Sunday, 17 January 2016

WK 48 2015 – WK 3 // 2016




I’ve heard it said that sometimes a piece of writing is too prickly to wrap your tongue around so you end up procrastinating yourself mental rather than figuring out how to pen it.

I’ve been grappling with this for some time, I wanted to post it whilst I was still retreating, but I couldn’t get it writ write so I brought it back to wrestle with on my London sofa, wearing slippers, sipping wild berry tea in the half-light.

Every year I take an annual retreat to my parent’s home, “home-home”, in Botswana. I feel very blessed to have this second footing.

A pilgrimage home is never all-bright, not least when there’s a sense of time turning towards the end. Let me not sway this too maudlin, my parents are full of beans, buzzing with fitness, imagination, wisdom and story; but they are also getting old and life for them, and me, and us, has not turned out the way we once thought it would. 

There are so many blessings to count, so many remarkable things to bow in gratitude for and to marvel in awe at. And there is also work to be done here, hard work, leaning into lost relationships, coming to terms with the fragile foundations our migrant paths have laid, getting back to grips with being a family that has charted very different journeys as scattered seed across the globe and whilst we share a mother tongue, our languages are often different now.

Touched by the beauty of my parents graceful aging, punctuated with glimpses of suffering, set in a ramshackle home, on the outskirts of Gaborone, I began to pen journal-esque notes to share with my facebook “friends”.

From time to time I ruminated on this decision, but still, it seems like my parents live's and my window-in is worth narrating in a tiny online-offline memoir. Whilst I lean towards over sharing I try to catch myself and pay them all the respect due, scattering some of their wonderfulness into the wind, hoping it may seed some joy or wisdom, to someone who needs it and to everyone who reads it.

Here follows an edit of some of my journaling alongside some teachings and practices I worked with as I came home again.

Dad, "your tea is getting cold my dear"
Mom, "at least something is getting cold"

It's a baking summer set in the context of a two year drought. The coolest day was the day I left to come back to London, 27C, most days were over 35C peaking at 43C.

#MLNW
I set out on this year’s Botswana retreat wanting to write a New Year missive to share with my tribe; acquaintances, family, friends, colleagues and clients, something boundaried enough to bridge these clusters. I'm not sure this hits that last remark, but here it is anyway, may you find your peace with the bits that land crookedly.

I began to embroider the essence of what I thought my missive should be about: Make Love Not War. This mantra fueled by my leaving London amidst the News churn of terror and a sense of the impact this was having on my close-to-home world.

At this point not knowing I would land in Botswana to a war of sorts as my father installed a huge water storage tank so that the house could be watered uninterrupted, whilst my mother held her head in her hands questioning, "what is the point of using more water when there is none to have. If we use more someone, somewhere is losing out." As it turned out we didn't use (much) more, we just had water on tap continuously, which for my folks must have been a peculiar and nice change after more than a year of water outages several days a week.


*******************



I took this photo of death in the drought off of my new year blessing because it seemed too (predictably Barbra) dark. But truth be told there is always a dark underbelly to the story. It would be fair to say that the universe dealt me, what would be called a big handful of 'practice' in the last days of the year. Practice - (hard) stuff to work with skilfully, to engender growth, progress, resolution, opening.... not the opposite. I got through, not all skilfully, but I/we got through.

In the background of this beautiful holiday, full with practice, is the harshness of a long drought my folks, and all the blessed beans in this land, are living through.

My parents are nearly 79 and are remarkable beyond words in so many ways, given this truth. The mango tree and all the other things they have managed to keep alive amidst the searing heat and windy dust bowl have been watered all year ... and into the year before that... by grey water they have carried in buckets from a home made contraption that collects the water that runs out of the washing machine.

Beyond the inevitable 'difficulty' that characterises families, not least this one that is scattered wide and runs wild - they give me hope. They remind me of the spirit of resilience and bring to life a mantra I hold so very close to my heart and repeat often:

Let everything happen, beauty and terror, just keep going, no feeling is final. 
-Rilke

May you be resilient and find a lot of hope for bright days beyond the badlands.

*******************

I finished the stitches, but the message felt wrong by then. It’s a good message nonetheless and a big part of me is hoping that in 2016 we’re heading to towards a neo-post-hippy-revival and are all going to grow our hair  long, wear tie dye and hug a lot, or something metaphorically close. 



PRACTICE ONE:
EVERYTHING IS IMPERMANENT
Getting to grips with this is on the one hand liberating, on the other, terrifying. 

Coming “home-home” helped me to realise that impermanence isn’t broken, it’s the passing of time, inevitable change, cause and effect, the gentle passage of things… into silence. 

You can’t fix impermanence, you have to let it take its toll, turn its pages, fade into the dust and wait for a new chapter to rise. 

There are times, in my parent’s ramshackle home, that I am so thick with the urge to fix everything, build it back up, buy it new, stick it back together, sticky plaster it, ring comedic banter into the broken rafters till they stand back to attention – and I feel this is absolutely most important, the right thing to do. 

Then there are the glimpses of calm when my breath catches up with itself, the fear subsides and I realise, this just is the way things are, growing thread bare in the dust. 

Nothing is broken, it’s just passing,… and I need to find a way to let it pass with less resistance or fear or needing to fix it. 

This is very hard indeed.


*******************

Me: "Does the microwave work?"
Mum: "No it's a cupboard and a shelf now."
Thoughtful pause. "Rats don't know how to open microwaves."
After lunch:

Christopher: "I've put the bread in the bread bin"

Mum: "Where's the bread bin?"

Chris: "In the microwave."

Dad, harvesting the best mangoes in the world before the birds get them all...





PRACTICE TWO:
STOP STRENGTHENING THE HABIT
My father is beautiful, stubborn, passionate and wild. He’s easy to admire and equally easy to get annoyed with. I get annoyed with him, triggered by his unskillfulness, which is met by mine. It hurts me and I imagine it hurts him too.

Somewhere in the early days of me reacting too strongly and him triggering me at every take, I turned to Pema Chodron, my sage teacher. I ran away to my room and curled in a ball, headphones bunged in, eyes closed to listen, searching for a better way.

One phrase was enough, “stop strengthening the habit”. Let go of repeating the thing that is fueling the suffering.

Importantly, do this gently, with a kind hand to yourself, with a kind hand to the other. 

Soften the habit.

On reflection, I realise this could apply to almost everything I think or do.

I set out with this in mind, I kept resisting the urge to react. I tried. Sometimes I relapsed, but I tried and we moved on shonkily and found a different gait. (shonky is a word I have appropriated from clever friends – it’s the splice of shit and wonky and as you will see, it makes perfect sense and has many uses) 

Having met this teaching head on I started to percolate it into my wider surroundings, this place ingrained with habit and prejudice. It skewers me in the heart. I wish I could seed this mantra into the locked patterns of people perpetuating harmful scripts. I wish I could blow this blessing through the morning breeze and call for change, “stop strengthening the habit”. But I also know, my work is my work, everyone else’s is theirs.

If I do my work, change will follow, if it’s meant to be. It made me want to work very hard indeed.


*******************

A conversation I've heard all my life, as funny as it is distressing!:
Mom: Deano act like a gourmet not a glutton, enjoy it because of how nice it is not because of how much you want. 
Dad: It's so nice I want more.

My father is remarkably innovative, he fixes things unstoppably. I've said it before, here it is again, my parents were sustainable before sustainability was invented. 




PRACTICE THREE:
VULNERABILITY WILL BREAK YOU, OPEN
It will also make you the most beautiful person in the world and the longer you learn to stay okay in vulnerable, the stronger you will become. Aging makes you vulnerable and I can but imagine how hard it must be to lose your youthful radiance and power to the twines of age.

I witness such grace in my parents transitioning, alongside subtle terror at the loss of ‘before’.

It is beautiful and sad and makes me feel cast wide open like a mine-field of feeling, trying to respond with the right gesture that lands well, not patronisingly. Sometimes I fail terribly and wish I could play the hand again, but the move is cast and the reminder of change nailed in time.


*******************

Lady who packs bags at the till in my parents local supermarket, Choppies:
Why did you go and live far away and leave your old mother on her own? (short pause) She told me how to cook brinjal.




PRACTICE FOUR:

KINDNESS WINS OUT
People forget this when they’re scared or hurt or angry or mad or vulnerable in the wrong circumstances, or when all of these are liquidised together, into a seething mulch with a frown and sharp tongue.

Remembering the power of kindness when I’ve forgotten is a skill I aim to master before I’m 94.


*******************

Tiny snippet of conversation with lovely man who walked me down the path in the dark, protecting me from spitting Cobra and rogue buffalo, his name is Agreement:
Me: "Have you got brothers and sisters?"
Agreement: "Yes, two"
Me: "What are their names?"

Agreement: "Mary and Samuel"

Unspoken: sheesh, short straw.

Agreement: my parents have passed, and they are working in sun city... I am left alone.
I had an agreement with Agreement that I would like him to walk me in the dark and protect me from bad creatures. He showed me a baboon spider the size of my head and a black tail scorpion.

You will notice, I survived.

The people at Thakadu touched me so much, I basically wanted to cry and tell them all I loved them. (Without being drunk.)
Betty: "Can I ask you a personal question?"
Me: "Yup" (wondering what was coming)
Betty: "Are you people born again."
Me: Nope. Not at all really. I don't think so. Why do you ask?
Betty: You are very humble.

Sheesh. Blessings Betty.




PRACTICE FIVE:
SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT YOU'RE NOT GOING TO GET YOUR WAY
Ever. Not on this thing at least.


*******************

I think that what I'm getting at is that expectation and anticipation and preparedness are all just wasted energy... That whole thing of being a kid and having this fantasy about what it's like to be a growed up is all nonsense. It would be so much better to just be a kid, then be a dysfunctional teenage, then mess around through your twenties, then try to settle down in your thirties, then have a midlife crisis in your forties ... without having expected, anticipated or prepared for anything (else). Maybe then your lot would feel satisfying.

My precious Ma & Pa putting in new bird waterers in their drought dry garden...
"Dad, we need to put an island in here, it's too deep and all the cousins will drown."


Me: shouldn't I move the Isuzu?
Mum: well I think so but dad says it's ok
Me: are we trying to make a bomb with it?
Mum: it would seem so...




PRACTICE SIX:
KNOW WHEN TO LET GO
At the same time, recognise that some people will never know when or how to let go. Then let go of wishing they would.


*******************

Victoria has worked for my folks for 25 years. I care hugely about her. I'm very proud of the life she has made for herself and how many people she supports with very little
Her son recently became a policeman after a hard year training. I had a chat with him about crime over Christmas in the village he is posted in. He said it wasn't bad - just lots of drunk people fighting and people stealing river sand. 
Today I asked Victoria if he gets scared.
"Only when people hang themselves. Because the other people are not allowed to touch them. The police have to come and cut them down. Then he can't sleep at night and leaves the light on."
I'm really proud of this brave man that charted a course with so little.
Buddha bless these bright souls. 



*******************

By the time I have to leave this place called ‘home-home’ I’m not looking at it through my wired London eyes anymore. I’ve ridden the waves of bliss and difficulty with my blood-knotted parental unit. I’ve smoothed some of the bumps, some to my weird standard, some to their weird standard and let go of some of the projects I had intended. I have accepted instead that to them they’re not projects that need doing, for now at least I’m out of control, in a good way.

I’ve laughed from my belly, more times than I’ve laughed all year. I’ve felt whole and supported and real and more at home than I will feel until I return. I’ve found a sway and gait I don’t criticise and settled into the burning hot days like they were meant to be. I’ve felt Momma’s hand hold, like the day I was born, still there forever. I’ve come home, home.

In the cool hours of the morning before the birds and sun have risen, I stand at my parents bedroom door and witness their precious sleeping breath carrying them along, just as it will through all their waking hours, until the end.

I lie in bed listening to a neighbourhood radio breathing Marimba music like heart-beat into the still, morning air. It’s cool after a rain shower in the night. The Doves coo, the Barbet shrills, the Go-Away birds shout, “GO AWAY”, and in my mind I nod and tear.

This place is rough at the edges and sore in the middle, decorated with abundance of spirit and fiery resilience, accents of humour and the precious evidence of time passing on.

It is the most beautiful place in the world, because it feels complete but far from perfect.

It is a powerful art installation nobody set out to create.

It is the most poignant reminder of life I will ever be channeled.


*******************

May you be happy and know the causes of happiness
May you be well
May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
May you make progress

May the merit gained, in my acting thus go towards the alleviation of suffering of all beings and to peace.

Blessings to you all 
for the year ahead
and always

Oodles of love, Barbra x



*******************

Addendum:
I had a glass of wine and three pieces of Sushi at the cafe in Johannesburg airport in transit to London. It was busy and the waiters were buzzing around like wild flies, serving us with our money that is bigger than theirs, trying to grab a last little bit of African magical juju, with our longing smiles, comfortable shoes and compulsory item of African beady jewellery.

I asked the waiter, "tell me something about you that is interesting that you don't tell everyone."
First he told me he liked people.
Then he told me he liked travelling 
Then he told me had travelled around the world - he is from Soweto and had gone to study in Durban where he got a job as a waiter on a cruise ship and hence had been, around the world.
Then he told me he had a dream to do a project this year. He's written it in an email copied below.

Bless him, if I win the lottery, he's getting a cut to climb Kilimanjaro with his recruits. If anyone of you would like to kickstart his project, please get in touch and I will share his details.


Hello Mrs/Miss Barbra Wright it me the guy you met yesterday at the airport in a restaurant called J you gave me your card because you wanted to here about my dream which i thank god that he planted it in my mind and i also met you before it  was too late.                                                                                  



My name is Nkululeko Khumbulani Ndimande both my names have a special meaning to me and the world because when both are translated their meaning is (Remember, Freedom) from South Africa who was born in Durban 1988 August 7

Barbra my dream this year was to make people forget what has happened in past in their lives i wanted to help organise a campaign to mountain killimanjaro where we were going to let go off all the troubles hunting us that makes us not to be able to move n life it could be hatred,anger,disappointments, from anything in life that made us not be able to move forward and reach our goals.

    
On our way to the mountain we would be speaking to our inner demons saying enough is enough we want to be free and we want all the ( Sweet Things of 2016 ) and then when we reach the top of the mountain we scream  all out the troubles and problems we experienced all in the past years because 2016 (our 20 sweet things) is the year of rest the year of blessings. So i felt there is a need for this campaign because we here on earth for reason by GOD.

So i would like to pledge all the people out there to make this dream come alive because i believe on it like Dr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela did believe that we are all equal and we can also live with one another without killing each other and also Martin Luther King jr had a dream that all God told me.

Barbra that all i had in my mind and i hope that we going to say # letting go and doing it right because we want all the sweet things of 2016 that is my little thank you hope God can make us meet one day because my my mind is full of ideas that needs to be expressed and adressed to the world.



And finally, whilst peculiar and crazy, it is an observation of mine that tickles and disturbs people: WHEREVER you go in the world, you will find ear buds in unusual public places. Now that I've told you, despite it being peculiar and crazy, you'll start to see them, everywhere. The first in Botswana outback, the second only meters from my front gate in Londonium. Strange but true.








Two cheetahs, post impala: