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Come to your senses…

May 2, 2015

Last weekend, I was invited to present at a conference in Sardinia on Sacred Landscapes. This was part of European Culture Expressed in Sacred Landscapes (ECSLAND), which invited a range of academics with a multitude of disciplines from ecologists, archaeologists, landscape designers to priests and artists (I fell under this category). I chose to look at how songs, as a musical and ritual form, have the capacity to link us to sacred spaces through the memories they contain. A song carries information- melody and words as well as whatever is evoked in the listener- allowing us to preserve our ties to a place, acting as ‘guardians of our cultural heritage’, as Laura, an archaeologist at the conference aptly put it.

I shared three different notions of sacred spaces, represented by music, and all linked to the Middle East: The Invisible Home, as migrant communities leave their original homeland they can carry music along with them (I sang an Arabic and a Ladino song from Andalusian Spain, from Arab and Jewish communities respectively); The Physical Home, using a more Christian notion of monumental landscape, as explained by Jala Makhzoumi‘s talk at the conference (here, I sang an extract of Fairuz’s iconic song Jerusalem, which mentions the churches and mosques alike); and finally, The Inner Sacred, looking at the Sufi Islam’s belief that God is ultimately in our hearts, if we choose to listen to Him/ ourselves (singing a short Sufi chant, ironically and slightly awkwardly, having to do both the call and reply!). All three notions draw on a sense of the sacred, not only the literal physical landscapes. Though, having said that, other presenters spoke of the human link, and rituals, as vital constituents to sacred sites, e.g., pilgrimage routes or particular monuments.

A couple of months ago I was struck by a distinction a fellow trainee therapist made between ‘belonging’ and a ‘sense of belonging’. The former can be literal, I may belong to the family I was born into, my country of origin, the city I currently live in, the institution I work in etc. Whilst the latter is more of a sense; do I feel I belong to these? To what degree? What constitutes and impacts my sense of belonging? How do I know I belong somewhere?

I wonder at this sense; for me, what gives me a sense is usually rooted in something quite experiential, visceral even, which has at some point tapped into my senses (hearing, seeing, tasting…). So my sense is anchored in my body as a sort of imprint, left by something I have once tasted (literally or metaphorically). This memory is buried somewhere that at sometimes I struggle to understand its meaning cognitively: I can have a sense without this making sense. And viceversa of course though generally most people, including myself, tend to automatically rely on their mind over their body.

I came across another reference, which I think carries a similar meaning: Edmund Hussel’s ‘noema’, as an enduring mental representation of either tangible things existing in the world, such as a family house in Baghdad, or a concept, like home or justice. I’ll take my former family’s house in Baghdad, more specifically, a tree that lived in our garden facing the Tigris river. This tree was hundreds of years old and I distinctly remember how it looked, how it felt under my feet as I climbed it, I can still see remnants of a tree house my brother had attempted to build once, and I collected its fruit (nabugh) every spring. It was huge, magnificent, and to me, it was sacred. Even though I know this tree has since been cut down, by the house’s current owners, the ‘noema’ constituting the tree cannot be destroyed, because I choose to preserve it in my memory.

I’ve only just come across this noema (and noesis) malarkey today, in the context of Gestalt therapy, so my understanding is still floating a little above my head, so to speak…

This sense, particularly of home and belonging, have deep meaning for me, and I imagine for many others who no longer have access to a tangible childhood home. I also wonder at second and later generation immigrants who literally belong and yet lack a sense of belonging, particularly if their sense of self seems torn between their family’s place of origin and their current place of residence. If I am torn, I am easily broken and lead away by others who offer a glimpse or notion of something more together, integrated and whole. Of course, I’m thinking of young Britains and other Europeans who leave the country they belong to, in favour of joining militant groups in the Middle East and Africa. This is what we work on at not-for-profit Meryna (from the Arabic word for ‘malleable’ or resilient); using a creative working model to facilitate dialogue related to identity and belonging. It’s this ‘sense’ that can thread the different parts of myself. What may have seemed conflicting can becoming rich food for reflection, play and dialogue.

I think of old Fritzy’s quote (that’s Fritz Perls, Godfather of Gestalt therapy): ‘Lose your mind and come to your senses’, alluding to Gestalt therapy’s body-centered work, namely, taking into account sensations in your body in the here-and-now, as well as your cognitive mind. Now this has a deeper layer for me, reminding me to trust my senses of, as well as senses, as these carry roots in ancient wisdom that my mind is sometimes unable to fully comprehend.

From → Artistic

One Comment
  1. Glenn permalink

    This is beautiful writing.

    Many thanks Glenn. Good to hear you enjoyed. Please spread the word and stay tuned for more 🙂

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