The Spirit of Place and the Hidden Music

These notes are based on a version put together in 2003. They were a starting point for ideas explored in the "Ravello Dialogues."

1: When we think of nature we tend to think of "the natural world. Nature, in earlier times, meant everything that has being in the "sublunary world", the changing world below the spheres of the planets and stars. Nature encompasses ideas, actions, memories which are equally part of the whole, the Cosmos.

2: A Place is not only a natural environment, but also a complex of natural and man-made elements, qualities, memories and ideas.

3: A "Place," in these notes, is defined as a distinct and separate location, large or small, but one which has an individual personality. This is the "Spirit of Place. The personality of the Place is the expressed by this complex unity of elements, just as we are equally formed of varied elements and yet individual. It may not be possible to represent the "Spirit of Place" in simple pictorial terms. Hence the need for artists of all kinds to interpret place in visionary terms, adding symbols, transforming the images, or trying to translate the real individual personality in another language

4: Our relationship with a Place is a shared experience

5: Our relationship with a Place is like a relationship with a person, each affecting the other, as we are part of the Place by being there, or observing it, or contemplating it.

6: We can be changed by our relationship with a Place and it can be changed by its relationship with us.

7: Our relationship with a Place, just as with a person, is only possible when it is a conversation and not an imposition by us or by the Place. The relationship depends on humility, and "poverty of spirit.

8: The moments of truth, grace, or delight, which may be experienced through the relationship are often products of the relationship, a shared experience.

9: Just as with a person we can only experience the character of the place or person through a relationship of imagination and love.

This love may draw us to express the Place in art, but this will always be an expression of our relationship with it rather than a purely objective image. It is the experience of grace or truth sparked by that relationship which "inspires" us to attempt to communicate this. We may attempt to convey the "Spirit of Place, experienced through relationship, in many languages - in music, an image, poetry, or words.

10: Our relationship with the Place, as with anything, is part of the flow of all things towards Unity as we, and the place together, become a new "work or "performance."

11: A Place may attract us. A Place may attract events, qualities, stories. The stronger the quality of Truth or Unity in anything the stronger its attraction. If a Place, just as with anything, has a sense of incompleteness or lack, we may feel dawn to it through our own love.

12: Some Places may seem positive, others seem negative, if their quality works against a relationship. As with people, we can still counter this through love. Places may seem to have a negative quality if they reflect negative qualities in ourselves.

13: Some Places (just like people) will have a particularly powerful effect. This can be because of natural qualities in the place itself, or from ideas or events associated with it. A "Holy Place is only holy when it has a real effect on an individual or on many people. Ideas imposed on a place will have no value unless those ideas are genuine products of the relationship, but a Place may be "holy" because of ideas and memories relating to it as well as events or inherent qualities. Many "Holy Places" are only said to be so by the imposition of a human idea, often to act as a focus of unity for a particular people or group. They genuinely have an individuality, but they may be negative if they are the result of an imposed idea that is not part of a balanced realtionship.

14: Awareness of unity can often lead people to look for patterns in life, Places, events but any apparent patterns are the result of a fragmentary view of unity. Everywhere may have meaning. Fundamentally, we must not impose meaning or order on the world, but have a balanced, shared, relationship with the world.

15: Relationships are not brought about by the partners but through Love in the Cosmos, encouraging attraction.

16: Love (which also works in the creative imagination) draws all things to unity. Love holds all things in unity.

17: Love generates a Dance of relationships. Relationships between all things, objects, ideas, events, may be related in the Dance regardless of separation by time or distance.

18: Moments of grace may be experiences of the Dance.

19: The most powerful experiences of the Dance, or of truth, glory, grace, are ones that change us and help us become ourselves. We become "ourselves by becoming more fully part of the whole, and this is through awareness of Unity or glimpses of unity in a specific relationship. At the same time our openness to the dance helps us become ourselves as individuals.

20: The device we use to relate ourselves to the Dance is ourselves. The more we are fully ourselves (and yet inseparable from the cosmos) the more we relate to the Dance.

21: A person who has individuality has truth and unity. The more a person or thing has unity in themselves the closer they can be to the Dance.

22: Innocence and simplicity can lead to a simple relationship to the Dance. Or, if we lack these qualities, the Dance can remind us of this clarity and felicity as we share in it.

23: We do not reveal the dance by losing ourselves in its music. There may be (metaphorically) a music in all things but dancing means being fully individual and finding our own rhythm within it. Our personal method of relating to the cosmos may be through spiritual disciplines, prayer or meditation, through good human relationships, or through creative work, which is a form of prayer, bringing experience deeper into ourselves.

24: Relationships should create relationships. Love, in the Dance, does not isolate lovers but inspires other relationships through them

25: The dance reveals itself to us in meaningful events and relationships, which are meaningful because they connect us with the Dance. These are often "individuating experiences," which help us become ourselves. There is a resonance between the external event and our own soul, or imagination.

26: Experiences of the Dance may reveal themselves in a sense of inherent form (which resembles the form of a story or a musical work). This form may be experienced in time as well as in space. The overall shape may be in a natural environment (produced itself by slow change) or a form in passing time, as of events that gradually reveal a unique shape. Often the meaning of an event, or individual feature, is dependent on its context.

27: This sense of form is the same as sense of individuality. Individuality may be in time as well as in a Place or person, just as a musical work may live in our minds as a form as much as the sound it makes.

28: We can mistake Coincidence for Form in experience.

Coincidences are usually meaningless patterns which we impose ourselves. It is in our nature to see coincidences in things, and this is so commonplace (from our own need to make order) that is usually meaningless. Pure coincidences are generally due to a limited view, when we are too separate from the Dance, and are a dangerous temptation to impose our own order on things while being deluded that we are discovering a divine order. Divine order will always be experienced as freedom. Experiences of the Dance may be apparently random and meaningful, rather than patterned and meaningless.

29: Humour is a fundamental quality of the Dance.

30: The Cosmos, and our relationship with it, is constantly growing towards Unity, when we are aware only of "things heavenly but even this awareness does not deny the value of earthly experience as it is communicated through our changeable earthly nature.

31: Form may come from a unity (a seed) and grow to a greater unity (the whole lifecycle of the tree with all its effects on the world around it, the new leaves year by year, the visiting squirrels and birds, seen as a single "work.")

32: There is one Dance, but it can be experienced in an infinite variety of fragments, stories, sonatas. The Dance is composed of individuals. We may see the Dance in the Creation (true Nature, which is also ideas, processes, relationships) as a whole, the shape of a particular river valley, or a plant. We may experience the dance in a person, in a life, or in a symphony. The Dance is a process in all things, and the dancers are part of the dance.

33: Our own experiences and our own imaginations are part of this same single Dance. They are part of the same Unity.

34: Our sense of artistic form is, or should be, the same thing as this natural form.

We, individually, are part of the same Cosmos. The same sense of form will be present in our own minds as well as in a landscape or a cycle of events. We can experience this intuitively when we are creative and sense that there is a "correct form" in the whole work, or in a detail.

35: Creativity can even AFFIRM form by going against it for effect or irony, or humour.

36: Similarly, we cannot produce a "perfect work. Whether it is a symphony, a novel, a landscape, or a life, there are faults, mistakes, misguided sections, which have a place in the complete work. You can only understand the whole by seeing the shadowy parts as well as the light.

37: It is impossible to express "The Dance" as a whole in art. To attempt to do so is absurd, because we can never see all the levels on which it operates. We will experience fragmentary forms and unities, all individual, but the only way we can express the whole is in absolute simplicity and unity. In musical terms, this can only be silence, the "still point of the turning world.

38: We may produce non-representational artistic works which are in themselves fragments of the Dance, or we may produce structures which are to be part of a broader form e.g., in architecture designed to match an environment. In musical terms, a piece of music may be a thing in its own right, or an interpretation of a Place or a person (and still its own thing!) or it may be music FOR a place, to become part of a whole.

39: The Dance is "of God." Nature (the whole, things, events, time) is not detached from what we call God, though "neither is it God. It could be called an "Emanation" of God, an image which makes the invisible visible.

40: "Meaning" in a Place, in a person, or in music, is the same meaning. Behind both lies the same language.

41: A piece of music, for example, may be "like" a place just as a place may be "like music, because there is a common language of meaning beneath all things. This is the "hidden music."

42: We can also consider place on a larger scale. Just as we may respond to the individuality of a unique place, we can also be aware of a relationship of places over a wider area. A forest, a garden, or a region, may have individual places which find a greater meaning in relationship with others in the same larger form.

43: We are aware of this sense of unity of individual parts just as we may feel the unity of a musical work in several movements because our sense of form is the same as the form that exists in nature, this is not purely subjective.

44: We may sense a larger form in a journey, or a pilgrimage, which gives meaning to the destination. We may sense the same larger form in a life, or history.

45: The larger form may have the same kind of unity of disparate elements as an individual place. There may be no limit to the level on which we experience this sense of unity from a flower (in itself dependent on all the related environmental qualities), an arbour, a garden, a valley, a region, a country.

46: Just as a landscape garden (or a symphony) may be created to contain particular features which make up a whole, so a natural environment (most obviously in a distinct and separate world, such as an enclosed valley) may be made of individual features, in relationship, which then give a sense of unity.

47: Just as it can be said that the individual human being has certain fundamental archetypal aspects, so may a landscape, if it is to be a unity in itself, may have certain archetypal features.

48: These archetypal features may even tend to fall into overall patterns of relationships which are found elsewhere, perhaps relating to basic natural features sunrise and sunset, high ground and low ground.

49: Just as works of art, and people, while being individual may also have a common archetypal character, so may Places.

50: There may certain recurring archetypes, or modes in nature which reflect the supposed archetypal qualities in people, or those traditionally associated with harmonies or planets.

51: Though this may be true (or not) it is unlikely that any attempt to define these overall forms would ever be satisfactory or useful, any more than it is possible to give absolute definitions of psychological archetypes.

52: This apparent tendency for natural landscapes to find a greater form seems to encourage human intervention, which can be beneficial when the human element is completely in harmony with the natural form. (Examples would be 18thc landscape design if it were not an imposition of power, and Feng Shui) If this form is common to all things the human intervention should be a matter of soul and intuition, rather than system, as so many elements of Place are invisible.

53: The artist who serves the Dance, and works with Place and landscape, is following a vocation, which is inseparable from the love which works through the Dance itself.

54: The servant of the Dance (who is a servant of God, whether consciously or not) may serve in many ways. There are some who reveal this hidden kingdom, simply by being there and being within it. There are some who reveal it by walking its paths with love. There are some who walk in awareness that the stories in their souls and the ground are one world. There are those who are called (beyond their control) to reveal this world in art, literature, or music.

55: It is the nature of what this document calls the Dance, as the working of Love, to draw all things to unity (by relating individuals) and this is what will draw people to serve this world, which exists and yet which is also constantly being created, through the Dance, nature, and its servants.

56: For this reason this apparently mad quest to make this world known, and to serve its work, through art is not something which can be denied. Love of this true world is overpowering. It is the way of affirmation, which must affirm the whole. What we experience as Place is one particular view of the whole (cosmos), but one which can reveal this unity of nature, thought, memories, and events in which we need to live to be whole ourselves.