I’ve included the whole paragraph to provide a bit of context. Writer, broadcaster and veteran presenter of the long-running South Bank Show (for those who don’t know who he is) Melvyn Bragg was musing about rituals, prayers, God and religion. He was, at the time of writing this article, in Cumbria. North West England. There were other submissions as well. From former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to philosopher Julian Baggini, contributors (and contributions) were varied and thought-provoking. It was Melvyn’s column, though, that really got to me.
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This is transcendence, not in a pantheistic way, but in a human one. As I mentioned before, the column Melvyn penned was part of a bigger debate on how we supposedly fill this “faith-shaped hole in modern life”. Whatever your take on God, religion and the like (and there are many, luckily), what can’t and shouldn’t be denied is that the moments Mr Bragg described above begin and end in the person, the human.
An anecdote is called for here to explain my line of thought. Almost a month ago the teacher of an Afro-Brazilian class in north London which I had been attending, rang me up out of the blue. He was stranded in Greece and needed someone to cover his workshop that night. I must admit that I felt flattered to be asked as up to then I had been only a student and found him to be a very engaging, knowledgeable and skilful tutor. He told me that I could work with the two percussionists who normally play in the class. Already this posed a challenge. Although Africa gave Brazil and Cuba similar cultures our dance traditions are very different. Throughout the day I could hardly concentrate on my work. My mind was on the workshop I was meant to deliver that night.
I took a gamble. I chose a type of dance from the extensive Afro-Cuban repertoire that resembled somewhat some of the moves this teacher had taught before and which could be executed without much difficulty by the two drummers. At the same time I added my own spin. After meeting and agreeing with the musicians on what rhythm they were going to play I felt more confident to go ahead with the idea I had in mind. It’s good to work with professionals who know what they are doing and these two drummers were top class. I began the warm-up.
After a few stretching and abdominal exercises with yogic influences, I asked the students to close their eyes and to stay where they were. I, then, went up to each of them and gave them the same instructions one by one, individually: Keep your eyes closed, don’t open your eyes, I want you to move to the music you are hearing now on the spot. I don’t care about technique, experience or anything, just move on the spot, move in whatever way you are feeling the music because this is your music, nobody else’s, it’s yours, you own it, so you dance it, you move to it. It was a full house, twenty plus students, but the “gears” were slotting into place. They were all moving in unison but in their own idiosyncratic way. This was what Melvyn Bragg called in his column “an expanding sense of inner freedom”. For them and for me. These people were free because they were not looking at each other. They couldn’t even look at themselves in the big mirrors the dance studio had. I had eliminated any source of inhibition and self-doubt that could have jeopardised my class and in its place brought in a primary sense of being. Being through a rhythm they had never heard. Being a human being in communion with the beautiful art of Afro-Cuban dance.
What happened that night was magical. Recalling it now in the context of the New Statesman’s question on faith, I realise that he answer is, at least to me: there is no faith-shaped hole, there’s just a reclaiming of transcendence from a human perspective. We have come full circle, and this time we have the language to explain the phenomenon. But even if we can’t explain it, we can still feel it.
I am of the belief that our ancestors came across moments of pure magic, of “gears”. But lack of linguistic resources rendered these cavewomen and men almost speechless. Hence the tendency to export their (potential) analytical powers to forces that dwelled outside them. That way they didn’t have to worry about the answers. Sometimes, however, one doesn’t need to have any answers. Sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes there cannot be any answers, for the methods to get to this truth have not been invented yet, or we haven’t discovered them.
My answer to Melvyn’s question on the “known unknown of the universe and the brain” is, yes, it will surprise us. But it won’t mean the end of our inner liberty. If anything, we will acquire an extra dimension. An extra human dimension. Cheerio, see you in the second week of September. I hope you enjoy the music today. Music with which to unlock your non-self and inner freedom.
Photo taken by the blog author
Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 14th September at 10am (GMT)