Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The ever-changing path of life....labyrinth style...

In June 2014 a group of friends and I put a classical "Chartres' labyrinth on the land here at Tree House. I then put the information about it on the World Labyrinth Locator webpage. And this morning, just as I am about to move from Tree House, there was a message on my answerphone from someone wanting to come and visit it... How typical of life! The first person ever to ask through this site, and it's covered in weed and not going to be here much longer!

So, as it was sunny this evening, I walked the labyrinth. I say 'walked it', for I - more correctly - gingerly stepped around in the grass and weeds, walking it more from memory than from seeing the path before me....

....which is so like life, isn't it?

I found a stone sitting in the middle of the path, nowhere near a space of a missed stone, so I picked it up, and found myself aware of how it will be nice to take this stone with me to the next house; a reminder of how a plan can come to fruition, and often in the most unlikely of times... To build a labyrinth had been a long, even if not understood, dream of mine, and in 2014, here at Tree House, it happened. So, take this stone and remember never to give up on dreams....

And then each step again gave me reassurance about life: in one part of the labyrinth the path was almost obliterated by weeds and grass - only my toes cautiously feeling out the track giving me any hint as to whether I was to turn 180 degrees on a switchback or to keep moving forwards...

Another part was exactly as I would wish the whole labyrinth to be; stones nestling lightly and visibly amongst smooth, low-growing moss - easy to see where to walk, and soft underfoot...

Then, almost immediately, there was the path, but with the early growth of fierce nettles beginning to fill it... And bramble strands ready to catch in my feet and trip me up....

A little further on the track was visible, but I had to step over large clumps of grass - grass which didn't want to depress under my step, instead to try and turn my ankle if I stood on them... Demanding, disempowering....

And then centre circle, the smooth egg-shaped stone still visible under the new spring growth, but this time of young foxgloves promising an abundance of tall, striking spikes of purple within only a few weeks. Feeding-stations of a thousand bumble bees and other creatures. That the low young plants almost totally obliterated the small white stones placed there by many a labyrinth walker over the last 3 years didn't seem to matter; the messages on them had now vanished - soaked into the soil for ever - leaving their love to be un-removable by anyone in the future. Again, maybe I'll take one or two of these with me to honour and remember all those wonderful people who came to help realise the dream.

So, even 'messy and unkempt' - grassed over, nettles and brambles thrusting forth - the labyrinth still gave me its gift, reminding me of the path of life; sometimes smooth, sometimes easy, sometimes clear. And sometimes rugged, demanding, invisible - only trust taking me forward. Maybe this is the best labyrinth to walk - real, honest, and life-like.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Simple Piece of Music

The young woman walked quietly towards the piano - something tentative in her step, but also something deeply respectful rather than fearful in her movement. She took her seat on the stool, rested her hands in her lap and her eyes on the keyboard. Then her hands rose like two delicate moths and alighted on the keys for a moment before beginning to play. 

The piece was gentle, not of many notes, and had a dreamy feel to it - like smoke wisps rising and evaporating in autumn air. Her fingers moved softly over the keys, everything about the young woman seeming to be involved only in the wonder of facilitating sound from the wood, steel, felt, and ivory; a conversation amongst and a communion with them all. Anyone present was simply being asked to be a witness to the composer’s message, the piano-maker’s skill, and the wonder of hearing music.

A stillness fell in the room whilst she played; the simplicity of her playing seeming to offer nothing but the gift of a space for personal images and discoveries in the minds of those listening.

It was not a long piece - just two pages long - and it seemed to come to an end as quickly as it had begun. There was silence while, her foot on the sustaining pedal allowing the last sound to die away, her soft hands floating on the air above the keys.

A murmur of appreciation went round the room and a light applause. 
“You’re very good!” exclaimed one of the guests.
“Yes! You should make a recording!’ cried another.
A quiet mumble could also be heard... 
“Well, it was such a simple piece. She’s not that good - she even needed the music!”
“I know - bless her" came a reply. “She’s no idea how good good really is....”

The young woman stood up, having heard all the comments. She turned to the people present, winding her hands around each other in shyness as she bowed her head in acknowledgement of those listening.
“I’m not sure what you mean about good and not very good,” she said softy. “I love this piece of music very much and I wanted to share it with you to see if you liked it too. There are simple pieces, like this one, but which can still touch deeply - and simple is especially welcoming those for whom this type of music is unfamiliar. Then there are long and complicated pieces which need way more skill than my simple piece, but that I can’t play these is not because I am not good, or that I am bad. I just do not have the talent gifted to those who, even from the start, play at a level I would never reach even with years and years of study. My skills lie in a different arena to those of the talented pianists whose days are full of practise and performance, so the great big pieces are not for me to play. I enjoy playing music I can play, and I love this piece. I hoped you would hear only the sounds and not see me playing, because it’s not about me, it’s about the music. Please, the only thing I would like to know is whether the piece I played touched you, and if you would like more?”

The guests were silent - some smiling in appreciation of her brave honesty, some rather open-mouthed, but there was a poignant stillness in the room.

After a short silence someone spoke.
“I was touched, touched by your very presence at the piano...”
Then another, “I was touched too; the music calmed and soothed me.”
“And me - you took me to a woodland of my childhood, and I felt a tear in my eye at the end.”

One of those who had mumbled the judgement then spoke, somewhat hesitantly, as if weighing up each word...
“Thank you. Thank you for reminding me that music doesn’t really have anything to do with an impressive technique... Playing huge concerti might need all that, but music itself doesn’t. And that being touched doesn’t have anything to do with speed, agility, strength, volume, and certainly nothing to do with virtuosic gymnastics... It has to do with heart... In both the player and listener. With letting the composer’s voice be heard, whether their messages are short or long - I see now we need more of this ‘musical Haiku’, not ever more notes..... And about the listener’s mind being freed - even just for an instant - in the space afforded by the player.... You’ve helped me remember that each and every note I hear is a blessing; that if I knew I was to go deaf tonight, I would know beyond doubt that the notes you were playing were the most beautiful in the world. And that when I am in judgement of a player’s supposed ability, I miss the very reason they play; to reveal magic through music. To move me. To give a moment’s transcendence out of the melee of my life. And to offer me the opportunity to be touched - which I was. Deeply. Please, I would love to hear you play again - that piece, or another - so I might hear with fresh ears, without the stale habit of my judgements.”

The room was so silent the woman felt a little overcome. But she smiled and turned back to sit at the keyboard and play again.
“I don’t know anything else very well”, she said. “I’ll play this one again.”

As her fingers flowed over the keys, the room felt so different. The sound, reaching empty ears - ears hearing as if for the first time - seeming to have more space than ever to mix and meld, meet and ignite, play and create within each person....

At the end there was just a silence, one of awe and deep gratitude,. Then one voice, that of the guest who had initially grumbled, spoke softly...
“Thank you. Tonight I discovered how to truly listen”, was all he said. And all anyone in the room needed to hear.