Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Writing - What soothes the savage breast?

A Readwave submission



What soothes the savage breast?

The trite answer may begin with ‘it depends what stirred it in the first place’! However, in truth all types of circumstances may unleash the red mist ranging from rudeness to the dentist. The breast is agitated in a couple of different ways of course. Firstly, it may be aggravated by something that triggers anger and the second type will be fear and trepidation.
Stimuli produce a raising of the heart rate, expansion of the blood vessels and increased breathing rate, so from a purely health point of view it is important that the effects of being wound up are quietened by whatever means suits your own personality. Some people count to ten others take deep breaths, for me it is much more a case of controlling the mind using imagination. This is hardly surprising from someone who writes.

I use two methods for dispelling the scarlet mists.

As for many years I have been interested in the Japanese culture and that has included Aikido and various types of meditation. These encourage the physical and mental exercises and transporting yourself mentally to a favourite calm place. The photograph at the top of this piece is one such place for me as it is a path that runs alongside a river and the sound of water I find soothing. That particular pathway that I’ve walked on many occasions has the sounds of birds, sun shining between the leaves that form a canopy over the path and no human sounds. It is a particularly beautiful walk within half a mile of home and is always available. This my favourite way of relaxing and even when sitting in the dentist’s chair suffering the probing, prodding, stabbing and scraping I feel calmer if I focus on my pathway.

The second method for calming myself is hinted at in the title. The full quote written by William Congreve is ‘Music has charms to soothe the savage breast’ – as an aside it is often misquoted as the ‘savage beast’- but I don’t play a particularly peaceful or gentle piece of music. I have favourite pieces of music that I play and sometimes very loudly. I believe that it is the equivalent of total immersion in water only it is sound. The music doesn’t have to fall into the category of classical but I have fairly eclectic tastes.
My favourite classical pieces that I find soothing are George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. I was in a music class in 1964 when our teacher played an original 78 recording of the man himself playing this piece. It was complete with scratches jumps and sundry other faults but the magic of hearing the composer play has always stayed with me. I think the most soothing piece of classical music recently composed by Barber is his Adagio for Strings and must be admired for its sheer beauty.
When enjoying modern music I am going back about forty years to Dire Straits. Again it has to be loud and I favour tracks that I can sing along to such as ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Every Street’ as they are also beautiful poetry. It is logical to sing because as a physical exercise you are controlling your breathing and thinking about what comes next so it will soothe. There are a number of other artists who have set poems to music and I think I have endless admiration for their expertise which brings my mind away from whatever is winding me up and allows me to wallow in the art. Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan are two other songsters who have this ability.

In summation finding that particular method of calming yourself is intensely personal. As I’ve suggested above there is more than one stimulus that may trigger a reaction and quite often you need to have more than one strategy. The key factor in whatever works for you is that you actually believe in what you are trying. If you have a physical representation of the place you can send your mind to, as I am fortunate to have, all the better but you still need to focus your attention in that place of piece of music.