Archive for June, 2011

in deep

‘what music do you like?’ 

Never know how to answer this question…it’s like ‘what’s up?’: the sky? how’s it going? what it, life? yes, life is going. How it goes…remains a mystery.

Yes, i like music. Indeed I would say as far as Albert Ayler: music is the healing force of the universe…potentially!  As the ancient Vedic scriptures state, nada brahma: everything is sound. Everything is vibration, different frequencies, organised into patterns of varying complexity and degree of (at least apparent) order, within which is contained further hidden order/chaos: again, one might say, apparent chaos/order, since it depends on who and how one looks, what the (depth of) perspective and angle. 

We are energetic beings, formed according to pulse, frequency, flow of blood, air, signal carried between invisible body and visible soul. This happens without ‘us’ being in the picture at all, save as a point of reference: we say the heart beats, yet ‘we’ breathe, and in this case language, or at least the English language, fails us, for we do not have to consciously make some kind of effort for breathing to occur, just as we do not have to ‘beat our heart’. In other words sound and sound patterns are taking place all the time, regardless of whether they are observed. Indeed they are creating place, existing in relation and thus establishing ‘time’, which we know from the theory of relativity to be a further dimension of ‘space’, or vice versa: modes of expression of being.

What we seek, then, is to uncover and allow the expression of essential being, without ‘putting ourselves in the picture’, and unreasonably colouring it, putting barriers in the way of pure, fluent expression of free flowing being-truth, essential reality. Yet all music and indeed all forms appear to exist as a result of particular barriers, particular constrictions creating structure. As John Cage discovered in a ‘post (? when are we ever post-modern without being in the future, an impossibility?) modern’  context – confirming the insight of mystics such as the meditational experiences of Zen buddhists over centuries- pure silence does not exist in the relative world. For in an anechoic chamber, completely sealed to prevent any possible external sound entering and therefore theoretically completely silent, he still heard something: the sound of his own heartbeat. By believing in the existence of ‘silence’ and ‘sound’ (amongst other possible dichotomies) we posit the existence of a duality which does not exist in actuality; both are entirely dependent on the witness. 



What we seek, then, is rather the ‘sound of silence’, or sound in silence, that which resonates, without without, within within: where do we locate the silence anyway? or, where do we locate ourselves? For if we do not locate ourselves, again, one might say, we do not put ourselves in the picture, we and the (heart)beat are one. In this concentration silence is found in sound, the pure infinite void centre in which no limitations exist. 



if we ‘open our ears’ (here our language proves more logical: our ears are always, and sometimes unfortunately, open, unlike our eyes; yet are we truly listening?) this possibility may be found all over the place and in all things; yet for sure there are also degrees of clarity in this, and everything is a sign, varying in obscurity, to this unchanging reality. Rare is the person who experiences profound enlightenment in hearing Britney Spears; yet neither should we assume it is only to be found in the carefully placed strike of a single gong in some religious ceremony. 

The key for me is that subjective truth IS truth; as Jelalluddin Rumi said, fihi ma fihi, ‘what is in it is what is in it (for you)’. Science may expand our knowledge of the hidden, and is this potentially of great benefit; yet when we separate the concept of the experiencer and experience, and become self conscious, again, ‘we’ are in the picture, as a limited and limiting concept. We then see the world through an invisible monocle, invisible to us, but nevertheless colouring the reality. We might say (and have, in so many words) that its lense becomes dusty; we need to take off the monocle and give it a clean. In fact, without wanting to stretch the metaphor too far (you see how carried away one could get with it, in itself a monocle..) we do not need a monocle but spectacles (bicycles?). That is to say, as Ibn ‘Arabi did, that the heart has two eyes (though we may also say these are two sides of one coin, or eye): reason, and intuition. Without both, we lose focus. For this reason we need to uncover a way of intuitive mathematics, of what Sun Ra called ‘myth science’. Ways of linking together freedom and the frame, of being free in the (frame)work, working to be free. The frame given freely, which comes from that which we seek through longing for freedom, which is the above: pure, simple being-in-itself, being itself, being YOURSELF. What does this mean, to be your self? just to be. Just so, as only you can be. To be just, that is, to be honest, not to adjust. Not that ‘you’ own a self, as such, but that Self comes off the shelf and gets shined up, you make your mind up, but the mind gets unmade, we are undone, not added to, but realised. Realised as sheer nothingness, sheer potential, recognised, in our self, by our self,  without a boundary on what that self is. 

So when we talk about free jazz (or ‘free’ anything) do we truly mean freely given? do we mean truly free? or are there unspoken rules about what that freedom might mean? It is those engaged in such research, truly engaged, in question and answer, call and response, service to reality, who truly deserve our appreciation and honouring. Whichever medium their study and service takes place through, r e s p e c t  is due. Those who break through in this we call ‘saints’; yet to be engaged in the creative process is to be a medium ones self, since one is fundamentally non existent, as we have discussed. This creative spark which is none other than the SPIRIT passes through, and out of ones hands becomes something new, as does everything, going on changing, transforming, according to perception, receptivity, particular state. Who knows what may become of it then! 


The purpose of all this is nowt but the love Swami Satchinanda talked of (see first post); and the process of the journey is beautiful. We might say it the other way too, that the journey is in love, through love and by love, and the purpose is for beauty.

What opens this way for you?  



people are haiku

here’s a little recent experiment in layering images, something I got into before and wanted to try playing (working?) with again. Done lots more of these , using photos and poems from Japan, which I hope to share at some point. 

Meanwhile, here are some haiku by true masters…fantastic


間: after a brief interval…


 Every visitor to Japan is likely to be familiar with the announcement on the shinkansen as it comes to another station: mamonaku…followed by the somewhat smarmy American version ‘in a short while we will be making a brief stop at….’ (It always sounds like some sort of euphemism to me…) This character is the ma of mamonaku : an interval, after some time. Indeed  ‘time’ is written thus:




(the first character being ‘temple’, itself composed of the characters for sun, earth and  measurement: a framework of earth, for measuring the path of the sun?)

 Yet we also find this character in the word ningen, ‘human being’:





-‘man/space’. Space, that is, as interval, meaning ‘between’. In traditional cultures man is always conceived of as the mediator, the point of connection between heaven and earth; he is the microcosmos, by which the universe is measured. Hence, for example, the Japanese unit of measurement ken, which uses the same character



 (one ken)

-by my reckoning the height of a man with arms outstretched, being about 1.82 metres. (This is also the length of a traditional tatami mat, still to be found in many Japanese houses). Such a concept was behind all ancient measurements, the length of a hand, from the fingertips to the elbow (a cubit), a foot, and so on. This is the logos: the prototype, the primordial ‘yardstick’, or touchstone, according to this ancient philosophy man is in a sense the universes centre, through which comes the light of the spirit. Indeed the character ma is itself composed of the character for gate,


within which is the character for sun:



Now the sun is the perennial symbol of the spirit, and the character for it is none other than an adaptation over time of the same symbol which is used in astrology to represent the sun, a circle with a dot in the centre. The most simple of symbols, symbol of unity, of which the sun itself is a symbol. Such an understanding of the nature of symbol, it seems to me, is key to the very development of language, which is to say, the very development of human consciousness, as something distinct and unique. Yet our place is always a potential, as gateway; as Meister Eckhart said, we are human becomings, not human beings. This word ‘being’ as the English version has it is described here by what we would consider to be its opposite; space, that which is between. It is not existent as such, we might say, yet it is existent in that it may be described, and, naturally, makes a difference. In Zen Buddhism the practise of simply sitting, zazen, is considered to allow one to realize what it truly means to be human: to uncover anything extra, anything imagined, so there is only this reality, the gateway, the swinging door(s) depicted in the character for gate. Through this comes the breath, going in, and going out, as do thoughts, without attachment. Just so the light comes and goes; though where from and where to, who knows.


Thirty spokes meet in the hub,

but the empty space between them

is the essence of the wheel.

Pots are formed from clay,

but the empty space between it

is the essence of the pot.

Walls with windows and doors form the house,

but the empty space within it

is the essence of the house


-Lao Tsu


Whilst the Western approach is to build a house by putting walls up and clearly defining a space, in Japan traditional houses were  apparently made by setting up lines of thin pillars. Only later were additions made such as fusuma(sliding doors), shoji (sliding screens with translucent paper), noren (curtains), and so on, to partition rooms. All these partitions were movable, which meant that one could redefine the room in an instant, creating a window, mado, now written with one character (though apparently previously written with the character ma間 and do meaning ‘place’: the ‘space place’. Now as the great Sun Ra stated ‘space is the place’: that is to say every place is space, is sheer potential. Metaphysically speaking, we might say that through each place, each eye or I, that is, each individual ‘thingness’, we may witness the reality in which there are no things; we may glimpse the soul, through the window.

 While the concept of ma clearly relates to the empty space Taoists discussed, it is also said to relate to a more ancient Shinto concept called utsu.  This refers to ‘the void inside a certain substance, a cave in a rocky mountain, the hollow inside an old tree, the ‘dug-out’ of a canoe, or the cavity of a pit dwelling. The sacred spirit was thought to lodge in all of these voids. As the view towards the void became more ritualised, even a solid gem was believed to contain a void a sack of cloth, without holes for hands and feet, was thought to be inhabited by the sacred God. The more severed from exteriority, the more sacred the internal void. ‘ (Isozaki) This void could be clearly identified by the Japanese with the import and essential comprehension of Buddhism, the philosophy of which hinges upon the recognition that all phenomena are empty, as the key Buddhist text of the heart sutra repeatedly states. All is transient, fleeting appearance, yet the absolute is found expressed in even the smallest drop of the ocean of being. From this void, without ceasing to be void, that is, without becoming ‘thing’, separate and disconnected ( a mental fiction) the ancient Japanese pictured the universe being created through the movement of kami, spirits, as stories, bringing about time space; and just so from the stillness of meditation the heightened alertness of a zen monk allows him to spring into action to catch a passing fly with one hand and release it. Such poise is also the principle behind martial arts, the readiness not to habitually react but attune to and express the essence of the moment, as required. To be waiting for the kami though is what Isozaki calls ‘the underlying principle of the Japanese conception of space and time’.









  (left: three pictures of the same Noh ‘hawk mask’ showing how the expression changes with a tilt of the head…)


  This waiting, or interval as performance, is probably to be found most      keenly expressed in Noh drama. In Noh it is the ‘space between the notes’  that creates the whole drama, that allows the kami to inhabit the stage, or,  one might say, to become almost visible. Zeami Motokiyo, who codified Noh theatre many centuries ago, stated, “senu tokoro ga omoshiroki”:  what the actor does not do is interesting. In the space is implied deeper levels of meaning, beyond what can be expressed in more limited forms. Such ‘silent fullness’, what we might call the ‘pregnant pause’, hints at this vast potential, breathing space into life, and giving birth to time…

[gonna freely quote from something I found online now which is written by Stefanie Adcock on the web page of the LA Public School (which looks great) about their short recent course  on the ‘cosmology of the invisible: the Japanese aesthetic of ma‘. Just too interesting to cut down I think.]

  ‘An essential element of Buddhist thought, particularly Zen Buddhism, is the concept of no-mind (sunyata), which basically stated is the original mind, the one without distinctions that flows uninterrupted as the mind unconscious of itself. Obtaining the flowing mind, uninterrupted with conscious thought is the ideal state of performance that each noh actor aspires toward and represents the actor’s ability to perform from a deeper level of being that is ‘in-tune’ with the universe. The actors first attempt to be ‘in time’ with the audience occurs when the actor stands at the brink of the hashigakari, awaiting the ideal moment for his entrance. Knowing when to move is a developed sensitivity that each actor must acquire with his audience, as explained by Zeami.

“The actor must find the proper moment to seize the attention of the audience. It is bad to begin either too quickly or too slowly. When the actor hears in his inner ear that instant of silence when the audience waits in expectation, thinking “ah, now he is going to sing!” he must begin.”

  Such sensitivity is what Zeami considered to be a result of the actor’s “greatest, most secret skill”, an expression of  ‘the inner tension that is created when an artist maintains his concentration between actions. In other words if a movement is performed and brought to a resting place, and there is a pause (ma) before his next action, the actor does not at any point in the whole performance drop or lose the internal tension that is created through the One- Intensity of Mind, but sustains the flow of energy throughout even in moments of stillness.  



 “ The actor must rise to a selfless level of art, imbued with a concentration that  transcends his own consciousness, so that he can bind together the moments before  and after that instant when “nothing happens.” Such a process constitutes that  inner force that can be termed “connecting all the arts through one intensity of  mind.”

 “Thinking is useful in many ways, but there are some occasions when thinking  interferes with the work, and you have to leave it behind and let the unconscious  come forward. In such cases, you cease to be your own conscious master but become an instrument in the hands of the unknown. The unknown has no ego-consciousness and consequently no thought of winning the contest, because it moves at the level of non-duality, where there is neither subject or object.”

In this ‘one-intensity of mind’, the internalized tension of the performance, there is action in non-action; and in the quality of stillness in action, there is non-action in action.

What, then, is the meaning of the intervals between action? As Adcock notes: ‘if the actor has acquired the ‘secret skills’ of performance then in these moments of stillness we the audience can experience the actor’s internal motion or heart (kokoro). The actual negative space that is created by the non-action of ma in performance is necessary for the expression of the inward motion that would otherwise be eclipsed by action… The negative space ma creates through non-action is intrinsically related to positive space created through action. Noh theatre seems to highlight them as distinct and separate but through their separateness we realize their connection. Somehow though, in the moments of stillness, much like the negative space in the monochrome ink style paintings of the Muromachi period (1392-1573 C.E.) we are drawn toward the blank spaces in the image as an object for pure aesthetic contemplation.’

Such awareness of space was undoubtedly largely through the influence of  Zen Buddhist philosophy, influenced itself in the unique formation of its character in Japan by what we would now call Shinto, the very ancient reverence for nature and appreciation of sacred space. One might say it is a key to understanding not just the arts but the culture, the collective soul if you will, of the Japanese people, in which often ‘subtlety, restraint and allusiveness are artistic ideals’.  We sense intuitively, in other words, if you will, reading between the lines. In all relationships there is ambiguity, a certain quality of ma. We might call this ‘grey space’, though grey has the usual connotation of muddiness, of being dull and unclear.  Yet in the best traditional Japanese art there is not just ‘grey space’ but a crystal clarity, which is the spirit shining through. What are we to make of this? Perplexity upon perplexity: amidst the floating world, a single stone sings. No Space, no time, yet somehow we are held here, pure potentialities, between nothingness and void.

More to come, upon further contemplation; on ambiguity and paradox, in this mystifying, mysterious world of signs…