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|St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC |
On 5th Avenue in downtown New York, there’s an awe-inspiring Cathedral by the name of St. Patrick’s. Upon entering one is immersed into a realm of breathtaking beauty beneath the Gothic spires and radiant sunbeams shining through the adorned stained glass windows. In the ‘Power of Myth’ Joseph Campbell
speaks about the experience of arriving to this place of worship and being stricken with a sense of timeless transcendence, yet, the moment one walks out the door, thrust into the busy, relentless aura of the city, this feeling of transcendence or wonder seems to all but completely evaporate. The question he asks, and that which we in the RGMS continue to ask ourselves today, is how does one take that experience from within the Cathedral, and carry it with them out to the world of everyday experience? It is not a turning away from the intensity of the city and running back into the Cathedral, but rather cultivating an ability to see the transcendence of the Cathedral within the seemingly chaotic and random environment of the mundane. Traditionally, religious practitioners have relied on prayer and mantra to transport their mind and soul back to these moments of awe and wonder when engaging in worship or faced with a difficulty. While these prayers and mantras have power, to some they may feel out of date or rather impersonal, perhaps even limited outside of a monastic practice; and furthermore, there are always new methods to explore and build upon in this experience.
Therefore, for those of us who wish to see the Cathedral in all experience or “To see a world in a grain of sand / Heaven in a wildflower / To hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And eternity in an hour” as William Blake puts it, we are called upon to revitalize and develop new methods of entering back into this state of timeless transcendence. In Meditation Objects, Supplements, and Sequences
, the repurposed recordings from nature placed in a context of a contemplative art may take us back to the Cathedral which was manifest in our experience of the sublimity of mother earth in the moments those soundbites were captured. The pieces of music that hold and display these awe-inspiring moments, may act as the scaffolding, which we can climb and wield to build the Cathedral within our own minds. Cultivating such methods or heuristics, which may act as a scaffolding to arrive at that state of wonder is at the very core of RGMS. By advancing a personal and collective symbolic language through which we can reflect on our own music, the work of others, and our experience, we can create pathways that continually guide us back into the halls of the Cathedral to achieve a vision of the timeless transcendence in all things.
The richness of a piece of music, and symbolic interpretation is truly in its dynamic nature. It affords us not merely one singular objective analysis or perspective, but rather an infinite possibility of deeper meanings arrived at through the intermingling of the personal psyche and the essence of the art, experience, or event. These symbolic meanings need not have any objective significance, by virtue of their ability to confer a benefit to the understanding of oneself in a greater context, instill deeper meaning, and illumen a sense of awe-inspiring wonder, they are the spirit of all that is good and beautiful in this world. They speak to us from a realm beyond ‘this’ and ‘that’ and welcome all to see.
|St. Patrick's Cathedral|
To better understand the benefit in cultivating this symbolic language, let us take the example of the Buddhist monk, who in an interview after the destruction of his monastery by the Chinese Communist Party was asked how he felt about the situation. His response, while rather surprising to the interviewer, perfectly illustrates the understanding of symbolism the RGMS strives to promote. Despite the seemingly unprovoked nature of this cruelty on the part of the Chinese, this Buddhist monk expressed no anger or condemnation of such actions; rather, he conveyed an enlightened understanding for the actions of the Chinese as part of a greater structural unfolding underlying the way of the world. This response articulates a true understanding of the symbolic nature of events; instead of lamenting about the suffering clearly brought about by the experience, the monk chose to view the occurrence through a greater cosmic perspective, one which understands the impermanence of all things and the alchemical dynamics of the universe. From this perspective we might perhaps see that the Chinese invasion, while devastating in a material sense, sparked an awareness in the collective consciousness of the beauty inherent in the Tibetan Buddhist practice. Not that this awareness didn’t exist before, but through the resulting rallying cry to ‘Free Tibet’, many people who may not have encountered or engaged in this culture now were presented with an impetus to explore more deeply. Thus, seen in a greater context, this event catalyzed the integration of Tibetan ideas of the cosmos into the minds of many non-practitioners and Westerners, who might not have delved otherwise.
This symbolic perspective is, however, not limited to greater collective events, but may be applied even to the most mundane of experience. It is the lens of understanding found in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which we now strive to sow into all happenings of being. In a more microcosmic sense, allow me to illustrate a personal example of the power of this symbolic mindset. In my journey across the great North American continent to commence studies on an island off the coast of Western Canada, just before crossing the border from the United States side, I stopped in Seattle to visit a friend. While there, my car, which contained all of my belongings, was broken into. Strangely, almost all of my valuables and numerous instruments therein were undisturbed, rather the transgressors opted to plunder only the suitcases, which contained my wardrobe. Rightfully so, I could have become enraged by this injustice, especially after having come so close to my destination on such a journey, however, this emotional perspective, while completely valid, often veils our minds to seeing the symbolic significance. It was at this moment, I realized I was being called to reorient the manner in which I presented myself to the world. Clothing, while superficial to many, is nonetheless particularly indicative of the impression one wishes to communicate to others. Therefore, I understood this experience symbolically as a psychical message that my innermost being and how I wished to be perceived was not being reflected in the way in which I presented myself. Thus, I had to start from square one and bring these two expressions into alignment.
The power of integrating this symbolic perspective demonstrated by the monk and advanced within the RGMS, is quite beautifully articulated in a passage by the British philosopher Phillip Sherrard, speculating on the deeper meaning of the Fall from the Garden of Eden found in the Bible:
"The Fall may best be understood not as a moral deviation or as a descent into a carnal state, but as a drama of knowledge, as a dislocation and degradation of our consciousness, a lapse of our perceptive and cognitive powers—a lapse which cuts us off from the presence and awareness of other superior worlds and imprisons us in the fatality of our solitary existence in this world. It is to forget the symbolic function of every form and to see in things not their dual, symbiotic reality, but simply their non-spiritual dimension, their psycho-physical or material appearance.
Seen in this perspective, our crime, like that of Adam, is equivalent to losing this sense of symbols; for to lose the sense of symbols is to be put in the presence of our own darkness, of our own ignorance. This is the exile from Paradise, the condition of our fallen humanity; and it is the consequence of our ambition to establish our presence exclusively in this terrestrial world and to assert that our presence in this world, and exclusively in this world, accords with our real nature as human beings. In fact, we have reached the point not only of thinking that the world which we perceive with our ego-consciousness is the natural world, but also of thinking that our fallen, subhuman state is the natural human state, the state that accords with our nature as human beings. And we talk of acquiring knowledge of the natural world when we do not even know what goes on in the mind of an acorn."
The question still beckons though, on how we might be able to incorporate this symbolic perspective into a musical context. For that, I would like to explore a piece by Alio Die by the name In the Labyrinth Garden from the album ‘Horas Tibi Serenas’
. At the onset, we are presented with a wandering, but memorable melodic theme, which is a composite of many delicately interwoven parts. This beautiful phrase lilts about for some time garnering adornments and embellishments and merging with lush soundscapes of nature. Very gradually then, and rather unnoticeably, the identity of this theme begins to become obfuscated and morphs into a realm of textures and scattered embellishments. This sonic landscape ebbs and flows about for sometime, like the pathway through a Japanese garden. Then suddenly, the enchanting theme reappears. This moment almost comes as a surprise, since by virtue of its gradual disintegration one hasn’t consciously processed its absence. Upon reflection and analysis, however, one realizes that the content of this theme never actually disappeared, only its parts became scattered and unaligned so that what we heard as meandering textures was actually just the unweaving of this multi-component theme. The symbolism of this unfolding structure in this piece most directly lends itself to the newsletter at hand. The beautiful theme is like the Cathedral, through which we find ourselves carried off into a timeless transcendence. Then gradually as the theme becomes obscured, we withdraw from the Cathedral and move into the realm of seemingly chaotic movement, which we can only perceive as textural, unable to identify any of the patterns, which gave rise to the melodic movement or Gothic spires in the Cathedral. When suddenly, the theme reappears, through reflection we realize that it has in fact never left, only been scattered. Similarly then, we may recognize that the patterns of the Cathedral, which evoked that sense of wonder and awe, were and are in fact still present in all the seemingly random movement of the city outside its walls and stained glass windows.