sharing some “new” music

rainy cedarIt’s raining today, so it’s a good time to stay inside and listen to some music. I’ve been discovering some new music that I like for the first time in… well, a while. They say (who says?) that your ability to discover and appreciate new music goes down as you age, so I suppose that that’s a good sign. I’ve been looking for ambient music that can help me to concentrate on tasks—something that I can tune out, but that has enough of a beat and good harmony that it keeps me going. Something atmospheric—not in the “lounging in a private spa” sense, but in that it creates a good atmosphere for me to get things done. Here’s some of what I’ve found, just because it’s a sharing kind of day.

Tycho, a project led by San Francisco-based musician Scott Hansen, is what I’m listening to right now, particularly the new album Awake. I’ve had it on for the past little while as I smash my keyboard in search new ways of making websites look pretty. Also new to the playlist is Bonobo, or British musician Simon Green, based in Brighton, UK. What I’ve heard from him is more down-tempo and perhaps a little darker than Tycho, yet still rhythmic and very enjoyable. From the other side of the pond (i.e. the Pacific Ocean) hails another recent addition to my collection, DJ Okawari of Shizuoka, Japan, who bills himself as a “representative artist of Japanese jazz hiphop”, a genre fostered by Tokyo-based Seba Jun or Nujabes, whose music has also been doing the rounds on the playlist lately. These last two have a distinct harmony of their own that I would call characteristically Japanese: lighter, brighter and even a little more conducive to introspection, if that makes sense—almost as if you were having an intimate conversation with a trusted friend.

Besides being good work music, I would put all of the above on a travel or road-trip mixtape, or even just rainy-day music to help you chill out on a gloomy, overcast day. They’re definitely all relaxing and ambient, so they fit perfectly into that side of my music collection. Most of them have been active since the late 2000s, so I don’t know if I’m really right to call any of them “new” artists—but new to me is good enough for now.

finding love and wonder on pluto

When I was in elementary school, I was fascinated by science, especially astronomy. I was the nerdier kind of kid who preferred reading books to kicking a ball in the playground, and so, I would hole up in the library and gather up all the books I could find about stars, planets, the universe, and more. At that time, exploration of the solar system was still just beginning. Humanity had walked on the moon and come back. Probes had been launched even further, landing on the surfaces of Mars and Venus, sending back the very first images of other planets. More probes had been launched at the other planets, sending back to Earth the very first snapshots of these other worlds: the sun-hugging Mercury, and the gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Reading about these newly explored worlds sent my mind on journeys of its own, journeys of awe and wonderment.

And yet, there was still more to this journey. In the pages of every book that chronicled the sums of our knowledge of the planets, one section still remained a mere footnote, a tantalizing mystery. Pluto, the last and farthest planet (as far as anyone was sure at the time), was a mere speck on a photographic plate, twinkling in the night sky as would any star—except that it moved. We knew it was there, but its great distance from Earth meant that it would surely remain unknown for a very long time. Who, after all, would ever travel that far, through all that nothingness, far above the ecliptic—the plane of the solar system—to snap a picture of this, the tiniest planet?

The New Horizons mission, then, is somewhat of a dream come true—the fulfillment of a long-cherished hope, and the continuation of that long journey of awe, of wonder and discovery. It allows us to fill in a blank in our knowledge of the universe. For those of my generation—who were taught that Pluto was a planet (although there’s nothing particularly wrong with being considered a dwarf planet, either)—this mystery cried out especially loud for resolution. The beautiful thing, of course, is that now that we have pictures, now that we have all this knowledge and data, we become acutely aware of how much more there is to discover. The wonder doesn’t disappear—instead, it builds. Our thirst for learning kicks in, and we want to know more. And in time, we will.

as I pick myself back up

It’s been a while since I’ve spent much time looking after this blog. No doubt there are still people out there reading, whether they’re subscribed by email or RSS, or follow on Facebook, or simply check back every now and then out of curiosity or nostalgia.

It’s been a tumultuous time for the owner of the world’s longest-running Bahá’í blog (if it hasn’t been stripped of that title due to the succession of hiatus after prolonged hiatus). Things started getting busy around the end of 2010. Life started getting in the way of writing, you know, in the way it does. Successive tests descended. Things which were once clear became muddied and murky, as the hand of providence stirred up the water of the ocean of life. They say that in that kind of muddy water, the beautiful lotus will bloom, resting calmly upon the water, opening up its petals and offering itself to the sky.

I can’t really say that the tests have ended yet—nor can I say that I’ve reached that perfect state of calm—but what I can say is that there is something of a growing sense of clarity budding somewhere deep within. Things are clearer, while still being unclear. I am—and we are—slowly learning how to draw from that sacred quiet space within our hearts the living water of certitude.

There is so much to fear in the world today, so much anger, hatred, instability and chaos. And yet, there is also the evidence of a growing, collective movement of humanity towards something much, much greater and more beautiful. Something that looks like kindness, and courage, and justice, and love, and patience, and perseverance, and generosity, and sacrifice, and service. Every day, we pick our side: Shall we advance towards a day of despair, or one of hope? O Great Spirit, give me the strength to choose hope today, to love and to serve Thy creatures.

So, yes, it’s been a tumultuous time, and most of the time I’ve simply felt too confused and exhausted to spend time sharing quips and queries or telling the little stories of my life. I dare to cherish the hope that this time of crisis is coming to a close, and that victories lie ahead. But I must be humble, and remember my place: A mere gnat that only aspires to become an eagle. Sorry. I know this sounds cryptic, and I hate to be one of those cryptic bloggers. The gist of it is that I’m feeling a little better nowadays, now that things have become a little less chaotic. But big things are in store in the coming years. Big changes, big growth, big challenges, and hopefully big adventures worth telling stories about. Maybe I’ll be blogging those too in a little while. For now, I’m off to rest and meditate a little. Greetings and glad-tidings to you and yours, dear friends.

ayyam-i-ha and the fasting season

It’s a busy time of year for Bahá’ís, no matter where they are. The joyous festival of Ayyam-i-Há is taking place, a festival of fellowship, generosity, and hospitality. The Bahá’ís in Da Nang have been busy with a campaign of home visits to elderly members of the community. Tonight, Quynh and I gathered together with them at a fun musical celebration, and tomorrow we’ll be doing some visits of our own in our neighbourhood, and cutting out some Ayyam-i-Há decorations with some of the local kids.

dawn of a new dayTomorrow evening comes the Feast of Loftiness, which kicks off the 19-day-long Bahá’í Fast, during which Bahá’ís from the ages of 15 to 70 years abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise ’til sunset. The Fast comes to an end with the celebration of Naw-Rúz on March 21st. Falling on the spring equinox, Naw-rúz is a celebration of revival, renewal, and springtime, in both the physical and spiritual senses. Fasting is a period of preparation for this springtime, during which we not only fast physically, but pay special attention to our spiritual life as well, in order to come into a new year with our souls refreshed and strengthened.

Interested in finding sunrise and sunset times for the Bahá’í Fast? Check out the list of Bahá’í Fasting Times for 2014, complete with links to Fasting calendars for major Canadian cities and selected cities worldwide, and a ready-made chart for Ottawa (for the folks back home).

to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love

I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p.29

Like many people, we live in a residential area, where many people commute to work, whether by car, bus, or bicycle. The other day at noon, a neighbour’s car alarm went off. It seemed the owner was away, because it kept on going—honking for several minutes at a time, then pausing for a minute or two before starting up again. It was still going when I got home, in the late afternoon. Quynh met me outside and told me she had gone to look at the car, and that she’d seen a bunch of handwritten notes stuck on the car’s windshield, with dark, angry messages—insulting and cursing the car’s owner, calling them the worst neighbour in the world, and worse. She didn’t like the noise at all—it gave her a headache—but she also felt bad for the car’s owner, who obviously was away and would have had no idea what was happening. How could people leave such terrible notes?

lined up in the parking lotWe talked about how stress and anger can lead people to lash out against others and to lay blame. Along the way, we met some of the children and youth who live in the neighbourhood, and we continued the conversation with them. Some of them felt annoyed, saying they couldn’t stand the noise any more. We asked them if they had seen the notes that had been left behind. They had. Some of them agreed with the sentiments that were written. But the owner was obviously away, another one said. How would it be fair if we blamed someone for something that was completely out of their control? And how would we feel if we were in the same situation, and we came home from a hard day at work to a windshield full of angry notes calling us names? Terrible, that’s how, and full of despair. Several heads nodded in agreement.

“So what can we do to change the situation?” Quynh asked. It didn’t take long for one of the children to find an answer: replace all the nasty notes with a nice note. The children brainstormed a message together, settling on “Sorry about all the bad notes, tomorrow will be a better day.” After writing it out in black marker on a sheet of paper and decorating it with hearts, stars, and peace signs, they took it and walked together towards the now-silent car. When they got there, they noticed that all the nasty notes had already been removed, so they simply left their positive note under the windshield wiper. All of a sudden, one of the neighbours stepped out of her house, looking exhausted. “So sorry about all the noise,” she said. It was her car. She had just arrived, seen the notes, and disabled the alarm. She looked around at the children, who apologized—as members of the neighbourhood—for all the notes people had left, pointing out the more positive note they had left on her windshield. Her face brightened immediately, as if a veil of misery had been lifted.

It turned out that she had taken her bicycle to work that day to save on gas. She worked across the river in Quebec, so it was a long ride. Late in the afternoon, she explained, she suddenly received a call—from the Ottawa police, who had received a complaint about her car alarm, which had been going off for hours. Nobody could tell what had happened—it might have been an electrical fault that set off the alarm, or a cat, or an actual burglar—but they advised her to come home as soon as possible to shut it off. Shocked, she biked home as fast as she could, only to find all the angry messages littering her windshield. She had just finished getting rid of the notes when the children came to leave one of their own. She thanked them sincerely for their kindness, and the children wished her a pleasant evening—reminding her that tomorrow would be a better day. When we walked back home after meeting, we assured the children that their action had restored hope to that neighbour’s heart.

Whatever happens in life, we always have a choice of how to respond. These choices we make determine whether we will create hatred or love, war or peace, despair or hope. When we create love, peace and hope in our families and in our neighbourhoods, it grows and trickles upwards through our cities, our regions, our nations and our world—that’s why we say world peace starts with us, inside of us. It makes our lives—and the lives of those around us—lighter, brighter, more livable.