Had a long distraught call from an ornithologist friend telling me that the rare Ludwig’s Bustard is likely to go extinct very soon. When I was staying up in the Great Karoo, I would come across the Bustards’ nests under bushes, cunningly constructed from wild figs, leaves and dry grasses, looking like a lopsided straw hat. So many species lost to human predation, greed or carelessness.
Learning to sit still. There’s a new book out from author Tim Parks, Teach Us to Sit Still, describing how the practice of sitting in vipassana meditation helped him with a painful and embarrassing prostate problem and led him to a new understanding of the body-mind connection. As another reviewer notes, and this will come as no surprise to those of us who have sat through gruelling but illuminating hours of vipassana practice:
Finally he discovered a form of Buddhist meditation called vipassana, which involves observing sensations by passing your awareness through the body, part by part (I have also done it and found it surprisingly powerful). It took his prostate pain away because it enabled him to relax – and to realise that the rest of his body was a knot of tension. He hadn’t been able to stand straight for years, and suddenly, one day when meditating, his back smoothed out by itself.
Vipassana also suggested a new way of thinking to Parks. That all his experiences didn’t have to be framed by linguistic interpretation: that he could just be. He discovered, as he calls it: “the pleasure of a space that need not be imbued with meaning”.
Bodily experience the other side of language. Who would think that something as simple as not drinking would change body, mind, spirit, the known universe? But not-drinking is that stepping stone to transformation. I realise now, looking back, that there was no aspect of my life not connected to that alcoholism, that daily drinking.
In sobriety I have discovered I am omnivorous. Not talking just about food — my latest food thrill is all about cardamom chai, delectable spicy milky tea with a hit of crushed green cardamom, ravishing, moreish etc – but because I am curious about so many issues and absorbed in so much that is new, reading everything I can get my hands on. The piles of books on my bedside table look as if a crowd of assorted lunatics are trying to solve every problem under the sun. But it is just me reading all about why the term ‘trauma’ has become as meaningless as the term ‘depression’, why agriculture was a bad idea historically, how to create authentic Mexican dishes without authentic Mexican ingredients, neuron culture for the naive, Emma Donoghue on lesbian historiographies, shorter-than-short stories by Lydia Davis, a chirpy look at the future of recovery movements in the 21st century, Julia Kristeva on childhood separation anguish, West African writers of the diaspora. I went through to the bedroom a few minutes ago and looked to see if I had missed anything, stared at the pile of books and journals and notebooks in slight bewilderment. . My post-flu energies are returning, but I am not sleeping well. A little sitting and contemplating the navel might not be a bad idea.
And perhaps a little service. A newly sober woman who lives two hours away emailed me and said the ‘sober thing’ is going well enough but she misses her Camparis at sunset. I didn’t know anyone still drank Campari, such a herby rubicund treacherous sort of drink and a throwback to movies from the 1950s, all those cigarette holders and powdered cleavages and lantern-jawed men trying not to act gay. I will invite her to lunch and introduce her to the joys of cardamom chai.