Tag Archives: middle-age

Drenched in moonlight: accidental animism and The Wakeful World (Yoga Camp #3)

Yoga Camp was pitched on a gently swelling hillside with a view of Glastonbury Tor. First thing in the morning, as the sun came up, the hills across the glacial plain rose out of a sea of mist. Two thousand years before, the land around Glastonbury was marshy and prone to floods and the idea of a mystical “Lake of Avalon” is not too hard to imagine.

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It also meant that on clear nights in late August, it could get surprisingly cold and a cold night’s sleep goes straight to the bladder of the average middle-aged camper.

So a trip to the squat toilets at two a.m. wasn’t an uncommon thing.

This particular night, I struggled out of the tent to find myself standing in a field full of silence and moonlight.

You may think of silence as an absence of something but at certain times and in certain places, silence is like a full glass with the liquid swelling right on the edge of the rounded rim. I held my breath. The moonlight and starlight were bright enough to navigate the guy-ropes webbing the field. I made my way to the main path circling the tents and listened.

Part of the world, that part of it made up of people zipped up in sleeping bags in tents and caravans, was sleeping. The rest of it was awake and listening to me. I walked through it, becoming aware of the fulness of it embracing me from all directions. It’s possible I said a prayer; not to any divinity in particular, though the sacred in various forms was walking all around me at that moment, but as a part of my immersion in the infinite interpenetrating of life with life that I suddenly found myself a part of. Sleeping humans, animals, trees, grass, earth, stone, water, wind – all held me and I was happy and grateful to be held.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a book by Emma Restall Orr called The Wakeful World. It’s a deeply thoughtful and deeply thought-through piece of work that addresses the philosophical underpinnings necessary for a coherent practice of animism. It’s a book which is proving invaluable to me at the moment in its provision of a sort of toolkit to think about these issues. In amongst careful expositions of philosophers ranging from Bergson to Empedocles and all the way back again, I find passages such as this:

Every creature, every tree and beetle, every lake and mountain, every atom and galaxy, is its own pattern of being, integrated within the community of its evolving environment. Furthermore, every being is composed of or interconnected with numerous other beings, each of these also existent within its own web of communities, while at the same time, firmly held within the fabric of nature’s universal soul. The animist key is yet again that this fabric of nature is made of interactions, internal and external. In the poetry of animism, we might d

escribe how every community is comprised of the relationships within it, those relationships making up the inner structure of every ecosystem – and, vibrant with energy, those relationships are perpetually humming with communication. (The Wakeful World, p238, Emma Restall Orr, 2012)

The challenge of experiences that can only be described as animist is to shift from the anthropocentric view of what it means to ‘experience’ the world, and to accept the fleeting nature of one’s own egocentric perception. At the sensory level, a tree perceives the world in an unimaginably complex and far-ranging way. Does the tree feel? Does the soil that the tree grows in?

I think the tree and the soil do. Not as a human feels but if human feelings are made up of chemical trails, sensory inputs and neural connections, then a tree’s are hardly less valid and a good deal more durable. Perception, accepting the breadth of possibilities that perception stands for, is the important thing. Zen, yoga, various Christian traditions of quietism and the Sufis all look to a the idea of mindfulness, of letting oneself be situated in the world. In so doing we experience what it is to be a minded being, to be purely perceiving the world. It seems to me that Orr argues that the very stuff of nature is minded – that nature is mindedness and that this mindedness enables the network of perceptions that, at various levels of intensity and complexity, forms communities, tribes and, ultimately, individuals.

Anyway, I’m putting it all very badly so you should just read her book.

What I mean to say is that for ten minutes, I had a gift of being present in the world a

nd the night and seeing it as if for the first time. Perhaps it was a kind of initiation. It was certainly a blessing.

Middle-aged epiphanies, Leonard Cohen and the Lammas-point of life

Is 50 too late to start feeling middle-aged?

Or perhaps it’s to do with Lammas, the upcoming first harvest festival of the year. You see Lammas is when the first fruits are brought in. There’s still plenty to come but we’re well over the half-way point of the year. And when I came to think about this, skimming through various pagan calendars and wheels of the year, I realised that Lammas is the point I’ve reached in my life as well.

Much to my surprise, I’m okay with that.

So I’m not having a mid-life crisis this week, I’m celebrating the Lammas-point of my existence. I have two young children to look after. I’ve finished books (and they’re starting to get rejected at an altogether higher level than ever before!) and I like our house. I’ve even managed to get married and my job still clings on to a little bit of social value.

On top of those those classic material signifiers, I can do a headstand in yoga for the first time (take that aching joints and saggy bits) and I’ve finally started to understand why people make such a fuss about Charles Mingus (or Autechre). Plus, there’s an element of the sacred knocking at the door of my soul for the first time in a while.

Leonard Cohen got there first, of course. At the age of 54, he released ‘I’m Your Man’, a blueprint for how to look at the world from the craggy heights of one’s fifties (and clearly his current record performs the same trick if you’re warily contemplating your late seventies).

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

Well, yes. I’ve had the 20 years of boredom. I’m as sick and tired of trying to change the system from within as a man can be. And God knows I want Berlin and Manhattan.

Ah remember me, I used to live for music
Remember me, I brought your groceries in
Well it’s Father’s Day and everybody’s wounded
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

It’s me! Leonard is singing directly to me! I could quote lines from every song on the album but I’ll settle for one more.

Yeah my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day
Oh in the Tower of Song

“I’m just paying my rent everyday/In the Tower of Song”. I feel that’s where I’m living. Believe it or not, it’s a good location to finally launch that all-out assault on Manhattan.

The unexpected half-life of a Neil Young T-shirt seen at Hyde Park

I bought a Neil Young tour t-shirt at the Birmingham National Exibition Centre gig in September 1982, nearly twenty seven years ago.  It must have been good quality – it (and the the other one I later acquired from the woman I was seeing at the time) have seen service at gigs, as pyjamas, stuffing for make-shift pillows and countless hot washes that would have devastated lesser garments.

Yesterday, I saw Neil at the Hard Rock Calling festival in Hyde Park.  He was, of course, fabulous (and he even brought out a Beatle – the recently divorced one – for the encore of ‘A Day In The Life’ which I really didn’t think could be credibly played live).  There were also tour t-shirts and I particularly liked the rusted out look of the one with the ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ slogan.  I nearly bought one but something held me back.  It wasn’t the price (though they were pretty steep) – it was the plangent symptom of mortality they unexpectedly represented.  At the age of 46, if I buy a new Neil Young tee now, there’s a serious chance it’ll outlive me.

I thought about this a fair bit on the way home and changed my mind.  Today, we’re off to see Bruce Springsteen at the same location and, as the merchandise stands cover the whole weekend, I’m probably going to buy one – call it a Yeatsian an act of defiance.  I explained all this to supermum.

“Yes,” she said patiently.  “You know, my grandmother started talking about dying on a regular basis at some point too.”

“Just before she died?”

“No, ages before that. She was 102 when she died, anyway.”

I’m definitely getting the t-shirt.