Thursday, August 25, 2016
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 eyelids.
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 has 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.
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.