On Rhodes Statues and A Cactus Garden

I watched my father growing a garden made out of cactus and succulents in the backyard of our house.  The sky was always very big and very blue when he worked on his creation.  He carved it out of the brick steps that led up to the pool.  Plain and predictable white suburban stairs, the ordinary life of the racial elite in 1980’s South Africa, glistening with water and the smell of braaivleis.  My father was those things, and also nut brown in his cut-off denim shorts, inserting objects and magic into the garden he grew over those stairs under the sun.  He made one for each of his three daughters.  Was mine on the end or in the middle?  I don’t remember that detail, just that in the end all three gardens merged into one.  I watched the tossing of the soil, the setting of the rocks and stones, shards of statues, icons, glass pieces and the spikes of cacti gathered on walks in the veld and koppies that still surrounded Alberton back then.  Those walks where me and my sister would trot behind him, learning how to use our feet like noses to sniff out potential traps and trips on the ground.  My father would stop and pull up plants, take cuttings.   Sometimes producing a frying pan and a fire to make bacon and eggs.  I can’t say that we were part of it so much as spectators, watching.  I did learn some things.  How to pull a piece of a cactus plant off and stick it into a new pot where it would magically keep growing, without roots.  You don’t need roots to grow. What a lesson I think now, looking back.  The garden became ever more outlandish and charged with sorcery and indifference.  I loved to watch it.  At night I would explore its perimeters, finding glow worms clinging to aloes. I have stopped collecting cacti now.  I last had them ten years ago, a small collection on the windowsill in my house in Brixton.  After that, they fell away.  Like my memories of my father’s garden, the one he made for us as an expression of his Self.  My fingers are humming with the energy of it.  Our relationship has been so problematic for so long that the garden was forgotten.  And it was something that I can say with certainty was an aspect of him that I can love and grow from.  For a very long time I have not mourned the loss of that home.  I know that this is in part because of the problematic politics that surrounded its situation within a place marked by white priviledge.  Better to let it die unmourned or acknowledged.  It leaves me with a question: can beauty ever come out of evil?  Can the essence of a pure and real love grow out of a place that could not continue to exist?  I find the answer in the cactus.  You don’t need roots to grow.  And with patience, a flower as beautiful as the dawn will blossom.  I think of the comments written by white South Africans on Facebook, barbed and mean spirited, that cling with misunderstanding  to that statue of Rhodes, as if roots of any kind are better than none.  I am the cactus that flowered.  If only they knew how easy it can be to let go.

Hungry Ghosts

Hungry ghosts are all around.

in the hunger for perfection,

a greedy one,

makes me go back and

correct endlessly,

the one that stops the flow and thinks thinks thinks till my ears explode.

this one wants the right spelling and gramar

now,

it won’t permit key stroke errors.

that hungry ghost eats me everyday.

It wants to eat my whole entire life,

seasoned with inanity and the details, purposeless without the sweetly flawed flow of a genuine canvas to express its artful corrections on.

Yes, hungry ghosts are everywhere.

they are pushing delicately thoughts of past times over and over into now

remembering when she did this?  And i did that?

enveloped in those soft grey places, quicksand pulling us life-less through years and years and years

My grandfather was swallowed by the hungry mud in Lancashire, early last century

pulled out by a passing man and his walking stick.

without whom

there would be no I to ponder being alive

in this body; this time

Pulled out, he was given the chance to live.

So too I, and We

sinking, connected, calling out

For the stick that saves us is

Within

and

Without.

Till Johannesburg

Credit limit increased
Africa shines inside a twelve week module
Constructed from
Fragment memories
Shards of remembering made-up
Snatches of conversation
The songs we feel
Inside our cars
Ancestral cults and curls
Yearning for belonging
A bigger picture
A cultural context
You know when
It feels right
And the music fills up every broken part
In-head
I offer my children apologies
For the mess we are
Though, shoulders shrugging
When occupying
A point of stillness
In the midst of the Chaos of Us
It’s the realness I get stuck on
That makes sorry unnecessary
After all this
We can only be
Where
We are
Riding the dual carriage way from the Celtic Fringe
London bound till Johannesburg

Of Dreams and Foxes

This is the story of how the poem ‘Night Foxes’ got written.  It’s all about how creative acts can bubble to the surface.

Not sure why I’m sharing this.  It’s sort of mundane, personal… but why not open up an exploration of the ways in which creativity emerges and see what other experiences anyone has to share?   I would love to hear.
It was during a visit from my father.  Dad had been with us for a week already.   On good form but intense.  Always so caught up in his own head; the incessant talking.  My own latent anger.  It was the end of a nice, but emotional, day where his family had come over for lunch.  My aunt had cried while talking to me and her daughter about the time our grandmother, her mother, had died.    My Aunt told me later by e mail that she always felt guilty about how differently her and her brother’s life had turned out.  Her’s marked by material success and good health as she aged; his by big losses and struggles with mental and physical health.  I was getting a little lost in the big feelings that were coming up.
That’s the general background.
Before going to bed that night, attempting to settle, I drew a Medicine card.  It was the Fox.
This is a summary of Fox’s message:
The ability to meld into one’s surroundings and be unnoticed is a powerful gift when one is observing the activities of others.  Fox’s ability to be unseen allows it to be the protector of the family unit. If danger arises, Fox is johnny-on-the- spot. Nanih Waiya, Great Spirit in the Choctaw tonguehonors Fox with the duty of keeping the family together and safe. This is accomplished through Fox’s ability to observe undetected, without making others self-conscious. Fox is always concerned with the safety of family members and is an excellent talisman for those traveling far afield.
If Fox has chosen to share its medicine with you, it is a sign that you are to become like the wind, which is unseen yet is able to weave into and through any location or situation. You would be wise to observe the acts of others rather that their words at this time. Use your cunning nature in a positive way; keep silent about who and what and why you are observing. In learning the art of camouflage, you need to test your ability to pull this off.  One test of exercise that may be helpful to you is deciding to be invisible. In doing this exercise, you might try to visualize your body as part of your surroundings, full of the colours of the location you are in. See yourself in your mind’s eye, moving with stealth and grace, unheeded by others. If you do it right, it works! You can leave a party unnoticed or become as unobtrusive as a piece of furniture, watching the developing
drama of the subjects you are studying.   
With Fox medicine, you are being asked to see
all types of uses for Oneness.
 
I reflected on the aptness of this card after a day of being so immersed in the memories and dynamics of the preceding generation.  My father and Aunt don’t see each other very often.  Their meetings are years apart, and can be hard work.  As a daughter and niece, I had hosted this lunch because it was a means to create a space where we could be together.   Though not always easy, there is something important about witnessing the dynamic of the family; accepting it; opening to it.  The lunch was not about ‘me’, but about witnessing the older generation, however imperfectly.  It was my attempt to acknowledge the ‘oneness’ of my story with theirs.  And I suppose it had required me to become less visible, to listen more (I struggle with listening).  Fox is also a significant animal for my younger sister, who is away right now travelling in North America.  Drawing it, I felt connected to her, able to draw on the support and insight she gives to what can be a heavy family dynamic.
I then went to sleep, but was woken a couple of hours later by shrieking sounds outside on the street.  I got up and looked.  There were two foxes on the road outside!  They appeared to be having a fight, eventually going their separate ways.  I watched the last fox make its way out of sight, then wrote this down:
 
The dead of night
Foxes wake, sounding warnings
Crossing rivers
Made of
Sand
 
I went back to bed and had this dream:
I had through a process of becoming, infiltration, luck and knowing, become part of a tour of Brazilian musicians, who were world famous, and also deeply rooted in a spiritual tradition.  The most well known of the musicians, an older, slightly porky man, showed me evidence of sacred places where he had been instructed not to play music by ghosts who had communicated through till receipts (yes, the kind you get from Tesco.   There is no accounting for the sub-concious!)  He showed me where they had marked the receipts with ‘zero’ to communicate the silence.  This was not a message not to play music -far from it- it was a message about which places on earth are places of sacred silence.  A different thing altogether.  It was powerful.  I put on a big show of being freaked out.  Inside I was amazed and glad to have been included in this inner circle.  I had gained access to it at the Stage Door.   When stopped by the bouncers, I had talked my way in by partly bluffing and partly remembering that I was a Fado singer, who had grown up immersed in the world of Fado through my family.  As I spoke to him I was engaging in a process of piecing together, and creating,  the story of my life, partly fact, partly fiction.  Anyway.  It was enough to get me through the door.
There it is.  In the waking world, I have grown with the world of Fado as a marker of identity, albeit distantly.  My father and Aunt are of Portuguese descent, and their grandmother, a seamstress and a poet, had once made a dress for the famous Fado singer Amalia Rodrigues.  This was a story I had heard a lot as child.  There is more to excavate in this dream, but for me the main thing right now is this sense of making a life story of one’s own that is intimately connected to all the life stories of all the others who are around you, came before you, will come after you.
Since then I have been practising the technique of ‘disappearing’.  This is not so much about magic as it is about lessening one’s sense of being separate.  Doing it, I was reminded of something I had read once by Alice Walker in which she spoke of imagining yourself as gone from the earth, having left not a trace.  In a world obsessed with legacy, fame, being noticed and remembered, this is a powerfully challenging exercise to do.  In terms of my Wheel of Initiation practice, it has provoked an examination of the ways in which I engage with the process of writing my life story in the West.  What version am I telling?  How do I inhibit growth by attempting to tell a perfect version?  What other pain stories, apart from my own, are revealed in hearing what I am writing told through other people’s perspectives?  What do I carry?  What does it mean to release these burdens?  Disappear?  Cultivate spaces of silence?  Not as an escape, but as a form of practice that lessens the attachment of ego to the idea of separation as a primary identifier of Self.
These are tentative reflections on the ways that creativity, in all kinds of forms,  bubbles to the surface out of the soup of everyday life, dreams, coincidence and the opening of practice.

Recycling Ancestor Energy Part 2

Orange Recycling Bins

Orange Recycling Bins (Photo credit: oatsy40)

The other night I put an offering to my ancestors in the recycling bin. It was a carefully written letter, accompanied by beautiful pictures of homes, asking for money to do a ceremony to honour and brighten their spirits.

This is not the usual way of things. But this week, as I re-entered the South, I see that the usual way of doing things is not always right.

I’m not denying the importance of tradition, discipline and consistency in whatever rituals we anchor ourselves in. Just that sometimes a little reinvention that is responsive to circumstance is required. Which brings me back to the recycling bin.

It was full moon night, traditionally a time to let go of things, offer up your baggage to the waning cycle that is about to begin. The irony of the full moon is that at the very peak of its power, its full magnificence with all the pull and influence it exerts also contains the seeds of its cyclical demise. From this point of fullness, it must decrease.

So here I am on full moon night, on the dark streets, looking for a spot to burn this letter.  I’ve learnt a way of engaging the full moon’s energy that involves writing a letter with your requests and intentions, then burning it. This is tricky when you live on the third floor of a block of flats with no balcony. But this full moon, I really needed to make a move to get this ancestor offering out there.

So, clutching my envelope, I figured I could get away for 10 minutes from family life to burn it in the park. I wish! The river will take longer than 10 minutes. The gates to the churchyard are locked, and there are people walking their dogs in the park. Besides, something doesn’t feel right. I’m all edgy, and there’s an uneasy feeling rising up. Asking for a lot of money to do a big old ceremony that lasts a month feels very, very heavy.  I think of those fairy tales where bargains are made for money and influence that result in terrible tragedy and loss in order to get the goods. I address the moon directly, “I don’t want anyone to get hurt for this money or this ceremony….ok?!  And quite honestly I don’t even know if I want to do this ceremony!”  speaking these words out loud, I identify a powerful agreement that causes great suffering.  The agreement that I must do everything alone.  That I must carry impossible burdens, even if they are destroying me.  I don’t want anyone to get hurt for this money or this ceremony.  This I realise includes me too.

So what do you want?

I do want that soul home. I do want to brighten my spirit for the benefit of all – Ancestors, descendants, everyone. That’s what I want.

That’s when I see the recycling bin, all green and ordinary in the moonlight.  And it’s obvious what I must do. I put the letter in it like it’s a post box. And say a prayer that this dark ancestor energy be transformed; changed into something else that frees us all – ancestors and descendants.

I worry that I may have committed a terrible insult, but I know more that this was the correct ritual for right now.  Ritual is responsive, not dogmatic, it emerges out of a human need for integrating experience and fostering a sense of solidarity.  This means that in its bones, ritual is an adaptable force.  It must be.   To brighten the ancestor’s spirits and mine, we have to operate from a point that is light, grounded and transformative.  I can think of no better analogy than being recycled.   I hope that the ancestors will understand.

That night I had this dream.  Not lucid, but vivid and as real as daylight.

My daughter and her friends ask me about giving birth as I am about to.  Will it hurt?  The pain helps you to give birth!  I tell them.  I lead them in saying a special song to help the baby come.  As we finish, blood starts to drip out.  You song is strong!  I say to them.  I draw 10 wombs surrounded by a heart of light on the ground.  I feel contractions gathering but it’s not time yet.  A passing nun, elderly and kind and gently powerful, with the face a of a Lama, stops to smile and asks if I’m ready to give birth yet.  I really like her.  Not quite yet, I reply, smiling. 

Waking up the following morning I felt like something had cleared away.  My inbox contained an email with some good advice regarding a problem I was having with my initiation practice from my mentor.  Acting on this advice, I formed a circle of support around me.  I am not in this alone.  Yes, ultimately the responsibility for my transformation lies with me.  In that sense, we are all alone.  But life exists to give love, holding us when we need to be cradled through our processes.  Inter-dependency and support are neither clinging nor possessive.  They are a surrender to the connectedness of all things.  As I sit in my labour, gathering help around me, I am glad to belong to it all.