Monday, 17 December 2012

Things in a circle at night

So it means to circle round again, wings flapping, struggling against the celestial torrent that is us. Or an image of us or an image of the world in the mirror that is us. Us is where it all seems to end . End, not arrive. End up, but not looking up. Looking down, or maybe sometimes looking inward, where we have looked too often in the wrong direction. But arriving is what we're searching for, and if it  is only arriving in a place that lets us rest and breathe. Then we can praise that riddle that is our earthly existence. Then we can come down from the mountain, up from the gutter, from then on. In dance the direction unfolds sometimes. As and when it happens we don't always know, until much later when there is another evening sky to be endured in all its glory, but separate, but alone. The tiredness of this golden light. Dusk or dawn, the same old face of the world woven into the deepest threads of our dream. That desires the one union. Communion. Community. Communication. Coming home.


And the pits of the oceans? The bulks of the waves are loaded with unanticipated forms. Nothing that we could ever plan for nor imagine. And yet we insist on planning and imagining a design. Meanwhile, what we really feel has its origin not in the chemical reactions in our brains, but elsewhere. In all those places that we sometimes feel clearly in our hearts but cannot fathom in our minds. Not even begin to express in any language that has ever been uttered in a circle nor written on a scroll nor typed into a machine. The fire is burning, but is it belief or knowledge, that shadowy reign from which we sometimes shriek back as if it was the very thing that held us down? The chains around the legs of the big bird are made from the same material, and we know this. But in the end, will they be broken by willpower or surrender? In the end, it all depends on going forward in concentration and not missing one turn of the spiral. Distraction is sometimes the enemy of wisdom, if not all the time.

The wild secretions of this city of gold always let us down in the end. Just when we think we have found the key to the steel gate, the gate chooses to slam shut in an immense and inconceivable scream. It's the time of the morning when window panes freeze over with ice and there are not enough ovens burning in the city to change how it feels.


But what happens to the inside parts where the templates of the story are being written in a continuous whisper? Have you heard the tiny buzzing feet running back and forth? Carrying bowls of splashing water from one room to the next while the stories are spun. Or maybe you have chosen to turn up the volume of your TV in the morning? Or the volume of those other voices in your head that tell you it's time to move on and get going but forgot to provide a map for the trip. Then it dawns on you that you are merely a child-like passenger, and that the wooden horses on their circular journey have more sense than you. Or at least that is what you fear. Whatever you say brother, the fallen ones will tell a different story. Have you heard their mutterings in front of the underground stations? Have you seen their abrupt turn on a violent heel, their wild and desperate stare? We tried our best to fit our lives into the lines and boxes provided. Not more than ten digits, tick here or choose Other. Needless to say, we always chose Other. But even the Other is always there facing us, whether in golden nightskies or in shopping centres.


But if you want it , the salt of the earth will laugh upon your eyelids. In tiny crystals, it will laugh like tinkling bells. When it happens, allow yourself to cry with all the tears necessary. When it happens and your heart hits the very matter you were made of, and the skies in your soul open to the possibilities that came into being with you, it requires a sense of focus. Focus and space, to let yourself be that unique thing among many others. That inbreath and that outbreath, just like everything else.


When my star was born      Copyright Vincent Oyenga 2012

Monday, 7 May 2012

Aspiration – a reflection, a remembering, a plea

1. strong desire, longing, or aim; ambition.
2. a goal or objective desired.
3. act of aspirating; breath.

The aspiration to lead a good life.

To do an honest day’s work that does not reap a profit from the imagined needs of others, or from their misery. That does not twist my brain into strange, unnatural shapes.

My breath, my eyes, my hands and feet, my beating heart. The devotion of my lover, and mine to him.

A place to live where I can’t be evicted , that does not claim me as its slave. Big enough to be creative and host my friends. Too small to amass things I don't need.

Space from where to see the sky, animals, a spider’s web, dew drops, something that grows, to touch the earth. Gratitude.

Friends and family that stand together like the different species in a forest, nurturing life and weathering the seasons and the storms that will surely come. Goodwill and patience.

A good fire to sit around. Stories, songs and wine. Food to sustain me. The ability to make a delicious feast from some potatoes and nettles.  To bake a decent loaf of bread.

Books and poetry. And time. Time and space to feel into the rhythm of life with body and spirit. A good, wild dance. A crazy laughter, a proper cry. Celebrations.

Time to think and people to mingle ideas with.

To create with words and things that others throw away, not for recognition, but for my heart’s content. To make something from nothing and enjoy it. To see something in everything there is.

The freedom to wander. Curiosity. My wits about me. To take things as they come.

All I want is a good life, and the wisdom to notice when it happens. The courage not to believe that I need anything else.

Aspiration. The act of aspirating. Breath.

Copyright 2010 Vincent Oyenga 

(Thanks to Kevin and a Beltane fire for the inspiration to think about aspirations.)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Some words to a city fox

You, out there under the Leylandii tree. The one that has grown out of all the proportion of my thin strip of London back garden. You sleep, rolled up with your pointy nose tucked under your tail. You look so comfortable on that bed of dry soft needles as you sleep there with abandon. A dash of reddish brown in the blessed green mess out there. I look at you from the bathroom window and maybe you can feel my stare. I've been standing here for a while, watching your sleep under the tree. So you wake up. You lift your head slowly and blink and you look straight at me. You  knew that I was up here at my bathroom window. We stare at each other for a long time. I open the window, I need to remove the glass barrier and look at you. Now I am getting late for work. But I need to look at you and for whatever reason you seem ok to look at me. After what seems like a long time of time suspended, you sort of sigh and lie your head back down. I know how those needles feel. I stand on them often with bare feet. I don't know why you seemed to want to look at me. Whether you were interested, or annoyed at my intrusion from behind the walls of my flat. Maybe you really don't care. I can't get myself away from the window. I need to look at you resting under that tree. You look well fed, probably on chicken wings and kebabs. Showing no concern whatsoever about a human so close. You see, you are very different from the foxes of my childhood. They were shy, mysterious creatures. I admired and feared them in equal measure, with a kind of pleasurable fear. They stayed in the forest mostly, they did not like being near humans. And it was drummed into me that if I ever saw a fox anywhere near me, a fox that was not bothered by me being there, then I had to move away fast, because rabies was the only reason a fox would behave that way. So I have an instinctual reflex in my bones when I see you close. The other night when I walked home from Walthamstow tube station, I came upon you, or maybe one of your relatives, standing by the gate in my neighbour's front garden. My heart missed a beat, you startled me so. That instinctual reflex. But it's not rabies that brings you so close to me in this urban sprawl. We've all just been thrown together here - you, and I and the out of proportion Leylandii tree. Misfits, doing the best we can in an alien world. You eat fried chicken wings, and I fold my wings under appropriate clothing. I don't know so much about what the Leylandii tree does, though I'd like to find out. Anyway, we get on here somehow. We are streetwise and sly. We have found a way. But you know, today I just had to stay here and be late for work and look at you, because my heart went out when I saw you sleeping under that tree. I've seen you there before. You keep coming back. Do you remember the trees in the forest? Does your body remember the soft needles on fiery fur? You were born here, amongst the concrete and the fast food shops. But when I see you sleeping there, I think that maybe you do know about the forest, somewhere in your being. I think you might know. And I'm really grateful that you're here. I don't mind you startling me in a doorway at night. And if you dig up my lambs lettuce again, we'll have to work out some kind of arrangement. They call you a pest, but I would very much like for you to stick around. Bring the family. These streets don't belong to me alone, nor these patches of ancient memory. I don't care if it's irrational. This is an invitation from one displaced being to another. We're here now.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

What remains - Memories of my father and the forest

So it is time to write of death again. As the new year just waved its first hellos, my father died. After two months of his body disappearing before our eyes, he simply fell asleep. For that I’m grateful. He was eighty-five. He lived a long life, he lived through a lot.
He died almost to the day eleven months after my mother. They were companions for sixty years. Even though I haven’t lived in the same country as my parents for a long time, we were very close. I don’t even know yet what it means for me that they are both gone, what it really means. I was their only living child, the apple of their eyes. My brother died aged eight of leukaemia before I was born. I used to be angry with him when I was little, for leaving me alone with this loving, weighty, intense relationship.
As my parents got older, our relationship turned as they do and I started to worry about them and looked after them from afar as best as I could. I spent many hours with my father in his last months. Witness to the rapid deterioration of his body and to the curious mix of vulnerability, acceptance, love, toughness and wit in which he lived the end of his life. In those hours I thought about what it is that remains of us. I thought about legacy, about memories.

I look at the things that my parents leave behind. The few material things, the photographs and I know they will all go some time. What else will remain about them as individuals? I don't have children. How will my parents live on? And then I thought, does the forest remember exactly which dying tree fed a particular area of new growth (maybe it does), and does that really matter? Or is the continuation of growing life the most important thing. So what is it, I thought, that will flow out into the growing life of the world from my father?

He loved nature. He loved it in a very unsentimental way. He loved the forest and the animals in it and yet he was a hunter. He killed animals. We ate them. There are big forests where I come from. My father would think nothing of walking into the forest at night by a full moon. That’s when you hunt wild boar. You might say, what was there to fear, he had a gun, the animals didn’t. That is true. Some say a wild boar can be a danger if you don't know what you're doing, even if you have a gun. There was also the being alone with oneself at night in a forest for long hours. Maybe equally scary. I would not have walked into that forest at night, and I don’t know many people now who would.
So he would be there with his dog, who was his companion and co-worker more than a pet and whom he loved as we all did. It took knowledge, skill and patience to be in that forest at night and to kill a boar. There were many boars where I come from. They used to break into the maize fields for a good meal leaving the farmers frustrated. But the farmers also knew that this is what happens in maize fields near a forest, and they kept mending their fences. It was a constant battle on both sides.

Hunting is heavily regulated in Germany. You cannot hunt without a licence and to get it you need to complete a training of forestry, ecology, flaura, fauna, animal care, conservation, weapons, forest and hunting laws and then take a state exam which many don’t pass. Hunting is linked to “Hege” and "Waidgerechtigkeit”. I haven’t found exact English translations, but roughly it would be “care” or  ”preservation” and “rightful treatment of  forest and animals”. There are many arguments on both sides, those who say you need regulated hunting in an area that is after all not really wild any more, where the natural balance is already gone. Others argue that hunting is cruel and unnecessary and nature will still regulate itself. This is not my argument here. I'm telling my father's story. 
Private forest owners often lease areas to someone who has the money to pay for it. So people like my father - who was a bus driver and did not have much money – worked for a leaseholder in exchange for the right to hunt. He spent hours creating salt licks and winter feeding stations, clearing paths, maintaining shooting stands and other back breaking tasks I don’t know of. He worked with the dog so she would become a calm and reliable partner.
I remember many times when he was called in the day or in the middle of the night because a deer had been hit by a car and run away wounded. So he left with the dog and the gun to track it down and kill it. Sometimes during harvest time, tiny fawns with big eyes and spotted coats would sleep in the high fields, invisible to the combine harvesters. Sometimes a little one was run over by the big machines. If it was lucky, it died. But often it only lost its legs or some other horrific injury. And my dad would be one of the people called upon to shoot it.

For a time as a teenager I hated him being a hunter and was ashamed of it. I was getting interested in the anti-nuclear movement and environmentalism, and it just seemed to grate. Yet I still ate meat from the butcher shop as did my friends. Underneath it all, if I was truthful, I always admired him. And I really liked a haunch of venison which my mother could prepare better than any celebrity chef, with wild mushroom sauce, spiced red cabbage, bread dumplings and pears poached in red wine filled with cranberries. Maybe with some lambs lettuce as well.  More than once I went down to the cellar and opened the door only to walk into a dead deer in the dark, hanging by a metal hook from its neck, the life in its deep brown eyes stopped dead by a shot from my father’s gun.
The idea that you could hunt down an animal with riders for hours and have it torn apart alive by a pack of dogs was abhorrent to him. He could kill alright. But with one shot if at all possible, quickly always. He could kill, but he would not torture.

As a child, I often watched him butcher a deer, and on a couple of rare occasions, a wild boar. I was fascinated by the eyeballs he would take from the sockets in the skull, by the hide and tissues separating from the flesh, the flesh from the bones. The skull with the antlers had to be boiled for hours until all the flesh came off and then dried to be mounted on a wooden plaque as was the tradition. When my father built me a wooden playhouse at the end of the garden, he mounted a small deer skull above its door. The stench of a boiling skull is horrific. One day my mother forced him to take a small electric stove with a very long extension lead right to the back of the garden where he would have to boil the skulls from then on. But my mother was also a forester’s and hunter’s daughter, and very much a woman of the earth in her own right, so she understood.

My father’s heart was in the forest. He studied long hours in his meagre spare time to pass the exam and get his licence. He found something out there in the forest, an honesty about life and death maybe that connected him to his childhood on a farm. Something that helped him move through the trauma of his late teens and early twenties spent fighting in a brutal war and trying to survive a prison camp. On his seventy-fifth birthday, the local priest came to the house to congratulate him. When he remarked upon my father’s rare attendance at church, he responded that the forest was his church. This greatly embarrassed my mother, at least momentarily, and made me feel strangely proud. The church he found out there was one of clear and inarguable facts, of blood and guts and beauty. Of freedom and solitude. That also had space for the raucous drinking sessions with his hunting buddies, which caused me and my mother many nights of worry about him getting home safely and made me hate him for a while. The machismo, or maybe something that I have no name for, that comes with the skill to use a gun and the ability to take a life. There were also the class distinctions between the rich folk who held the hunting lease and the people like my father who did the physical work. And there were the times when none of that seemed of any consequence, in the solemnity of a particular night in autumn when the kill was laid out in front of the church in the light of torches to be blessed by the priest and the hunting horns were played, as a reminder, so I was told, that fellow creatures gave their life, and of our duty towards them.

I studied cultural anthropology, travelled the world and was fascinated by the ways of life of traditional and tribal peoples. It took me a while to recognise that some of the things I was seeking, that where different from the artificiality, consumerism, hypocrisy and separation from anything that was not human, that some of this was right in front of me. Quite possibly inside of me. That I had seen it since I was a small child, heard the stories. Touched the eyeballs fresh from the sockets. Stroked the hide of a fawn, cried my eyes out for its death and then ate its flesh for lunch. That I had a small deer skull over the door of my small house. That our beloved dog had a job outside the house as everyone else. That my father took her out into the heart of the forest when she was old and suffering and dying. Without telling anyone, he took her out there and shot her and buried her by a tree, and when he came back he would not speak for a day. I lived in another town then, and my parents did not tell me about this until I came to visit, and we cried. He needed to make sure that she died quickly, without fear, in a place she loved, with him by her side. He was not going to outsource this last duty to a vet.

There came a time in  his life, when my father said he did not want to kill any more animals. That it was now the task of younger men. From then on he only went to the forest to walk, to observe, to be there.

There is something in all this that I’m only now beginning to understand. That made me who I am, with a disdain for our utilitarian, consumerist, brutal culture that is destroying the world, but also suspicious of easy answers and the romantic and naive attitude I find in some who love and try to protect the more than human world.  
Something in the honesty of my father’s way is important in the world I live in. Even though it seems very far removed from it. Or maybe because of that. I would like to think that somehow it will continue to flow into the world through me.


As I was writing this, I came upon a good question posed by the excellent Earthlines Magazine blog: Is Nature Writing too nice? And I would answer, with my memories in mind, yes it is. I hope we'll rise to the challenge to make it more real.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Stony is the world, and precious

Today I read the post "Stone Soup, mutual dependency and a new economic order" by Andrew J. Taggart. Go and read it now, because what follows is some kind of response to the excellent questions he throws at us. 

I really like this post. Because I think about this kind of thing a lot. I started writing a comment for it, but then it got longer and longer and many thoughts and bits of coversation that have been chasing each other around in my consciousness in the last months started to move into a clearer pattern, so I decided to use Andrew's post as a trigger for another piece here.

I have been accused of Pollyannaism. Partly in reaction to that, I called this blog "These precious and beautiful things". It's laughably easy for a certain kind of person to dismiss me when I choose to approach the world with a let's call it poetic, soft, not always rational way. Even easier because I'm a woman, yes still in this day. I know that. But it was as if I wanted to throw a gauntlet in front of all those who purport to know "what the world's really like, my dear", the reactionary as well as the progressive ones, and scream at them (very un-Pollyannaish actually) to fuck off with their patronising attitudes that peddle a dark resigned view of the world as "reality". As if I wanted to dig my heels in and shout, guess what it's not my reality, you fools! 

Why oh why can people so rarely cope with ambiguity, with things being this, and at the same time also that.

Where I really I find myself mostly is in a place between awareness of darkness, destruction and quite ok with looking it in the face, and a kind of "yes, but still.." attitude. Where I will hold on to the possibility of mutual cooperation, kindness, beauty and other good things. 

So I think the beggar turned visionary in the Stone Soup story is an important figure.  It's probably no coincidence that it's someone who is already outside the usual order, who doesn't have much, who has to survive by his wits. A state that can open the mind, clear the goo of contentment from the soul. Contentment is what many of us, here in the privileged places have, not deep aliveness. Clear the goo, and sometimes we see things just a little differently. Herein does lie the potential in all this new austerity and collapse (new for us privileged few of course, for most of the world it's old hat), clearing the goo of contentment. What each of us will do with this opportunity, I'm afraid nobody has full control over. Deal with it.  

As for Andrew's question how we avoid being or falling for a con artist peddling a pointless vision of a better world - maybe it's not about a leap of faith. I don't really do faith.
So I'm thinking, maybe we need to stop talking about the possibility of a kinder world as a vision. Shift our perspective a little and see it already as a reality. Unearth it, make it visible by being mindful of the many little (and occasionally big) experiences of mutual cooperation, kindness, simple sensibleness that we do actually encounter all the time. I just feel that we often don't recognise them as such because we are so blinded and sold to the idea of our brutal competitive nature. I don't incidentally subscribe to the idea that humans are at core brutal and self obsessed, neither do I believe that we are naturally wonderfully cooperative beings who have been corrupted somehow. Like I said, when is a thing ever one or the other? All I can say, if I go by my direct experience, is that there already is kindness, cooperation, resilience, beauty. People saying, and living as if they mean it, even if they don't manage all the time: "yes,  but still".
People have always done this. I know this from my parents who have lived through the second world war, when it would have been so easy to just see the darkness, but who told me a lot about cooperation and kindness as well. I know it from being in places where people have nowhere near what we have here. And yet there is, also, kindness, cooperation and beauty. And this is not limited to the human realm. I'm reminded in this context of Jay Griffiths speaking of  wild kindness, the kindness in nature that is, also, wild.

If I can experience something, then it is part of reality. It exists. (I hope you understand that I'm not talking about the western empirical model of science-type experience here.) It's not a vision. I can't be conned into believing in it, nor can I peddle it as a con to others. I can however seek it out, speak about it, feed it wherever I find it, encourage it, if I feel brave and not as shy as most of the time, I can even initiate my own instances of it. I think we feed the dark stuff too much. Can we not feed the equally real light stuff a bit more? 

It seems to me that the problems come when we cling to the idea that all these things, these great visions of our great minds, will "save the world". When we are attached to the outcomes of our actions, rather than acting because simply, inside, we know it is the right thing to do. I know that I'm walking on shaky ground here. Dictators may well argue that inside they know what they do is the right thing. I haven't fully developed my thoughts around this, but it comes to me so often, this idea that we need to do things because they feel right inside, not because we are attached to the outcome. And when something keeps knocking at my door this much, even uninvited, I can't just dismiss it. 

So there is this attachment to the outcome of our actions, the desperate hope that using different lightbulbs, growing vegetables, creating community based structures, signing a petition, joining a political party, blowing up a dam, writing a poem - whichever of the innumerable possibilities that people see as their way, that any of this will save the world. But the world is not ours to save, as it quite possibly is not ours to completely destroy. Human hubris, not just from the proponents of the capitalist technofix order, but also from the alternative margins of any persuasion. 

Accepting that we can't save the world is also an acceptance of our own limits and of the reality of death. It is not a giving up. I said it in my last post, and I'll say it again: what I want most is to be with ever more people who are ready to question what the great beggar-visionary and writer Dambudzo Marechera called "the nature of available reality". Who will do the best they can with their particular talents, passions, heart desires. And who will bravely meet whatever is, whatever comes. In the moment, with kindness and cooperation and with thoughness as well. In the process we may even grow the patches of a better world that are already here. 

Nothing is ever fully this or that. Stony is the world, yes, and precious.

Andrew's post was inspired by the post "Stone Soup, the story" from Antonio Dias - Thank you Antonio for igniting the whole thing!
I just thought, I feel strange, only directly referencing the people whose written works I have connected with about this. Many people's ideas are woven into this too, from conversations I've been having. One who has played with these ideas with me more than anyone is @AllieKStewart - and I appreciate it!!