Nostalgia is homesickness, a longing to return to former times or places, laced with memories of security and happiness and contentment. My teacher Richard Rose once gave a lecture on the topic of moods. (It can be found in his book The Direct Mind Experience available from www.tatfoundation.org/books)
He identified three categories of mood that appear in dreams; fear, acquisitiveness and nostalgia.
He suggests that we are pre-programmed with these moods. And if he is correct, as I think he is, it also seems that these moods are regularly evoked by everyday situations and circumstances.
How could we know that something was amiss unless we had some inkling of what natural was?
We may not be able to articulate what it is that we are missing but we sense it at some deeper level.
We know the feeling before we can articulate it.
All spiritual exercises and advices are props intended to support us on our journey in the direction of our nostalgic leanings. In his poem The Hound of Heaven, Francis Thompson depicts this longing as us being chased by Love and us running away from it. Nostalgia is that sense of being chased, or running away from something too big to contemplate.
Honouring our nostalgic leanings is the path of identifying and dropping the false notions we have acquired about who we are, of quitting running after false hopes. The collection of false notions we have picked up along the way is often referred to as “the ego” or “conditioning”.
As well as examining ones ideas and beliefs, it is helpful to consciously encourage the feeling/mood of nostalgia in ones-self. To know that the root of this mood or feeling is the call to return to your true nature allows you to capitalise on it. This experiential feeling grows onto a longing that motivates you in your daily spiritual practices. As you encourage or allow this feeling of longing it becomes more obvious to yourself. You come to recognise it and to know what it is. I cannot describe it, nor do I think the word “longing” will help you understand it unless you have already had some experience of it. But, it’s the best word I can think of.
To have heard that the inner longing of your heart has a purpose, the purpose of drawing you back into your true home, to your Self, is a great gift. In Christian or Sufi terms this might be described as the longing of the lover for the Beloved, the longing for union. Francis Thompson says that The Beloved longs for us as much as we long for “it”. Nostalgia is about that mutual attraction.
This journey of returning to what you really are at core includes feelings and actions as well as intellectual inquiry. Feelings let us know when something is amiss or missing. Nostalgia is the true feeling that there is something we long for. It creeps up on us, if we allow ourselves to entertain the possibility that there is indeed Home within us.
Since the nostalgic mood is the pre-programmed desire to return to your true self – our home, we can use that desire or longing to inspire our search, to keep going until it is satisfied. It is this longing that gives rise to prayer, talking to our inner selves, and everything that keeps us on the spiritual path for long enough to find the resolution to our deepest longing.
I have found the slow airs in Irish music to be a great help in recognising the feeling of nostalgia and encouraging it to grow. Maybe this is because I grew up with them. The first time I heard Richard Rose’s idea of nostalgia I immediately interpreted it in terms of the slow airs of Irish music.
Evocative Sean-Nos singer Iarla O Lionard
Iarla Ó Lionárd singing a lament in the Irish langauge.
Below are some links to Irish slow airs I found on Youtube which I think play on the feelings of nostalgia.
Finbar Furey and Eddie playing The Lonesome Boatman on low flute, composed by Finbar.
Caoineadh Cú Chulainn – Lament of the hero Cú Culainn, played on uilleann pipes by Davey Spillane, composed by Bill Whelan.
Caitlín Maude singing Róisín Dubh, a traditional Irish song.
An Cúilfhionn – The Coolin – played on tin whistle.
Sean Maguire on the fiddle accompanied by friends, playing traditional slow airs.
Martin Hayes on fiddle and Dennis Cahill on guitar. I couldn’t resist adding this to the list.
This is Barney McKenna singing on national Irish tv a couple of weeks before his death in 2012
Liam Óg Ó Flionn playing a tune on uilleann pipes
A Lament for James Connolly, sung by Nan Tom Teaimín