Reverberations

By Vita Forest

Papped by a sketch buddy at The Cutaway, Barangaroo

Last week sitting in The Cutaway at Barangaroo, a place that I’ve been so many times before and seen “dressed up” is many different ways – with a cardboard city, with hundreds of yogis, with thousands of white balls converting it into a dry beach.  But for Aurora Eora, the space was mostly physically empty and yet it was transformed.  It became a space to linger in, to reflect in, to close your eyes and be in (and in my case a space to get lost in a drawing in.)  What made it so?  What changed this big cavernous space, made people want to walk slowly to its centre and sit down?  Lie down?  Stop?

It was music.

The voices of the Australian Children’s Choir echoed through the vast interior reminding me of monks singing acapella incantations in a sacred space.  With speakers placed in a circle facing the centre of The Cutaway (to which we were encouraged by a pathway made up of strings of electric bulbs, like giant fairy lights, standing in for church candles), voices and rich harmonies washed over you from all directions.  People sat and looked about.  Looked up at the ceiling, looked at the rock cliff face, strolled quietly up and down.  There was nothing much to take a selfie with, it was just a quiet place to linger and reflect.


(Later as I wandered over the hilltop I heard the music again, this time drifting out of the large vent that opens at the top of The Cutaway.  Again, it altered the mood of the people who heard it, turning the Frisbee players into ballet dancers as they spun and leapt.  It called a gentle invitation to curious passers-by to try and locate the source of music – like a benign Pied Piper.)

And later, as I drove somewhere or other, I was listening to RN and caught the extraordinary story of Andrew Schulman who created Medical Musicians after music saved his life – literally.  He was deep in a coma with nothing more to be done when his wife played his favourite piece of music (Bach’s St Mathew’s Passion) and the medical team watched in amazement as his vital signs changed before their eyes.  They had verifiable and measurable scientific data that proved the power of music.  Schulman went on to create Medical Musicians playing Bach and other carefully selected pieces to patients in trauma wards as an “effective, non-invasive treatment” which “produced certain chemicals in the body” and “allowed the body to relax and heal”.

And I remember years ago, doing a meditation course and the teacher talking about “cleansing” your home by playing calming music in it – even if you were not there.  Leaving on some classical music and going out and letting the sound change the energy.

And think about my students over the years and how they love “doing Relaxation” where I put on some Vivaldi or Bach and they lay down on the floor and closed their eyes for a few minutes.  (If we missed it one day for some reason, they were quite put out).  How kids with behavioural problems would choose listening to music as one of their strategies for calming down, settling themselves.  They even started doing it at home, their parents reported back to me.

And even my cat Zadie, flopping down on this table on which I write, choosing to curl up right in front of the portable speaker from which Richard Tognetti plays the Bach Violin Concertos, the sound making the whole table reverberate, I can feel the physical sensation through my arms as I write.

There is something quite amazing about music.  You can’t listen to it in the past or the future, it makes you “be” here in the present.  Right here.  What is your soundtrack for calm?

 

 

Into the Labyrinth

By Vita Forest

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I was looking for the labyrinth.

I had parked in Centennial Park beneath an oak tree, grinding acorns into the dirt as I walked away, past the joggers and the promenaders, the dog walkers, the horse riders, and the soccer games with their shouts and piercing whistles.  I looked across the ponds, noting moor hens and ducks, and turned down the avenue of paperbark trees.  The noises of Saturday sport gradually receded behind the thicket of Lachlan swamp, I checked the map on my phone, I was nearly upon it.

It is hard to see the labyrinth from a distance.  At first I looked straight over it.  Then I noticed the large flat disc, like a giant coin lying in the green.  The stone labyrinth.  It is a replica of the famous labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, the same pathway, the same pleasing geometry.  This Sydney labyrinth opened in 2014 and anyone is free to use it.

Labyrinths are different to mazes.  Mazes are designed to trick and baffle, to confuse and unsettle.  With their single pathways, labyrinths are instead a calming journey where you don’t need to solve problems to find your way through.  Instead, by following the path, your mind calms, allowing you to see more clearly, be more present.  It can be a walking meditation, a way of moving into the present moment as you move toward the centre.

I walked closer to the labyrinth.  There was a group practising tai-chi further off, but apart from them, I was alone.  I found the entrance and began my journey.  The path looped back and forth changing direction, so unless you are constantly looking up, you lose track of your orientation in the park.  I guess that is the point, you are focusing on where you are in the journey, not where you have come from or where you are going.  By locating the labyrinth in a clearing, you also don’t anchor directions to particular trees or other features in the landscape.  It began to rain lightly as I walked, and all I was aware of was the surface of the stone, the turns in the path and the light fall of rain on the brim of my hat.  It brought the focus to a smaller and smaller point.  Suddenly a couple of noisy groups descended toward me, breaking my focus.  I reached the centre and left them to it.

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The labyrinth had quietened my mind.  I walked around the swamp in the light shower, noticing the luminous green of the ferns, the stillness of the paperbark trees.  Then I came across a track going through it and entered the thick foliage.  It too brought to mind the labyrinth, the sense of enclosure, the blocking out of the world outside.  I watched spiders spin silent webs beneath shady leaves, I saw signage covered with splatters and realised the swamp was home to a colony of flying foxes, hanging upside down from the tallest branches like giant black seed pods.  I walked on, aware of the screeching of the few creatures up past their bed times, into the centre then out again.

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I emerged near the labyrinth and decided to walk it again.  The gentle rain fell and the tai-chists had moved beneath the shelter of a fig tree, silently stretching, turning and bending in unison.  I entered again, this time aware of the honking of a flock of geese that were pottering around the clearing.  My focus came down again, to my feet, to the path, to the gradations of colour in the stone.  I soon lost track of where I was, what point of the journey I was at.

You move toward the centre then away again, you travel on a familiar path but further in or further out.  Like life, I suppose, you never know exactly where you are on your journey – the beginning, nearing the end, retracing something that feels familiar, but is seen slightly differently through a altered lens of time or experience.  You don’t know if you are going forward or backwards, sometimes it feels like you are moving further away from your goal, only to find you swing back towards it again.

I guess sometimes we need to surrender and let things take their course.  You will land in the centre where you were aiming for all along.  You just have to take the journey.  You just have to give it time.