I have just been struck by something I’d never realised before, but which is immediately so blindingly obvious that it’s already hard to remember why it felt like a realisation.

At the same time, like so many realisations, which can be ‘thought’ and understood in a tiny fraction of a second, they turn out to be much more complicated when you try to write them down, so please bear with me. I’m going to start by talking about practising and performing music.

A musician faced with a new piece of music for the first time will often play it through perfectly, and then find that they can’t play it anywhere near as well when they try again. This is something like beginner’s luck but – like beginner’s luck – it’s more than luck. The same will happen when practising a piece that you know fairly well. The best effort is often the first go through, and you will often falter in the tricky parts on subsequent attempts. The same will also happen when you don’t play a piece for years and then revisit it.

Why does this happen? Ask any musician and they’ll tell you that it’s because on the first go through you aren’t thinking about or analysing what you’re doing. As soon as you start to think, the brain gets in the way, and you ‘forget’ how to play things that you know how to play.

In the process of learning and then performing Western music, it’s absolutely necessary to think about what you’re playing, and about how you’re playing it. Analysis of the tone, style, technique and so on are fundamental to our musical tradition and you can’t improve as a performer within that framework without thinking about what you’re doing, looking for weaknesses, and finding better ways of achieving your intended interpretation. But the fact remains that you really can’t play reliably well while you’re thinking, so the thought and analysis has to be part of a preparatory process the end result of which is the achievement of knowledge that has been embedded beyond active thought and into innate or intuitive behaviour – wisdom, perhaps. At this point you can trust yourself to perform a piece of music, because you can switch your brain off and allow your body and your intuition to do the rest.

And now we start to get to the nub of the matter. As this musical metaphor hopefully shows, thought about and analysis of any aspect of how we live our lives are essentially useless in any real context, unless they have been processed into wisdom and intuition. Why? Because when you’re faced with decisions, you don’t have time to think. Thought is clumsy. It will paralyse you, make you make mistakes, or make you act in a manner that isn’t self-consistent. We only act fluently and in a way that is true to ourselves when we aren’t thinking about it.

Which leads to the conclusion that if we don’t like the way we behave when we aren’t thinking about it, there aren’t any short-cuts. We need to analyse our lives, think about it deeply, and transform ourselves until the thought turns into wisdom and the wisdom turns into intuition and we start to act in ways that we are happy with.

I don’t think there’s anything terribly surprising there, when focussing on each of us as individuals, but what about when we consider society as a whole?

Going back to the musical world again, it’s important to point out that not all musical traditions work the same way and Western music didn’t either until relatively recently – it’s really only over the last few centuries that thought and analysis have been so deeply embedded to its composition and so critical to its performance, and perhaps unsurprisingly I think it is safe to say that the same is true of life in the West. We have only been seriously analysing the way we each live our lives as individuals, and the way we treat others both as individuals and as a society for a very short period of time.

But what about if we don’t want to or can’t analyse and transform ourselves?

The way we act when we aren’t thinking is the result of the wisdom and intuition of our culture, which we have been immersed in since birth. (The pieces of music we already know how to play fluently.)

We throw away that intuitive way of being at our peril.

But as individuals and especially as societies we must be very careful to balance ‘practice’ and ‘performance’ in our lives. If we spend too much of our time analysing and thinking, and practising new ways of being in our day to day activities, we will fail to act with any fluency and accuracy, we will start to act in manners that are not self-consistent, we will confuse each other, and we will descend into chaos.

The abstracted minds of philosophers and psychiatrists and sociologists and their ilk explore the boundaries of the ideas that make up our intuitive beliefs and our collective wisdom.

When we are analysing and thinking about things, we temporarily forget the wisdom and intuition which is our starting point. It’s necessary to do that, otherwise progress would be impossible.

(You also can’t succeed as a composer without exploring the boundaries of accepted practice and questioning the framework.)

It is the job of the composer to push the boundaries.

It is the job of the performers to judge whether to play the new music, and in so doing to gradually embed it into our intuitive understanding, or to discard it as not helpful, not positive, not deserving of recognition.

If we learn and then perform a composer’s music that we don’t like, you’d be amazed how quickly you can learn to like it. But is that to our benefit?

attempt to compose a new piece of music for us to play. , we can begin to understand why the world is in such chaos.


But many people really aren’t that motivated towards self-analysis, and even if they are they tend to have been alive for a few decades before they get around to it. So how should people behave while they lack their own hard-earned individual wisdom and intuition?



Nature is raw, uncontrolled, pure creative chaos, bounded only by death.

Music is rarified, controlled, distilled creativity; it is the conscious combination of individual universal truths (harmonies and motifs) to form a pathway (as the music progresses and modulates) to a sort of transcendence.

The common musical structure of simple to complex and then back to simple is important because the ‘simple’ represents our human state and the ‘complex’ represents the transcendent state. The return to the simple brings us back into our selves before the piece ends.

The composer’s destination, and the listener’s goal, lies in the complexity of the piece and is a sort of immersion in, recognition of, and understanding of (perhaps achieved in that order) some aspect of the human experience, viewed with the clarity of the outside perspective of the transcendent state.

The composer leads us to understanding through the musical journey, the progression, development and modulation of themes, but the truths themselves are expressed through harmonies. A single chord carries deep meaning.

Harmony is a representation of truth, of celestial order, of God. Music is a distillation of the mortal human experience, the removal of nature’s chaos and death leaving only the eternal, and perhaps the most accessible pathway to the divine.

I went to a Celebratory Evensong at Exeter Cathedral yesterday. I always find services at the cathedral to be profoundly reassuring. There is a palpable sense of permanence, of a continuous chain of human skill and striving across the centuries, and a quiet (and very English) determination to ‘fight the good fight’ in the face of a world that’s very noisily going crazy. I was given hope that the rock of faith can weather this storm too and that mankind’s spirit will remain essentially untouched as long as that continuous chain of striving remains unbroken.

When I got home I found myself contemplating the power of common worship, of prayer, of love, and of forgiveness.

Love is light. Light is energy. Energy is food. Love is food, the food of life.

Love, and, crucially, memories of love sustain us as we move through our lives. Memories of love are just as real and powerful a lifetime later as they ever were, and they nourish us. Just think back to a moment in your life which was full of love, and notice yourself smile, feel your spirit being lifted, feel your body being energised. It’s an everyday miracle, and it truly is “better to have loved and lost” because love is never lost. It never loses its power to nourish us.

But when we love, loss is inevitable, and loss is frightening. Fear causes hurt and harm. Hurting oneself or another blocks the light of love. Hurt comes in many forms, and just as love never loses its power to nourish, fear never loses its power to destroy. Bitterness, resentment, despair, hatred, loneliness, jealousy, guilt… all of this must somehow be left behind when we experience loss.

To leave the hurt behind we must overcome the fear. To overcome the fear we must understand that loss is necessary. We must understand that we choose our experiences, and that we therefore choose their endings; that everything is transitory, and while we crave permanence we also know that we only need to experience things temporarily in life in order to learn what we need to grow; that anything that didn’t happen as it should or wasn’t completed can be corrected, but only by moving forward and welcoming new experiences; that we are here to grow, and that growth by definition means loss.

Love and fear. Good and evil. We are bound up in both on this Earth, and in order to fully experience the one we must conquer the other. And it really is very simple, although of course it is profoundly difficult. If we can forgive ourselves and others for the hurt and harm that we did and that was done to us then at a stroke the hurt and harm will disappear, because the fear will disappear. The grace of forgiveness is everything. Without it, even love loses its power to nourish, sustain and transform us.

In Elsie Davenport’s book about hand spinning she describes working with wool as a ‘whole art’ because nothing is destroyed in the process of creation. This is an idea that is totally new to me, but how fascinating to distinguish between arts that are purely creative and those that require destruction or sacrifice, and to explore the idea of trying to live from whole arts alone. 

I suppose for the most part ‘whole arts’ would have been practised largely where there was no choice – there was not an endless supply of cows to kill for leather or trees to fell for beams, so shoes were wooden or woolen and houses were small and simple unless you were wealthy. 

What we now call low impact living, sustainability or permaculture was just called being alive until little more than a century ago – but a virtuous life lived in the absence of temptation is not necessarily a sign of virtue, and I have no doubt that our forebears would have been as thrilled as we are to be able to wear leather shoes and live in weatherproof houses.

To me, and to increasing numbers of people around the world, the challenge nowadays is to find the will to say no to that which is unsustainable, even though it is still easily available. And I think this concept of the ‘whole art’ is helpful. It gives a benchmark, a simple ideal that feels pure of heart and full of positive energy: create without destruction. 

Spend time in nature and you will be in the company of the lesser beings, and you will meet the higher beings later in your sleep.

Consume chemicals in your food, surround yourself with wireless radiation, and stare at screens emitting blue light, and you will render yourself blind, deaf and dumb to the guidance of spiritual world.

Experience that blindness, deafness and dumbness, and you will experience lethargy, purposelessness, misery, despair and insanity.

Consciously control the technology that is a barrier between you and the spirit world and you will gain a new awareness: of the existence of your spiritual senses, of the loss that you experienced when they were numbed, of at last taking the place in the universe that was waiting for you.

And you will be Human in an entirely new and meaningful way.

The man who faces no temptation cannot claim to be good. The man who turns his back on temptation cannot claim to be strong. The man who welcomes temptation and overcomes it cannot be defeated.

I spend a lot of my time thinking. Or, perhaps more accurately, thoughts spend a lot of time in my mind – it generally isn’t an active process on my part, and I therefore don’t particularly lay claim to these thoughts. They are not exactly ‘my’ thoughts. They arrive suddenly, unbidden, and often unconnected to any task at hand.

Having arrived though, these thoughts demand attention. They insist on being organised, connected to each other, argued about and solved. They demand analysis of and changes to the way I lead my life. And then, still unsatisfied, they congregate in the back of my mind and seem to ask me what I am going to do about them, how I am going to use them to make a difference in this broken world.

But if the thoughts aren’t exactly ‘my’ thoughts, then perhaps the use of them isn’t exactly ‘my’ task. Perhaps all I can do is to create  something with them – to turn that raw material into something more tangible, to release it with loving intent, and to hope that just occasionally the right idea will reach the right person at the right time.

And so I am going to try to make this blog into an unfiltered, honest expression of the truth as I see it. I am very well aware that my understanding of the world is quite different from most people’s, but in this world of fake news, alternative truth, propaganda and cynicism, it’s surely more important than ever to openly stand by your beliefs. And while social media, sound bytes and text-speak reduce the quality and complexity of the language used around us on a daily basis, I make no apology for nested sentences or complex arguments. Our world is a complicated place, and we would all be better off if we stopped pretending that it isn’t.

Life is energy
Relationships are exchange of energy
We need to be grounded for energy to flow
If energy doesn’t flow then it stagnates
Stagnant energy prevents growth

Do rituals help to ground us so that we can release unwanted energy? And connect us to the source so that we can find needed energy?

Having watched and listened to Alma Deutscher recently it is clear that she is connected to the ‘truth’ of music somehow – whether she’s Mozart reincarnated, or ‘just’ a prodigy, she is tapping freely into knowledge that the rest of us have to fight to access.

The reasons for that are fascinating to think about, but what specifically strikes me today is that all children are probably born with that connection to a greater or lesser degree, but we lose it as we grow. We become human, in other words. Even Alma Deutscher has to study music theory – but when she ‘learns’ something she perhaps feels that she is really being reminded of what she already knew… And perhaps that’s the same reason that as a child I always expected myself to know things, and mum had to explain that teachers were there to teach you things you didn’t already know, not just to give you practice with what you already knew… And perhaps children with dyslexia or Aspergers have been cut off from this source either at birth or from some other trauma, perhaps in this life, perhaps brought with them…


When zoos were invented, the animals were housed – and if born in captivity, raised – in artificial environments. They became mentally unstable, behaved abnormally, and died young.

As time went by, zookeepers realised that the only way to keep healthy and happy animals in captivity is to simulate their natural environment.

The same is now happening to children, and adults. Our environment is so far from being natural to a human that it is preventing normal development in children and causing real harm to all of us. We need to wake up to the fact that raising children on iPads and exposing them to nothing but artificial pictures and sounds must cause developmental problems and prevent them from reaching their potential as normal human beings.

I am interested in studying the effect of technology specifically on the development of vision and hearing, and how that then affects the development of the brain and the nervous system, and consequently behaviour and academic potential.