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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

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A small market town up North, far less prosperous now than it once was. It was the place to go when things were needed that the corner shop in my outlying rural village could not provide. But nowadays the town does not provide that either. I mostly order my needs off the Internet, and the postman delivers.

In memory, probably rose tinted, it was a prouder place back then. Do I imagine that on Saturday afternoons people would dress up to go shopping? Men would wear clean shirts, jackets and aftershave, ladies their fashionable dresses, high heels, and lipstick. Film actresses have walked Market Street in their finery on the Saturday afternoons of my childhood, crossed the road by Woolworths on their way to Boots. Marylin Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall. I have seen them all on the catwalk that was the pelican crossing by the old Town Hall.

There were innumerable family businesses here, names over doors that had stood for generations – bookshops, shoe-shops, florists, shops for artists, photography shops, all gone now and the town has dissolved into a place of thrift, of bookmaking, of pawn-brokering, e-cigs and of bargain booze. And in their passing something has happened to us.

I don’t know when it happened, or how, or why, or even what I mean exactly. It’s more than money, more than the economy. It’s hard to put a finger on it. I could use a word like respectability, but risk accusations of elitism and a hankering after the nineteen fifties, when working men still doffed their caps to toffs.

As I walked Market Street this afternoon, I heard a group of women plainly from a hundred yards away, fag-raw voices much amplified by alcohol. I thought they were fighting, but they were simply talking, oblivious to the obstacle and the spectacle they created on the pavement. Of course such unselfconsciousness can be argued as a virtue, not caring to live one’s life through the eyes of other people, and hurrah for that, I suppose, but at the risk of sounding like an insufferable snob, there was something unpleasant about their laddishness, something embarrassing, even threatening. Oh, I’m sure had they read my mind, intuited my feelings they would have given me the finger, and well deserved.

Grace. I think it’s the loss of grace I mean – the grace of the actress, of the ballroom, of the dancer – it’s gone from all our lives now, though I’m aware of how ridiculous that sounds. Yet I still search the crowd for it – in vain mostly – seeing only rags instead of finery, and stout, hideously tattooed stumps in place of dancers’ legs. I have largely withdrawn such sensibilities into imagination, hesitate to express them.

And charity shops.

We have a lot of charity shops now, a dozen at last counting. They are the only places capable of thriving, the only reliable landmarks on the high street – all else is pitifully feeble, ephemeral. They smell, don’t they? I used to find it off-putting – something unclean, I thought, and for a long time resisted the plunge – just one more step in my own fall from gracefulness.

It helped I could find decent books in there, good novels, literature, a handful for a fiver and just as well in straightened times – for such an appetite would cost fifty quid from a bookshop and quite out of the question. But there are no bookshops any more.

I like the Heart Foundation. Their books are well ordered, easy to scan, always a generous selection. And that’s where I saw her.

She was tall, slim, a voluminous cascade of seemingly luminescent blonde hair falling down her back. She had an upright posture, head balanced with a dancer’s poise, chin up, directing her gaze as she swept the titles with a leisurely, bookish grace. She wore a pair of snug blue jeans and a green shirt over a cream camisole – not a young woman by any means, forties perhaps,… and so far so much of a cliche.

The movie cute-meet would no doubt have been our fingers reaching out for the same title, something by Sebastian Barry perhaps – always a hard find in a charity shop. Our fingers would brush, then we’d each draw back with an embarrassed laugh.

“After you,” I’d say.

She’d smile, blush, reveal endearing dimples and a row of Hollywood perfect teeth. “No, you first. I’ve read it anyway. You like Barry?”

And thus we would connect, two lost, bookish souls finding succour among the cast offs in this wasted northern town, which seemed at once less wasted for her presence in it.

Poise. Yes, it was her poise that caught my eye, her arm gently reaching up to the book-shelf, something of a reserved curve to it, ending in a languorously relaxed hand, only the index and middle fingers forming a stiffly extended double pointer as if to aid in this most delicate act of intimate divination, or to bless.

Stillness, grace, presence. She had presence. But what was she doing there, a woman like that? She was quite, out of place, out of time.

I was beside her at the bookshelf, but only for a moment. No cute-meet here. I felt my presence as a vulgar intrusion upon such grace and visceral femininity. I feared her effect on me could not go unnoticed, that I would disturb her, make her uneasy, that her grace would stiffen, become angular with suspicion, that by observing it, I would destroy it.

I felt stung then by something very old, a feverishness overcoming me, ancient but familiar. I have taught myself over the years of useless infatuation, successfully I believe, to see women as human beings. It’s what they want, they tell me, this elimination of objectification. But without the object, the symbolism also dies, and love is next to divinity. Yet here was one out of the blue coming at me as a goddess again.

I melted away unseen.

What was all that about?

Chapter one, I think, that’s what all that was about!

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The Triumph of Death - Pieter Bruegel the Elder - 1562No matter how fortunate we are in life, it’s a challenge to be grateful, a challenge to be at peace. Rather, we seem programmed more towards irritation, scornfullness, and resentment of anything we perceive as threatening to our sense of control. The peace we crave is for ever elusive, and all we’re left with is the craving.

I’ve noticed this with older, retired people, people I look at and think: how fortunate to have left behind the day-job, the mind-numbing commute. Their kids have flown, they have all the time in the world now to simply be; they can lie in of a morning, shuffle round Tescos, or the garden centre, or read a book, watch TV. Heavens, how blessed to have all that time and space to finally decompress! But there can be nothing more ornery than the older, retired person, a person with nothing to worry about, because in the absence of real troubles, we invent them.

Me? I’ve had a choppy week this week. My vehicle was issued a recall notice by the manufacturer for transmission problems. I made a difficult journey to the dealership – time off work and all that – to be told the recall is not actually a recall, and though there’s definitely a problem with my transmission there’s nothing they can do without it costing me a lot of money. Then I was soldering a piece of wire, and a ball of red hot flux spat out, landed on my specs, crazed the lens precisely in my line of vision, so I need new specs and, in the mean time, have two weeks of squinting around this damned fog-patch while my new specs are delivered. And this is just the start. I could go on and on about all the damned stuff that’s happened this week, but it would only try your patience, and mine.

We all have weeks like this. And if I’m calm and rational about it, I can see how all of these problems are either surmountable in time, or more simply irrelevant in the great scheme of things. But still, the pain-body relishes them, creates out of them the illusion of things clustering, like pack-dogs, circling, attacking.

It was ¬†Eckhart Tolle, who first coined the phrase “Pain body”. It exists not in a literal sense, but more as a psychological complex and therefore real enough to cause us harm if not checked. It thrives on negative emotion and is sadly the default state for most people.

At the car dealership, I regret being less than civil, regret expressing my exasperation. I regret also cursing on the way home, genuinely believing there was not one person of competence in the world willing or even remotely able to deal with anything I could not deal with myself. But this was stupid; it was arrogant. It was my pain-body speaking, my pain body thinking, my pain body being stupid. But this does not excuse it, for a man is no less a fool for allowing himself to be ruled by his pain body.

Stuff happens, sometimes even all at once, and we deal with it. Then something else happens – that’s life. But at times of sinking spirit, of flagging energy, we find ourselves braced, walking on eggshells, wondering, what the F*&k next? So here I am, nearly two decades of mindfulness, of Tai Chi, of meditation, of walking the path towards self awareness, whatever the hell that means, and it all falls away. Once more, there stands my hideous, wrinkled old pain body, unscathed, pleased by my suffering over nothing.

To subvert the pain body we must starve it of what it most craves. To do this we first make space within ourselves. A single breath is a start, we breathe in, and as we breathe out, we try to sense the energy field of the body. It sounds la-di-da fanciful, but if we can only imagine it this way, I find it’s helpful. And in rediscovering the spaciousness in the energy body, it’s as if we have dodged behind a tree, and the pain body can no longer find us. It’ll catch up with us eventually because it’s a dogged little parasite, but it’s helpful to know we can at least evade it from time to time.

A permanent solution requires a more permanent connection, or rather it requires a particular kind of connection and, you know, I can’t remember what that is because it has no shape, nor any words to describe it. It is a state of grace, and I cannot find my way home to it. Nor does it help that the world today is presented as being so full of pain, that indeed even the leadership of entire nations is in the hands of Pain Bodies. Their sub-level vibrations are infectious, forming a global pandemic, a contagion to which we are all vulnerable.

Thinking of a solution only gets us so far. It brings us to a gate, and the gate is secured by a puzzling combination of locks. The locks draw our attention because the mind likes to solve puzzles, and we are programmed to expect to have to puzzle or think our way through the world. But what we fail to notice is there’s no wall either to the left or the right of the gate. We are too distracted by the puzzle – which is in any way unsolvable – to have noticed we can simply walk around it.

Faith in anything, in particular the supernatural, in magic, the esoteric might be comforting for a while, but it’s unreliable and without that connection it falls away at a moment’s notice, leaving us naked and vulnerable at a time when we think we most need it. Even memories of particularly charged and numinous past events fade, causing us to question our experience of the mysterious side of life, and before he knows it even the monk is shaking his fist at the moon.

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