Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Beach Less Travelled

After several days of activity I have arrived at a stretch of days with nothing at all planned other than a trip to the cinema. It is like contemplating a shoreline in some remote place in the early morning when no footprints have been made. I say early morning, but it is in fact getting close to mid-day, and I have not yet fully incarnated into the day, unless you count eating a very nice breakfast of bacon and eggs and drinking a mug of Assam tea, hot, with half a spoonful of sugar and smoking a Marlborough Menthol that I have been saving.

And I say “contemplating” but the Signs character is not one easily given to such, in the true sense of the word. I did try transcendental meditation when I was 16. My dear Dad who was a bit of a closet spiritual tourist, was into this at the time and paid for my “initiation” fee. I went with a friend to a terraced house just off the seafront at Brighton with some fruit (we’d been asked to bring) and a clutch of pound notes. The woman who initiated me was a middle-aged blousy bottle blonde with ultramarine eyelids and fuschia-pink lips whose colour, I noticed, went over the lip line. These kind of details got in the way. I was, to quote Bob Dylan, so much older then, I’m younger than that now. I had doubts about whether anyone who looked like that could be spiritual. I had a framed photograph on my chest of drawers of John and Yoko in Amsterdam doing bed-rest for peace. They looked spiritual. So did Donovan and Che Guevara. My initiator took me to a room upstairs where we sat on floor cushions, she did some chanting in a language I didn’t know and gave me my mantra – a word which she said I wasn’t to tell anyone. It was to act as a kind of screen-saver for the mind to help clear intrusive thoughts when meditating. It also meant something but it wasn’t important for me to know what. My friend went in for her session and we both left with a piece of the fruit we had brought – the initiator said we should eat it soon because it would have a lot of something I can’t remember the word for. We ate the fruit, an apple and a banana, sitting on Brighton beach. We smoked a few cigs, played “Guess My Mantra” and she got annoyed with me because I nearly did guess hers, only because I intoned a word similar to the one I had been given, which made me think we were probably given the same word, and I felt a bit cheated.

We sat and did our first meditation practice with our brand-new mantras. The idea was to begin with two 20-minute sessions per day (these would lengthen as we progressed in the discipline). The stones of the pebble beach pressed into my backside. I silently repeated my mantra, bringing my wandering thoughts back to it whenever they meandered to whether he would ring me today, his hands on my thigh, where I was going to get enough money for the next packet of No. 6 because I only had two left and hadn’t we done enough because it felt like hours let alone minutes. I was bored long before time was up. My friend, though, wasn’t. It had been, she said, a good experience, calming and refreshing. She looked happy, as though she’d just been kissed by someone she fancied. I hid my disappointment and pretended it had been good for me too.

These days I don’t need a mantra to walk the walk, talk the talk and do the minutes, hours, days and more. I am doing the advanced course, focussing on the particulars of a grain of sand as though my life and the universe depended on it. Which it does, of course. I’m holding up the sky. No thanks necessary.


That's so pants said...

Lovely post Signs. You can let go now by the way - gravity's finally working again.

Ms Melancholy said...

Yes, lovely post. I had a similar experience once at a T'ai Chi class where we were all invited to share our spiritual experience of an exercise. I took the risk and shared that I had felt nothing at all. I felt quite foolish. I guess I can't feel it to order. I will thank you for holding up the sky. I am really very grateful x

Anonymous said...

Reading your words is what I imagine listening to you to be like. I know I have said this before, but I feel a sense of things unrolling, ideas being uncovered, being revealed. I like your stories a great deal.

And beside the smoke, this was a purely lovely sentence of goodness, "eating a very nice breakfast of bacon and eggs and drinking a mug of Assam tea, hot, with half a spoonful of sugar and smoking a Marlborough Menthol that I have been saving."

So, what happened at the cinema? And is it true you don't have a mantra nowadays?

Reading the Signs said...

Perhaps you're right, *Ms Pants*, I should lighten up a bit - would you just hold it up for me while I think about that?

ah, *ms melancholy*, it's all in a life's work, but it's good to be appreciated.

*goodthomas*, I am glad you have a sense of something being revealed. Certainly not planned, but stories have their own agendas, I think.

It was a very nice breakfast.

The film was a German one called The Lives of Others and it was wonderful - the best film I've seen in a long time. It was about life under the Stasi in the GDR, and about redemption, I'd say.

The mantra - um - none that I can identify.

Reading the Signs said...

I've put stars around names thinking it would make them bold. Someone tell me how to do that please - ms m?

Anonymous said...

I really like the stars!!

(I just use the html code of encasing the word you want to be bold with < B > and < /B > but with no spaces.)

cusp said...

I love this tale about your initiation into meditation (or lack of it). It's told in a very filmic way I think: I can really see the pictures in my head; especially sitting on the beach.
I remember all this stuff too and the game of cat and mouse around trying to get others to reveal their given mantra. Always felt there was a kind of oneupmanship somehow: 'My mantra's longer than yours...' -- not quite the spirit.

Reading the Signs said...

hi cusp - my mantra was quite small and neat. Funnily enough I still haven't told it to anyone. I keep it like a piece of jewellery you never wear in a box somewhere.

goodthomas? I'm trying the html as you said (didn't know the word had to be encased).

Anonymous said...

Ah, the same film nmj was talking about. I will have to look out for it here. It sounds (and looks) very good and with you two recommending it, it has to be good.

You got the bold to work,eh? Great.

As a poet, is there a word or phrase (more than a mantra) that you especially like? To guide you? As something to hold onto?

Reading the Signs said...

Now you've got me thinking,goodthomas(just trying bold again for luck), which is always a hit and miss thing for me to do. Thinks. If there were a word or a phrase, then it would not be a spoken thing and I would almost hesitate to name it in case it flew off. I have, come to think of it, sometimes pictured my 'muse' as a bird that came and perched on my shoulder. I would never turn and face it, but could feel and hear the beat of wings as it came, and I could "see" it clearly. I gave it a name too. I have a belief, I suppose, that words and names are powerful substance, and when harnessed to the imagination a kind of magic can happen. This can sound terribly precious but I also believe in the art and craft of writing (the discipline, study and practice) and the possibility of a schooling of the imagination. When I write poetry I'm particularly conscious of wanting to stand properly in my words, so "I" don't get in the way of them. This doesn't rule out things like irony, but it does mean I can't fall back on that as an easy way out - because it wouldn't be true to my style (and it goes without saying that I speak for myself only).

I haven't really answered you, but sometimes walking around a question can get nearer to the truth than a direct answer.

Your turn! Do you have a word, phrase or mantra to guide you?

Anonymous said...

Actually, you have answered me perfectly. I would never venture to have you speak the unspeakable, so you "walking around the question" was perfect. You gave the perfect answer.

I read C.S. Lewis' Experiment in Criticismin college and was profoundly struck by the phrase, "receive the art." He was talking about art, from a critical standpoint, but, well, I won't bore you with any more than that. It is just an amazing phrase.

Reading the Signs said...

I agree, gt, and think that the phrase could also suggest a way of working creatively that involves being true to what the story/poem requires, rather than imposing an agenda.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey Signs, you got the HTML sussed!

Anonymous said...

I must admit, Signs, I have held that phrase close as an actor, as an artist, as a writer, as a father, as a husband, as a very silly human.

Reading the Signs said...

I'm copying that thing you do, you see, ms m.

The poem you posted on yours has now come to mind, goodthomas.

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