September 20, 2010

The Art of Losing.... One Art by Elisabeth Bishop

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elisabeth Bishop


From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. A

September 05, 2010

How Music Heals Bodies and Minds: A Waltz on the Sublime Side

Duke Orsino:

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

Last week I went to the Proms with a friend. We perched high above the Albert Hall stage from the gallery looking down on the heads of the Minnesota Orchestra percussionists and the BBC Symphony Choir. The visceral thrill of this surging, pulsating music of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 – The Ode to Joy had everyone transfixed- and tapping out the rhythms as Beethoven himself did at its premiere in Vienna, 1824.  We experienced something larger than life, masterful, moving and euphoric - a definitive last statement on what a truly ‘great’ symphony ought to be. But the tapping got me thinking- how it is that music elates people  this way?

Ludwig van Beethoven
In popular culture, Beethoven’s music is forever fused with a personal experience of bliss. In the film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) Alex, the crazy droog, says of Beethoven: Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now. As I slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures!  It’s easy to see what he means – the rest of us struggle inarticulately to express it, ending up with the word ‘sublime’ –which is still somehow inadequate.

In Search of the Sublime
While memories of that film can be  attributed as much to Rossini’s ‘Thieving Magpie’ as to Beethoven’s Ninth, it was amazing to think that this incredible symphonic music came from the heart of a completely deaf person. If a deaf person can hear this symphony internally, I wonder what the rest of us, with fully functioning ears, are missing out on? When it was over, we agreed that this music really ‘lifts you out of the mundane.’  Yet, not every piece of music or art can do this. So what makes this different? How exactly does music transport us out of the ordinary self and into a lather of joy?

E. T. A. Hoffmann, the author and music critic found that only the concept of the ‘sublime’ could express what Beethoven delivers. This notion was at the heart of Romanticism. Beethoven was to Hoffman, the sublimest of composers. Not only does his music induce ‘terror, fright, horror and pain’, it also ‘awakens that endless longing which is the essence of romanticism.’  Plus, it ‘opens the realm of the colossal and immeasurable,’ and ‘leads the listener away into the wonderful spiritual realm of the infinite.’  Think he means that ‘shivers-down-the-spine’ moment in the presence of something beyond our small selves. The Ninth has it in spades: the shuddering, chugging repetitions, the surprising, yet satisfying contrasts, the sudden chord shifts, the sheer immensity of the conception, the logic of the development towards its grand finale. You don’t need flying shoulders to bolster your altitude with this music- it hits the high water mark, bang on.

Music Boosts your Immune System
It is no surprise then that music can be used as your own ‘happy trigger,’ a kind of euphoria stimulator. It is another healer, like any art form. At the very least, it leaves you feeling pretty good, but it can even boost your immunity. It is personal what will work: what one loves another detests with a vengeance. So, choose wisely. Beethoven doesn’t always soothe you - the Ninth  Symphony thrusts you on a roller coaster ride.  It  does, however, stimulate the ‘feel good’ centres of the brain, close to ‘food’ and ‘sex’ ‘chocolate’ and ‘chilli’, as studies at McGill University, Montreal have shown. In these stressed-out times, these are the happy buttons we need to press more often, so they can light up our lives. Let music, as Shakespeare says, be your ‘mind’ food- but then remember -  we are what we eat.

The ‘Not-Just’ Mozart Effect
Einstein loved his Mozart - it helped him to think more creatively.  Some argue that Mozart has overtaken Beethoven as the world’s most adored classical star composer, but I would say, what about Bach? Vivaldi? Monteverdi? Chopin? Wagner? Just name your own. It should not matter who is tops. It doesn’t have to be classical either to move you. People can reach it copying dance moves from a Britney Spears or Rihanna video. It could be hard rock, electronica, trance dance, even punk, though ‘rock’ is said to increase the appetite, and classical reduce it. Music has even been used in psychotherapy to treat different diseases, and mental disorders, not far off what was intended for Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Some Tube Stations in South London, classical music is piped through the PA system, perhaps to offset rising public discontent. Shops have known this secret for years. In Don Campbell’s The Mozart Effect (1997), it proposed that fifteen minutes of Mozart was alleged to influence and improve intelligence, memory, cognitive, spatial abilities and word recall. This is said to work whether you like classical music or not. While I’m sure Mozart works a treat, Beethoven might be brought in when big guns are needed - or to reach the parts other musicians can’t. 

Music has been used to treat autism, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and even epilepsy.  Specific compositions, and even movements, are known to be effective with different illnesses. Music by Scarlatti, Corelli, Telleman and Albinoni are good for clarity of mind; Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries are good for releasing anger. Let despair trouble you no longer; just immerse yourself in a few Beethoven symphonies, especially Symphony number 5, parts 3 and 4; the Pastoral No 6, parts 4 and 5; and the unmissable Symphony Number 9 grand finale, which, based on Schiller’s poem, helps to worship at the altar of Joy. Fully engaged listening can help trigger your new neural network designed just for joy instead of the one that leads to depression. Bulgarian psychologist, Georgi Lozanov did much the same with his theory of Suggestopedia, a technique of enhancing learning, which is about attitude not aptitude, by utilising background music to create positive moods. It has been used in classrooms now for decades.  

Don’t even imagine either that this is all new-fangled science and can be dismissed easily - knowledge of the healing powers of music goes way back to the first mystery schools of Pythagoras and Iambilichus. Shamans from many cultures have always known how certain sounds resonate and are able to heal. 

Making your own Music
Even so, some critics have scoffed at the original tests that proved the Mozart Effect and spotted the flaws. It could have been other things that boosted intelligence, not the music, they suggested. Further testing and research was not conclusive. However, it did prove that actually playing music by far has the most ‘measurable’ effect. Thanks to brain mapping and imaging, we can pinpoint larger areas of grey matter in musicians than in non-musicians. It resides in the right auditory cortex. Practising chords and pulling a bow across strings flexes a muscle in the brain others might leave unused. Long term practice may have an impact on intelligence. 

We should conclude then that to make your own music is better than listening to it. Yet, If brain rehearsal theory is valid, then just watching someone play the violin might have impact. If you act out all the movements as well, it might give you a similar effect as playing it? This is good news for the non-musicians among us. This is a concept  of 'acting out' used a lot in hypnosis. Thinking makes it so, and many difficult issues are resolved by brain rehearsal in everyday trance.  It is also a way of making your own sweet music so you can dance to a different tune, and make relevant and lasting changes in your life. 

How to Make Music Work For You
Here are some tips for getting closer to music, for expanding its impact in your world:
  •  Prepare to listen by removing surrounding clutter- free up space.
  •  Sit very quietly and still so as to ‘receive’ the music.
  •  Lose yourself in the music; become absorbed in it totally.
  • Drum away on the balustrade or kitchen table by all means-even hum along ( just not during a public performance please). 
  •  Switch lights off to darkness when listening and imagine being blind. What does the music make you see?
  • Watch music performance on TV on ‘mute’ - TV performance with the sound off and imagine being deaf. What do the images make you hear?
  • Watch the orchestra conductor’s movements and copy-  act them out. You’ve seen Heavy Metal air-guitar players do it. How does it feel?
  • Tap out the rhythm on your fingers - nice bit of emotional acupuncture here, like EFT, attuning to the vibration
  • Imagine being the composer. What would you do differently?
  • Have fun

The Four Last Songs  by Strauss
Richard Strauss
Tonight I’m listening to one of my favourites- the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss sung by Finnish soprano, Marita Katilla, again at the Proms. It’s the Berlin Philharmonika conducted by Simon Rattle. It is top class - not bad for only £5 at ticket. I’m not a classical musician, but you don’t have to be to fully appreciate this exquisite floating, nostalgic, poignant composition. It sends its own supremely contemplative message melting from the beyond back into life. Beethoven himself said, ‘music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.’ I suspect that he was just telling it like it is. Philosophy is a tangled mess - both compromised and constipated by the limitations of language. Music leaves words way behind. Yet the combined fusion of word and music, like oxygen feeds fire, magnifies the impact.

The Four Last Songs do this blending of orchestra and singer perfectly. They are meditations on mortality from the poems of Hermann Hesse who was anticipating his own death, in the third one, Belm Shlafengehen:
                     And my unfettered soul
                    wishes to soar up freely
                   into night's magic sphere
                  to live there deeply and thousandfold.

My tastes are so catholic they go beyond any are tribal allegiances to particular genres; there are dozens of moods that elate and excite; this happens to be just one; but to my untrained ear Strauss captured something vibrant and magical;  these songs come close to expressing an almost inexpressible feeling, of longing for death, of greeting it kindly, calmly, even cheerfully - and we all may need that.  

Let us hope that with the help of Beethoven, Strauss, or other music of our choice, we are  gracious enough to do likewise when we reach that moment. 

© © Kieron Devlin, 2010, all rights reserved.

August 20, 2010

How to be positive while still being negative: The positive power of negative thinking: Part 1

Not everyone believes in a one-size-fits-all Smiley face universe. Some have a strategy of focusing on all the terrible things that might happen in order to make it turn out good.  Their logic goes: if I think of the worst before it happens, it will prevent it happening. Therefore, the goal is good, and it is what saves them. Only the method is a bit twisted.

For me, thinking the worst just leads to the bad being amplified to the power of ten; yet, in theory, the principle of harping on the negative might have something going for it, if practised with skill. I have encountered people who swear by their lives does work for them. It’s worth the benefit of a little doubt, if only to glean whatever insight there is to be had. 

There are many facets to consider before you decide which side of the positive/negative spectrum you fall. The first being that supposing that there is only a positive-negative binary opposite can distort the clarity of the picture. After all we know that within pain-pleasure, good-bad, male-female spectrums, there are also many shades of grey. These word opposites are clumsy, but for now language is the most convenient tool.   

Let’s say for the sake of argument, that you can be a right old contrarian to your heart’s content.  It could even be fun. Growing old always seemed to confer the right to be as cantankerous and bloody-minded as ‘nan’, the cockney granny in the Catherine Tate show.   But young people too can be elegant contrarians.  According to Dr. Rorem, author of The Positive Power of Negative Thinking (2001), this method of visualising that you’ll go blank in an important presentation, that if you get on a plane, it is bound to fall out of the sky, is a ‘defensive pessimism.’  Most people recognise this feeling, but just how constructive is it? Rorem suggests that it is a valuable adaptive mechanism.

If you feel you are one of those people, a genuine contrarian, then you will well know what agony of fun it is to resist the tide, and go against others and visualize the worst.  Let the positive types be as foolish as they like, blithely ignoring what could go wrong. If you are not sure where you stand, you can take Rorem’s  QUIZ  to find out your score.

At least this approach does not try deny that the anxiety is there, or go into an orgy of ‘you damn well should be positive’ and ‘thou shalt be upbeat’. It might just be an idiosyncratic personalized protection strategy. But I wonder how effective it is at unlocking people from their imaginary shells.  Neuroses come in different coloured packages- this one is marked  ‘ultra safe’. 

It is true that too much of a good thing can be wonderful, it can also be a bore.  Aldous Huxley warned in Brave New World (1932) that a culture that tries to impose happiness on everyone is doomed to cause havoc. If the search for happiness is based merely on aversion to pain and blindsides diversity and variety of feeling, it can eliminate what it means to be human. Not that this would stop the let’s-all-be happy brigade from trying.  

Being able to see the positive in the negative might strike some as absurd and even a dead end. Yet, it is a valuable skill if we can be bothered to learn it. It helps here to attempt to understand the principles of the Tao.  If the world is divided into contrary but complementary elements: Yin, the receptive, and Yang, the active, each element contains and embraces its opposite, while forming a third energy. The world is interface between the extremes which oscillate and integrate back and forth. They are there for a reason.  Seasons and cycles alternate, you wait long enough, the opposite aspect becomes prominent. It's a self balancing, self correcting system. 

That’s why, though often overlooked, being patient can prove successful in the long run.  Wanting what you want when you want, can cause suffering. Yet suffering is a vital part of the picture, helping us to understand what it is to be alive.  So too with the negative and the positive attitudes. The negative then is the positive in waiting, the positive, the negative is ready to burst through. We need them both to survive and enjoy 'difference'.

However, I would say that if strategic pessimists were in control, designing our utopia, they would as in Brave New World have us all inhabit their hell, without a glimmer of the good stuff. This drive to be negative tendency can easily rationalize the behaviour, entrenching them in the habit of feeling unhappy because separate from the world.  I for one would join the happy brigade in a negative dystopia.

In a recent interview, writer Adam Haslett, an American who was brought up in Oxford, said that, ‘in the USA, I’m a pessimist among optimists, but in the UK, I’m an optimist among pessimists.’ Having lived in both countries I have to agree. By rights I should belong somewhere in the mid Atlantic.  The attitude you have can place you in between the usual. The spectacles you wear are relative to your social conditioning.  British people could do with daily doses of positivity and, for Americans, a dollop of pessimism now and again to temper their Pollyannaish behaviour wouldn’t go amiss.  Funnily enough, it was an American, Ambrose Bierce, who penned the most scathing definition of optimism as ‘the doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly.’ People like Bierce were probably the leading constructive pessimists of their day by Rorem's definition.

Ultimately, whether we are pessimists looking only for the difficulty in every  opportunity, or optimists looking for opportunity in every difficulty should not matter at all, as long as we oscillate enough to appreciate the variety in it all.

There is so much more to say on this topic. In Part 2 of this post,  we'll delve even deeper into the role of therapy,  dark humour, and the brilliant uses to which unhealthy disappointment can be put.  


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August 10, 2010

How Trauma is Released Through Art: Roman Cieslewicz Posters Retrospective

Roman Cieslewicz

The Healing Power of Posters by  Roman  Cieslewicz, a Retrospective, Royal College of Art, organised by the Polish Cultural Institute.

If anyone needs evidence  that art can heal old wounds – the theme of this blog – all they have to do is look at a few film posters. 

Who would have believed that posters helped people, perhaps even an entire nation, Poland, to adjust to their overlords, the Soviet Union, in the last few decades of the 20th century? 
Roman Cieslewicz (1930-1996) was an artist with a steadfast vision who combined visual wit with stark disturbing imagery that transfused angst into eloquent visual communication. His skill juxtaposing images, words in startling combinations, using a simple cut and paste collage technique is extraordinary. Even today we might look twice at these memorable, even scary designs. It does not surprise me to find that these images expressed people's innermost conflicts and feelings. So, while his work teeters on the edge of disturbing, nightmarishly surreal, it is also revelatory, with hints of grim humour.   

Roman Cieslewicz
Karl Gustav Jung had great foresight in putting art at the centre of psychotherapy which was highly unusual at the time - the early 1920s - yet his understanding of art has since borne great fruit, spawning the field of  art therapy. One of Jung's key ideas was that it is the power of the unreconstructed image alone that heals. That it simply appears in your mind at any given point of your life should be honoured. That is its visual language. Whether it morphs or not after that is immaterial. The image resonates like sounds vibrate.

Roman Cieslewicz
Some might argue that harping on images of conflict, pain and trauma, the split self, opens itself up accusations of obesesing with the negative.  These are after all the materials thrown up by the dark recesses of our minds.  I would say that if it's done badly, perhaps, but, ultimately: great art is never depressing. Quite the opposite, it is cathartic and quite good for us, like a lot of things we don't like.  It is also what you do with it that counts.Cieslewicz also used a mirroring technique but his posters seem to well up with a self conscious dream like quality that echoes Surrealism.  Should we therefore look away or look more closely to come to terms with the uncomfortable? Is it better to paint pretty flowers and trees or paint the otherwise inexpressible stuff that constitutes the the psychodrama of self? I think you know the answer.  Both are needed.

Roman Cieslewicz
This exhibition of posters at the Royal College of Art is a reminder  that some artists characterize an attitude of grim survival which seems very 20th century to us now, although we are still not free of oppressors. Poland was under Soviet rule when Cieselewicz did his early work. Later,  in Paris, his work exhibited a more sophisticated Pop Art element.  These posters demonstrate the livid, torn, and mirrored faces. His poster for Dziady (1967) a play with political overtones at the national theatre, expressed the profound pain and anguish of a repressed people. Thus a sub text emerged.  The image of an encrusted man with his heart and soul frazzled  to the empty core came to stand for David versus Goliath - Poland against the Soviet Regime. People knew what it meant deep down.

Roman Cieslewicz
The need to understand why disturbing work is necessary is still relevant today. We are still in need of imagery that sublimates both inner and outer conflict. To overlook art's purgative function might just be throwing out baby with bath water. 

That great art is cathartic goes some way to explaining why we love to see tragedies played out over and over in Operas and great dramatic plays like Hamlet and MacBeth. In seeing that the fates of opposed characters can be locked in battle in such a way that the inevitable happens follows a logic way beyond just being nice. The resulting work, the dramatic clash can ennoble and enhance our knowledge of who we are. To turn away from what scares us dooms us to forever repeat it.

According to Friedrich Nietzsche, the proper way to view art was like the ancient Greeks who transformed disease into great beneficial forces. Their secret was to honour illness like a god.

Art approaches as a saving sorceress, expert at healing. She alone knows how to turn these nauseous thoughts about the horror and absurdity of existence into notions with which one can live’. ( The Birth of Tragedy)

Roman Cieslewicz
Many recent exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection have given witness too show that it is people on the edge who are  possibly in the greatest need of art as the transformational tool. Yes, it creates powerful emotions and those are difficult to handle, yet, strange to say, it is by nailing the images that obsess  and confuse the mind that we can become free of the troubling emotions. 

This is true of all the arts from words to music. We have at our disposal the tool to transform our scary bits, reintegrating their scattered fragments back into a semblance of order and meaning.

It is this profusion that  heals..  Art is the soul’s medicine.

Roman Cieslewicz
16 July - 17 August
MON-SAT 11am - 7 pm
Kensington Gore
London SW7 2EU


Kieron Devlin

Next Healing Through Writing Workshop, Weds, October 27th at Moving Arts Base, Islington, N1

July 17, 2010

Followers for Algernon: Hypnotic Stories of Mystery and Awe

A candlelit reading of Algernon Blackwood Stories at Treadwells Book shop 15th July

Writers become forgotten when their work is misunderstood or misread or when tastes shift towards more obvious styles. But times also change, and we reassess the value of an author's unique contribution. There is a compelling case for rediscovering the work of Algernon Blackwood (1869- 1951) author of supernatural tales and undisputed master of the spectral atmosphere.

Blackwood’s appeal is not easy to pin down. His work is uneven; he didn’t write obvious schlock horror; there no things that go bump in the night, no head swirling demon possessions, not a droplet of  blood and gore; his work is a million miles away from Nightmare on Elm Street; yet it is intriguing and infinitely  more suggestive of other worldliness than other writers. His style is closer to the mystical, elemental and transcendental.  It is not plain horror then, or fantasy, but somewhere between, in the domain of mystery and imagination. Perhaps it is exactly because modern audiences have become so weary of having fears cynically manipulated by horror writers and filmmakers that Blackwood now seems so fresh and untainted by formulaic shocks in eerie darkened corners. All the same elements are there, but his style is thankfully too subtle and multi-dimensional to ever be given the ‘shudder mongering’ Hollywood treatment, though shudders there are a plenty.

So this reading of excerpts from Blackwood stories by Mike Daviot at Treadwell’s (15/7/10) was a timely reminder to me of a talent for delivering word by word a hypnotic reading trance that allows us to feel spine-tingling awe and sense of mystery. Christine Oakley-Harrington who runs the shop has done a fine job of bringing these half-forgotten authors to a new public. The location was the haunted basement below the shop. Christine said if anyone present could determine that the ghosts had gone, she’d love to know. Nothing visible showed up during the reading, alas, at least nothing that was able to swallow the candle smoke or make any noises. Daviot luckily had artificial light to help him read, and there was noise enough from the street, but I fancy any spirits present were listening to Blackwood's tales just as we were.

Daviot read well, I thought, much better than some of the Libri Vox  public recordings online which often sound dry and wooden.He gave each phrase's nuance its due, achieving a clear tone. He added snippets of Blackwood's biography to well chosen excerpts. He is not writing a book on Blackwood, but I suggested later that he might. He read passages from The Centaur (1911) about O'Malley who was an alter ego of  Blackwood himself, following the call of the wild in his nature, seeing through the veil of nature on a trip to the Caucasus Mountains. Take this passage for example....

For the moods of Nature flamed through him-- in him --like presences,  potently evocative as the presences of persons, and with meanings equally various: the woods with love and tenderness; the sea with reverence and magic; plains and wide horizons with the melancholy peace and silence as of wise and old companions; and mountains with a splendid terror due to some want of comprehension in himself, caused probably by a spiritual remoteness from their mood...  (The Centaur,1911).

Daviot also read from The Psychical Invasion (1908) which was the spookiest tale about  Dr.John Silence, psychic detective.  The detective sits in a haunted room with Smoke his cat, and Flame, his dog. Both pets can see a creeping malevolent presence, and begin to go frantic, but the psychic physician cannot see anything initially.Then he is challenged to the very essence of his soul, but finds a way to overcome it. Silence was based on characters Blackwood met while he was in the Golden Dawn, yet the occult theme is tastefully drawn.

So where do you start the process of rediscovering this writer? There are dozens of stories. Most begin by reading stories such as The Willows (1907) and The Wendigo (1910) but there are many other stories that deserve attention. Luckily much is available online that might otherwise have gone out of print. While Blackwood sometimes blunders with remarks typical of the age, and even piles on details, he has continued to be included in major Horror and Supernatural anthologies, and is even regarded as a core influence on H.P. Lovecraft, it is fascinating to spot how prescient Blackwood was about subtle layers of consciousness a hundred years ago and how consistently he refers to this in his work.

It is worth noting the eco-mystical strain that also  suffuses stories such as The Man Whom the Trees Loved (1912). Trees become so actively alive that they threaten to take over an old couple's life. From the 21st century, we can understand how odd these views must have seemed to the Victorian era. We can see how much more vital this has become to be sensitively attuned to wind and woods, grass, trees, to the interconnecting consciousness that is a living organism. Gaia- that the earth is a self-correcting intelligent 'whole' organism is a theory now mostly accepted by world’s leading scientists. In novels such as The Human Chord (1910) The Bright Messenger (1921) he explored these and other notions, often peering way ahead of his time. 

When Mike Ashley decided to write a biography  Algernon Blackwood: An Extraordinary Life (2001) he found that Mr. Blackwood, an initiate of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, where his motto was Umbra Fugat Veritas - truth flees from the shadows- could blend into the background like a whiff of pale smoke. In fact, that’s exactly what he did on one of the first TV shows in 1949. His  last John Silence story A Victim of Higher Space (1917)  alludes to this ability. While Blackwood had friends such as W.B.Yeats, H.G.Wells, Hillaire Belloc, Edward Elgar, and many others, he was hardly ever mentioned by any of them. Most, if not all, records of him had vanished. Even in photographs or reports made for the government, he seemed to have stepped mysteriously into the background. He was a mystery man. His style reflects that perfectly, and who better than H.P. Lovecraft to divine the secret of Blackwood’s methodical style:

no one even approached the skill, seriousness, and minute fidelity with which he records the overtones of strangeness in ordinary things and experiences, or the preternatural insight with which he builds up detail by detail the complete sensations and perceptions leading from reality into supernormal life or vision. Without notable command of the poetic witchery of mere words, he is the one absolute and unquestioned master of weird atmosphere…(H.P. Lovecraft, Favourite Weird Tales,1930)

Followers for Algernon are sure to be on the increase: just pick up any  story – Mike Daviot recommended us The Doll (1946 ) on which many other ‘doll’ stories are founded, for starters, and just read on…and slowly allow the atmosphere to creep upon you unawares. He really does ‘glamour’ the reader, the way True Blood vampires can ‘glamour’ mere mortals and we go along for the ride as the effect is alluring, tapping into elemental energies which are ultimately magical.

Kieron Devlin

July 07, 2010

Devendra Banhart, at Koko, Camden

Catch my video of Devendra Banhart  here singing 'Bad Girl' at Koko, Camden, July 4th London, a winning performance, showing his  mellow wistful side. But it seems there are multiple facets to Devendra.

Is there any style he cannot do? Soft and Hard Rock, Folk, Jazz, Reggae, Ska, Accapella parody, acoustic, solo on piano, falsettos and warbles like Bolan though he's toned down the Bolanesque throat warble these days.  Big highlights were when he sang two of my favourites: 'Seahorse' and ' Rats'.

He showed off -but in a nice way- this beguiling eclecticism and  versatility. This guy can sing, rap, play, curse, kiss the audience AND tune his guitar all at the same time, plus he has a great line in witty banter  ( I wanna feel the heat with somebody + Boom there it is) aimed directly at the heart of the audience. He even sang a surprise bonus - a rollicking version of Taylor Dayne's 'Tell it to my Heart'...'wanna feel my body rock.Tell me I’m the only one. Is this really  love or just a game?  Tell it to my heart. I can feel my body rock every time you call my name.  '  Funny how there was not one person in the house who didn't know ALL the words to this song. 

Thus it was that Devendra rocked Koko; he delivered the goods- with star plusses.  But his quirky songs with weird quasi mystical  lyrics are what endears him to us; as if he alone is in touch with the multi-verse,and this is what makes grown men in the audience shout out   'I love you Devendra'  without a trace of embarrassment, drowning out girls shouting 'I want your baby'.

What a humble chap too for one so talented. Smiling and patting his band mates on the back,even singing their songs. He praised the support act Rozi Plain from the 'bottom' of his heart, threw his body at the audience for multiple groping, and even invited some random guy  up from the audience to play his own song-  the bigger surprise was that it was damned good.  The guy was called Bert? He took Devendra’s guitar and played ‘I Love My Tortoise’, a soft acoustic Devendra-like piece of whimsy.  Surely it was all staged?  The line that got me as  ‘ I love you, but you’re not good for me.. This was more Syd Barrett than Devendra, if not a real Syd Barrett song. 

Devendra thundered back on stage and encored with a medley of ' I Feel Just like a Child' and 'Chinese Children' and, for that moment, we were all Devendra's  'wild- child' offspring.

I for one will be always eager to know what he gets up to next.


June 13, 2010

How to have Out of the Body Experience: William Buhlman OBE workshop, Italy

William Buhlman is one of the best known names in the world of OBEs (Out of Body Experiences). He's a pioneer in the field, and good at teaching the skill to others. So, to be at one of his workshops was fantastic - it allowed me to ask all the questions I wanted directly to the man himself. He doesn't often come to the UK- last time was six years ago - and he has no immediately plans to come here in the near future. He does however go to Italy, saying he resonates particularly with Rome, and possible past lives there. This workshop was at Le Querce Bianche near Treviso. .

Buhlman utilizes hypnosis to maximum effect, achieving a very deep level of relaxation, bordering sleep. This assists people to move smoothly into altered states of mind- the fertile platform for triggering OBES. His workshop activates all the ideas contained in his books '
Adventures Beyond the Body' and 'Secrets of the Soul' "are probably the most accesible accounts of non-physical experience available to date. Millions of people have had OBEs and NDEs ( Near Death Experiences) but a good number of people misinterpret their meaning.

What's good about these books is that they are not just based on his personal experience
though 'Adventures' is drawn from his own OBE journals, but they rest on massive research. The number of people responding to Buhlman's OBE survey has now topped 20,ooo! Respondees come from all over the world; the results showing that OBEs are a universal phenomena, irrespective of age, gender, class, religion or belief system.

On a personal level Buhlman shines. He's modest and committed- a great teacher who manages to make complex ideas simple without triviaizing their depth. Lucid and grounded, he stands tall and fit at age 60, and speaks straight from the heart, obviously passionate about his subject.

What you learn from his is that the biggest barrier to exploring beyond the body is our own fear. Developing a strong, flexible mindset, he believes, is probably the most important factor in achieving successful OBEs, allowing the mind to then open up to weird and wonderful inner dimensions. A good out of the body explorer is:

  • courageous
  • adventurous
  • fearless
  • open
  • goal-oriented
  • objective in recording experiences thoroughly

The tendency of some people during OBE practice is to be fearful that what's happening to them isn't 'normal.' Buhlman was great at calming such fears and clarifying that ' There are NO RULES -----Except to keep away from your body once you're out.' Anything goes because we are individuals and one OBE size definitely does not fit all. Different experiences just add to the richness and variety of OBEs. Letting go of emotional baggage, giving up analyzing, and dissolving fearful thinking can have benefits in any area of life, but when confronting the great mysteries of life beyond death, these actions have increased impact. It frees up energy to be able to shift dimensions more freely.

Most are afraid they won't be able to reconnect with their bodies, but to Buhlman, this is what keeps people trapped. They need to 'break the mould'. He has this amazing sense of courage to explore. He never fears alien entities, or malicious spirits, or possessions, as he says 'we are the most powerful creators in the universe.' It is our own minds that create the fears and phantoms in the first place. It is important to recognise this, and it is up to us to just take command. This kind of talk has made him an inspiration. He's working at the frontiers of consciousness, an explorer who challenges all the received and conventional notions of what is supposed to happen when we die.

He used his own hemi-sync style music to lead us into trance states, bordering sleep. Several key techniques were then introduced, including one from the Golden Dawn, and an ancient Peruvian Shaman Fire Ceremony where objects symbolizing habits were burned in solemn silence.

Over lunch, I talked to him about the few advanced I'd made with Todd Rout's workshops; also at discovering Jurgen Ziewe, author of Multi Dimensional Man who says that OBEs can be accessed through meditation. I said I'd used a lot of OBE techniques for a while, but still could not tell whether I was really out of body or not. Buhlman's view was characteristically direct: in workshops there is always an 'aura overlap', which could act as interference, so it was better to be in the secluded, individualized cabins at the Munroe Institute. He jested with me that in a difficult case like mine, I might need to be 'hit out with a hammer'. If so, Buhlman was definitely the hammer I needed- I could easily imagine him blowing things out of the water.

Paradoxically, being 'out' whether slipping out, or being knocked- Buhlman reminded us is a misunderstanding of the nature of OBEs. There is no 'out in terms of the higher consciousness- just as there is no 'up' or 'down' or linear time. The higher self is beyond such categories and measurements required by the physical dimension self. An OBE (a term that seems to have stuck) is really more of a transition of consciousness 'inwards' into layers of being. Going 'out' can be a useful, but largely metaphorical way of understanding this shift away from the physical body we are all so attached to.

Buhlman also said that in that workshop room, several -possibly hundreds- of spirits were listening in, to gain what knowledge they could to know what to do about the after death state. I did not even notice until someone who had photos of hundreds of orbs floating about like mushroom clouds at Ankor Wat, Cambodia, pointed out that there was one in my photo of the workshop room. I was astonished to see it there. The jury is still out on what causes orbs- dust specs and refracted light effects or wandering, nosy spirits?- but they certainly have a strange way of appearing sometimes, but not others, as if they are choosy.

People came forward with various odd experiences, and Buhlman took time to answer them all, so people went away satisfied- the workshop was a success, although with hard work ahead. If there is one motto, I'll take away from the weekend, it is 'Just Surrender' to the experience- it's all there waiting for you.

Kieron Devlin