Posted by: nickwardscenarios | December 17, 2009

On the power of the mind and involuntary muscle action

Around 2am this morning I’d cycled as far as Parker’s Piece when I realised with an awful, disbelieving, shock that I’d left my guitar on the 12.31 from Kings Cross to Cambridge – I cycled back to the station faster than I’ve cycled since 2001 when I was very fit – only to find the station was already closed. What to do? I hung around for 30mins hoping there would be a BR employee to talk to and then very slowly cycled across town to Robert Jennings Close. By the time I got back having enjoyed a prolonged stare at the Cam I’d resigned myself to losing my beautiful, custom-rebuilt Korean banjo-tuned semi-accoustic and that I’d best see the the loss in terms of release from bondage (attachment) to material things and crashed out. I woke in fright at first light with an ominous feeling that something was missing but I didn’t know what: it was the kind of nebulous ‘missing something but I don’t know what feeling’ that is common after dreaming or deep-grief trauma – a feeling I know pretty well, I’d say.

Then it hit me. No guitar. It’s not the first time. It’s the third time (and the second this month!) I lost my antique London-made banjo in Perth, W.A. the day I heard from Chris by e-mail that Katrin had died very suddenly from complications arising from blood-poisoning… it was like being hit by a train – and, disturbingly, I did exactly the same thing, left my treasured Korean-made DaVinci on the train at Finsbury Park thirteen days ago. On that occasion retrieving it was only a matter of the good fellows at Finsbury Park station calling on to Kings Cross and for me to catch the next train to pick it up from Kings Cross Lost Property. I was genuinely bowled over by BR’s efficiency and told them that this was a wake-up call and in future I would treat my instrument with the proprietorial love it so easily commands. I was thinking about both occasions crashed out on the sofa this morning. Not a great state of mind I can tell you! Rather than jump straight on the bike and peddle down to Cambridge BR Lost Property with fingers crossed I rolled up the end of the weed and smoked a big joint (to usher in the Cambridge ‘clean’ living time) –

– very soon my mind was semi-reposed and following some rich and happy paths opened up by my recent artistic-philosophical breakthroughs (about which I blog) and the loss of my guitar became simply a, regrettable, practicle problem. I could imagine Kirsten springing into action and finding me a semi-accoustic for tonight’s Benefit Gig (209 Radio Homeless Truths; The Willow Walker magazine  – Kirsten’s job as editor is safe (Bravo!); Cambridge Link-Up (a frontline agency) at the Portland Arms 7pm start:  – my first gig as compare – and my first gig at this prestigious Cambridge touring circuit venue. Anyway I can always play the banjo which was smiling at me from within I told myself. My mind thrilled in leaving Banjo Nick’s travails and negligence behind and dwelling on the startling theatre-management model we are building at the Cock Tavern Theatre and how I might suggest Adam make the required changes to Ghost Sonata to free me up to knock out Tango, a play by Nick Ward (with 1 male and 1 female Tango ‘married out of wedlock’  dancers) or get stuck into the over-riding question right now for me as an artist-collaborator: How do we film a portrait of a river, and not just any old river – all rivers: The Thames. That’s the big question, Christopher. A labour of  love?

To cut a long story short I finally mounted the bike around 11.30 and as I was cyling across Midsummer Common (beneath a snow and sleet-threatening darkening sky) I gave myself a simple choice regarding state of mind and muscle action. 1) Accept the guitar as lost and get over it and keep peddling. 2) Visualise all that I love about my guitar, picture it mentally in every detail, hear it, see my left hand fingering Dm way up the fret-board without looking, feel the action of the instrument, detect the subtle energy it exerts over my musical-poetic imagination. What is this ‘erergy’ we invest in the tools of our trade? Is it illusiary or can it be identified? For a fleeting moment I questioned this choice, the positive choice, the self-respecting choice, the choice of belief by arguing that by loving the lost guitar I was making things worse regarding my very real need to get over it and look to the future. It was a only fleeting moment and I noticed that I cyled more slowly as a result of the unwelcome moment ambushing the finer option. Even if it is lost (I didn’t believe it was lost!) it is the sign of a strong and healthy mind to remember it with devotion.

I picked the guitar up from Lost Property and to celebrate I’m thinking of buying the Cube busker’s amp going for £40 (£50 with battery recharger and spare batteries) at Cambridge Resale on Mill Road – the Cube is best on the market for portability, volume and effects (also with aux input), heavier and more bulky by far that my sweet Vox but definitely something I ‘want’… and I wanted to play my guitar plugged into a Cube at Cambridge Resale! I was also, as a result of my ‘unconcious’ or ‘involuntary’, peddling slow-down, thinking about the semiotics of Sports Science where for some years the term ‘muscle memory’ has been at the cutting edge of the mind-body research programmes across all sports.  Obviously muscles do not have ‘memory’ in the sense that they have the capacity to ‘think’ and decision-make independently of ‘brain’ but again and again research with elite athletes shows that the body does have a ‘breaking’ point which seems to function independently of the ‘will’ (or should that be the other way around? Non-visualizers win races too. You better believe it). Something kicks in when the tank is empty, when the brain is out of ‘gear’ as Redgrave puts it, when the mind is in a ‘dark place’ as Matthew Pinsent memorably described the location of his mind, his conscious will, in final 15oom of the Olympic Final, Athens 2004, in the GB Four.  Winning margins can be great or small. Losing by a microscopic margin after 4 years of dedicated training will keep you awake for the rest of your life. Silver doesn’t suit some kinds of athletic patholgy. Exactly what kind of pain Pinsent overcame to win his fourth Olympic Gold only he will ever know, and he may well only know it vaguely. It was a thrilling race.

I’ll give you an example of the power of the muscle’s ‘reaction response’ over the mind as a ‘command centre’ from my own very recent experience. A few nights ago I overdid it a bit while I was jamming: smoked too much ‘pollen’ (compacted cannabis) and eating possibly dodgy fast food and ‘munchies’ , ending up throwing up on the Green, Ladbroke Grove in the drizzle (very unusually for me unless there’s some kind of mental cleansing going on: ie ‘I puke up all my residual bad feeling towards, say, British subsidised theatre middle-men and when I have finished puking up I will see the fair qualities of those imagined ‘detractors” and all will be well. You love me I love you becomes I love you therefore you feel loved. Nothing one-sided about that arrangement’.)

However on this occasion my core gut muscle arrangement went into deep clinch (drawing the ‘attention’ of my conscious thought-stream) and for the first time ever I was given a mental ‘photo’ of where they are, these core muscles,  and what they do. This is what I mean by ‘muscle action’.  The ‘core’ muscles are the complictated, deep, muscle groups which link the front and back (basically) and allow a marathon sculler to stay ‘light’ in the boat and transfer muscle-mind combined power into boat speed. I am not suggesting marathon scullers should get stoned (and pissed?) and ‘get to  know the core’ but it worked for me. Enjoy your training. That’s the main thing. The event is just something that happens along the way and if the event is a sculling race there will only be one winner. Well two, obviously, if you include women, which I unequivocally do. There will be winners (unless dead-heats come about and and that would be frankly suspicious).  The winners will be the marathon scullers who have most fixedly imagined what winning means and what ‘losing’ means. Losing is also a state of mind. get used to it

That was Thursday (the photo was taken by Sylvie on Friday) and I still like it on  Saturday when I add this:

The ‘Da Vinci blog’ has put me in mind to tell you about ‘Miranda’ the Raymond Sims built wooden scull I had the enormous pleasure to row legions of Thames miles from November 2006 to September 2007 as ‘coach from the boat’ boatman at Furnivall Sculing Club on the Middlesex bank of the Tideway at Hammersmith.

Peter Gill had moved on from his splendid digs and I must say I missed his benign and quizzing presence on Lower Mall. No one should wonder at the deep bond I enjoy with Peter Gill. The bond with ‘Miranda’ is strong in a different way (I believe ‘Miranda’ still exits) – I’ll sum her up: she sat level and her hull is made for speed. ‘Miranda’ sculled beautifully. Lebanon Pine was driven to near extinction by racing boat-builders, I know – but it makes me love the surviving shells all the more. Is there a better way?

I’m against the Starboard-side Rule because I know about the Hammersmith black spots. The Surrey Buttress of Hammersmith Bridge and the ‘death barge’ on Middlesex. The Port of London Authority understand, deep down, that racing scullers take the racing line because it feels natural and it gets you there quicker. Nuff said.

Added 23 December: Honestly if I describe the starboard-side rule and why it endangers Tideway scullers and rowers I’d be hard pushed to make it interesting. OK… I’ll give it a go.

Imagine the Thames at Hammersmith with the tide coming in (flooding). Obviously the natural place to be is in the centre of the channel (not necessarily the centre of the river) which is where the flow is fastest. Well the starboard-side rule, imposed by the Port of London Authority, means that you have to take the starboard-side of the channel which means that you will be rowing on the Middlesex side of the channel which means that you are more likely to collide with the death barge moored off Hammersmith Pier (see top right corner of photo)  and if that happens there is a good chance you will capsize and be swept into the narrow funnel of water between the barge and the boat moored alongside it, you will then be swept beneath the walkway pontoon and will have zero chance of getting out alive.


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  3. […] Around 2am this morning I'd cycled as far as Parker's Piece when I realised with an awful, disbelieving, shock that I'd left my guitar on the 12.31 from Kings Cross to Cambridge – I cycled back to the station faster than I've cycled since 2001 when I was very fit – only to find the station was already closed. What to do? I hung around for 30mins hoping there would be a BR employee to talk to and then very slowly cycled across town to Robert Jenni … Read More […]

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