Posts Tagged energy

Day 33 – another half-ready kobuz nestled like a hibernating wild animal

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“It looked like a tree trunk”

For some time now we have been traveling from one Central Asian city to the next, in search of sometimes elusive musicians. It comes as something of a shock to find myself in dramatic mountain scenery within an hour of leaving Almaty. Seemingly vertical surfaces of rock carry the eye upward, to the hazy skyline.

We are camped by a stream in a beautiful valley, this feels like the first opportunity I’ve had to reflect on our journey. Thirty days on the road is a long time in some ways, but it has been a whirlwind tour. I would have been happy to spend weeks visiting any one of the musicians we’ve encountered. I have the impression of being allowed a brief glimpse into a fascinating and absorbing world.

Thinking about Raushan’s kobuz playing yesterday, its directness and simplicity, I felt the urge to improvise a piece about being here in the mountains. I have with me a simple three-holed flute from Africa, which seems the perfect instrument. It’s not every day you get to play in a concert hall like this. The wind carries the sound away very quickly and I feel small in such a vast location. It seems appropriate though – being here gives a sense of perspective on life.

33childs.gifWe had been told that the ‘village of the masters’ was one hour from Almaty. When Nomadmobile 4 set off we were unreliably informed that the village was over a 3000 metre pass. Looking forward to a spectacular ride through the Alatau mountains the Musical Nomad cavalcade started up. After what seemed like twenty minutes we turn off the main road across a small stream and up a steep rocky slope. Two large yellow apartment blocks and a small row of houses nestle in an avenue of electricity pylons. “This is the masters village” the driver informed us. My image of wooden shacks on a wooded hillside was immediately shattered. As soon as we switched off the engine several men began to display carpets and silver ware in the road outside the larger of the two apartments. The crafts are good quality and I bought a rug. Gradually a crowd of village children gathered and we become the centre of attention on a dull Saturday afternoon. They were confused by our presence – this place obviously doesn’t get many visitors.

33toleg.gifA man resembling Shayhk Kushkarov of Day 20 suddenly appeared and amongst his Kazak I recognise the word kobuz. I say Raushan’s name and immediately we have connected. The housing block is home to a community of craftspeople. Tolegen Sarsenbaev, the kobuz maker invites us in to his simple abode. He has a very friendly face, bearded with deep passionate eyes. I immediately sensed his creativity and devotion to his craft. This was a man used to working in harmony with nature. Three large rooms operate as workshop, bedroom , living room, artist studio and kitchen. A tree-trunk in his studio serves as a stand for his musical instruments which he says charges them with energy . He seems to understand why we have come and begins laying out half made kobuz’s all over the living room floor. They look wonderful. Variations on a theme for sure but in their raw state they have an embryonic perfection, living things almost ready. Another partially ready piece which caught my attention was a kobuz case. This looked like a tree trunk and inside another half ready kobuz nestled like a hibernating wild animal.

33toleg2.gifTolegen told me that most of his kobuz’s are designed on the theme of wild animals. He had a bird, a camel and a owl. The profile of the instruments were indeed animal-like. Tolegen described the shape of the soundboard, which on most instruments resembles a heart with a trench underneath. He said this helped the sound to flow from the bottom of the instrument into the centre enabling it to project forwards. He seemed enthusiastic to talk about the technical aspects of his work. I asked him about Raushan’s instrument, particlarly the fingerboard and the lifted nut. He said this was an experiment many years ago and Raushan had requested it particularly for her ‘cuticle’ technique we mentioned yesterday. He was keen to talk about the uses of his instruments and mentioned how the kobuz is a favourite of Shaman for inducing trance like states. He didn’t have a finished instrument to play to us so I showed him my kyl-kyiak which produced some amusement. He refused to play it saying it was ‘imitation kobuz’ So much for Kazak-Kyrgyz relations.

33tolpnt.gifWe also talked about Tolegen’s passionate interest in Shamanistic rituals and his recent meeting with a Shaman, Temish, in Kyrgyzstan at Lake Issyk-Kul. He met Temish when he stayed in the house of Ama, an ‘old and wise babushka’ who is teaching Temish all about the ancient traditions of zikr and Shamanic dances. Tolegen is now making a kobuz for Temish this is the instrument that Shamans used to play in Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan during zikr’s. I was surprised to hear of Shaman rituals which include zikr. Zikr is an Arabic word used to describe a specific Sufi practice. Perhaps this supports Shaykh Kushkarov’s assertion that the two traditions are connected in Central Asia.

33camp.gifTolegen is keen to join a zikr next month for which he will hike across the river Yur-Kemin and the Kungey Alatau mountain range (over 4000m high) into Kyrgyzstan and then hitch a lift along Lake Issyk-Kul. I’m interested to know which of the instruments I’ve seen in his workshop is intended for Temish – I’m told he chose one shaped like a bird in flight – a metaphor for the animal spirit.

As we make camp a competition soon emerges for best attempt at rigging a tent. Paul’s team wins hands down, predictably with help from the girl guides. I take advantage of the ‘cold and cold’ running water and avail myself of that handy bush. Gary is in seventh heaven as he plays his Krygyz Komuz and rigs his satellite next to his tent. His feet grounded in the stream, at last a long way from a power point.


As the evening shadows shape new contours into the eternal hills, this is definitely a place to make music. I’m sure tomorrow will bring us closer to the nomad spirit of these Kazak people. We will camp near some mountain villages and via our new interpreter Moldira attempt a dialogue with their remote inhabitants. The musical nomad has truly landed….. ‘When you sleep outside your thoughts are as high as the stars’.

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Day 20 – If I ask for paradise, kill me!

“If I ask for paradise, kill me!” A proverb from the Yasavi Sufi Order

In response to an email from one of the many thousands following us, we were intending to visit Shaykh Kushkarov, a Sufi master of the Yasavi Order. Such opportunities do not occur every day. As we have said before this kind of direct interactivity is what ‘The Musical Nomad’ is all about – so keep requests and questions coming.

This was going to be another hot, relatively uneventful journey from Samarkand to Tashkent. This the most used roads in Uzbekistan complete with occasional ramps and wandering cattle. The journey took us over a small mountain range sometimes a gorge at other times just a rocky outcrop in the brush landscape.

The exterior of Shaykh Kushkarov’s healing centre is quite plain. Two women dressed in colourful robes greeted us. They had a nun like manner, quiet yet direct and efficient. We sat waiting for Shaykh Kushkarov to arrive and we joked about Jan being left here for the remainder of the journey – the Musical Nomad becomes a resident of this particular Sufi order? Shaykh Kushkarov arrived without ceremony. A tall man with a long black straggly beard hanging down from an oriental face strolled through the wooden doorway. He greeted us with a firm handshake and a smile, the back teeth adorned with gold caps. It felt completely natural to meet him and there seemed to be none of the tension often associated with meeting a ‘stranger’.

He was happy to talk about his organisation and the Yasavi Order – in English or in any of the five or more languages that he speaks. The Order is one of the most widespread in Uzbekistan, along with the Naqshbandiyya. The centre has been operative since 1992 and has five ‘branches’ which are all controlled from their central headquarters. He has about 500 students or ‘murids’ all over the world.

In the course of a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation we were given a tour of the centre. He avoided ‘religious’ dogma, had an intrinsic integrity and pitched his responses at a level we all could grasp.

The attached clinic which specialises in herbal medicine and various kinds of massage. We were told how, at certain times of year, members of the order travel to the Pamir mountains in Tajikistan to collect herbs. This is a difficult task, not only because of the Civil War in Tajikistan but because the herbs only grow above 3700 meters. Several months are spent in the mountains. The physical and spiritual practices are said to be more effective because of the altitude – one month’s work at sea level being achieved in two days. The team also collect a certain kind of root from which they make a special drink. This drink takes five years to prepare and we can all vouch for its extraordinary properties. Shaykh Kushkarov told us that these Sufi medical practices have been used to curing some chronic diseases, including cancer. He stressed that this was not possible in every case but one of his murids whom we met claimed to have been cured of leukemia.

The secret or non public activities of the order consist of the spiritual training of the murids. This is performed through meditation, music and various forms of movement and martial arts. All the exercises are performed under very precise conditions. Shaykh Kushkarov points out that although much had been written about Sufism, important elements of the training were never committed to paper, always being passed on by word of mouth from master to pupil. The centre consists of three areas or ‘corridors’. The first is the reception area and contains the massage and clinical treatment rooms. The second is the court yard and adjoining rooms where exercises are performed. The third area was strictly guarded and no one except the most advanced students were allowed access.

The second area consisted of a martial arts space, a meditation building he told us, a tomb-like structure for ‘focusing’ energy, and a stone on which various movements and meditations are practised. He told us this stone had been used in his family for eleven generations. The meditation hall is an extraordinary building. Built to very precise proportions, it combines the use of colour and certain metals to optimise the conditions for meditation. Nine people can meditate at one time. Three metres underneath the visible structure is another complex of cells and rooms in which people sit in isolation from one to forty days. This they do without any food or water and special air vents have been constructed to allow enough oxygen to penetrate. Shaykh Kushkarov has three times remained underground for forty days. We found it difficult to believe that anyone could survive such an ordeal. He explained how the body can draw upon its own resources of energy, as well as drawing energy from the earth and the cosmos.

Being shown around such a place is no ordinary experience. It has the effect of shifting your perception. We have decided to include personal reports from each member of the team as we were all uniquely affected by these experiences.

GARY’S PERSPECTIVE
Being a bit of an ‘expedition man’ I felt an immediate connection with Shaykh Kushkarov’s three month trips above four thousand meters in the Pamir mountains. Living off the land and searching for rare, medicinal herbs, this was a man who had a mind and body in perfect harmony. He uses it to keep himself alive at high altitude as well as nine meters below the earth, meditating for forty days without nourishment. Regardless of any belief system, he is a ‘very well tuned’ individual. I sensed the team all felt he was responding to them on an individual level. He has an ability to connect with many people simultaneously, not through words but simply by his presence. I also sensed he could pick up many things beyond the superficial such as body language, or tone of voice and was actually able to ‘read’ you. This became evident in a session we had in his ‘medicine’ room. My colleagues had all received readings about their physical health. A short probing of the wrist area, a look at the tongue, some rolling of the eyes and he could diagnose problems in a very detailed way. He then prescribed some herbs for all of them.
When my turn came I was thinking how ineffective medication is, being a firm believer in the minds ability to control the body. As he gently prodded my arm I looked him in the eye, he seemed to respond. He asked me if I had any problems, I said none. He responded “you have a very pure energy, you are well”. He seemed to be telling the truth. I felt he knew that ‘substances’ to many people are placebo, they can carry some ‘energy’ to specific parts of the body but they are not totally necessary and act as a catalyst for the mind to take the healing process further. Later we sat and ate talking further about music therapy.
I showed him our Internet project which made his eyes light up. Suddenly he said “who wants a drink?”vodka, we thought? One of his ‘students’ suddenly produced a clear bottle containing a red liquid. Inside floated a root “from under one meter of rock in the Pamirs.” It looked decidedly unappetising. “This drink contains energy, it will go straight to the bodies ‘centers’ and provide much healing.” Of course that could also be said of a cold pint of Guinness! He poured the red liquid into small chai cups. It smelt of strawberry and mushrooms. “Drink it in one go”, he said and watched gleefully as we each ‘knocked’ it back. He expected a major response. I drank, the musky taste faded then totally unexpectedly I felt as if I was gaining altitude. Not a ‘high’ feeling, more like standing on top of a mountain, my senses were heightened and unbelievably my ears popped as they do when descending in an aircraft. This lasted only four or five seconds but it was a definite physical and mental reaction. Whether or not it had any connection to my ‘energy’ centres I can’t say, but it happened.

My reaction to the drink seemed superficial compared to the feeling I had after saying my good-byes to Shaykh Kushkarov. The feeling of a light being switched on in the centre of my body. A very bright incandescent glow emanating from within. As I entered Tashkent, the noise and pollution rose but the light remained. Something had happened, a warmth from one human to another. Not magic or indoctrination – this was real. Something may have begun.

KATHRIN’S PERSPECTIVE
When I first saw Gulbahor, one of Shaykh Kushkarov’s murides (students), I was immediately struck by her serene beauty and peaceful eyes. We connected in a very quiet yet intense way. When I mentioned that I had terrible stomach pains, she suggested that I have a diagnosis by Shaykh Kushkarov. He discovered various imbalances in my body one of them being my low internal haemoglobin level of -81, which can’t be detected by conventional methods, they would only read the external level of +112. He also noted that fifty percent of my spines energy is ‘blocked.’ I asked him if he could rebalance this. Shaykh Kushkarov then prescribed three herbs. He also recommended a Sufi massage – three sessions would last a lifetime!

Gulbahor asked me to lie down in the massage room. I expected a deep tissue or shiatsu type massage. What followed can only be described as ‘wild ritual.’ She asked me to lie down on my stomach and began to meditate. Gulbahor then picked up a bronze pen-like implement. It had sharp and flat tips. Starting with my feet, she worked her way up my body, scraping, pinning, stroking, pulling and slapping various parts. This was mostly a painful experience, especially when the point connected with various energy points on my back. My arms and legs were pulled beyond their limit. This reminded me of a Shaman’s ritual, beating rapid and regular rhythms on their drums. Again, Gulbahor slapped my body with enormous energy. I thought she was pulling me apart. Suddenly she stopped and stroked me tenderly. She was again her quiet self. Was I dreaming? When I awoke I felt extremely peaceful and happy. Something special had happened. Shaykh Kushkarov checked me again and smiled – “your spine blockage is down to ten percent”.

PAUL’S PERSPECTIVE
For me mystical hocus pocus and men with long beards seem a long way from the stark reality of my home town of Liverpool. However following an industrial injury I suffer a lot with my back. Suddenly in the middle of our conversation Shaykh Kushkarov, I had to interrupt with a question.
“Did you say the Shaykhs give off energy?”
“Yes Indeed” replied the Shaykh.
“Well I just experienced the strangest thing, in therapy for my back injury I undertook a course of cranial osteopathy – this creates a sensation of electricity pulsing in the spine. I have just experienced the same thing in my neck and shoulders just sitting here next to you. All the aches and fatigue from my recent illness have suddenly dissipated”.
“It’s quite normal,” assured the Shaykh.
He later prescribed some herbs from 3700 metres up in the mountains. He refused payment for either his diagnosis, prescribed herbs or the lavish meal he provided.
“There are more things in heaven and earth…………”

JAN’S PERSPECTIVE
Shaykh Kushkarov’s Sufi centre is the kind of place one reads about but can never quite believe in. It is no less than a holistic training centre for physical and spiritual development. It is based upon a traditional wisdom, unbroken for hundreds of years.

As I sit and write, I’m struggling to comprehend it all. The range of the conversation had been enormous. Shaykh Kushkarov publishes books on politics and told us that he is influential in political spheres. Certain facts that he divulged make me inclined to believe him. He demonstrated ‘Koranic mantras’ used in preparation fo

r meditation as well as a Shamanic dance. This connection between the Yasaviyya and Shamanism had already emerged on Day 2 and 4 in Almaty. He described in some detail his martial arts system and allowed me to play a metal flute that was also a disguised weapon.

20kushfl.gifShaykh Kushkarov explained that he had pupils who were Christians and Buddhists and that it was necessary to break down all barriers of faith and nationality in order to have a connection with God. There is no doubt however that his practices are based upon an esoteric interpretation of the Koran. We discussed the connection of maqam music and Sufism. He explained that the music acted as a vehicle for the energy of the Shaykh or spiritual master. It was a catalyst to make them receptive. Herbs he said function in a similar way. Maqam music is a part of a whole training system which is now largely forgotten by most musicians even though it is still performed.

In this medium it is impossible to give more than a taste of the effect that Shaykh Kushkarov had upon us. I suspect we will have much to think about in the coming weeks.

Tomorrow – In search of the STILL elusive Baysun ensemble

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