Friday, April 4, 2014

Look at Me! I'm Dancing!
© Mario Vickram Sen 28 March 2014
reading time 14-18 minutes

I suppose you might call Windsor Court a "C" shaped building— or a "U" shaped building, depending upon your particular point of view. Either way, the front steps rise up the center indent, flanked by the two wings of the building on either side. There are perhaps seven or eight steps leading up to the front door (I suppose after all these years I should know exactly how many) resulting in the "ground" floor being about half a storey above street level. It's a lovely red brick Victorian era apartment block— one of several dotted along Moscow Road, a bustling thoroughfare just off Queensway in the West London area known as Bayswater. Number 3 is a corner duplex apartment occupying the ground and basement levels of the left wing and was, for about forty years, the London residence of the Sen family— that's right my clan. Alas, it is no longer, and shall be sorely missed by all and sundry.

The front steps of Windsor Court
Centrally located, it was the sight of many great family reunions (and also a few great family fights) and it provided succor and sustenance to friends and relations of an international disposition— travelers to and from America... to and from India, Spain, Sweden, Japan, Cote d'Ivoire, Togo and ports of call too numerous to mention.
My mother had also found it financially convenient, on occasion, to let out a room or two to foreign exchange students who were recommended by an agency engaged in the business of locating just such temporary residences in London for their clients. And so, people were always coming and going, and staying a while, and leaving, and coming back, and leaving again. Sitting in the living room watching the television, or ignoring it; smoking whilst chatting with each other in broken English, conversations ranging from the mystical and exoteric... to the mundane. Sitting in the basement kitchen drinking endless cups of coffee, or endless scotch and sodas, and smoking some more and complaining about the weather, which was usually raining or grey.

Garoomy view up through the kitchen window
"Garoomy!" A student from Tokyo was heard to say one morning as he looked, shivering, out of the kitchen window.

And of all these people— need I even mention it— the vast majority of them remained thereafter a lifelong friend to our family, not merely because of my mother's inherent hospitality, but also because in the end she would become a surrogate mother to each of them, with all the positive... and negative connotations that that may imply.

Amongst the never ending parade of guests at number 3, were included members of such diverse professions and lifestyles as: artists, musicians, doctors, psychiatrists, politicians, chefs, gangsters and even the odd movie star... or two. There were cousins, and aunties, and uncles, and grandparents; friends and strangers; rich and poor; princesses and refugees; famous and infamous. All were treated the same. Same respect. Same contempt.

Of course there were parties. Sure, some of them had ended catastrophically— once the average blood alcohol level of those gathered had risen to the point of loosening the normal social inhibitions towards negative self expression normally required in polite society— but mostly they were wonderful successes of happy familial bonding, whose incalculable value to the vast majority of us who were fortunate enough to have attended one of these shin digs was, over the long haul, more than worth the risk that a small percentage of the time something would go horribly awry.

It is indeed my more positive memories which lead me, finally, to get to the point and recount the event about which I was motivated to scrawl this disquisition: my brother Peter's birthday party— his fiftieth, I believe, in 1994— although the accuracy surrounding the facts of this story is less important than the eternal truths within the feelings of the characters involved, and the great love I feel for them all, and the great love they all felt, and feel still— I would hazard it safe to say— even beyond the grave towards my mother.

In front of the building- Richard, Andrew Mario, Peter, Avery, Star and her great grandson (2003)

 I had just arrived in London that very morning, with my son Avery, and we had planned a nice little trick upon my brother to see if we could induce a heart attack in him. Although, as merry a jape as we thought it might be, we were later to become a tad concerned that we could have ventured a little too closely to that precipice for our, and his, complete comfort.

When he was forty, the family had thrown him a surprise party, also at Windsor Court—and it had been a lovely one. Our grandmother (affectionately known as Honeypie to all) had been there, and our father, and our sister Penny. In the intervening ten years all three had "shuffled off this mortal coil" so to speak, in one fashion or another and, regrettably, would not be with us this day; although Penny's unlikely twin, Barbara, would be representing for the pair. Of course my mother, as ever the star of the show (she had even re-christened herself "Star" when, as a baby, one of my nephews had bastardized her name, Sita) would, of course, be presiding over the festivities.

Gathering in the front hall (1978)
And then there were the usual suspects who would be there: cousins Deepak and Laurence, Rupert, Robert, Ali. There would be Avery, and his two cousins, Richard and Andrew. Perhaps Babette, who lived in the building (and whose clan of offspring had been my dearest friends growing up) might show... or Pat from upstairs. I do not remember now if they did or not. But Errol, who had been my brother's best friend since they first met working at Whiteley's in the '60s, most definitely would. Errol, who used to be the lead guitarist in my brother's band, and whose guitar playing I had idolized as a child, and who had inspired me to go out and get myself one of those electric guitars, with the pickups and the twang bar, and twang myself towards Bethlehem... or Eden... or whatever it was they were calling Heaven in those halcyon days of youth. One way or another we were all looking forward to a helluva jam session that evening.

So... no surprise party then, as Peter already knew that it was going to happen. But what he didn't know was that I was going to be there. I had told him that I couldn't make it to London this time, but would perhaps call him on the phone from New York to wish him well. Now, I'm not quite such an egotist as to assume that my presence would be so earth shattering a bombshell as to make the whole party take on a greater meaning. But perhaps if I were to appear in some sudden or more dramatic way... we may have the makings of a good surprise nonetheless.

The trick was this: Avery and I had to be out of the apartment before Peter was due to arrive late that afternoon. At the allotted hour, around 7pm, we would be at the phone booth about fifty yards down the road from Windsor Court, and put in a call to number 3 to wish him a happy birthday. This we did.

My mother answered, and having recognized my voice, yelled out to him according to plan, "Come quickly, it's your brother calling from America!"

He came out to the front hallway where the phone was located on a little side table, and picked it up. We talked for a while. I wished him "many happy returns" and, as usual, we got into comparing the weather in our separate parts of the planet. He told me it was a beautiful warm day in London (which it usually is in mid August). I told him we were having freakishly cold weather in New York and I wished I was in London (Avery giggled next to me in the phone booth). So cold in fact— I added— that I may have to cancel my plans to go out later that evening. What a shame— he commiserated, totally unsympathetically, by regaling me with how lovely it was over there, and what a wonderful time he was planning to have tonight.

At this point I told him that someone was knocking at my door, and I asked him to hold on for a minute while I go see who it is. I left the phone dangling and Avery and I bolted hot-foot to Windsor Court in about five seconds flat where my cousin Laurence, who was in on the plan, was waiting at the door to allow us to enter smoothly.

Peter was sitting at the phone table looking in the opposite direction as we slipped in quietly. I stood behind him without saying a word. He probably realized that someone was standing there, but it could have been any one of several people who were already in the house. He whistled a little, tapped his fingers on the table in the rhythm of a horse galloping... and then whistled a little more. After a while he appeared to be getting rather irritated that I was keeping him waiting so long.

I just stood there.

At some point he started to complain, "Where the hell has that bugger gone? How long could it take to answer the bloody door?"

As he spoke these words he glanced over his shoulder for endorsement of his sentiment from whomsoever might be standing there. He caught my eye.

"I don't know," I said supportively. He turned back around.

Peter, Joan, Rico (2006)
Suddenly, his shoulders hunched up, and his body uncontrollably started to turn back in my direction, and he did the weirdest googly-eyed double take I'd ever seen by anyone who wasn't Oliver Hardy. His whole face turned completely red, and Avery and I started to laugh like crazy. My brother's jaw started to wobble, and his breathing didn't seem right at all. He looked at me... he looked at the phone. He looked at me again... then again at the phone. His eyes weren't actually rolling around in their sockets, but had I told you they were, it may well have described accurately what his brain was doing at the time. This is the moment where we considered calling an ambulance for him. Everyone in the place had now gathered out in the hallway to witness this occurrence, and they were all having a jolly good laugh. Avery was taking close up photos of Peter's face... only to discover later on that we had forgotten to load the film into the camera. It took several minutes for that unfortunately unrecorded look of horror to die down and start turning eventually into a smile. Words finally emerged from his head as he shook it side to side.

"You bloody got me! You bloody got me!" he repeated several times. And then, in his desperate quest to return reality to its normal location, he continued, "I couldn't understand, how... how could you be standing there? It just didn't make any sense!"

Once we were sure that he had recovered quite well without any medical intervention, everybody laughed some more, and we all knew that the party had officially begun.

Front room - Star, Barabara, Joan (2003)

After a little drinking and eating and chatting in the living room, those of us who wanted to play some music went into the bedroom next door, which was the upstairs corner room of the apartment, with windows looking out onto two sides, and it had been set up with whatever meager rock'n'roll equipment as was available. There was a mike and a couple of guitar amps that had seen better days, but no P.A. system, so the mike had to go into one of the amps with a guitar in the same channel. Anybody who has tried this will know that trying to get a volume level on either the guitar or the mike is rather problematic, if not downright impossible, as whatever you do to the one seems to affect the other. To add to this, there was no mike stand. So the mike was duct taped to the back of a chair and placed in front of my brother's chair so he could sing through it. The only trouble with this was that he had to lean downwards, whilst playing his guitar, in order to be heard through the mike. So some genius amongst us (possibly me... but not necessarily) suggested that we put the chair on top of one of the hard guitar cases that were lying around serving no other useful purpose. This elevated the mike up to a perfect height for my brother to sing through, from his seated position.

Problem solved! Sought of... but not exactly.

Only three of the chairs legs would fit upon the case. You pick, whichever three you preferred, but no matter which way you turned either guitar case or chair, one of the legs was always hanging out, a little bit lonely looking, in mid air. Well, we had always heard that the triangle is the most stable structure there is, so we decided to ignore the slight wobble in the "mike stand" every time somebody walked across the floor, and get on with playing some music.

What's that expression? "Only a bad workman blames his tools." Some might say that it's the bad workman who usually owns the crappy tools. Either way, we had some crappy tools— specially if you include really loud scratchy volume and tone controls on at least one of the guitars, strings that had been put on backwards, so that every time I thought I was tuning
Rupert, Robert, Errol, Mario - at Errol's house (2013)
up... I was actually tuning down; amps that went on and off at will; let's not forget the now infamous "mike stand"; and top that off with a defunct battery on the electronic tuner.
Fear not, young Rupert came to the rescue with his perfect pitch. Just ask him, "What's a G, Rupert?" or "What's an E, Rupert" and he will sing it as close as makes no difference— in rock'n'roll, anyway. Let's face it, we were good enough to deal with it. We must have had several hundred years of music experience right there in the room... or close to that. And we had all overcome these kind of minor hindrances many times in our past and sordid musical careers.

Oh we delivered some classics that night. Ben E. King, Otis Redding, Beatles, Beachboys, Elvis, Everly Brothers and Santana were all covered... not to mention Gershwin (Summertime) and a couple of things where nobody knew exactly what it was that we were playing. With Rupert on the bass, Robert on the Bongos, Errol and myself on the electric guitars, and Peter leading the band on vocals and playing some beat up old Eko acoustic that my father had bequeathed him (he won't play anything else, no matter what you give him— just like Willy Nelson).

Peter's 65th Birthday (2009)
As the night wore on, and our racket spilled out onto the street, we started getting standing ovations from the Aussies who were pouring in and out of the Moscow Arms across the road. I don't know why Aussies are drawn to that pub, the King's Head is about three doors down and they won't set foot in it. Anyway, they're a fun bunch after they've had a couple or fifteen pints of Fosters, or whatever the Moscow serves, and they took over the street outside number 3 and started singing and dancing along to "Blue Suede shoes."

At this point, my mother, who had been sitting in the living room knocking back scotch and sodas all evening, and having "sophisticated" conversations with Ali and Babette, must have heard all the noise, and took a look out of the window to see the Aussies partying outside. Once she realized that they were paying so much attention to what was going on in the room right next to her, she probably figured that she was missing out on the action in her own house. In order to correct this situation, she came storming into our room demanding that we play some music that she could dance to. So we did.

Now Robert is a wonderful guy, super intelligent, loyal friend and a generally nice person to everyone. "He speaks very well" was the expression one might have used in the old days to describe his erudite British accent, but slightly and almost imperceptibly tinged with the distant echoes of his Guyanese patois, it renders upon him a unique and recognizable manner. A close friend to my brother and a part of our family since forever, and, although he doesn't drink a lot as a rule... when he does drink— at a party for example— he always drinks until he becomes unconscious. Literally!

There was a time, for instance, when at the end of a party I found Robert fast asleep in a dining chair at the threshold of my bedroom. I carefully dragged the chair, with him still undisturbed upon it, just outside and clear of the door so I could shut it before I went to sleep. When I got up he was still sleeping there quite peacefully. Upon hearing the sounds of people moving around him he suddenly snapped awake, bright eyed and bushy tailed and said to me, "Hey Dhoomki (which is what they all call me) what's for breakfast?

So, as this evening had been progressing, Robert was slowly but surely navigating his way toward that inevitable conclusion. As per usual starting with a little drowsiness, at which point his grip on the bongo drums might relax just enough to allow them to slip towards the floor, and the general rhythm of the jam session might suffer as a result. Normally this didn't bother anyone— it was after all... rock'n'roll. But tonight there was the special circumstance of the "mike stand" to consider. The three chair legs were (obviously) positioned upon the widest part of the guitar case, close to where my brother sat, which meant that the neck was sprouting off at a tangent which ended up fairly close to Robert's feet. So with the bongos resting between his knees, every time they fell from his grip they would bump the head of the guitar case, and cause the chair to wobble around. This in turn would set off some kind of strange gyrations in Peter's head movements as he tried to follow the mike's teetering motions with his mouth. Needless to say this was starting to irritate my brother, as it had already happened a couple of times so far. His response was to curse violently at Robert who would wake up immediately and pick up the bongos and continue playing.

At one point I noticed that the three teenage cousins, Avery, Richard and Andrew— perhaps feeling that they were too young to appreciate our classic songs, or perhaps that we were a corny old load of buffoons trying to relive our youth— had remained out in the hallway, looking in at the scene with some amusement. And every time this little sequence of events played through, which began with Robert dropping the bongos and ended with my brother yelling at him, they laughed hysterically, pointing at us as if we were some kind of entertainment for them… and not the kind we had intended to be.    

Errol, Mario, front room (2009)
Nonetheless, with all the people inside and outside the room, laughing, drinking, singing and shouting... it was turning out to be quite a rave up. I suppose the straw that broke the camel's back was when Robert dropped the bongos and it finally knocked the "mike stand" completely over onto the floor. My brother started yelling at Robert, but as he didn't have the mike in front of him, we just thought he was vamping over the end part of "Black Magic Woman." So Rupert and Errol and I just kept on playing— until, that is, I felt a sharp ungodly pain in the side of my rib- cage as if I'd just been elbowed by someone with, well...very sharp elbows (not to put too fine a point on it).

I turned round to see just what the hell was going on, and there was my mother — arms alternately akimbo and spreadeagled, legs trotting a merry jig, and a grin of ecstatic insanity upon her visage. Her eyes locked onto mine, and through the tumult and the deafening din surrounding us, she screamed proudly, "Look at me! I'm dancing!"

I looked beyond her out into the hallway where the three teenage boys, with tear filled eyes, were simply melting into a pile of hysterical laughter. A moment which I must assume they will eternally hold in their hearts... until hell freezes over... or perhaps until the cows come home... as a memento of the glory days of the Sen family at number 3 Windsor Court.

Avery on the front steps (circa 1987)
 Penny, Barabara, Laurence, Honeypie, Peter, Mario -  in front of the building (circa 1967)

Star, Laurence -  front Hall (2003)

Peter, Star, Mario - front room (2003)

Peter, Errol, Mario - front room (2009)

Star, Babette in background (1980s)

Penny, Barbara, Star, Avery on the front steps next to the window of the front room (circa 1987)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Untying the Knots

Violence & Religion

by the High Priest of Prickly Bog

In the wake of the several recent needless bombings and shootings that have shaken our community, and the ongoing "war on terrorism" that we hear so much about, many people have begun questioning the connection between faith and violence. Last week, Bill Maher stated unequivocally (as is his way) that Islam is the most violent religion that there is. I have several friends who also feel this way, and appear to have the proof to support this claim.
So let us examine this idea, without comparing an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth… without (for the time being) getting into historical or statistical references regarding the Crusades or other invasions of Christian western imperialist nations into Islamic territories… but by deconstructing what the word religion itself means. I suspect that we shall discover that it is a vague and meaningless term which doesn't really help us to understand the nature of violence, and the reason that it has troubled our poor embattled species since the beginning of time.
I strongly recommend that anyone wanting to understand this subject more clearly reads a book called "The Evolution of God" by Robert Wright, wherein Mr. Wright does a wonderful job of cataloging how the belief in a supreme being germinates in both ancient and modern societies, over time, and develops distinctions which are unique to that particular faith because of the needs of the society from which it springs.
He cites also many examples from the Bible and the Koran which reveal just how the layers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have constantly evolved and adapted into widely varying personalities— not just between the religions, but within each of them— depending upon the given moment that we look at them, and the relative situation of the power brokers within them. Let us suffice to say that not only is Islam not a homogenous whole whose exact nature can be agreed upon by all of its participants but, just like every other religion, it is a constantly writhing and churning set of beliefs that in any one generation may seem rather alien to the generation that precedes it, or follows it.
We may arguably say the same thing about politics. What— after all— is a Republican? Is it Lincoln… or is it Joe McCarthy? What is a Democrat? Is it a hood-wearing Dixiecrat of the 1930s… or is it Obama? Perhaps it doesn't matter whether we call ourselves a Democrat or a Republican, a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim. Perhaps those who hurt other people do it because they like to hurt other people, and in order to assuage their natural guilt about doing so, they rationalize their behavior by inaccurately citing a chapter from their holy book or constitution.
We have certainly seen Christianity go through its violent phases, and when we examine such things as the Crusades, Naziism, the Ku Klux Klan… we tend to understand that it was not the word of the supposed "Jesus" that imbued these movements with such horrific violence, but the nature and condition of the people who perpetrated these acts that were responsible for them.
Firstly, there is very little historical proof that Jesus (if there ever was a Jesus) said half of the things he is claimed to have said. The same is actually true for the word of Mohammed, the vast majority of which has been conveyed down through the centuries via the spoken word. Anybody ever played the telephone game? Now imagine that being played over centuries… over millennia. Basically, whatever our religion, we end up believing in what we want to believe. And if we want to believe it is right to hurt others, then we can find that proof wherever we seek it.
Secondly when we view societies through a socio-economic lens, it becomes very easy to predict where the violence is going to erupt, and against whom. Thinking that religion itself is responsible is actually giving it more credit than it should fairly claim. If the West were mostly Islamic, and the Middle East mostly Christian, the violence would still be coming from the same place.

No, religion is not the cause of violence. It might be more accurate to say that violence is the cause of some people's religion.

So what makes us violent?
The answer to that is simple. Fear! And usually it is the fear of violence. So we might say that it is in fact violence that causes violence.
We all have felt the need to be violent on some occasion; the need for vengeance. The need to repay a grievance that we feel was unjustly perpetrated upon us, or those for whom we care. But if you think of it this way— that vengeance is the flower of the seed of someone else's anger— then to commit ourselves to vengeance would be to fulfill the intent of our persecutors… even if by some miracle we could actually get revenge on them personally.
But this is not usually the case. Usually we "get back" at someone else. Usually we punish our children for the sins of our parents. Usually we bomb the poor and innocent people in another country because someone else bombed the poor and innocent people in ours. Even when we get the right person, and we feel we have achieved justice, it is often not actually that particular incident that has motivated us to respond in a violent way, but something long ago forgotten. Some ancient wound that festers within. Or else why would simply stopping the violence of others, not be enough? Why would we then need to injure that person, to kill or maim or punish them in some more dramatic and painful way?
It is clearly an emotional response. It is because the thing that has injured us at the deepest level has not been stopped. It is replayed for us whenever a new incident reminds us of that suffering that we are constantly trying to subdue. It is a thorn in our side that drives us to repeat the same violence that we believe that we hate in others. But that we contain within our selves and refuse to acknowledge.

Most murderers, bombers, terrorists, dictators and sociopaths are people who possess the highest moral convictions… and yet the lowest ability to forgive.

So before we judge others who have committed horrible violent acts, and before we indemnify ourselves from any responsibility for the violence of the world, let us remember that every violent act committed is a seed that goes out into the world, like a dandelion weed, planting itself into the fertile ground of someone else's despair. We exist within a matrix where every event, every deed, every thing that exists affects every other on some level. If we add to the violence of the universe… then there is more violence in the universe, plain and simple, and we have to live in that universe.

Perhaps sometimes violence is called for, but it is a measure of our weakness, not our strength. Let us use it then, only when it is absolutely necessary, and let us learn not to delight in it, or to rationalize it by blaming our religion or the religions of others. Let us realize that when others use it, it is also a measure of their weakness, and perhaps we will learn to fear them less. Let us understand that even though they claim it is condoned by their religion, many of their brethren would disagree. And let us repeat this mantra to ourselves, every day, so that hopefully it will one day become a part of the fabric of our universe— that we will attempt in every way possible to personally lessen the violence that is around us.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Untying the Knots

Life and Deathand our perception of reality
by The High Priest of Prickly Bog

As we get older, we all start having thoughts about approaching the latter part of our lives. This essay is inspired by some of the conversations I have had recently with friends and family. For me the subject is not so much about dying as it is about understanding reality to start with. My intent here is to replace the "scary" stereotype of death, and its comfortless and gloomy stigma, with a more balanced and satisfying evaluation of it's true nature.

I have broken this subject down into these following categories

1. How we perceive our life.
2. The judgements that we make about our reality.
3. So what are we frightened of.

1. How we perceive our life.

In order to think of death in the way that most people do, we are usually required to accept the material substantiality of life. Here we all are, our bodies are living solid objects, that breathe and think and have experiences. And although we think of our material bodies as real (along with all those other material things: our house, our car, our country, our army) we do not usually consider the experiences we have as quite as real or material. Love, art, thoughts, ideas and feelings… these things we consider conceptual, somehow… non-material. And we rarely acknowledge that without these conceptual processes we would not be able to experience that which we call material.
In addition, most of us believe strongly that there are such a things as good, and evil. And even though these are really conceptual ideas, we often treat them as if they belong in the "material" category.
This belief system tends to lock us into a view of life that is very concrete and brittle, and doesn't respond well to change. It doesn't allow us to think in a flexible way and live harmoniously with the flow of events that naturally surround us. We have the need to control things that we actually cannot control. We cling to the concepts that have been ingrained into us by our families or our culture, and we find it difficult to accept concepts that we are not familiar with.
For these reasons among others, death – which we cannot help but believe will change every material things that we cling to – is, to most of us anyway, a particularly uncomfortable thought. It doesn't help to know that, in the final reckoning, it is an experience that not one of us will escape.

How could it not be uncomfortable to believe that all these familiar concrete structures that are so much part of our existence will one day come tumbling down, and all the beliefs that we presently hold so dear may stand for nothing anymore? We wonder what will become of us after death. All we have ever known is life. What will we have to hold on to? We imagine a dark place with no material things. A place where we have lost everything and everyone, and where we will yearn for only one thing… to be back here. We imagine that the transition from life to death will be a painful and horrifying experience, or at best an unpleasant one. It is a scary proposition when you look at it that way.

But perhaps there is a different way to look at it.

Firstly, let us agree that it is the way we look at life that governs the way we look at death. And let us examine how we define what is real, what is material, what is conceptual.
Modern science tells us that light is nothing more than a series of vibratory patterns, which do not actually have any visual significance until our brain assigns a value to them. This is also true for sound. So in other words, things don't really look like anything, or sound like anything until we make a subjective evaluation every time we hear a piece of music or look at a work of art. Whoever it was that said, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," must have been a scientist.
What about the solid objects around us, then? Are tables and chairs nothing more than a subjective experience? Perhaps. Well, we know that atoms are more than ninety-nine per cent empty space, which means that every solid object made up of atoms must be equally empty. Things are definitely not what they seem.
On the other hand, if somebody takes a swing at my head with a baseball bat I will duck, because if it makes contact I'll definitely have an experience of it. Hmmm… the experience of pain is very real, but my definition of reality regarding the baseball bat itself has been called into question by this "ninety-nine percent empty" thing.

So the perception of the solidity of objects is really very dependent upon our experience of them. We need to be able to categorize the building blocks of our reality in order to deal with them every day. So we create a sort of easily digestible metaphor that simplifies the nature of reality. An operating system, if you will. A Mac OSX, or a Windows, which brings color and graphics to allow a bunch of numbers and codes and wavelengths to be experienced in a more "user friendly environment." Some scientists believe that even the core elements of an atom… the electrons, neutrons and protons, are not solid, but more wave-like in their structure. So perhaps there is no such thing as a solid object.
Yes the pain of being hit with a baseball bat is real, and so is the bat, and so are we… but not material in the way we usually think of it. It is easier for us to see a table than to see a collection of trillions of spinning atoms, and so we create a metaphor of solidity to explain the connection we feel with other things when we touch them. We humans love metaphors, and we have got into the habit of using them, not only to describe events that are hard to understand, but also to perceive every aspect of our lives, including our feelings and our experiences.

In light of these facts, is it so hard to believe that the way in which we look at things is what makes them seem the way they are. Each of us have our own metaphors, our own operating system (no two exactly alike), mostly as a result of how we have been programmed by our parents, our teachers, our friends – and our enemies – to view this life we're in. All the good experiences of life, and all the bad ones are nothing more than a carrot and a stick to drive us in the direction that we are going. A set of rules and restrictions that define the boundaries of an elaborate competition we are striving to win. Yes, it is a game of sorts. A game for which we can see no choice but to play.
But there is a choice.
It becomes easier to evaluate our choices when we can actually witness the game going on around us. There are many ways to do this. The School of Practical Philosophy teaches a method called the "reflective practice" which requires us to sit down and witness what is actually around us. It doesn't break down the metaphor of solidity, but it allows us to just accept what is… without infusing our reality with previously held judgments. It's amazing how different things start to look when we see them with a different eye. Of course other organizations have different meditations on similar subjects, the point being that there are plenty of ways to take ourselves (mentally) out of the game in order to be able to grasp the nature of our reality more clearly.
And if we do take the time to begin shedding some of these pre-existing beliefs we hold, and start to view each moment with an unbiased eye (or as much as that is possible), what we start to see… is that life – just like all the material reality it contains – is more than ninety-nine per cent empty space.
For some people, that in itself is a scary thought because, just like the idea of death, it topples all the structures of our belief, and appears to leave us with nothing to hold on to. But space is actually a great thing to have. It leaves us the room to think in the many different ways that it is necessary to think when reality hits us with its many different baseball bats. It lets us realize that we don't actually need anything to hold on to, that we will be safe floating within the fluid structure of our existence. It allows us the freedom of movement to be agile and navigate the zigs and zags of this game we suddenly realize that we have been playing all along, floating within the constantly changing reality around us. And as a result, we start to see that all the fears, and all the tribulations, and all the competitiveness that we have indulged in throughout our lives were just an unnecessary part of this game that we were led to believe was life.
To  have achieved that awareness is a liberating and blissful experience. No one can take anything from the permanent you. Only the temporary you will change, and that has been doing so all along. Take a look in the mirror. Death is nothing more than the loss of one particular metaphor. You will find many more.

2. The judgements that we make about our reality.

Most of us have spent a lot of time thinking about what we believe to be right, and what we believe to be wrong, we have had those concepts forced into our brains since early childhood by well meaning adults – and, of course, a moral code is a very necessary thing in life for many reasons. But an inflexible morality can become problematic when the reasons for our belief in what is right and wrong are unclear or confused with other subconscious reasons, such as personal advantage or denial of painful memories.
When our judgments are locked dogmatically we tend to believe that right and wrong are constants, that the opposite of what is right must by definition be wrong. But that means we have actually stopped using our judgment. We have given ourselves permission to no longer have to think about it any more. It's all settled, and that's all there is to it!
Trouble is, that like everything else in reality, what's right and what's wrong are very subjective viewpoints, and judgment is a thing that needs to be flexible. It needs to be updated regularly, and exercised and tested as new situations call for it. No two people in the world will agree on everything, and most people disagree on most things. Dogmatic and inflexible judgment is most likely to result in the demonization of others, and quite often in the demonization of ourselves.

Certainly most people are aware of how the dogmatic moralities of certain religious groups around the world cause them to demonize other groups. But demonize ourselves? Why would we do that?
Well, we don't do it consciously of course, but we all do it to some extent. We all have that little voice inside us that was implanted by some moral authority way back there somewhere in our past, who either approves or disapproves of every little thing we do. And needless to say, there are some things we do that are found wanting by that measure. These may be things that we do regularly, but feel conflicted about. We don't want to stop doing them, but somewhere deep inside we believe it is wrong to do them. So somewhere inside, that little voice… which is ultimately our own voice, is making negative judgments about us.
But the trouble is, that by judging our own actions in a negative light, we make it more difficult for ourselves to engage thoughts about our past mistakes. We will often glance quickly at our failures, and turn away just as quickly, because we are worried that if we examine our past too carefully, we might see something that we have a negative judgment about. We might even say this to ourselves, "What I did wasn't so bad… no worse than what others have done," but in doing so, we don't allow ourselves to delve deeper into what we really believe we are capable of. We compare ourselves with the people around us in order to justify behavior that we otherwise may not feel comfortable with. And in this way we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. As a result we get into a spiral of making the same mistakes over and over again, and denying to ourselves that we have a problem with it.
How helpful would it be if we could disconnect ourselves from this outside world of judgment, that has impregnated us so deeply that now our inner world is also saturated with judgment? Worse still… it is unconscious judgment. We don't realize we are doing it half the time, and even when we do, we don't realize why we are doing it. And we don't realize that it keeps us from thinking about things in a fresh and undogmatic way?
Of course, disconnecting from our judgment is a lot easier said than done. We have all had a lifetime of judging things in a certain way, and we know that any real inner change takes a lot of practice and hard work. But perhaps the work is worth the payoff. There is a feeling of bliss in discovering that we don't have to be the arbiter of what is right and what is wrong all the time (that in itself is a terribly hard job – with very little payoff). And now we won't have to hide things from ourselves any more. It is a lot easier to know who we are when we don't make judgments about ourselves. We can free up the internal flow of information and get to know ourselves a little better.
Perhaps we have done things that we don't really want to acknowledge – even to ourselves, but that's okay… so has everyone else. And anyway,we don't have to tell anybody else… just admit it to ourselves – we are playing to a very sympathetic audience. But acknowledging those things allows us to get over the stigma of our own judgment and move on.
There is another advantage to this: if we can learn not to judge ourselves so strictly, we may find that we are not judging others as much either. We may discover that other people are not as bad as we sometimes like to think. Just like us, they are going through their own troubles. And seeing others as much more like ourselves helps to make the world a better place, at least according to our perception of it. And after all, what is reality but our perception of it?

So what all this got to do with death?

Well, I am not suggesting these things from a perspective of morality, or because it makes us "nice people" to behave in such a way. In fact, I am suggesting that we stop thinking about morality altogether, as it tends to make us more judgmental. I am simply attempting to determine the most expedient way in which to perceive reality with greater clarity. The judgments we have are games that the mind has created to distract us from the reality of life and death. Our purpose here is to attain greater flexibility about life and death. My Auntie Koko was a midwife who used to teach her patients a series of yoga exercises during their pregnancy. She believed that greater flexibility ensured a less traumatic birthing procedure. I believe that greater flexibility also ensures a less traumatic dying procedure.
And by flexibility I don't mean playing games with the truth. I don't mean magical thinking. This is not a religious belief system. Quite the opposite, it is about adhering faithfully to the truth… especially the truth we try to hide from ourselves. Remember, life is all about constant change, constant movement. Death is the movement from one state to another. If we cannot let go of the beliefs that hold us here, then death must be traumatic. Whereas if we are flexible about how we see things in life, then there is no reason we should not move naturally and comfortably from one state of consciousness to another.
Letting go of the beliefs we have often entails letting go of the feelings we hold deep inside of us. But we cannot let go of the feelings and the thoughts that we refuse to acknowledge. I know it seems almost contradictory to say it, but thinking the thought is letting it go. Feeling the feeling does allow it to escape. When we don't allow ourselves to feel the painful feelings within us, they are trapped within, and that is when they can do a lot of damage.
So how do we know which thoughts those are? 
That's easy, they're the ones we don't want to think about. 

By freeing ourselves mentally of all the unnecessary burdens that we always believed that we had to carry on our backs, we can allow ourselves to move from one state to another in a more elegant and natural manner.

3. So what are we frightened of?

So this then would be the crux of the whole problem. As F.D.R. once put it, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Why should the state that we move into, be any worse… or any better for that matter, than the one in which we find ourselves? If we are responsible for the metaphor that is our own life, then in death we are simply exchanging one metaphor for another. The reality behind these metaphors doesn't need to change. The only thing that changes is the way in which we look at it – the metaphor… the operating system. If life is nowhere near as "substantial" as it would appear to be, perhaps the idea of the structures of our reality toppling down around us, is also not as substantial as it would at first seem.
Why should it be that life and death are these two completely opposite forms? Just like good and evil, and pretty much every other thing in creation, they are most probably just subjective ways of viewing the same thing from a different viewpoint. It is our own misplaced judgment that draws lines between them. It is no one else but we who create the horrors and the beauty of life. If we could only acknowledge that, then perhaps we would be better equipped to change the things that we can change, to accept the things that we cannot, and most importantly to know the difference between the two.


Each person's subjectivity is, by definition, different from every other person's. We create our own heaven and hell, and if we're being fair about it, life is never fully either one or the other. It makes sense to assume that death will be pretty much the same in that way. It also makes sense to assume that, just like life, death will be yet another temporary form of existence.
Even the term death, therefore, seems to be a misnomer. Just another life, then. Not reincarnation, not the transubstantiation of souls… but perspective change.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Untying the Knots

The Spirit is in the Sound... or is it?

Recently I received this e-mail from a friend. We all get these things from time to time.Perhaps some of you have sent them on without really paying too much attention, or deciding whether you agree with it or not. Normally I don't forward anything I don't believe in, but I felt this needed a response. I have edited out names and spelling mistakes, of which there were many.

For all divine souls

An interesting fact
it is a fact that the chakras of our body have the same amount of petals as the sanskrit alphabet. that is why every word of the mantra has a special energy...

Dr.Howard Steingeril, an american scientist, collected Mantras, Hymns and invocations from all over the world and tested their strength in his Physiology Laboratory..

Hindus' Gayathri Mantra produced 110,000 sound waves per second. This was the highest and was found to be the most powerful hymn in the world.

Through the combination of sound or sound waves of a particular frequency, the Mantra is claimed capable of developing specific spiritual potentialities.

The Hamburg university initiated research into the efficacy of the Gayathri Mantra both on the mental and physical plane of CREATION...

The GAYATHRI MANTRA is broadcast daily for 15 minutes from 7 P.M. onwards over Radio Paramaribo,Surinam, South America for the past two years, and in Amsterdam, Holland for the last six months…

Hmmm… it is interesting, but being an amateur student of sound, I tend to think that neither a mantra nor a prayer can have an intrinsic frequency. It would be the voice reciting it that has the frequency. And no voice has a frequency of 110 khz (110,000 cycles per second). The highest that human ears can hear is 20khz, so even assuming that there could be inaudible effects on the body of some faster frequencies, 110khz stretches the imagination. And as far as I know there are no radios, even in Holland, that can reproduce 110khz. And if there was one, we would need new loudspeaker technology in order to hear it, because even the best, most expensive speakers do not go that high.

Not only that, but the idea that there would be a consistent frequency for a series of words is not feasible. One frequency means one note (One very high, inaudible note, in this case). Even if you were to say every word at the same pitch, the act of verbalizing the vowels and consonants would change the frequencies of the harmonics at the very least, if not the entire tone. Which brings me to the point that in nature, we never hear a single frequency, even when listening to a consistent tone.

Unless we are listening to a pure sine wave generated by a synthesizer, the quality of each instrument or voice is dictated by the harmonics inherent within it. Harmonics are simply all the frequencies that go into making a single note. A note played on one piano may sound different from the same note played on another piano. This is because the harmonics are slightly different. On a harpsichord the harmonics would be very different… therefore a very different sound to that note. There are many factors that go into creating a sound, including the ambience of the room in which it is generated. The human voice is perhaps the most complex of all instruments and will, even without trying, create the greatest variety of sounds and frequencies. My point being– no prayer or hymn simply produces one frequency every time.

Look, I have a firm belief in the connection between spirituality and science. I believe that the material of our world is made up of frequencies more akin to sound and light than to the solid objects that they represent themselves as. But reality is reality. Straying too far from what we know to be true is not going to lead us to that spiritual godhead that we seek. Follow the truth and not ignorant beliefs. The clues are all around us, and science IS the friend of the true seeker. So let's not invent shit, that makes educated people think that we are nuts.

Perhaps there is some truth to the origins of this story, (I cannot fathom it personally) but like a game of rumors it has gone through so many evolutions that it no longer makes sense in the real world. If we're going to repeat a story that we've heard, let's make sure that we understand it clearly before doing so. There is no dishonor in withholding judgment until we can check the facts. Unfortunately most humans will believe anything as long as it "proves" what they want it to.

But the road to spiritual enlightenment is not so easy. It requires a hard look at what IS, not what we want it to be. Let us all get into the habit of reserving judgment, and believing that even what we know that we know might be subject to change as and when more data comes in. And if we don't understand something completely, let's not go blabbing it all over town as if god personally told it to us. Let's just stay calm, research it, and increase our knowledge of what IS. And please remember, just because you read it in an e-mail, or on the internet, doesn't make it true.

For me, acknowledging reality and the universe, the way they actually are, is the first step on the road to becoming one with reality and the universe.

For those interested in some real science that draws connections with spirituality, I highly recommend a book called, "Stalking the Wild Pendulum," by Itzhak Bentov.
Or check him out on YouTube:

Some information from the web:
Normal human hearing is pretty good, ranging from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Of course, for humans to actually perceive 20 Hz or 20,000 Hz, the intensity of sound would have to be rather unbearable and, indeed, dangerously loud! Nonetheless, normal human hearing is totally adequate for human speech perception (which is arguably second in line to perceiving warning sounds indicative of immediate impending danger).
However, despite being perched at the top of the food chain, human hearing pales in comparison to many other animals, primates, and fish. For example, despite similar low frequency abilities, the high frequency hearing of many breeds of dog can reach 45,000 Hz, cats can hear up to 64,000 Hz (although they don’t care), rats hear up to 76,000 Hz, bats are amazing at 110,000 Hz, beluga whales can perceive 123,000 Hz, and porpoises can hear up to 150,000 Hz (see HearingRange.html). So clearly, being at the top of the food chain appears to have little correlation with our limited ability to hear.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

True North: Finding Your Center and Staying on Your Path: Giving Back

"Giving Back"

Inner Gypsy is very proud to announce that we're teaming with Fender Music Foundation!  We will be donating 50% of all profits from our newest release "Past Lives of Somebody, Everybody and Nobody" to this national music charity that provides instruments to music education programs across the country, including schools.

Use the widget to the right to hear songs from the Past Lives album (songs 2 through 13), and click on the "BUY" button to the right to make a purchase and download your single. You can also access the "Gypsychology" songs as well as our "Pay to Play" preview from  the upcoming 2013 album release, Gypsy Moth.

100% of every dollar donated gets instruments into music education programs.  Details on this worthwhile charity can be found at

Happy Holidays to you all!

Our best,

Tiff & Mario