1st, a preface. I am most certainly NOT a mystical, spiritually elevated, 100% serene person who has achieved any great level of sustained peace of mind. At best, I’m a “wannabe”, in that I want to be those things. But I’m acutely aware of some embarrassing flaws of my character….and I am likely blind to others. All that is to say I realize how pretentious it may appear when titling music pieces “A Morning Prayer”. Here is some background…
Each Lenten season for the past several years, I have attempted to focus on a spiritual practice. This past Lent (2022), I focused on enhancing my daily morning prayer and meditation period with a more structured approach inspired by the Muslim prayer practice. I adopted some of the physical elements of the Muslim prayer practice (as I read in the “Islam for Dummies” book), inputting Christian elements (e.g. The Lords Prayer in place of Surat al-Fatiha). That is not a slight towards Islam. It is just that I am not a Muslim, though I do find much to admire about the Islamic faith and practices.
Meditation has always been a challenge for me. If I set aside 10 minutes for meditation, no matter the technique or focus, about 9 of those minutes will be dealing with random thoughts and mental noise. I believe the Buddhist term for this is “Monkey Mind”. About the only time I have any sustained quieting of the mind is when I’m playing guitar. I always try to have my music output aligned with my spiritual practice so it made sense, beginning in Lent, to dedicate whatever music I created to this focused prayer and meditation practice.
To keep the pieces focused, I established some limits to keep my musical “Monkey Mind” in check:
- Limit the length to around 3 minutes.
- Have a repetitive (i.e. loop) element as the basis to represent a “chant-like” item.
- Keep the amounts of elements (instruments, tracks) in check to not create overly-dense pieces.
It is by coincidence that acoustic guitar is also a common factor. I had been going through a period of re-acquainting myself to my Martin acoustic guitar after going down a John Fahey/Leo Kottke rabbit hole. The acoustic guitar lent a more melodic and sparse (by my standards) element to the process.
Each piece has a sub-title that reflects where my head was at the time I was working on the piece.
“A Morning Prayer (for Dad)” is basically self explanatory. Since my fathers passing in 2019, my understanding of the effects of his absence continues to evolve. The particular morning I started working on this piece, I was thinking of the cumulative weight of loss we inevitably experience as we grow older. In recent years, I have experienced the loss of my sister, my father, some friends, and all my pets (never belittle the emotional loss of pets). I came to an understanding of the weight my father bore as he aged. He never complained or let any burden be known but, in hindsight, I could see how a lifetime of loss and letting go manifested in his demeaner as I begin to feel the weight and its affects on me. In a manner, I’m grateful for that weight as it highlights the importance of those no longer physically here and is an inevitable lesson in dealing with loss and letting go. This piece of music was inspired by such lessons and the gratitude I have for my Dad’s influence.
“A Morning Prayer (in a Time of Doubt)” reflects a frequent struggle I’ve had in the past few years…a shared struggle I’m sure. With the hyper-contentious politics, the societal after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and disillusionment with certain relationships in my life, I have found my faith (especially my faith in mankind) to be wavering. There have been frequent moments where I want to isolate and/or lash out. I have struggled to keep preconceived perceptions in check. The anger and fear so prevalent in the world (it always is prevalent but, of late, its been nakedly so) makes my own anger and fear difficult to control. I’m usually a pretty optimistic and hopeful person but I’ve been struggling with cynicism and fear a lot in recent years. The day I started working on this particular piece, news of the Russia-Ukraine conflict was ubiquitous and coincided with a personal issue that caused me great pain. My prayer that particular morning was more desperate and angrier than normal.
“A Morning Prayer (with Frequent Sighs)” The title was inspired by the recording process. I was recording the acoustic guitar using a condenser microphone which is quite sensitive. Upon playback, I noticed I had captured an audible sigh. It was slightly annoying but it reminded me that I had been catching myself sighing more often recently. It would usually be in the quiet moments of my morning when I was reflecting on the absence of my Dad or sister. I suppose you can say that the inspiration theme of this piece is related to the previous two but the literal inspiration was my lack of technical protocol when recording acoustic guitar with a mic that will pick up a hamster’s fart.
The common thread of all these pieces is grief and loss, be it loved ones or a sense of security that was always an illusion. My intent to make my prayers and meditation more structured and formal this past Lenten season was an attempt to address the feelings of grief and loss, which can be so nebulous, omnipresent and disruptive. I suppose it was a way to inject structure in a season of life where I was made very aware of how little control I have. The only real control I have is the choices in my behavior which requires reflection, honesty, and willingness to make the next right decision based on a faith that something greater than I will take care of the things I can not control.
I do have faith (wavering as it may be at times) in a Higher Power. I choose to call that power God with no assumptions that I know much of anything about God other than I’m not He/She/It and love is the animating force of this life that is God’s creation. It is a lesson being learned that loss is incredibly disruptive and yet entirely inevitable. I have struggled with the disruption and realize that I have much work to do to overcome fear. I know that prayer and meditation are key and patience is indeed a necessary virtue if I am, if nothing else, to avoid bitterness and the hardening of my heart. And so I pray….and for a brief time in 2022, put that prayer to music.
I hope you enjoy the music. I did find some peace in making them. This trilogy will be it for the “Morning Prayer” theme…unless inspiration dictates otherwise.