Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Played by Death

"Something happened when [Claudio] Abbado had his tangle with stomach cancer eight years ago. Now, it's as if his musicians sit on the brink of the abyss with him, wanting every note to matter so much that if the world ended tomorrow, nobody would care."

I quote this from a wonderful review by Sheila Apthorp of an evening of French music with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, when under Abbado's baton the dreams of Berlioz, Debussy and Ravel came alive.[http://www.abbadiani.it/guppy/articles.php?lng=en&pg=648] It is marvelous what clarity and creative passion a close acquaintance with Death can bring.

I've felt a close connection with Death throughout my life as a result of my boyhood experiences of "dying and coming back" (as an Australian doctor put it in those pre-NDE days). Whenever I get too blase about this - or just too idle - Death pops up in wonderfully shiverish ways to restore my clarity and fire.

Last week in a gathering in Connecticut I led a journey to a place of healing. I had many very powerful experiences of my own, while drumming for the group and watching over them (doing this kind of work is very good for the practice of maintaining multiple levels of consciousness). The climactic sequence came when, after many other adventures, I came to a quiet pool inside a temple-like precinct, with wide, creamy, shallow steps leading down on three sides. I knew in that moment that this pool was the Eternal Bethesda, the one that was there long before Jesus told the lame man to get up and walk. This is the exact address of the Angel That Troubles the Waters, the lord of Death who may also be a lord of healing.

I felt a stirring beneath the waters. Then a whirlpool began to form near the wall of the enclosure, on the only side without direct access. The whirlpool span stronger and stronger, opening wider to reveal a great form of black granite rushing up from the depths. Its shape suggested a throne sized for a giant. The upper part of the throne rose twenty feet above the surface of the pool. Its lower part seemed to reach down incalculably deep, all the way to the Underworld. While the waters boiled around the dark throne, I felt absolute stillness there, in the place of Death. I received the message again, streaming through the fibres of my soul, that for me the right path will always involve approaching every significant choice by looking at it from the standpoint of Death.

I have an appointment as Death in the Midwest this week, when I lead my workshop titled "Making Death Your Ally" which involves guiding participants through a close encounter with their personal Death into a tour of possible afterlife transitions and then a renegitiation of their life contracts.

Many years ago, when I led this workshop at a site near the Gettysburg battlefield, we shared some indelible experiences. Perhaps it is not surprising that many of us were conscious of the nearby presence of men in blue and gray who had not moved on. I spoke to their superior officers and told them they were welcome to audit the workshop - and that I hoped they would find it helpful - but that they should remain at a discreet distance outside our circle. They listened with respect and followed these rules with military discipline. On the night our travelers returned from the abyss, having met Death and made their personal agreements on how they would now seek to live, we turned on all the lights and danced to wild tango music.


Robert Moss said...

Louisa sent me the following gripping account of how Abbador played with Death soon after his surgery for stomach cancer:

"Having had surgery in summer of 2000, in October Abbado takes Berliner Philharmoniker to Japan, on a long tour that includes a production of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. This is pure insanity: the damn thing is four hours long, with most of this time dedicated to serenading death in every imaginable way and a high corpse count in the end. Besides, the opera has already taken the lives of two conductors, both in Munich, Felix Mottl, who died in 1911 conducting the 100th performance of the opera, and Joseph Keilberth in 1968. According to the legend, Mottl died during Isolde's aria Death-doomed head, death-doomed heart, and Keilberth after Tristan's aria Let me die, never to awake.

Abbado had to relegate all stage rehearsals to his assistant and probably regretted going on this tour more than once, but the performances were a success and very well received by the Japanese public, and this served him well.

In early 2001, the 100th anniversary of Verdi's death approaches, and Abbado decides to commemorate it with a performance of Requiem. By this time, his main challenge is not cancer per se, but starvation. He looks so frail that musicians are worried that he might not get through a rehearsal alive, let alone the ninety-minute, 200-player messa. The public raises eyebrows and wonders what in the world he is thinking. The concert is held on the exact day of Verdi's death, January 27th, and the 2,400-seat Philharmonie is sold out.

I don't know what Abbado was thinking, but I will take a guess: he was consulting the Masters, the authority that he could trust, about what lies beyond life."

Carol Davis said...

Your place of healing waters reminds me of dreams I have embarked on that led me to waters of birth, transition and the many ways Death teaches us to cherish life, if we will pay attention. When I take the dream pathways to the Eternal Bethesda I notice that I can see my face reflected in the waters when they are still, that I can dip into the stirring waters to receive healing so that I can walk in the ways of my soul's deepest desires. Even if I am shocked or terrified by the bold presence of Death, toxicity will be rinsed out of me and I will be buoyed up to new life with my values and choices clarified. I emerge with new energy for Life.