the awakened ear

While the emphasis of this website and blog is on the visual arts, from time to time offerings of other ways folk attempt to express the direct experience of inter-being are included. (Haiku poets Gabriel Rosenstock and Ron C Moss, for example.) This is the first time I have featured writing about the art of listening with the entire constellation of cells called a body – a somatic listening from silence that erases the perceived separation between the hearer and the heard in the same way that the awakened eye erases the gap between the observer and the observed.

I know of no one more capable and qualified than Suprabha Seshan when it comes to speaking and writing of these things. Suprabha is an environmental educator and restoration ecologist living and working at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary in the Western Ghat mountains of southern India – a community that has been focused on plant conservation and nature education for 40 years. She is an an Ashoka Fellow and a winner of the Whitley Award, the top prize from the UK for nature conservation. I first met her at Brockwood Park School – she is an alumna of the Krishnamurti Schools – and later, on visits to the Sanctuary, had the delight of witnessing her relationship with her jungle environment. She is clearly a woman in her element!

 

Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

 

This post is a teaser of sorts – a sampling of excerpts from her article The Music of Everything – which was recently published in EarthLines Magazine. I hope you’ll click through to this page to read the whole piece, and see more of Meena Subramaniam‘s wondrous paintings.

 

Elephant, Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

 

I sing to elephants. It’s what I do. I sing because I like to, and because I believe my elephant neighbours are comfortable in my singing presence. I sing all the time, and it’s when I sing that I know more precisely how I feel. My own speech never does justice to my thoughts and emotions: always a little clumsy and coarse, somehow inadequate, and inexpressive. It’s different when I sing. My utterances are more in tune with my intentions.

I also sing to the langur across the river, and the whistling thrush when he graces this ridge where I live. I sing to treefrogs in the monsoon. I sing to hornbills when they swoop by, matching their cackles and caws, so they swing their heavy-beaked heads to look at me. I sing to hill mynahs all through the winter, my favourite of all musical pleasures. I sing to crows several times a day. As they increase in number in this once crowless place, signifying changes both local and global, the crows here hold lessons in ecology, as well as in musical discovery. As do the macaques, with their so-called commonplace behaviours, and commonplace sounds.

 

Meena Subramaniam - The Wood Life

 

To live for long years in a place works the body, the vocal chords and the mind in a specific and exact way. Epigenetics is real. We are shaped by our environment, by everything and everyone we touch and are touched by, as well as all the stories and messages passing through. The body receives, remembers and transmits, evokes meaning through its very receptivity and eagerness to relate. The jungle tom-tom beats daily, not as the stereotype of a dark man beating a drum to warn other humans of portentous events, but in the million messages, prompts and invitations that pack any column of air or ground. The land, the forest, this community are all abuzz with vibrations: little sonic ripples, and dances of molecules. The art of listening is to be open to these, to become aware and conscious of the effect of them on your supremely conscious body. For life (tissues, cells, organs, bodies and minds) is suggestible. And moreover, it suggests. Not just now and then, but continually, through touch, movement, speech and song, wave and particle. It is a fact that all living beings are tuned in.

It was in going to the wildest places on the land by twilight, and many times in the night, often by moonlight, when my eyes fell quiet, that my ears opened out and shot through a sonic barrier to confound the rest of me.

To experience directly without recourse to authorized systems of knowledge is to be adrift in the open ocean, no anchor, no bearing, no rescue ship in sight. To listen to the night sounds of the forest is a particularly disorienting experience. The ventriloquists are busy, the eyes are dimmed, and the cranium is resonant with its own music; but the main problem is in accessing any thread of meaning. When I fully experience this lack of meaning, when I am aware of my utter lack of comprehension, when I cannot find a single marker or orientation to direct my mind, I can feel the physical impact of every sound, and also of every thought.

Given time, and a settling down of our ideas and preconceptions, we would perhaps have recourse to that infant wisdom we all came into this physical world with, that rippling openness to all sensory stimuli, that vibrant sea of awareness in which every sound causes a unique impression in our minds. When one is rested in this, as little children are, a different depth of discernment is born, and the more direct it is to one’s own experience, the more subtle the discernment is.


Weaver Ant

How to hear an ant:

To hear them one has to be prepared to hear nothing, or what appears to be nothing, silence. One has to get past the tinnitus, past your baseline brain sound, past the wordstream, past the big sounds in the environment, past the littler sounds, then the fainter ones, and further, further and further, and still further, softer, quieter, until you go so far out and so far in, past the sound of the mist, past the sound of the sun, past the silence, past the confusions. Did I actually hear that, did that actually make a sound, did I just make it up, am I hearing what I think I’m hearing? Then you will hear the ant.

The Music of Everything


Painting by Meena Subramaniam – The Wood Life, acrylic on canvas

meenart.in


earthlines magazine


education for wholeness


 

I express my not-self

 

I don’t express myself in my paintings. I express my not-self.
– Mark Rothko

 

Mark Rothko: Orange and Yellow 1956

 

When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same, it is a time of tons of verbiage activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large, I will not venture to discuss. But I do know that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.

– Mark Rothko

1903-1970 – born September 25th


Gratitude to Luke Storms and Parabola Magazine on Facebook for these quotes from Rothko, and the image.


master of stillness

Vale, Jeffrey Smart – Master of Stillness
Born Adelaide South Australia 1921
Died Arezzo Italy June 20 2013

 

Words move, music
moves

Only in time; but that
which is only living

Can only die. Words,
after speech, reach

Into the silence. Only
by the form, the
pattern,

Can words or music
reach

The stillness, as a
Chinese jar still

Moves perpetually in its
stillness.

– T S Eliot, Burnt Norton, Four Quartets

 

JeffreySmart: Labyrinth
Labyrinth – Jeffrey Smart’s last painting

 

If a good painting comes off, it has a stillness,
it has a perfection, and that’s as great as anything
that a musician or a poet can do.
– Jeffrey Smart

 

Jeffrey Smart liked to compare himself to an old carpenter working away at his bench, an image that may seem surprisingly humble to those who knew him as an ebullient, witty and outspoken man. But he understood as well as Proust that the man and the artist are different beings; that the man can be garrulous, hilariously silly and take pleasure in superficial distractions, but the artist operates at another level, descending to a solitary and silent depth where the work of the imagination unfolds.

Those who have been to the house near Arezzo in Tuscany know that the short walk across the courtyard to the studio represented this transition from one world to another, from extroversion to introversion, from banter to concentration. “I have to go and paint a whore by the roadside now,” he observed to me as he took his leave from the conversation to resume his meditative labour.

It must have been this that Jeffrey missed most in the past year or two of reduced mobility, for the vocation of an artist is not one from which you can retire; the work at the easel is life itself.

Smart was a great Australian painter, but he was also an example and role model of how to be a great painter. The first lesson he offers us is the absolute necessity of following one’s instinct for what seems true and important, and not allowing oneself to be drawn by fashion into the vacuous and the derivative. The second is to find a subject substantial enough to sustain one’s interest across time, and to allow for development in depth without mere repetition. And the third is to evolve a working method that allows one to progress towards the realisation of inspiration in concrete form, to turn ideas and intuitions into pictures; and this where we must admire the devoted, stubborn, daily work of the old carpenter at his bench.

– Christopher Allen
National art critic for The Australian, and author of Jeffrey Smart: Unpublished Paintings 1940-2007 (Melbourne, 2008)
Read the full version Christopher Allen’s article, published in The Weekend Australian June 22, 2013 HERE

This page has links that will be of interest to those who would like more info on Jeffrey Smart and his work.


the soul of the whole

 

Photograph: Alan Larus

 

We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles.
Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE.

And this deep power in which we exist, and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson


Photograph by Alan Larus


the eyeless eye


slipping a gear into oneness

On one unusually radiant day, I took a walk up the burn above the house and into a steep-sided corrie.  It was sheltered there and magnificent – mountains on both sides, and below, tiny stands of water which looked like handfuls of shiny coins tossed down.  I sat on a rock and ate cheese sandwiches.

And there, quite suddenly, I slipped a gear.

There was not me and the landscape, but a kind of oneness: as though the molecules and atoms I am made of had reunited themselves with the molecules and atoms that the rest of the world is made of.  It was very brief, but I cannot remember feeling that extraordinary sense of connectedness since I was a small child.

– Sara Maitland © 2008

From A Book Of Silence
saramaitland.com

Source – http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/nov/08/sara-maitland-silence-addiction