Archive for December 29th, 2014

Call centre (for source of image see link)

Call centre (for source of image see link)

Recently I was speculating about what might be making it so difficult for me to spend time on renewing our insurance policies especially when I have to deal with a call centre. I cited five factors:

. . . . the threads involved so far as I’m aware at the moment: Death, Dough, Deadlines, Details and Displeasing people.

The ‘death-dough’ element related to the value I place on time rather than money, as a result of being born into a family still grieving for the death of my sister just four years earlier.

Recent experiences have convinced me that this is the one that counts and that working further on this is the priority before moving onto the other elements of detail, deadlines and displeasing people, whose contribution to my difficulty may be relatively low.

I follow Brenda Babinki’s blog. In October she posted an article entitled Teardrops. Basically it was quoting research that supports the idea that crying is healthy for most of us. (Incidentally, this idea gains further support from evidence suggesting that health benefits come from listening to sad songs.)

I couldn’t resist leaving a joking comment:

. . . . and just think what it’s like, on this tissue issue at least, to be a bloke! I am left at the end of some movies working out when to time my exit so no one can see the state I’m in, and during the film – well, the lengths I have to go to trying to pass off my feelings as a cold or an allergy attack beggar belief. Interestingly, until seven years after my father died and I attended an encounter weekend in London in 1974, I’d never cried since I was a child. I clearly have a lot of catching up to do even after all these years. Perhaps I should start listening to my favourite melancholy music again – Chopin, Schubert, Kate Rusby and Gerry Rafferty here I come.

In the same spirit she responded:

Oh Pete, I hear you. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for blokes, seeing as society has taught us all that boys don’t cry. Craziness! Put on the music played in minor keys and let the waterworks flow! We are behind you all the way.

Music and Emotion

It had been quite a while since I’d listened for any length of time to the music that I really like, as almost every note of it can be fairly described as melancholy to say the least. Such music resonates deeply with me, so deeply that I came to feel that it fed something morbid in me and, for a number of years, avoided playing it most of the time. I think this was an attack of the Lenin syndrome. Gorky describes it:

Listening to Beethoven’s sonatas played by Isai Dobrowein at the home of Y. P. Peshkova in Moscow one evening, Lenin remarked:

“I know of nothing better than the Appassionata and could listen to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps naively so, to think that people can work such miracles!”

Wrinkling up his eyes, he smiled rather sadly, adding:

“But I can’t listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. . .”

For source of image see link.

Janáček. For source of image see link.

One important name missing from the list in my comment above is Janáček, especially his intense Intimate Letters, which I listened to for many hours over many months at one stressful period in my life. It will take me some time before I can go back to that one: for similar reasons I have not re-read Dickens since I did so for the second time at the bedside of my dying father.

So, for these reasons, it was a relatively long time before I followed through with Brenda’s advice. Before I describe the insights that dramatically followed I need to add one more piece of context.

One day, sometime after this exchange of jokes, I mentioned to a dear friend my frustration that I had not experienced any significant dreams for months, maybe even a year or more. That very night, at some point, I found myself in tears praying intensely to Bahá’u’lláh for help and guidance. The dream seemed to last quite a long time and was so vivid it had all the force of a real event.

By the time I sat to meditate later that morning I had forgotten the dream – careless, I know, but if you don’t write dreams down at the time forgetting is the norm. It was only long after I’d listened to the music and gained the insights I’ll describe, that I remembered the dream.

As I meditated, the memory of the joke about the plan to listen to sad songs came floating back into my mind. I made a mental note to do exactly that later in the morning.

Even then I almost forgot to do so. I can’t now remember what reminded me yet again but something did, and this time I followed the plan straightaway. Boy, am I glad that I did!

The Sweetest Songs

I decided to opt for Kate Rusby. I have already blogged about her music and shared a YouTube track. This was in 2010. I quoted Shelley: ‘the sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought’ before explaining my view at the time:

. . . there is a link between poetry and both pain and joy. Moreover, pain, joy and empathy are linked, in my experience at least. We cry when we are happy and we cry when we are hurt and when I watch someone in tears for either reason I can feel my own eyes stinging in sympathy.

It was after this that I went through a very difficult period in my life and placed sad music high up my taboo list. I think, on reflection, that was a mistake. Here’s why.

I sat at my desk and scrolled down my Kate Rusby collection. I don’t have many – only seven albums and 86 songs. I homed in on three songs in particular. The first track was the one I included in my previous post: My Young Man. It’s a heart breaker in the voice of an aging wife, in a mining community, taking care of her dying husband. The next was I am stretched on her grave: I think it was songs like this that persuaded me my liking for the melancholy was morbid. Those keen to read the lyrics can find them at this link. The last one is Annan Waters, which I have pulled in from YouTube at the bottom of this post. (Incidentally, further exploration suggests that this track, and similarly charged music even when the tears are no longer flowing copiously, is spine-tingling in exactly the same way as following a guided meditation on becoming aware of awareness itself – see end of post at this link). It seems something important is going on that my verbalising mind can’t grasp yet.

Pool of Tears

I am still gobsmacked at the power of the pain they flooded me with on this first hearing.

I have dealt with this before on my blog, explaining the exact technique of continuous conscious breathing involved. I described an encounter group weekend in the early 70s when I first discovered the existence of such intense pain within me.

I climbed the steep and uncarpeted stairs to the therapy room on that first Friday evening with a degree of trepidation, my footsteps echoing off the walls. I walked through the door into a converted bedroom with a spongy covering over the entire floor. Spread around the room were countless pillows. There were about fifteen of us who would spend the entire weekend till Sunday afternoon breathing hard and pounding pillows with very little sleep until a small minority of us plunged through the floor to the basement of our minds to confront whatever demons had been locked away there.

Those with anger as the dominant emotion were the ones to pound the pillows most, often shouting out their rage to the person they’d been paired with for the purpose. Others, like me, who tried pounding the pillows hunting for anger but failed to connect, and who were completely unable to put any kind of label on the emotional quarry we were pursuing, spent a lot of time lying on our backs focusing on our breathing. Friday night was a disappointment. The rabbits of our primal pain were still deep in their burrows, silent and invisible.

Saturday was the day I dynamited my way into my basement. Suddenly, without any warning that I can remember, I was catapulted from my cushioned platform of bored breathing into the underground river of my tears – tears that I had never known existed.

It was an Emily Dickinson moment:

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge, . . .

I’m just not as capable of conveying my experience in words as vividly as she did hers.

Drowning is probably the best word to describe how it felt. Yes, of course I could breath, but every breath plunged me deeper into the pain. Somehow I felt safe enough in that room full of unorthodox fellow travellers, pillow pounders and stretched out deep breathers alike, to continue exploring this bizarre dam-breaking flood of feeling, searching for what it meant.

This seems a good point at which to pause before unpacking some further attempts to disentangle the meaning of all this.

Annan Waters


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