Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Trip

Trip, n(1):
3. A short voyage or journey; a ‘run’. Apparently originally a sailor’s term, but very soon extended to a journey on land.
5. slang (orig. U.S.) a. A hallucinatory experience induced by a drug, esp. LSD.
In my last I recalled three authors who pursued the Zen form of enlightenment and tried to present it to the “Western mind”. Dr. Suzuki wrote as a scholar; Hubert Benoit went further and attempted a series of self-help books to complement his own psychotherapeutic practice; Terence Gray—former Egyptologist, theatre director and successful racehorse owner—was inspired by Benoit to write his own Zennish self-help books (such as Fingers Pointing Towards the Moon) under the pseudonym of Wei Wu Wei.

I’ve learned that following others isn’t my way. Nor do I blaze a trail for others to follow. My route is a zig-zag of trial and error. I’ll do my own thing & speak of it, as the moment dictates; and the best way I’ve found is to go off on foot with no defined purpose. There I may haply kiss the joy as it flies; try and bottle some of its essence into a digital voice recorder; trip on fresh air and see what happens.

Into the Precinct
precinct, n: 1. a.: The area within the boundaries (real or imaginary) of a particular place or building; the interior; the grounds; esp. the (consecrated) ground immediately surrounding a religious house or place of worship. [OED]
My nearest consecrated ground seems to be around the traffic-lights, where the West Vale Road is intersected by Ledborough Avenue to the south and The Pastures to the north. As I entered that precinct I reflected that I must travel light, leaving baggage behind. What is baggage? An overstuffed intellect. What do I need on my pilgrimage? The answer comes readily: just enough to know what to do, moment to moment.

Same thought, same place, as nine years ago, in a post called “Knowing”. I can’t explain the coincidence. As for the thought itself, I think it arises from awareness of how hard it is to be a human being. We’re not born with fur coats like other animals. We can’t go hunting and gathering for food like our first ancestors. We lack a full set of instincts to guide us through life. We’re driven to construct a more and more complex environment, with ever more rules and artificiality. We are readily persuaded that we require more and more intellectual baggage. I know I have too much.

I end up hampered by the debris of all my yesterdays; defaced by their scars, scabs and suppurations. Outstanding debts and misdeeds will hang heavy on our steps. I’ve taken a damp sponge to wipe the chalk-board clean. Let me be a gardener, weeding useless habits from the garden of my selfhood. All I need is to know how to live my ordinary life; leaving spaces to slip through . . .

. . . Into the Zone
zone n: (orig. U.S. Sport). A state of perfect concentration leading to optimum mental or physical performance. Chiefly with the, esp. in in the zone.
I dictate these words while out walking, letting my feet choose an old route, one I know from way back. See for example “Waiting”. I take footpaths whenever I can—this one beside the railway station right now—with no plan but to keep on going, do what the occasion demands.

Rain is forecast any time now. Cloud-patterns are changing minute by minute. They’re heaped-up and layered. Behind the ones in front are others catching the sunlight. The nearest ones a blurry grey, the far ones delicately shaped.

I know this route so well, the main one and all its little variations. All I need do is walk and obey the momentary impulse, noting the possibilities and little signposts. I know when I’ve entered the Zone (a mystical variation of the OED’s definition above); for now I have to cross the road, with its traffic coming from various directions, and it’s an effort to drop out into the mundane world of physical hazard, to keep my wits about me, to know what to do (just as at the Precinct, whose traffic-lights may be hazardous for a pedestrian). As soon as I revert to peaceful byways with little traffic, I can let conscious mind lie fallow to every impression that comes along.
Fallow adj. 2.
b. Uncultivated
c. Fit for tillage; ploughed ready for sowing (obs.)
Passing an abundance of spring weeds I’m transported once again to the time I lived in Holland for a few months, aged five. I used to go on my own to school, wide-eyed, noticing everything, encountering new things every day. So when I’m in this special state and see some human or seasonal manifestation, or detect a certain scent, I’m open to remembering my first encounter with it; and always surprised when it takes me to that brief period in Holland.

I was living with my “aunt”, who spoke good English, as most educated Dutch people do. But at first, when I was out on my own, I lacked language. I’ve recently taken to watching Dutch films on DVD, using the English subtitles but letting the lilt of the language & recognized words remind me. And it’s just as it was in my first days there, and all of my visits since: a hinterland, outside the flock looking in. But in school I learned Dutch rapidly, and forgot it as rapidly when my first Netherlandish sojourn came to its abrupt end.

This Valley Path lends the wayfarer a power of transportation to times past or never-existent. I’ve reached the two shallow ponds where numerous springs lift their eddies above the surface and spread ripples. The new houses no longer look like intruders, but add a dignity, like a silent audience to Nature’s phenomenon.

When this public footpath was closed for the several years of building work, I pined anxiously, for I see the network of paths as the backbone of England, sacrosanct for as long as common law reigns. And when that law is swept away by some catastrophe which takes the hi-tech infrastructure with it, these paths may be all we have left, as the Stone Age faithfully resumes from where it was interrupted.

Now is mayflower time on the hawthorn trees. Now is time to be in the groove and follow this path, the one I’ve chosen; or which has chosen me. Hearts lift up, birds sing, feet’s rhythm is steady, God’s in his heaven.

On the grass verge separating path from stream, three mallard drakes in file follow a she-duck, who separates from them, stands in front of me, mutely, while the drakes shift idly at some distance away. She has a limp. She’s in my path so I stand, too. I don’t know how long this would go on, ducks having their own sense of time and priority. Perhaps she’s hungry & weak, hopes I have bread for her. Now other walkers are arriving from ahead and behind. When I turn back, no ducks are to be seen.

I see an abandoned football in a little grassy space enclosed by an iron fence. In a sudden flash, it reminds me of Australia, when I was three, in Bassendean.

There’s an age-old feeling, a genetic imprint no doubt, when you walk straight for a few miles, just for the sake of it, encountering only minor hazards, remembering the route from previous seasons, choosing this or that minor diversion; judging, sniffing the air, identifying each aroma—or not. To have a nose and eye for detail, a compendious memory, an alert sense of purpose: these are the skills of a hunter-gatherer, and this is my favourite thing now. To choose this kind of choicelessness, this is now my calling. Wayfaring, where truths are stumbled upon, just as I stumbled upon the title for this blog.

I’ve just walked down Beech Close & the alley where I heard an angel whispering “Infinite are the Depths”. The thought was so big that it has always been a surprise since to see how short is the alley, especially the white-painted wall on one side, at which I was gazing when the words came. And now I note that the house with that wall has been sold.

This is so complete, I could spend my life just walking, were that practicable. Infinite blessing lies in this; and if I could carve out just a little, in words, to put in imperishable form, it would be enough.

I keep returning in thought to that time in Holland. I imagine my aunt wondering if my mother would ever come back, just as her brother never came back from his war in South-East Asia. Did she know he was not my father, that I was the random child of her sister-in-law, dumped on her reluctant threshold? After that initial shock, when my mother dropped me off with no goodbye after our rough sea passage from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, I adjusted, forgot her; till one day she returned with equal suddenness and no explanation, and brought me back to England.

I had mixed feelings about her return. First I cried. The mother who had dropped me out of her life was now the stranger who suddenly snatched me back again, pulling me by the roots just as she had done in Australia, just as my grandparents had done when they disallowed my broad accent for offending their ears. This time, I had re-created myself as a Dutch boy; new life, new language learned. I had overcome the difficulties, learned to live with my aunt, her aged parents and her baby. Like her late brother Jan Jacobus Mulder, she was tall, wilful, short-tempered, yet dignified and elegant. She was not maternal, but neither was my mother. Any cuddling and adoration I’d ever had was from other women, such as Joy Edwards (pictured). Auntie Non was steady, my life had become normal.

Letting me walk to school alone, aged five, wasn’t neglectful in 1947 Holland. I guess there was a general sense of blissful safety in that country so recently ravaged by the Nazis, after its liberation by the Allies. It was a time for cleanup after the departure of uninvited guests. In the scale of things, a small uninvited guest like me just had to muck in like everyone else, and consider himself lucky, as indeed I did. There were few cars, many carts drawn by horse or mule. Free-roaming dogs were my main anxiety.

Now I find myself in a place beyond memory, a secret annex of imagination. Every so often, something triggers an impression from a pool of unidentified experience within me. It’s as if my best memories are of things which never happened to me. Perhaps they are memories of childhood fantasies, whose raw material came from books or observations of someone else’s happy family life, and elaborated; just as the bower-bird makes a nest from bright-coloured scraps, to attract a mate.

In the Zone, I reconnect with my real and fictional past, as it wafts before me like scents, flavours, nameless feelings, which I envisage as dwelling in a non-existent place, all gathered together, where the plants, like the plane-tree I’m passing now with its strange flowers, are faintly scented. And in that place, I am a rich kid and have it all.

Indeed, I am a rich kid, in this moment. For what other definition could there be, but the state of being content, devoid of envy, and having enough? I want nothing more than this: to play truant from the mundane, on a spring day .

The Precinct looking west

The Precinct looking north

Cloud patterns . . .

. . . changing . . .

. . . and changing again

On the Valley Path:
spring below, storm sewer above, on its way
to a purification plant.
Nature & technology both recycling water.


My mother lacked maternal instincts but
this and other photos show that Joy
Edwards & I had a thing going in 1945
(Bassendean, Western Australia)

My “aunt’s” late brother Jan Jacobus Mulder
& my alleged father;
who for good reason looked nothing like me;
a secret which I finally discovered

Holland 1947, school group (detail). I don’t
suppose I’m amongst the pupils.
Click for full picture.