We all know the feeling of getting to the end of a project that has been gestating for a long period, whether it is preparing for a musical performance, a long hike up a mountain, or any other achievement that has taken an unusual amount of effort and been long in the making. As we reach the culminating moment of realisation, the moment when we know in our minds and hearts that the preceding months or years of preparation have all led up to this point, the time spent suddenly seems to collapse and to feel very short. Our sense of time in such moments is dramatically altered and offers an insight into ways of responding to the processes by which we personally evolve and progress.
A wonderful metaphor for what I have in mind is the seed that grows into a tree. The seed contains within itself the whole life history and evolution of the tree: from the growth of its trunk and the spreading of its roots, to the unfurling of its leaves and the blossoming forth of its flowers, to the moment when the tree dies and eventually decays, returning to the earth, where it nurtures the growth of new generations of trees and plants. The seed that gives birth to the oak, the ash, the elm, the beech or any other of the trees we know and love embodies a paradox. It is both total, complete and perfect in its own being, but it also contains within itself the potential to evolve and grow. When we apply the metaphor to our own lives, we can add the potential for self-discovery, emotional change and spiritual development.
It is not difficult to apply this image to any endeavour we pursue in life. From the germ of a conception in our minds, or perhaps more importantly in the instinctive faculty that precedes the intellectual decision, we grasp the thing we are aiming for as though it is a completed whole. Indeed, in one way, it already is the accomplished thing we have conceived of because its completion is already present in its seedlike state. The infinite range of possibilities has been shaped: the potential for change has become purposeful. Time is compressed into an atom, so to speak, and our sense of what time means undergoes a transformation. Now we are more able than before to embody the fullness of a perfect moment, to realise the complete nature of whatever, wherever and whoever we are, as opposed to fixing our eyes on some future target at the end of some unrealised temporal corridor.
This is exactly how I feel about a project that is coming to fruition even as I write these words. The foundation of the attitude in question is a special kind of patience. The staged production of Dobrinka Tabakova’s The Patience of Trees at Manchester International Festival has been envisaged and developed over a long period and its title provides a clue to the processes that we have gone through in order to overcome many obstacles and bring it into being as a living performance. A special kind of patience is required for this kind of artistic effort. Things cannot be forced, and circumstances simply did not allow us even to try to force the issue, so we simply had to learn to wait without wanting, surrendering to the quiet space of inwardness in which creative processes rise to consciousness.
The search for a symbol for this particular sort of patience takes us back once again to the tree. Growing sometimes for several hundred years, the tree teaches us the value of patience without wanting and the rewards of self-surrendering intimacy, but it also enjoys a special closeness to its immediate surroundings.
This is the thematic starting point for Tabakova’s The Patience of Trees, in which the mesmeric flow of musical sounds invites us to surrender ourselves to the cyclical passing of time with its varied moods. It beckons us to relinquish ambition and give in to moment, to the sense of being. Its four movements, ‘Earth’, ‘Water’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Air’, succeed one another in interconnecting ebbs and surges that rise and fall, to create what I like to think of as patterns of impermanence. The rehearsals are now beginning, and the performance is in prospect, and we are filled with joy as the tree reaches the point when it bursts into flower. We’re at the point where a pattern of impermanence emerges from the flow, before dissolving, just as the tree blossoms then bears fruit and sheds its leaves, and the cycle of growth turns full circle when a new seed takes root in the earth.
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