A jaw harp
It had been rainy for the past several months, and I had all the symptoms of cabin fever. I should say I suffered from depression, and to fight it, I bought a new bottle of vitamins, which I took daily with my Omega 3 pills, and I spent more time at the Health Club. One day, I went into a music store, and on an impulse, I bought a jaw harp, imported from Austria. My parents gave me one like it when I was a child, but I never learned to play it. I guess having my teeth scraped so many times over the years has made me immune to what bothered me about it then. Something about the jaw harp is innately outside the box. When you play it, all the rules change.
The jaw harp, or jew's harp, as it is often known, is the only musical instrument that has a thousand names: gewgaw, trump, l'abeille, giddy row, bombarde. It is also has been used for magic. I have been trying to discover some of its magical properties, and I discovered one of them. I have a friend, a lawyer, who is cool in every way. He has a collection of vintage electric guitars; and he does remixes in a home studio that are so impressive, that he could compete with Skrillix. However, I was talking with him one day, and showed him a hand-forged trump I found that was made in India. I gave him a demonstration, but after a minute he said excuse me, I have to answer my cell phone, and pretended to go outside to talk. You can use it to embarrass lawyers! This might be extremely valuable to know. Every summer there is a convention of gewgaw players in Oregon, which isn't far away. I plan to go to it.
I picked up a paperback in a thrift store, "The Whole World is a Flower", a kind of inspirational literature, because it gives you one zen koan for every day of the year, and offers some hints as to interpretation. I bought it when I opened the book and read
Eyes see without seeing,
So no distinction.
Ears hear, but there's no sound,
so no good or bad.
No distinction, no good or bad.
Put everything down.
The blue mountain is complete stillness.
Moonlight shining everywhere.
I joked with the ladies at the counter about the books I bought. I said I couldn't discuss philosophy when I was young. Now, I know what I think about everything, and philosophy just plugs into that. My system of ingrained prejudices. What was uplifting to me about this koan, is the idea that we can be trapped by seeing and by language itself, and that sometimes we may need to escape that. Within, one can always find a way to be calm and joyful.
When I was seventeen years old, I spent a month up in the mountains. It was early in the season, and few people were going to their cabins at Rosebud Lake, where my folks had a cabin. I noticed that the mist and the rain created layers of blue tree shadows in the forests, like a japanese painting. I liked that. A friend drove up to see me on his motorcycle, and arrived at the door, completely covered with mud. But most of the time, I was alone. One night, the sky was completely clear, and millions of stars shone brightly. The moon came up and illuminated the snowy glacier on the mountain across the lake. That's my blue mountain.
The winter snow still remained, but the outine of a rock formation in the middle of the glacier up on the mountain was still prominent. The old lady. That's what we called the rock, ever since we were children. Later on in life, I gathered some river stones from morning walks, kept them in cardboard boxes on the porch. Finally, I built a large oven in my back yard, to resemble the formation on this mountain across the lake, Mt. Sheperd. Nobody understood what it meant, to me. We made some really good bread in it, though.
Back to the magic. I think what appeals to me about magic, is that you might heal with it. Much like words, which can persuade and move people, for good or for evil, music has power. Music is sometimes taught as a psychological therapy -- I don't really know what they teach those people to do, but the idea appeals to me. The concept is rather old. In the middle ages, in Italy, there was a dance craze for the Tarantella -- people who danced it or heard the music reportedly were cured of all kinds of ailments. A German priest, Athanasius Kircher, studied the phenonomen, and wrote down the music, as a cure for the bite of the wolf spider, known as the Tarantula in Apulia. The dance endures today, and it is also said to be a remnant of bachanalian rites from Greek settlers in this region of Italy. We all know the Neapolitan wedding music, but I also find the Renaissance versions which survive to be equally stirring.
I started taking extra vitamin B, as part of my program to alleviate my symptoms of depression. As before, I started having memorable dreams, which I usually enjoy. One night, I had what might be called a nightmare, which I shall relate:
I am approached by a friend, who views me as an expert in all things computer, to help with a problem. He has recently joined a new Christian sect. They call themselves the First Christians. They aren't extremists, and they have simple ceremonies with real bread and wine, they emphasize mainly the words of Christ in their teachings, and they try to recreate the earliest form of Christianity by studying history and philosophy. I like this church. They are also encouraged to use internet forums, such as Facebook, to spread the word. That's the main problem. A number of members of the Church, along with my friend, have been afflicted by a virus, it appears, when they participate in discussions of Christianity. Without their knowledge, a horrible curse appears, and starts attacking people with whom they have been discussing Christian values. The leadership of the Church has even given a name for the virus: they call it Rabbanic Samplum.
I absolutely determined to help my friend, and I seek out help from Kurt Vonnegut, who is a friend of mine in my dream. We start analysing Facebook discussions where the curse occurs. It is a truly frightening curse: it takes several forms, we discover, and they are reminiscent of H. P. Lovecraft. We start creating a list of words, which trigger the phenomenon when they arise in a discussion. It's similar to a list of words drawn up by the CIA to root out Al Quaida. It seems impossible to avoid any of these words in a discussion of religion, but I wonder why it only happens to people that join this church. I try putting "First Christian" in my profile. Bingo. Rabbanic Samplum starts attacking people that I know on Facebook. I change it to "Christian", and it stops. I suggest to my friend that he do the same, and never to mention the actual name of the church on the internet. You might just be mysterious about it, and say that you belong to a church that tries to discover the original form of Christianity, but that you can only tell them where and when you meet, etc. It seems to be the best solution.
When I woke up, I was in extreme pain. I have arthritis in both shoulders, and this frequently is a problem when I try to sleep. I asked my wife to bring me acetominaphin and ibuprofin, and I waited. One of my arms seemed to be paralyzed. I asked her to give me a hug, and very quickly, endorphins were released, and I started to feel comfortable again. This is magic we all know.
In the middle of the quarry there is a fountain,
the source from which water flows
over there you put a bird to sing,
sings and rests
and say "how beautiful you are."
For you want to be a bird,
dreaming of being next to you, beautiful lady.
lyrics from "Tarantella del Gargano", translated from the Italian
When I get up in the morning, I am tempted to sleep longer than I should. This is easy to rationalize, because I set my own schedule, and I tend to think of it as a way to make up for lost sleep, if I had a bad night. However, if I sleep late, I seem to get more depressed. I keep the jew's harp beside my bed, and when I first wake up, I reach for it, and start playing. A few minutes of complete silliness, and I am ready to get up. I guess this is another one of the magical qualities of this musical instrument that I have discovered.
I am reading "Thriving", a book about men's health by Dr. Robert Ivker and Edward Zorensky. What I find most interesting about the book is a test they give for determining if you "thrive" or not. Nothing is abolutely essential, to be able to "thrive". There are three areas in which a man can thrive: the body, the mind, and the spirit. After you take the test, you get an overall score which reflects how well you are. It is also an excellent way to find areas that you might easily improve your quality of life. I have often criticised the use of tests in education, because they tend to limit what students study. This is a test I like, because it seems to encourage a person to open new doors, to look at places that he has neglected. I put the test on my Google Docs, to share with my friends.
I do a few hours a work every week doing volunteer work at an outpatient facility for the mentally ill. I go there because I like to talk. For quite a few years, I have been taking coffee every day at the local coffee shops, and it is one of the best things I can do for myself, to have conversations with old friends, and just as often, new ones. I decided I might be able to use my social skills for the benefit of others, if I did it at the wellness center. All lot of people are taken to the Hope Center, it is called, by their case managers, because they have been sitting around, alone, and need more socialization. Some of them just sit, saying nothing, for a week or more. Then they start to wake up, and they discover a few things that are enjoyable to do there.
I took a class about wellness there -- they call WRAP. It is the foundation for peer counselling. By learning techniques for monitoring your own illness, you can prevent relapses. After the course, you have a set of concepts for giving advice to others. I sometimes like to inject the idea of meditation into the process. Meditation isn't a way to avoid reality. You learn to be at peace, but for a reason. If you are calm enough, you can then think about problems, and solve them more logically. This is a very persuasive rationale for taking your medicines regularly.
There is an amusing and inspiring story I once read, from "Tales of Freud's Vienna", by Bruno Bettelheim. He tells the story of an early "peer conselor", one of the first instances in which a former mental patient proves to be an effective psychotherapist. In the story, Jung had a patient, a young woman, who had been mentally ill from her early childhood. He did a very unconscionable thing: he had an affair with her, and somehow, this helped her to get well. However, after he cured her, she decided that she would also like to be a therapist, and wanted to join him in some of his professional socities. He was very upset at the idea that his collegues in the profession would find out what he had done, and his ensuing behavior was not at all kind. She disassociated herself with Jung, and joined Freud's circle. She went on to become a successful and effective child psychologist. This story proves that many mental patients can become effective healers for other patients. In the last few decades, this idea--that the mentally ill understand other patients and therefore can help them, has been expanded into a general theory of peer counselling. Statistics have shown that the mentally ill, even when they are sick, help each other to get well.
There is a movie just released about the story, called "A Dangerous Method". It's interesting that she got well when she understood what was making her crazy, just as Freud theorized. It is also interesting that sexuality seemed to help. I don't think sex would help very many mental patients, as medicine. It's mostly a barrel of bad apples, for many of them. Of course, I wouldn't think that way, about my own experiences. It's hard not to be subjective, about this.
I usually sit with the people who work there, who often are playing some game with a few patients, and when the conversation is animated, everyone starts to enjoy it. I brought my gewgaw there one day, and made a few jokes about doing magic. Boing. Maybe I can make it work, somehow, for people like me.
A sample of jew's harp music:
A Renaissance tarentella (but played on a ukulele!):
Gaspar Sanz Variations, on a period instrument:
An interpretation of Athanasius Kircher's music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=RD6khYNpnS4
WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Planning) as developed by Mary Ellen Copeland: http://www.mentalhealthrecovery.com/wrap/