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15 November, 2015

The Space Between Awareness and Unconsciousness

Filed under: Life,Nature — Tags: — admin @ 8:53 am

This morning I awoke with some ideas about how I can develop something I am working on.  We are often aware of waking up, the gradual accumulation of senses bringing us slowly to consciousness, but not the other way around – or maybe that’s just me.  And yet, that area between awake and asleep can often be a very fertile area where our minds are free to wander, sometimes bringing us jerking awake with good ideas or, more often, just slipping seamlessly over into unconsciousness.  But how aware are we when we pass from consciousness into unconsciousness when we drop off to sleep?  Even if I try to be mindful of the slide into sleep, I just don’t notice it. Do you?

In fact, for me, the only time I can recall the slide is when I was fainting after severely bending back my thumb just before going on to play in a concert.  It was my own fault – a group of us (early twenties, – should have known better but still only playing at being grown up!) in a lovely village called Thaxted in Essex, which hosted (hosts?) an amazing music festival with superb soloists and an orchestra of young semi-pro players culled from the music colleges of London (although I hailed from the Royal Scottish Academy).

We had not been required whilst the Labeque sisters did an amazing duet stint, which was followed by the interval, so we had adjourned to the pub across the road and were playing silly jumping games over the churchyard wall which was just over knee high.  I was being slightly superior and not joining in whilst the lads did their standing jumps from the pavement over the wall, but goaded and cajoled, finally gave in to peer pressure, lifted my long skirt up to my knees and jumped.  It was a clear jump, but unfortunately, I was wearing heels (not a usual occurrence) and my weight toppled forwards.  I put out a hand to save myself but landed on my left thumb, bending it backwards beyond even its own double-jointed ability!  Oooooooh my word – the pain.

I was assured by the men present that it was similar to being kicked somewhere the sun don’t usually shine!  It blossomed like a hot, fiery flower, engulfing me entirely.  My vision turned into a red tunnel, then got gradually darker.  Once the lads stopped laughing and realised I was hurt, they hauled me into the vestibule of the church and sat me on a bench, head down between my knees.  Their voices seemed weird – a long way away and kind of blurry and muffled.  The interval was nearly over and they were wondering who they could tell and what would they do – I was the only oboe on my part and we were to play a Tchaikovsky symphony next.   I felt sick, my hand was a throbbing entity hanging off the end of my arm and my thumb was in its own kind of hell.  Somehow I managed to put my stoic hat on and a voice from the depths insisted I could play.  It was my left thumb, right?  I didn’t actually have to use it, did I?  It’s only the support for the instrument.  If I could rest the oboe on my knees, I could play, couldn’t I?

Well, the lads got me on to the stage and I sat down, with my oboe on my knees.  I usually play with a very upright stance – arms up, oboe just under a horizontal position – it suits my teeth and jaw shape, raises my rib cage and allows me to get a lovely tone – but this was totally impossible.  I had to hunch over, resting the oboe on my knees and trying to focus on producing any kind of sound!!  Thankfully on this occasion I was not playing 1st oboe, and Tim who was playing 1st for the day (who hadn’t been part of the madness outside) didn’t have a clue what had happened.  He was concerned because I looked a little weird (the cellists who were part of the possé said I looked green!) but as long as I could do the job, he didn’t want to know!  Well, it was a waking nightmare.

I played ok, apparently.  I don’t remember.  All I remember is the music looking a long way away, down this long dark tunnel.  I could only see a little bit at a time, and had to concentrate really hard to stay focussed on this tiny circle of music at the bottom of the tunnel and staying conscious.  I had to try to push away the awareness of pain and stay connected to that little focal area at the bottom of the tube.  I had to breathe and play at the right time, with the right notes in the right order and at the right dynamic.  Thankfully, I had played this particular symphony lots of times and knew it well.  And amazingly Tim, although casting anxious eyes at me from time to time, was totally unaware of the precarious situation I was in so I couldn’t have done too bad a job!!  The cello section kept one eye on me to see if I stayed on my chair as I swayed from side to side occasionally (or so they told me afterwards).  I’m sure if there had been time, there would have been a book on whether I stayed sitting or keeled over!!  Afterwards, they rushed over to me, packed up my oboe, and supported me to the car and drove me back to London.

That thumb took a long time to recover from its wrenching, and I learned not to give in to peer pressure and do something I thought was stupid in the first place!!  But I also learned that I could hang on to consciousness even when close to fainting because I was so determined, at least on that particular occasion.

It’s a weird place to be, between consciousness and unconsciousness.  My perception of time totally changed.  I can’t say exactly how, but all that existed was that small circle at the bottom of the long red tube, and the black notes that were all I could see in the small circle took all my concentration to keep in focus.  My perception of sound also totally changed.  I’d never heard Tchaikovsky underwater before, and probably never will again!!  It ebbed and flowed like tidal waves of sound, sometimes clearer, individual instruments and musical lines,  and sometimes more a wall of sound merging into a mush of aural movement.  And the pain.  That was like a living, breathing thing, changing in intensity every second, striving to take my awareness away from the little circle of notes, trying to compel me to fall into the embrace of the heat and pulse and shout of pain.  I was vaguely aware of feeling very sick all the time, but the focus of my concentration forced that to the background.

What a memory!!  Wow! And out of a single random thought this morning about where awareness and sleep align!!  So, what are your stories?  Are you aware of the boundary between consciousness and unconsciousness?  What does it feel like for you?

And, taking it back to where I came in, which is more fertile in your mental wanderings?  In the lull before falling asleep, or in the slowly arising consciousness of the morning?

15 March, 2009

Mindfulness Take 2

Filed under: Life,Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 10:25 am

You know how suddenly everything grows and puts on its coat of green?  Well this week in my corner of the world, spring has suddenly sprung.  Leaves are popping up all over the place, and suddenly the world looks less bare and forlorn.  It’s amazing how it happens almost overnight. 

Today on my walk, I decided to practise half an hour of mindfulness.  Boy, was that hard!  I decided to focus on listening to the sounds of nature and man around me as I walked because I thought that listening would focus my attention more powerfully than looking.  I was right about that, but had to keep metaphorically shaking myself to rein my thoughts back and just listen.  In a way, it was harder to do that than it was to spend time practising my oboe back in the day…. Practising the oboe required me to think in a disciplined way.  Listening to nature required me not to think – just to listen and appreciate the sounds I was hearing.  Not to think about them but just to note them.  It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but the experience made me determined that each day I must dedicate some time just to listening to sounds. 

We all listen to our minds constantly, and if you’ve the kind of job, or mind, that likes to analyse or imagine, then the time that we spend in our minds is massive.  I would say that the time I spend in my head is over 90% of the total time that I am conscious!  Yikes!  No wonder trying just to suspend thinking was hard!  It’s like being a tea-addict – it requires conscious thought not to go and put the kettle on for another cuppa.  But I would never have realised that it would require conscious thought not to think!! Hopefully practice will make it easier to do. 

On a slightly different vein, I bought my Dad a book for his birthday.  It’s called The Book of Idle Pleasures and is edited by Dan Kieran and Tom Hodgkinson.  Dad is trying his hand at this thing called retirement.  He’s a very young 79 this birthday and has been working 7 days a week in my brother’s company for the last 4 years.  It helped him tremendously when Mum died in 2007, but now is the time to rein back a little and only work for a couple of days a week so that he can begin to enjoy his time to himself.  To give him a little help and a few suggestions along the way, this book is full of short ideas such as ‘Reclining on Top Deck of the Bus’, ‘Doodling’, ‘Whittling’, ‘Lying in a Hammock’, ‘Walking Back Home Drunk’ – although I don’t think Dad will go for that last one, somehow!!  The contributors write for The Idler, a magazine ‘that celebrates freedom, fun and the fine art of doing nothing.’  Their reason for writing the book – “We want to comfort and inspire you with philosophy, satire and reflection, as well as giving practical information to help in the quest for the idle life”. 

Sounds like a great idea to me!

1 February, 2009

Zone Out

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Weaving — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 3:49 pm

One of the books I am reading at the moment is called 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life by Roger-Pol Droit. It’s full of different exercises you can try to see deeper than the surface of things.

The second exercise in the book – Empty a Word of Its Meaning – is one that resonates with me in weaving as well.   You know the kind of thing – keep repeating a commonplace word and it loses its meaning, or as Roger-Pol Droit puts it, “it detaches itself and hardens.”  He continues, “You find yourself repeating a series of strange sounds. A series of absurd and meaningless noises, that denote nothing, indicate nothing… “.  This happens to me especially during a boring meeting when someone is going on about a specific topic, and they keep repeating the same word. It just becomes farcical because the word becomes disassociated with what they are talking about. 

It’s a weird feeling when that happens – you feel slightly disassociated from reality and everything gets a bit surreal – but it’s kind of nice. 

This zoning out of surface reality happens to me sometimes when I’m weaving.  If I’m doing repetitious work that needs focus but not total concentration, such as weaving a predictable pattern that I’ve woven lots of times before (as I often do in weaving samples), I can find my mind going a little somnolent.  This is an interesting place to be in.  You are aware, but not totally focussed on anything external.  Your mind is in a kind of free-fall, your body feels a bit in limbo. 

It can also be a creative place to be.  When we are caught up with words relating to everyday life, we are pinned down in our reality, fixed to the earth with concrete meanings.  When we find ourselves in mental free-fall, we have the chance and opportunity to be incredibly creative, with the sub-conscious providing new associations.  It’s kind of like having a brain partitioned like a computer hard-drive.  One part does all the obvious surface stuff, the other is for another experience.  When I zone-out of surface reality, my mind pops into the partitioned section where words don’t exist and normal sensations take on a different quality. 

Have you ever wondered how it would feel to be an astronaut floating in non-gravity?  The lack of reference as to what’s up and what’s down, no gravity to root things to where they should be in our normal experience?  I think that’s kind of what must happen mentally when we zone out. 

As children, I think we are much more aware of this side of our personalities.  Imagination takes kids to all sorts of fantastical but relevant places.  Perhaps it’s something that we need to cultivate more actively as adults – to regain that slightly disturbing but ultimately exciting and freeing sensation .  As Roger-Pol Droit observes, “Just a few seconds are enough to tear that fine film within which we make sense of things, smug with the power of giving things names.” 

Whilst not everyone reading this blog will be a weaver, or like to weave repetitious samples, we can all play the repeating word game, and find that incredible space where reality is suspended……