Very hot, cloudless skies. More rioting up the road, houses burning and barricades thrown up to protest the lack of clean water in an informal settlement. Desperate and destitute people and I hope the municipality gets in water supplies soon. I always dread the Christmas season out here because of the cholera/typhoid outbreaks and the violence. Not an easy time. The smell of smoke and tear gas, drifting across the back garden.
Encounters with the natural world #1: walking back from the gate yesterday afternoon, waving to someone in the road, sun in my eyes, and looking down to see a dark brown snake easing itself across the path in front of my feet. Head upraised, flickering tongue. For a moment I went cold all over, froze. A deathly chill. Then my mind unthawed and I could recognise the markings as those of the grass snakes we call tabakrolletjies, harmless. As I waited, my body untensing, the snake slid past and continued on its way. Hours later, that flickering of the tiny forked tongue like some kind of dark lightning in my mind.
Encounters with the natural world#2: going into the kitchen and finding a very young sparrow trapped and fluttering against the closed window next to the fridge. I moved towards the terrified bird, reached up and opened the window. At some point the bird stopped scrabbling and fluttering and just watched me, the predator, the alien, the unknown. Then it flew up over my hand and out into the air, free again. Wings a spinning vortex of light and movement.
From Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark:
“History is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away a stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension.”
Discovered after about four years of daily meditation practice done alongside an hour of contemplative prayer that for some of us, sitting for half-an-hour or a little longer every day thinking about nothing and observing the breath going in and out is akin to putting one’s brains in a blender and having some kind of agnostic mysticism dribble out into apprehension, completely inexpressible of course, not unlike Zen enlightenment. Though I suppose any mind-shaping practice will have unexpected results. I have enormous distrust of the woolly inchoate sogginess of any mention of amorphous spirituality and so it is painful to admit that there may be something amorphously spiritual happening to me just because I sit with an open mind for a little each day. Secretly, I like my mysticism to fit into neat discrete categories.
Life then, what goes on happening to us, no escape from this evolving messy happening life in sobriety. And who would have it any other way?
From the 14th-century Book of Privy Counsel, my bedtime reading for years now:
Let that quiet darkness be your whole mind and like a mirror to you. For I want your thought of self to be as naked and as simple as your thought of God, so that you can be spiritually united to God without any fragmentation and scattering of your mind. God is your being and in the Divine, you are what you are, not only because God is the cause and being of all that exists, but because the Divine is your cause and the deep center of your being. Therefore, in this contemplative work think of your self and of God in the same way: that is, with the simple awareness that God is as God is, and that you are as you are. In this way your thought will not be fragmented or scattered, but unified in God who is all.