Thursday, 21 June 2018

Good Song: The Wind

This song holds a special place in my heart, because it held a special place in my practice when I first became a monk. As is often the case, my early experiences with meditation were thunderously transforming. I encountered personal peace for the first time in my life, and insights fell from the sky like rain in the spring. (Which was itself falling outside at the time.)

It's typical in this phase to re-experience familiar things as new. Old aversions become less objectionable; maybe downright acceptable. And old favourites shine with a renewed light, as if seen for the first time.

During that period I hungrily re-consumed many former pleasures, chasing that Christmas-like sense of discovery.

Prominent among these was the music that has enjoyed a prominent place in my life for as far back as I can remember. A few artists and albums struck particularly true, and today I consider them part of my foundational practice, though my relationship with some goes back to childhood.

Of the latter, none stand out more conspicuously than The Wind.

I've been a rabid Cat Stevens fan since he first hit back in the late 60s. My own songwriting style (I was a bit of a coffee-house artist in my youth) bore, and probably still bears, the unmistakable marks of Stevens' influence. I was even told I looked like him, though not by any (conscious) design.

So naturally, Stevens' work was among the first I revisited during that period of awakening.

It was all brilliant, but The Wind had something extra. The beauty of the words and music evoked the sensation of sitting, and I lifted the needle over and over to listen again.

There's no real mystery here; Stevens was interested in Buddhism during that era, and much of the compelling catalogue he compiled then is Zen-friendly.

But The Wind is unique. It's so simple, so short… and so bang-on. Stevens himself apparently understood this, because he made it the inaugural track of Teaser and the Firecat, setting the tone for the entire album.

In the intervening years Stevens has had a colourful spiritual journey of his own. In 1977 he converted to Islam, and as part of his religious commitment, changed his name to Yusuf Islam and renounced his musical career.

He may have had a particularly thorny relationship with what I once heard him describe as "my Buddhist stuff".

But Yusuf's spiritual practice has been straight and sincere, as evidenced by his willingness to change his mind. In the early Oughts he decided that music was a perfectly appropriate way to celebrate the 99 Names of God.

So I'm pleased to report that Yusuf (his current stage name) is writing, recording, and performing again, and that The Wind has actually become the centrepiece of those performances. Though I've never practiced Sufism, it certainly does echo the Sufi teaching I've studied, and I don't see why it can't be Muslim as well as – or even instead of – Buddhist.

Anyway, as this modest little treasure has been instrumental (no pun intended) in my own enlightenment practice, I hereby commend The Wind to others, in the brotherly wish that it bring the same peace and encouragement it brought me.

It really does capture a deep experience that evades words.

You be the judge.
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