Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Where does my fist go when I open my hand,
Where does my lap go when I stand up?
- Alan Watts

One of our colleagues has decided that we are all crap, and that he is a far finer musician. He is indeed a fine musician when he is present. However, he has completely withdrawn. He sits between the treble and the bass and up against the radiator (to nurse the grating cough he has had for the four months I have known him) with a corduroy cap drooping over his eyes and an indigo scarf drawn Berber style across his nose and mouth, fearful that our imperfection is contagious and that he will catch it on the fierce desert wind of Lyon. As he gets angrier his strokes get more aggressive; as he recoils from us his ability to enter into another’s gesture disappears; as the élan and soft lines of his spirit abandon him he is left with harsh square noises in the place of music.

It is quite a challenge to maintain one’s own lyricism next to a pneumatic drill in chamber music. It is even more of a challenge to maintain one’s confidence. We are all struggling to stretch our limits, facing the roots of habits that have been fed like weeds during months of orchestral playing. My personal weed has grown mighty strong and having it pulled at by someone who cares both about the music and about me is quite enough to leave me feeling about seven, raw and blushing with shame, hiding behind my cello and not wanting to come out…. I don’t need this.

We all have weeds in our garden. Even him.

We are angry now. Our lines also grow ragged with tension. We feel ourselves weaken and tempted by his devilish negativity. After all, sometimes it’s a hell of a lot easier. It is not going well. We all played better on the first day.

I return to my lodging and sleep an arduous sleep. In the morning I sit to meditate. It just happens that his face appears and it won’t go away so I do a ‘tonglen’ meditation for him. With each inhalation I breathe in his pain (and ouch, there is so much of it in his twisted expression) and with each exhalation I breathe out healing. Gradually the barriers merge, the scarf falls from his face and my armour melts as his agony becomes no different from mine or anyone else’s. The air we breathe becomes a safe place again rather than a carrier of plague. Afterwards I run in the park listening to Alison Krauss. Her voice is pure clean joy and my lungs fill with love for the dappled plane trees, the lines of frost on the reeds, the fragile ice of the lake just supporting the weight of a coot, the wide red bottom of a squirrel shimmying up a cedar. Other runners smile at my barefaced grin.

I want to swoop it all up in a magic carpet and place it in a row on our colleague’s music stand. I vow, this-afternoon, when I feel attacked and want to withdraw, to imagine instead reaching in to find one of these things and giving it to him.

Be a spot on the ground where nothing is growing,
where something might be planted,
a seed, from the Absolute.
- Rumi


Blogger Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Good luck. And, that is so beautifully written - another for the book - it's going to be a fat one!

1:14 PM  
Blogger Jean said...

My day feels richer for having read this (sorry to be icky). Beautiful, strong writing. And a beautiful, strong subject.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Lovely post, Ruth. And nice to find another Alan Watts fan!

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very beautiful, Ruth, and such a perfect example of what we all need to be doing, all the time.

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But did it work???

Lovely writing, as ever and you should have been on the European short-list.

1:02 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

aaah, wise caroline, that's a good question which I was about to address this morning. Of course it is so much easier to write about it. Yes. It worked for the first hour (and having written my intention down certainly helped) - which I have to see as a step as I came in with a positive attitude. Then No. I got a knock just when I was least expecting it and closed down for the hour after that, then I wormed my way back into the world a little bruised and managed to get back to where I started - just - by 11pm...

as the song goes (or words to this effect):

pick yourself up
brush yourself off
start all over again.

by the way, C, J tells me (from a broadband land called home) that you are up for best antipodean and that he voted for you. I haven't really been following it all but will do the same as soon as I get to a place where I can browse for less that a euro a minute!

Rob, thank you. I am embarrassed (again!) to say that one of our 100 days folk posted this whole bag o' quotes about sitting and gardening just as I was writing a post about the same (ish) and Alan Watts turned up with this one which I loved. However I have never actually read any of his work (I have read Rumi however) so a recommendation of where to start would be appreciated!

10:16 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

Caroline, what I forgot to mention was that my colleague was completely different, and much lighter all afternoon, and the unexpected nature of the knock was that it didn't come from him! I doubt it but it could be that something somewhere was working.....??????? (spooky?)

11:54 AM  
Blogger MB said...

Ruth, this is lovely.

I want to swoop it all up in a magic carpet and place it in a row on our colleague’s music stand.

I feel like that so often around others with negative energy - can't they see?!

3:47 PM  
Blogger Udge said...

He sits ... with a corduroy cap drooping over his eyes and an indigo scarf drawn Berber style across his nose and mouth, fearful that our imperfection is contagious

Oooh, somebody's been watching Glenn Gould in old TV interviews ;-)

It sounds to me like the magic carpet did work, you just need to get it switched into "broadcast to all" mode.

7:54 PM  
Blogger snowsparkle said...

your words and your spirit are beyond beautiful... both are truly uplifting to me. thankyou snowsparkle

10:47 PM  
Blogger Brenda Clews said...

You write with such clarity, and so graphically I could imagine everything, and with a spiritual depth that exudes out of this writing like the perfume from a wild flower. I'm not surprised he was lighter that afternoon. You're amazing.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Ooh, where to start with Alan Watts... He once reckoned he'd written the same book thirty times, just atarting from different places, which is fairly true. His own spiritual journey was fairly interesting: starting out as a precocious member of the Buddhist Society in London, becoming ordained as an Episcopalian minister in Chicago, before finding his natural spiritual milieu in 1960s California, at the time of Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Esalen, etc. His autobiography "In My Own Way" therefore makes interesting reading.

In many ways I think the best place to start is where I did, with "The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are", which I suppose could almost be subtitled "Vedanta For Dummies". Other good books come from a specifically Zen perspective ("The Way Of Zen"), a Taoist one ("The Watercourse Way") or via the Christan mystical tradition ("Behold The Spirit"). Basically which ones you like best will depend on the approach that fits you: none of the books are stinkers, and they all have insights to offer. There are also collections of short pieces (these tend to get re-edited with new titles from time to time) and many many recordings of talks. These range from very populist ones to technical expositions on aspects Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism (though these are still very listenable and far from stodgy).

Of course, as Watts would be (and was!) the first to point out, they're all just fingers pointing to the moon. As I once read on the flyleaf of an edition of the I Ching: pick up the book, feel it, then throw it away.

10:42 PM  

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