Tuesday, August 30, 2011

songlines by bruce chatwin

According to the aboriginals a song was both map and direction finder. Providing you knew the song, you could always find your way across country. 

I read this book to my husband while driving back from Phoenix to San Diego on a very hot summer day. The air-conditioning of our old van gave out around Yuma, which must be the hottest place on earth, and had it not been for Bruce Chatwin’s great writing, the remaining hours would have been sheer torture. Over the years, his quotes have been a great source of inspiration.

Bruce Chatwin's book is more than your ordinary travelogue. In The Songlines he challenges traditional boundaries between the scientific/ethnographic and creative/fictional discourses. Stories of a strange but probable group of characters from Australia’s multicultural population is interrupted by a substantial number of pages presenting the narrator’s diary entries, interviews, and citations which are quite obviously taken from the materials Chatwin himself collected when researching his treatise on nomadology.


  • Songlines are inextricably linked to the Australian indigenous concept of The Dreaming; the indigenous people of Australia believe that the world is created from the interaction of eternal patterns and forms. 
  • All indigenous people of Australia know the story of the rainbow snake - this is the best known of the forms which make up The Dreaming - the legend holds that the rainbow snake left part of its spirit on earth and part of this spirit can be found in everything in the world.
  • Every Australian indigenous adult is responsible for a part of the dreaming potential and this is usually manifests itself as a songline
  • In their most basic sense, the songlines connect good sources of water and places sacred to the indigenous people of Australia. 
  • Australia is basically a complex web of these invisible songlines; some are short, others can stretch the length of the country.
  • A songline is a kind of musical map; the rhythms and cadences of the music represent the pitch of the land - it is possible also to represent lakes, stones, trees. 
  • So intricate are the songline that it is possible to know - because you know its songline - a place hundreds of miles away that you've never been to. 
  • The crucial thing is that in order for this tradition to continue the Australian indigenous people must continue to walk the land affirming the songlines and must ensure that they are sung regularly to pass them down for future generations. 
  • The real threat of development - industrial, recreational and residential, puts the songlines at risk. It is at this point that Bruce Chatwin's highly regarded work The Songlines begins.

Bruce Chatwin
Bruce Chatwin was born in 1940 in Birmingham (England). According to Chatwin it was always a place to leave and so he did. First to London where he worked for Sotheby's, then Edinburgh to study archeology, then back to London where he worked as a journalist for the Sunday Times. As one acquaintance put it: He never knew where to be. It was always somewhere else. He died in 1989 at the age of 48.

read more

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

gurdjieff on the way back from homer

Driving back from Homer to Anchorage takes about five hours. A beautiful drive over Alaska's Kenai Peninsula with sweeping views of mountains to both east and west and vast outlooks over the Cook-Inlet, the watershed that covers about 100,000 km² of southern Alaska. Several national parks and the active volcano Mount Redoubt are to be found within the watershed, along with three other historically active volcanoes. Cook Inlet provides navigable access, at the northern end, to the port of Anchorage, and further south to the smaller port of Homer. James Cook sailed into the Inlet while searching for the Northwest Passage and it was George Vancouver, who served under Cook who named it after him in 1794.

While driving back to Anchorage I listened to Gurdjieff, Tsabropoulos: Chants, Hymns and Dances by German cellist Anja Lechner and Greek pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos. On this album they interpret the music of Armenian born mystic and spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff.

During his lifetime Gurdjieff used a number of different methods and materials, including meetings, music, movements (sacred dance), writings, lectures, and innovative forms of group and individual work. Part of the function of these various methods was to undermine and undo the ingrained habit patterns of the mind and bring about moments of insight. Gurdjieff became best known for the music he wrote in collaboration with Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann. Dating to the mid 1920s, it offers a rich repertory with roots in Caucasian and Central Asian folk and religious music, Russian Orthodox liturgical music, and other sources.

Gurdjieff called his discipline The Work or, originally, The Fourth Way and at one point even referred to his teachings as Esoteric Christianity. His teachings, so he claimed, expressed the truth found in ancient religions and wisdom teachings, relating to self-awareness in people's daily lives and humanity's place in the universe. Gurdjieff claimed that people cannot perceive reality in their current states because they do not possess consciousness but rather live in a state of a hypnotic waking sleep. As a result of this condition, each person perceives things from a completely subjective perspective. Gurdjieff stated that maleficent events such as wars and so on could not possibly take place if people were more awake. He asserted that people in their typical state function as unconscious automatons, but that one can "wake up" and become a different sort of human being altogether.

Gurdjieff also argued that many of the existing forms of religious and spiritual traditions on Earth had lost connection with their original meaning and vitality and so could no longer serve humanity in the way that had been intended at their inception. As a result humans were failing to realize the truths of ancient teachings and were instead becoming more and more like automatons, susceptible to control from outside and increasingly capable of otherwise unthinkable acts of mass psychosis such as the 1914-18 war. At best, the various surviving sects and schools could only provide a one-sided development which did not result in a fully integrated human being. The Work is in essence a training in the development of consciousness. (wikipedia)
read more

Friday, August 5, 2011

the ocean of oneness by christel veraart & ken macfarlane

It was in Todos Santos (Mexico) that I met Ken and his wife. Both he and I were born and raised in  "the old country" and both of us are married to Americans so there's a lot we have in common. We met, at least that's how I remember it, at a party, but, when talking to his wife this morning, she reminded me that we met because my husband and I were the first ones in Todos Santos to have Skype, the hottest thing in town... The way she phrased it: "we thought you either had to be very clever or you had to be spies..."

Ken and his wife now live at the east coast of the USA and Skype is no longer unavailable to them. I wandered off to the "last frontier" where I dedicate all my time to composing and writing, always on the look-out for new avenues to explore. Alaska is a quiet place, a place where stories are born and voices are heard in the silence of your mind. Here I realize once more that my music requires space and that traveling is my main source of inspiration.

Meditation, being an inner journey, seems to fit this time in my life and then I remembered Ken being involved in the more introspective sides of life. Recently Ken has been writing meditations that I have set to music, and he continues to send me a steady stream of  inspiring writings. Below you'll find a sample of our first joint effort. We would love to hear your reactions which you can leave at the bottom of this page.

And here is Ken's reaction:
We did meet at a party in Todos Santos, Mexico. but Linda is right I remember listening with envy as Christel chatted happily to the world on Skype.  It was not available to us then.They say no meeting is a coincidence but when a meeting turns into a relationship as fine as we have it is a blessing. I cried the first time I heard my words being sung by Christel's beautiful voice. She captures exactly the quality that I feel when I compose the meditation. I look forward to our collaboration blossoming.

the ocean of oneness
(ken mcfarlane, july 2011)

gently breathe in cool blue
like the ocean caressing the hot sand
breathe, blue washes over your mind
thoughts bubble up, burst and are smoothed out by the next intake of your breath
breathe, there is no struggle as you slowly become immersed in the blue

breathe again
the hue of blue deepens, becomes softer
breathe again
breathe and the mind quietens
the sand of the mind settles

you have a sense of depth and clarity of vision
breathe again

you see no boundaries, no limitations
this sense of expansiveness is, for a second, disturbing
there are no boundaries, there is no anchor

breathe again slowly and deeply
a sense of true peace arises
it can be a color, a feeling, a sound
however you experience this connection
welcome it, breathe it in; embrace peace.

this is the portal to your higher self
the ocean of loving is beckoning and embracing you
breathe again, you are the ocean.

the slow pulse of your heart creates the gentle swell
that is the pulse of all life
there is no judgment
just the loving presence that is you

you know this is a sacred place
a place you can return too anytime

a place of oneness
a place of compassion and renewal

breathe in the cool blue

you are the ocean of oneness
you are love

read more

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

rachmaninov in alaska

My friend and I first met more than twenty years ago when I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We have stayed in touch for all those years though, being the travelers we both are, we keep having to change our gathering place. This time we met in Alaska. Five days is hardly enough to discover the vast Alaskan beauty but it was all we had.

On Friday we followed the Glenn Highway, some hundred miles northeast of Anchorage. Music always played an important part in our visits since we both started out as pianists. We have joined forces on numerous occasions, in all kinds of different venues scattered around the globe and over the years we have developed a wide interest in different styles of music. On this trip we tried to match landscapes to voices we heard inside.

Shorty after leaving Palmer, the road started to climb, the landscape opened up and presented us with breathtaking views of the knik river. While descending unto the river our choice of music just happened to be Rachmaninov's second piano concerto. While the car rolled down the hill, the pianist played his introductory notes. We stopped at the riverbed and just at that moment, the orchestra joined in. The surging river, a perfect fit to Rachmaninov's surging main theme...

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor and during his time he was widely considered one of the finest musicians of his day. His second piano concerto was composed around 1900 and confirmed his recovery from a clinical depression and writers block that lasted several years. Rachmaninov dedicated this concerto to Nicolai Dahl, a physician who had done much to restore his self-confidence.

read more