Thursday, August 25, 2016


Image result for old man countryside
He walks now by feeling the ground with his feet, and he can't see the soup down the front of his shirt. Yet he can tell the change in the weather by the plumage of a bird, and the change of the seasons by the colour of the hills.

He can't hear his wife telling him dinner is ready, and the TV has to be disturbingly loud. Yet he stirs when the spur winged plovers call overhead.

 He sits in the sun on his stool outside the tiny retirement 'village' house and complains that it's cold, and people are unfriendly. He remembers his childhood in the country, where his father built him and his brothers a hut and they played, fought, experimented and grew together. It was an idyll. Even at the time, it was.

The memories are desperately acute. The smell of the grass and the long golden light of evenings in the hills are like a calling. If pressed, he would agree that if he went back to his childhood home it would be different now from how it was, that this is just longing and loneliness, but that is not how it feels when his head is on his chest and the past flows gently in under his heavy eye lids.

It is not just depression and the beginnings of dementia, although it is also those things. And it is not just remembering. There is a deep imperative here, to spread his whole life out before him in these moments he had left, to raise up and widen his gaze to take in everything that matters, now, to become the sky and the fields and the mountains where his spirit is beginning to roam. It's not 'living in the past', it's preparing, pausing, taking stock. In Egyptian religion, the scales of Ma'at weigh the soul against a feather. Only if it is lighter does the soul go paradise. This man is weighing his soul.
Image result for scales of ma'at

Saturday, August 6, 2016


This stand alone (and on its side because of my lack of tech know how) splash of colour in the post earthquake landscape of Christchurch's CBD is the Les Mills gym. The picturesque rubble in front of it is what remains of the Calendar Girls strip club/Corporate Affairs brothel. Both of these buildings sprang up quite soon after the earthquake, big weird stark boxes, their interiors obscured, both of them temples to the body. I thought at the time how post EQ our carnal selves took precedent - how strip clubs and fast food outlets rose faster than homes, and how schools were closed and social services struggled. When the two new Burger Kings opened up - well - at least the Whopper has a home even if people don't.

Sweet dualisms. Life is not so simple, I have since discovered. About three years ago I would have considered it like this - brothels bad, social services good. Things of the body bad, things of the mind good. The social order is easier to think about when I can order myself in this way. Now, not so much.

For a time I worked hard not to privilege one experience over another. I learned to slice time so thinly I could feel the present moment as just this present moment. There! It's gone. A flash of the fish in the fast and complex river of time. If I am cold I am cold. If I am warm I am warm. Pleasant sensations are not to be privileged any more than unpleasant ones. Sensations are just that. Don't judge them or extend them or contract them or manipulate them in any way. Once I started with this, each moment became richer, and more interesting. My aim, however, was to do away with the moments altogether and enter a timeless state. I wanted to use the sensations of the body to transcend the body.

I don't know if I just gave it all up or went on to something different, but after that my practices became much more embodied and experimental, and that distinction between mind/good and body/bad just collapsed of its own accord. I have a strong monist streak in me now. Either you get more and more refined matter, or more and more coarse energy, but it's the same stuff. It doesn't go away, it is inside and outside us, it's as accessible as it is mysterious, and all its varied forms are fascinating. It's a mess, is what it is. And I suspect we can't escape it, contingent beings that we are.

This affects how we are in the world. It sounds twee to say that the best wisdom is found in the prison or the whorehouse, but it seems to be true. Living is hard. The more living you do, the harder. You get bigger inside and there is more of you to fill, so you start to care about shit, and you feel it more, and you care about more shit, and then that makes you bigger again and in the end you care about all of the shit. You don't transcend anything, you just take it into yourself. Let me tell you, whatever it is, it doesn't exactly make you happy. But you wouldn't go back, either.

Sunday, May 15, 2016



There is a fragile warmth. The corpse cools from the bottom up, but the deeper organs retain the tinge of rubedo, the remembrance of a life lived.

It's unseasonal of course. Fully leaf fall now, the days mere flashes and the nights deepening, and yet the wind sets a song in my ears and reminds me of Summer.

After the killing comes the rotting. I tried to hasten the process. I looked at pictures of the seven stages of putrefaction. I watched videos of the terrible Aghori, who drag human bodies out of the Ganges and eat them. I ate the deadest thing I could find, a cheap mince pie from the freezer, and then chastised myself for being so half hearted. I put myself to bed, telling myself I had two days to kick my sorry ass.

I was restless, for a corpse.

This is the most organic of all the alchemical processes, and clearly it cannot be influenced.

But oh, I have lived a life of monstrous wonderment. I have lived uncountable moments replete with meaning, that the pain of them is almost too sharp to bear, that the wild stomp and bellow of them overwhelms me even in memory.

I think I will overwinter here. In the Spring, what sprouts from my cadaver may be truly malignant. But me, I hope for snowdrops.

The Earth pauses in her tilt towards the dark, and I must pause with her.

Still. Still. Rest now.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Zen in the art of the washing line

The grape vine has taken my washing line. Charming yet assertive, it began by twining itself around the line and shading the washing. I hung my clothes around its leaves, uncurling some of its vines gently, and sweeping them back onto the fence. By the next day, they had unfurled themselves and taken back what was theirs to start with. I humoured the vine, admired its wondrous need for sun and growth, and awaited grapes.

I was reminded of this my favourite Zen poem, written by a nun:

Ah, the chrysanthemum!
It has taken the well bucket.
I must look elsewhere for water. 

The grapes came. Birds shat grape shit on my sheets. I didn't mind much; it dried and it was just processed grape. By today, however, there was no room for washing, and so I cut the vine back.

It had its obscure revenge. I also cut the washing line.
While my flat mate stood around and sniggered, I attempted to fix it. I found a piece of good blind cord and attempted to tie it to each end of the stricken line. Now I should know about knots. I have a good friend who splices rope for a hobby, and I have had two lessons in Shibari, which is the ancient Japanese art of tying people up on battlefields. I also had a brief and inglorious career as a child in the Girls Brigade, whereby I managed to disgrace the whole of the 9th Company, by failing to brush my hair properly. I then went on to win the national Bible reading contest, which did not rehabilitate me at all, because I also failed to knit even one peggy square that was actually passably square. I don't remember knots at all in the Girls Brigade, but I am sure we did something of the sort. Moreover, I have books on the subject, particularly the New Zealand Scouting  Handbook from 1972. It teaches such useful things as what to do when you come upon a plane crash, and how to get on well with a lot of other chaps in a tent. It has a chapter on knots and one day I intend to stop laughing at the bit about the chaps in the tent and read it. Oh and, being a hipster, I have a knot tying app. This does not mean I can tie knots, but it does mean I have an app for it. Apps are great. I love apps. They are great for making me think I can do things, without actually having to do them. 

Out came the app and I tried to work out how to tie the appropriate knot. This meant peering at the instructions, peering at the cord and the line, and trying somehow to marry the two. I am pants at visual spatial thingie and when it comes to hand crafts, well see above about the dismal peggy square. However I eventually managed to attach the cord so that the line met the cord and there was now a rather weird saggy line that was part cord and part line and I can hang things off it, provided they have a sense of humour. Fortunately much of my washing is humorous (see above - those are not my underpants).

Just let me loose next time on an ancient Japanese battlefield. App in hand, knot tying skills newly honed, somewhere in this picture I am tying up my captives so they cannot escape, using blind cord and washing line and an improvised knot of my own fiendish design. If you look hard enough you may even find Wally.

Friday, February 19, 2016


His violence distorted my thinking. I thought I was some sort of sacrifice, that if I resisted or left, the violence would spill over into the community at large, that I was responsible for protecting the whole citizenry of the town I lived in from what he might do. The voice, a literal voice in my head, said 'Run. Run. Run.' I argued with it. I told it I must stay and keep trying to help. I had no thought for even the immediate future; I knew I was in an untenable situation and that it would only worsen. I stayed a step and a kick from him, watched my exits, kept my eyes low, breathed. There was something almost grand about it - that I was singlehandedly preventing a one man crime wave and I was committed to do it for as long as it took. Meanwhile, my frontal lobe was shutting down.

That is all true. Here is what else is true.

His violence woke up my thinking. I knew from his history that he had done terrible things and was likely to do them again if he had no home and no financial support. I understood that he felt powerless and out of control, and he hated what he was doing to me. My fears for those around me were justified and based on real knowledge. I slipped quickly into an archaic mode of survival thinking, to enable me to survive. I stayed a step and a kick away from him, watched my exits, kept my eyes low, breathed. There was something very conscious about it - pulling myself through minutes, thinking wide and shallow rather than deep and long. Meanwhile, my amygdaloid system arose to protect me and those around me.

A wise friend told me recently that this is just everyday stuff. When she lived with her violent husband, she thought only of her children. She did extraordinary things in order to protect them, and she escaped in order that they may have a life free of violence and terror. Not for herself. Self care and self esteem came much, much later.

Somewhere in your world, if it is not happening to you, it is happening to someone else. A boy of  eight is hiding his little sister under the stairs. A woman is clawing at her husband trying to keep him away from her child. A woman is is cutting her girlfriend down from a hanging attempt, and then holding on to her to stop her taking a crow bar to the next door neighbour's windows. A man is talking to his friend about his own violent past. A woman is on the phone because her ex has taken the gun and headed off threatening to kill.

If you are safe in your bed tonight, it may well not be because of sterling work by the criminal justice system or social services, or thoughtful government policy. It may be because of many, many ordinary people who work in their own lives to do better than is being done to them. It may be because your dad got sober. Or because someone restrained the man who was going to drive off drunk and angry and smash into your car. Or because your mother did extraordinary things to protect you, maybe things you don't even remember. Or even because indigenous activists worked to heal the land so their grandchildren could have clean water. The violence in my life changed my thinking. Changed my brain. This happens all the time.