Words and music
Music, in one sense the most swiftly passing and intangible
of all mortal things, is in another the essence of the imperishable.
Since I was a little child, I have been a musician and a writer – caught in the spell of sounds and meanings – in the struggle and joy of the creative life. Words and melodies, rhythms and sonorities – these potent forces have shaped my life.
In creating form from words or sounds, in reading or in listening, we are lifted clean out of our ordinary lives, our greyness and anxiety, thinness and aridity. We enter a simplified world of times and sounds.
To be spellbound is not enough. Mere dreamlife finally turns sour, even evil. The creative act takes us into dream – but must finally shatter the spell. It must send us back out into the world with our eyes washed clean, with a new (and perhaps a chastened) sense of reality.
And so the enchantment of music and poetry has both its blessing and its dangers. Passing through a door between worlds, we find ourselves in a potent and mythical realm. We may lose ourselves, and struggle to return.
Or we may find liberation.
For many years I have been teaching piano-playing, enjoying the long, patient process of working with individuals, as they find ways to release the sounds they are listening for.
We are carried by a rhythmic line and a natural flow of musical self-expression; setting the imagination free, and letting go of habits of misuse which intrude upon a free and balanced functioning of the body.
Little by little, I have become very experienced in the coaching of performances, in helping a person relate to fear and to the presence of an audience.
Performances of all kinds are beset by entrenched feelings of inferiority and insecurity, which both feed and are fed by physical tension and imbalance. Such feelings tend radically to undermine our performances and our lives.
It may well be that the heart of coaching, whether of lives or performances, lies in bringing skill, sensitivity and imagination to the task of dissolving self-limiting social responses such as these.
In the past eighteen years, I have taught many groups and individuals the skills of close listening and experiential focusing (in its several forms).
I have studied the work of thinkers in (or close to) the Person Centred tradition, among them John Dewey, Jessie Taft, Carl Rogers, Virginia Axline, Gene Gendlin, Mary Hendricks, Mary McGuire and Ann Weiser Cornell.
I have studied directly with Gene and Ann, and with other gifted Focusing teachers, including Bebe Simon, and have been been closely associated for many years with the work of The Focusing Institute.
For more than thirty years, I have been absorbed in the study of Christian, Taoist, Buddhist and Islamic contemplative practice; and exploring different qualities of belonging and community.
I have noticed the liberating effects of transpersonal experiences.
I have tried to grasp the complex relationship between the search for a deeper sense of meaning, and the search for a wider, more inclusive sense of community.
Little by little we come to know ourselves. We are less anxious, less fearful. Our perceptions are less distorted. We are operating less out of fantasy, and more from a place of humanity, insight and compassion.
We are less self-absorbed; more sensitive to situations, more creative, more aware of the lives and feelings of others – and more at peace.
The need for dissent
I have read some philosophy since childhood, far more in recent years. In 2001 – 2005 I presented a series of residential summer schools on the philosophy of Gene Gendlin.
There is a psychological process by which a person comes to hold a belief. And there is what makes that belief true or false. The two are easily confused. Not all beliefs are true – nor will empathy make them so.
Truth remains an abiding, central human value.
As human beings, we are strong enough
to endure almost anything but burying the truth.
—Gerald Ford (slightly adapted)
I want us to think for ourselves; to judge from our own experiences; to reject the temptation to appeal to authority; to be aware that even our definite judgments may turn out to be narrow or mistaken; and to avoid taking refuge in obscurity.
I want our thoughts to be informed by our deepest feelings and sensual responses; by an openness to the spiritual dimension; by a vivid and tender responsiveness to beauty and the living world; and by a profound sensitivity to the lives and feelings of others.
The open space
My work as a teacher of experiential focusing is something I have come to, a meeting point of these central interests in my life.
We all have to live through times of transition. We develop and carry through our projects. We slowly learn to build mature and nourishing human relationships.
I try to remain faithful to traditions which have come down to us, since ancient times, from musicians, poets, artists, contemplatives, humanists, freethinkers, scholars and philosophers.
But what I do is different with every person. There can be no set plan. How could it ever be the same, when no two people are the same?
When I am teaching experiential focusing, I apply to ordinary life what I have learned whilst sitting beside a piano.
On a personal note
I have always been in love with mountains and forests, lakes and the ocean. I love to be in wild places. For a while I built dry stone walls.
I live in Glasgow, Scotland, with my wife, Joyce, and our son, Ewan. Our home is hard by a wood of oak, beech and pine, with paths leading down to the beautiful River Kelvin.