Last night I went to a concert in the small Pyrenean town of Sallent de Gallego. The concert was by a man called Bombino. I’d never heard of him. He was playing in the ‘Pireneos Sur’ festival here in the town, where you get to hear a different band or artist from a different corner of the globe every night. It’s absolutely terrific.
Bombino is a tall, moustached guitar wizard from a nomdic Tuareg tribe in the Niger Sahara. He grew up in a world so far removed from ours it’s hard to imagine. A matriachal society where grandmothers rule the roost. Where school was pretty much optional. Fleeing armed struggle. Where a guitar fell into his hands and he practiced for hours on end while herding sheep in the desert.
Now he’s become an internationally renowned sort of Berber Jimi Hendrix, travelling the world to sing songs about peace in a region none of us have a clue about, in a Tuareg dialect that no-one can understand, accompanied by wild guitar solos, that send shivers down your spine.
His whole being reverberates with life, cause, purpose, music, energy, Sahara, Africa, tradition, wilderness, and, curiously, he hold it all with an intense ease.
I got home and said to my wife, ‘Our life is “bluuuugh” (meaning dull) in comparison.’ In her usual wisdom she pointed out that our lives are not “bluuuugh” at all. And of course she is right. But here in the ‘West’, we have to guard against dullness constantly.
Thoreau said ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation…’, but these days I’d rephrase that to say ‘Most men and women lead lives of dull materialism’.
Many of us eat, drink, shop, work, in an aimless deadening cycle, tortured by our endless obsessive thinking and difficult, stuck emotions.
Clearly though, we can’t all be Bombinos. Clearly, we don’t have to have grown up in a tribe in the Sahara to be filled with the wonderful energy of life. Our heritage is just as valuable, and valid as Bombino’s. But are we taking life by the balls? Or are we asleep?
Do we know what makes us feel really, truly, alive and in touch with the present moment? Are we present for life right now? Or are we stuck in the convenient, mind-numbing routine of dull materialism?
In my case I’ve found that the dullness changes to a feeling of great aliveness when I get out into the world. Walk in nature. Sit in a plaza and watch people wandering past. Go to a music festival for the first time in the Pyrenees. Take photographs. Walk somewhere I’ve never been before. See new people. A mix of creativity and exploration.
What can Western man and woman do now that we’ve got everything and have nothing to strive for? Keep shopping madly until we’ve ruined the poorest half of the planet, then ruined our half of the planet too? Or be Bombinos, and take up a pen or a guitar or a camera or just a hiking stick and let art and deliberate living provide us with an answer.
At the very least, we can turn off whatever we’re reading this on, and really engage with what’s going on around us. Be absolutely present for life, friends, family, the present moment, now, today. Put on our walking shoes and get out. That’s already enough.