Nostrils, Sacred & Profane

A few years ago, my wife Alexis and I attended a performance of a troupe called The New Vietnam Circus. Trapeze artists, dancers, and musicians from Vietnam wove a tapestry of sight and sound, inspired by the mythical power of the bamboo. It was unforgettable and beautiful and strange and perfect.


After the performance, I bought a couple of . . . of what I thought were knick-knacks at the theater store: a ten-euro bamboo flute, and a five-euro nose flute. Toys; cute objects; mementos from the evening. “Nothings.” But I was wrong in my assessment of their worth.

This is my nose flute. The Obama bobblehead is there only because I really, really miss Obama.


I put the nose flute aside and didn’t think much about it. Then, roaming YouTube the other day, I came across a clip of a jokey but affecting performance of the song “Africa” by two people playing ukuleles and blowing on plastic nose flutes, which they attached to their faces with rubber bands.

I felt I needed to educate myself a bit on the nose flute. I discovered that there exist many types and models, and many aesthetics. The ukulele-playing girl has developed an impressive set of nose-flute skills, and she has a devoted following on YouTube. She calls herself the NoseFluter. Her partner on the “Africa” clip does his own thing, too, clever and touching.

But here’s the thing. Watching these skillful silly skits employing the nose flute, I surmised that there must a different dimension, a secret and deeper reason for the nose flute to exist and for people to become involved with it. And I found it, deeply embodied in this Vietnamese woman.

Played in this manner, the nose flute requires poise, breath control, a connection with the Creative Source, an inner discipline. Through the nose flute, the ego might possibly disappear, allowing the Self to emerge. Silly skits are the profane manifestation of something that exists in the divine realm, connected with Nature, timeless and eternal.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m in favor of the profane, which is a necessary counterpart to the sacred. Plus, I’m not saying that something is either sacred or profane. The yes/no switch doesn’t apply to metaphysical matters! Plus plus, I’m not saying I even know what those big words mean: sacred, profane, the ego, the Self, the Creative Source . . . no. I can’t begin to define them. Instead, here I’m simply posting my own modest contribution to the Nose Flute canon, and I offer my clip as my “Happy 2018” to one and all. Let the New Year bring you Two Nostrils, one sacred and one profane!

©2018, Pedro de Alcantara

The Technicians

What is technique?

I suggest that technique is the shape you give to a thought, which is the shape you give to an emotion, which is the shape you give to an indescribable insight you gathered in a place far away.

Go to the place far away; experience its terrors and delights; then come back to the material world to share with us what you learned. Your technique will unfold organically.

Watch and enjoy!

What is it all about?

This blog post isn’t about the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, but let’s stay with him for a little while.

If you decide to read Stevenson’s biography on Wikipedia, you’ll marvel at what an interesting, bizarre, and marvelous life Stevenson had. Among his great achievements, Stevenson wrote Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a novella about a man with a split personality, Dr Jekyll the kind physician and Mr Hyde the psychotic murderer, health and disease inhabiting the same person. The novella is also known as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or simply Jekyll & Hyde. Movies, plays, adaptations, translations, and suchlike have kept Jekyll & Hyde alive and well since its publication in 1886.

Jekyll & Hyde speaks to us because it speaks about us. Inside all of us there’s a pull between two personality complexes, one aggressive and the other loving, one tidy and the other incoherent, one hopeful and the other desperate, one celebrating life and the other pointing toward death. You’re calm and intelligent as you pursue some little task at your desk, when you accidentally drop some coffee on your computer. And, ka-boom! You’re crazed with anger and resentment, and ready to murder someone.

This blog post isn’t about the sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Born in Romania in 1876, Brancusi spent most of his working life in France, where he died in 1957. His long and creative life is hard to encapsulate in a few words, but we’ll say he was a pioneer of abstract sculpture. Instead of depicting generals riding their war horses, he depicted . . . whoa! Brancusi just arose from the grave and got mad at me.

There are idiots who define my work as abstract; yet what they call "abstract" is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things.

If you’d like to spend an hour in Brancusi’s company, watch this YouTube video.

But if you only have a second, here’s one of his beautiful works.

Brancusi once said this:

Things are not difficult to make; what is difficult is putting ourselves in the state of mind to make them.

When Stevenson heard this, he smiled and agreed. This is what he said:

Things aren’t difficult to make; what is difficult is to keep your inner Hyde at bay and let your inner Jekyll help you take care of business.

The business might be learning a skill, filing your taxes, passing an exam, making dinner, or crossing the street. Hyde runs into traffic, or doesn’t see the bicycle coming at him, or trips an old lady, or rushes into a pothole and twists his ankle, and gets really pissed off about it. Jekyll crosses the street, and that’s that. It’s a whole other approach.

Let's watch the transformation in reverse: Hyde becoming Jekyll. It takes a tremendous effort of the conscious will.

Make a distinction between “the thing” and “the thing before the thing,” or between the task and the frame of mind, or between results and processes. For instance, you don’t learn a foreign language; instead, you “learn how to learn a foreign language.” It’s relatively difficult to learn how to learn a foreign language, but once you’ve done that, learning a foreign language or three is easy!

What triggers your inner Hyde? Judgment, expectations, assumptions, suppositions, guilt and shame, “should” and “should not,” voices that you hear in your head.

What allows you to access your inner Jekyll? The absence of “should” and “should not,” be they whispered or shouted.

And this blog post isn’t about Georges Braque, the great painter who—among other accomplishments—developed Cubism with Pablo Picasso. Braque heard us talk about Stevenson and Brancusi, and he got excited.

I have made a great discovery. I no longer believe in anything. Objects don’t exist for me except in so far as a rapport exists between them or between them and myself. When one reaches this harmony, one reaches a sort of intellectual non-existence. . . .  Life then becomes a perpetual revelation. That is true poetry.

What on earth does this mean? Empty your mind; silence the voices; then you’ll be in a state where you can make things, do things, learn things, enjoy things, love things. Ah, and people, too; you’ll love people.

(This blog post is about love. End of story!)