Texts & photos copyright Eeva K. Kallio
Verdi and essence of evil
What Makes Verdi Verdi? Have you thought this question? When I came to listen to and watch Verdi's lesser-known opera Louisa Miller, the atmosphere of the opera stayed with me afterwards, as always. Maybe this was all visible from my face when I noticed newcomers paying attention to me with a smile. Maybe the power of feeling was transmitted. What was and is my experience?
The cliché saying of "cold vibes" is true to me almost every time I listen to Verdi. Even today. There were some beautiful arias in the opera and I admit that I listened to them tirelessly before and after the opera experience. Louisa Miller has left Verdi's production in shadow of other major operas, which is damage. It is a remarkable opera where certain features that are characteristic of Verdi are clearly visible. This Metropolitan performance was really so good that I share my experience with some critics with five stars. I still do not consider myself as a special opera expert, only as an "experience expert", to whom operas are passion. What makes Verdi as Verdi? Is there a "certain Verdi" - though he had changed his own style of composition three times in his life?
Some years ago I tried to enter the world of Verdi's mind by reading a brick-like biography of over 900 pages. I had the feeling that in his long life there were constant hardships and disappointments, sadness and depression, but also a bright side. Verdi's operas are characterized by his ability to look directly and honestly in human nature. So he gives glimpses of anger, intrigue, greed, crime, immorality, irresponsibility, deception: brief and evil in human being. At the same time, she balances this with the beauty of music. There is a harmony of opposites. Only the contradiction is interesting. In roles, the contrast between good and evil is usually strong, and often compassion is the female victim's side.
What is Verd's "evil" that he describes? Is this exactly which has been intrigued so many constantly and created him so great as composer? Does he touch on the experiences we have in ourselves: are we familiar with them, and that's why they are so familiar? In the Macbeth, evil intertwines with the endless lust of power of human. The tragedy of Louisa Miller was in unfulfilled love and in finding that she was unable to influence her own destiny. The way the plot and the music passed towards the end was deeply emotional.
Watching Verdi's opera is about seeing how humans act when there is no conscience. Or a strange twist of fate throws one in the middle of a storm there is no escape. Opera often is like a fairy tale story. The plot development is often childlike, but it works until the grande finale has been reached, and with Verdi, the evil won't get paid. Is he a cynic? Is he a mourning artist who, with his sharp eyes, sees the complex core of our action? He does not offer positive solutions. The operas go fatefully towards their unfortunate end. "It has always been like this and always will be". Have I seen any happy ending in his operas? Maybe the only exception is Falstaff.
The evil described by Verdi is the psychological evil in man. Everyone recognizes it but presses it away from one's consciousness. It is easier to look at evil acted in the opera, in a book, in a movie than in yourself. Though I sometimes dislike his music, I am astonished by its beauty and by knowing - on the basis of experience - it will be accelerated into a storm, pak experience, before the end. The evil seen by Verdi is something we cannot punish and we are constantly seeing around us. Art often tells the human mind more skillfully than any theory.
Only the contradiction is interesting. Verdi's last opera is comedy: Falstaff. Tutto nel Mondo è Burla ... Tutti gabbati! Everything in life is joke.
(Originally published on 21/4/2018 in Finnish; translated 13.1.2019)
It doesn't matter when and where it happened. It just happened. It happens every time as emotions are deeply involved. To let them be, as such as they are is difficult. It is easier to try to explain them afterwards, to connect them to theories I have studied - well, that is easy. To go through those tunnels of emotions is not easy. Some emotions are like beautiful flowers, always attracting to look at them, to adore them, to try to catch them back. As it is question as I see a painting at the art museum, beauty of which makes me just --- to hold the feeling as living for some time, to try to hold to be in the midst of that feeling longer, further....
I remember those childish dreams, almost non-realistic imaginations I waited for the trip. I lived in my own world, interpreting everything from my own viewpoint, rejecting all alternative explanations. I just believed on my feelings and my thoughts. I was kind of obsessed. As it has happened many years ago, it doesn't matter who the person was, whom to name him. The whole thing was just kind of a complex Rubik's cube. Almost impossible to solve, so many combinations you don't remember them, and finally you are in a puzzle no way out. Well, there are some who can solve the cube, they are talented in it, but I am not.
Were everything just my own dreams and fantasies? Was there anything true? Or, were our fantasies as part of the interactive drama? I have only first perspective view, I can tell only of my own perceptions and feelings. I have also another's viewpoint as he told, but I am never sure if he was able or honest to tell what the core of the situation was. Later, we tried to build friendship, but it ended to disagreement.
I waited something else and I didn't accept the truth I heard from his lips. And I cried. For hours, in front of him. It is odd how we are afraid of crying. (But you must read: it is I, me, who is afraid of crying - basically everybody tells of one's own perspective). It is so difficult to accept...what? Disappointment? Needs didn't meet with another's? I didn't get what I hoped for? I was hurt? I had feeling I was deceived?
It was strange how long he was able to watch my crying. We sat on the bench for hours. It was very hot day, and I remember cool air came from somewhere as we stopped to play that drama in evening. Next day, we separated. But we continued to write, with ups and downs, and finally it was broken.
What is the truth of situation? What actually happened? Two persons ways crossed, feelings and emotions were deep but something still went wrong. It happened many years ago. Does "explanation" explain anything? Does it give all information of the situation? Is it possible? Or do the emotions tell something more? Or both? Or theories of emotional attachment? Do I feel more secure if I interpret this with words? It makes this all much more clear, easy to see why I behaved as I behaved. Is different reaction possible in the future from my part? Or am I destined to this kind of reaction? What is change from one way of reaction to another way of reaction?
You can have many perspectives to this situation. Many kind of words. How good are words to explain which escapes words?
Emotions. As fog, you can't see clearly.
(Originally published 12/5/2018)
Of envy and deadly sins
Not surprisingly I watched Verdi's Aida yesterday from Metropolitan opera. Seen it many times, and now just enjoying the best of the music and following Verdi's way to create drama till the thrilling end. He is pessimist: he does not believe anything else but negative, tragic ends. As the final end came, I learned that he probably tried to hint the double-standards of magnificent religious masses. In this case, in ancient Egypt, with all its luxury and grandeur, in the same time with cruel execution of politically "wrong" love. Perhaps it tried to point out that where there is discuss of ethics and morals, there are also hidden black motives and cruelty.
After opera, it came to my mind that I would like to say something about envy and its motives in human life. Envy: feeling nobody wants to feel, but all do. We want much in this life: in our life we are constantly looking for something more in any field. Who wants to end constant consuming, constant thriving for intellectual understanding, and to be socially more and more liked? Even with consuming there are serious threats, we cannot stop it. As if we cannot live without feeling that we are highly evaluated if we only have more and more of anything.
Envy is tricky feeling, as it informs as - if we want to listen it - that we do not have something somebody else has, and we feel inferior because of that. We desperately think that if I have the same thing as another person, we could be as appreciated and valued as s/he. Envy makes us to feel as weak, inferior, not so special as somebody else. Why has another person invited that big idea? She is not that clever that she is worth of it! No, she is not that good in anything that she can has it! I want it! It was me who actually invited the whole thing, and I want it immediately to me! I can steal it!
Envy can be used for good or bad. For evil purposes, if somebody invites something too good and I envy it, I can loan or steal it and use it for my own purposes. It does not matter how the person under the process feels of it: it matters that it is me who is not more feeling weak and inferior without it. I have now the same thing as the another who originally had it: I am good.
Envy can also be used for positive purposes. There is no need to copy-paste or steal the idea of another. One can create totally new innovation, something potentially independent and original. The feeling of envy can be starting point to create more, not just by imitating another's idea, but trusting on one's own capability to create new. Thus, envy can be very positive feeling, although it is irritating to feel to be inferior.
In itself, understanding one's boundaries in life, to understand that there are limits in everything and in life, is teaching experience. We cannot get everything and things will stay undone in the end of our lives. We probably and usually do not get everything we want, so we do not get all the envied things to ourselves. After some time we often forget that we have envied something, and may laugh afterward why we have had been so keen to get something.
How is this connected to wisdom? In important way. Deep self-understanding is mentioned to be one component of wisdom (e.g. in Monika Ardelt's model of wisdom). To accept one's envy and to act and behave ethically with it is possible. To act unethically is also possible. As humans, we have both ways open.
(Originally posted 14/10/2018)
Taiji training memoirs
I found (2018, no date) these two writings of my taijiquan and -jian training, written in the year 2016.
Beginning. Body-mind wisdom. Taiji. 3/5/2016.
I have been reading Finnish Book on internal Chinese (and Japanese) martial arts. The book is by Tarmo Hakkarainen (2015) Polku sisäiseen harjoitteluun: mieli, hengitys, keho, tunne ja energia, ISBN 978-952-286-964-7, Germany: Books-on-Demand (in Finnish). As I have been long-term practitioner of taijiquan and -jian, and have written article of my experiences (you can article in Finnish find it here) I was interested to understand how he describes his developmental path and progress in various Chinese-Japanese internal arts training.
Before I will start to write read review of this book (which may take some time) I just found this excerpt of body-mind integration and its relationship to wisdom from the University of Chicago's Wisdom Research Network page:
"One of their areas of study is the relationship between wisdom and meditation. Nusbaum explains that meditation involves certain practices, such as taking control of our own minds. “Many people seem to believe that consciousness just flows along and they have no ability to change the direction of that flow,” he says. In meditation, however, one seeks to control the flow. That control can help us choose how we “direct attention to our thoughts and to the world.”
In addition to it, meditation involves a level of self-calming and may help us to develop “epistemic humility,” the understanding that “while we may know a lot, we do not know everything, and there is always more to be understood and learned in the world.” Since it can be hard to reflect deeply on a situation if one is anxious or driven by physiological states, “meditation may be an aid in developing the ability to reflect more deeply, to persevere in working at intellectual struggle, and to control impulsive responses that could overshadow a wise consideration of a situation.” A paper recently accepted for publication demonstrates that there is a significant relationship between wisdom and the long-term practice of meditation. -----While we often associate wisdom with the mind, there appears to be an important relationship between wisdom and the body. For example, Patrick Williams and his University of Chicago colleagues have found that “years of ballet practice are related to increased wisdom,” Nusbaum says. He has been told by some psychiatrists that “you cannot be anxious if you do not tense your muscles.” If we can get our bodies to relax, we reduce our anxiety. Nusbaum is quick to point out that though relaxing and reducing anxiety are not the same as wisdom, these things may “open the door for wisdom to operate.” When we are anxious or driven by our physiological states, we “cannot reflect deeply on a situation.” (italics and bold by EK)
I started to think if taiji - which is classified as movement meditation and partly also as mindfulness excercise - can be identified to have these qualities mentioned, as control one's mind, direction of mind's flow, beside other factors. Been 16 years of taiji trainer (with only 2 longer breaks) there is at least subjective understanding which are the basic elements in it. I'll continue to reflect this question.
The abstract of the above-mentioned study: The Relationship between Mental and Somatic Practices and Wisdom. Williams, Patrick ; Mangelsdorf, Heather ; Kontra, Carly ; Nusbaum, Howard ; Hoeckner, Berthold, PLoS One Feb 2016, Vol.11(2). In this study we sought to explore how experience with specific mental and somatic practices is associated with wisdom, using self-report measures of experience and wisdom. We administered standard surveys to measure wisdom and experience among four groups of practitioners of mental and somatic practices, namely, meditators, practitioners of the Alexander Technique, practitioners of the Feldenkrais Method, and classical ballet dancers. We additionally administered surveys of trait anxiety and empathy to all participants to explore possible mediating relationships of experience and wisdom by characteristics thought to be components of wisdom. Wisdom was higher on average among meditation practitioners, and lowest among ballet dancers, and this difference held when controlling for differences in age between practices, supporting the view that meditation is linked to wisdom and that ballet is not. However, we found that increased experience with meditation and ballet were both positively associated with wisdom, and that lowered trait anxiety mediated this positive association among meditation practitioners, and, non-significantly, among ballet dancers. These results suggest that not all practices that are purported to affect mental processing are related to wisdom to the same degree and different kinds of experience appear to relate to wisdom in different ways, suggesting different mechanisms that might underlie the development of wisdom with experience.
Pause in taiji training. Negligence. Afterwards...8/7/2016
I have not had been taiji training for at least 2 weeks, and visited about half week ago my group again. I didn't expect much of training session. Came straight from my work, it was very hot summer day, had been doing routine work and was tired. In the beginning of the session one of the training friends came and hugged me. I had a feeling that it was spontaneous gesture, even if I do not count her as my friends as such. But there had been some time we haven't seen each other, and I felt I was welcome to the group again. Others came by dropping, in summer we do not care if we come later and not in strict time. I started to talk about forthcoming summer camp and noticed that six persons were keen to leave for it. Surprise. During the latest yin-phase of club, some persons have had been in camps coincidentally. During theyang-phase a decade ago we traveled to summer camps by two cars, with five to six trainers. Activation to leave for camps made me wonder, are we again close to yang contrasted to yin phase. These phases cannot be forced to come to exist. There is just some unintentional existence of activity and passivity, one following another. As kind of law, or rule, which operates in the background. It is a process, ups an down, as heart's rate. If there is of no rate, no pulse, there is no life. Always this binary logic: plus / minus, up / down. Yin and yang, or whatever terms you like to use - as you like it. In any case, you refer the same phenomenon, dynamic polar opposites in life.
So, as I started to warm up in the training, I felt no special feeling or emotion regarding taiji in itself. I felt training was nothing special. Boring repetition of foot work: put strength dynamically on either of your feet. My mind wondered, I thought my works, articles to be written, my tiredness in the work, my plans of future. But I knew based on my experiences that it will change later, if I just continue to do the warming up. I made singular movements as warming, just which came to my mind. I made several "Brush you knee and push", feeling just boredom an wandering mind. After some time, our teacher asked us to do 24 Yang style Form , a classic, which I have been practicing for 15 years (it is the basic form everybody must learn first). During it, I do it always from my guts - from long-lasting, hidden bodily memory. It is in deep layer in me. I know exactly which movement to do next. I know the routes of movements, and I can focus only on them, but some times, like in this training time, my mind was far away... I knew what to do, like automate, but my mind focused on troubles and feelings of the passed workday. After 2 or 3 times of repetition of Yang 24 I felt more comfortable and I started to get some ability to focus on things in that moment. My mind became more relaxed, memoirs of days started to disappear. Also, the sign of energetic blood circulation emerged. My hands became hot, as always is the case if I totally concentrate on training.
After 24, I suggested we do qigong, Yi Jian Jian form. I imitated the movements, as I am not expert in it - have had only one course in it, after that, coincidental training. I like this qigong form as it concentrates more on the upper part of the body, as taiji seems to strengthen feet. In my fantasies, I love to train both forms to get balance to train the whole body, not just rooting into ground by feet, which taiji obviously seems to increase. Finally, after qigong, I joined for a while to some who started to train classical Yang sword form. I am a newbie in it, and insecure how to do the movements. I can do Yang 32 sword, but this classical competition is new to me. I felt envy as I saw the others to do the form so well. I didn't remember most of the movements and felt clumsy. It raised inferiority feelings and envy of others and promise to myself that I'll train this in my free time, though I was skeptical if I'll have time.
As I biked to my home from the training, the familiar feeling of strange happiness, calm and positive attitude emerged. As always, i wondered question why - which are the causes of this change of my mental state. But is this always-emerging question of cause-effect relationship just learning outcome of our culture? Why to ask why? Why we ask causes? Why are causes so important? Can phenomenon be described or explained in another way?