special, but not special

While in the gym doing some much-needed cardio and listening to an Alstroemeria remix album I stumbled on this little gem, one which I’d loved in the past but had forgotten.

It’s a relatively simple and unassuming house track, utilizing a looping piano line, some ethereal bells, an organ, and a turbulent 3/4 beat. The beat is the kicker. Its incorporation animates the song and compels the listener to move, despite the music behind it remaining subdued, relaxed, almost humble in tone. There’s something sublime about this contrast. It subverts what we normally expect out of either dance music or “chillout” music, existing in a realm in between. Ideal for exercise, perhaps, or for simple contemplative listening. Not quite background music, and yet repetitive and restrained enough to not overtake the listener’s thoughts, the song feels very zen. And so does its title.

Special, but not special. Or perhaps: spiritual, but not spiritual. It reminds me of the quote: “Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” The ordinary itself is the divine; there is no real borderline between the sacred and the profane, only an artificial one we put up ourselves, an illusory veil of ten thousand separate “things” which cuts off our experienced reality from the unified underlying source connecting all.

It is difficult to put this sort of thing into words. Mystics of all stripes typically define ultimate reality negatively, by saying what it is not. But whoever uploaded this song to youtube did a brilliant job of choosing an image which seems to exemplify the concept.


As manifestations of nature, faeries and Shinto gods differ only in matter of degree. Suwako Moriya is a diminutive mountain deity from Touhou’s “Mountain of Faith,” a figure representing earth, the yielding action-by-non-action concept of yin, and the physical world of nature. Her primary symbol is the frog–a small, soft creature that is both terrestrial and aquatic. Just as a western fairy serves as a personification of sylvan mystery, of the facets of the natural world that lie beyond our surface understanding, Suwako does as well. She simply exists on a broader scale, encompassing forests, waters, mountains, entire territories. And yet she does not lord over them; she essentially is them. She’s the spirit of the land.

The picture chosen for the video portrays this so well. Suwako is foregrounded, but not quite the focus of the image. She looks to the viewer invitingly, but the invitation seems to be to the landscape rather than to her body. The landscape, in fact, is her body. The light that falls upon her face appears to come from the depths of it, from further back in the forest. The pool in the background seems to flow from her, and she herself melts into the tree on which she sits, her arms and legs disappearing into it. She emerges from the landscape, and it emerges from her. One and the same.

Suwako is special, the landscape is not. But the landscape is special because it is Suwako. The mundane is the divine, and it is this that we constantly forget in our fractured monkey-minding of the world, in the everyday mode of ego-consciousness in which we split everything into categories and remove the particular from its place in the larger whole, severing it from its cosmic significance as we sever ourselves from physical reality.


The original meaning of the word “religion” is something like “re-binding.” A process that brings us back into contact with the source. As fragmentary as they are, this one song and one image together constitute a small mantra, a single meditation on a kind of connection. It reminds me why I love Touhou culture so much: it is essentially open-source religion, spirituality unfettered by an authoritarian structure. There is no boss, only a free play of images, sounds and ideas, and while not everything that emerges from it is great or enlightening, it provides an opportunity for serendipitous connections like this to happen. A simple curation of media–the uploading of a song onto youtube–gives a chance to the passive listener who loves the song enough to upload it to add something of their own, to say something about its essence by associating it with an image. The result is a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Which is not to say that there’s anything monumental here. It’s a little thing, not grand at all–just a light reminder of some very primal concepts. On their own, perhaps the song and image don’t accomplish anything but a temporary feeling of relaxation and release from the agitated daily cycles of the mind. A small meditative moment of reconnection. The great thing about Touhou, however, is that this is just one such experience out of thousands–each of them novel and unique, but all of them connected, all emanating from the same source.





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