One of the many correct ways of embracing in tango was described to me like this: “right in front of me, sternum to sternum. Like we are having sex. See what happens if I angle myself? How the fuck am I going to get my penis into your vagina if we are at an angle? It has to go straight in. That is why we have to be right in front of each other.”
Bach is the same way.
There are some composers whose work you can sneak around, approach from the side, evade. There are some composers who let you gloss over the real stuff and phone in fake
work. There are some composers with whom you can get away with performing instead of
authentically being, from the core. These composers are easy. They let you hide.
Bach is simple. There is no hiding with Bach. He reveals everything that's real, by stripping away everything else.
Yep. Even that. Especially that.
Bach wrote mandalas, or rather, he wandered through the universe and collected them in his mandala-net and wrote them down to share with the rest of us. But they were already out there. Math and love are universal constants, waiting to be discovered (or, if you ask my son, have already been discovered, by us). He came along and noticed a few bits fluttering in the trees and pinned them to some staff paper. He doesn't tell us anything new; rather, he reminds us of the math and the love we always knew was inside us, and inside everything. Because sometimes we get busy and forget.
Mandalas order the universe for us and make sense of the insensible. They literally show us our place in the universe and how everything fits together. But mostly, they serve as Post-It references when we get lost, too caught up with our brain-hamsters wearing themselves out,
running on their Anxious Wheels and getting nowhere. When we get a little worried, when we get a little sad, when we get a little stressed, when we get a little nervous, when we get a little stuck on one small piece of the much bigger puzzle, often our hamsters try to fix this situation by running even more!
But if you want to get some productive thinking done, don't think with your hamsters. Think with your dick, rooted ten thousand fathoms into the ground. Bach gives us the math our minds need in order to put the hamsters to bed, so we can get to the real work at hand. He shows us
the shape of emptiness.
He shows us what we forget about, and what is crucial to real development of any kind. He shows us what I will call yin space. Hamsters love catching hold of Things. But Bach, like other
mandala-makers, shows us No Things. He shows us the space around the things. And in an extremely fractal, mandala kind of way, he shows us how to dilate the yin space open, more and more and more, until we slip inside.
You have to yin your way into Bach. If you yang at him, he just makes you feel crazy and thwarted and inadequate. The puzzle locks itself up harder and nastier. But if you yin at him, and allow him to come to you, easing your way through each step and asking yourself at each
step, “how can I do less? How can the music come to me, instead of me pushing myself at the music?” then his music is always simple and the puzzle undoes itself for you!
The trick with Bach is to slowly dilate open space and time, more and more, making everything infinitely bigger. He is definitely a vector-based composer. You can blow his work up infinity-times bigger than it's written and it still maintains its perfect form, and then you slip inside like a little ant. You have to ease your way in, and do the work, on the inside. And then when you come out, everything is easier, the hamsters are well rested, thoughts come from a different and thoughtier place, and self-evident and elegant solutions drop into one's lap fully formed where before there was just chaos and worry.
Bach likes to throw rocks into his rivers, because they're better that way. But they're like yoga
twists. At first they seem super-scary, gnarly, and like impossible contortionist feats only achievable by other people with whom you clearly share no DNA. But eventually one day you notice a little something that opens a door, and then you see them differently, from
the inside instead of the outside, and then instead of being magic tricks, they're just magic, and they're no big deal. “Oh. It's just that,” you think...and from that point on, are no longer
impressed by that crazy-cool thing. Which is a bit of a let-down. But on the plus side, you understand that that scary thing isn't scary at all, and it isn't even a separate thing, it's just one
seamless element of a much bigger mandala.
I recently took a Zero Balancing workshop that expanded the pants off my mind. It reminded me about how big and pervasive yin space is, and how most of what the universe
is made of is yin space, through which tiny little “oh it's just this” bits of yang substance make their way. And I saw that the more I noticed the yin space, the smaller and more orderly and less frantic became the yang that had previously grabbed my attention and defined my emotions and actions.
Zero Balancing prioritizes awareness of how we're feeling when we touch people—we touch them in a present, energetically balanced, simple, human, not-overthought-or-overwrought
way that puts trust in a nestly mammalian level of connection. I found that Zero Balancing the Bach was the way to go. As long as I focussed on how I felt at each note, his mandala opened up and revealed its secrets to me in peaceful stillness. As long as I maintained awareness of what felt good to my nervous system on a simple mammalian level, he reciprocated by showing me more and more space between the notes. The longer I looked, the more the yin space assumed defined contours that made sense. If I didn't get them, I just hadn't looked long enough. They invariably resolved themselves into a cohesive and
logical shape, once I understood the real shape of the question. But then...understanding the true shape of the question is always the challenge! After that, answers come right away!
For me this dilation of space and time became a chance to dispassionately notice the workings of my hamsters in action. The glory of Bach is that he can be a real bitch—in other words, you (or at least, I) often have to spend a lot of time picking things apart and repeating the same physical movements many times. Fortunately I have a downstairs neighbour who can't
think of anything more wonderful than hearing the same measure played for hours! But what happens when the body is busy with this slowed-down repetitive task is Tai Chi. The body has something logical and orderly to do. The hamsters have a logical and orderly detailled task to chew at. With everybody busy, the heart and the real mind can open up and work through whatever's eating at them. It's like how our brains work through things when we're asleep, only
we're awake and can notice it happening.
Getting into this space can be a slow process, especially as it's not a 0-or-1 proposition so much as it is a gradient. You can dilate the space and the time infinitely, if you're really clever. But once you're even a little bit of the way in, connections and solutions and noticings can happen instantly. ….But you have to allow yourself the time you need and your physical body needs to ease into the process. I might think of things differently if I were a young man. But I am me, a grown-up woman, and I know that everything is a million times better if everybody involved is in a suitably receptive state. Plus, I remember something Jason Bowman once said in a yoga class: “if you do something for two minutes and it's boring, try doing it for four minutes.” —It's amazing how nonboring something becomes if you allow yourself the time and mental space to actually look at it.
Going into the mandala can take a long time and can bring up all kinds of fun things to notice. Physical things. Emotional things. Hamster things. Grinding the mandala into our muscle memory takes a while, because the body-brain learns a lot slower than the mind-brain. But once it has something, it understands it in a magical way that blows our mind-brains out of the
water. And once the body-brain understands the shape of the mandala, it can parrot it back to us without our even thinking at all! Without nudging one single sleeping hamster. And once in a while we can look down and think, “holy shit! Who just did that? Certainly not I, I don't feel like I did anything. That was incredible! Was that even the notes on the page...why yes, it was! And I wasn't even thinking about it.”
And then once we've gone in and wandered through the mandala and put it in our bodies, our minds can come back out and hover over the mandala and see its shape in a new way, and things are light and easy and calm. But you have to go in in order to come back out. And the more you go in, the more you can come out.
I believe this dilation of our perception of physical order is key to understanding...probably anything! It's certainly the key to martial arts. This is why we
did kata until we were blue in the face. This is why Tai Chi and Qi Gong exist. This is why Beethoven said, “going slowly you make fewer mistakes.” The more we expand the mandala, the more we see and understand and can inhabit the yin space, and the less effort we need throw into the yang of life. The Soshu of my jiujitsu dojo was fat old cripple, but his mastery of the yin space around the yang of his physical practice was so great that he could lay a man out flat almost without moving at all. The real milongueros with the soul-melting embraces are often fat, old, and out of shape—and they've come to understand the space around the dance.
When I was in Israel I got used to hearing the muezzin call to prayer five times a day. “That seems like an awful lot of time spent praying; I wonder how anyone ever gets anything done,” I thought at the time. But now I see it as a handy study aid, like coffee or black-market Ritalin. Put in the time over here, putting the hamsters to sleep, and get the efficiency rewards back over there, by figuring things out faster and more productively and living in greater harmony and peace with the world around you. Maybe there was something to the idea. It had certainly been around a while. Keep everyone from getting too far into their hamster-crazy side, keep calling them back to the space where their dicks are in the ground and their hearts and minds can work through things effectively, and maybe society will run along in a peaceful and balanced way. There are worse approaches to building a culture.
Mandalas are everywhere. They don't have to be Bach. They don't have to be Hindu pictures with little gods on them. They're everywhere there is math...so, in other words, they're everywhere. They're rampant in the natural world, which is one big mandala. But they're also often man-made, because our order-seeking minds instinctively produce these maps and references.
And we ourselves are mandalas, and we are elements of bigger mandalas, in a mathematically iterative and elegantly simple way. What sense we find inside these circles within circles is up to each of us. And whom with find within them...well, that's up to each of us too.
But ideally we find ourselves.