Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way – Grief | Love | Death | Moving through Loss

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I just wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend to check that out if you find the music in this post interesting. I haven’t written many posts on the other blog, and it’s only roughly a year old, but in looking back over my experiences of the last year, I couldn’t help but feel like this post perhaps captured the mood and ambience of most of it better than any other, and it fits perfectly with this blog as well. May this resonate with others as well.


As we go through life, there will be loss. Everything composite is impermanent, and everything is composite. All falls apart, eventually. Even atoms will slowly break apart into heat death, according to thermodynamics. This inevitability of change alongside our attachment to beloved events, places, situations, and people means that there will be the pain of losing the things and people we love, and it will hurt.

One translation I love of the preeminent Zen philosopher-monk, Dogen, puts this in the most poetic light:

Therefore flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them.

Shohaku Okumura, translation of Dogen’s Genjokoan, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo, p. 1

The experiences of big losses, big loves, are some of the hardest transitions we face in life. Dealing with them, living through them, is about as human and mortal as life can be.

As such, it’s no surprise that this is a theme for exploration in post-rock. One of the most iconic songs for this is Caspian’s “Hymn for the Greatest Generation”. The title track and the following track are both seemingly about the band’s process of moving through and honoring the death of a fellow band member.

The sound in this song is gentle, intimate, riding on the picking of an acoustic guitar that builds into a fuller rock instrumentation. We feel the bittersweet moving forward of time, with an almost metronome drum, reminding of the clunky ticking of change, moving on despite loss. The song builds further into something like a celebration for all the joy and love of those we have lost, facing it head on and embracing the memories and warmth of what was. Finally the song melts down to a poignant violin and a return to the bittersweet acoustic guitar slowly going on, knowing that what was had will never be had again.

You can feel both the joy and the sadness in this song. It’s utterly beautiful and unforgettable. Friends of mine have resonated with these feelings slightly differently, claiming to hear the guitarist crying in the song, and I’ve even seen memes about how heart-wrenching it is. This song displays the full beauty of having loved someone and lost them. I highly recommend sitting with it and letting it inspire the greatest affirmation within yourself for these cycles of love, loss, and grief that you will inevitably face in life. There’s perhaps no deeper spiritual experience to sit with.

Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way – Resolve | Majesty | Standing Strong

This is a post that I just posted on my other blog about philosophy/spirituality and post-rock. I wanted to share it here as well.


One of the standout albums of the year for me (and it’s no surprise given the excellence of their previous album) is BLAK’s El Tall d’Escil·la. It’s so excellent, and their musical skills are so fantastic that even the live album version from a few months later is mind-blowing. I’ll defer to Veil of Sound’s review to give a sense of the scope of this album:

So, let me give you the idea behind the new album’s title. El Tall d’Escil·la (Scylla’s Cut) ,tells a story of Nisos, who was the king of Megara and he possessed a single lock of purple hair which granted the city invincibility. His daughter, called Scylla, fell in love with Minos, king of Crete when he invaded Megara. In order to win his heart, Scylla cut off her father’s purple lock from his head and presented it to Minos. Minos, disgusted with her lack of filial devotion, tied Scylla to the bow of his ship until she drowned. It’s a sombre and hearbreaking end to Scylla’s life, however this kind of tragedy can play into the hands of bands like BLAK, who can musically narrate and express the despair and dejection with great skill and elegance. BLAK have the gift of reaching into the depts of your soul and bringing out all the emotions you have concealed and kept under wraps. Music is a powerful tool when it’s in the right hands and BLAK are craftsmen for sure. It will all make sense when you immerse yourself into Scylla’s cut, and let the music take hold and carry you to where it needs to go.

Veil of Sound, “Review of BLAK – El Tall d’Escil·la”, Pat O

The first track stands out in particular. The title “Contra nosaltres quan siguem forts” (Against ourselves when we’re strong) (thanks to the Veil of Sound review for the help with this) has a deep and evocative feeling. It’s pulled at my heart and supported me through many a drive and adventure this summer and fall. I even wrote about a meditation session on a paddle board recently that was accompanied by this song.

We face difficult, sometimes epic challenges, in life. I’ve felt that so many times in recent months. I’ve regularly felt like I’m meaningless and have wanted to die, regularly. However, there’s a certain resolve in standing in the midst of chaos and delving into your own inner strength and light. So often, tarot has told me to stand strong (Strength) and find my own truth and light (Hermit) while walking through the challenges of darkness, distortion, and delusion (Moon).

Daring the heights, facing death, standing strong despite our weakness, no matter what metaphor you choose, this song speaks to that majesty and courage. There’s something empowering at the core of this song that pulls you along into the swell of all challenge, and somehow you feel strong, even if the ego is destroyed in the process.

This is the path of the warrior, meant in the Shambhala way.

https://thisisblak.bandcamp.com/track/contra-nosaltres-quan-siguem-forts-live

Cross-post: The Post-rock Way – Energy | Hope | Overflowing

This is a post that I just posted on my other blog about philosophy/spirituality and post-rock. I wanted to share it here as well.


One of the most intoxicating aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy is the ambience of hyperabundant overflowing of energy. This is the dynamism of the Dionysian, and it’s the strength of a healthy life. This sentiment comes forth perhaps nowhere as strongly as in the first section of the prologue to “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, in which Zarathustra greets the sun (a symbol of the Apollonian here transformed to the hyperabundance of the Dionysian) and speaks to the task that he must undertake of “going under” from the heights of the mountains (we could possibly see this as the heavenly realm of the Forms) to the human realm. This choice resonates later – one must go under to go over, to become the overhuman, the Übermensch. The feeling of overflowing is here in the sunshine and the happiness and abundance associated with it and the final lines:

“Bless the cup that wants to overflow, that the water may flow from it golden and carry everywhere the reflection of your delight!”
“Behold! This cup wants to become empty again, and Zarathustra wants to become human again.”
– Thus began Zarathustra’s going-under.

Nietzsche, trans. Parkes, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 9.

The overflowing energy is the strength of one who can climb the heights with the fullness of health, joy, and the ability to help others climb up the same paths. It’s the intensity that allows one to live dangerously with light feet dancing over the obstacles that one faces. It is the power of affirmation, of yay-saying — perhaps the greatest possibility in Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Recently, I’ve felt this sentiment greatly from a song from the new album released by Maybeshewill. The band has been broken up for years but has come back with a compelling album about facing climate change with hope and resolve to overcome and shape our futures. They describe this at length in the album’s description on Bandcamp.

The song is called “Invincible Summer”. When I listen to it, I find myself running, dancing, fist pumping, and screaming: “YES!!!”. I’m serious about all of those. I have done all of those in flowing with the feeling that arises in the later movements of the song when the strings swell and pull you along with the overflowing energy that would allow you to climb to the heights with light feet.

Heartbreak | Music | Songs for the Deep

I hadn’t planned to write more heartbreak posts, but ultimately, the journey through the abyss to safety (recent I Ching reading but also reminiscent of the Moon card) is a fraught one with new challenges and rapids along the way. For me, this is much more true than I’d like to admit. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve cried about her, thinking about how I’ll never see her skin and smile again, or reliving a moment I wish I could change to maybe make things end up differently. It hurts so bad some days, and I couldn’t tell you why those days are worse. Every day, I wish my heart would stop beating. It just hurts too damn much, and some days, like today, something breaks you into full on panicky hyperventilation and crying, and you can’t even really say what triggered that exact moment. However, even then, there are events that make you feel understood and seen.

I went to a concert last night – Garbage and Alanis Morissette. These two artists really brought this to mind because they both have songs about some difficult emotional experiences. Listening to them and seeing how popular they both are, even 20+ years later, made me think of previous heartbreak and the sense at that time that so many songs are about love lost and pain around it. There are certainly more songs about this experience than the opposite (not that there are none of those), and it made me realize that the experience of loss, grief, pain, and frustrated hopes is more common, impactful, and lasting than that of some deep joy realized, which is generally more fleeting and less deep.

If we think of this in spiritual terms, we’ll quickly arrive at the Buddha’s fundamental truth that upholds all of the Four Noble Truths – the first one: there is dukkha. There is a suffering in existing. It occurs on both great and mundane levels, and those great levels speak to our greatest desires (see the second noble truth) and the difficulties involved in them ending or not being fulfilled.

Our relationships with others are a fundamental. They are part of being in the world (riffing on Heidegger here but pulling in a Buddhist direction). We become entangled in the desire of being with, regularly. There is both some of the greatest beauty and the greatest suffering in this, as other humans reveal the depths of who we can be, what we can feel, and how we can flourish.

In any case, I wanted to pick a few songs from this experience alongside a couple others to really pull at the heartstrings regarding heartbreak and the pain in it. Music can give voice to the human experience in profound ways that make us feel seen. Perhaps this is cathartic in itself. I know that even in just driving to the concert, “You Oughta Know”, spoke to my more fiery feelings of being overlooked, unvalued, and cheated. I’ll just leave it as a reference here without linking it for better options that don’t delve into such anger, but even that can be valuable and worth expressing in its own way.

First, let’s go with Garbage’s “It’s All Over but the Crying”, which speaks to ending, loss, and the grief afterwards as well as the poor treatment and misperceptions of someone else. They didn’t play this at the concert, but I was really wishing they would have played something from “Bleed Like Me”.

Beyond that, Garbage played a newer song, “Even Though Our Love is Doomed”, at the concert that really spoke to me. The main refrain kept asking why we kill the things we love the most. I kept wondering the same, as my feeling time and again is that extraordinary was traded for ordinary in my situation. I can’t help but feel like I was told I was superlative repeatedly but then was not chosen because of more or less bullshit reasons that never really made sense and seemed historically revised and over-hyped over time. In the end, I have to wonder why we kill the things we love the most, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one who feels a resonance with that question. Furthermore, the song has a “even though” this killing is doomed, you still want the person anyway because you see the beauty of that love. I couldn’t understand that any deeper than I already do. As a friend pointed out today, that’s why I hurt so much now and feel dead – I loved that deeply that its passing is a grief to my core.

Between sets, songs played over the speakers, and an old fave came forth and reminded me precisely of the strength of crying out against not having been chosen, of the feeling of what it is to roll in the deep of the abyss. Adele’s song is a classic for a reason in this genre.

In a note more fitting with my usual musical journeys of late, I was walking home today, listening to my newest post-rock album release of focus, the fantastic Transmission Zero’s “Bridges”. Their song, “Still No Sign”, has this haunting feeling of floating through space, waiting for some signal and it never coming. That’s the feeling of waiting and not hearing anything, of feeling on edge with the hope that continues to cut rather than soothe, as every moment is that Buddhist play of dukkha and tanha arising together. I felt so haunted by this song that I stopped in opening my building’s door and just rested my head on it for a second to catch my breath and resolve. It’s simple but feels like a deep journey of waiting and yearning.

Finally, most importantly, I wanted to share a positive note. Alanis ended her set with “Thank U”, and it struck me hard, even though it was a song I never really liked before. The journey through pain, through the heartbreak, even in its angriest moments like some of her more memorable moments from “Jagged Little Pill”, is ultimately soothed in gratitude, in moments like telling the audience that she certainly recommends getting your heart trampled on to anyone. These are part of living with others and vulnerably putting our hearts out there. In the end, that’s how we become strong and how we give back grateful compassion. Every day, I feel like dying right now. I really wish my heart would stop sometimes, but ultimately, I also always paddle on past that abyss of deep waters, keeping my resolve to continue, do well, and give my kindness to others. It’s incredibly hard, but every time, I’m thankful for continuing, despite feeling unworthy and unfit for the challenge. I love the closing lines. I’m thankful for my own disillusionment, my facing nothingness, my sitting in silence, and the clarity of strength I find in myself every time I do that with vulnerable surrender and resolve rather than anger or self-involvement:

Thank you India

Thank you providence

Thank you disillusionment

Thank you nothingness

Thank you clarity

Thank you, thank you silence

Alanis Morissette – “Thank You”

May this help others feel both expression and some gratitude for continuing forward in heartbreak.

Gassho!

Considering Connection and Lost Time

I woke from dreams yesterday, a bit confused, and lay in bed for a while to process the ideas and feelings mindfully, rather than hopping out of bed and forgetting them.

In an earlier dream, my family were all together, travelling, talking, and I spent time with my dad, catching up. A subsequent dream made the first a dream within a dream — waking up from the first, I remembered that my dad was gone, and my mom and sister were both completely lost, shattered, going through the motions of daily life, trying to make it through each one. My sister warned me not to talk to my mom about … something… and when I went to go talk with her, sure enough, she went rigid, cold, and mechanically started doing chores, almost knocking me over as she pushed forward in completing them.

This contrast and some of the associated emotional ambiance of the dream highlighted the emotional difficulties of grieving and letting go, how the process throws us out of our element enough to put us on rails of pain and heartbreak, and in my own case, it accentuated the abstract, almost surreal quality of disconnection. I mean — in my own processing of this event, recently, there have been times where something makes me think: “I can’t wait to talk to Dad about this.” Only a second or two later do I realize that that’s impossible. The few times this has happened have each been equally a moment of bitter realization; it seems the event is just too big, too much of a change of the structures of life for it to readily sink in at the new-normal operating level, even after a few months.

I think that this ultimately speaks to the one piece that I struggle to accept in losing him, the one thing that doesn’t fully digest: I regret not seeing him more since I left to college over a decade ago. There were years when I saw him not at all or only once for a few days. We were both too busy a lot of the time to readily keep up on the phone. Etc.

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That’s ultimately the problem with death, as the existentialists and Buddhists constantly warn us, it’s not operating on our time table. It can come out of nowhere, and it waits for us as soon as we are born. That’s why Heidegger sets the ultimate challenge as being resolute in the face of it, creating your life through your projects, seeing it coming, and knowing that it could pop up at any time. The mahayana path of Buddhism tells us to do similarly: start practicing now, in this moment, and be grateful for the opportunity of being alive and experiencing the truth of the Dharma. You have this one chance to lead a wise, compassionate human life. Don’t waste it.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as mindful of this in my relationship with my dad as I could have and should have been. I feel like our relationship in the last few years is captured with “Cats in the Cradle” by Cat Stevens (I listened to a rock cover of it a lot in high school by Ugly Kid Joe). I’m sure my dad probably experienced me growing up and zooming off out of our small hometown at a more or less breakneck pace, and he was always just a bit too busy to be there as much as he would have liked, and when I grew up, it was the same for me — too busy doing other things and in places far away (so I experienced the inverse and see that now).

My point with all this is be aware and grateful of the connections you have in your life — both large and small. Try to make the time to be present for them. Reach out. You never know when your time or your friend’s/partner’s/colleague’s/acquaintance’s/family member’s time will be up, and if that time passes, there’s nothing that can bring it back.

On Communication: Affirmation and Clarity

Two very different conversations recently have made me ponder the importance of being clear with your expression about your intentions, beliefs, feelings, or values. There are many reasons for this, so let’s build up some clarity around this issue.

First of all, from the aspect of discussing complicated political issues, I’ve seen some convoluted rhetorical stances that ultimately can only be called disingenuous. If you rely on questioning other people’s positions as being too partisan while hiding the fact that you have no problem with a highly controversial position, do not be surprised that your subterfuge will only result in complete disavowal. Any good points you may have had were used merely as a rhetorical ploy, so the discussion is moot. If you’re going to be provocative, be forthright about it — affirm it. Then, you can create real dialogue. That dialogue must be based on the truth of admission of what your beliefs are and what your intentions are: i.e. it must be based on a hermeneutics of trust to be productive, otherwise it always risks doubt and dispersal. In fact, that’s the problem with a large swath of our news narratives today regarding politics; they’re based on a hermeneutics of suspicion, looking for hidden agendas, secret agents, and conspiracies. There may be truth to such critical analyses, but the problem happens when this style of meaning-finding reaches successively meta-levels of suspicion: the people behind the people behind the people are the real instigators of some ultimate evil plot! Unfortunately, this is necessary to a certain extent (political scientists and myself do find plenty of evidence for seeing oligarchy at play behind many machinations in current events), but it can get to conspiracy theory levels sometimes — thinking of some of the crazy stories of the “deep state” I’ve heard in the last year or so.

TLDR: if you want to have a meaningful discussion with others about a political issue, make clear your values, beliefs, and intentions. If you try to hide them while you merely attack and mock, you will be ridiculed all the more when your ulterior motives shine through, and even if you had some critically amazing points, they will mean nothing. Affirmation and clarity are needed in a conversation among equals.


Secondly, I heard a podcast recently that told the story of an odd relationship between a distant, disciplinarian mother and a stranger to the family in a traditional culture (seen as odd by her sons). The story ended with sadness amongst surviving family members of two generations regarding the reticence of expression — the mother never told her son she loved him, and the son only told his daughter once or twice. Having recently undergone the loss of my father, it made me stop and ponder the things I wish I asked him or told him. There are simply things I will never know but meant to ask for a long time, now mysteries washed away by the tides of time.

This has made me realize that mindful, clear expression needs to affirm the fact that we all die and could at any time. This authenticity, resoluteness in the face of death, if you want to be Heideggerean, should animate our language and interaction with those for whom we care. You never know if you will have another chance to say, “I love you!”, to tell someone to take care of themselves, to ask questions you may have held for years, or to resolve any nagging doubts from childhood. The chance to express, to question, to profess, to pacify, to let out, to let go in all the verbal ways possible, could disappear in a breath now, in the next moment. You never know. So please, make sure to reach out with your thoughts and feelings. Timing may be important, but life shouldn’t be lived as “Some day,” or “Maybe next time,” if you can say it now. Affirmation of ourselves, our values, and our purpose as well as expressive clarity are key to fulfilling intimacy in our connections with others.

With that, I’m adding three songs which have been pulling at many of the various feelings I have about my dad in the gamut of emotions that play through. Post-rock will always be the most expressive music to me for feelings, especially with no words to conceptually narrow the rawness. May it touch others’ hearts out there as some sort of clear expression of the depth of human experience.


Free Meditation

This is a beautiful work of sound, and it’s very soothing. Enjoy!

John Burggraaf SoundDesign©

Enjoy my FREE MEDITATION! You can also use this as relaxing music, even to easily fall asleep. Thanks for liking and sharing in order to reach and help lots of people.
John

https://soundcloud.com/john-burggraaf/singing-bowls-and-ireland-nature_sounds

Singing Bowls - Cliffs of Moher Singing Bowls – Cliffs of Moher

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