Satisfying Wanderlust even in Lockdown: “Trance Mapping” as fulfilling exercise routine for optimised mood

When we exercise, there is a release of the chemicals that encourage us to form a mental map of valued places, such as BDNF and dopamine. This makes total sense if you think about the evolutionary hunter-gatherer context, where extended exercise meant being out and about in the landscape, probably looking for food or finding the way home after obtaining food. That exercise should be associated with the chemicals that encourage the generation of new brain cells makes perfect sense – we ranged over vast areas and success was dependent on forming a mental map of useful places in that landscape, and of routes between them. So when we were exercising, our brains lit up.  

That the neurotransmitters associated with good mood were also mobilised by exercise and mental map-formation also makes sense. Predominantly the landmarks in these mental maps were places of positive association. Here, berries could be found. There, nuts were available. This place had a fresh water source. That place had fruit. And so on. Emotions are required for the formation of strong memories; that’s how our brains know whether something is important enough to commit to long-term memory. So to form these mental maps full of places of positive association, it was necessary for the neurotransmitters, hormones and endorphins of good mood to be mobilised when we were out and about, ready to assist with the formation of a sense of value for a particular place at a moment’s notice.   

There are two ingredients right there for optimal mood: movement and the construction and reinforcement of mental maps of places of positive association. If you combine physical exertion with the creation and reinforcement of the memory of the routes connecting valued locations, it’s very likely you’ll get a mood lift. Apart from anything else, you stimulate those positive associations and feelings. In fact, we’re kind of a shadow of a real selves without it, we need it. That desire to go walkabout has a name: wanderlust. 

And we discovered that we could put those two things together in a different ways and still achieve the same result of elevated mood. We didn’t have to be out in the vast expanses of the open plains. We could do it from the comfort of camp. The exercise could be in the form of dance, and the exploration of the landscape could be undertaken in the mind’s eye – a spirit journey. And so you get the trance dance. And it had its own place in the evolutionary journey because it kept us fit and helped reinforce our memory of the landscape, both of which had advantages. Trance dancing combined with spirit journeys is so ubiquitous in human cultures because it actually became a hardwired ability. And it still is. 

Nowadays, for a series of locations with positive association, we needn’t limit ourselves to places where edible berries grow. It can be something more subtle. It may just be a place you like for aesthetic reasons. You might just feel drawn to a place for some reason you can’t put your finger on. It might evoke some spiritual sensation. You might have developed a fondness for it because of happy memories of times spent there with friends or family. Or it could be that you’ve immersed yourself in the mythology of certain sacred sites. We have this ability to conceive of the landscape in terms of special places and the journeys that lead to them, with sacred sites joined by pilgrimage routes, songlines, ley lines.  

And here’s a pattern we can still follow:  

  1. First, explore the landscape, cultivating a sense of value, gladness, fondness, meaningful connection with sites within it, allowing a mythologised conception to develop. 

2. Then, develop a system of connectivity that joins these sites mentally. 

3. Finally, from the comfort of your home, dance to trance-inducing music and when the trance-joy starts coming on, let it expand by heading out in your mind’s eye to travel those routes around the landscape, visiting those valued places.  

The system of connectivity doesn’t actually have to consist of real-world routes – it can be an intellectual connection, such as a geometric pattern. The simplest example would be the straight line – as with a ley line – where an actual road or path does not exist but an alignment of sites does, whether or not there is any historical aspect to this alignment, or whether it is a charismatically romanticised coincidence – it works either way. More complex geometries can be developed too that allow the positive sense of value to resonate around the pattern.  

Trance Mapping is a practice in which I have developed a keen interest. The three blog sites I have on the go each deal with a particular aspect of it:

i) HowCurious! is primarily concerned with mythologised landscapes and schemes of interconnection that weave them into a unified plan.

ii) The Confessions of a Hungry Dawn Raver is all about an effective method for Trance Dancing without drugs (unless you count coffee).

iii) The Glory of Glad is focused on cultivating value, amplifying gratitude.

Put them together and you have Trance Mapping – a method for optimising mood so effective it can be thought of almost as a spiritual practice.  

The current situation at the time of writing – lockdown to halt the Coronavirus – might limit our physical exploration of sites out in the field, but it can be used as a time to focus on those trance dance spirit journeys. Dancing to trance music, you let the joy build and the normal thoughts fade away as you focus on the music, and then out you go in your mind’s eye. Don’t waste this time watching fitness instructors taking you through workouts on YouTube when you could be flying with the gods. 

There’s plenty more to read / see / listen to on this:

For an index of my explorations of mythologised landscapes, see here.

To look at a particular example that works up to a mythologised scheme for the entire globe, follow the chain starting here.

There’s a video that covers some of it here:

For a piece about my method for effective trance dancing, Hungry Dawn Raving, see here.

For a spoken word video of poem about Hungry Dawn Raving see here.

For a spoken word video of a poem reliving at rest the joy of expeditions, routes on maps, ancient sacred sites and wanderlust, see here.

And for a series of posts in how to cultivate gratitude by keeping a poetic gratitude journal, see here.

An English Ode – Video

That famous field where nodding poppies sway
In sunlit grass, where Souls of all the good
Spend sweet Eternity in dance and play
And with the gods, take Beauty as their food
Upon the isle across the sea
That circles all the mortal world
With misty waters like a castle moat –
How like must that famed meadow be
To these fair fields where late I’ve strolled
These hills and lanes, these woods, this very spot!

Was it vain pomp or blind naïveté
That made the folk of ancient Egypt style
Their image of divine Eternity
Upon their earthly land astride the Nile?
Where they might hunt in starry creeks
Beside the starry waterway
Or find in starry gardens sweet, cool shade?
Or likewise made the clan of Greeks
Use Grecian fields where grasses sway
As models for their paradisal glade?

But no, let neither supposition stand
I say, that it was rather that they paid
The greatest compliment to their dear land
When seeing Beauty there, “Divine!” they said
And so to English Summer Time
Such compliment I wish to pay
As will the praise of those old pagans match
The heaven forming in my mind
The isle to which I’ll cross one day
Has village greens and homes with roofs of thatch.

What’s Freyja’s meadow Folkvang after all 
Where valkyries take half the great and best
If not the field with rushes growing tall
Where Hathor greets arrivals in the West?
And what’s that place where Arthur dwells
Where all of Nature’s fruitful gifts
The generous soil untended freely yields –
That apple isle, which by their spells
Nine sisters shroud in faery mists – 
What’s Avalon if not the Elysian Fields? 

“An English Ode” – now with a fourth stanza

That famous field where nodding poppies sway
In sunlit grass, where Souls of all the good
Spend sweet Eternity in dance and play
And with the gods, take Beauty as their food
Upon the isle across the sea
That circles all the mortal world
With misty waters like a castle moat –
How like must that famed meadow be
To these fair fields where late I’ve strolled
These hills and lanes, these woods, this very spot!

Was it vain pomp or blind naïveté
That made the folk of ancient Egypt style
Their image of divine Eternity
Upon their earthly land astride the Nile?
Where they might hunt in starry creeks
Beside the starry waterway
Or find in starry gardens sweet, cool shade?
Or likewise made the clan of Greeks
Use Grecian fields where grasses sway
As models for their paradisal glade?

But no, let neither supposition stand
I say, that it was rather that they paid
The greatest compliment to their dear land
When seeing Beauty there, “Divine!” they said
And so to English Summer Time
Such compliment I wish to pay
As will the praise of those old pagans match
The heaven forming in my mind
The isle to which I’ll cross one day
Has village greens and homes with roofs of thatch.

What’s Freyja’s meadow Folkvang after all 
Where valkyries take half the great and best
If not the field with rushes growing tall
Where Hathor greets arrivals in the West?
And what’s that place where Arthur dwells
Where all of Nature’s fruitful gifts
The generous soil untended freely yields –
That apple isle, which by their spells
Nine sisters shroud in faery mists – 
What’s Avalon if not the Elysian Fields? 

The Mystic Revel Fades – As Sapphic Ballad

I’ve tweaked the stanza structure of The Mystic Revel Fades, to what I call a Sapphic Ballad.

The Mystic Revel Fades – A Sapphic Ballad

But Farewell sweet Terpsichore
our twilight hour has passed
And I must end my dancing now
and end my fast

For matters of the day now call me
back across the sea
But I will not forget the hour
I danced with thee

For one full day we kept the fast
with fragrant herbal tea
Thin soup of vegetables, fresh verdant

Well-slept, we woke and rose in bright
anticipating mood
And then the rich, dark roasted bean
in water brewed

And so in pure and foodless joy
we joined the maenads’ dance
From out the eastern heaven came
ecstatic trance

As Rose-Dawn flushed the marbles
of the three-fold goddess Grace
(Giving, Getting, Giving Back 
in one embrace)

We wove our steps around them
on the flow’ry dancing floor
Giving back by sending out 
our mystic awe

So farewell Fields Elysian
how lightly we did tread
In circles round the dance-ground of
the Blessed Dead!

While fed on beauty only 
how we circled hand in hand!
But now I’m called by business in
the mortals’ land.

So farewell sweet Terpsichore
until some other day
For I must pull my hand back now
and turn away

I’m sad to break the circle but
The Ferry Man is calling
Alas, the time has passed for me
to keep on stalling

The echoes of the Revel fade
to soft and softer strain
‘Though I must sail away I soon
will come again

And Farewell fair Persephone
it won’t be long to wait
Till down Sacred Way I walk
and through the gate

Where opens up the holy view
as mental curtains part
And once again Soul-shocking beauty
floods the heart

The time between is short before
this very week is past
I once again will burn dull sloth
with cleansing fast

And then, well-rested, rise and rave
dream-healed, in Twilight’s space
By thy sweet lyre entranced, O Muse,
in state of grace.

This dawn dance is a treasure that
I’ll cherish with the rest
But now it’s time to leave these Islands
of the Bless’d.

So farewell to the meadows where
our steps the wild thyme pressed
And farewell to the grasses that
our shins caressed

And farewell to those shorelines kissed
by Zephyr from the West
For now it’s time to leave these Islands
of the Bless’d

So farewell sweet Terpsichore
our twilight hour has passed
And I must end my dancing now
and end my fast

For matters of the day now call me
back across the sea
But I will not forget the hour
I danced with thee

12) Another Road to Elysium?

In the previous blog posts I’ve looked at the ode as way poetry can confer on us the dignity that the Soul is due, like the way the ancient Mystery initiations created a self-image of kinship with those of starry heaven (the gods) and thus the right to pass along the Sacred Way to Elysium rather than flitting around as a mere shade in the Afterlife. So Pindar says his ode is an arrow with the power to confer the same type of glory as that present in the heroes who have passed to Elysium, a power only initiates will understand.

But as well as conferring the dignity of the hero / demigod on your life, there is another road to Elysium, which is about conferring dignity upon the landscapes you inhabit by means of the status that comes from the idea that epic adventures of heroes and heroines, gods and goddesses have taken place within it. This is the realm of the epic. It’s about mythic geography, and Dreamtime, and morphic resonance, and sacred space. It’s about narrative and quest. It is not, therefore, the zone of odes. A different type of poetry works best here: heroic verse. There is a different muse: Calliope rather than Euterpe. 

Heroic verse generally consists of rhyming couplets of iambic pentameter. The simple a, a, b, b, c, c, d, d (etc.) rhyming pattern, plus constant use of lines of the same meter and the lack of structured stanzas means it’s relatively easy to write and easy to read. It has to be, because it’s used to tell long stories, stories that you will inhabit for weeks at a time. It’s heroic in the sense that it follows the adventures of heroes but also because it gives the impression of being the result of a heroic creative effort, just because the poems are so long. Yes, it is a big effort, but actually once you get into the rhythm of it, these couplets of pentameter are easier to rattle off than you might think. The reader isn’t really expecting or looking for mind-blowing particular lines – they’re in it for the long haul and are thinking of the bigger picture, but all the same, because the structure is simpler, I find it’s much easier to work in those rhetorical devices we looked at in Section 5.

In what way is this a road to Elysium? Although it’s not about expressing gratitude in rapturous tones, it is still about conferring dignity. In this case, it’s the dignity of place that comes from a myth about great events happening in that location, and it weaves together various locations by means of the journey of the protagonists. If the myth catches on, a resonance then occurs, transpersonally, in morphic fields, so that the story becomes imprinted into the Idea of Place. Have you travelled round the Greek islands with an awareness of the stories of place? It’s quite something. If the mythic imprint becomes strong enough, there is an expansive feel in that place if you go there and activate the field, just because transpersonal resonance is by nature a kind of magical thing – it lifts us out of the cave of the particular and reminds us of our interconnection with Universal Mind.

That is why in aboriginal Australian tradition, going walkabout in the landscape of the ancestors and re-singing the myths of place as you walk through them is called entering the Dreamtime. This recognises a shift in consciousness to a more collective level, closer to the creator spirits (the gods).  So a location where events of the heroic age are held to have taken place has an enriched Dreamtime that takes it one step closer to the gods. While in the Mysteries you said ‘I can pass along the Sacred Way to Elysium because I am a child of the gods of starry heaven,’ a mythic geography on the other hand says that the energy of starry heaven actually infuses and interpenetrates the place I live in because of the stories that hover in its aura. In fact, these myths can get extra potency by grounding the patterns of the stars or planets in Hermetic fashion – as above, so below, thereby tapping into the resonance of the old star myths and grounding this into the local setting. So it takes you closer to Elysium by bringing Elysium closer to where you are, bringing the Universal into the Particular.

This is not, however, the place to look at this in any detail, because this site is about gratitude poems, primarily odes, but also sonnets, as well as the lighter gratilude. There is scientific backing for the benefits of regularly expressing gratitude, but I don’t know if any studies have been done on the direct benefits of activating resonance with mythic geographies. Although I don’t doubt such benefits exits, the lack of science means I can’t assume that this idea would appeal to the same audience.   

I have dabbled in heroic verse. In fact, I have almost completed a mini epic set in Britain, all based on a sacred geometric plan for the nation. This poem just needs finishing off. Who knows, it could find its way into a later publication. It might seem like a vain project given that such mythic geographies in the past have become effective only after many generations of fame have strongly imprinted the morphic field, but I hoped to speed things up by developing out of the geometric plan a Hermetic as-above-so-below planetary scheme (using the associations of planets with gods) plus the enhanced resonance that comes from following the muses and enlisting the help of synchronicity. But it would be wrong to include the poem here, in a site about gratitude poems.

Why then, do I mention heroic verse here? Partly, I always wanted this series of posts to have twelve sections, even though the plan I had roughed out for it didn’t have that many. Twelve’s a good round number, isn’t it? Twelve months, twelve astrological houses, twelve hours in the day and twelve in the night, twelve disciples, twelve tribes. 2 x 2 x 3. Three squares or four triangles. But it’s also because I think it’s worth admitting that there’s more than one way to do these things. A river generally keeps its bounds for the full extent of its journey but ultimately joins the sea, and it’s the same for these posts – they deal with odes but now as we get to the end we can look up and remember there’s a wider landscape; there’s not just one type of poem.

Are there yet other poetic roads that lead to Elysium, beyond ekphrasis, odes and heroic verse? Probably, but I can’t at present think what they would be. But what can definitely be said is that there are other roads using different modes other than poetry. For example, there is song. In song you don’t just assign one beat to a syllable. You can stretch a syllable out over several notes. You can also place the stress in syncopated places. Some use this as an excuse to be less precise about things, but actually it doesn’t necessarily mean taking short cuts and saying what you want to say with less crafting. It can actually work the other way round. You can do it artfully, only stretching or syncopating or squeezing for deliberate musical reasons, with a very skilled level of crafting to the wording to make it fit this chosen musical pattern. When you get “take a sad song and make it better” in one verse, and “you have found her, now go and get her” in the next, not only is there a rhyme occurring across verses, but also the same pattern of the last syllable of the line moving over the same notes, in the same rhythm, and not to make the words fits, but conversely to improve the melody. And of course the melody itself, as well as the harmony and overall progression and the sonic textures and rhythm, add further levels of feeling and beauty and dynamism. And from music are born other modes of expression, such as dance.

Music is definitely worth mentioning here before we end, because it is undoubtedly an enhanced way for humans to get to know what amplified, intense rapture feels like. In other words, music, like fasting, can help you learn about gratitude (and as you know, I think you should combine the two with Hungry Dawn Raving).

What is the musical equivalent of a gratitude ode? It depends whether you’re talking about i) the rapturous emotion itself upon which the poet is reflecting, or whether you are thinking of ii) the ode as an act of calm reflection after a moment of rapture, or instead you could have in mind iii) the longer term general boost to mood that comes from regularly expressing gratitude.

  1. There’s no doubt in my mind that there is no other form of music that comes anywhere close to certain sub-genres of electronic Trance music for invoking the feeling of rapture. These subgenres (which overlap a fair bit) are Uplifting, Emotional, Progressive, Epic and Orchestral. You can’t communicate the rush of rapture without that racing pulse, that throbbing, shamanic beat at the human celebration/bounce frequency of between 130-140bpm (i.e. the most comfortable leaping/jumping pace – the speed at which we naturally dance when dancing means leaving the ground between steps). This beat is firmly hardwired into us as the activator of the Celebration Response.
  2. If you’re thinking of the ode as a later moment of calm, considered reflection, on the other hand – well-measured, carefully composed, highly ordered – then you’re probably looking at some kind of mellow classical music on piano or lute or strings, perhaps an adagio or sonata or prelude, or something like that.
  3. If you’re thinking of the longer term mood boost from regular expressions of gratitude, then it’s just going to be something upbeat and positive and chirpy.  It could be some summery reggae, or some jaunty jazz, some perky bluegrass, or, well, whatever happy music takes your fancy in the moment. Communal group singing has been shown to be a great way to uplift mood, and I can see how something like, say, gospel, could carry feelings of gratitude.

Having opened things up to consider other artistic modes, finally it remains for this river, in its final moment of dissolving into the sea, to open up completely by reminding you that I’m just one writer with my own take on these matters, but there are many other valid takes out there, including your own, so…over to you.

I’m going to continue with my own ode journal, and may continue to post some of the odes to this site, but I won’t be doing any more blogging about the process of it. I may go off and turn the 12 post into some kind of book, but this won’t be posted online.

11) Lightening the Load of Your Odes : Embracing the Gifts of Thalia

A theme in the Glory of Glad has been the way Odes reframe things in a dignified manner. You could just keep a basic gratitude journal, but if you really feel glad about something, to show that it really matters to you, you can write something far more dignified – a full blown Ode. However, I would also recommend that you include some interspersing comic or at least lighthearted poems in the journal. Why? Partly, just for balance. It doesn’t do to take ourselves too seriously. But also because the very act of dignifying ourselves reminds us that we deserve good things, and laughter truly is one of life’s good things.

So far I’ve equated odes with the ancient initiation mysteries of Eleusis – both celebrated divine gifts and conferred dignity on humans. Restoration of the dignity that the Soul deserves requires depth of emotion. How can you truly remember the Soul’s dignity if you cannot FEEL the falseness of the indignities which obscure it? Perhaps that is why we talk about Soul searching. Those somber emotions are part of our search for the dignity that the Soul is due. To the ancient Greeks, tragedy was an art form that allowed such Soul searching. The myth upon which the Mysteries were based was not ultimately tragic – in fact it had a very happy conclusion – but this triumph, akin to finding the Soul – came after a temporarily tragic incident: Demeter lost her daughter to the land of the dead. As well as fasting, the initiates of the mysteries observed or perhaps took part in a re-enactment of this temporarily tragic story. Tragedy and fasting in the Greek mind had a similar purpose, catharsis, in other words purification. An emotional engagement with the story of Demeter sitting at the well grieving over the loss of her daughter allowed a group catharsis to take place which would ultimately lead to the euphoric climax when Demeter and Persephone were reunited. This purification was seen as a cleansing which had to take place in order that the individual might be fit to pass through the gate to the Elysian Fields. Plunging into the depths of such emotions was part of the initiation, just as you had to pass through the dark Underworld to reach the Elysian Fields.

But this plunge into deep and somber emotions wasn’t the full story of the Mysteries nor of Greek culture in general. In the Greek theatres Tragedy was paired with Comedy, with even the gods not immune to being figures of fun; the comic even formed a part of the Eleusis Mysteries; in Homeric epic the gods themselves managed the odd quip, and comedy itself was represented among the divine Muses.

Let me flesh that out. Firstly, let’s look at the presence of comedy in the Mysteries. The myth underlying the Eleusis festival was that of Demeter’s daughter Persphone being taken into but later returning from the Underworld, the land of the dead. The most official form of this myth was given in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. This includes an episode that took place while Demeter was in the Eleusis:

For a long time she sat on the stool, without uttering a sound, in her sadness.
And she made no approach, either by word or by gesture, to anyone.
Unsmiling, not partaking of food or drink,
She sat there, wasting away with yearning for her daughter with the low-slung girdle,
Until Iambê, the one who knows what is dear and what is not, started making fun.
Making many jokes, she turned the Holy Lady’s disposition in another direction,
Making her smile and laugh and have a merry thûmos [spiritedness]
Ever since, she [Iambê] has been pleasing her [Demeter] with the sacred rites.

That last line is a reference to the Mocking Jests. At a certain spot while walking along the Sacred Way to Eleusis the initiates shouted obscenities in memory of when Iambe made Demeter smile.

Of course comedies were performed at the Theatre of Dionysos in Athens as part of the celebrations of the Great Dionysia festival. In Aristophanes’ brilliant comedy the Frogs we find such refreshing elements as Dionysos himself being a figure of fun, and jokes that laugh in the face of death, and even a mock procession of the Elysian Initiates.

Dionysos wants to bring a poet back from the land of the dead, and he asks Herakles the best way to get there. Heracles describes a route that goes past a great river of dung, in which those who were evil wrong doers while alive are flounder, but to the list is added those who have “quoted a speech of Morsimus.” Morsimus was a playwright of whom Aristophanes was obviously not a big fan. Not a real reason to wallow in filth in the Underworld for all eternity – this is added as a joke – a comic aside which still seems thoroughly modern. Although we might not know of Morsimus, we can easily imagine substituting some other mild irritation to make the same joke. Having passed this, says Heracles, you will come to the Elysian Fields:

And next the breath of flutes will float around you,
And glorious sunshine, such as ours, you’ll see,
And myrtle groves, and happy bands who clap
Their hands in triumph, men and women too.

Dionysos asks who they are and Herakles tells him they are the mystic bands…

Who’ll tell you everything you want to know.
You’ll find them dwelling close beside the road
You are going to travel, just at Pluto’s gate.
And fare thee well, my brother.

Dionysos’ asks his slave to pick up the baggage so they can set off on this journey, but the slave says why not ask a recently died person to carry it down for them. They then see a corpse being carried and ask him if he’ll take their bags, for one and a half drachmas.

“I’d rather live,” says the corpse in a comic inversion of the normal phrase – a genuinely great gag.

At length they do indeed see the band of initiates dancing along the Sacred Way, and there is even a representation of the mocking jests mentioned above, and a reference to the all night vigil that occurred when they awaited the great light* that shone forth in the initiation temple at the moment celebrating Persephone’s return:

Now wheel your sacred dances through the glade with flowers
All ye who are partakers of the holy festal rite;
And I will with the women and the holy maidens go
Where they keep the nightly vigil, an auspicious light to show.

Then there’s the next event that took place in the Mysteries following the revelation of the light, the exit to the Rharian Meadow prefiguring the Elysian Fields:

Now haste we to the roses,
And the meadows full of posies,
Now haste we to the meadows
In our own old way,
In choral dances blending,
In dances never ending,
Which only for the holy
The Destinies array.
O happy mystic chorus,
The blessed sunshine o’er us
On us alone is smiling,
In its soft sweet light:
On us who strove for ever
With holy, pure endeavour,
Alike by friend and stranger
To guide our steps aright.

Long before Aristophanes, Homer has depicted jokes taking place between the gods in Olympus – the Ares/Aphrodite/Hephaestus/Hermes/Net episode. There’s no need to go into the details here. Suffice it to say that after Hermes’ quip ” laughter arose among the immortal gods.”

And so it should be, because laughter is a type of ambrosia. Just Google ‘healing power of laughter” and you’ll find plenty of support for this: releasing endorphins, reducing stress, anxiety and depression, lowering blood pressure, and so on.

The most obvious evidence that comedy was welcomed in Olympus is the fact that one of the Greek muses, Thalia, included comedy as one of the arts within her patronage. She was also the goddess of rustic poetry, and of banquets and feasts. The Greeks also made one of the Graces – Euphrosyne – the goddess of merriment.

Euphrosyne was the goddess Milton invoked and called to come to him, tripping on the light fantastic toe in his L’Allegro:

But come, thou Goddess fair and free,
In heaven yclept Euphrosyne,
And by men, heart-easing Mirth,
Whom lovely Venus at a birth,
With two sister Graces more,
To ivy-crownèd Bacchus bore;
Or whether (as some sager sing)
The frolic wind that breathes the spring
Zephyr, with Aurora playing,
As he met her once a-Maying—
There on beds of violets blue
And fresh-blown roses wash’d in dew
Fill’d her with thee, a daughter fair,
So buxom, blithe, and debonair.
Haste thee, Nymph, and bring with thee
Jest, and youthful jollity,
Quips, and cranks, and wanton wiles,
Nods, and becks, and wreathèd smiles
Such as hang on Hebe’s cheek,
And love to live in dimple sleek;
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And Laughter holding both his sides:—
Come, and trip it as you go
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee
The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty;
And if I give thee honour due,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew,
To live with her, and live with thee
In unreprovèd pleasures free;

Notice Milton chose iambic tetrameter – four stresses in the line – rather than the ‘heroic’ five stresses of pentameter. Generally speaking, this meter, which suggests a down-to-earth simplicity and lacks the suggested slow in breath at the end of the lines of pentameter, lends itself better to lighthearted themes. This includes the ballad form, even though that could be described as seven stresses per line: from a metrical point of view it is really one line of four stresses plus another of three, plus a breath:, making it equivalent to two lines of four stresses, but with a short breath, i.e. 4 + 4 = 4 + 3 + 1 = 8.

Lighthearted verse doesn’t necessarily have to be the kind of gag that makes you laugh out loud. One of my favourite lighthearted poems is Matthew Prior’s Protogenes and Apelles. It’s doesn’t make me guffaw but I just love the delightfully ludicrous tone. It includes ancient Greeks taking afternoon tea. Again, it’s in tetrameter – four stresses per line. Here’s the tea bit:

But, Sir, at six (’tis now past three)
Dromo must make my master’s tea:
At six, Sir, if you please to come,
You’ll find my master, Sir, at home.

Tea, says a critic, big with laughter,
Was found some twenty ages after.
Authors, before they write, should read,
’Tis very true; but we’ll proceed.

Comic verse will sometimes make use of two ti-s between each stressed tum. It gives a lively, lilting feel. This was the case with verses delivered by the dancing choruses in the plays of the Athenian playwright Aristophanes (such as the Frogs mentioned above), and it’s also found in limericks.

ti tum ti ti tum ti ti tum ti
ti tum ti ti tum ti ti tum ti
ti tum ti ti tum
ti tum ti ti tum
ti tum ti ti tum ti ti tum ti

E.g. Lear’s:

There was a Young Person of Smyrna
Whose grandmother threatened to burn her.
But she seized on the cat,
and said ‘Granny, burn that!
You incongruous old woman of Smyrna!’

A comic poem I wrote myself with a ti ti tum rhythm similar to the limerick follows here. It’s not an ode, so hasn’t gone in my Grati-Ode Journal, but it shows the effect of choosing this type of lilting rhythm. As is quite common in limericks, some of the syllables are drawn out over two feet. So for example both “stone” and “Scoon” in the phrase “Stone of Scoon” are treated as long syllables, so there’s only one ti between them instead of two.

The Goggle-eyed Laird of St.Claire

Repair to the lair
Of Laird Duncan St. Claire
And behold his fine pink pantaloons
He’s ignited a craze
With twice-monthly displays
And a plate of fresh-baked macaroons

With the finest jugged hare
Served straight from tupperware
That ever has touched mouth from spoon
To his cullin’ry flare
And his savoir-faire
Your tastebuds will not be immune

Then a millionaire
With brill creamed hair
Will softly commence to croon
He’ll delight the whole place
With such elegant grace
As he warbles his favourite tune

But beware of the stare
Of this Duncan St. Claire
For he’s stolen the Stone of Scoon
His goggle-eyed glare
Caused quite a scare
When beheld by a lassie named June

The earlier phase
Of his childhood days
Was spent looking up at the moon
He’d been left in the care
Of a monk with no hair
Who would feed him cold tea with a spoon

He was too debonair
To be left in the care
Of this man who knew nothing of runes
Who had taken his hair
For a wig to wear
And had forced him to feed his baboons

So he slid down the stairs
In a crate of eclairs
With a cry of “I’ll be back soon!”
Then he rolled up his wares
In a pair of green flares
And joined up as a mounted dragoon

And while out on manoeuvre
In far off Vancouver
He met up with that lassie named June
They were soon quite besotted
And together they plotted
To steal that old Stone of Scoon

But when it was stolen
His eyeballs were swollen
Through heaving to lift up the stone
And young June did declare:
“Ma wee Duncan so fair,
Wha d’ye lift it up all o’ yer own?”

So beware of the stare
Of that laird of St. Claire
Who once lifted the Stone of Scoon
And whose goggle-eyed glare
Caused quite a scare
When beheld by that lassie named June.

You get the picture. But how could such lighter pieces sneak their way into your Grati-Ode journal? I managed it with the following, which is really two ballads I co-wrote with friends. They are not themselves odes, but they’re contained within the frame of an ode. I call it a Horation Ode because essentially a Horation Ode has simple stanzas with four lines, as does this, but a rose by any other name and all that. It’s not ti ti tum but it is tetrameter (of the ballad type mentioned above).

On Fine Fellows and Expeditions 

– Horatian ode written upon remembering the days we composed the Avonsong Ballads (included)

My thankfulness I now express
For fine co-roving chaps
For crazy missions, expeditions
Routes drawn out on maps

It makes me glad to think we’ve had
High times on Summer days
While sometimes hiking, sometimes biking
Ancient, sacred ways

From Shepton down to Glaston town
We walked then camped the night
Then joined the flow of Beltane’s show
With dragons red and white 

Reliving all with fond recall
Full well do I remember
How well we liked it when we biked
Through Hengeworld last September 

Then there’s that time we made a rhyme
When out in a canoe
I’ll give it here for it makes clear
How fun it was to do:

Avonsong I, co-written with James Wormel 

There were we two rowers free
So keen, a greenly going
We took a skiff to Avoncliff
The sap was greenly flowing

We calmly coaxed with gentle strokes
The waters with our rowing
A sultry grey hung o’er the day
But softly warmth was blowing

I never saw such calm before
As we did see that day
Such silence and such sleepiness
Soft-settled on the way

We check the clock: a sudden shock!
Enough the spell to break
Our boat fast tied against the side
A land route we must take

And then once more upon that shore
Within a leafy dell
Hear wood doves coo of Xanadu
And reinstate the spell!

‘Twas calm, my dear! So calm to hear
The doves those notes expel
Which echoed round: a soothing sound
To lull a leafy dell.

We took a pew adjacent to
A tavern of renown
And in good cheer we supped on beer
And watched the Sun go down

Much we refilled until they spilled
Those cups, gen’rous and deep
We drunk so much, the strength was such
We neared the verge of sleep.

‘Neath dark’ning skies we did surmise
‘Twas time to wend our way:
Two rovers green right glad to’ve seen
The calm-tide of that day.

That was the rhyme we wrote that time
But later that same year
We rowed again and wrote again
I’ll give the sequel here:

Avonsong II, written with input from Andrew Cowper and James Wormell while canoeing on the Kennet and Avon to Avoncliff Aqueduct and beyond and then visiting the chapel of Mary of Tory in Bradford-on-Avon.

When auburn-red and Autumn dread 
O’er Avon’s vale were cast
Then we once more did take up oar
And rowed our humble craft

With colouring of pheasant’s wing
The chasms boughs o’er vaunted
By distant roar of monstrous boar
The awful vale was haunted

No longer two for to the crew
An extra oar did add
It’s power: a man of noble clan
From crown to heel well clad

The mist half cleared and there appeared
Aloft upon the air
A stone constructed aqueduct 
In crumbled disrepair

A curse is cast on all who pass
Across this ghastly span
But some strange song pulled us along: 
We crossed, to Elvenland

The Elven Queen, mist-cloaked, unseen 
Had caught us in her spell
And planned to keep us locked in sleep
Within her dreadful dell

Had we not prayed we would have stayed
Asleep forever more
But pray we did and somehow hid 
Upon the forest floor

The one who slept we dragged, and crept
And Mary’s chapel found
Safe at last the spell un-cast
 We kissed that holy ground.

As well as being the Muse of Comedy, Thalia was also the goddess of feasting, which like laughter, lightens the mood. And just as comedy formed part of the Mysteries, so too did feasting. After the fasting and the revelation and the celebratory circle dancing came a great all day feast – a prefiguring of the happy banquets that would take place in the Elysian Fields. Include feasting as a topic in your Grati-Ode journal is another way to lighten the load of your odes. Burn’s Address to a Haggis is a fantastic model for odes to feasting. It’s an ode to the Haggis and it’s an invocation said over the haggis, but because it is not in the lofty tones of an ode, it’s title is not Ode to the Haggis, but Address to a Haggis.

I used the same form – the meters and rhyme pattern making up each verse – for my own poem. I read this one during a Burn’s night at the Pump Rooms in Bath after wining a competition with it, which was fun.

Address to a Feast of Burns

A dreary gloom’s hangs o’er the town
For Christmas tinsel’s taken down
But Spring’s not yet put on her gown
Of finery
Dark Winter still retains his Crown
In January.

So at this time what we desire
Is merriment and warming fire
With blazing logs heaped higher and higher
And hearty food
These are the things that we require
To raise our mood.

And so we’d do well to embrace
Cold January’s one saving grace
The meal that Scots folk love to taste
Where all take turns
Hot haggis with strong whisky laced:
The Feast of Burns.

And by this feast that they hold dear
A second burst of festive cheer
Lights up the dark part of the year
To warm the heart
So call the piper here
And let it start!

  • What was this great light that shone out in the temple? The ancient Greeks did have access to a way to make a very bright light – by burning white phosphorus. In other words the climax of Persephone’s return form the dead might have been celebrated in a way closely related to the rising of Christ from the tomb celebrated by the Greek orthodox church in Jerusalem – in a whole host of ways. The vigil. Extinguishing then relighting of Torches/Candles. Fast followed by feast. I don’t think it’s a hint that we find the first references to this Christian ceremony at the very time that the Eleusis mysteries were closed down. The Greeks were now free to appropriate the pagan ceremony in the new Christian context.

10) A Marriage Made in Heaven : the Remarkable Synthesis of Fasting-Induced Euphoria and Grati-Ode Journaling in a Harmonised Weekly Cycle (including my Ode on Returning Home)

Having looked at various aspects of grati-ode composition in the previous sections, we could now think about the process as a whole, and how it fits into a healthy weekly cycle. Curiously, you might think, this cycle involves fasting (by restricted calorie intake to 25% normal intake on certain days), and exercising in the fasted state (‘Hungry Dawn Raving’), which might sound like a bit of an ask when this is supposed to be about writing poems…but bear with me – it really is the most remarkably valuable strategy and it will send your ode-writing into the stratosphere. Fasting and grati-ode journaling is a match made in heaven, and here below I attempt to explain why.

The various phases of the weekly cycle I propose complement each other wonderfully. In fact, it’s really quite remarkable how well they do this. You see, each stage has strong points and gaps which are filled by the other phases. Beyond the fact that the journaling is a good way to spend quiet, relaxed time as a balance to the period of exercise, Hungry Dawn Raving (HDR) also gives you tangible, non-subtle feelings of gratitude as a balance to the subtler benefits of gratitude journaling. HDR’s boosts are strong but temporary emotions rather than ongoing uplifted moods, but gratitude journaling, on the other hand, has been shown to uplift long-term mood. Yet, tjhe benefits of gratitude journaling only build very slowly, starting off very subtly, and there is of course the tricky bit: you have to think of things to add to your list of what you’re grateful for or you’ll have nothing to journal about. And if you’re going to go for the glorified version of the gratitude journal and write full-blown odes, then you also need not just an idea but a rush of motivation.

The predisposition towards grateful emotions experienced during fasting-state euphoria, though, is the perfect way to easily and naturally come up with things to add to the list, and to give yourself a quick boost, and experience that motivational rush that is the ideal first stage of writing a poem. HDR is a mere 24 hours of fasting in the making, while gratitude journaling would, left to its own devices, take a minimum of around a month of regular journaling before you notice a lift. And like a statue by Polykleitos in contrapuntal pose with its balance of tensed and relaxed muscles, the aesthetic of the ode relies on the balance of careful composure and dynamic passion that comes by means of a well-measured after-the-fact reflection upon something that was deeply felt, and so really the carefully composed ode structure naturally craves for and needs it opposite: wild Bacchic ecstasy experienced in the moment. Keats wasn’t able to answer his question ‘what wild ecstasy?’, and that was fine at the time, but if the ode is to continue to progress, it must close that gap, lest it withers to nothing through lapses into rhetorical cliché in lieu of ever having its bliss, though winning near the goal. Through HDR, the ode writer can directly channel that Bacchic life-blood, that sap of the gods which the ode needs flowing through its veins to stop the flower from wilting.  So can you see how this is a marriage made in heaven? If not, then perhaps it is because I have not yet properly described the cycle I am recommending.

On a fasting day, you will eat only low calorie plant-based food stuffs, calculating the calorie intake and keeping it below a quarter of your normal intake. So for a man, 600 kcals, 500 for a woman. By early evening it will be getting on for 24 hours since your last big meal, and this is when you’ll start to transition into the fasting state. The euphoria may come on at this point – an evening lift. Alternatively, the big rush may come the following morning, before breakfast, during the dance workout.

Celebratory dance and music are part of the hardwired human Celebration Response, as I’ll explain below. What you’re going to do then is to have a morning pre-breakfast workout the day after your fasting day, still on an empty stomach, listening to Uplifting Trance music. I assure you that if you stick to the calorie intake guidelines, you will find it easy to let go into a euphoric rapture-rush. Maybe not the first time you try it, but once your body gets better at being in the fasting state, you will find the phenomenon surprisingly robust. You can use black coffee to help you sustain this prolonged physical activity – and it should last at least an hour because it is only after 40 minutes that the extra endorphins of the Runner’s High begin to release. This morning workout in the fasting state to Uplifting Trance is what I call Hungry Dawn Raving (HDR).

Once the euphoria comes over you, all I ask you to do then is to make a mental note of what things are particularly inspiring you to feel grateful, and also to observe how your thoughts about this traverse a landscape that might be suitable for the stanzas of an ode.

Later you will go through other stages, each of which are appropriate to the changing phases of the cycle. There will be the composition stage. Physically, you are at rest, but you’re giving your mind a workout now with the intense mental concentration that’s required to write the poetry. 

Following this there is a period when both body and mind are relaxed – you engage in the relaxed, mindful, peaceful phase of neatly handwriting your ode in manuscript form, and then decorating the page with doodled flourishes and/or illustrations. Don’t skip this and make do merely with a computer keyboard. HDR like other forms of exercise needs a recovery period, and the body recovers best when you activate the Relaxation Response. Drawing achieves this very well.

I make no apologies for the way this cycle asks you to restricted calories regularly – if you’re not doing this already, whyever not? Along with exercise, it’s still the best health hack there is, for most fully-grown people (though not for everyone, of course – underweight pre-menopausal women being an oft-quoted exclusion.)  

Of course, in this cycle fasting and exercise are combined. This has been found to be a particularly rejuvenating combination. It very effective for stimulating the birth and growth of new mitochondria – the energy dynamos of your cells.

Can you yet see the beauty of this unified cycle of fasting and grati-ode journaling? If not, perhaps it’s because I haven’t really explained the connection between fasting and gratitude. Genetic expression changes when we enter the fasting state. That state, by the way, is not the hunger you feel in the first few hours of restricted calories. It comes on after around 24 hours. Prior to that, you might be the only one in the room who feels cold. After that, you might be the only one who doesn’t. Prior to the 24 hours, you might be the quiet one in the group; after it, you’re the upbeat, chirpy one, lifting everyone else’s mood. You go from finding it a little difficult to focus mentally to suddenly having the most brilliant ideas you’ve had all week! There is a definite and pronounced switching moment at around 24 hours, when the sets of genes being expressed changes. And it profoundly enhances your ability to feel grateful. Why?

It’s to do with the reward system, social bonds, and reinforcing behaviours that supported the tribe, in the evolutionary context. The question is: why did an increased ability to feel grateful provide an evolutionary advantage?

The answer is clear as day; it’s staring us in the face as soon as we consider what gratitude is within a societal setting. Gratitude is the giving back, the reciprocation, that follows receiving, and which does so for a reason: to communicate that the gift is appreciated and to support more giving of that type in the future. Now it makes perfect sense. Gratitude is a strategy for success. Grateful tribes were successful tribes with good bonds and lots of sharing, and so they fared well and passed on their genes – genes that switch on when they’re needed, i.e. when food is scarce. Thus, they are triggered by the fasting state.  

If this is still not striking you as obvious, then consider the strong degree to which hunting trips weren’t a given. They could have carried on scratching around in the sand digging up roots and tubers. But they would have come up short on calories and protein, iron, B12, lysine, choline, healthy fat, and the rest of it. A successful hunt would benefit the tribe, but what was required of hunters? A great commitment. Hunting trips would often take several days. The hunters would go out into the unknown, taking very little food with them, running the risk of getting lost, running out of water, meeting dangerous animals, and expending a lot of time and energy but potentially coming back empty handed. What all this means is that hunting was an activity that needed a lot of incentivising. How does the tribe provide this? What attitudes and behaviours support and reinforce hunting as a regular activity? The answer is simple: Appreciation. Gratitude. Celebration.

The natural human hardwired response to a successful hunting trip can be illustrated with some quotes from The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. These quotes concerns the San people, the oldest population on Earth, the most direct descendants of the group of people to whom we are all related:-

“On the day that Short/Kwi came home dragging the heart-shot ostrich that had charged him, the women in the camp stood up and started dancing, just from the joy of seeing the meat and from having a man like Short/Kwi living among them, bringing a bounty of life-giving food to share with his people.”

Elizabeth Thomas Marshall’s mother Lorna Marshall wrote in The !Kung of Nyae Nyae of another, similar occasion involving the San. “The hunters were sighted moving toward the encampment in a dark, lumpy, bobbing line in the golden grass, carrying their sticks loaded with meat. We heard the sound of voices in the encampment, rising in volume and pitch like the hum of excited bees. Some people ran toward the hunters, others crowded together at the edge of the encampment, some danced up and down, children squealed and ran about, the boys grappled and tussled together.”

Another example from the San people of such exuberant celebration when a time of hunger is about to end is to be found in the customs surrounding a boy’s initiation into manhood by means of his first eland hunt. It features trance dance, gratitude, celebration, dissipation of tensions and waking in the morning knowing that the end of a fast is immanent. The eland hunt in general consisted of two phases: first, the animal, once located and stalked, was shot with a poisoned arrow. Then it was tracked until found again in a weakened state. This period of hunting was also a period of fasting for the hunters. As Elizabeth Thomas Marshall wrote of the San in The Old Way, “from start to finish a hunt could last a week or even longer…during lengthy hunts, the hunters might eat very little, if anything.” On the occasion of the first eland hunt of a young man, as described by David Lewis-Williams in Believing and Seeing: Symbolic meanings in southern San rock painting, once the animal had been killed, and before its meat was eaten, a trance dance was performed in praise of the fat provided by the eland, and the supernatural potency it contained, this time with men doing both the music making and dancing, as the women were still back at the camp. Certain portions of the meat were cooked overnight and were said to smell wonderful by dawn. When the eland was brought back to the camp there were great celebrations, with the women shouting “Euu! Euu!” to praise the eland “because it has fat” and pounding their digging sticks on the ground. At this point, says Lewis-Williams, they are in a “happy state in which social tensions are dissipated.” The boy is also praised. Before the feasting began a complex ritual was carried out to complete the transition of the young hunter from boyhood to manhood. Then came the feasting, accompanied by eland songs.

What we can see from all this is that, contrary to the expectations of our satiety obsessed culture, the celebration was not merely a post-eating thing – it was not a matter of waiting until the food was tasted and then celebrating relief from hunger. The celebration started the moment the hunters returned – and before the eating started. As such, the hunters’ reward systems were strongly imprinted by the state of euphoria as a reward not for the eating, but for having gone out and obtained the food and then brought it back to the tribe.

This hardwired human ability to suddenly flip into euphoria while in the fasting state when realising that food has been acquired is something I call the Celebration Response. It’s as real as other responses such as laughter, or the fight-or-flight response, or the Relaxation Response but it is something that has been forgotten about in the modern world, because the fasting state is not entered.

We can do it intentionally, however, by having a day or two each week when we limit our food intake, and avoid all animal-based protein, so as to trigger that state. This is the ideal time to get inspiration for your next gratitude ode.

If I still haven’t convinced you yet of the benefits of combining fasting and gratitude ode journaling, perhaps it’s because I haven’t yet given any examples. To start with, I should mention that for me the whole gratitude ode thing erupted into being in the first place as the result of an episode of fasting state euphoria. This is what inspired my first gratitude ode: An English Ode. As is not difficult to guess, my odes to Uplifting Trance and Emotional Trance were directly inspired by HDR, and so was The Mystic Revel Fades.

I can give another example that I wrote more recently. I had the idea for it in a euphoric state on the evening of a fasting day while commuting on a train home from work, listing to that very close relative of Uplifting Trance: Emotional Trance. This ode on returning home is one of those examples where I was not only supplied with a topic for an ode by feelings of gratitude for something; I also found that my train of thought in that lofty state of mind naturally took a course that lent itself well to expression in the traditional form of an ode. To be specific, my thoughts strayed to a mythological archetype for the thing I was feeling. Namely, having felt an intense joy at the thought of returning home, I considered I had gained an insight into why the Odyssey of Homer had remained popular down through the ages. This is the ultimate story of a great return to home and family.

My train of thought therefore followed the pattern of the odes of Pindar, which generally in the middle sections stray to mythological episodes relevant to the topic in order to dignify the subject by means of a blurring of the boundaries between the mundane mortal world and the realm of gods and heroes.

Here’s my ode.

Ode on Returning Home

When work is done, thoughts turn to home’s warm glow
Behind me has now closed the office gate
Bright images shine forth that lift me so
Familiar smiles of little ones who wait
   And onward leaps my heart to say
   To them that I’m well on my way
And echo back the joyous, radiant cheer
   Returning is a Treasured Thing
   That makes my Soul and Spirit sing
For they to me are infinitely dear.

This love must be the fire that warms the tale
Of he who journeyed far on leaving Troy
And neither towering wave nor raging gale
The will to reach his loved ones could destroy
   Nor could the lulling lotus flower
   With all its hedonistic power
Obliterate the thoughts of wife and child
   Nor could the cyclops rude and strong
   Nor sirens with their luring song
Prevent him reaching his beloved isle.

Our old savannah tribes would send a band
Of huntsmen, ranging far in search of prey
By reading clues laid down by hoof in sand
To guide them on for days upon their way
   Until, at length, the prize attained,
   They yearn to see those who remained
In camp, awaiting that long hoped for sign:
   When finally the band they spy
   Across the grassland wild and dry
Their hearts explode for joy, and so does mine.

3) Various Perspectives on Gratitude through the Ages

Gratitude in Religion

Religions have long recognised the importance of gratitude. Pagan gods were largely givers of particular gifts, or of categories of gift. Dionysos/Bacchus gave the grape, and the art of its cultivation, and wine, and the method by which it was made. Athena/Minerva gave the olive, and by extension its oil, with all the uses and benefits that brought. Demeter/Ceres gave agriculture and its fruits and products, plowing, sowing, reaping, the grain, bread etc. And so it goes on.

An inclusive paganism worked for a while as the Roman empire expanded, but eventually there were so any foreign gods to include that it all got a bit confusing. So they rationalised. They whittled it down to just one, for the sake of convenience, by adopting a recently updated version of the Jewish model. There was only one god you needed to thank now, even if that did rather dilute the special qualities of the particular gifts. But the importance of gratitude was still recognised, as we can see from the practice of saying Grace. Personally, I find the wording a bit odd though:

For what we’re about the receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.

When I was a child, and actually had to say this at school, the meaning of the first half of that wasn’t as clear as it could have been. Those two phrases are kind of the wrong way round aren’t they? Why not:

May the Lord make us truly thankful for what we’re about the receive.

Much clearer. Still a bit odd though. Why are we asking the Lord to make us grateful? Surely that’s the one bit we have to do ourselves, if it’s going to be a true, meaningful expression of gratitude. Why not:

May we be truly thankful to the Lord for what we’re about the receive.

But it’s still a bit odd. Why state your intention to be thankful for something that’s about to happen? Why not just express gratitude that the food is already there waiting to be eaten? Why not just a simple thank you:

Thank you Lord for the food we’re about to eat.

There we are. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Personally, I’m not so keen on this ‘Lord’ business though. I’d prefer just a general thank you to the Universe. But already, phrased as a thank you rather than a request to be made thankful at a future time, it feels better. When we express thanks, the heart naturally opens and mood improves.

Even so, just saying the same stock phrase as a matter of ritualised habit before every meal seems to me to lack sincerity. Shouldn’t it be a bit more of a gushing ode to the specific gifts that await? Remember the power of the placebo effect. Give it some good positive spin and you enhance the health benefits.

What fantastic peas! How green they are! Thank you Universe for such nutritious looking peas! What wonderful vitamins and antioxidants there must be in peas such as that!

That’s a bit better. Already we’re getting closer to the creativity and passion of an ode. It’s starting to mean something.

But perhaps I’m being too critical. The point I was making is that religions have long recognised the importance of expressions of gratitude. Scientific studies have shown that there are certain benefits to having some kind of spiritual belief. People who have these beliefs tend to be more cosmically at ease and, as a result, healthier, if you look at statistics.

But what if you’re a rational type, a scientist perhaps, who has to stay rational to keep their job, apart form anything else? Does this mean you can never be as cosmically relaxed as someone who’s thinking is a bit more fuzzy? Well actually, if we’re honest, we have to admit that there are ways of expanding our ways of thinking to more open minded levels without sacrificing the valuable tool of scientific method. For example, I like to think of Evolution as being a bit like a publisher. Let’s say you were inspired to write a book, to communicate an idea for some altruistic purpose. Your publisher was interested in the business aspects of the matter. If it wasn’t going to sell, then it wouldn’t want to touch it. So a compromise needed to be made, but you managed to find ways to tick the publisher’s list of boxes while still retaining a good amount of your original vision.

Darwin pointed out that flowers are probably brightly coloured to attract pollinating insects. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the full story at a more holistic, multidimensional level. What if the universe at large had this desire for Beauty to manifest, and then the whole flower-bee combo gradually evolved into being out of that desire, complete with a strategy for successful self-replication. The process by which this came into being was just the standard genetic mutation leading to advantage, but the randomness of the mutations was just slightly affected by the desire of the Universe, by synchronicity, mind over matter, so that over Deep Time, Beauty came into being, while still ticking Necessity’s boxes. This can’t be proved, but neither can it be disproved, and the question in this case is not actually whether or not it can be proved, but rather whether it is possible to entertain this idea while still operating as an effective, rational scientist, and the answer, clearly, is yes.

And the benefit is that when you come face to face with the meadow of flowers, you can expand to a deeper appreciation, feeling grateful to the Universe. Even if you can’t entertain this idea, you can still feel grateful for your ability to feel grateful for the flowers, or for the timing that brought you here in front of them in this unique moment within the infinite flow of time. And if you can’t manage that either…suit yourself then. I’m only trying to help.

OK great so most of us can still tap into the spiritual type of gratitude, at some level, without immediately turning into fuzzy headed weirdos. Next I want to look at various other perspectives on gratitude through the ages, starting with the classical conception of the Three Graces.

Seneca and the Three Graces

Seneca recorded a rather brilliant perspective on the symbolism of depictions of the Three Graces. There were three, he said, because they are representative of the three-fold process of giving good things, receiving them, and reciprocating.

According to Seneca, they dance in a circle holding hands to show how generosity flows from one person to the next, including returning to the original giver. As such he pre-empted those scientific studies on emotional contagion a mentioned in the first part.  

He says the reason they are shown with joyful expressions is because that’s the nature of people who give and receive good things. As such he pre-empted those scientific studies on how gratitude improves mood.

He says they wear loose, un-belted garments to show the freedom of true generosity, the lack of obligation or bind.

He even extends the analogy to the translucency of their robes; true generosity doesn’t have hidden agendas.

Seneca didn’t invent this stuff, but drew on earlier sources. Whether or not it is a correct interpretation of the original artistic intention, it does show genuine insight into the nature of giving, receiving and gratitude.

Neoplatonism and the Graces

The Neoplatonists of the Italian Renaissance, such as Marsilio Ficino, found a rather lovely way to extend this idea. This circular flow not only exists in social groups of people; it also occurs in our relationship with the divine. There is a flow of love, says Ficino, that moves out from the creative source, creates a state of rapture, and then flows back to the source. To quote Edgar WInd in Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance, in Ficino’s philosophy the following role was assigned to the Graces: ‘the bounty bestowed by the gods upon lower beings was conceived by the Neoplatonists as a kind of overflowing (emantio), which produced a vivifying rapture…(raptio)…whereby the lower beings were drawn back to heaven and rejoined the gods (remeatio)’ and in these three stages they recognised ‘the divine model of what Seneca had defined as the circle of grace: giving, accepting and returning. ‘

Let’s return to those flowers and bees we spoke of a moment ago, above., which we were happy to entertain as an unproven possibility on the understanding that our rational faculty could stay functional. In light of the Neoplatonist ideas, we would say that the Universe held the desire for Beauty to become manifest; this desire flowed down in the form of a subtle influence over chance mutations so that across Deep Time it gradually came to bear and allowed the creation of flowers, while still ticking the tick boxes of Necessity. The creatures like ourselves came along, saw the beauty, felt joy, and this joy itself over-spilled in the form of gratitude flowing out as a wave back up to the creative source, thus completing the cycle and repaying the original investment, not by obligation, but freely, willingly.

It’s a wonderful conception and at the end of the day, it just harmonises so beautifully with how humans operate that there’s little point trying to come up with an alternative philosophy.

There are optional add-ons though. For example, there is the idea is that when you value something – appreciate it and are grateful for it – you actually imprint its morphic fields, which then have an nourishing, uplifting effect for those who can resonate with the fields. For example, treasure your home, and that sense of value will shine out from it as an aura of good feeling.

Then there is the New Age idea that gratitude not only nourishes benevolent intelligences in other realms that have showered us with good things, but it also serves as a message to the Universe about what we would like more of. By this understanding, it’s worth feeling gratitude because it helps the Universe give you more of what you like, yet another reason to practice gratitude.

What’s certainly true is that this principle operates at the human level – the giver will be more inclined to give more if the receiver expresses gratitude. Could that be one of the reasons why our ability to feel gratitude upregulates so powerfully when we have properly entered the fasting state? For most of the evolution of our species, there were certain food acquiring activities that were carried out by a few for the whole tribe. An example is hunting. But hunting meant going off, sometimes for days at a time, into dangerous environments. How can such a social structure be supported? Well one thing’s for sure, if the successful hunt is celebrated gratefully by the tribe as a whole, this will have a strongly reinforcing effect. The hunters will be imprinted with positive feelings about the process, which will encourage them to go off and do it again next time. Given that this process itself was key to tribal success and even survival, it’s not hard to see how the upregulation of gratitude in response to a period of scarcity would give be a strong evolutionary advantage. So just to be clear, sets of genes actually switch on and others switch off so that we genuinely enter a different mode.

And what it means for us is that one of the things you can do if you want to experience more gratitude, and remind yourself what gratitude feels like – in addition to keeping a gratitude journal or the glorified version – the Ode Journal – is to do a bit of fasting from time to time.

I do this myself, and as a result I have noticed a phenomenon I call The Celebration Response. Our hunter gatherer ancestors celebrated the successful hunt with joyful dances, and I believe this is actually hardwired into us, and that we can still activate it. First you fast, then once you’ve decided to end the fast, and just before you do so, you listen to dance music, and dance to it. It can be jaw-droppingly euphoric. I find it works particularly well if following this formula:

Black coffee-fueled Trancercising to Uplifting Trance music before breakfast in a grateful state of mind having fasted (600 kcals) the day before and ideally having had a full night’s sleep.

I call this Hungry Dawn Raving, and I’m so keen on it, I’ve written a gratitude ode about it. Actually, it’s a medley of poems in a logical sequence. Here it is:

The Rhyme of the Hungry Dawn Raver

(a poem in four parts) 

PART I : Ode to Emotional Trance

Sometimes the Gate Elysian swings wide
At lightest touch, and easily we glide
Straight to the centre of the happy throng
No sooner than we hear the happy song
When comes the beat, we leap to dance
Repeat, repeat: we enter trance
And freely flows the kundalini fire
The happy strains sound honey sweet
Their joys not hard to rise and meet
We quickly gain the heights that we desire

But sometimes joy is weak till tears release
We cannot smile till we our smiling cease
And cannot reach the Fields of Asphodel
Until we plumb the Styx’s swirling swell
Then in the moment we surrender
Feel the frisson, wild yet tender
In a flash intensity’s regained
Intensity provides the wings
We rise and fly on soaring strings
And now the happy meadow is attained

So if Uplifting Trance won’t hit the mark
Another genre may ignite the spark
The type that’s styled Emotional. But then
One sparked, the former style rings true again
When comes the beat, we leap to dance
Repeat, repeat: we enter trance
And freely flows the kundalini fire
The happy strains sound honey sweet
Their joys not hard to rise and meet
We quickly gain the heights that we desire.

PART II : Ode to Uplifting Trance

So oft, like-a little, softly floating, feather wingéd seed
 Aloft on-the thrill of-the sound-strobe* has my happy Soul been freed
 And soothed by-the shock of-the shaking, quaking, stutt’ring drone-strobe haze
 Staccato, as a flutt’ring slatted shutter stripes bright rays

 While-the fat of-my fast in-a smokeless fire on-the Dawn’s stone altar plinth
 Sweet-sublimates in sacred flames in-the blaze of-the saw-tooth* synth
 And, spiralling in eddies, fumes of fragrant vapour rise
 A gift of thanks sent upward to the bright’ning morning skies

 Such life as if I’d leapt up in a state of dread alarm
 Yet joyous, free from care nor plagued by nagging thoughts of harm
 With centred mind upon the sound, why, I will even state:
 For neither fight nor flight I’m apt; just now: I meditate!

 And dance and step and dance and step and dance with sprightly ease
 So, does the slatted drone imprison? Heavens no! It frees.
 As-I dance and step and dance and step and dance and step and bound
 To-the pounding, pounding, pounding, pounding, pounding, side-chain* sound

 As-I dance and step and dance and step and dance and move my feet
 To-the pounding, pounding, pounding, pounding, pounding, pounding beat
 As-I dance and step and dance and step and dance and step and bound
 To-the sound
 To-the sound
 To-the sound
 To-the wooshhhhhhhhhhhhh….……

      And when, as if a choir of angels sings
      The soft chords sound as drums dissolve away
      My gladness turns to slower types of things
      That drift and float, move fluidly, and sway
           To cloud-wisps moving in the air
           To gentle waves on golden sand
      A gentle, tidal purl, by dawn-light glazed
           Such things surround me where I stand
           I see, and fascinated, stare
      Take stock, breathe slow, consider, feel amazed

      Exertion brings satiety; from this
      A slowness calms the step and heaving breast
      This calm, if nurtured, grows in waves of bliss
      A peaceful mood descends affording rest
           And Oh! To-be out in-the morning when
           As yet unspun is-the wordly wheel
      And Nature undefiled to us is shown
           We suddenly recall again
           That paradox: we sometimes feel
      Fine comp’ny on our own; in crowds, alone.

      A mystic chill at this creeps ‘cross my crown
      That causes me to open wide my eyes
      It finds the junction at the nape, then down
      The spine this scintillating frisson flies
           Thus quiet contemplation can
           Bring more than rest – it can inspire
      Emotions. Our resolve is galvanised
           So peaceful thought has power to fan,
           More than before, the passion’s fire
      Excitement grows, the limbs are energised     

 [< ( poco a poco cresc )]
 And the beat and the beat and the beat and the beat and the beat will surely come
 And the beat and the beat and the beat and the beat and the beat of the drum
 And the beat and the beat and the beat and the beat and the beat and the beat
 And the beat, beat, beat, beat, beat, beat, beat, beat, b- b- b- b- b- b- b- b- b- b- b- b- beat…

 And it DROPS! and I step and dance and step and dance and step and bound!
 To the pounding, pounding, pounding, pounding, pounding, side-chain sound!
 And I dance and step and dance and step and dance with sprightly ease
 So, does the slatted drone imprison? Heavens no! It frees!

My joy explodes on inner planes through which it flows to meet
 Co-celebrants, those now or then united by the beat
 There’s more to life than gloom and strife – this much we all agree
 So not in this crowd lonely, then, but joined in revelry! 

 Such life as if I’d leapt up in a state of dread alarm
 Yet joyous, free from care nor plagued by nagging thoughts of harm
 With joyous leaping to the beat, why, I will even state:
 For neither fight nor flight I’m apt; just now: I celebrate!

 And a pillar to the left stands tall, and a pillar to the right
 Bridged by a marble portico, we wonder at the sight*
 And carved there in the moon-white stone, the crowd sees writ this rhyme:
 “Enter here, in holy fear, the space of Elysian Time”

 We feel the thrill, the sacred thrill, of holy, joyful dread
 To see the entrance to the dance ground of the Happy Dead*
 Driv’n on by the din, all the crowd pours in, in wonderment sublime
 And we dance and step and dance and step in the space of Elysian Time.

 Here in this garden dancing ground, the dancers go in troupes
 And trains that intertwine around the marble statue groups
 And here you’ll hear no mundane, mortal clockwork timepiece chime
 Within these garden walls this is the space of Elysian Time.

 And as they go they trail and throw their wreaths of rosy flowers
 Which fly and spin amid the din and rain in petal showers
 And the flowers grow abundant in this ever summery clime
 For the Winter never enters in the space of Elysian Time.*

PART III : The Mystic Revel Fades

But Farewell sweet Terpsichore*
Our twilight hour has passed
And I must end my dancing now
And I must end my fast

For matters of the day now call me
Back across the sea
But I will not forget the hour
In which I danced with thee

For one full day we kept the fast
With fragrant herbal tea
Thin soup of vegetables with spice
Fresh, verdant greenery

Well-slept, we woke and rose in bright
Anticipating mood
And then the rich, dark roasted bean*
in boiling water brewed


And so in pure and foodless joy
We joined the maenads’ dance*
From out the eastern heaven came
Ecstatic, painless trance

maenad dance

As Rose-Dawn flushed the marbles*
Of the three-fold goddess Grace
(Giving, Getting, Giving Back 
united in embrace)*

three graces
The Three Graces

We wove our steps around them
On the flow’ry dancing floor
Giving back by sending out 
Our grateful, mystic awe

Dance around Graces
Maenads dancing around a statue of the Three Graces

So farewell Fields Elysian
How lightly we did tread
In circles round the dance-ground
Of the happy, blessed dead!

While fed on beauty only 
How we circled hand in hand!
But I am called away by business
In the mortals’ land.


So farewell sweet Terpsichore
Until some other day
For I must loose my grip now
Pull my hand back, turn away

The echoes of the Revel fade
To soft and softer strain
‘Though I must sail away awhile
 I’ll soon be back again

So Farewell fair Persephone*
It won’t be long to wait
Until I walk the Sacred Way*
And pass the pillared gate*

Where opens up the holy view
As mental curtains part
And once again that deep
Soul-shocking Beauty floods the heart

The time between is short
Before this very week is past
I once again will burn away
Dull sloth with cleansing fast

And then, well-rested, rise and rave
Dream-healed, in Twilight’s space
By thy sweet lyre entranced
Terpsichore, in state of grace.

So farewell sweet Terpsichore
I cannot keep on stalling
The dance is sweet as honey
But the Ferry Man is calling


This dawn dance is a treasure
That’ll I cherish with the rest
But I must sail away now
From these Islands of the Bless’d.

So farewell to the meadows
Where our steps the wild thyme pressed
And farewell to the grasses
Which our shins gently caressed


And farewell to those shorelines
Kissed by Zephyr from the West
For I must leave these islands now
The islands of the Bless’d

So farewell sweet Terpsichore
Our twilight hour has passed
And I must end my dancing now
And I must end my fast


Matters of the day now call me
Back across the sea
But I will not forget the hour
In which I danced with thee


PART IV : The Bright, Re-Building Brain

I felt the tug of-the worldly wheel returning
When first I broke the fast and took of food
But as the day goes on there’s something happ’ning:
An intellectual tune inspires my mood

Not now the love of-the dancing beat a-pounding
Nor shivers of emotion down the spine
But yet arpeggios, fast, bright and sparkling
Now stimulate my newly growing mind

Melodic lines like Summer swallows darting
Now dive, now turn, now soar, and dive again
The playful notes call out to me, inviting
The eager muscle of my bright’ning brain

Had I from only meals sought compensation
For sailing from the Islands of the Bless’d
And equally if I’d thought restoration
Could only be achieved through slumb’rous rest

Too short a spell I’d have of satisfaction
Before the temp’r’y fix of food would fade
My brain, made deaf by sleep’s potent distraction
Would miss this wholesome musical upgrade

By all means, plates piled high to me keep bringing
And sure, let me recline on cushioned chairs
But also bring the lute and set to singing
And feed my brain with bright and dexterous airs.

  • sound strobe – the fast-staccato drone-pulse used in all Uplifting Trance
  • saw-tooth synth – the sawtooth waveform sound frequently used Trance music, especially in anthem riffs
  • side-chaining – a reference to the use of side-chaining pumping in Trance – a production technique where the level of one audio source is reduced by the presence of another audio source – to achieve a pumping effect where the volume swells offset from the side-chained source (i.e. the base kick) by a selected release time
  • marble portico – this refers to the entrance to the sacred precinct of Eleusis, site of the Great Mysteries, an initiation festival involving fasting and celebratory dancing. For info on the layout of the precinct, see here:
  • dance-ground of the happy dead – The initiates of Eleusis looked forward to having access to the Elysian Fields, a paradise region within the Greek afterlife, where they would dance much as they had done during the festival
  • Winter never enters in – Elysian Fields as paradise Isle of the Bless’d, free from death, Winter, pain etc.
  • Terpsichore – one of the nine Muses and goddess of dance and chorus.
  • dark-roasted bean – coffee
  • maenads – the female followers of Dionysus, the god of wine an pleasure. They were often pictured dancing ecstatically.
  • marbles – i.e. statues, as in the Elgin Marbles, in this case the common statue group of the Three Graces
  • Giving, getting, giving back – the identities of the Three Graces
  • Persephone – the return of the maiden goddess Persephone fro mthe Underworld was celebrated in the Eleusis festival and she as Queen of the dead she also had a strong connection to the Elysian Fields
  • Sacred Way – the route taken by initiates between Athens and Eleusis
  • pillared gate – the entrance to the Eleusis precinct, as above.

2) The Ode : An Evolving Form (and my first English Ode)

The formal ode has undergone an evolution, from civic to personal. There have always been odes that dealt with personal things – think of Sappho for example – because ‘ode’ in Greece just meant ‘song’ or ‘chant’. These songs weren’t necessarily singing the praises of something in the sense we now understand for an ode. But Pindar’s odes were. What I mean by a formal ode is one in the manner of Pindar where the stanzas are long, and where the order exists not so much within the structure of the stanza but across stanzas and even groups of stanzas, and that complex order is a mark of respect for a thing being praised, just as a public monument should appear to have come to into being out of a properly deliberated plan. In other words, a scheme is chosen for a stanza, but it only becomes a pattern at the point that it is repeated in the next stanza, rather than due to self-evident reiterations and symmetries within the stanza’s own make up.

The odes of Pindar were very much civic matters. They were the poetic equivalent of a public monument that memorialises and honors something, (in Pindar’s case, the winners of athletic contests) and the complexity of the overarching scheme is a mark of honor and respect, as the very complexity gives evidence of the kind of planning that takes place before an important event. Public monuments shouldn’t appear to have been raised without due thought.

There have been odes written in English that have both a complex scheme and the intention of commemorating a person, just as with the odes of Pindar. For example, Gray’s ode The Progress of Poesy has a long pattern of rhyme and changing meter, repeating across stanzas and groups of stanzas, and it is a memorial to the greatness of poets such as Shakespeare, Milton and Dryden. However, whereas Pindar was clearly commissioned to write his odes to athletes and had no real personal interest, Gray was obviously moved to write this ode out of his own passion for the topic. And already by this time odes could be written to abstract things, such as Gray’s own ode to vicissitude, or Dryden’s Ode to St Cecelia’s Day, which is actually an ode to music. There is a certain rather interesting, almost political statement that is made by choosing a formal ode as the mode but then expressing through it something much more personal. It is a way of saying that internal things are important too.

By the time we get to the Romantic Poets and their odes to things like Autumn, the West Wind, Nightingales and Grecian Urns, there is no doubt that we are within the realm of the passion of the individual, nor that the poet is speaking person to person, rather than making a public proclamation, but something of the original nature of the ode remains – singing the praises of something, and using a complex but repeating scheme. From our point of view here – that of the Gratitude Ode that is used for the quite specific purpose of uplifting mood – the Romantic Poet’s version of the ode has some elements that are not ideal, a degree of indulgence, you could say, some rather too melancholic intrusions. So there is room for further evolution, and we’ll look at this some more in Section 5 as we more clearly define the Gratitude Ode. (Yes, like a true ode writer, I’ve got a big scale plan.) For our present purposes, we can feel justified in talking of an evolution of the formal ode from civic proclamation to gush of personal passion.

This evolution also involves a process of finding a balance, a sweet spot, in terms of the complexity of the stanza. In taking Pindar as the model, there is a danger that the scheme will be so complex that a listener hearing it declaimed would not be able to feel the pattern. It would then backfire and actually seem less planned than would something much simpler. Gray’s Progress of Poesy, his monument to some of the great poets, has a stanza scheme which, upon analysis, shows evidence of a great deal of time in the planning and execution. Where the numbers are the meter of the lines and the letters show the rhyming scheme, stanzas I and II match each other exactly with 4a, 5b, 4b, 5a, 4c, 4c, 5d, 3d, 5e, 4e, 4f, 6f, then III is quite different, with 4a, 4a, 4b, 4b, 3a, 4c, 4c, 4d, 4e, 4d, 4e, 5f, 4g, 5f, 5g, 5h, 5h, then IV and V match I and II and VI matches III. Impressive, sure, but this poesy has progressed somewhat up it’s own posterior, might one venture to suggest?

When Gray wrote his ode on vicissitude, he used a simpler scheme, and so too did the later Romantics. Keats, for example, tended towards the simpler rhyme pattern that has become known as the English Ode: a,b,a,b,c,d,e,c,d,e. His Nightingale ode is an example. The Goldilocks zone had been found: still complicated enough to be distinct from simpler forms such as the ballad or the rhyming couplet, but it doesn’t quite put its toe over the line into the zone where you’re only aware of the scheme if you first get out your pencil and mark down the rhymes and meters with letters and numbers. For your odes in your Ode Journal, I recommend the English Ode and simple variations upon it, both because it finds a sweet spot that is more effective, and also because I want you to be writing quite a few odes – at least one a week in the ideal – and so the process of crafting a Gratitude Ode shouldn’t be too arduous and time consuming.

The evolution we are speaking of is strongly reminiscent of the democratisation that played out in the Egyptian and Greek cults of the Afterlife. This is worth looking at a little, and it is less of digression than you might think, partly because the glorification of the individual in a Pindaric Ode was a technique for hero-making, with the hero status itself ensuring an individual would pass on to Elysium in the Afterlife, and partly because the paradise realm to which the initiates gained access works as an embodiment of the state of graceful abundance to which gratitude guides the mind. 

In Egypt, first come the Pyramid Texts, which are concerned with the successful passage of the spirit of the god-king. But over time, as shown by the Coffin Texts and the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the same traditions were democratised, with increasing importance given to the souls of other members of society, not just the king. 

Greece had a similar conception of the Afterlife, and indeed may have borrowed the general concept. Like the Egyptian map, the Greek Underworld had dark labyrinthine mazes, rivers and also paradise fields that you could reach if you had been properly initiated, lived a good life, and knew the directions. In Egypt this was the Field of Reeds, the place you would reach after the labyrinthine night journey, and once your spirit arrived there it would partake of the same force of rejuvenation that caused the Sun to be reborn at dawn. In Greece the paradisal gardens that you could reach if you had been initiated into the Mysteries, lived a good life, and remembered the way were the Elysian Fields, the dance ground of the happy dead. And while in Greek myth it was only glorious heroes who would pass on to Elysium, the mystery cults democratized this – anyone could now attain these fields, even slaves. 

Keats imaged in his poem Bards of Passion and of Mirth that great poets would, like the heroes, live in Elysium in the Afterlife:

BARDS of Passion and of Mirth,
Ye have left your souls on earth!
Have ye souls in heaven too,
Doubled-lived in regions new?
Yes, and those of heaven commune
With the spheres of sun and moon;
With the noise of fountains wondrous,
And the parle of voices thund’rous;
With the whisper of heaven’s trees
And one another, in soft ease
Seated on Elysian lawns
Browsed by none but Dian’s fawns…

For our purposes here, the conception is a little different; yes the ode might lead to Elysium, but not because the poet earns entry by the heroism of the creative effort, but now in the sense that Elysium is a place of abundance existing in a state of grace; to feel gratitude, then, is to sense some degree of Elysium in life, and by uplifting mood and helping us to see the good, Practicing Gratitude through ode writing could bring us closer to Elysium on Earth. 

This is bringing me towards the first Gratitude Ode I ever wrote, An English Ode. I had already had the idea that I could perhaps write odes as a more glorified form of Gratitude Journal, but instead of setting straight to work, I let the idea sit on the back burner, waiting to see if further inspiration would arise. And funnily enough, it did.

It was one of my ‘2’ days – I’ve been doing the 5:2 diet for a few years now. A 2 day is a fasting day, or rather a day when calorie intake is restricted to a quarter of the normal amount. So as it came to early evening, it was already 24 hours since I’d last eaten a meal big enough to provide an exogenous supply of my energy requirements. This means that my body had flipped into Fasting Mode, turning to internal energy stores instead. We spend most of the time in Feeding Mode in the modern world. Our bodies are hardwired to capitalize when food is available, so our reward system hooks itself up to the Feeding Cycle, nudging us to eat when we get just a bit hungry, and making us feel properly satisfied only when full. This dampens the sensitivity of the reward system to the goodness of other, less subtle things. But when this Feeding Mode switches off, however, the reward system is unhooked from the Feeding Cycle. Different sets of genes switch on. The body knows better than to pester us to eat what is not there, and at last we’re allowed to become properly distracted and absorbed by other things, as this distraction now serves a purpose – stopping us from wasting time and energy obsessively seeking what is not there. 

So the reward system now makes it easier to find reward in other things, simple things, or subtle things, such as the beauty of nature. Simultaneously, the body sets about upregulating the reward system, so that rewards are more potent. This may be so that we now no longer turn our noses up at lower calorie food types – leaves and suchlike. Such foods still have valuable nutrients even if they does not provide any energy to speak of, so it was beneficial if these foods that we passed by when high calorie stuff was on the table now suddenly started to seem palatable, desirable, attractive. So  when you’re fasting, suddenly salads start to taste delicious. But this shift in perception has a more more wide reaching effect. Suddenly the whole World seems like a great, marvelous, delicious bowl of fruit! This is the Elysian Vision – all nature is a delight! Fasting actually increases the number and sensitivity of the receptor cells in the brain and nervous system where things like endorphins and dopamine plug in, so it’s greater appreciation is not just a psychological reaction to fasting – it is supercharged by potent physiological drivers, and how ever physical this driving may be, it still helps to remind us of the beauty of gratitude in spiritual realms. 

The initiates of the Mystery Cult of Eleusis – the ones who would be then able to find their way to the Elysian Fields in the Afterlife – underwent a process that involved fasting, then celebrated the gifts of the goddesses of natural abundance by dancing at length ecstatically, and then were garbed in the wreath and robe that showed they were now initiates, and were then given access to a sacred meadow where they walked around with the other initiates listening to beautiful music. This was a prefiguring of their journey to the Elysian Fields. So it seems likely that fasting was used to unhook and unpregulate the reward system, and, combined with the release of endorphins by means of endurance dancing, and the trance induced by the music and dance, plus a ceremony designed to stir feelings of gratefulness for the gifts of nature, all this gave a foretaste of the delights of Elysium. 

And on the day I came up with the idea for my first ode, I felt a strong resonance with such ideas. I’d entered the fasting state, reached that level where the world seems like bowl of fruit, and the countryside in the English summertime did seem to be taking on an Elysian feel. 

This itself didn’t remind me of my plan to write a Gratitude Ode; what prompted me was when my train of thought naturally took a tripartite, turn-counterturn-stand shape that suddenly reminded me of a Pindaric Ode, almost as if a Muse had whispered it into my inner ear. The train of thought was this: 

  1. This English summertime countryside seems so beautiful, it puts me in mind of the Elysian Fields, and fasting seems to have got me there, just as the Eleusis initiates fasted to achieve their beatific vision.
  2. Were peoples such as the Greeks and Egyptians naive to imagine paradise took such an Earthly form, basing it own their own native countryside? 
  3. Actually, I’d rather turn that on it’s head: we could simply observe that to do so was a way of paying a great compliment to nature, by equating it with paradise, just as I did in 1.   

So 3. brought me full circle, back to 1., but only after batting off a contrary point of view. Turn, Counter-turn, Stand. it was then that I realised this train of thought was ideal for being turned into a formal ode, and that in the process I would be writing a Gratitude Ode just as I had planned, for it would be an ode expressing gratitude for the beauty of the countryside where I live. So I went for it, initially just scribbling the main ideas down as prose, and then the next day crafting these into a formal ode. What form should I choose? Well since it was an ode to English summertime, this was an easy choice – it had to be in the form known as an English Ode. And this is what I came up with:

An English Ode


That famous field where nodding poppies sway
In sunlit grass, where Souls of all the good
Spend sweet Eternity in dance and play
And with the gods, take Beauty as their food
Upon the isle across the sea
That circles all the mortal world
With misty waters like a castle moat –
How like must that famed meadow be
To these fair fields where late I’ve strolled
These hills and lanes, these woods, this very spot!

Was it vain pomp or blind naïveté
That made the folk of ancient Egypt style
Their image of divine Eternity
Upon their earthly land astride the Nile?
Where they might hunt in starry creeks
Beside the starry waterway
Or find in starry gardens sweet, cool shade?
Or likewise made the clan of Greeks
Use Grecian fields where grasses sway
As models for their paradisal glade?

But no, let neither supposition stand
I say, that it was rather that they paid
The greatest compliment to their dear land
When seeing Beauty there, “Divine!” they said
And so to English Summer Time
Such compliment I wish to pay
As will the praise of those old pagans match
The heaven forming in my mind
The isle to which I’ll cross one day
Has village greens and homes with roofs of thatch.

East Dean Village Green and Tiger Inn East Sussex England GB

It’s not for me to comment on the literary quality or otherwise of my own poems, but one thing I definitely noticed is that now a train of thought that could have been blown away by the slightest gust of wind was instead turned into a solid monument that I could later return to, and from which I could find ongoing sustenance. I was also given a reminder that passion and formality really can work in tandem to this end, and I also realised that writing odes is not actually that hard.  

Part of what the poem is saying, I suppose, is that we shouldn’t be too quick to look down our noses at the pagan world view. After all, Christianity did the same thing, using earthly scenarios as models for heavenly ones. For example, that business of calling God ‘the Lord’ implies that he is the posh bloke in the big manner within in a feudal system, with the rest of us being the serfs. This leads me on to the start of the next section, which will look at a number of different perspectives on gratitude through the ages, starting with the religious practice of Saying Grace. ‘May the Lord make us truly thankful…’