Sunday, 19 July, 1998
Bivalia:[a] Well, come on, Michael, I'm ready.
Michael: Yes, I felt a bit tentative. I somehow felt like sharing
something with you, but it hardly seemed important enough; and also time's
limited, because in 40 minutes or so I want to listen to an A.B.C. program,
one of those ones on spiritual topics.
Bivalia: We can be brief, if you like; and if you run out of time, I'm
perfectly happy to break off at 10 o'clock, then resume later. It's no problem.
And you don't need to worry about whether what you want to share with me is
trivial or not. It is often the deeper things that prompt you to come to me -
and that's fine - but I would be glad to share some of your more fleeting
thoughts. And don't you see that it is really what you are longing for deeply
inside to be able to just share the company of your higher self, instead of
concentrating on the deeper matters as a stimulus for communion with me? We
could say totally frivolous things to each other, and they may be quite
unimportant and ephemeral; but the important thing is we are having fellowship,
just like you might do with an earthly friend, and we are just getting to know
each other, in all aspects, including the trivial or even frivolous.
Michael: Hey, you started the conversation this time, although it is
usually I who do, which is presumably because one's higher self needs to respond
to a request to intervene in one's life, and does not butt in.
Bivalia: Well, you needed a kick in the pants to get started. I could see
you wanted to. And you said the prayer asking for God to be with you, and for me
to channel, and that is a valid request; thus it is not necessary for the typed
channelling to duplicate that request. And besides, the general principle you
stated is valid about one's higher self intruding unbidden, but one's higher self
may nevertheless choose not to make a fetish about the letter of the law and wait
for a formal request. It is your inner desire, your intention, that counts in
this regard, not the words you use or don't use.
Michael: Anyway, I wrote some good music a couple of days ago. I wonder
if you had anything to do with that.
Bivalia: I think I had a hand in that, yes. But a thing like music, which
can have so many spiritual overtones, probably always has a composer's higher
self involved in some way.
Michael: The music is really quite light-hearted, almost frivolous - but
seems very good for what it is.
Bivalia: Well, that's good, isn't it? Of course it doesn't matter whether
it's frivolous or not; there's room for all kinds of music, even from the pen of
one composer. A composer doesn't need to always maintain a consistent style from
one piece to another, but in some cases may merely choose to do that.
Michael: Yes, I can think of an example: Scriabin. His music is
wonderful, but it specializes in a very particular style and approach. His
style underwent a gradual evolution over his career that involved only small
changes at any given time; but the changes, added up over the years, amount to
a radical change in style. But aside from that, and transcending it, his
music has a great consistency, and a stylistic purity that almost amounts to a
specialized style outside of which he never strayed for a moment.
Bivalia: Well, he was (and still is) very good at that approach, and has
good reasons for doing it. But the fact remains that it was a choice he made to
limit his approach to those parameters; he need not have done.
Michael: His whole body of music has a purity, it seems to me, that
approaches that of Bach (or Kuthumi as I alternatively know him). But that is
not my way. I think I might, for particular pieces, adopt a special, pure
style; but I would not want to confine myself to any one approach for my whole
body of work.
Bivalia: That is just as valid an approach as Scriabin's or Bach's, and you
also have very good reasons for doing that, too.
Michael: Music critics sometimes call such composers "eclectic", with a
faint air of disapproval. But I have to feel free to choose the style and
approach to suit the particular piece; sometimes even one single piece may not
be pure to its own style, but may mingle many diverse styles and influences.
Anyway, a couple of years ago I had a dream about lawn bowls, of all
things - something I have never had anything to do with, and which I have never played. But my old place (out of which I am moving) is opposite a bowling green, which is probably what prompted the dream. In the dream, things were distorted in that way that seems peculiar to dreams, and music and bowls seemed interconnected in a funny way. After waking up, I thought, not very seriously, it might be possibe to write a piece of music about that dream, but I got a bit more serious when a musical idea came to me that was just right for the purpose. I added this note to the score for the piece, which explains fairly succinctly what the dream was all about:
A game of bowls consisted of 15 rounds. You played the first round in
C-sharp major, and each round after that was in the subdominant of the
key of the previous round: thus, the game began in C-sharp major, the
middle round was in C major, and the final round was in C-flat major - a
very logical arrangement indeed. When I was told that this was how one
played bowls, it suddenly seemed so obvious: there was no other way it
could possibly be.
That pretty well sums up what the dream was about, although there were a
few other details, some of which were vague, and some of which would be
difficult to portray in the music, so I decided not to worry about them. I
called the piece "How to Play Bowls (according to a dream)". As befits the
whimsical nature of the impetus behind the piece, the music is light-hearted
and whimsical, just a bit of fun, nothing more.
Bivalia: That's wonderful just to have a bit of fun; you don't need to
apologize for its being "nothing more". Fun and laughter are wonderfully good
for elevation of one's spiritual awareness.
Michael: As the note above says, the music (which I haven't finished yet)
will be in 15 short sections, following the key scheme mentioned, beginning in
C-sharp major, then going to successive subdominants, such as F-sharp major, B
major, and so on round the circle of 5ths, as musicians call it, and ending in
C-flat major for the 15th round.
Bivalia: I follow what you mean. It is an unusual and unique tonal scheme
for a piece, which no other composer has ever used, to my knowledge.
Michael: Nor to mine. The funny thing is that, even in my dreams, my
music theory is always exactly correct. If you start in C-sharp major, and go
through successive subdominants, you do indeed find that C-flat major is the
15th key, and C major is indeed the middle one.
Bivalia: I would be disappointed if you flunked music theory in the dream
world, Michael. If that happened, I would have to do something drastic about
that: perhaps enrol you in one of the elementary schools of music that exist in
the higher realms, and you would have to attend each night as you sleep.
Michael: Well, those extracts of that music were written a few days after
Bivalia: And I think that C-sharp major theme which comes immediately after
the introduction is really quite reminiscent of playing bowls.
Michael: I kind of thought so, too, although it's difficult to say why.
A little later still I got the idea that perhaps I could write another
similar piece, but going through all the minor keys instead. This was an
afterthought, because this didn't in any way appear in the dream.
Bivalia: So I suppose you would start in A-sharp minor, have A minor as a
middle key, and end in A-flat minor.
Michael: You know your music theory, too.
Bivalia: Of course I do; I'm your higher self, and I know everything you do
- just as you know everything I do, although sometimes you are not aware of it.
Michael: Anyway, you have the general idea right there about the minor
keys. Well, I eventually decided at some point to have a try one day at
writing the minor-key version, and this is the piece I wrote a few pages of
the other day. I thought idly about what the piece would be like, not really
intending to do anything about it right then, but the ideas started coming to
me - and of course I had to write them down, and before I knew it about three
pages of music had come out.
You were right in a general sense about the sequence of minor keys, but I
decided to do it the other way: start in A-flat minor, work through dominant
instead of subdominant modulations, and end in A-sharp minor; I did this just
to make the type of modulations different from the first piece.
I had no difficulty settling on the title for this piece; right from the
first time I conceived the piece a couple of years ago, I decided to call it
"... but what if you play bowls in minor keys?"
Bivalia: What else would you call it?
Michael: Well, it does sound a bit crazy and eccentric, doesn't it?
Bivalia: You'd be amazed at some of the weird and inventive ways some bowls
enthusiasts play bowls in the astral and higher regions.
Bivalia: No, I'm quite serious. I do know of at least one group of people
who do play bowls the way you dreamed that time, although I can't vouch for it
being a common variant of the game. But you did at least fleetingly tap into
that in your dream.
Michael: Surely some dreams are not real events in the higher realms, but
just fragments of thoughts the brain is processing in some way?
Bivalia: Yes, this is so; not all dreams are the faint remembrance of
events experienced while out of the body at night. But one that left a
sufficient impression on you to inspire a piece of music - and music that
promises to be very good, too - is more than likely to be real somewhere in the
Michael: [LAUGHS SOME MORE.] It just sounds so weird, playing bowls in
Bivalia: You can play it any way you want in those regions where physical
or earthly limitations don't apply. You're thinking that bowls is a physical
activity, and that musical keys are an acoustic phenomenon, and perhaps an
emotional and psychologicial one, too; so, because of these differences, which
seem unrelated, the two things (bowls and musical keys) have nothing with each
other, so that it's impossible to play bowls in C-sharp major, and even
nonsensical and meaningless to talk about it. But there are regions where those
distinctions are regarded as limitations, and where they can be overcome if one
desires it. The group to whom I referred think nothing more of playing bowls in
C-sharp major than you think about sitting down and typing sentences on your
Michael: But how do they do it? Can you tell me in detail how you can play bowls in a particular key?
Bivalia: They do it the way you saw in the dream. Nothing to it.
Michael: You said that with a perfectly straight face - but you're
evading the question.
Bivalia: No, I'm not. The words to describe it simply don't exist in your
language, just as you could not describe the dream itself beyond the description
you've already given, which simply states that it was done. But you are aware of
the way a dream seems at times to make a weird kind of sense: it feels quite
logical in a way, but you can't even begin to find the words to describe it. But
in the dream, and possibly for a little while after waking up, you could no doubt
feel how it was done.
Michael: That's right; it was weird, because I do remember that, after
waking up, I thought to myself, "Is that how bowls is played? I must look
that up in the encyclopaedia."
Bivalia: [LAUGHS.] See what I mean? The dream must have had some
conviction, some kind of unearthly sense of its own, to prompt that feeling even
for a moment after you wake up. And, while I suspect you will find nothing in
earthly encyclopaedias about such an obscure way of playing bowls, you will one
day be able to look it up in the encyclopaedia in the higher realms: The
Universal Encyclopaedia of Games, revised edition, virtual page 873: one of
the obscure variants listed under "Bowls", sub-heading "Local and hybrid
variants", and cross-referenced in the entries "Musical Games" and "Astral
Michael: Now you're having me on - Universal Encyclopaedia of Games and virtual pages indeed!
Bivalia: [WITH A GRIN.] No, I'm fair dinkum.
[Michael: Private thought: I really can't tell how serious Bivalia is,
but it's a nice line, and points out a sense of fun he seems to have, whether
or not it is a joke.]
Bivalia: Anyway, be that as it may, after your rational mind woke up for the day, it took over, couldn't make sense of it, and so, because it's outside your ordinary experience, ever since then, it strikes you merely as being weird.
Michael: It certainly is. I would be tempted to say that the dream
simply originated because you play bowls, and you also play music in C-sharp
major (or any other key), and that the dream connection was simply based on
the use of the verb "play" to refer to both, and my dreaming mind (typically
of dreams) simply got the two senses of "play" mixed up.
Bivalia: Yes, this happens at times in dreams. This might be what caused
you to link up with the C-sharp-major-bowls-playing people. But, partly because
of the incident having enough reality to inspire in you some pretty good music, I
still feel it is real; in my view that is fairly strong evidence, although maybe
not quite total proof. Quite likely the common link represented by the word
"play" (applying either to bowls, or playing in a certain key) is what suggested
to those bowls-playing people the idea of saying, "Hey, why don't we try to play
bowls in C-sharp major?" - you know, just for a lark - and after that maybe they
found it interesting enough to work through other keys, too. Perhaps they then
devised a systematic game, part of whose rules involved going through the 15
major keys in the sequence featured in your dream.
Michael: Well, it sure seems weird, and I am torn between being amazed
that you seem with a straight face to take it as being literally true, and
thinking how delightfully whimsical you are being.
Bivalia: Perhaps I'm being both at the same time: telling literal truth,
and being delightfully whimsical. Truth can be whimsical, you know: it is not
always a heavy matter of grave seriousness. And thank God for that.
Michael: Well, all right, I'm not objecting too strongly. What you say
does at least fit in with your overall spiritual view as revealed through the
many pages we've done together. And yes, I do accept what you're saying in
principle, although I find it very difficult to visualize it.
Bivalia: That's all right. Of course you find it difficult; if you didn't,
you would probably not be in the physical world now. But I am very glad that you
are able at least to remain open-minded about things you cannot personally
visualize, yes, even people playing bowls in C-sharp major (or any other key they
may choose, or even all 15 major keys in sequence - or even the 15 minor keys).
Michael: Yes, I try to be open-minded about such things. I must say it's
a bit easier now that, compared to a few years ago, I am getting more and more
away from a spiritual approach based on firm doctrines and teachings.
Anyway, time's up for now. I would like to listen to this program,
although sometimes it's more interesting than at other times. I have more to
say, but I think this is a reasonably good point to pause. Thanks for
indulging me on that.
Bivalia: That's all right; it is part of my job to help you, but to fit in
with whatever plans you make for your life.
Bivalia: I'll be ready when you are. Enjoy your program.
Michael: Well, Bivalia, I'm back now.
Bivalia: I'm glad to see you again, Michael. Was the radio program
Michael: Oh, okay, I guess. The main section was about bereavement and
dying. I wouldn't say it totally grabbed me, though. That program on 3 LO on
Sunday evenings has changed format a few times, but it has always been
concerned with religion and philosophy, and the deeper things of life
generally. When I first discovered it some years ago, I seemed to be
fascinated by it, but I seem to find it less compelling now, although I still
listen to it. I often tend to see it as representing a mainstream point of
view I don't feel I belong to.
Bivalia: It's fine to listen to other points of view and consider them with
an open mind, including mainstream points of view. But it would not be helpful
to feel pressured to believe them just because you thought this is what most
Michael: Yes, I know that. Perhaps this is one reason why my present
view of the program is that it is merely interesting to some degree, but very
Anyway, in spite of my intention to come back and pick up where we left
off, I do feel the connection between us has been broken somewhat, and I do
feel a bit as if I've lost the thread of the things I wanted to discuss with
Bivalia: Well, feel free to just talk about anything at all, in the hope of
circling back to your train of thought. There's no hurry.
Michael: Well, there may not be from your point of view, but I sometimes
have constraints, like feeling tired eventually if I go on long enough.
Bivalia: Had we finished talking about your bowls pieces?
Michael: I'm not sure. Perhaps. Not that there was anything of much
importance to that anyway; I probably just get lonely and want to talk about
things with someone, and you happen to be more accessible than most other
people, who are physically remote from where I now live, and also busy.
Bivalia: It's nice to know I'm useful to you.
Michael: Oh, don't take it the wrong way.
Bivalia: I'm not. I mean it seriously: one of the functions of one's
higher self, amongst others, is to help and guide and provide company - if only
the lower self is open enough to realize the higher self is there at all.
Michael: Anyway, I don't know that there was much more to say about
astral bowl-playing and writing music about it.
Bivalia: So are you pleased with the music you wrote the other day?
Michael: Yes, it seems uncommonly good. As we mentioned before, this was
the minor-key piece, and perhaps it has a slightly more subtle, veiled quality
than the major-key one, even a certain haunting quality. But it is quite
catchy, and I found something that almost never happens with my own music, and
that was that for hours after writing some of the passages, they went round in
circles in my brain the way very catchy appealing tunes do.
Bivalia: You really must have tuned into those bowls players somewhere out
there in the astral.
Michael: The two pieces are quite unlike anything else I've written, yet
quite similar to each other. It's almost as if I have created a special bowls
style of music.
Bivalia: You probably have.
Michael: But there's a reasonably close relationship to a certain
semi-popular style I seem to have invented, with characteristics of ragtime
and jazz, yet not ragtime or jazz itself. This style also features in a few
other pieces I've done a fair bit of, including the two in memory of my
grandmother and father, which, along with the bowling pieces, are at the top
of my list of music I want to complete once I've settled here in Healesville
properly and completed moving things from Trumper St.
Bivalia: Well, I hope you will ask Kuthumi to help you with that music when
the time comes. He wants to help you, and thinks you have great promise as a
Michael: Oh, it's too frivolous stuff for that - at least the bowling
Bivalia: Not at all. I hope you aren't buying into that over-reverent view
of the Masters as only being involved in heavy, serious things. Nothing could be
further from the truth.
Michael: Yes, I guess you're right. I guess I'm just struck by the
surreal humour of calling in the Masters to help me write music about playing
bowls in C-sharp major.
Bivalia: The Masters have a wonderful sense of humour which can be quite
surreal at times. If you and I can have such a sense of humour, so can they.
Michael: Well, of course, another reason I have doubts about bringing in
heavyweights like Kuthumi is that I wonder whether such elevanted beings
really take that much interest in little old me, want to take the time to
cultivate my talent, and even estimate my talent that highly. I mean, the
great J. S. Bach thinking I have great promise as a composer?
Bivalia: This is how I see it, yes. You have heard Kuthumi channel, so he
knows of you through that at least, although he knew you long before that in
reality. And you have heard that he was J. S. Bach.
Michael: If I can believe that information.
Bivalia: You have to judge that for yourself. It cannot be proved or
disproved, as is so of any spiritual information.
But most people, if not all, are really much greater beings in their
spiritual totality than what they manifest on the earth plane, which is so
limited. It shouldn't surprise you to find that you, or anyone else, may in
reality be far more than they appear to be.
Michael: Maybe. But it all seems too good to be true. Although I may
differ from the New Age in a number of their teachings, I suppose what we do
here is closer to the New Age than to anything else I can identify with a
label. And of course one of the main criticisms levelled against the New Age
by its opponents, especially some Christians, is that it is all vague, just
concerned with feeling good, taking bits and pieces from this religion or
ancient tradition or that, with no regard for consistency or scholarly
accuracy, but only judging it by how good it feels.
Bivalia: Yes, I know the sort of stuff you mean. If the cap fits, wear it.
Michael: What do you mean by that?
Bivalia: I mean, if you feel that is true, and that it's a bad thing, you
should consider that criticism, and also consider doing what the critics say you
should. If you feel, after proper consideration, that it's not true, it's not
worthy of any further thought from you. And if you think the criticism is true,
but that it's all right to be that way, you can just accept that that is the view
you have, acknowledge that the crtics are stating valid facts, but that you
differ from them in thinking it bad to do things that way.
Michael: Well, the critics may have some valid points. The sort of stuff
you've just been telling me about how great I am, how J. S. Bach thinks I have
promise as a composer and wants to help me, and all that, is the sort of thing
that those critics would jump upon as exemplifying the New Age at its
self-indulgent worst, merely indulging wish-fulfilment fantasies as a
compensation for a failed life, and so on; and I suppose I have a tremor of
unease that this may be true in this instance, even if not generally of the
Bivalia: I can see you're a bit divided in your view of this. If I can ask
you to play devil's advocate for a moment, could I ask you what you think those
people would suggest the truth is, if what I say is wrong?
Michael: They would probably think it narcissistic, if not deluded, to
fancy that J. S. Bach (or Kuthumi, whatever identity you prefer to use) even
knows about me, let alone waits to help me develop my talent as a
composer. Why me, out of possibly thousands of aspiring composers?
Bivalia: Perhaps because not many of them are open to the spiritual view
you are open to. Your openness is not particularly common in today's world, you
Michael: Also, the critics would probably think that I shouldn't borrow
New-Age ideas about the Masters, perhaps adding a bit of Christian thinking
that resonates with me (and there are bits that do, you know), mixing it up
with some of my own half-baked ideas which I have given a spurious authority
by claiming my own higher self to have channelled them to me - but, instead of
all that, I should study some particular tradition in depth and commit myself
to that and remain loyal to it, and probably have the strength of character to
deny some of the impulses that may come to me at times, which they would
Bivalia: But you are seeking truth, not merely a world-view based on some
tradition. What you are describing sounds to me very much like the latter.
Michael: They wouldn't see it that way; they would probably identify
truth with their own tradition.
Bivalia: That is their privilege, as it is yours to seek truth in your own
way. There is no-one who can prove that their own tradition, or any established
tradition, is in essence closer to truth than anything you come up with
yourself. Even those traditions originated in someone's mind once upon a time,
and it was often historical accident that they became widespread and respected.
Michael: They would say those traditions and the ideas associated with
them became widespread and respected because they were thought out by wise
men, perhaps coming from revelations from God himself, and that these
teachings are widely regarded by many other wise people as containing truth.
Bivalia: Like the teaching that people who don't accept a certain view of
the role of Jesus are condemned for all eternity to the agonies and tortures of
hell, for example? And they dare to call God loving, almost in the same breath.
Michael: Well, I guess so, but that damnation idea tends to be
Bivalia: They don't know where they stand on that now; but the Christian
church taught that teaching, with all its horrible gory sadistic detail,
vigorously for almost two millennia, and some of the more fundamentalist ones
still do; the worst of them even gloat over the idea - mind you, always in the
name of Jesus' love for humanity.
Michael: Yes, I see what you're getting at. There's a huge part of
well-established spiritual views I just can't, in the simple name of
humaneness, have any truck with. Other parts stick in my craw because they
are just so unreasonable by any standard I can think of. Yet other concepts
seem so arbitrary and random that they lose credibility on that count.
Perhaps we can separate the ridiculous or brutal parts of religious teachings
from the rest.
Bivalia: Yes, you can. But once you start selecting the bits you want to
keep, you can go on with that process, and arrive at your own view of truth.
It's either that, or accept outside authority per se as being binding.
Michael: I couldn't agree with you more; I was just citing how the
critics of my outlook might see it. (You understand that when I say "critics"
I don't necessarily mean people who have personally criticized my outlook;
sometimes I just mean people who in speech or published writing criticize that
outlook as a whole; but I do think a few people close to me would share that
critical view, and one or two have expressed reservations about it to my face.)
No, I wasn't saying those things myself, just quoting the point of view
of those critics; but occasionally their views can make me have tremors of
doubt, at least, although not seriously. But I suppose the ideas that are
most threatened by the critics are those high-flown ideas about how the
Masters care for me, have such high regard for me, and so on - the things that
can at times seem frankly self-indulgent.
Bivalia: Yes, but those people (if you're thinking of Christians, which I
think you are mostly) come from a tradition which has exactly the opposite view
of humanity. Humans are sinful, and must grovel and cringe before God, begging
for forgiveness for their terrible sins. They have little control over their own
fate, and must rely on God to help them in their lives. I'm probably stating it
a little more bluntly than Christianity itself would say, but that's the essence
of it, shorn of needless elaboration that may appear to mitigate it, but doesn't
I don't think you should be too overwhelmed by criticism based on that kind
of outlook. Why, if those people wanted to really rub it in, they could say
that all the goodness of man is as filthy rags in the sight of God. How could
you argue against that?: the Bible itself says so, so it must be true. Need I
say any more?
Michael: I think you've made the point quite clearly. When I went to an
Anglican service with my aunt once, I was rather horrified to see how often
the service harped obsessively on our sinful condition, and how we must
constantly and abjectly beg forgiveness (the service kept reiterating this),
and must constantly watch that we repent for any mistakes we may make. I
found it quite depressing to hear all that negativity, and wondered what
effect it must have on people who hear that every week for decades. I was
quite glad to get away from it when the service ended, as I was starting to be
overwhelmed by an unpleasantly grey, heavy, dull feeling of oppression. I
couldn't stand going through that every week.
Strangely enough, I unaccountably went through a week or so after that
where I felt rather depressed for some reason. I don't know if it was
connected to going to church or not.
Bivalia: I wonder. That sort of spiritual outlook would be enough to
depress anybody, it seems to me.
Michael: Another thing about the people who would criticize the spiritual
way I've gone in recent years: they often seem to convey a sense that the
ideas I follow are just too good to be true, just too nice somehow. They may
regard their own truth as quite wonderful, but in a different way, and somehow
a way that doesn't accommodate all those "too-good-to-be-true" ideas that I
think we all long for when you relly down to the heart of the matter. They
may actually describe their own view of truth as "wonderful" - but it seems
that it must be in a very austere way, as if the spiritual path is essentially
hard and difficult and strict. I never quite understand how they reconcile
this, but they almost make those longings I referred to seem illegitimate, the
ones that seem to be bound up with my own spiritual view; but I would say they
are the common property of all humanity, though.
Bivalia: So would I. What you seem to be saying is that those people deny
the validity of your version of truth, those longings you have, because they're
just too good to be true. They say life isn't like that, and they seem to be
saying spirituality provides no way out of the essential dilemmas and problems of life. But I would like to say to them, "If your idea of spiritual truth really is spiritual, and if it really transcends this world, isn't it exactly what you should expect, that that spirituality should give truths that are too good to be true, at least in this world?" What the dickens is the use of it all if it just gives another version of what your limited world already teaches you? I would say there's something wrong with a spiritual view if it doesn't offer something better, if it just reinforces the limitations of your planet by elevating those limitations to the spiritual level.
Michael: I'm glad to hear you say that, because that's kind of what I
think, too. I've met people who seem to show all the signs of a spiritual
outlook that transcends the level of this world; but their outlook seems
pretty depressing and full of limitation to me.
Anyway, I don't know how we got onto this; it just came up by degrees, I
suppose. But I thought it might be about time we got away from this. I'm not
finding it particularly useful any more.
Bivalia: Let's go on to something joyous and wonderful that lifts your
Michael: Well, I don't know if this is it, or not, but something unusual
happened today (or I suppose I should say "yesterday", since it's after
midnight now, and therefore Monday).
I found something in an old second-hand shop today I almost hadn't seen
since my school-days. Perhaps you are aware that, from school-days onwards, I
have been absolutely fascinated by coral atolls, those ring-shaped coral
islands in tropical seas with a lagoon in the centre.
Bivalia: Indeed, I am aware of that. There are a few of us that are
waiting for you to produce your long-planned symphony The Spirit of the Atoll, which I think we have discussed in our sessions.
Michael: Yes, that particular work perhaps more than any other I've ever
conceived embodies all that wonderful longing I so often talk about in
spiritual terms, which seems intimately linked with nature. I have no idea
why I have this fascination with atolls, however, as I have never been to one,
and have no connections with them that I know of.
Bivalia: That you know of.
Michael: I also have fascinations with other natural places and
phenomena, such as fairy rings and deserts and oases and Indian summer, and a
number of others. Once again I have no idea why; but they do fascinate me
I also have no idea how this fascination with atolls originated, but I
would say it came up round about 1969, during my last couple of years at
school. I remember going to the library at Scotch College at lunch times and
after school and looking up books and encyclopaedias to see what I could read
about atolls. Maybe deserts and oases, too, I'm not sure; perhaps all the
other things came a bit later. But definitely atolls. Sitting in my dull
lessons at school, I would fantasize about blue seas and atoll islets, green
with coconut and pandanus trees, fringed around a turquoise lagoon lined with
golden sandy beaches. The vision wouldn't leave me alone, and I wanted to set
stories there, and (I think this came a couple of years later) write music
depicting atolls - a really lush, balmy, tropical style of music.
I remember the school library had a copy of Purnell's Encyclopaedia,
which was one of those ones that came in weekly installments, which you then
collected together and put into special folders. Of course I looked up
"atoll" there, and it gave a little information about atolls, and I especially
remembered this glorious picture (so it seemed) of an atoll, which was
(according to the caption) Tahaa Atoll in the Society Islands, which are the
French Polynesian group that include Tahiti.
It was an aerial picture, and in the foreground was a beach lined with
dense trees, and a lovely blue lagoon perhaps a mile or so wide. There was a
boat in the foreground, which had just done a sharp turn, judging by the wake
it left behind it. In the distance you could see the other side of the atoll,
just a thin green belt of trees, small with distance, beyond which you could
see the open sea. The opposite side of the atoll was broken by a couple of
passages leading from the sea into the lagoon. The atmosphere of this picture
was just so warm and luscious and tropical; it seemed like paradise to me.
This enchanted me, and I looked up that article in the encyclopaedia many
times while I was at school. I don't remember whether I actually came upon
this first by chance and it triggered my fascination with atolls, or whether I
was already interested and looked it up because of that. Probably the
latter - but at any rate it was fairly early in my interest in atolls, and
this photo was quite formative in forming my own inner picture of atolls and
At about this time, I also read a book by Louis Darling about coral
islands and reefs, and I enjoyed looking at the drawings of atolls found
there, which I thought really captured the atmosphere of them. I don't
remember whether that book was in the school library, or the local municipal
one, but this was about the same time. This book also played an important
role in forming my inner image of atolls, and still does.
Of course when I left school a bit later I wasn't able to look at the
picture or read the article any more; and although in the years since then I
have occasionally seen the Darling book again in libraries, I haven't seen it
now for quite a few years. I think the couple of libraries which I knew had
the book don't any more.
Well, what happened today was that in the second-hand shop I saw a single
bound volume of Purnell's encyclopaedia. Seeing that it was volume 1,
covering A to AZ, I knew it would contain my magical atoll picture, and I
looked inside, and indeed it was there. I referred earlier to something I
"almost" hadn't seen since my school-days. I said "almost" because I saw a
few months ago that my brother Peter had somehow acquired an old copy of the
encyclopaedia from someone he knew - perhaps a brother-in-law or someone like
that. I think he had an idea it might be useful for his kids' school projects
and the like. Well, a few months ago, looking through that, I did see my
picture there, so that's why I said I "almost" hadn't seen it since my
school-days. But that look was only brief. Peter said I could take the page
out if I wanted to - parts of the encyclopaedia were going to be cut out for
school projects anyway - but I thought I'd get around to that later, since I
didn't have anything with me at the time to cut it out.
Bivalia: So I suppose you bought that volume?
Michael: Yes. It was $5, which is quite a good price for an
encyclopaedia volume, but, looking at it another way, a bit steep for a single
photo and a few paragraphs of text. But that picture had meant a lot to me,
so I thought recovery of the memory was fairly cheap at the price.
I have to say the picture was not quite as I remembered it. Oh, it was
substantially as I described it and remembered it in most of its factual
details; but it didn't seem to quite have the full atmosphere I thought I
remembered, and the islands on the opposite side of the lagoon didn't seem to
quite have the magical sun-induced shimmer I thought I remembered. It was
still unbelievably lovely, but not quite as magical as I remembered.
Bivalia: Yes, I think distance of memory does tend to lend a magic of its
own, especially when the memory dates from childhood. I think we've discussed
before how children do seem to see a special magic in things which adults in your
world tend to lose a bit, or even completely, and that this magic is due to a
closeness to spirit that exists in humans before it is educated out of them.
As a child (or teenager at least) you were, back in 1969, quite literally
seeing, in that encyclopaedia, the spirit of the atoll, not just the physical
atoll. It was that spirit that had that magic. When you look at the picture,
you still see the physical atoll, but perhaps you see the spirit a little less
clearly, so the picture has lost a little of its lustre.
Michael: Oh, don't tell me that. I want to you tell me I can still see
the spirit of the atoll.
Bivalia: Well, well, we mustn't be too self-indulgent, must we? I can only
say what I see as truth. No, only joking...
Michael: I was about to say, "Don't you start on that, now".
Bivalia: I could sense you about to say that. I was only lampooning the
people we talked about before who criticize certain aspects of your spiritual
No, on the whole, I think you do quite well by your planet's standards at
seeing spirit in things like this; but yes, I think perhaps a little of that
clarity of childhood has been lost.
For goodness' sake, don't take that too much to heart. It is impossible
for anyone, however spiritual, however steadfastly they maintain their vision,
their idealism, to grow up in your world at this time without losing some of the
clarity of that vision. You're doing very well even if you manage to keep just a
glimmer of it, and you've certainly kept more than a glimmer of it.
Michael: I need that vision of nature (however unrealistic it may be from
certain points of view) if I am to write all that nature-inspired music.
Losing it is a serious matter for me.
Bivalia: It's not as serious as you think. You still see enough to write
that music; and writing the music itself will strengthen your vision of it.
Writing the nature music will also, as we talked about the other day, help
spiritually those parts of nature you portray in the music. You could also one
day consider visiting some of those places that fascinate you.
Michael: I wonder if the magic is such an internal, subjective thing that
seeing the actual thing might destroy it.
Michael: I once heard of a writer who was renowned for the vivid settings
in foreign countries he used in his novels, and was surprised to learn that he
never travelled, had never visited these places, but just did his research in
the library and used his imagination to create the atmosphere.
Bivalia: It's amazing what one can do with a vivid imagination; he must
have been very good at perceiving the spirit of those places (whether he was
aware of it or not).
Michael: He said he deliberately avoided travelling to those places
precisely for the reason I mentioned: as long as he knew the places in his
imagination only, he could evoke their special magic; but he was afraid the
splendid vision would be swamped by the reality if he actually visited the
places, and that he could not recover it once that happened.
Bivalia: I can't speak for him. I don't believe that would happen to you,
however. Not when you are able to see magic even in commonplace scenes at times.
Michael: Yes, like today, soon after buying the encyclopaedia volume I
took a slightly roundabout route home to try to avoid a right turn into my
driveway across the busy Sunday traffic on the Maroondah Highway. I turned up
into the hills on which some of the back streets of the town, with their
houses, are situated, and I was struck by the atmosphere. Although it is
winter, it was a lovely sunny day today, and, being shortly after five
o'clock, the sun was due to set in a little while. In those foothills,
there's a road which rises steeply, and nearby there seems to be a little
hollow, but quite high up relative to the rest of the town as a whole, and
there are a couple of side streets that go in and out of that general area.
As I drove through this area, I was struck by the beautiful atmosphere created
by the golden radiance which flooded the area like liquid light. I was so
captivated I drove in and out of the streets a couple of times just to soak up
the atmosphere. Perhaps I was perceiving the spirit of that area, and the
spirit of that particular sunset.
Bivalia: Yes, to both of those. Seeing the real place doesn't seem to dull
your perception of its magic, as against merely imagining it. You can probably
imagine that area in your own mind, but you probably wouldn't have imagined the
particular atmosphere that existed at that time. You needn't shy away from
visiting an atoll for fear it will destroy the vision of atolls you need to write
the symphony about them. It might in fact give you the break you need to
really get going with the symphony.
Michael: Well, you may know I've occasionally thought one day I might
visit the Cocos Islands, which are part of Australia. They form an atoll,
quite a typical one which has been described as one of the most beautiful
places on earth.
Bivalia: Why don't you do that, then?
Michael: I might, when I can afford it - and when I've completely moved.
That'll probably come before affording it; but yes, it's slightly more than an
idle fantasy, although, as a fantasy, I've had the idea for some years now. I
suppose there are lots of atolls I could visit, but this one is the only
Australian one (as far as I know), which would probably make travel
formalities easier (no passports, and so on), and probably the trip would be
Bivalia: It might be a very good idea for you to do that. It might turn
out to be quite a spiritual experience for you.
Michael: I've had immense difficulty writing that symphony The Spirit of the Atoll. Although at times it's been an obsession since the mid-1970s, I have managed to write no more than a few fragments, some of which are quite good, but still just fragments. I think the problem is that the atmosphere of the atoll I have in mind, and therefore the atmosphere of the music, is so wonderful, almost other-worldly, that any music I manage to produce in reality just pales beside the splendid vision.
Bivalia: Yes, I think that splendid vision has you flummoxed a little. It
might be a good idea to consider just writing more of the music, doing it as well
as you can, of course, but suspending judgement until later, after you've
produced more substantial amounts of music. It may mean you have to discard more
extended passages if they are not right, and that might seem like a waste of
time; but it may be the only way. Creating something great like this is not
always easy, and can even be agonizing. It is no reflection on you as a
composer: it is well-known what agonies Beethoven went through to produce some of
the most wonderful music your world has yet seen, how many times he had to revise
and rewrite passages, sometimes to finally adopt the first version he wrote.
Michael: The symphony became an obsession in the 1970s. I don't remember
the precise thing that made me decide to write it, but something prompted it,
and it quite quickly grew into a wonderful vision I wanted to express in
music. Although I had only an atoll in general in mind, not any particular
one, the mental image of that atoll almost grew into a real place, and seemed
to have its own special atmosphere. I sometimes feel that image has faded a
little, but I have tried to hold onto it. But I have to say some of the music
I've written seems so mediocre I think it is unlikely I will use it. And when
I compose something mediocre, I usually don't continue with it, because I lose
Anyway, I think I'll have to finish once more; this has been about twice
as long as I thought it would be (I thought it would be a quick session), and,
before I know it, it's getting to be the time I really must retire. I think
I've pretty well said anything I wanted to say. Thanks for coming once again.
Bivalia: My pleasure; and thank you for giving me the pleasure of your
company and your thoughts and feelings. This is the kind of stuff out of which
we build our relationship and get to know each other better, and that has an
importance that goes beyond whether the actual topics we discuss are important in
themselves or not. But I think they often do have their own importance, anyway.
Michael: I guess I think so, too, or else I wouldn't write dialogues
about them. I think something has to be important for one to go to the bother
of writing extensive dialogues about them. That physical effort will probably
always act against me sharing totally frivolous stuff with you in writing,
even though you've occasionally urged me to try this.
But I think I enjoyed writing about atolls and about the bowls pieces
than that stuff about what critics think of my spiritual outlook. I seem to
enjoy the "feel-good" stuff, the sense-of-wonder stuff, more than some of the
heavier religious stuff.
Bivalia: I can see that from the way you write. Your own thoughts come
more easily when you are more interested, and I think you even channel me better
at such times.
Michael: Anyway, I must leave this now. Good night.
Bivalia: Good night, Michael. My love is with you always.