhaps he means that our being here, in the world, is enough of a reassurance, whether we are going through winters or summers of our own, of those of Mother Nature herself.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Towards Lower Canada

I went out on the bike this afternoon. Twilight is probably my favourite time of the day, when the light changes, bringing on the night, when it's neither day or night, but some borderland between the two where the veil is thin for an hour or so. I was cycling down from an area near here called Upper Canada. I've no idea why it's called that. You go down through a steeply sided little valley with trees on both sides. The road ends up in Lower Canada, which has a few more houses than Upper. I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye, up in the trees. I stopped and looked, but when I did so, it was more difficult to catch: thin filigrees of mist in the tree tops. Had I been in the car I would have missed it completely. It was one of those small details that, when seen, makes me realise that the whole of nature is one vast alchemical operation, that is constantly in motion. As above, so below.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Into the Black

Listening to the Helene Grimaud Credo, I'm reminded of something Jennifer Lash (mother of Ralph and Sophie Fiennes) said in the last book to be published in her lifetime, On Pilgrimage. When she knows that she's dying of cancer, she decides to walk to Santiago de Compostela. Despite its fame as a Cathholic shrine, her books is, to quote Father Ted, 'an ecumenical matter', and she visits a number of other shrines and retreat centres on the way (including a Buddhist place). One thing she said in the book has always stuck in my mind, however. She says that the bad things in life are there to slow us up. A simple statement, but one that is incredibly insightful. Half the time we're running around trying to get things done by yesterday - I speak from personal experience - and get all het up when things don't happen straight away, and get resentful of delays. But what we fail to see is that these delays are there for a reason. They teach us two things: we have to submit to the bad stuff - which cuts our ego down to size - and we have to learn to live according to another time frame than the one our ego dictates. With me, things have to be done right now, if not yesterday. But the time frame I should be using is that of eternity, or timelessness (the two are the same). We have to trust in the fact that, if we have faith, then all will be well. Half the time our problems stem from the fact that we are living in the wrong sort of time - i.e. the 'me now' time, rather than the 'time it takes' time. When we get into these 'me now' foot stamping moods, we could remember what John Michell said: 'Things are better taken care of than you could possibly imagine.' Jennifer Lash was right.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Another Credo

I have just got Helene Grimaud's recording of the Credo. I bought the French version of the CD, which has Bach's Prelude in C Major as a bonus track at the end. After the cacophony of the Credo, the addition of the Bach reinforces the feeling that after the nigredo experience - truly the 'dark matter' of the universe if anything could be - the only way back to wholeness and balance is through stillness, letting things be as they are. Or as Rilke once said, 'Trust in things. Things will never let you down.'

Friday, November 12, 2004


The Artist Elias
I've been listening to Arvo Part's Credo in the last few days. It's a piece of music I've not heard in a long time. What struck me was how simple the piece is: it sounds like a man at war either with himself and/or the times he's living in. And the alchemical shape of it is obvious: that amazingly cacophonous middle section - which always makes me think of the 'Exploding Blue Danube' in Monty Python - which then gives way to what is probably the most moving piece of music of his early period. Hearing it again for the first time in over five years (the tape has been in storage, along with many books) was a shattering experience. It is clearly about a nigredo exeperience which is finally overcome with the 'Credo' ... the 'I believe'. But this is thankfully not the Jesus of George W. and all the morons who voted for him - the fuckwits who interpret the Bible literally - Part's Jesus is the Jesus of the living moment, the one who saves by making the saved aware of the essential simplicity of the moment and of life in general. Arvo Part heard the message that his own music was telling him, and simplified his life and is art to make something of extraordinary beauty and power. We can all learn from his example.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Alchemy is rooted to the earth. No one can undertake the work unless they feel the soil between their toes. In fact, any work requires us to be centred, to trust the feeling of gravity holding us down. It's one of those things that should be taught in schools. On the other hand, most children know this, so perhaps it's adults who should be given lessons in how to just be. As a teacher at a Tibetan Buddhist centre I used to go to once said, 'Don't just do something, stand there!'

Starting the Great Work

Just got back from the Cooper's. Funny thought occured to me there, watching some of the old guys drinking their bitter: once, everyone in this room was a child. I tried to see them all for a moment as children in the playground. 'Give me the first seven years of a child's life and I will show you the man (or woman).' Remembering that everyone was once small and alone in the playground made me realise the one thing that underlies everything: love. This was confirmed by the Westie who was frequently looking my way, as I was reading about mediaeval heresy, and he kept wagging his tail. Dogs - and animals in general - know the score. We keep needing to remember.