There have been some gentle moments of joy this week, as fleeting as the imprints in the sand shown in the photograph above but captured in the psyche.
Teaching singing is a great joy, whether with the wonderful choir on Monday nights or in schools and workshops. On Wednesday three of my Year 6 girls took me totally by surprise with their entirely serious and thoughtful choreography to a song we were learning. They simply decided to do it and I didn’t interfere.
This afternoon at the poetry cafe, writers came together and all produced some new work out of a workshop exercise I presented. The words were funny, touching and profound and it was a privilege to share that experience.
Other gentle moments this week have occurred in connection with others; a lovely taxi driver who made me laugh; an overheard conversation on a bus between a young man and his carer looking forward to their tea; a chat in the pub with an earnest and beautiful woman shining with the love of her God; a hug from a friend; the blue eyes of my best human looking deep into me and knowing me truly.
Gentle moments in a world that can be everything but gentle. Precious indeed.
I had a dream when I was about seventeen in which the most beautiful music was playing. It was the song of the morning and I could not recall it when I woke up but I knew that song connected me to everything that lived. In the dream I was in my favourite place in the world, the river Tamar looking out towards Landulph and into Cornwall. The sun was bright, the Tamar Bridge and Brunel railway bridge were there, sturdy and strong.
But as in all the best and most memorable dreams, the landscape was both familiar and unfamiliar. The bridges stretched for miles and miles into the distance, and a train was standing still, not on the track, just on the hillside, packed with brightly dressed animals all wishing me well on my long journey ahead.
I was travelling far away, deep into the heart of the countryside, a long way from everyone and everywhere. I knew in my dream I was walking from one reality to another, one state to another and that I had to say goodbye to everything I thought I knew in order to make that journey. I was not afraid or excited, just peaceful. With the song in my head, the good wishes of the strange animals in my heart and the beauty of where I was going to guide me I was ready for what was to come. At the time of the dream, I believed I had glimpsed heaven.
That dream is what Wordsworth called a ‘mansion of the mind’ in his sublime poem Tintern Abbey. Mansions of the mind are interior places to visit when they are needed. They are to be recalled in loving detail and held in reverence. I visit my dream when I need to, when I am thinking about bridges, about transcendence, about the unfamiliar and the familiar. Once again today I tried to hear that music but it is gone, only the trace memory of it remains. And oddly, that is enough.
I was going to call this blog post Spirit of Jazz in recognition of the fantastic CD The Spirit of Trane by Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble because the band had me and the rest of the audience in rapture last night at Grimsby Jazz’s final gig of 2017. But actually it’s spirit I want to write about because it has been a week of feeling spirit in so many lovely ways and although last night was the apex there have been some fantastic moments of community and togetherness that I want to try to capture.
When we talk about spirit what do we mean? I think it’s a word that is myriad in its meaning and probably context specific. There was a spirit in the room last Friday when the community choir performed at Cambridge Court. There was a sense of shared purpose and fellowship which I think is captured in these pictures.
I know I talk a lot about the power and the value of singing together but it comes home when we go out into the community and perform. The choir’s spirit is immense; big-hearted, generous and welcoming. Monday evenings at St Mark’s should be available on prescription.
Last night’s gig at Grimsby Jazz was just spectacular. Gilad Atzmon is a genius and I would never use that term glibly. When Gilad plays Euterpe enters and something transcendent happens. The Orient House Ensemble is a stunning band. Each musician plays from the soul and inhabits the music so completely. It was an immeasurable joy to be lost in it. It was a poignant night as well because it was Gill Wilde’s swansong gig. But what a finish. My best human remarked that it was one of the best gigs he’d ever been to and I have to concur.
I woke up thinking about jazz this morning and its glorious defiance as a musical genre. It is so free and so revolutionary and it challenges you as a listener to really engage. I started going to the jazz in Grimsby years ago because I wanted to be excited by music and musicianship. I’ve had such an education and such revelations and have immersed myself in jazz as a writer and performer. I want more of it all the time.
Back to the ordinary world today and the second Riverhead Coffee Poetry Cafe. What a rich afternoon. The participants bring so much, not just writing but themselves. It’s evolving as a place to consider the nature of ourselves not just as writers but as beings, existing in a time and a place. Today there was such a wealth of shared narratives and everyone left with an uplift.
And spirit is the thing that unites this experience, the spirit of people coming together to do what they do; to talk, make art, share ideas, perform, give. It’s something spectacularly human and wonderful and the stuff of living. Long may it happen.
Most of my posts are about what I’ve been doing but this morning I am thinking about being. The nature of being, of our existence is both simple and complex. Here we are, hurtling through space on a rock living with the inevitability of our own death and that of everyone we know. That is the simple bit. The complex bit is what we do with the time we have and how we are for ourselves and others. This takes some work. You can choose to never think about this of course and to just get on with it. For me, just getting on with it is not an option. How I get on with it and how I am in my existence and in my relationship with others is of paramount importance.
Being with others is not always easy. Often it is painful and challenging and when there is hurt, misunderstanding or deliberate unkindness and cruelty it can be hard to envisage any kind of positive relationship with those responsible.
When I was practising Buddhism I was intrigued by the dharma of Maras. Maras are those who harm us. The dharma teachers that these individuals are a great asset to our lives because they bring us the most valuable lessons, the ones that enable us to grow the most. Having had a great many Mara lessons of late I now understand the wisdom of this. Growth comes from adversity, from challenge and from facing it, even when it is overwhelming and completely exhausting.
Once a storm passes, the air is clearer and it is once again possible to find some peace. Today, after the storm, I have some peace and I also accept the inevitability of more storms because that is how life is.