Buddhists believe that Nirvana is freedom from suffering. David Gilmore of Pink Floyd agrees and in 1987 the album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, was released. Back in high school, I didn’t think about things like philosophy, psychology, spirituality or suffering. But I loved the Pink Floyd song on that album, On the Turning Away. Newly licensed and cruising around, when this song came on it was as if everything would come to a halt. Everyone in the car had to be silent so we could feel this song and listen to the voice that seemed to be speaking directly to us. We were teenagers and didn’t think about the song’s meaning. To us it was purely a visceral experience.
Then I sort of forgot about this song and twenty something years passed. Recently, I got tired of the same stations on Spotify so I chose Pink Floyd and was immediately transported back to my teens. This time around however, I wanted to know the meaning of the words. That song seemed so deep and important back then. All these years later, I thought it had to be about something meaningful and related to oneness. It is, but not in the way I was hoping.
My first reaction to the lyrics exposed a feeling of guilt. The song is about all of the suffering in the world and the idea that we have become numb to it. Pink Floyd tells us that turning away from those in need has reached a critical point. It is a call to action that we are not doing enough to end suffering. The song says, “It’s a sin that somehow, light is changing to shadow, and casting a shroud over all we have known.” The message is that we have turned our backs on the suffering, ignoring their needs, and it’s time for change. But light cannot change to shadow. Light dissolves shadow!
Another verse, “Don’t accept that what’s happening, is just a case of others suffering, or you’ll find that you’re joining in the turning away,” says that if you aren’t part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. Somehow it seems fitting that back in the 80’s, it was common to use guilt to bring people to act. Unfortunately, guilt is only another form of suffering. Has that changed any in thirty years? Have things improved for the suffering?
When we go looking for suffering, that’s what we find. More and more people are recognizing the value of not watching the news these days. It is full of darkness, fear and shadows. When we focus on the negativity we bring more of it to ourselves and those around us. The same thing is true when we focus on love, light, beauty, joy and happiness. There is plenty of perceived suffering in the world, but the solution is not more fear, shadow, and suffering. We don’t have to Turn Away from darkness. Rather, we can shine the light of love directly on it and watch what happens.
The song says, “No more turning away from the weak and the weary.” When we are whole, we can lovingly turn towards others, not as the weak and weary, but as dignified equals, who could use a hand just as we all do at certain points in our lives.
In my 40’s, I can now look at this song in a new light, pun intended, as the end of the turning away from our own suffering and shadows. We can remember that love is light and fear is shadow. If we want to save the world from suffering, we have to save ourselves first. We do that by lovingly shining our own light and through seeing the light in others. No more turning away. Enjoy this amazing song by Pink Floyd. (Lyrics here if you want to follow along.)