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Month: August 2022

In Tune With the Fabric of Life

In Tune With the Fabric of Life

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Music is as essential to life as the air we breath. Its magnificent presence is all encompassing, remaining an essential conduit for meaning and emotion. The songs we sing, their words and meanings resonate as part of our very essence. We feel the music as it holds sway over the moods, hormones, and the emotions governing us. In so doing, music is able to enhance our joyful moments at the same time as moderating the more trying ones.

One of the more trying periods involved the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador. But as we shall see, music has played a central role in mitigating the difficulties that have, in part, defined the fishery. Despite the challenges, music has been able to subtly diminish the sharpness of these times, ensuring people are left with an element of hope.

Music and Our Bodies

One of its greatest attributes of music is the ability to bring people together. We are united by the words and sounds, together forging a collective identity. As humans, we’re hardwired for music. Biologically, our bodies contribute, with the power of music releasing oxytocin, a hormone possessed of a calming effect. When we close our eyes and sway to the music, our bodies are biologically responding to what we’re hearing. Thus, it enhances the experience.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

The body helps to accomplish union with the release of endorphins accompanying the active performance of music. Endorphins are a hormone linked to pain and stress. The feeling is the neurochemical effect of song and dance is similar to social grooming, a practice associated with community bonding. Song and dance achieve the same. There is more work to be done, but we do know music appears to have an effect.

Listening to the music, holding hands or moving our bodies in unison helps to physically coordinate our actions. And in so doing, it reflects a strong sense of community, something listeners will inevitably link to the music.

Music is all about vibration. It’s believed those vibrations and the energy they emit not only give us sound, they are also capable of affecting our brain waves. Known as “sound healing” and given our bodies are 75% water, a great conductor for sound vibration, music can lower stress, reduce our mood swings, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep.

Meanwhile, other hormones also play a role. Cortisol is our built-in alarm system and functions as our body’s primary stress hormone. While the research is ongoing, scientists have found that music possesses stress-reducing effects. It’s entirely possible the release of cortisol may play a role in sound healing.

The music is then able to dampen stress induced by lament, anger or frustration, sentiments that reined in Newfoundland and Labrador, during the troubling times surrounding the fishery. Equally and beautifully, the music also gave voice to the frustrations, anger and confusion dominating the period. Music provided the critical cohesion needed when individuals and communities, alike, sought to moor their broken and tattered spirits.

Music’s Role in the Fishery

Over the years, fishing has experienced its share of difficulties and challenges. The struggles of fish harvesters stem back to the migratory fishery. It was their hard labour for very little return that defined the arrangement. By the 1950s and 1970s, resettlement disrupted numerous lives. This was a government, top-down initiative to move communities to places considered to be of more economic esteem. A more recent upheaval came with the moratorium of 1992, a debacle in which there were many to share blame. But as always, government can raise its hand and claim a significant portion of that blame.

Throughout the hardship and sorrow, music has played a vital role in bringing to life the heartfelt memories bound to the fishery. It spoke to celebrate the women and men who have given their lives, their heart and soul to the fishery. Music also helped give voice to the politics and foul machinations that shrouded the times. The music evokes images of weary and calloused hands strenuously working on the sea. At other times, the music brings to life a proud people who will never bow. Music is magically able to rally spirits, bind communities, and shore up hope.

Ballads in Newfoundland

In the troubled history of the fishery or during resettlement in Newfoundland, there are no doubt many songs like “Let Me Fish off Cape St. Mary’s” that admirably function in this manner. Like “Pad’s Song,” their gentle poignancy would rarely leave a dry eye. Their lament is for another time, something that is palpable in their lyrics and the roving melody.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

To every listener, these ballads sit against a backdrop defined by a recognition the routines and rituals celebrated in the words and music are slipping away. Both of the tempo and the lilting melody of the ballads add to the deeply felt ache they elicit.

Certain ballads such as “Seagulls Still Follow on Freedom” and “Government Game”strongly appeal to one’s heart. Although, at the same time, they offer a cutting critique of the social and political conditions surrounding the fishery. They’re able to to both calm spirits in resignation, while enrage at the same time.

Image by Daniel Kirsch from Pixabay

In both ballads, the music provides musicians and listeners alike with an opportunity to express certain emotions such as lament, loss and frustration. In doing so, they ironically enhance feelings of betrayal, anger and distress. At the same, the ballads chime with beliefs that are upheld and shared, such as a healthy distrust of the government. Thus, the music can only strengthen the bonds holding people together. People may sing along or listen and nod, looking at one another, knowing every word in the ballads to be sadly true.

The Land God Gave to Cain” turns its attention to the First Nations groups. Yet again, the message is again a recognition of the inequities that have always ordered the world. The words and rhythm utter a lament for what’s been lost. And every repeating stanza is a reflection of the ongoing battle that defines the struggle.

Towards the Sunrise

Finally, “Towards the Sunset” is a rousing shanty that encapsulates all that has been lost. There are fond memories of places and times all who are listening will be able to warmly recall. It hearkens to the past yet, it is all cast in a light beckoning listeners to the future. All is not lost. This is not a ballad to emphasise what is lost. Rather than being towards the sunset, it is more an urging towards the sunrise.

This is the power and potency of music. As we listen, the style, rhythm, and melody are able to raise a laugh or a wry smile, sometimes a look of worry. Not to worry.Throughout our journeys in the world of music, we will always be able to mend both our body and mind.


The Spirit of Waves

The Spirit of Waves

We’re all drawn to the beach. Upon sight of the waves, any stress and anxiety gently flows from our bodies. Most of us have spent time at the beach, mesmerised by the incoming waves either soothingly sloshing or hurtling onshore. Waves can be evocative, touching our innermost core. Yet, we remain in awe of the science behind them, deftly drawing in the powerful forces of the wind, sun and the moon. Bewitching, waves beckon us to gaze more deeply into their internal elements.

Before prodding and pulling at the meanings we glean from the waves that distinguish our shorelines, we can take a moment to better understand, what exactly is a wave.

Types of Waves

When we stand on the beach watching the waves come onshore, what we’re actually watching is not the movement of waves, but something far more simple: energy. That’s all it is. The movement of energy passing through the water. There is no forward movement of water.

There are several types of waves: wind-driven, tidal, and those tied to more severe weather. Waves formed through their dances with the wind are reliant on speed, duration and the area over which it’s blowing, also known as the fetch. As the wind blows, it transfers energy, through friction, to the water. This only occurs at the surface.

In comparison, a tidal wave is entirely bound to the gravitational pull of the Moon and Sun. Through its gravitational pull, while the moon moves, it causes the oceans on either side of the earth to bulge out (see image below). It’s pulling on the water on both sides of the earth, as well, the earth itself is being pulled. On the opposite side, through the centrifugal force resulting from the Moon and Earth orbiting around one another, the water pulls out. There are great speeds involved. Realise the speed at which the moon orbits the earth is 3,683 km/h.

Image of the oceans bulging out on either side of the earth, due to the moon’s gravitational pull.

So, as the earth rotates, tides move in and out. The water isn’t actually moving. We are. It’s the earth that moves through the higher or lower water. We’re just moving in and out of the bulges and the valleys as the planet rotates underneath the water. The sun also has a roll to play in terms of either enhancing or limiting the pull of the moon. A neap tide occurs when the force of the sun and moon cancel out one another and so, they’re on either side of the earth. This is when the moon is at first or third quarter.

Neap Tides

A significant amount of energy is thrust into the water when tectonic plates below the ocean shift, yielding an earthquake. This may result in a tsunami which in Japanese, translates as “harbour wave.” The energy radiates outward in a circular field. Tsunamis also generate stronger waves because the energy is transmitted throughout the depth of the water from the surface undergoing seismic shifting.1 Since it’s being driven by a significant amount of energy, when it slows as a result of the shallow water near shores, the waves will bunch up. The result is a significant wave as one wave runs into the other. They’ve been known to reach heights in excess of 66 ft (20 m). Naturally, the result is too often utter devastation for seaside communities (see the story of Lituya Bay below).

Breaking Waves

The energy is moving in an orbital motion, in both an horizontal and vertical direction. As they begin to feel the bottom, the waves decrease in speed. The top of the wave then overruns it and lurching forward, begin to break.

How a wave breaks varies. There are generally three ways this tends to happen and it’s tied to the seafloor’s surface. With spilling waves, the seafloor gradually gets shallower and the top gently overruns the wave ahead of it. If it’s a plunging wave, the seafloor is more suddenly getting shallower. This results in a more sudden overrun. Finally, the surging wave, it’ll break and then surge onshore rapidly. This will happen when the beach is more steep, essentially a more sudden overrun.

Image of a breaking wave known as a plunging wave, sometimes referred to as a “tube” or a “barrel.”

Refracting Waves

Wave refraction simply refers to why waves invariably crash parallel to the shore. When a wave is approaching the shore at an angle, the part of the wave that reaches shallow water first will begin to slow down. However, the segment still in deeper water is still continuing at its original speed. As a result, it will begin to curve and eventually parallel the shore as it breaks.

Rolling With the Waves

Dangers of Waves

Fish harvesters for centuries have intimately known both the breathtaking beauty of waves, as well as their harsher and more merciless temperaments. For much of the time, the conditions with which most fish harvesters need to contend is relatively tame seas. The winds are calm, generating little more than a ripple.

The problems arise when those seas anger and waves accordingly grow much larger. Often, these waves are generated by the gale force winds accompanying the storms. On the 4th February, 2013, the highest recorded wave recorded by a buoy occurred.

Although this pales in comparison to the highest wave recorded on the Pacific ocean. Waves generated by tsunamis carry vastly greater energy and are henceforth, considerably larger. On the 9th July, 1958, a significant earthquake (7.8 pn the Richter scale) occurred on the Fairweather Fault in the heart of the Gilbert Inlet. This inlet lies in southeast Alaska.

The result was wave of significant size — between 100 and 300 ft (30 m to 90 m). Although, because tsunamis behave as they do, bunching up when they reach shallower water, the wave was gargantuan after travelling the length of Lituya Bay. When it struck the shore, its peak height was at 1,720 feet (524 metres). The result was utter and complete devastation.

Meditative and Mesmerising

As capable waves are to eradicate anything in their path, they are equally able to kindle feelings of peace and sanguinity. Anyone who’s spent a day at the beach watching the surf for even just a few minutes will attest to its meditative quality.

Part of the allure of the waves are the sounds they make. They envelope us. The sounds overwhelm our senses and it’s impossible to decipher any particular tone. They create a broadband sound yielding a multiplicity of frequencies. Some say it’s simply a more natural version of white noise.

The sound of waves are also reminiscent of how we began. In our mother’s womb, we were bathed in a safe and comforting pool of amniotic fluid. The waves touch on our fundmental tie to water. After all, up to 60% of the human adult body is composed of water. So, the fact we are so moved by the waves surging onto the shore is no surprise. In a way, the waves and their repetitive movement is like a journey home.

The waves rushing onshore or lapping placidly at the shore’s edge are a means by which our brains can reduce its input. Peace. Time to relax. And much like in meditation, waves act much like our breathing or some other image or sound, a mantra perhaps. It centres our attention. So, watching the waves is a means by which we can clear our minds of the clutter it usually accumulates. Simply watching the waves will sooth our souls.

Let’s Go Surfing

There is no other pastime bound to the waves on the ocean as surfing. Those who dedicate their time to surfing will no doubt advocate for its inherent therapeutic qualities. Surfing demands our focus. And much like the waves themselves, the process offers an opportunity to de-clutter our minds.

In surfing, one goes into a “flow state.” Other sports will refer to being ‘in the zone,’ which simply means one is totally focussed. As a consequence, there is no space left for feelings of depression, anxiety, being disheartened, or self-doubt.

Surfing therapy intentionally incorporates various therapeutic methods such as group discussions and participants expressing their feelings. For individuals dealing with mental health concerns, surf therapy also critically creates a safe place. These are places where people can feel at ease to discuss issues central to their well-being.

The focus is to improve both their mental and physical health. Surfing functions as a metaphor to help individuals deal with their personal challenges. It builds confidence in surfing that can readily translated into how we deal with the world.

Waves of Wellness Video

Taking It All In

We are both richly engaged and energised by waves. Peacefully, we may be watching the waves quietly lapping on the shore, breaking and spilling an array of foam at its edge. At other times, we are awed by a spectacle of heavy seas releasing vast sprays of water they crash into the shore.

Whether we harness this energy, surfing the waves or by simply gazing at their beauty and odd peculiarities, we derive a sense of peace and calm. Waves give us a mere hint of the immense power of the sun, moon, and the rigorous shifting deep within our earth. And being at the shore to witness this vitality, we realise how we are also a part of this energy.


1This in comparison to wind-driven waves where the energy transfer is restricted to the surface.

We Are a Part of the Universe

We Are a Part of the Universe

Nature’s freedom.

We spend our lives occupied with working, being a part of a family, and in any number of ways, seeking relaxation and recreation. Some of us are drawn by a purpose, others by a wish to be of service to a fellow soul in this universe. In all that we do, as Joseph Campbell writes, “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” Perhaps, in the end, this must be our ultimate goal and if so, everything else will fall into place.

Wheel of Life

Wheel of Life

A young American robin.

Naturally, I was horrified. Anyone would’ve been. A couple of days ago, I witnessed one of the more unpleasant realities of nature. A neighbourhood cat was tormenting a young robin, its breast still an array of raggedy brown, black and tawny spots.

The bird had been weakened by preliminary attacks, I could only imagine were intended to incapacitate. So, it could only open its beak wide, as if awaiting food from its parent. I could only assume, at that age, it was the only way it knew to interact with the world. It was agonising. To my mind, it seemed little more than a silent scream, begging for mercy, pleading, for the love of god, to leave it be. I don’t know. I ran outside, my aim to intervene.

The cat tormenting the bird belongs to a neighbour and often comes to my house during the mid-morning. Appearing at my window, she opens her mouth, a silent meow, requesting and now largely, expecting to be allowed inside. And so I happily do so.

But all cats are the same. Wildness is innate. Their ability to be loving, purring while being stroked sits calmly and casually alongside their ability to be exceptionally proficient hunters.

I hastily ran over to where the little robin was laying. The local cat somehow recognised my intention and then backed off. She actually ran to come inside and so, I let her in. It was almost like she wanted to distance herself from what she was doing, wishing to somehow flee from it’s reality—even though she was the main protagonist. I’m likely imposing some fragment of morality I wanted to see in a cat who was simply obeying her keen instincts.

When I went over to the bird, it could no longer fly or even move. I knelt on the ground and gently rubbed its side. It didn’t seem to resist or to my mind, show any fear. Perhaps there was something in its mind that knew I meant it no harm. We were locked, eye to eye, in a moment of peace and tranquility.

I gathered it into my hands determined to place it out of harm’s way. It did wriggle at that point, naturally in fear of its life. We are all innately bound to even the tendrils of survival. My hope was to somehow leave it on a branch. That way, no creature on the ground, at least, could do anymore damage.

It was a foolish endeavour. As soon as I tried to perch it on the branch, it fell into the broad leaves of the plants down below. I didn’t attempt to retrieve it. I simply hoped it could meet a peaceful end.

It was heartbreaking. There was every chance, this bird had only hatched a mere two weeks previously. Most likely, it hadn’t even built the strength to fly. Yet, here it was, soon to lose its hold on a world it’d only just entered. Questions of fairness are never applicable in nature. Still, there was a wrongness with which I wrestled.

Invariably there’s a feeling of inadequacy and impotence that hovers over one’s shoulders. What else could I have done? Truth be told, what I wanted to do was to somehow prevent the death of this creature. It’d just been born and the journey to death was supposed to be a long one—as long a possible. After all, life’s supposed to be punctuated by those poignant junctures of procreation, nurturing, and simple survival. Here it was cut short abruptly.

The next morning dawned and I looked at the brush under the tree where the little robin lay. I was fairly sure it would’ve died by then. The goal is to find small justifications, trying to emphasise the rightness or at best the acceptance of it.

Later in the day, I was looking out onto the road and there was a small lump. In a moment, I realised it must be the body of the small bird. One of the cats in the neighbourhood must’ve followed the smell and found it, pulling its carcass out of the protection into which I’d placed it the day before.

I was pondering the realities of the situation when a gull suddenly flew in and settled. Now, gulls don’t often land on the street unless there’s an obvious payoff. I’m not saying they’re mercenary. But I do know they follow a more, shall we say, intense path to survival, one that often yields fairly rich kickbacks.

On this particular occasion, that small lump was the focus of the gull’s attention. The gull proceeded to lift the lump from the ground and bash it against the road—again and again. I didn’t realise what it was doing, until it managed to gather up the lump in it’s beak. Method in its madness, the idea was to soften the little lump of bones and feathers. I thought it was going to then fly off. Instead, it threw its head back and into its gullet went the small lump. Gone.

And so there it is. The end of that young robin was really only its first step toward a new beginning. By the time I’d noticed the little lump on the street, the essence, spirit or consciousness—whichever accords with your perceptions and beliefs—of that little bird had already moved on. It had departed, re-joining the energy of the universe. As it is with all of us. At some point, we’ll all see our world again, new and as yet unknown. Likewise, the bird’s biological body, the one it had spent an all too brief time inhabiting, was about to return to the beautiful cycle of life.

Life is an eternal journey interspersed with the cardinal moments of life and many more—sickness, joy, struggle, elation, sadness, surprise, death. No beginning. No end.