The top bit of my house, reflected - just before sunset - in the windscreen of a car parked right outside the front door. I'm so glad that having a camera has made me notice this kind of thing!
¶ 3:58 pm7 comments
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Degrees of separation
The central teaching at the retreat I attended recently was about not behaving as though you’re separate. About avoiding the absurd but prevalent paradigm of ‘all the rest of the universe - plus me’. Well, for me this was the central teaching. I think we all home in on what most resonates, in the silence, with our own situation.
Separation. Hmm. I experience myself as very separate. Grew up a lonely only child of unsociable parents. Experimented – not too successfully – for a few years with sharing my heart and my house. By my mid thirties, and pretty much ever since, alone again and living a pretty isolated life. The rest of the universe over there and me over here; yes, indeed.
It’s in my family. Very small funerals in my family. By then no one’s speaking to their siblings, and people outside the family were never viewed with anything but suspicion. I like to think that I’m not like my family, but, ha, when is that ever true?
So, I bring this teaching home and try, at least, to consider it in the light of my everyday behaviour.
It’s a joke, a very bad joke, how separate I think I am. I’m a leaver, largely. I left my family more than 20 years ago. Left men quite a few times – mostly for excellent reasons, but maybe not always. Left the only city where I ever felt at home, when life there got complicated. Left for London, where it’s easy to float in the crowd, float in your own separate bubble. Where no one will try to burst it - they’re all moving too fast. Left friends who disappointed me. Left jobs, political parties, shared homes. Closing up the holes in my bubble of separation.
And now? Well, age brings what you might sometimes – not always, oh no, not by any means - call wisdom. I calmed down a bit, grew more resilient. I try harder, I think. And I'm kinder, to both myself and others.
But old habits die hard. Here’s what I watch myself do in the past couple of weeks:
My friend A, trying only to be nice, makes me feel dreadfully patronised. I think: I won’t see her again. Nor the others who heard what she said.
Someone in the co-housing group gets up my nose. Though kind, sincere and generous, C is an arrogant loner (rather a lot like me?) and I’m very annoyed by the way he operates. I think: I’m fed up. I’ll leave the group.
I’m embarrassed by that too-personal, too-negative blog-post. Why did I blurt out all that? I think: I’ll delete it. I’ll stop blogging. Pretend it never was.
They slice down in front of me like a heavy screen, these thoughts. Instant. Instinctive. Protective. I try not to act on them at once. Just notice them and wait and see.
I think: supposing I wasn't separate? Supposing these were part of me? Supposing A was my face and C was my hand? Supposing my rash on-line words were my hair? I’ve often hated my face, my body, my temperament, but they were part of me, so I couldn’t reject them. So here they still all are. And, hey, I hate them much less than I used to; mostly, even, I feel an affectionate tolerance for them. After all, they’re part of me and haven’t served me badly. We’re still here. On the whole I’m glad I couldn’t just excise them when I felt bad.
So I wait, and feel the feelings. Feel how bad they feel, how out of proportion, how out of control. Ouch. Feel and feel and feel them. And eventually they start to abate. And a few days later they’re much smaller and I think: what was that ABOUT?! and I’m glad (until the next time) that I didn’t end that relationship, that belonging, that expression - because they’re part of me.
So can I behave as though I’m not separate? It would certainly be a revolution.
¶ 4:04 pm13 comments
or berk!, as the French say (gutteral ‘r’, as gutteral as you can make it), even more onomatopoeically. I'm not managing to just take the next breath, do the next thing that seems possible. Not managing to be philosophical or quietly present. I’m depressed by the city and fleeing presence into sleep and apathy, and I’m full of self-disgust.
The deadline I set myself of getting out of here by the end of the year recedes daily from attainability, as I do nothing to make it happen. It seemed entirely feasible and likely on the retreat, because I felt myself and felt the whole of things, and the miserable detritus around me receded to almost nothing. But now it takes over again. I am consumed by wanting to run away right now. And the selfish, childish pain of not being able to run away makes me incapable of buckling down to the spadework needed to clear the path so that I CAN run away. I barely have the energy to get up. I don’t have the energy to get my work done. So guilt and worry over that consume more energy. So I certainly don’t have the energy for clearing up and throwing out and decorating and negotiating with financiers.
It’s RIDICULOUS. I’m healthy and not yet much slowed by age and even losing weight and feeling better for it. And I do have loves and enthusiasms, desires and ambitions (and compassion, when I can break out of this stupid circle). So why can’t I do it? What is it that I’ve mortgaged my life to? And why? And is it possible to root it out? I hate this, hate writing it, admitting it. I’d rather write about the sky and colours and faces, and paintings and poetry, and travel and home-making, and hope and peace, and even righteous anger and despair. But this stands between me and all of it. Berk!
[nb. this berk is in italics, it is a French exclamation of disgust, much used by children, and bears no relation to the vilely sexist English slang term of abuse mentioned by one of my commenters below - oh dear...]
¶ 2:03 pm21 comments
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Which leads surprisingly to another homeland Jura landscape – not my photo
This is about the French Alps, where he lives, but it makes me think of the Jura – also mountainous and forested, but more gently than the Alps - where some friends of mine live for part of the year, just on the French side of the Swiss frontier, in an isolated house amid fields and woods and cows.
What astounds cannot be the remnant of what has been. Tomorrow still blind advances slowly. Sight and light race towards each other, and from their embrace is born the day, eyes open tall as a foal. Murmuring river clasps the mist for a moment more. The peaks are signing on the sky. Stop and hear the milking machines designed to suck like calves. In the first heat the forested hills calculate their steepness. The lorry driver is taking the road to the pass which leads surprisingly with its own familiarity to another homeland. Soon the grass will be warmer than the cows’ horns. The astounding comes towards us outrider of death and birth.
“Hey lady, you can cross now”, says an irritated voice from behind me. I haven’t noticed the pedestrian lights change to green because I have both hands in the pockets of my waterproof jacket and I’m flapping them to and fro against my body, feeling the several inches of space where, a few weeks ago, this jacket barely fastened. Disconcerting, watching yourself shrink.
So, what’s this blog thing? I’m not sure I remember. And do I want to write in it? Apparently, not much. There are several reasons. A dear person is very ill and it’s rather hard to think about anything else. That’s a reasonable reason. The others are vaguer and weirder. Since the zen retreat, I feel as though I’ve been hit on the head with a large, though benign, wooden mallet. Dazed, though not confused. Quite calm and centred, but flayed, feeling everything as though I had no skin. Feeling everything deeply, but unable to poke it and prick it and push it, in my usual fashion, into manageable boxes. Feeling, I suppose, rather a lot of what Ezra Bayda calls ‘the anxious quiver of being’. Whilst this may be fruitful, may bring real shifts in perspective, it’s not very conducive to getting on with anything, like all the work to be done before the new academic year begins in one month’s time, and the translating and copyediting jobs I feel unable to refuse because I need the money.
Oh well, sometimes you just do what you can, stick with the feeling instead of burying it in food, keep taking the next breath. And by way of distraction, wide-eyed, you watch yourself shrink, smile nervously at the space just in front of you – where your belly was.