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Music, Peace and The Quest

In my life thus far two things have eluded me: music and peace of mind (you can substitute the word “mind” with either “soul” or “spirit” if you like because I’m obviously not talking about “peace of brain,” which has no real meaning).

When I say music has eluded me I mean that I can’t sing, can’t play an instrument, can’t read music and no nothing about music history and theory. I can, however and obviously, experience music. But while my experience is often enjoyable and sometimes meaningful, it is certainly uninformed.

By peace of mind I mean…Goodness, I’m not sure what I mean, which is part of the problem. Nonetheless, I suggest it is an inner peace that I think comes through psychological, spiritual and material realities that both define and surround me and the way I perceive, experience and live life. When I say peace of mind has eluded me, I mean just that. I can’t find it or create it. I am not saying that I have never experienced peace. I have. But never in a permanent or even prolonged way. Peace is so utterly ephemeral to me and I feel and think it should be more enduring.

I’ve brought music and peace together here because the other day I listened to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings again after many years. For almost six minutes the music slowly and beautifully repeats it’s sad melodic theme. It is the relationship between the beauty and sadness that strikes and moves me as I listen. The music seems to be a kind of resolved recognition that they must coexist. At just over five minutes the strings begin to hint at what is to come and at 5’55 they start to climb. At 6’42 you think they have reached their destination but then they climb higher, and then higher still, so that at 7’8, just when you feel as though your life is fulfilled and your heart will break, they stop. There is the briefest pause and then the music brings us once again to earth where the sounds are deeper and slower, because, I guess, we can’t live in the heights.

Before the music starts to climb at 5’55, what I “see” when listening, while certainly not darkness, is nonetheless dim tan tones. And while I do not experience confusion, I do sense an wispy fog. There is a hesitancy in the music that denies lucidity. And I see and feel the prominence of sadness over beauty, though just. By the time the music has reached its peak at 7’8 however, I see light and experience clarity. Here beauty has expelled sadness. All hesitancy has been vanquished. There simply is no room for sadness and tentativeness here in the heights. All there is is light and clarity and this is my moment of peace, bright and vibrant. But as always (!!) that moment does not, and perhaps cannot, last. The music brings us down. The tan tones become brownish. Things slow down. The clarity is tempered with the haze of the sound. Sadness resumes its seemingly natural home in human experience as the music fades into nothingness.

It is now obvious why I began by saying I know nothing about music and that I am disappointed that what peace I have experienced is so transitory. I find it very difficult to put music into words, and perhaps what I have written about the Adagio is worse than naïve. Nonetheless, it is my experience of the music. And, disappointed as always, the light of peace so powerfully gifted to me in the music only last a few seconds - though, what a wonderful few seconds.

What the music has left me with are questions it would be wise for me to apply to my quest: What is the relationship between sadness (that is the lack of peace) and beauty? What is the relationship between peace and beauty? Is it simply our lot that peace will forever be fragile and fleeting? Or, is the fact that my experience of peace is fragile and fleeting my failure?

In my book Notes from 39,000 Feet I wrote, in a chapter entitled In the Absence of Our Desired Hope, of an experience I had years ago in Greece, again about the nature and ephemeral nature of peace. Here I am more comfortable, here in words. So I leave you with those words. However, I began with the experience of music because it embraces something about peace that words cannot, something important that I cannot do without. Perhaps the bringing together of the above music and the below words will be of some benefit.

From Limeni, Greece:

I was sitting at a table on the water's edge under bamboo on the fifth day since my arrival. Five days previously, I had been struck by the beauty of the village and the bay. Beauty was a good enough reason to stop. On this day I was sensing the presence of peace as different, distinct from a feeling of peacefulness. As I sat drinking Greek black muddy coffee and retsina, eating bread, tzatziki, meatballs, and salad, I wondered what it was, this peace.

How much of peace is physical? The rough concrete pouring into the rocks. The water lapping, its peaceful sound, gently filling every crevice in the rocks, and just as gently running out again, as if in Buddhist meditation. The boats rocking rhythmically on the surface of the water. Gently. A small bird flying low across the water. The water shades of blue, light, almost transparent, merging to deep dark blue, almost black. Clean. A large bee humming in the bamboo over my head.

I was surrounded by quiet life, or a gentle living. The birds chirping, the bees humming. The buildings alive with time and being, and years of human living. The water alive, slowing filling and touching every space before moving on. The water contained life, surrounded life, created life. The rusty chains and water soaked ropes that joined boats to shore were alive. The ropes covered in green. The chains and rings and spikes rusting. Oxidation as life.

How much of peace is the community? At the end of the patio, to my right, two people sat at a table eating in silence. To my left, on a section of the patio without a bamboo covering, sat a young woman and a middle aged man. Her left foot was on the edge of the chair in which she sat and her right leg rested on another chair. Her hair was full and long and light in colour. Her body was slender, desirable. She wore dark glasses, a white blouse, tight blue jeans, and boots. She was posing for, indeed inviting, the man who sat  opposite her at the small table. He too was stylish. Gold chain on a bare chest, open white shirt, off-white loose trousers. From time to time they both made sure we were noticing them.

An old woman walked between us. She carried a bucket filled with frozen squid. She walked down four steps which were cut into the patio between the rocks and which led to the water, the bottom two steps submerged. The old woman took off her shoes and stood on the last step filling her bucket with water. She placed the frozen squid in the bucket of water to begin thawing, took them out of the bucket and hit them against the concrete steps. Then she filled the bucket again and put the squid back in the bucket to renew the cycle.

As I watched, I noticed still further to my left around the curve of the small bay, two people sitting on their balcony, looking back across the water, the boats, the taverna, at me. And behind us all, near the entrance to the taverna, sat an old man. Fisherman by the looks of him, weathered and unshaven. He sat by himself drinking Greek coffee, saying nothing. He hardly moved at all.

How much of peace is spiritual? The physical reaching into my body, mind, and soul. The sounds easing the mind. Beauty moving the spirit. The company of animals, people, water, and rust becoming a communion of sorts.

Even in that deep place of my being, within peace itself, there was slight disturbance in the form of an even deeper longing. Even as I experienced peace, I longed for it to go deeper, to flow in gently and fill every crack and crevice of my sometimes battered being. Even as I acknowledged with gratitude that peace existed in that moment, I longed for it to exist always.



Peace for most of us is only a temporary experience. The most we can expect, because it is the most we have experienced. It is a repeating of the momentary. But we can long for, hope for, is for such peace to be permanent.

It is a glimpse of the divine, like a silent whisper. The deeper the peace, the deeper we pursue it, the closer we approach that which is divine. And that was it. That was what it was, this deep running longing. To reach the divine within me and without me, to touch it, to be the divine, so that I could be reconciled with the universe. The divine, not as temporary relationship, but as constant. Not as an exceptional experience, but as commonplace experience.

Even as I searched around me for the meaning of what was happening, things began to change. A breeze came up. The water was finding new energy. Gentle lapping became a crashing. The boats began to rock more violently, move towards me and the water splashed at my feet. The bamboo began to sing. The two people at the end of the terrace began to speak. The man and woman of glamour got up and began to leave, walking up the steps toward the road. As they left, the woman took off her sunglasses and smiled at me. She was inviting us all to watch. The old fisherman lit his pipe and coughed, clearing his throat unpleasantly, without the hesitation of self-consciousness. And two policemen walked down the steps joining us under the bamboo.

The moment had passed.

Copyright © 2014 Dale Rominger

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