When the conventional is no longer sensible
An evening in August
The sun has set over Phu Quoc island. The monsoon clouds have just gently parted in three places, the early evening still illuminated by the sun below the horizon. An obese French sommelier is pouring my wine, and flirting. He fixes me with beady toad eyes. He doesn’t see me. Simply a woman, blond and alone, with some kind of light he wants. An open heart is a honey pot for anyone in pain. I break the gaze and stare back out to sea. He lingers, and I’m relieved when he goes.
Its been days and days now of hermitude. Sleazy barmen aside, the staff here are generally warm and exceedingly friendly, local Phu Quocians practicing their English and trying dismally to teach me Vietnamese. Their attempts punctuate my days, a conversation for breakfast, another for an early dinner. In between, I keep to myself. A sumptuous solitude.
A new friend of mine who feels like an old one, whispers with longing that once, perhaps there was a place a woman could go. When all the pieces came apart, when the conventional no longer seemed sensible. A path we could tread through a labyrinth. A nunnery to retreat to for repose and communion with the unconventional.
For now though, I settle for this rained out bungalow, the thick sheets of weather drawing over me, and plummeting me further into myself. The days are a sweet and savory harmony of emotion. There is never ending layers of everything we can learn from ourselves. The Buddha says we can learn everything we need to know about life from our fathom-long body. And deep into fathomless day and night, I am still unraveling endlessly and cannot imagine I will ever know its end.
Some day, August
The rain has cleared now, and though drops still fall from my eaves, from my veranda I can see nature making a break for survival between storms. Almost a parody of idealism, butterflies flicker against a background of ocean, lush jungle greens and coconut palms. I startle a lizard as I step down on wet grass, and he scurries away with his green spine arced. Walking quietly, the grass splodgy beneath my toes, soaked into marshland. Bamboo waves it’s fronds in silent greeting, and I draw towards its silence away from two young men, talking loudly and rapidly, wound still. Even here, in this place of nothing to do.
Their restlessness stirs me, because it draws attention to my own. That energy coiled always under my skin. It used to drive me, unaware as I was, of the engine within and why it was not wisdom. So now I practice each day doing less. Traded a busy job for a quieter one, my work ethic dwindling, valuing more and more time away, until this, even less, each day.
Henry Miller spoke of his transition, of sneaking midweek ‘holidays’ which he whiled away wandering streets, attending matinees and reading all hours. Eventually he quit even that charade, and though he was broke and hungry, he turned down even writing jobs and columns. But he didn’t feel ready yet, he said he didn’t know how to write yet, there was still so much to read, to formulate. He was brewing.
“All I ask is to dawdle along in my own way. I keep telling you people I know what I’m doing. I mean it. Maybe it doesn’t make sense, but its my way. I can’t navigate any other way, do you understand?”
He makes good company, Henry, here in this rainy bungalow. He reminds me that life just happens, and that I don’t need to ‘do’ it. It turns out too, that ‘I’, whatever that is, also just happen. And that to remove the stimulus (distraction) of a full time job; to withdraw from friends and family; to step back from strangers; to turn off the television; to close the computer; for days and days on end… that still there it is. Even more so, in generous abundance…
something at the heart of life.
Another day in August
Waking in the midst of nightmare, devilish images already fading. Something about ex lovers holding me up for an appointment with my shrink, and two odd boys from high school crawling out of my subconscious to bar me with complications.
No matter no matter, already they’re fading, and it is dawn light here, a bungalow on the beach, and the soft folds of a white mosquito net protecting me from parasites. Stirring now for a hot shower in the outdoor tropical garden, then wrapping a towel around to brew a cup of tea. Shrug into yesterdays clothing and open the computer for Skype, that wonderful invention that allows intimacy and psychotherapy to chase me across the globe.
And there he is, just a flash of visual before the camera fades, the wizard with his totally loving face that has all the patience of an earth that has seen five extinctions and five rebirths. Guiding me inwards, past the errant strains of anxious thought, straight into the heart of it, the old wounds I’m too frightened to heal alone.
In this greatest of love there is the greatest of room. Just as I grow weary, begin to crumple under this heavy heavy furniture, effortlessly, always when needed, unbidden, a great whale of love surfacing from the depths within. This love, this love, which has proven just what love can be. Do you know how epic this ground shifting, earth-shattering force can be? That it can call up your deepest essence that has also seen 5 extinctions and 5 rebirths? It can arrest that being within who is as ancient as the sea. Surprise you in its startling gaze, in the audacity of being recognised though you have adopted too many guises and humiliations. Sees through all the rags of this life’s ravaging, and draws you in slowly, with all the time of wind shaping stone. Gravity. Meeting you, gently, completely, solidly, with a kiss that expands into the universe. Love that swells in the blood stream like oxygen suddenly liberated, like helium, lightening, lifting, so flowing through you is all the hope of a rebirthing world.
A stormy sea and a ranting mind. I clamour rocks, and walk through boggy sand, step after step after step. Tears and grief, and an endless script replaying. Pleading with Accusers: It cannot be, must not be selfish to follow the call of one’s most inward self. Nothing is more difficult, or more necessary. You must allow any miracle that crosses your path to call this forward in you, and permit nothing to hold you back. That it is hard enough, without wearying your steps for popular opinion, or another’s fears or wishes for what you might have been.
Eventually even this voice falls silent.
I don’t seek a morality. Only a sensitive ear, keening inwards for my deepest murmurs.
Saturated in Henry Miller, and two ‘Phu Quoc Farmers’, something involving watermelon, lemongrass and vodka. The sun has so recently set on sea calming from the monsoonal swells, a palm tree decoratively poising its branches for the paradise photo. And this moment, just this moment, my feet are hitting still wet green grass, and the low light in wicker bird cages are just so ever out of focus.
Today, a day of myself. A day of ease. Like the most romantic of dates.
Dancing, in sea and shoreline, bikini and sarong and a big horizon. No one but me. No one I have to be. Forming and unforming, over and over, just like the waves.
Today, after 10 days of rain, I woke to sun. The spiky green palm heads reaching up against blue sky. I headed straight to the sea, marveled at its turquoise colour come alive with the sunlight. Calm waters, with just one clear line of break, white wash lapping up to sand. Swimming in its lengths and feeling just a hint of longing that this is how it must always be in another season. But today is my last day.
After, I stood in the shallows looking out. On the horizon brewed the steep purple of another storm, casting eery light on the sunlit turquoise. The storm moved so quickly, wind picking up along the seas surface, so momentarily, I have one shoulder in sun and another in rain. When I walk back to my bungalow the bamboo fronds are horizontal in the wind and I am already soaked. Such rapid transformation.
I sat upon my bungalow steps. From my belly, a muscular imitation of a bubble rose, up through the diaphragm and shaking loose through the rib cage. Just a moment of tears that turned to mist before they could fall and join the rain outside.
My therapist, the wizard, told me when he first began deep spiritual work, he did not know the difference between sadness, and being deeply moved.
It seems unlikely that I will ever truly share the immense pain experienced during this unravelling. Meditation has many sides of it that look exceptionally different to a serene figure sitting on a cushion with their hands in gyan mudra. As Rohr says, if we knew what the spiritual path would ask of us in full, we would never have the courage to do it.
What does become clear is how much less I need. Less food, less exercise, less activity, less social contact. I begin to suspect that everything was an effort, to whip life into something meaningful enough to meet a festering hunger under my skin I didn’t even recognise. A tense energy buzzing along inside of me, unknown, and wearing down my nervous system whilst simultaneously driving me to more. Turning to face it, slowing down to meet it, has been excruciatingly painful.
I do not know who I will be going forward.
One should not confuse my hermitage with some kind of pilgrimage to discover who I am. Or at least, not extrapolate that come tomorrow, or next year, I won’t be doing exactly the same thing. There is no destination to reach. No identity to understand or build. I hope to never know. To become quiet is to slow the senses and see that everything is moving. Every moment is a new one, and in it, so are we, also new, if we are only open and unbound enough to recognise it.
I am only pulling back all of the excess, knowing quietly, surely, that I have been busy out running my life.