If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a big surprise as dozens of darling dinosaurs compete for their opera prize
A phrase from one may establish its rhythm, but then it’s lost as another phrase cuts blithely across it with all the informality of free verse, in rich cacophony
And then that rhythm you heard before will suddenly reappear in a moment of ordered harmony as if made for the human ear
Then it’s gone again, but the sounds still delight – heaven-storming chitterings pulsing scintillating emanations through the sap-irrigated matrix of the Chloromyriad
The Old Romantics oh!’d and ah!’d for they found it uplifting and freeing and now the science is backing them up: It bolters our mental well-being
So bathe in the forest and smell the earthy humus for even now the Star-lungs are warming up their vox-boxes in readiness – may we likewise prep our auro-tubules for sensitive apprecio-resonance with this ancient treasure of our planet!
If you’re on the road to Chitterfest you’d better keep moving fast for tomorrow’s the day the developers come so this chance may be your last
Sing on, sweet birds, sing on your spasmodic gutterations of brain-brightening liquid light! Star-lungs: stars are flowers; flowers is bird; bird is Spring…. No bird, no Spring
Should every bird that ever there was stare mute from under glass – just dozens of dry, dumb dodos – we’ll despair that this came to pass
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:
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.
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.
My gladness of the silver birch I wish To share, that slender goddess of a tree Her shower of silken hair moves in a swish That stirs in me a mystic reverie As turns this verdant, grassy leaf-fringed glade Into her sacred grove, and I, her priest Mid-frisson in the dancing, dappled shade Call druids, bards and ovates to the feast But let us now the details try to trace The little leaves, heart-shaped, serrated trail Along each pliant twig to form a spray That’s bright and airy, made with measured grace Cascading sprays together form the veil That by the gentle breeze is set to sway Her stretch of sky she turns to shimmering show And whispers Summer’s secrets soft and low.
O key ingredient of the harmony Of Spring, dear Songbird stay, we beg you, stay! The dead must feel an equal agony To hear you not, nor see the light of day Should silence fall within the woodland dells We’d mourn as if the Sun had left the sky Or all the flowers lost their honey smells As from their petals drained the coloured dye We love those trills that irrigate the mind With water from a laughing, babbling stream Your calls explore a secret sylvan space And by the echoes somehow is defined Within our human thought a painted scene Of all that’s filled with natural, verdant grace Sweet Songbird stay and ever, ever sing for once you’re gone it never could be Spring
We’ll take whatever course for you is best Ensure the fields from poisons are kept free Keep dogs instead of cats, to spare your nest And anywhere you need it plant a tree We’ll plant such bowery covert as you need We’ll plant so you can shelter, roost and call We’ll plant the plants that give you food to feed We’ll plant them if we value Spring at all We love each sound you sing, o darling bird All notes that issue from your quavering throat Each lilting warble, chirrup, cheep and coo By which the silent sleeping air is stirred These sounds now through my open window float To broach the Gates of Dawn, and bring the New! Sweet Songbird stay and ever, ever sing for once you’re gone it never could be Spring
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.
For aromatic oils in herbs and shrubs Let thanks rise to the gods, from whence they fell When one but holds the leaves and gently rubs There issues forth a mystic, fragrant smell The living plants will ornament A tended garden plot The plants will then provide yet further gifts For sprigs of these ingredients When added to the cooking pot The taste uplifts
Hellenic folk in golden ages old These perfumes of the plants sought to explain With stories down the generations told Of how such shrubs some pretty nymph contain How when Apollo yearned to kiss Sweet Daphne, she, forlorn With all speed did attempt to run away Then saving metamorphosis The pretty maiden did transform To odorous bay
O Sage! O Thyme! O Rosemary! I praise Your power to boost our health, our pain to ease Our memory to strengthen, moods to raise Our sense of sight and smell and taste to please It must have been when we first burnt Dry incense, or with mint We first less pleasant tastes and smells disguised That we, now that at last we’d learnt To add a subtle herbal hint Were civilised
O Effortless Discoverer! O Wine! Two-Things-at-Once! Dark Sunshine! Old-but-Young! Bestir to tripping dance the Muse of Rhyme Great Uninhibitor, loosen her tongue Send forth your shelt’ring leaves over my mind Embrace with dappled shade the grapes of thought Protect them from the light of Trying-to-Find Lest nude in Reason’s burning glare they’re caught For season after season we entrust This treasure to the cave of rustic stone As silently the ruby liquid dreams Long slumb’ring in the cellar’s dark and dust What secret mysteries to you were shown By under-dwelling nymphs of chthonic streams? O gen’rous partner in the poet’s art Now set the pen in flight, and help me start!
This blog has focused so far on sending out the gratitude you feel for the Universe, but I thought I’d look here at receiving the gratitude the Universe feels for you, because this is all part of the same thing – the circle of Grace, as represented by those three goddesses dancing in a circle. Receiving the concomitant reciprocation of likes from the Universe refills your creativity tanks ready for the next project. It genuinely is a circle because receiving the gratitude back will help you give better things going forward.
Now, you can’t force people to like your stuff, and that’s not what I’m going to focus on here. Rather, I’m going to be looking at hacking into the hardwired response we have in us that triggers the state of feeling liked.
When we meditate, we create a safe haven for the mind. In that space, because we’re focusing on what we’re thinking, we’re able to let go of thoughts we don’t want. This is what creates the safe haven. In Buddhist thought, meditation takes you into the Pure Land, imagined as a symmetrical, geometric mandala representing a fortress whose strong walls keep the forces of chaos outside. As you let go of thoughts that create stress, or which limit your self-image and dampen your mood, it’s natural that your mood will lift.
So meditation is already a safe-haven for self-image, and what I’m talking about here is just a more specific example of this. It’s amazing how tied up mood is with self-image, and it’s also surprising just how tied up human self-image tends to be with what other people think. We evolved that way, of course, to make society work. Think of the buzz you get when you’ve made something and people think it’s amazing. The Reward System gives you big treats in the form of considerably elevated mood. Think of the massive buzz popular musicians used to get when getting to the top of the hit parade back when that counted for something, i.e. when singles was a thing. Think of the uncontrollable smiles of the Beatles when they first met an audience that couldn’t’ contain how much they like them. This is my interpretation of the Simon and Garfunkel song Cecelia. St Cecelia is the patron saint of music, so when he’s down on his knees begging her to come home, or finding that someone else has taken his place, that means his songs aren’t doing so well. But when she comes back and he sings: “Jubilation, she loves me again, I fall on the floor and I’m laughing” – that’s the big buzz when the songs start doing well again.
But it’s your reward system that’s doing it. I’m not saying that there’s not also a transpersonal giving and receiving on the etheric planes – of course there is. But you are still the master of what hardwired response gets triggered. So why not hack into it? In an evolutionary tribal context, this treat is triggered because you’ve just made a good hut, or something like that. Grateful, congratulatory compliments from other tribe members trigger a response which feels great. We evolved to be like that because it made us into good hut builders, digging stick makers, spear makers, etc., all of which gave the evolutionary advantage. This of course is a potential added bonus for your gratitude odes, i.e. having created something good in the form of a poem, you might get some appreciative noises coming back to you, and this might trigger a further elevation of mood, beyond the expression of gratitude itself.
But what if, for whatever reason, such noises don’t come back? There’s any number of reasons why they might not. In the modern context where the made thing has become cultural, there are many different tastes and there’s a lot of subjectivity and most people are not time rich and the market place is flooded with competing attention grabbers including the media and shiny new electronic devices, and concentration spans are not what they were, and so on. You might write what you think is a great gratitude poem, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the World will reflect that, or even find a chance to give it the attention it needs.
Yet, it seems silly if you know it’s good that you don’t feed your own thoughts in as a replacement, hack the system, make the hardwired response work for you – create a safe haven for self-image. While the question for this book as a whole has been: “How can we harness the heavenly power of the ode?”, the question in this chapter is: “How can we activate a state that mimics the honeymoon period of success where the serotonin sluice gates are wide open?” The response may be ‘hardwired’ but the trigger is soft, because it’s mental, a perceived state of affairs. Anything that’s all-in-the-mind ought to be hackable.
Clearly a balance is needed here. We don’t want to suffer the ill effects of walking off into cloud cuckoo land. This balance can be reached with a little checklist. First, make sure you do actually think the thing is great yourself, and are not just pretending. Also, continue to pay some attention to feedback, but with a glass half full attitude, assuming the best where there is silence or ambiguity, and shrugging off criticism with generous assumptions along the lines of “they must be having a bad day.” Thirdly, avoid big-headedness by constantly cultivating a sense of deep gratitude about your success (external or internal).
This is what I’m interested in and working on at the time of writing and I have the feeling that the more I master this balance, the more I’ll have life licked.
So how can we tap into this? I’ve done a bit of experimenting and have had some positive results, so I thought I’d share a few suggestions. The surprise for me was that maintaining this feeling made me feel like being creative. It’s an addition to your meditation, in the form of a visualisation designed to trigger that feeling. But I want to make clear, and this is kind of crucial, that this is not ‘Creative Visualisation’ – you’re not visualising something that you want to happen in the future. The purpose of it is right in the present – to trigger the feeling. Then once it’s triggered, you’ll then shift your focus on to that feeling, and work out how to protect, maintain and amplify it, coming back to the visualisation as and when you need to if the feeling needs re-triggering.
There’s lots of things you could visualise. A good tip is to apply the Buddhist principle of non-duality – dissolving barriers between self and other, so you can resonate with the feeling of successes embodied in all well made things, by transpersonal morphic resonance, a painting, a poem, a cathedral, a teapot – whatever. Image you’re the one up on stage with an appreciative crowd, not because you’re becoming a denizen of loony land, but just to get a sense of what it feels like, and then work out how to get that feeling just by willing it.
The visualisation doesn’t need to be excessive and you don’t have to be delusional for very long. You are going to be delusional here just for a bit, to get the ball rolling. A deliberately delivered delicate dose of delusion. This particular visualisation is designed to be used as part of the process of being a poet, and so it has that as a theme. You can use it when you’ve finished a poem and not yet started a new one.
I find this a good visualisation to do during an afternoon siesta – I’m not entirely sure why. What you’ll do is imagine yourself at the site of Delphi, but it’s all come back to life as it was in the Golden Age of Athens – the temples are all standing in all their glory. This was the site on the side of Mount Parnassus in Greece where there was a great temple of Apollo, the leader of the Muses, and where there were great poetry competitions every eight years. There was no higher honour for a poet. You’re going to image a scene like the one in Poussin’s painting Parnassus.
In this painting, Poussin depicted a poet receiving the highest of honours. Muses are gathered round, and one of them places a laurel wreath on his head, a mark of honour, as with the idea of a poet laureate – i.e. a poet wearing a laurel crown. Other poet laureates are gathered round, watching on with respect and admiration. The very god Apollo gives the poet a drink from a sacred golden vessel. This is at once a reward, a reciprocation for good work, as well as a draught of inspiration for future works, and the two are indeed closely linked. We can say it represents a refilling or a refuelling. It’s believed the figure being crowned in the painting was actually Poussin’s early patron, the poet Marino. So Poussin was mixing real people from his contemporary life with an image of gods and goddesses in Golden Age Greece, which sets a perfect precedent for us to do the same.
The idea, then, is that you are going to imagine yourself in such a scenario, as the one being crowned with laurel, and watching on you will imagine peers and other figures whose opinion you most respect, and those from whom you most crave recognition. For a bit of fun, you could even Photoshop yourself in Marino’s place, as I have done here:
Poussin’s The Laureate Coronation of William Glyn-Jones
If you’re the sort of person who complains that you’re “not very good at visualising things” then what I would recommend is simply that you focus on fleshing out the details, and ask yourself what might greet your senses. The trickling of the sacred spring, the smell of the incense, the sound of the cicadas, a warm breeze on the face, the Mediterranean sunshine on your skin, and so on. Somewhere a dove is cooing.
There’s something else you can image here. You know how on Facebook where someone is streaming a video live and you see like and love emoticon symbols floating across the screen? You can image a shower of these cascading down over you, as I’ve shown in the above image. Not excessive amounts – but enough to trigger that feeling.
Once you notice the feeling – being liked, appreciated, your talent being recognised – now focus on maintaining and expanding it. If it drops away, what was the thought that just diminished it? Release that thought – let it drift away. Work out how to groove with this pleasant feeling. A groove is a repeating rhythm that’s fun to dance to. With the first few repetitions the groovy feeling is not very strong, but as it repeats it gets stronger. That’s the nature of getting into a groove. You want to work out how to do that with this feeling that you’ve triggered – staying with it that allows it to grow a little with each breath.
If find yourself wanting to make the cascade of like emoticons excessive, it could be a sign of an insecurity you’re trying to overcompensate for. If so, root that out and heal it, release the repressed emotion and move on, let it go, because this isn’t about big-headedness; it’s just about maintaining a natural cycle of flow that helps you continue being creative. Just a trickle of likes should be enough.
At the end of a session like this, see yourself getting a badge or certificate or some such to signify that you are now able to self like. Then in your day to day life if you find your mood dipping in response to perceived criticism, remember this certificate, and remember the feeling.