Diary: Wind, Sleep, and Sorrowful Songs

over

The wind certainly does add a touch of drama to everything.

Just before it fully picked up, I observed a bumble bee on a dandelion. It looked like it was clinging on to the flower for dear life. I tried to imagine what the experience must be like from the bee’s perspective; the whole world a-whorl around you; your only haven a golden circumference the elements are ever conspiring to tear you from.

As I crossed a wooden bridge over a marsh, the wind really began to fulminate – not quite King Lear territory, yet – but a nearby Hamlet, perhaps? A legion of black clouds rolled in, in true Roman imperial fashion. Poplar trees were blown into bowing, willows cracking under the pressure like so many arthritic limbs, and the air was suddenly a chaotic mosaic of catkins, leaves, and dandelion seeds – a ballet caught in a tornado.

As I neared home, I moved through a large corridor of brambles that I pass through every day. I’ve been reflecting on how different they look throughout the procession of the seasons. At the moment, they are all re-leafing. There is sumptuous, magisterial quality to them, as though every leaf is a fanfare celebrating the very concept of greenness.

In Winter, they become nature’s equivalent of barbed wire. And if we should ever be so lucky as to experience some snowfall, then they look like giant, gelid spiders, trying to dislodge themselves from some awful frost that has consigned them to petrification as a punishment.

The previous night had not been so peaceful. I could not sleep. I felt sad, lonely, and restlessly in want of human contact –a sleepy embrace to compose a counterpoint to my being. Venus was glaring through the window at me, and I had the radio turned on low to give my maudlin mind something to occupy it.

After some avant-garde Jazz, and a light spell of semi-somulence, I awoke to find them playing Gorecki’s 3rd symphony – ‘A Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ which I had actually been thinking about listening to earlier that day. It seemed the perfect companion to my current state: slow, sombre, and sad, with occasional euphoric bursts of near-prophetic hopefulness.

My favourite moment occurs in the second movement, when, after a gloomy, lingering melody, the hopeful chords at the beginning of the movement return, and the soprano explodes with this call of grief and euphoria which seems to cry out: “WHERE ARE YOU?” Like a lone wanderer on a desolate, war-barren planet, who has just detected the first murmurings of possible love, but does not yet know how to trace them.

(The words are actually an invocation to The Virgin Mary, found on the cell of the Gestapo headquarters, and written by an eighteen year-old girl imprisoned there. But, that sense of crying out for love, for salvation, across long swathes of impossible space, still, unolibteratingly, remains).

When I finally did sleep, I dreamed I was in a strange, video game world, where I was roaming around the winding passageways of a monster-filled sewer. I felt no sense of danger, nor fear. Then I awoke to the sounds of a sparkling piano – thinking of friends I missed – and the birth-song of the wind.

Learning From Animals and Nature

Olm-Pictures

If you want to learn how to follow The Way, you need only watch wild animals. Following The Way is ultimately about being natural, and what could be more natural than wild animals?

Watch a wild bird, for instance. They only eat as much as they need. When they do not need to move, they are quite happy just to remain still, in a meditative posture, and conserve energy. They do not waste energy on personal indulgence or on restless gratification. They just do what they must and do not go beyond that.

When we look at those things in nature which last for the longest, it is always those that have mastered stillness. Mountains and trees often remain imperishably for thousands of years, whilst countless other beings pass away, and civilizations rise and fall. The olm – a cave-dwelling salamander – can live for over a hundred years. When it has no food, it is capable of fasting in a meditative state for up to ten years. It has learned the importance of living life slowly, and deriving the maximum of nourishment from the absolute minimum of input.

Interestingly, some of those beings that are capable of living for the longest do so in extremely inhospitable environments. The Bristlecone Pine tree is capable of living for over five thousands years, but it only grows in the angry winds of the mountains of Nevada, Utah, California, and Canada. This is because it has mastered the art of indifference. Life will always find a way, because it knows that everything is The Way.

Listen to nature, and let it teach you everything it knows.

It will give you all the secrets of happy, long life.

Olm

Meditation Exercise: Cultivating Tree Energy

Tree

This is an exercise taken from the Chi Kung Cannon, but it can be practiced by anyone interested in energy work, who wishes to attain a closer relationship with nature.

Firstly, you need a tree, preferably one that is large, strong, vibrant, and in an isolated, naturalistic environment, where you do not have to worry about being interrupted by strangers. For those who are particularly interested in cultivating vitality and longevity, a very old, but still living tree, is ideal. These are generally typified by their enormous height and prodigious girth, often possessing a hollow trunk, and an accumulation of warty, twisted growths known as ‘burrs’. Though, so long as you have access to a healthy, living tree, don’t worry too much about that at this stage.

Tree Gung

Once you have selected a tree, stand in front of it, with your body erect and relaxed, feet shoulder width apart, and your knees slightly bent. Place your hand onto the tree, relax, and just take a few moments to be with the tree, clearing your mind, and becoming one with the present. Then, when you feel you are ready to begin, close your eyes, or keep your gaze firmly fixed in front of you.

Take a long, deep, gentle breath inward, and, as you inhale, visualize vital energy being drawn in through your palms and through the crown of your head, and, retaining the breath briefly once you’ve reached maximum capacity, bring it to centre in the energetic chamber of your heart. Then, as you exhale slowly, smoothly, and gently, push this ball of energy down your abdomen, pelvis, down your legs, and into the ground, visualizing roots sinking deep into the energetic belly of the earth as you do so, nourishing you with its life-engendering soil, drawing nutrients, moisture, and energy back up into you.

Tree spirit

    Repeat this sequence as many times as you wish. I often like to intensify the visualization, by imagining myself as a tree spirit, with my skin made of bark, my limbs made of branches, and my hair whorled out of leaves and vines; though you can tailor it anyway that you feel deepens your sense of connection.

According to the theory of the five elements of Chinese Traditional Medicine and Taoism, as trees are symbolic of the wind/wood element, this is exercise is good for your liver and eye chi, helping to infuse you with a lively, gentle, interpenetrating, and care-free spirit. It can also to unify you with the other four elements, grounding yourself in the soil of Earth; nourishing yourself on the Metal minerals within; drawing up the moisture of Water with your roots; and connecting you with the sun in the sky which imbues you with the Fire energy both plants, animals, and humans need to live and photosynthesize.

Once you have finished, thank the tree for sharing its energy with you, and treat all life with reverence. It is good to reflect on the many virtues of the tree. As Lao Tzu said in the Tao Te Ching:

Well planted – Never Uprooted

Well embraced – Never lost

I hope you enjoy this exercise, and I’d love to hear about whatever results you experience!