Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Inner landscapes


These photos were taken last week in Morocco's High Atlas where I was celebrating my forthcoming 70th birthday with some serious trekking. On my itinerary were the cascades at Setti Fatma, the upper slopes of Mount Toubkal - North Africa's highest mountain - and a two day traverse from Imlil to Ouirgane via the 2664 metre Tizi M'Zik Pass complete with Berber guide, mule and cook.


My playlist for downtime on the treks included Alan Hovhaness' Mysterious Mountain - persuasively advocated by none other than Fritz Reiner with his Chicago orchestra but now woefully neglected, the contemporary minimalist acoustic folk melodies of the Tunisian duo Ÿuma, the single-pointed concentration of Jonathan Harvey's Tranquil Abiding, the motivational oud meets disco of DuOud, and Robert Rich's exploration of the space between music and silence Inner Landscapes.


Both Jonathan Harvey and Robert Rich's music is informed in different ways by Buddhism. The High Atlas is Berber country and the Berbers - Morocco's indigenous people - follow the Muslim faith. But an earlier post highlighted the similarities between this region and the Mahayana Buddhist heartland of Tibet. In his introduction to Yogavacara Rahula's study of the teachings of Gotama Buddha the Sri Lankan monk Bikkhu M. Punnaji explains that:
Buddhism offers its own critique of religion. In this religion is not theocentric, centred around the idea of a creator god, but rather sees it as being centred around the interests of man. Religion is not something that has come down from heaven to fulfill a divine purpose, but something that has grown up on earth to satisfy the deepest of human needs. It is not based on divine revelation but on human discovery. It is not dependent on blind faith and worship but on the understanding of experience through the use of human intelligence. It is not based on history or a story which if proved false would tumble down, but stands on the hard rock of direct personal experience. The practice of religion is not based on the idea of punishment and reward but on selflessness and love, nor is it following the commands of the creator, but basing one's actions on a feeling of responsibility for oneself and others.

This was my second visit to the High Atlas in five months. Last November I trekked the ascent to Sidi Chamharouche alone just three weeks before the horrendous murder and beheading of two young Scandinavian women tourists by Islamic extremists - by a grim irony the brooding photo taken then and heading the previously linked post depicted the murder scene. By another grim coincidence I was in Sri Lanka just before the recent terrorist outrages there, and, to prove that hate-mongering is not monocultural, while I was in Morocco last week there was yet another multiple killing by firearms in America. As Donald Trump sends an aircraft carrier and bomber task force to 'warn Iran' it is worth reflecting that when the Dalai Lama was asked "What can we do about the crazy havoc in which we live? His Holiness reportedly* responded "Attend to the crazy havoc inside yourself".


Some will doubtless dismiss this spirit quest - as they have dismissed previous ones - as only for the idle rich. To which I would respond that my whole trip - including on-time flights by the airline other music bloggers love to hate, Ryanair - cost less** than taking my family to an Instagrammable restaurant in London's West End followed by good stalls tickets for Boris Godunov starring Bryan Terfel at Covent Garden, and my delightful companion on the treks was our hard working daughter who took a week off work. There will be others who will think that On An Overgrown Path should confine itself to eulogizing Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and Sheku Kanneh-Mason, endlessly dwelling on Wilhelm Furtwängler ill-advised Nazi dalliances and hammering Brexit, while also turning self-promotion into an Olympic sport and squeezing the last drop of blood out of the #MeToo stone. To them I offer in conclusion this extract from Rene Daumal's Mount Analogue, a novel which has much to say if people would only listen:
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above.

One climbs, one sees, one descends; one sees no longer, but one has seen.

* But reader beware.
** All the complex logistics of our trip were handled cheerfully and without a single problem, as have been my previous visits to the High Atlas, by Mohamed Aztat's team at the Atlas Trek Shop in Imlil. Particular thanks go to Hamid at Dar Adrar, Amina at the Ouirgane EcoLodge, and above all to the two Ibrahims, our guide and cook on the Tizi M'Zik traverse.

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