Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way–Healing | Panacea

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I share many of the posts from that blog when I write them, as they fit in well here too. This one is about Nietzsche’s philosophy as an inspiration for an energetic/emotional stance towards life, for instance. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, and I’ll be writing another for 2022 in the next couple days, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting.


The emotional associations we have with music can be profound. We can tie pieces of music to places, people, times, feelings, or likely other aspects of human experience that aren’t coming to mind right now. Music has been depicted as speaking to our emotional depths since ancient Greece (Plato’s Republic comes to mind, and Nietzsche rehabilitates the Platonic concern around this emotional impact in his Birth of Tragedy with the conclusion at the end of a Socrates coming to his senses in his final days and making music). In other words, it’s long been seen as something that speaks to the soul, so to speak. I’m struggling to write this, in fact, because phrasing anything about it as a concept or a cultural history feels too weak, as it feels like a simple and undeniable truth that music speaks to and influences us emotionally.

For myself, the strongest versions of this emotional association to music are when I’ve associated it with a person and then have had that relationship end. It’s been nearly impossible to return to emotionally charged songs after breakups in different times of my life. I actually wrote about an instance of this years ago in another post. Facing emotional associations with only the resonance of something beautiful that has been lost is hard to sit with mindfully in any way. It’s hard to sit with at all.

For me, reclaiming the positive experience associated with music like this is a crucial part of the healing process. In a way, that’s a far more accurate description of the healing process done mindfully than “time heals all wounds” (which I’ve critiqued before as an incredibly poor metaphor); just moving on by diving into some sort of river of Lethe or, even worse, revising history – isn’t really healing. It leaves wounds unaddressed and open for more festering or vulnerability that could lead to defensiveness and other ego shittiness if challenged at all about what really happened. True healing is about finding meaning in loss, facing it authentically, and reintegrating the shards of a broken heart with new meaning and accepted vulnerability. It’s about authenticity, meaning-making, acceptance, and reintegration. This means that for something like previously loved music, it’s about finding your way back to it, and if it still feels beautiful and inspiring in some way once you can get past negative reactions, reclaiming it as part of your life – authentically facing the difficulty of this being part of your story, finding new meaning in it, accepting everything that happened and your struggle to get past it, and reintegrating it back into your life with that new meaning. The healing of an authentic, engaged, mindful, spiritually driven life is one of kintsugi.

With this in mind, I’ve recently been returning to a band I have more or less ignored existed for some time, even though at this time 2 years ago, I listened to their second album roughly non-stop, becoming one of my most listened to albums of 2020 despite discovering it only in the last few weeks of the year. That band is Silent Whale Becomes A° Dream, and the impetus for this return to encounter is that they remastered their first album, Canopy, recently. The album I was hooked to previously was their second album, Requiem, but this lower bar for reclamation feels more doable.

I was surprised to find in returning to this masterwork that any concerns about pain were completely washed over by just how unbelievably beautiful this album is. This band is one of the most amazing and most overlooked post-rock bands out there. They take the orchestral sound that Mono is either loved for or passed over for and take it even a step farther. It is magnificent, multi-layered, and epic. Furthermore, it is incredibly poignant. The second album has a description (I’m not going to quote it because its long) about looking out from an oceanside cliff on the ocean and feeling the pull of existential angst – that Sartrean idea that I’m free to jump off – and combining it with the sublime desire to merge with the beauty of such a moment. It’s the pull of that existential feeling as well as the loss of the ego in identifying with this beyond oneself, the power of the sea. That may sound dramatic, but this level of sentiment is within their music. It can shake you deeply.

Their first album is just as moving, and the final song caps it all off in full intensity, and fittingly enough, it’s titled “Panacea” – the miracle cure. In this song, we can feel the miracle cure of healing by facing our fears, our angst towards death, and the painful limitations of our ego’s stories which try to protect or cover over while perhaps avoiding the truth of things. This can all be overcome in a music-induced moment of kensho where body and mind falls away, and in returning, “you” are changed. Ironically enough, it is the perfect song for the spiritual endeavor of reclaiming and the reintegration that is healing. It is truly a symbol of that panacea that is an authentic spiritual journey if we’re open to the aspect that is the Untergang, as I spoke about in a recent post. I highly recommend you open yourself to the experience and listen to this song. I’m glad to have returned to it and reclaimed it for my own journey.

Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way – Hymn | Spotlight: Sigur Rós

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I felt it must be shared, as the song I highlight and the experience I had in the described concert really resonate with the last post I just wrote. I recently wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting.


Last night, I saw another post-rock legend, Sigur Rós, and like in the experience of my previous post on Mono, I was left feeling touched in a way that’s difficult to describe – nearly moved to tears on multiple occasions. This surprised me, as even though they’re revered by many in the genre, I’ve never been deeply into Sigur Rós. I wanted to share a bit more about this experience.

First, I want to repeat a quote that came from Taka, the songwriter for Mono, regarding the spiritual experience that music can present:

“Music is about experiences,” Goto says. “Witnessing extremely loud sounds live is one type of experience. It’s almost like seeing a spark of thunder in a quiet night sky, then hearing the echoes of loud thunder. It’s beautiful, yet crushing – an unusual experience.”

“At the same time, subliminal music is extremely spiritual. Every sound and melody start to soak into every cell in your body, takes them subconsciously and moves them. Music can speak to everyone more eloquently than words. It’s close to philosophy. It’s a gift from God.”

Taka, from this story

Watching Sigur Rós evoked precisely this sentiment in me a few times throughout the performance, even though I wasn’t that familiar with their oeuvre. The super-fans around me were much more amped, clearly experiencing every note deeply and profoundly, much like I did in seeing Mono recently, but even at a more basic connection, the supreme artistry and intensity of this band moved me in similar ways with certain songs.

Personally, as a post-rock super-fan who has grown much more deeply into darker emotional soundscapes with very technical instrumentation over the last few years (for instance, Russian Circles is my most listened to band of the last two years), I found Sigur Rós’ instrumental aspect a bit more lackluster. It truly hinges around Jonsi’s amazing vocals to really create the emotional soundscapes that awe the listener.

Furthermore, this still fits post-rock in the way my first post on this blog outlined, as they have played with language to move beyond any easily understood concepts, even pressing a gibberish, created language into many songs to push beyond the barriers of language into an emotive space that the listeners are meant to resonate with and fill in the meaning themselves. This article really digs into that well.

For me, the songs that moved me were the songs in a major key, where the instrumentation resonated fullest with the falsettos of Jonsi’s voice. These songs gave me goosebumps and teary eyes, feeling like there was some deep cleansing of heart at play. They felt much like Taka’s description above, but the incomprehensible vocals that expressed emotion more than actual words pull the heart along like some sort of transcendent hymn to human experience. As Taka said, those moments are a gift from God.

There is probably no greater example of this for me from the set than Sæglópur from Takk… Takk means “thanks” in Icelandic, and Sæglópur means “lost seafarer”. The song is a mix of Icelandic and the band-created Hopelandic. It is one of their more well-known songs. I have been aware of it for years.

In listening to this song, you’ll likely feel a lot of emotions in the delicate, lonely beauty of the beginning and the crashing intensity when the rock experimentation in sound comes to the fore in mid-song. It pulls at the seeking heart, yearning for solace, facing challenge and pain, and continuing to press onward.

It’s a hymn to the human heart, and that feeling is what shone through for me with Sigur Rós time and again. The songs that felt like existential hymns, every last one of them evoked a sigh from the audience when they were over. That’s a spiritual experience that goes beyond words.

Dreams at Peace?

Have you ever noticed that dreams are almost never at rest? Sitting still? Peaceful?

As I pondered my dreams this morning, I realized that there was always movement — a going to, a meandering, a restlessness, whether with a purpose or purposeless. As this dawned on me, I realized that my dreams are always like this — in action, in motion. At some point, I’m certain that I’ve read about this as well, but it doesn’t really sink in exactly what this means and feels like until you’re experientially remembering it.

As I thought over dream experiences, I realized that even my conversations in dreams involve dramatically hyperbolic expression or movement. There’s never just a relaxed conversation over a cup of coffee or something like that. Rather, even a casual chat is as emotionally engaging and dynamically expressive as possible.

All of this makes me think about the nature of dreams. The only sensible conception of the Unconscious to me is the dynamically creative aspect to our mind which doesn’t come fully into expression. When there aren’t waking stimuli and thoughts to contain this creative force, it flows, moves, and becomes in a gushing series of expressive bursts. With this in mind, it makes sense that our dreams will seldom if ever be a calm, serene experience.

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As such, here’s a reality test: are you moving or at ease? If you’re not moving, how dynamic is your environment and any conversation you’re having?


May this bring new perspective to the distinctions between your dreaming and waking experiences.

Gassho!

The Shadow and Compassion

Recently, my dreams have seemed more erratic and emotionally charged. I think there are a few reasons for this.

  1. I misplaced my dream journal for a while, and even though I don’t write in it that often, it seems to have had an impact on my dream recall. When I found it again, my dreams suddenly were more remembered when I woke again, almost as though my dreaming process appreciated its reappearance.
  2. Last week, I underwent a bout of sickness that renewed my sense of mortality — my awareness of impermanence and gratitude for health are currently sharp.
  3. Recent events have made this summer feel like a charged examination of current cultural and social trends as well as the human condition.
  4. I’ve been reading a lot about The Heart Sutra and, therein, about the prajnaparamita teachings’ deep yet confusing pronouncements regarding emptiness and the view of no view.

Those dreams I mentioned have been all over the place. They’ve ranged from feverish problem-solving of work issues to brutal violence. The most unsettling thing about the violence, to my waking, analytical mind, was that I was perpetrating it, and although purposeful, it was still violence of the most disturbing and vicious sort — carnal murder with a blunt instrument of someone who wasn’t even fighting back.

My analytic, waking mind reacts to memories of this dream by lashing back, saying “I could never do that!” and “How horrible!” However, this judgmental simplicity covers over truths I know from both my academic and self-reflective studies. Furthermore, I recognize this quick reaction to be an attempt to shore up my ego-identity to fit a narrative in which “I” am a permanently righteous being, always wearing the white hat without any aberration.

Here are some truths I know to the contrary of my ego’s simplistic, self-defensive narrative: I know that the greatest finding of social psychology is that people do strange things when in strange situations. Study after study, ranging from Milgram to Zimbardo to Asch challenge our understanding of identity. Beyond that, my studies of Buddhism and existentialism make me question any simplistic appeal to an unchanging thing as the core of who I am. Even the most introductory of Buddhists should know that this is a concept to be cut through with Manjushri’s sword. Another truth: I’ve gone through enough life and have sat with my thoughts for hours in meditation, both leading me to know that I have a great capability for anger. If anything, it may be my greatest personal obstacle to overcoming reactivity for pure, responsive, and compassionate awareness. All of my experience in academics and in personal reflection lead me to know that I have a Shadow (as Jung would call it – but without the intended hard understanding of the term with a Jungian “Unconscious” at play).

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Knowing the truth of this Shadow takes me beyond the ego’s defense, and I have nothing to do but embrace these darker, incomplete, difficult feelings, for which I have a propensity. Those are all possible ways for me to be and feel, but seeing them, however, embracing their possibility even, doesn’t mean that I have to act out upon them. If anything, it allows me to potentially move beyond them to the compassionate awareness I just mentioned. Recognizing and accepting our feelings without repressing them or enacting them is a way to understand the emptiness of who we are and our connection to all other beings. Recognizing my own dark, destructive impulses allows me a point of connection with even the most pained or hateful of beings, giving some small ounce of understanding to see those current perpetrators in our world and hope to better understand how I can communicate with them to help them get beyond their own darkness.

When I think of this, I inevitably think of the closing section of Hesse’s Siddhartha, in which Siddhartha is shown to share the face of all people in Govinda’s mind — even thieves and murders. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do, and if you’d like to know more about The Heart Sutra, I recommend Karl Brunhölzl’s The Heart Attack Sutra. If you’re interested in social psychology’s findings regarding identity, I recommend this episode (The Personality Myth) of the wonderful podcast Invisibilia. If you’re interested in a more Buddhist take thereof, check out the Dalai Lama’s How to See Yourself as You Really AreFinally, to read more on dream yoga itself, Dream Yoga by Andrew Holecek is a good all around source.


May this help you see yourself as you really are and help you reach out to the world with compassionate wisdom.

Gassho!

 

A Scab

I pulled a scab off my knee today.
The red, irritated skin underneath
Breathed with fresh life.
No longer a tingling itch
Behind a brown carapace.
No longer a patch of “skin”
Lacking the intimate
Sensitivity of touch.
I felt renewed, yet vulnerable
And aware of my frailty.

The skin was scraped away
In a moment – blood
Suddenly seeping out
Of an aching hole,
A surprising, spontaneous lack
Of a piece of me,
So minor and present
Merely moments before.
Now, two weeks later,
The red of the blood
Matches the newly born,
Red skin…

I now have a scrape on my heart,
A place of lack, ache, and emotions
Seeping through to fill the wound.
How long will this take to heal?
When will I peel back
The crystallized feelings
Finding a renewed, yet vulnerable
Heart underneath?