One of my colleagues over at 3Quarks posted a wonderful piece on rain this week. Highly evocative, it begins like this:
The Bombay monsoon has finally fallen into character, after a destitute June. As I was falling asleep to the sound of heavy rain a few nights ago, my attention was once again momentarily drawn to the dense ecology of sounds that the droplets made as they struck several surfaces. There was the light, wind-swept tympanic percussion on the window pane, there were the lone droplets on the balcony ledge, the corpulent plops upon the leaves of the potted plants in the balcony, and there was the dense tumescent swoosh, the ‘white noise' of the environment, amidst several discrete sounds of varying time and frequency that I could distinguish, in a short audition. Perhaps it was no longer that a few minutes. It felt much longer and so it is when we enter these strange, somewhat unsettling meditative states.
Ah, the rain in India....Can anyone deny the exhilarating feeling of experiencing a monsoon shower there? Or how it feels to fall into a trance watching the long rains (長雨→眺め). After feeling the pressure rising all day, waiting until that moment when at last the heavens open up from above-- It is indescribable... How many films and songs are there that express the sentiment? (And, more importantly, will I ever have my own truly Bollywood wet sari moment?)
It's not just exhilaratingly life affirming and intensely romantic, either; for just as Gautam says, the sound of rain--like the sounds of insects singing-- washes over us and affects us much like music.
A high-pitched plink upon the tāla leaves, a murmuring patter upon the branches, a harsh clatter upon the rocks and a violent crash upon water – the rain falls, keeping the beat, like vīṇās in a concert.
In Japan, the celebrated heavy plum rains of June (梅雨) are followed by the time of frogs singing in the paddies and the symphony of insects singing in the evenings. These sounds atune us to the world, and as Gautam says, like music, they can generate feelings of happiness-- and dare I say, contentedness? There was a famous Japanese study in the 80s that attempted to "scientifically" prove what Japanese have always suspected, I think--that
And there was an email from my friend who loved climbing up the Temple of Dawn. Climbing up the steep and narrow steps with its jagged pieces of Chinese ceramics and glass adorning the walls all the way to the top, it reminded him of all the many boats that had for so long passed through this city of angels. From the top of the pagoda, the view overlooking the great river, with the city sprawling endlessly beyond, never--not ever-- ceased to delight him. But he missed Japan. And so with Rachmaninoff's tears playing in his head, he sent me an e-mail from Bangkok:
I love Japanese rain, especially slow,light rain at a Shinto shrine as it gets dark in the evening, just dark enough for color to disappear. When I am faraway, just thinking about rain dripping off a torii in the late evening makes me homesick for Japan. And so I listen to Rachmaninoff's tears and dream.
Moods and the rain.
Robert Harrison, began his program on the Philosophy of Moods with an opening monologue about the rain in Rome, ending with these words:
"mood is a form of attunement between nature and spirit; between habitat and inhabitant"
And as he describes the autumn rain in Rome, I too am swept away in the mood of gathering clouds, overflowing waters. Streaking colors and a Roman deluge.
In Japan, even a thousand years ago, the monsoon rains of June had been known as the plum rains (梅雨). Pronounced "meiyu" in Chinese and "tsuyu" in Japanese, the rains received their name on account of the fact that they coincide just about the time when the plums are ripening and growing heavy in the trees. And, because the rains can be very so strong in that part of the world that they can literally drive the plums right off the branches.
In Japan, there are few holidays or events during the rainy month-- something rare for Japan-- just rain, rain and more rain.
There is a famous tale of a lady-in-waiting at the Heian court who spent her days lost in the rain.
In fact, the whole affair started in early summer as she watched the long rains fall from the skies-- day after day. She had by that time scandalized the court by her affair with the emperor's third son. Falling madly in love she was divorced by her husband and disinherited by her father. Her beloved then up and died of the plague, leaving her to fend off the gossips and those who would have liked nothing more to banish her forever from the glorious capital.
And, so she sat watching the rain, which were a symbol of both her tears and her longing for him ("Him" being just ambiguous enough for by this time her feelings had shifted from the dead prince to his younger brother, who was luckily still alive).
The brother of her dead lover wrote to her:
You are thinking only of the long rains
Forever falling everywhere.
Into my heart also the rain falls–
Long melancholy days.
And she responded, for by this time she was almost overcome by longing. The fragrance of orange blossoms (tachibana), said to be the flowers of remembrance, had transported her feelings from one man to another.
The Court had by then reached its limits.
"But," argued the Lady, "what is a girl to do?" She pleaded boredom and the season. Rains and fireflies and the scent of tachibana flowers, one couldn't help but be in the mood...
The sound of nature has great power to affect our shared moods. Their sounds and rhythm make us feel alive, or lull us into a trace--sometimes even plunging us into love.... My own Guru Hubert Dreyfus says that
Heidegger would point out that a minimally meaningful life requires sensitivity to the power of shared moods that give mattering to our world and unity and meaning to events.
According to Heidegger, moods are not something inside a person but rather are something that a person can be in. That is, moods come over us; overcoming us. The German word famously reflects this, as philosophers like to remind us that die Stimmung [stimmungen?] means mood in terms of atmosphere ("ambiance"). Often likened to music or to weather, Heideggerean mood wraps itself around our bodies. It is something that we unconsciously attune ourselves too. Indeed, it is one way we have to grasp the way the world discloses itself to us.I like the idea of treading on a path (道) as a way of knowing since it gets closer to a kind of Heideggerian (or Japanese philosophical ) notion of knowledge as understanding and fascination--not as efficient resource consumption or self-augmenting-- but rather as an embodied know-how and attunement to the "vibrations" of the world ~~~~~and to the music of the spheres....
(Painting by Van Gogh)