The Art of Relaxation

I’m pretty good at looking after my valuable stuff.

The other day I went to London and from there up to the Lake District, where I attended the first part of my Guide Training course with Way of Nature.

I stayed with Beth’s bro and his wife in London and, as usual, had a lovely time. I left their house and got the tube, paying from my change-heavy pocket.

When I went to pay for some treats at a lovely organic shop near Euston station, I couldn’t find my wallet. I ended up having to put all the goods back on the counter and walk outside to empty both my backpacks onto the footpath. I looked in every pocket twice – three times, digging my hands deeper in, in case I’d missed something. My wallet was gone.

I slowly repacked my bag feeling pretty flat but I also knew I would meet some fellow course attendees on the train who would sort me out. I called the tube people and the bank to report it and tramped on to the train. The wallet had £80 cash, my bank cards, driving licence and some Euros in it. Fortunately my train ticket was on an App.

While on the journey to the Lakes I had great conversation, food and fun and when I got there I jumped in Coniston lake to help me forget about it. While I was down there I spotted a round something out of the corner of my eye – it turned out to be a penny, from 1978. It was exactly the same colour as its surroundings which made me think it had been there a long time. It made me think of Beth as it had Elizabeth on it and Beth was born in ’78. I felt that this penny was something for me to hold on to for the weekend.

There was a great feeling of fun and camaraderie about the Guide Training. We had a day of practice and teachings and conversation on Friday which ended in us each going out into the wild hills above for a 14 hour ‘mini solo’. This meant taking our tents or whatever, with us up the hill, finding a spot, camping alone, without food, without speaking; mainly being in reflection.

We had had some practices shared with us the previous day and they could come in useful to help ground us in the situation. I wasn’t feeling so good though. As Friday progressed I was feeling not really part of it, and like these practices (Qi Gong and presence practicing) were just a load of hippy shit and not going to help me, despite really enjoying them that morning, having had that feeling of relaxation and like something good was happening for me. I found the teachings hard to relate to and judged them to be not useful for me. I’m not sure what I was looking for.

I took all the doubt about this ‘new thing’ up the hill with me on my solo. Lost like my wallet or cancelled like my bank cards, I felt a bit pissed off with my situation but also I had a bit of a knowing that I was doing the right thing for me.

I love the challenge of wild camping, being alone for long periods and, although it’s not the most comfortable situation to be in, I know there is something happening for me in those moments.

I settled down amongst the sheep droppings, heather, bilberry bushes and moss, feeling supported by the landscape and ready for a new experience. Facing east, the arc of the hill behind me advanced over the land, slowly turning the moor-like landscape to shadow. I had a nibble on the plants to see how they tasted and feel more at home. I watched, wondering about time, about how I would survive the next hours, about how slowly the sun sets when I watch the shadow move, how a minute can feel like an hour when waiting for the shadow of the hill to reach the trees. And by the time the last of the shadows had retreated along the landscape, light meeting dark, a bright orange, sun reflecting plane flew across my sky, giving me a last look at the brilliant sunset I had just witnessed. This led me to look up to the nearly full moon directly in front, beaming its presence, its apparently unmoving, solid light catching my wonder. And I had time to wonder.

I was cold and not very comfortable but that was sometimes part of the wild camp.

I looked at the shadow on the moon and wondered how, if the sun has just set, how the light and shadow on the moon stay pretty much the same all night. I imagined a much slower sunset, of the Earth on the moon, an Earthset, creating that shadow. I couldn’t figure it out but I certainly was amazed at the hugeness of it all. I had time to watch, tucked up in my sleeping bag, inside my bivvy bag, sitting on the mossy, grassy ground.

As it darkened I lay back and retreated into my bivvy. The cold began to seep in, and as the hours passed I added extra layers; socks, hoodie and eventually got my sleeping mat out as the ground beneath chilled me. My sleep was restless, going between chill and moon bother. I would wake from a pleasant slumber only to remember where I was, and the physical challenge of being there would dawn on me each time I awoke. A slight dread. I would have a quick look at the sky and the moon, by this time almost too bright to look at, was still in my face. Some hours later I woke to the shadow of the moon casting an arc, just as the sun had earlier and I felt I could finally rest.

Next time I came to, the sky in front was an azure blue with a flat belt of burnt orange pressing down on the horizon.

I opened my eyes again and the sun was fully up. I had survived. I looked at my clock. 6.45. Still 3 hours before I needed to pack up and leave. What would I do for 3 hours?!

I sat up and immediately began a half hour meditation, surrendering to the brightness of the sun and allowing it to sink into me. I don’t meditate much but this felt great, I was really drawn by the sunlight and I made a choice to be there with it and appreciate it for what it is; that amazing centre without which we simply would not be alive. I became calm and felt that this intimate time with the sun was just what I needed. Breaking out of my sleeping/bivvy bag coccoon and pulling off my socks, I stood barefoot and went into Qi Gong and other practices I had learned, trying everything out which might help relax me into the enjoyment of that moment.

And it worked.

And I was free, and in full appreciation of what was before me. This stunning day had dawned, showing me how to feel closer to myself and how to be there with it. I didn’t have to be anywhere else, I had no family expectations in that moment, I was nothing but just there. I felt a presence, a power from within. I was calm and at peace, loving being barefoot, and I really didn’t want to put my massive hiking boots back on to head back down the hill to camp. I decided to try walking without socks and boots, slowly picking my way through the soft, squelchy, boggy ground to the crackly, broken bracken and beyond. Every step was measured and it felt amazing. Then I got to the rocky path and slowly walked barefoot over that until I reached camp feeling blissful and serene. I had made peace with my resistance to what is or may be happening, through nature connection. I had let down my guard and stopped judging myself and the moment. I had finally relaxed and let go.

48 hours later I’m on a delayed train, making my way to Gatwick airport, slowly coming round to the idea that I may miss my flight back home and be ‘stranded’ in London. And I did miss my flight. And the next flight wouldn’t be until Wednesday. And I was letting all sorts of people down by not making it on time. Or was I?

Yesterday, I learned some distinctions. I learned that I am not to blame for my circumstances, although I am responsible for them. I learned that even if people feel that I am lettting them down or doing things differently to how they would, that is entirely not my problem, although I do have responsibility within that. I learned to trust circumstances, not fight them and see opportunities to be friendly and open towards people of worrying and feeling bad about losing my wallet and having to spend more on flights and trains. And I learned to accept the generosity of others without question or resistance.

That money, I now realise, was an investment. I bought myself the opportunity to deepen my acceptance of circumstances, to have a happier, lighter conection with those around me, I bought the time and space to be creative and trust that life will keep bringing me great things.

The only way I will keep evolving is if I give myself the space to do so.

Thanks for reading

The Art of Relaxation

My Trouble with The Troubles. Ireland, England and Everything in Between

Coming from Ireland I grew up with ‘The Troubles’.

Well, I kind of did.

I grew up watching reports of the violence on TV, Haughey and Thatcher, the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4. I remember feeling a great injustice at how these innocent people suffered for so long. It was all on the TV, though I was about as far away in Ireland as you could get from ‘The North’, as we called it. I grew up on the windy, rugged south west coast. I felt very removed from the Troubles but I think part of me felt guilty about what was going on; I in my country idyll, with my cushy life, watching from afar.

I came to England one week before the Manchester bombing, in 1996. Interesting timing. When I moved to Manchester that September, I wasn’t treated other than with a very welcoming attitude, with the occasional “are you from Southern Ireland or Northern Ireland?” I had never heard of Southern Ireland before that, it used to make me chuckle. “I’m from Ireland”, I would reply. And this wasn’t because I had some lofty dream of a united Ireland. To me ‘Ireland’ and ‘The North’ were two very different places. In fact, I could say that I brought disdain towards The North with me to England. I’m not sure where that came from, whether it was the culture, the news, or just something I decided upon myself, but thinking or talking about The North was never an easy thing to do.

There was a barman in the local pub I used to go to in Oldham who used to call me ‘bombchucker’, but he was always just having the craic. Someone I used to work with at Rochdale Council when I was a groundskeeper said: “Top of the morning to ya”, EVERY morning for 3 years, and I was known to him and my coworkers as Paddy McGinty. It kind of felt like he didn’t really know what to make of me and he did it to make himself feel more at ease. I was an outsider to him and the others and I was fine with that. To be completely honest, after the first few times, it didn’t bother me. I remember getting caught up in it and feeling sorry for myself once or twice but I soon got over that. I just smiled and laughed along and it wasn’t a problem. People were still nice and friendly and I felt accepted. I learned, in those days that we are the same species and we can’t help but find similarities – it’s almost impossible not to.

We were of course raised with our own version of history and oppression and in Ireland, the long battle fought and civil war and bad political decisions and Paisley and Gerry Adams – all that, and the Troubles were a confusing crescendo to all those centuries of grief – a version of history I wanted to forget about. So when the peace treaty was signed I did forget about it all.

Recently, there was a FB post going around. It was a photo of some bombed out buildings in London in 1993. There was some writing over the photo which said “This is London in 1993 after an IRA truck bomb. We didn’t ban Irish people or Catholics, we understood it was just a small group of cunts”. It was posted in relation to some other current political events. A good friend of mine posted it and that’s how I came across it.

I ignored it at first but as it kept popping up in my news feed with more ‘likes’ every time, I started to get a bit annoyed, wondering who these people were who had such a short term view of history, thinking ‘how dare they?!’ and rattling off a whole number of reasons to be upset about it. So I wrote a comment, trying to stay calm and balanced, stating what I felt, without it (I thought) coming across as bitter or coming from an angry place.

I don’t think I did a very good job, because I whatever I wrote would have come across something like “how bloody dare you, don’t you know anything about what we went through? How could 600 years of oppression be reduced to a ‘small group of cunts'”. The more I thought about it the more wrong it felt.

But…I did have an inkling that there was no malice intended, and it was meant as a simple example, but the other voice kept coming back in with the hurt and the injustice. After a while my friend even felt that he had to apologise to me and I STILL kept on with the ‘you don’t understand’ mantra, blaring in my head. I tried desperately to be ‘friendly’ and understanding, but my hurt was calling the shots and I didn’t know how to stop it.

Then, something unexpected happened. Someone else piped up on the thread. She wrote about how she had felt the same emotional trigger I did when she saw the photo and talked about how old wounds can take a long time to heal and how it probably wasn’t meant to be taken like that. I suddenly stopped.

She, I knew was from Northern Ireland, and in that moment I felt a hand reach out to me. I immediately took that hand and it was like I had woken up from a weird dream; the kind of dream that feels uncomfortable when you’re in it and relieved when it’s over. Something powerful happened in that snippet of time, and with her support, I was able to gain immediate perspective. I imagined what she’d been through and how strong she was to step in, in that moment. I don’t think anyone else, from anywhere else could have made that happen at that particular time.

I felt my hurt in a way I never had before. I was surprised and puzzled, then accepted it as mine.

Today, I came to understand myself a bit better. I never was aware that I carried bitterness, guilt and hurt around with me as part of my identity, but there it was, just under the surface. Today, I remembered the Bombchucker and the Paddy McGinty and then the disdain, mistrust, bitterness and grief I took on whilst growing up. And when I saw it, I realised the depth to which those feelings ran and how they may influence decisions I make in my every day.

Now I see it, I can see how I hold myself back from trusting and respecting people, and all of this, only 10 days before I leave this country I have spent more than half my life in. It’s not every day I have that kind of realisation.

All it took was some friends to help me see it.

Time to let it go. Feel the grief and let it go…

Thank you England

My Trouble with The Troubles. Ireland, England and Everything in Between

Trainspotting 2 (spun off)

I take my cues from my youth. The rambling ideas of place and time and age.

Trainspotting 2 was all about what happened 20 years ago, some nostalgia, some indifference. An interesting look at both.

There were 2 other people in the cinema. One of them happened to be a next door neighbour from 10 years ago who I hadn’t seen since we left almost 9 years ago.

As the film ended, I was gripped by a sense of nostalgia, which rose up. Was that because I am now old enough to have such vivid nostalgia that it happened?! In any case when I put the 20 years I had been in the UK together with the 20 years since the first ‘Trainspotting’, along with almost a decade since I saw our old neighbour I got into some kind of nostalgia coma.

As I used to see myself, within the tangle of thoughts pertaining to place, I felt proud. I felt happy that to be part of ‘that’, whatever ‘that’ is. The idea that, 20 years ago, as a young guy, watching that film, feeling the awe and disgust and knowing that this kind of world existed and that people went about their lives in such a way, was something I had no idea about, growing up in a rural place.

When I came to know Britain better, with her deep, complex cultural nuances and prides and unmentionables, I felt I belonged.

Growing up in Ireland I saw division. North and South, Ireland and England, Kerry and the rest of Ireland. Lispole from Dingle, from the Gaeltacht. Then one family from another, then people within families from each other. Then me. Tortured, awkward me. Divided.

Trainspotting helped me see that which unites also divides. Now that I’m more aware of the sectarian state of Scotland and further, the separateness of three countries stuck together on one island, three cultures not quite able to really get along, and Ireland next door, still divided and angry and suffering and feeling the hurt.

I always wanted to belong and I didn’t realise, as a child, that we are all doing our own thing. I fought a personal ‘war against the world’, where I stood my ground and attached myself to what felt familiar and ‘true’. I always wanted to change the world. But I also wanted desperately to belong, and feel accepted and loved for everything I was and was not. I wanted things to be different. I was dissatisfied and unhappy and thought that the world was to blame. I thought my environment made me unhappy.

Sometimes a change of scene is needed to gain perspective.

This morning I heard the blackbird and the robin at dawn, almost in competition with each other. I pondered the relationship between them what makes them friends or enemies, or indifferent. Their relationship to place, as territorial as ours. Then a crow, caws its way around, telling me it has this place as its domain. Each bird knows its place and generally will not mess with another species. It’s down to size and physical power, but something else as well. Their worlds collide but they generally just get on with it and let the other be.

It took me a long time to learn that I am responsible for my own happiness and I can’t try to influence the happiness of another. A real game changer for me. I came to this realisation late, after decades of self pity and blame, of nostalgia for a time when things may have been ok for me. I fought with the world and found no peace. I distrusted and felt betrayed. I judged and assumed and felt judged.

And I blamed. Religion, capitalism, advertising (I hated advertising with a passion from a young age), science, nature, gods, devils, films, music, food, health, pollution, war; everything that gave me a reason to be different from others. Endless reasons.

Each one of us is a complex of values and beliefs, a potential landfill site for generations of rubbish tipped. We inherit the site, keep dumping more rubbish on top until we have forgotten about the living soil that lies underneath. Down the line somebody takes on sifting through the shit and and endless number of layers appears underneath. It could take generations to get through!

Feeling nostalgic at that film helped me see the folly of nostalgia, the idea which states that which was, is somehow better than what now is. That my beliefs somehow separate me from others rather than unite me. Youth is better that age. “Those were the days” and such similar bullshit. it’s a fucking trap which leads to deeper traps within the landfill-mire which often houses my thoughts.

And in the same moment I can also say that this is what makes us beautiful. I guess if it didn’t we probably wouldn’t survive. Our diversity of opinion, action and belief and our ability to communicate all of these things. Our ability to argue and see others’ points of view. And our ability to drop everything and get on with it together when something more important turns up.

And I’m happy with that contradiction, I’m happy to be proven wrong for my beliefs because, ultimately, there is no right and wrong; we’re just making it up as we go along.

I remember many years ago when I lived with my uncle, a roman catholic priest, for three years and we would have deep discussions about our relationship with life and with the world. I was always chasing ‘the answer’, and he would point out to me that there was no ‘answer’, that we’re in this mess together and it’s about love.

When I now look at myself as a child I can see the ‘landfill’ my culture was built upon and wonder what brought that about. That division and lack of empathy, that wringing out of human values and  connection in pursuit of survival through making money, perhaps. That ‘enslavement’ of peasants, which suppressed the human spirit; ‘every man for himself’. Every western culture, and possibly every human culture has its own version of that story.  That little boy who saw beauty and desperately wanted to share that and be open, ended up dejected and disappointed.

But that beauty is always there. The man I now am just needs to reconnect with it.

The world will never be the same. There is no place for nostalgia.

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Trainspotting 2 (spun off)

Fox Earth

On a day out with my daughter and dog.

I, the reluctant one, head full of things to do. We’re leaving town for good soon so it all needs to be done right. The packing, the painting, the ridding ourselves of stuff. It’s a big deal. It could be the best thing that ever happened to us. I can say for sure that already we have changed just through shedding layers of yearsworth of possessions. The word ‘possession’ has a more menacing ring to it right now. Also, the distinction between possessing and owning is more clear. I have many things which are not mine yet I’ve held on to them. Books, films, music, a projector, a drum key, even cutlery; things which ‘turn up’ in the house, their origin forgotten. A good deal of the stuff isn’t even mine. Am I possessed by possessing?

In the crackly silver birch copse we gather moss to add as a carpet to the ‘house’ we build. My daughter, taking time to ensure we work as a team. I’m mourning the death of the moss due to relocation, feeling for its roots, torn roughly from the earth in great, clumpy four year old’s handfuls. I wander off, still not really present with or enjoying the task, eyes on the floor, looking for something.

I see a  bottle, pick it up and it reads ‘Levenshulme’. A rush of excitement travels through me because that is the suburb where I live and this bottle looks old. ‘Dobsons Dairies’ reads the rest. The bottle is completely intact. I’m about 5 miles from Levenshulme, enjoying this little coincidence. Projecting into the future, in a little Italian house, I imagine myself putting a flower in the Levenshulme milk bottle on the kitchen windowsill. The significance is palpable and immediately I’m attracted away by a low mound with some broken, mossy willow trees growing on top. I place the bottle next to a tree and wander over.

Instantly my eye is caught by a heart, hanging on the tree. It is made of steel and gives me the feeling of a post industrial wasteland, and I wonder whether the bones of some former factory lie under my feet, the thin, mossy soil concealing toxic flavours and appearance. I see the branch is colonised by a beautiful lichen, its light grey twiggy tendrils emerging throughout the branch, breathing more life into its system, it feels. This again gives me hope and I fall in love with this scene, the combination of steely, rusty rubbish and plants.

My daughter calls me, bringing me back to my senses and she quickly takes over my lead and we head in through fallen willow limbs with wintry shoots heading skyward. The going gets low as she squeezes herself through small gaps and I crawl after. When I catch up I see her looking into a hole in the ground. An earth. And in use, judging by the trodden looking entrance. I tell her not to get too close and we move further through the trees. I imagined the scene in summer, all overgrown and brambled and impassable. But here we were in winter’s heart, braver than normal in the dead and flattened foliage.

She wanders off again and I follow a different track, finding another and another and yet another fox hole. My feeling is a mixture of elation and fear, fascinated and unsure what might happen if I take a wrong step. I spot the wet leaves around the rim of one hole quickly turning to dry, and comfortable looking leaves further in taking me down the hole into a family of foxes curled up together, one eye open due to a stomping stranger. I feel like the intruder I am and leave the area, fascinated by what was happening there, senses heightened and feeling privileged for having stumbled into the heart of a fox village. The dog is indifferent.

My little one, the expedition leader, tries climbing a massive, fat willow, chunky branches reaching out in all directions, trunk twisted and gnarled from the effort and weight of its limbs. It is a beautiful tree which has to be climbed. We find plenty footholds in its heavily valleyed bark lines. The tree is bleeding. We watch, fascinated as we find drops of bloody sap formed on the bark of the tree in a few places. It is even the same consistency as blood. We talk about the blood and she said we need to pull some of the bark off the tree because it doesn’t hurt and that’s how we can show love to the tree. I’m captivated by this and follow her lead, gently peeling some of the excess bark away.

We climb some more and start to head back towards the water park. She insists she doesn’t want to go but in my need to keep going and do things I convince her that we ‘have to’. I pick up my bottle on the way back and feel like it opened the door to magic for me. The dog is happy to be on the move again. I reflect on the process of connection with the moment and what it takes for me to ‘lose my mind’ and go to a place where I am no longer a person, just an experiencer. It’s almost like an alternative reality, more vivid, more unreal, full of signposts, clues and coded messages.

The next day I’m out running in Levenshulme and coming through Highfield park I hear a rustle in the bushes. I stop and a spot beautiful fox running nervously through the bushes, looking straight ahead, knowing there are eyes on him. Three seconds and he’s gone. This is the first fox I have seen in Highfield, after living there four years, and countless dog walks, runs and tree climbings with my daughter, later. Straight away I am in that feeling again. The wild connection, the mycelium of earthy coincidence which links both place and moments in time; an underground force not understood. Elation followed, and floating with the crows, I follow them, running, watching them bicker on the wing in their little groups, their raw nature cold and apparent. I imagine being in their body with my feelings and a shockwave shakes me when I feel how inhuman they are. Funny.

Migrating feels like a rite of passage. I did it once before when I left home but now I do it with my own family. My little girl’s ‘house building’ and maintenance in the park, the fox dens and the Levenshulme bottle all swirl together in the typhoon of the imagination, waiting for a story to tell them. Just like we all are.

 

 

 

 

 

Fox Earth

A day laid bare

This time of year is very special.

The dog has diarrhoea and we’re cutting down her food so as not to feed the illness. The more we feed her when her stomach’s bad, the more prolific the runs. So she’s hungry when we take her out for a walk and mid winter allows her to forage more then usual.

When you walk the same place most days you notice things. In spring you see the first shoots, blackthorn bud about to pop and the bluebell leaves together push with a gentle, unstoppable force. Everything grows like mad until summer as if all plants were planning a rebellion against gravity, only stopped by their flowering, when they literally ‘give up’ their seed.

After this everything falls again and recedes. Dies and rots. Changes form. Slowly, slowly dropping back towards the earth as if reluctant, and the earth eventually swallows it up, absorbs it, like the venus fly trap does with its prey.

When the growth dies back to nothing, the bare ground is exposed and this is where the diarrhoea’d dog lucks out. Her senses heightened with hunger, she sniffs out any rotting remnant she can get her jaws near and before she knows it she’s being dragged away by the collar and scorned, because for us, this is the last thing she should be doing, in fact this is probably how she got ill in the first place.

I walk the paths most days and see the decline of life. Week by week, narrow, grassy track turns to wider path, which turns to mud, then widens further, pools with water and is eventually avoided altogether. My hunter gatherer eyes, my ‘old eyes’ are drawn to any little piece of green which appears brighter than the rest on that barren, winter land, as it may carry more vital goodness for my body. I am aware that everything is now exposed, and couldn’t be much more so. Gravity feels more heavy.

The mind also recedes. As if in reflection of the world around me, there’s a realisation of the starkness of things and I admit to struggling with normally simply tackled situations. When I think of the vitality I was showing in summer, strong and well in the sunshine, brimming with energy and ideas, I get a little melancholy. In these bare days I cannot hide from how exposed I feel, post festive celebrations, beyond autumn’s fire. The ground is now lumpy, things forgotten about are seen again and the debris, so well hidden in the thick summer grass is once again looking me in the eye. I sometimes walk the muddy path and get stuck, but that was how it was meant to be.

So I decide to talk. I have to share what comes up because otherwise I make an enemy of the world. I proceed to dig out the ‘shit’ which surrounds me and find a better place for it. My landscape becomes frightening as I look at things I’ve buried years ago but I know by doing this I’ll have a better spring and summer and by next winter my idea of the ground will be a little less fear filled than it previously had been. I’m getting better at this as the years go by.

As for the dog, she’ll be looked after just as I am. She doesn’t always know what’s best for her but she trusts.

Connect with other people if you’re feeling low. Let the winter’s natural process work its way through you. Tune into nature and it will help guide you.

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A day laid bare

A Walk in the Park

I woke up to shootings. First day in America and a mass shooting. I wondered if it happened every day. Fortunately it was no nearer to me than on the hotel TV but it definitely gave the day a hue.

Walking towards the memorials I felt I didn’t want to go, like my sister was making me see this against my will. I didn’t need to observe the ritual memorialising of the biggest mistakes of the most messed up nation on earth, which pontificates freedom for all but in such a blinkered way.
That’s one way of looking at it I s’pose.

When we went out for a run before breakfast, my sister and I were chatting about the day ahead, I expressed nervousness and how I felt a bit sick about it and she replied that it might do me good. “Imagine the number of people who stop themselves from going using that thinking”. It was time to learn a bit, I decided.

We got a bit lost on our way there but once the streets gave way to trees and grass we knew it couldn’t be far. It was, of course surreal, seeing it all for the first time.
First, Vietnam and the women who fought. Then, that sad wall of names, as if carved out of a pure black solid earth. Was it intentionally uninviting? We didn’t go closer. Then on to Lincoln, looking out over the reflecting pool through grand Grecian columns sat on white marble steps.
What was it all about?
I sat on the steps and contemplated “saved the union”, coupled with “the great emancipator” and wondered cynically who or what became enslaved as a result. My grasp on history has always been weak so I decided to just go on gut feeling, as confusing history with its ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ never tells a true story to me.

Feeling my way down the grand marble steps toward the Korean War memorial, I enjoyed the trees, water and smiling people. Then again, straight into the depths as we observed the dismal trudge of haggard soldiers where the meaning of freedom simply seemed to still be stuck. “Freedom is Not Free”, carved into a wall. Another message about the bravery of soldiers fighting in a country they didn’t know to protect the freedom of people they would never meet. This was the hardest part to take in. How were we so far removed from the idea of freedom? The irony of freedom being something outside of ourselves, which we have to fight and kill for and that it is for some but not others. I felt strongly that whoever erects these memorials believes that freedom is about walking around in a protected space within a prison of ideals and beliefs. The idea that war is an essential human characteristic in order for freedom to happen felt so wrong.

“Freedom is Not Free” became a bit of a theme of the rest of the trip for us as we were frisked going into museums, heard the shouts of police as they ushered people around during an event, disrespectfully ordering them to “Get to the other side of the street!” The people hurriedly ran away, half afraid. The general authoritarian, rule-bound infrastructure gives off an air of distrust of its own citizens. It was difficult not to feel cynical about this place and people.
So how could I look at it differently? How could I walk through this place learning only that we never learn? Where did I fit in to all of this? An outsider, slagging it all off from my high horse. It’s so easy to do. Where was my role, the part of me that was afraid to go there that morning? What could I really take home?

The Martin Luther King memorial was such a relief. The quotes gave such a sense of vision, poetry, depth and humanity. It really suited us and was such a relief from the war and death; a celebration of freedom, love and passion, all stemming from the most horrible oppression. Not a war but a celebration of the human spirit pushed to believe in a great change. Such a different standpoint from war. A movement. A shift of belief. It was so not possible for me to have a problem with non-violence and hope and love. This was the most powerful message. So sad it was crushed.

Around the basin the helicopters’ bass heavy exhausts fill my consciousness and I think of war. I imagine what it takes to keep control of trade, to push your way into power and what it takes to stay there. I feel like we tell a confused story which asks us to learn and change yet ironically can’t let go of power and war and violence in order to achieve it. The request of the end of war that all these memorials ask feels like an impossible vision.
At what point will ‘freedom’ itself be waged war upon? It’s only a matter of time, I thought.

I don’t wish to misrepresent America, though. I feel like we’re all messed up, America is just more shouty about it. Like the spoiled, extraverted, needy teenager of the world, stuck in a negative thought pattern. A polarised population, a love hate battle. So much potential for positive change. That’s what the memorials walk was for me.

It is my responsibility to help spread love, non-violence and to believe we can change. That part is a no-brainer. Anything else just would not be enough.

Freedom is Not Yet Free.

A Walk in the Park

mind you

noticings

There is a body on the beach

Follows in my footsteps

I run from it salty hiss

whispers lure me to sit

stumbling at its lip

Oh to taste that salty spit

and let it take me

to be fluid within its kiss.

I stare into its open swell

perfect and repetitive.

Like breath it does not think

but is thought.

As it locks minds with mine, I’m

deep within its deep

The part of me that reveals,

is the sea

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mind you