Friday, November 13, 2015

There Is A Mountain

I was recently asked by Scott Herold of Rock The Cause to to choose a song to record for a Donovan tribute album to benefit Huntington's Hope. I was very excited to have the opportunity to do so among other local artist and popular national as well. Donovan is a spiritual folk hero in my eyes. I love his fuzz rock stuff too but his acoustic songs strike a chord with me. I chose to do "There Is A Mountain" a song he recorded in 1967."

I immediately recognized this song's Zen content as the ancient koan goes, "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is." The song carries the wisdom of "thusness," seeing things as they are and accepting that. I've been interested in and have been practicing Zen and meditation for many years (see my previous post on mediation) and I often draw inspiration from that sort of practice to create songs for my band Little Man. So in a similar way, I feel where Donovan is coming from and appreciate his work and was thrilled to have a chance to record it and be a part of this compilation.

photo by Emily Utne
The song is simple just as its content is and I wanted to keep it that way in my version. I didn't deviate too far from the original because of it's natural, organic feel. That's where it should be. It kind of repeats like a meditative mantra. While studying the song I noticed (for the very first time I'm sorry to say) that the melody is the same in The Allman Brothers "Mountain Jam." I had no idea The Allman's got it from this song. I'd been jamming to that song for years as a kid playing right along with it gaining my chops on guitar. So there is a tad of that in there too. You can here my version of Donovan's "There Is A Montain" and purchase the album Gazing With Tranquility to benefit Huntington's disease at Rock The Cause.

First there is a mountain.
You are brought up to know what a mountain is. Picture it in your mind, draw what a mountain looks like to you or go out and witness one. Massive stone object with white cap peaks. Separate from you. But a mountain is made up of so many things; rocks, dirt, trees, insects etc. Where does a valley end and a mountain begin? Show me?

Then there is no mountain.
A mountain is a human concept. It's what we call a mountain. We give it that name, thus we separated it from all that is, from us. It is useful to use language to communicate something but the word mountain is just a symbol. Go past that symbol. The mountain is not separate from you. From multiplicity to unity.

Then there is.
Back to being a conceptual mountain but this time carrying with it the wisdom of no mountain. This is the mystical realization. Nirvana is ordinary life. See things as they are. Thusness or suchness. Living in the world as a part of it and not separate from it is the wisdom. Know the multiplicity in unity. Also there is that spiritual seeking element that comes full circle. One might feel the need or the desire to seek God or Nirvana, enlightenment, spiritual bliss etc. You take that journey and then realize that you can't seek what you already have or are. It's not outside or separate from you. You return. Zen is ordinary life. Enlightenment is here and now. You have the wisdom, living in this world with all of it's joy and suffering and everything in between for which you cannot separate yourself from. It's all you.

But then again that it's self is just a concept... Zen is something to be experienced spontaneously. Experiencing with out labeling. Dropping all concepts is like an empty cup ready to be useful and receive or like a mirror that reflects but does not hold. Music is a great Zen-like thing in that there is no destination in a song. A song IS. Alan Watts said something like "if getting to the end of a song was it's intent, all musical pieces would be finales and the orchestra would be playing as fast as they could to get to the end". You listen and follow along to a musical piece and then it's gone. You physically can't hold onto it. You don't normally suspend that lovely chord forever and want to hear that chord for eternity because it makes you happy. The chord changes and you accept that.

There is so much to read about Zen, Buddhism, Eastern philosophies and all sorts of meditation techniques. This link on The Ox Herder is a good one that fits with my theme here with this song. Look into it if it interests you but while gaining that literary knowledge can be good, doing and experiencing them is at the heart of it all.