Tuesday 16 February 2021

It's a Sin

I've just watched the final episode of Russel T Davies' It's a Sin, a drama about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's. I'm reduced to that place of our deepest humanity where we see the madness of our human condition: the struggles and anxieties, the joy and the sorrow on the canvas of our sacred nature. This is a special place for in it there is acceptance and forgiveness and we expand in a timeless peace. And yet it includes a tinge of the prospect of more pain. Pain which of course gives joy and love part of their meaning. There are tears and I wonder - what is being felt here? Accepting my homosexuality only in my mid twenties whilst compounding the shame and isolation society's homophobia had sewn into every fibre of my being, had protected me in the 1980's from HIV and AIDS. But it had also robbed me of the friendships and loves that the epidemic might have taken away from me and/or me from them... Life of course has thrown up other challenges and those struggles rise through layers of being to be felt in the space unfolding now. And there is a gentle holding of the shame, the fear and the confusion. Time is passing; I'm no longer in the timeless space. Sat at my desk I write this. A 5 Rhythms wave I assembled is playing; I'd been playing it earlier and knew the tracks would help with the writing. There is emotion, energy, joy and life in the music and the feelings produced are good - the dissolving of little lead jackets on each cell which in turn releases the knowledge of their forgotten existence producing both relief and pain fades and is replaced by a light playful gratitude for life and the need to dance. I move sympathetically to music, the emotion and the process of writing as Le Vent  Nous Portera by Noir Désir plays...

It is good to have combined this music, a 5 Rhythms wave, with the process of writing. I realise how valuable both practices (writing and dancing) are! The tracks flow on: Baby Elephant Walk by Henry Mancini, La Valse à Mille Temps by Jacques Brel, Waltz From Maskarade by Aram Khachaturian... and at this track I am back fully in the expressive vitality of life - the yearning and the swirling, the sheer joy of the madness - marvellous! I started putting these tracks together back in 2018 but couldn't fully get the whole wave finished to my satisfaction. The theme is mystery and the motif is a swirling motion but there is also a digeridoo track with a strong focused energy... I should finish this wave and play it with the dance collective. Oh how I miss dancing the Rhythms together with other people in a big space. The Covid pandemic has put a stop to all that just now. Across this planet we humans are faced with yet one more plague. And the thing about this one is that to control it we are forced to stay physically apart from each other. We cannot gather, hold each other even in sexless embrace, see and feel the light each of us radiates... In to My Arms by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds plays now. It's the last track of the wave... The lyrics are:

I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms
And I don't believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that's true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
To each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my…

This post is for all the ways of loving and all the losses our coming out of the garden facilitates and for the space in which see that garden.

Sunday 7 February 2021

God's Own Country

Last night DC and I watched God's Own Country. We'd seen it before when it first came out, at the cinema (oh happy pre-Covid days) but it had come to my mind a few times in recent days and I wanted to see it again. It's a beautiful film about struggle and softening. Gheorghe a Romanian migrant worker comes to work at a small struggling family farm run almost single handily by Johnny, an isolated, frustrated young man who has too much placed upon his shoulders and reacts with binge drinking and aggressive casual sex. Johnny lives with his father, who has had a stroke, and his grandmother. There is bitterness and anger in all three characters, and the life is hard. Gheorghe is used to harsh conditions; calm, wise and gentle, he coaxes life into all he comes in to contact with. But this is not Cold Comfort Farm; there's no romanticism or satire here. The film turns on the relationship between Johnny and Gheorghe, a relationship which opens Johnny up to love. Johnny is emotionally unavailable; there is anger in the furtive casual sex he engages in and he is lost to himself, struggling to square the circle. The sex he has with Gheorghe is transformative. Gheorghe arrests the anger in Johnny's sex and allows a powerful space in which it is naturally allowed to soften in to love. The sex between them, in contrast to the tight, addictive, restrictive bursts of lust fuelled release Johnny has previously known, affords opening; it cleaves the men open and thence together. In the process Johnny eventually releases the fight with himself and his situation and sees what it is he wants: Gheorghe and a life together as lovers running the farm - together. Again this is a gritty path and not a romantic one; but the concluding scene where Gheorghe opens the farmhouse door for Johnny to enter what is to be their home is a metaphor for the film: Gheorghe has opened Johnny to life.

What I find stimulating in this film is the exploration of confusion and struggle counterpoised with acceptance, softening and love, and the role sexual energy plays in the process. This is a film about embodied existence: weather, mud, farm animals, physical work, the human body and its reaction to life. Johnny's grandmother alludes to the life having been in part responsible for his father's debilitation and calving and lambing show the fecundity and vulnerability of life and the raw visceral reality of flesh. The breath, heat and desire between Johnny and Gheorghe explode through the cold damp environs of the landscape and later resonate with the spectacular scenery. The film stays real, and whilst a flash of DH Lawrence crossed my mind, I smiled at the irony of the flash and saw the half baked creative madness of our fetishes and fantasies. Johnny's impulsive eye-eye, eye-crotch, eye-eye pick-ups and associated fast sex before returning to his pint or whatever he was halfway through contrast with Gheorghe's love making and Johnny's learning to love. This too is visceral. And there is a sense of something trying to come through, to emerge. Here I think we see the contrast of struggle - an attempt at forcing and controlling life - with allowing; not as separate aspects or ways of being but rather informing each other and weaving us. The Tao flows effortlessly, but is it not in our relationship with it that our spirituality is to be found? Somehow, for me this film pulls together the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of what it is to be human and invites softening. It is a film about transformation.

Saturday 6 February 2021

Our True Home

And so I have found myself slightly swimming about in strange waters. DC and I are in the process of moving house. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster but we're increasingly becoming excited by the proposal. What of course is so stressful about moving house is that it is not just a big financial step to sell and buy a house but that it is fundamentally moving home. And it is home which is questioned here. What do we want our new home to be, to be about? What is home in the deeper, spiritual sense. The second question informing the first. And so practical questions about physical location, build quality, and all related potential  unknowns merge into the most important existential question of all. A question that this morning DC and I found ourselves sharing whilst getting ready for the day in the bathroom (such is the wonderful mix of the mundane and the profound that is our habit). It seems we had both been sitting with it - him in his traditional Indian singing practice earlier and me both on and off my cushion (ie in formal and everyday meditation). The conversation unfolded so as to posit an axis spanning the materialist view at one end and the mystical at the other and set parallel with an axis of there is no God at one end to we are all God / Source / Buddha at the another. The conversational path towards these axes traversing for DC the notion of an all powerful, all seeing and perhaps directing or intervening God in the western Christian sense as existing or not, whilst for me traversing the way in which our karma, our conditioning, reveals our Buddha nature, for we are conditioned beings. And so together we stood there and came to that place where the ever present but more often than not hiding in plain sight question came into focus- what is the relation between our everyday experience and the deepest reality? With life somewhat shutdown due to covid restrictions, social interactions curtailed and the world viewed through the window of video conferencing (MS Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp video calls) DC and I have been other than our constitutional walk around the local streets and for me very occasional site visits for work, largely holed up in our hutch together. And it has been a busy time not just due to the potential house move but also with work. (I am grateful for that and find I really enjoy my work and like my colleagues.) So, due to covid it has been for almost a year now a different sort of everyday to that which we are used. For some covid has meant a time for inward reflection and there has been time for that. However, as I've been still working I've not had the space to go on an inward journey in the way that can be renewing spiritually. And because I've not been able to properly meet up with the folk who in one way or another make up my sangha I've been feeling my way through all these recent months have been bringing up in a somewhat haphazard way I suppose. So this morning in the bathroom when DC asked me about karma I understood straight away that what we were both sitting with was something that might be put thus: is the unknowable ground of being to be seen in simple rational western philosophical terms, ie to acknowledge that there is no Archimedean point but to believe that that alone does not have any mystical significance, or in terms of the perennial philosophy, ie to make that acknowledgement leads naturally to believe in a greater significance. Or to put this more succinctly where are each of us sitting in our experience of emptiness. Those strange waters are a kind of testing of faith. A faith in nothing which somehow becomes everything. I walked from the bathroom to my study, to the book shelf, to look for something which might ground this (no doubt through the poetic) in to some... I went to The Gateless Gate book of koans and flicked through the introduction and contents pages. DC joined me as I read from Mumonkan, Memorial to the Throne:

        Blue sky, broad daylight, and a peal of thunder,

        The earth and creatures' eyes are opened;

        All the universe is making profound bows,

        Mount Sumeru dances to the ancient music. 

I was just considering this, did it speak to me now, might it convey something to DC... when DC said yes! And we both at that time alighted on the thought that a work of art does this - it lets us see something deeper. I could feel our question encompassing the nature of a work of art; it is an illuminating consideration but I feared we might loose the purity of the original existential question in philosophical contemplation. My intuition was to stick with the felt sense of the unspoken question; the nature of the divine.

It's now evening and I've written this post in exploration of those waters- just what are they? What are those thoughts and emotions? What has come to me is captured by the title I've given this post and is I think perhaps summed up thus; it is our engagement with life as a dialogue internal and external, that is both mundane and profound, our own experience and yet not separate from anything or anyone, empty in the fullest way and in many ways immediate and yet unknown, that is our our home. Where is it and who is it that sits there? Do we not somehow know that we are so much more than we can see? I sense we do.