Archive for November, 2009

It’s a can be a perilous misconception to suppose that when we create we are actually ‘doing’ something.

When I’m about to write a song, or create in any way, I often get this immediate stab of defeatism and resistance because my mind thinks it can’t do the job. The truth is that my mind is quite right! The ‘mind’ can’t write a song or give the stage performance of a lifetime because it’s a totally different part of our self that does those things. And I believe that ‘creative’ part of me is RECEPTIVE not ACTIVE. If the thinking mind had to play Hamlet, or write a ballad it would undoubtedly mess it up, yet when my thinking mind steps back for a moment and listens, surrenders, empties, lets the music or creativity ‘do’ me, then I’m in business.

When I write a song, I don’t try and ‘think it up’ any more than one tries to ‘think up’ an idea. It just arrives mysteriously from the emptiness and I write it down. I might strum a guitar gently, listening listening, and then imagine I hear a melody. I unhurriedly try and hum it without losing it, also without pinning it down too fast. It’s very hard, in my experience, to write something good on purpose. It’s the same process with making a ‘1 Giant Leap’ film. We can have all the great concepts we like, but it’s not until our own minds are silent and we let the footage speak to us and tell us what it wants to say, that we have a great film. And then I get to thinking that life’s like that too, isn’t it? The times when I listen to the events that are unfolding around me and let them speak to me, without constantly imposing my desires or limited intentions upon them, usually it all turns out harmoniously. When I listen to others, really listen, I am able to communicate and COMMUNE without my unconscious nonsense interfering.

The mind thinks it can help with everything. It’s like a over-keen, yapping, dog, full of good intentions, but also full of the misguided belief that it needs to control everything in order to succeed. In my experience, this goes for emotional as well as creative pursuits. We get heartbroken and our mind says ‘don’t worry! leave it to me! I’ll sort it all out! I’ll categorise how you’re feeling and make the pain go away!” But none of that ever works because this is not the domain of the mind. For all its good intentions, it is more often a liability than a help, too fear-ridden to be of any use. Ram Dass once told me “Fear says ‘I want to keep you safe’, Love says ‘you are safe’. So my conclusion is (subject to change) that I need to shut-up and listen in all areas. Let the song write itself. Let Hamlet play himself. I need to step back and let the great, invisible, creative spirit do all the work. All I have to do is take the money and the credit, of course!

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The Old Forest Path

Once upon a time there was a deep and wide forest inhabited by an abundance of magical dancing fairies. The trees there were tall and wide-limbed and cast long shadows over the woods and glades around, sometimes obscuring the sky and sometimes creating inviting pools of light on the mossy earth. Through the centre of the forest ran an ancient path which described a clear and unmissable passage through the woods. It meandered and twisted in its timeworn course from one end of the forest to the other, never losing its way and never letting the many creatures who followed it lose theirs. Certain bends in its progress were covered by fallen leaves and in some places the occasional branch lay across it’s way, but its steady line was never hidden from sight and never, if one kept to it’s twisting and turning passage, would one find oneself lost in the shadows of the trees.

All the fairies and sprites that inhabited those woods had been taught to stick to that path whenever they were out wandering and dancing among the glades. How they loved to leap and twirl. The music in the leaves, the rhythms of the breeze, drew them far from their homes in the hollows, yet as long as they stayed on the path, as their elders had taught them, they would be sure to return home safely every evening.

Among the fairies who so loved to dance in those woods was a young and pretty one with faint stripes on her wings which fluttered and purred as she flitted and flew about the shrubs and the flowers. Sometimes she would become so enraptured by the music of the forest that, in some of her movements and shapes, her toe would unknowingly step just off the path and the other Fairies would invariably gasp when they witnessed it. Hardly noticing, she would then draw it back in, and spin off again in her dance among the butterflies and buzzing bees.

The other Fairies and Sprites would always stay safely on the path, sensibly heeding their elders’ warnings, and when they were tired of leaping and cavorting around the woods, they would sit themselves down on stumps and mounds of leaves to watch their sister still dancing her endless dance, oblivious to their gazes, and untiring in her leaping and her twirling.

It happened one afternoon, when the sun was casting hypnotic patterns through the branches above, that from somewhere out of sight, a new and unheard music reached the delicate ears of those magical creatures. It began as a flute but then turned into a pipe. It moved like a drum but then pulsed like a stamp. The music reached high and yet still rumbled down low and it moved them all as it filtered to them so invitingly from its origin unknown.

The fairies and sprites glanced around for the source of this enchanted music. Their little feet were tapping and their shoulders swayed without them knowing. Some of them forgot their tiredness and drew themselves up again to dance one last time before heading back to their hollows and one or two lay still with their heads and ears to the ground, drinking in the rhythms and absorbing the vibrations through the roots and earth beneath them.

But there was one fairy there who had never stopped dancing that day. She had been weaving and gliding around the twists and the turns of the path all the while as her friends had lain resting in the leaves. And still she danced. The enchanted music had reached her moments before and imbued her steps and bounces with silvery trails and mystical shapes. And as the notes and rhythms found their way to her limbs and her toes she began to spin and whirl with ever increasing splendor, her breath meeting the pulses and the waves of the ecstatic melodies and her eyes closed yet still seeing colours and lights spinning in infinity around her.

Her friends couldn’t help but notice the new forms and shapes she described as the music became louder and fuller all around them. And yes, the occasional gasp from her magical companions was heard once more as she stepped off the path and on again more often than they’d known. The beats were intoxicating and the tunes were irresistible and the sprites and the fairies watched in awe as she flew around them all, oblivious to their witness.

Then, as the pipes blew more sweetly still, and the melodies invited them all to forget themselves utterly, the silhouette of the Piper became visible between two trees far from the ancient path. The music was now all around them and the mysterious figure was approaching, his instruments dancing around him as he came, and though she could feel his presence powerfully, she kept her eyes closed and listened only with her heart to the presence that was dancing within her.

As he came into the clearing in sight of them all, with his own eyes closed in deep and melodious surrender to his art, she stepped from the path with both feet dancing and gracefully pirouetted and shimmered around him, unaware of his presence yet spellbound and enthralled by his harmonies. The others held their breath, wide-eyed and alert. She had never been both feet from the path before. One or two scampered away to find an elder to tell, so concerned were they that she might be lost forever. But she heeded them not, unaware of the eyes upon her, and he too, without a notion of his audience, played only for her as they circled the glade together.

As the bewitching cadences built further and on and the sun itself now shed golden pools around them, her toes did so softly leave the earth that without a whisper of her knowing she began to rise up from the ground towards the spaces in the branches above. He too, with his tunes of love and eternity singing out from the deep longing in his heart, rose gently upwards with her, and together they turned around and around each other, the dancer and the music, the shapes and the sounds, all perfecting each other as they ascended steadily through the limbs of the trees.

There they rose in their union towards the very tops of the immense trees. They were unknowingly drawing closer and closer to each other. Their eyes were still closed, yet by some chance or charmed design, by the time they had reached the very canopy of the forest, they were barely a breath apart. The Piper’s tune ached with his stories of devotion and intimacy and as it reached it’s crescendo, in a paradise of harmony and supplication, their lips touched and they kissed, surrendered and dedicated to all the mysteries that had united them. The kiss was long and deep and unending and the music danced itself on as they merged, and down below where the others were gathered, the very path itself began to shift and change beneath their feet.

The magical creatures, spellbound and mystified, began to notice turns in the old path’s course becoming blurred and uneven. Edges that had been clear were now melting away. The fairies looked puzzled and a little uncertain as the once definite lines of the forest path were now becoming mistakable and vague. Their gazes searched one way along it’s course and then the other but suddenly no one could be sure where it’s boundaries were set. And before very long as the new lovers far above them still swooned in their embrace, the forest path disappeared entirely and gave way to the natural curves of the roots and the inviting shadows of the boundless woods all around.

Tentatively and step by tiny step the fairies and the sprites ventured out from their accustomed borders and explored the areas around them seeking out places that had only been looked upon before. Some of them explored further than others, luxuriating in the unaccustomed thrill of disappearing from sight for a moment. Hearts thudding and eyes wide they began to scamper and frolic from the edges of the woods to the middle, darting in and out of the trees, laughing and squealing and filling the forest with their excitement and newfound, precious liberty. The elders, upon hearing the commotion drew near, and were surprised to feel nothing but approval for their young ones’ dauntless progress. They themselves began to step gingerly out from the memory of the forest path and drift in soft nostalgic reverie through the unboundaried expanses that their ancient forest home now offered. There, old and young met in the untrodden wilderness and not a soul was lost in the shadows but guided invisibly home by moonlight, never to fear the unknown realms of their magical forest again.

And now very little is remembered of that old forest path, and those enchanted lovers never did descend from their summit. It was believed that they had dissolved utterly in their kiss just as the forest path below had vanished without trace beneath them. Yet, the branches and the trees still sway to that Piper’s music and the magical creatures that inhabit those glades still dance to the dance of that enchanted fairy, spinning through the woods, leaping over the shrubs and flowers and traversing every corner of that exquisite forest without a worry or a care to be lost within its inviting shadows.

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‘We want to put our own selves into the work. We want to create a movement of introspection and self inquiry where the viewer becomes the subject of the piece. It’s about you. If we dare to show ourselves in all our raw glory, really express what’s going on in the chaos and the shadows then we have a chance to connect to something real in our audience. Because when I talk about me, you’ll hear about you.

We need to collectively admit that we’re not fine, we’re not confident and balanced and good. We turn up to work every day pretending we’re not neurotic and obsessed and insatiable and full of doubt, and we waste so much energy keeping up this mutual pretense for each other because we think if people saw the truth, if people really knew what was going on in our heads, all the crazy truth of our dark appetites and self loathing, then we’d get rejected. But in fact, the opposite is true. It’s when we dare to reveal the truth that we unwittingly give everyone else permission to do the same. To stop holding their breathe for a moment and actually come into the room. Be here, present, vulnerable and authentic.

We’re on a mission to make self-reflection hip for just a moment, just long enough to save us. If we can all collectively acknowledge our insanity, shrug and roll our eyes at each other at how nuts it is being a human, let alone having to pretend every day that we’re ‘normal’, the amount of energy we’ll inherit that has been wasted on the mask will be enough to creatively solve any global crisis.’

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I once saw this great film called ‘Big Night’ which was about these two brothers who were starting a restaurant.  It was beautifully crafted and their roller-coaster relationship built through stages of drama and intimacy all the way to the Grand Opening scene at the end.  But the part of the film that has always stayed with me is the finale, a sublime moment of understatement.  One brother, the morning after their exhausting and climactic ‘Big Night’, enters the kitchen, and all in real time with no cuts, takes out some eggs, cracks them into a bowl, whisks them up, heats the skillet and makes himself a plain omelette. That’s it.  We watch him do the whole thing. Just before he’s finished, his brother comes in, and they sit in silence eating the omelette together.  A moment before the end, one of them puts his arm around the other.

I can’t tell you what watching him make that omelette did to me.  Somehow it looked like the most delicious thing that had ever been cooked and so when the film ended I headed straight for the nearest cornershop and bought myself some eggs and butter.  I raced home, salivating copiously, and repeated the process I’d just witnessed in my Mum’s kitchen.  And true to its promise, it was the most delicious thing I’d eaten in living memory.  I still often make plain omelettes now – very occasionally I add cheese, but usually just leave them plain.  Whenever I’m travelling for work I always order omelette and chips from room service and eat it with a little mustard, not ketchup (which I feel totally ruins it – don’t get me wrong, I love ketchup with most things and spread it liberally on hamburgers etc.)

I’ve started eating the omelette with mustard at home now too.  Sometimes with some thickly buttered bread on the side, but never complicating it with mushrooms, tomatoes or onions, no way.

Before my formative omelette experience, the most delicious thing I remember seeing in the movies was the meal Barbara Streisand and Walter Matthau shared towards the end of ‘Hello Dolly’.  I can’t remember precisely what it was they were eating, she was talking and chewing and wondering at the deliciousness as she cut and served the food from a huge platter.  The whole restaurant looked sumptuous and every mouthful she described made me crave a seat at the table.  I could smell the rich gravy and succulent, tender meats.  I’d still like to taste that dinner now, in fact.

My earliest memory of having my saliva glands and stomach juices activated by fiction was in 1978 when I read ‘The Fantastic Mr Fox’ by Roald Dahl on holiday in France (I’m pretty sure that was it) where the descriptions of chicken in particular had my belly rumbling all afternoon while I impatiently awaited a grown up to come home and make me something that would put me out of my misery.  It was intense.

Many years later I read a book that, though I had a totally full stomach at the time, transcended even that experience – ‘The Hunger’ by Knut Hamsun.  If you’ve never read it I urge you to go out and buy it at once – it’s an amazing book.  Recently, when I was enjoying my Paul Auster obsession, the one book by him I could never seem to lay my hands on was called ‘The Art Of Hunger’.  I was amazed when I finally found it that it was all about how much he loved Knut Hamsun’s book. I felt validated and an even stronger bond with the man who’d written such amazing books as ‘Mr Vertigo’ and ‘Moon Palace’. Two adventures I’ll never forget, the latter, I believe, based on ‘The Hunger’.

However, that said, I never got into the scene in the movie ‘9 and a Half Weeks’ where they do the food sex scene, in fact I’ve personally never got the food and sex connection, sensuous as food can be, mixing the two has never turned me on.  Further, food can actually get in the way of sex.  I’ve had countless evenings of rampant promise curtailed by eating too much at the restaurant earlier in the evening.  Driving back feeling bloated and over-full of chocolate mousse (can never resist it – if it’s on the menu, I’ll order it, no matter what) and whatever extra sweets they served with the coffee has put pay to many a night of potential carnal pleasure in my bed.  Also, the dreams I sometimes have after indulging in too many meat courses can be so traumatic as to make me seriously consider vegetarianism, (though usually only until lunchtime.)

The one thing I won’t eat though is torture food.  I just can’t bring myself to order fois gras, which has apparently been force-fed, or veal, which I heard is a baby creature, prematurely taken from it’s mother and kept in a dark box so the meat stays white.  There’s such a variety of choice available, shame on you if you need to go to those lengths to satisfy your palate.

I’ll leave you with a spiritual angle if I may. When I was first taught meditation it was by a man who simultaneously instructed us in the preparation steamed veggies.  It was of paramount importance to cut them in the right way, always along the seed lines, never across, or else the vital chi energy would leak out.  Now I don’t know whether it was the heightened states of Jamie-consciousness I was reaching in those days, or just the newness of it all, but I was continuously bowled over by the perfection of the colour, texture and taste combinations God had put together among his fruit an vegetable designs.  The way a courgette has that light green interior and dark mottled skin, and it’s perfect line of tiny seeds, the snappy crisp of a red pepper with it’s weird pod in the centre and it’s bright shiny skin, the fractally repeating branches of fresh broccoli and cauliflower, the simplicity of a potato, pods full of peas, corn on the cob, the colours and tastes and shapes and smells, well, I was blown away and still am in fact.  Whenever I enter a huge food store and see the variety in front of me I’m immediately reminded of the glory of Natural design and humbled in it’s presence.  And simultaneously I’m aware that if a person from certain regions of Africa were standing where I am he or she would most likely have a heart attack at the mounds of abundance, just not be able to take it in – they’d probably, like me, think they were dreaming.

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OK, so once we’ve been over and over all the heavy things that happened to us, all the neglect and abandonment and isolation – all the wounds that shut us down when we were too small to know it wasn’t our fault, that it wasn’t really us that was the problem but the fucked-upness of the person looking after us.  And after we’ve acknowledged that these present day experiences that keep sending us spiralling into agony or depression over and over again are mostly echoes of our unexpressed agonies of the past and not really direct reactions to today’s events at all.  Then what?  We can’t keep just listing and listing all the shit things that happened to us.  Where’s the redemption?

The next step is to switch off the mind when it hurts.  Switch off the thinking, the going over and over what just happened, what he said, what she did, what unfair events have just befallen you, and just feel the intense sensation of it in your body.  It’s usually up the middle, somewhere between your belly and your eyes, or in my case, the whole central channel, often throbbing with waves of pulsing hurt.  Aching, burning, bursting.  My mind still wants to think and picture scenarios of why it hurts.  Stories of what might have been or what I might do next. Or what I should have done.  But no, come back to just the feeling of it, not the story about it.  The sensation alone is what will free me, because all that’s really happening is that there are unfelt sensations that have built up in me from long ago, been triggered, and just need to be fully experienced here and now.  That’s it. Simple.  Feel what it feels like physically.

Lie back, breathe into where it’s pulsing.  Imagine your nostrils are there in the middle of the pain.  Dare not to think.  Just feel. Imagine it’s only a physical sensation, that’s all.  Then, wave by wave, like grateful, melancholy ghosts, each one will slip out of your rib cage and, having been felt, hurt no more.

And you don’t have to be in direct reaction to pain to be in avoidance.  By never sitting still, by always feeling the need to be experiencing ‘something’, we are really, unconsciously, running from the risk of feeling uncomfortable.  One way I have always done this is by filling every silent, spacious moment with an activity. This is the root of addiction. Filling up the space.  It might be email, phone-calls, shopping, food, or ingesting a substance like cigarettes, coffee or drugs.  Anything to get away from the Nothing.  So why?  What’s wrong with space?  What’s wrong with nothing?  I asked myself this today when I was in resistance to just sitting still.  And the answer came back – ‘It’s boring’.  And so I asked myself, ‘what does that really mean?’  And it came to me that the word ‘boring’ is a very misleading one.  To me at least, ‘Boring’ implies nothingness, stillness, a lack of stuff, dull, uninteresting.  But really, ‘Boring’ is a mass of uncomfortable feelings and emotions and sensations. ‘Boring’ is far from empty and nothingy, far from uninteresting.  It’s full.  Full of loads of arising pains and negative feelings I want to avoid.  “Boring’ doesn’t really exist.  ‘Uncomfortable’ does.  ‘Insecure’ does.  ‘Twitchy’ certainly does.  But ‘Boring’ doesn’t really mean anything.  I think ‘Boring’ is a trick word I use to justify never being still, and sideline the fact that I don’t need something to do because otherwise I’ll feel dull.  I need something to do because otherwise I’ll feel full of discomfort in a million ways.


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