Evil is a Facebrick Church in a Modernist Style.

I am no one

A thin spirit

Wandering the Land at its source

Shape-shifting to become 

The peaks and valleys 

Of the everyday

The banality of Evil

All around me

Sits, hideous

Contemplating the world from a park bench 

Evil is a face brick church built 

In a modernist style

Signalling its permanence

As a landmark on the highway, heading home

I struggle to keep pace

Wraith-child match girl

Lighting flames in the wind

The terrible book of the past

Written around, and on, and through me

Jaws of bone and stone

Open to offer a route 

Elsewhere

Standing at the gate

Pink light of dawn

Cold hands of morning

Slipping into the folds 

Of a warmer place, 

A language learnt

A past unravelled 

Commentary

I wrote this poem in response to Jane Alexander’s sculpture ‘The Butcher Boys’, currently part of the permanent collection at the South African National Gallery.  It depicts the brutal and dehumanising forces of apartheid.  It is unsettling and haunting.  It is also the subject of the tourist’s gaze.  A work to be photographed with by visitors to the gallery pulling amusing poses.  This is the way of things.  Alexander made the work in the 1980’s, a time when the violence of the state, and the response of the people was exploding in South Africa.  I remember this time as my childhood years in Johannesburg.  Sun-lit and ordinary.  Lying on hot bricks, wet from the pool.  The tanks rolling down the quiet suburban streets to quell uprisings in the neighbouring township.  The barbed wire going up around our primary school.  Bombing my bike as fast at it could go around the twisted pedestrian bridge that spanned the highway.  Horror on the outskirts of an insulated suburbia that was participating either through active collusion or a studied refusal to notice.  Being in South Africa over the last few weeks, the visceral sense of a great evil that made the present is something that I feel everywhere.  Life goes on, as it should, but this poem bubbled up in response to the insidious ways in which evil sits with us.  In my practice I think about what it means to live with the after-effects of evil.  What the balance is between knowing the evil of the past, seeing how it operates in the present, and also being sufficiently free of it to be able to respond to what is right now.  It is the tension between knowing what made us, and releasing its stranglehold without the denial and amnesia that can characterise a too-hasty release of the pain story.  Working through identifying and releasing pain stories in the West of the Wheel, I am aware that these stories are woven into the fabric of national narratives, kaleidoscopically.  Poems bubble up in dawn meditation.  The cacophony of the dawn chorus.  My tired eyes snap open.

 Briefly, I am awake.     

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Pain Stories? Let’s Head North!

Arrived in Denmark tonight…  heading northwards.  I realise that Denmark is not that much more North than London, where I have come from, but that’s about right.  We are still very much on the edges of the West of the Wheel.  So this is a creep northwards, an inching towards the next direction.  As it is!  The West is a demanding place, where we face all kinds of difficulties.  The stuff that makes us want to turn back.  The pain stories.

I’m all disorientated…. arriving at night… no knowledge of the language.  But that’s cool….  being out of the orientation of what is familiar is a good way to be.  Sometimes.  Anyway, my circle partner tells me everyone speaks English here anyway.  And hey!  Even the word ‘English’ comes from the word ‘Angle’ which was the name for those Danish invaders all those centuries ago, who along with their Saxon bredren, gave us that infamous moniker ‘Anglo-Saxon’.  It’s all connected!

So, this is something my writing and circle partner wrote all about Pain Stories.  We are moving, ever so slightly, northwards.  And her reflection is pretty cool.  So here it is.  Enjoy.

Pain Stories

What a dramatic ring it has. We have been talking about pain stories for a while, sharing them, circling around their meaning in our lives. I have been thinking recently about staying too long. Like the Dionne Farris song “I stayed just a little long and now it’s time for me to move on”. I am always/often staying too long. Past the point where I know I should get up and move, I am still sitting there, wallowing, paralysed with indecision or just plainly not wanting to let go – a little kid screaming mine mine long after the toy’s left your hands. Where’s that step between knowing you have been holding onto this truth for too long and actually letting it go? As Pema Chrodron said somewhere letting go is not something you can actually practise it kind of happens like magic when the ground is set for it. What you can practise she says is gentleness and precision. Precision as in focus, concentration seeing things for what they are. Gentleness for each mis step, inability to move, the meandering route we are likely to take.

So where does that leave us now? We haven’t finished thrashing out our complicated life stories, configuring the various threads to our pain stories. But we have shared a lot. We have been sharing a lot for years. And we know the things that press us down. So much of what we have shared over the past year has been about seeing them more clearly owning up and loosening those ties. It’s a process possibly there’ll always be more to undo and unhem from ourselves and we’ll keep coming back in different forms until we’re light enough to float up into the atmosphere. And along the way there are lots of opportunities for letting go, or for setting the ground for letting go. Intentions, rituals, marking moments all have a role in this…But we also need lightness that’s part of what helps the magic happen. There’s a deep mystery to all of this – which our rational minds can’t quite grasp. Coming from a culture of words – Words to map, words to express, words to limit and free we sometimes forget the power beyond words and store too much faith in the act of saying, as if saying it is enough…
Cause really you have a sense of why you build a certain path, follow a route, but not really where it will go. There’s a balancing act there – focus and openness. Precision. Gentleness. Letting go.

You must know the person you are “or a pattern that others made may prevail in the world” A lot of our writing has explored this. How we have channelled our energy into serving forces that suppress us – for acceptance, for recognition. We want to reclaim this energy for ourselves. Ignite that fierce compassion which guards our hearts and takes back what’s ours.

“The medicine for the wound is right next to wound”
I am not certain what this means. When i think of my pain stories they are just painful. But i can feel that in seeing them for what they are there is healing. Perhaps it’s the old story – when we run from the hurt it just gets worse. When you stop and face it, you find how to heal it…I had a dream recently
I was at the drill hall but it was a different looking building, and I had just had my Danish class there. I was walking around with the guys. The building was doing this weird thing to us, the rooms and passages kept on changing. We were walking around with a torch following strange noises, like the scuttling of creatures. Doors would suddenly shut closing off our way. It was dark and creepy but I wanted to go further, see more. Then all of sudden the passages disappeared and instead there was a smart modern shop – something that the outsiders would be able to see. Nomonde was next me now and told me that the building is actually always the same. It’s my fear that makes it change. I could see that now, it was this organic mass shifting in response to my fear. I could see the possibility of facing it without the fear but told her it’s hard to be there without being scared….
It’s like that one step forward one step back, touch my power and run away. So we continue, giving each courage in the dance.

“People are disturbed not by the events but by the meanings they make of them”
We don’t just experience things, we develop narratives around them and then we repeat these narratives. I have been noting that in myself recently. Like with this decision not to do my Phd. That impulse is there to feel like a failure – it doesn’t work out because it’s me, because there’s something wrong. Then there’s the – what will people think of me, I look like a loser – parcel. But that impulse is not as strong. It’s there but not a truth as it used to be. I choose to not acknowledge the pain story as truth, even as it runs through me…There’re there as ghosts, as I turn more and more to finding my own truth, defining who I am on my own terms.
As Julie writes it:
“It is the strength of the ego that holds on to the agreements of pain. It says to you: ‘This pain speaks the truth’; ‘If you give up this agreement, you will be destroyed’; ‘This is who I am.’ The ego doesn’t want you to listen to your wisdom heart and follow a true god home. Rather it wants you to stay lost and focused on false god rooted in the pain of the past”.

Sometimes it feels that my ego holds me on a leash, I can get some space but too much and it pulls me back, roughly. Then I feel lost.

In the West

Purification, release, recapitulation
Most important is holding in one’s heart-mind a wish for purification, a wish for freedom.

by Maia Marie 2012

The Stuck Places aka It’s Okay, Take Your Time

In the West, as the process of telling the life story unfolds, I find that a big challenge is finding my way out of the spaces in the story that I get stuck in.  Today in our circle, as I shared the latest chapter, I felt a sense of wanting to rush through, get past the section of my life that I have been writing so much on.  I have had enough!  I want to move forward!  So I try to… and the writing reflects this.  Sharing it in the circle, I don’t get the sense of having released and passed through.  Because in trying to rush through, what is revealed instead is a powerful stuck place that is holding me tight.  A shrill, victimised voice runs through the text, and it is mine.  Rushing through, I would like to quiet this voice, but this doesn’t work!  In order to release, there has to be a point of acknowledgement.  Sigh!  I see the newspaper cutting I have pinned on my desk:

IT’S OKAY, TAKE YOUR TIME  

My circle partner is supportive, and gently encouraging about the need to acknowledge pain and release it with gentleness. Again, I am grateful for the space and support that a cohort; a sangha, brings to this process.  She recounts a story from Ursula Le Guin’s book The Wizard of Earthsea.  Ged, the main protaganist, is on an island where many of the inhabitants are addicted to a drug that has robbed them of their magic powers even as it keeps them cloaked in a haze of comforting illusion.  You can’t see what’s ahead when all you can see is yourself.  This is the way that a powerful pain story, unreleased, operates in one’s life.  It dominates the narrative so that all that is seen is Self.  This obscures life.  This blocks the way forward.

My partner also points out how amazing it is that we spend so much time resisting where we are and who we are here with.  She reminds me of Pema Chodron’s teaching to practice precision – to see what is clearly.  How you feel is your starting point.  Be with it.  How you relate to it comes next.  And both parts, the being with and the letting go, require gentleness. Being with and letting go without harshness.

We feel tired of how we feel about things.  I feel tired of how I can feel about things.  Where I am in my work, in the telling of the story, in my practice, in my life and relationships.  But if we/I don’t listen to the stuckness, keep denying how we feel, try to layer it with a self-judgement to be compassionate, then they will continue to swim around like hungry ghosts, needing attention.  Getting stuck is due to not being with the feelings, avoiding them or trying to turn them into other, more acceptable feelings too early.  Like turning anger into compassion.  Yes, this is the ultimate aim!  But, it can’t be rushed without going through due process.  Getting through the stuckness with honesty.  The compassion must start with ourselves if it is to go out into the world.   Because suppressed feelings are dangerous.  They can jump out unexpectedly and do damage.

A way to avoid dealing with supressed emotions is to defer them to a martyrdom that masquerades as compassion for others.  Am I doing this process to heal a relationship with others?  This may very well be a side effect, and if it comes out of it, great. But primarily this is about healing myself, so that in making my way through the world, I stop the cycle of inflicting pain and damage unthinkingly and dangerously.  In the inner and outer worlds.  This is the connection of all things with self.

Angry girl… you hold your heart on the inside

Angry girl, you turn the point in and do damage. 

The side alleyway.  I tried to grow things.  I tried to make a nest of my own.  i think I did this with my sister.  i think we did these things together.  It was in shadow so things could not grow.  I imagined I could make it beautiful but I did not have the resources to do it.  Nor was there the natural light.  This was a place to bury things.  The goldfish corpse that I placed in the ground and dug up a year later to see the bones.  This was where I ran to after fights, during the heat of things.  This place of shadows and quiet, of building rubble, neglected and private.  I cried here a lot, sitting on the upturned bricks.  I did bring friends here too.  To sit on the bricks.  Later, when I was older, to drink Vodka, sniff turpentine.

How do I make space to express suppressed feelings so that I can then allow those feelings to pass?  The italicised passage above speaks of a space I made during the time in my life I am writing about at the moment.  I placed it randomly here to demonstrate how we carry these spaces with us as metaphors all the time.

The tension of going through the Wheel lies in the dance of identifying whether what we do is honest, or more masking.  If we are really seeing the path through, or if we are blinded by the massiveness of our fascination with ourselves.  Identifying a pain story is one step.  Acknowledging it the next  (this can mean difficult feelings).  Then, letting it go.  For me, the stuckness comes with an attachment to pain, a clinging to the mask of victimisation.

That without pain, my life lacks meaning.

This is where the Wheel is powerful medicine, a structure through which various kinds of spaces can be made to allow things to have their expression.  And sometimes, it is in the articulations that other’s make that we can find the right expression for our feelings.  These two poems spoke powerfully to me today and yes, gave space.  So I keep moving, gently gently.

1.  http://starsrainsunmoon.com/2012/07/12/gulping-sleep/

2. Poem by Maia Marie
Making love to you is a ritual
When the rain is done and the air is new and clean and fresh
After all of that
I still love you, I just love
It lays there bare, a knowing, a fact
A feeling on its own
Separate from place and journeys and destinations
I open and close the window as the wind calms and sun appears
I spend my day like this
Adjusting a sail
Yet the tree always stands in the courtyard letting the wind through its branches easily
Perhaps it’s true, it has no choice but to grow towards the sun from where it’s rooted.
I look for my voice in hiding places
A child playing, koo koo