A sleepy morning, letting soma have its power over me for an extra half an hour. These winter mornings are luscious for extra sleep, now that I am long since retired and know what hectic activity goes on each morning on the roads, even before dawn begins its own sleepy crawl out of the basement. I sit over my coffee this morning, quickly scanning the news and checking my calendar to make sure nothing important will happen to me today.But it seems that I do have an appointment this early afternoon with the X-ray department at the local hospital. The doctor has ordered an ultrasound scan of my legs in lieu of a treadmill test, since neuropathy prevents me from treading the mill. I will pack along my Kindle and lie on some dreary hospital bed for two hours while I continue the reading of McGilchrist. I would rather be with him on the beach today, as it seems that we will have another summer-like day in the middle of the winter.
In the reading of him yesterday, we covered more of how sick and schizophrenic-like is our modern world, in the spirit of following the metaphor of right-brain versus left-brain hemispherical thinking. I am sometimes already in agreement and sympathy with McGilchrist’s world view, while sometimes surprised, but always eager to learn more from him. His survey of the flow of our culture reminds me of the two-year course I studied in college titled “Background of Western Civilization”, which led me on a tour of everything great in art from Plato to Hemingway. The difference with McGilchrist is that I have a point-of-view, a way of focusing on this 3,000-year long flow of people, events, traditions, ideas, and concepts. My college course lacked human focus, or context.
Today while having my ultrascan done I will probably complete the reading of McGilchrist, but will probably order a hard copy for myself so that I may really go to town in marking it up with a marker and notes, because it really reads more like a text book used for engaging understanding. I had read much of the Frances Schaeffer philosophical literature, so had an understanding of how one might go through a survey of western culture with an eye of certain persuasion. Schaeffer points out whether attributes of our culture are God-centered or not. McGilchrist, of course, sees it all in terms of whether it is right or left brain or a combination of the two.
McGilchrist is steeped in both science and the humanities, so values both side of the brain, but believes the right side is the true ruler while the left is servant, but that left controls language and is power hungry, so easily overshadows anything influence of the right. To me, this is a better view of puzzling out wisdom from the flow of our civilization. The left-brain influence on our modern world continues to overtake our daily processes of living. The right is hardly acknowledged any longer. McGilchrist is not critical of religion, but sees it as primarily as an attribute of right-brain thinking that has been subverted by left-brain thinking. When the understanding of the truth and the importance of metaphor in approaching spirituality began to wane, religion began to lose its relevance as a living, breathing, experiential communication with a living God, and became mechanized, conceptualized, controlled, and lifeless.
Civilization can get back what it lost if it wants to do so. Individuals certainly can. McGilchrist enumerates many poets, painters, sculptors, saints, and musicians who can show us the way back to a life of harmony, intuition, divine understanding, and human bliss. What was removed that has made our culture less than life-giving is what he talks about in great detail. What we have left behind because the left-brain thinking has talked us into doing so, is what he holds up for us to re-examine.
Music, for example, is now only mostly rhythm in western civilization. Rhythm is good. It’s a right-brain thing. But our great composers, such as Bach, used other elements besides rhythm to create music, giving us a vision of mind in an incarnate world. Harmony, melody, tonality, and context are missing from much of our modern music. Since I have such poor understanding of classical music, probably because of my upbringing in a left-brain world, I resort here to a quote from McGilchrist about the wonder of Bach’s music, who, he says, is the world’s greatest composer:
Bach’s music is full of discords, and one would have to be musically deaf not to appreciate them â€“ in both senses of the word â€˜appreciateâ€™, because such moments are especially to be relished, as are the wonderful passing dissonances and â€˜false relationsâ€™ in the music of, for example, Byrd and his contemporaries. But they are introduced to be resolved. The same element that adds relish to the dish makes it inedible if it comes to predominate. The passing discords so frequent in Bach are aufgehoben into the wider consonance as they move on and resolve. Context is once again absolutely critical â€“ in fact nowhere can context be more important than in music, since music is pure context, even if the context is silence. Thus, in harmony as elsewhere, a relationship between expectation and delay in fulfillment is at the core of great art; the art is in getting the balance right, something which Bach consummately exemplifies.
I looked around last night on the web to get some help in understanding Bach’s music. I found a website that gives an ordered list (left-brain sort of thinking to categorize and list things). The site describes which pieces to listen to in an ascending order of complexity, and I find that most of these pieces are on Youtube videos, with lovely Viennese background settings for the musical groups to play in. How soothing to listen to this 18th-century right-brain working. I have been looking through ways to learn how to relax, meditate, and enjoy life, and like others in my culture have turned to methods we have inherited from eastern civilizations,when I come t learn that we westerners have had beauty and tranquility all along. It takes a McGilchrist to point out the way to us. Here then, is my list of Bach pieces of which I have begun to give listen. (I left off last evening with listening to #7, the Double Violin Concerto).