Friday, 19 June 2009

Sweet Bird

My ego, that big wobbly bubble, was recently pleasingly flattered by three young colleagues when they expressed amazement on learning that I am fifty. They had had me down for thirty-eight or so. (I didn't do the 'go on, guess' bit - it just came up in a conversation about memories.) I told my mum on the phone. ‘You’ve got The Genes’ she said, for at seventy-three, in full war paint she can pass for late fifties. ‘I’ll just put up with the bloody bunion, then’, I said, for I have inherited hers. It still freaks me out, though, getting older.

People tell you what will happen and they are right; incidents from thirty years ago will pop up unbidden into your mental viewing panel with blinding clarity, whereas the fascinating topic you were about to google two minutes ago is lost irretrievably. Awareness dawns that certain mental functions are becoming a little more effortful. I downloaded an article in Greek because I intended to write a blog-post shitting on it from a great height, and was horrified to find that reading it was hard work, like swimming through Copydex. I pasted it into Word and enlarged the font so it looked like one of those tombstone-size novels for the hard of seeing that you find in libraries. Then it was less of a chore. This is not an eyesight problem, though, but one of processing speed. Fortunately, after a while my brain reaccustomed itself to written Greek and it has become a lot easier.

I do a huge amount of thinking on my feet while teaching – literally on my feet, because I hate to see a teacher ensconced behind a desk, separated from the class by three feet of polished wood. I move about the room, talking to students individually, and although this must keep my brain engaged, by the end of the day I am in pain! My legs and back ache like carious teeth. And then… I’ve forgotten what I was going to say now… oh, yeah, I do a bit of yoga to release the tension and reflect gloomily that only four years ago in Kalamata I had a private yoga teacher, and was so flexible I could stick a hand up my bum and push it out my mouth to grab an ankle. Now I cannot even assume the Cobra - an asana that involves no contorsion to speak of - without a wince of pain.

I have believed all manner of ‘spiritual’ shite in my time. I was a teenage Christian, an early twenties Buddhist and reader of J. Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, Shunryu Suzuki, and a whole crew of roshis and gurus. I was a Spiritualist in my early thirties after a friend was killed in a car crash, then an amateurish Wiccan simply because I decided my marble-clad flat in Athens looked like a temple. Now I know I never really felt any of it. I was always attracted by the outward appearance – crosses, pentacles, incense, kimonos and candles – and the theatricality of ritual and the comforting thought that there is a life beyond this one. This might be true, for all I know, or for all anyone else knows – I see no justification for absolute certainty either way. Nothing ever set me on fire, though. Now I sit in the emptiness left after my entertaining beliefs have been abandoned, and do not seek to pretty up the void any more, seeing every past belief as a shield against despair, and almost every thought as a defence against imaginary fears. Better to accept the fear and despair and to detach oneself by not identifying with them. Maybe I am finally beginning to practise the Zen Buddhism I read so much about in my twenties. It’s rather boring, actually, because it is so hard to abandon the sticky little hope that in sitting and observing, one is preparing for satori to strike, and won’t that be wonderful, and isn't it about time..?

That’s enough of that. It’s ten to seven and there’s time for one more coffee before I get ready to catch the train. Here’s Joni Mitchell, going through a similar mid-life thing but expressing it far more beautifully than I could hope to. Bitch.

Out on some borderline
Some mark of in-between
I lay down golden in time
And woke up vanishing

Sweet bird you are
Briefer than a falling star
All these vain promises on beauty jars
Somewhere with your wings on time
You must be laughing
Behind our eyes
Calendars of our lives
Circled with compromise
Sweet bird of time and change
You must be laughing
Up on your feathers laughing

Golden in time
Cities under the sand
Power, ideals and beauty
Fading in everyone's hand

Give me some time
I feel like I'm losing mine
Out here on this horizon line
With the earth spinning
And the sky forever rushing
No one knows
They can never get that close
Guesses at most
Guesses based on what each set of time and change is touching
Guesses based on what each set of time and change is touching
Guesses based on what each set of time and change is touching


Fionnchú said...

I know how you creakily feel, and me but as of five days from today two years younger. I have neck pain now that never ebbs; is it because I read and type so much, occupational hazards? Before I first taught, I heard that a good teacher never sits, and despite my four-hour classes, I follow that rule! I too think at least the likes of you and I get some exercise that way.

My wife and I had to erase, after a year and a half of weekly classes, yoga from our diminishing budget this "downturn," but it had taken her a lot to convince me to try it. I hate my body and drawing any attention to it. I haven't asked my students how old they think I am since, ironically, I was 38! They had guessed a little younger, but not as much as I'd hoped. You may have an advantage with the shinier pate. Now with my greying hair and already white beard, nobody tells me I look young for my age, yet I see famous folks on t.v. half a decade younger who look far older, or so I comfort myself in vain! Pale skin's hard to hide wrinkles.

Similarly, as with shrinks (which those of us born Irish Catholic cannot countenance anyway), they seem expendable in tough times; folks have been taking up Zen and meditation DIY as alternatives. I am probably what I saw yesterday referred to as a "nightstand Buddhist" intrigued by reading about it but as with yoga too withdrawn to want to go out in public to mingle with others I'd wind up silently mocking or envying, such is my personality.

Apropos, I just came back from the library (given that budget) where I'd been browsing the sparse religion section to select three books on medieval Christianity. Along with, since a friend via Facebook recommended I look into him, Shunryu Suzuki's acclaimed biography by David Chadwick, "Crooked Cucumber"! Never heard of him 'til last week.

I think the web and social networks provide a fresh "sangha" anyhow perhaps better suited for we introverts. Public displays of spirituality cause me to prefer quiet times, more inward turning and increasingly agnostic! All the best wherever your soul's road takes you at your jubilee year! As the Jewish blessing puts it, "May you live to be 120" (the age of Moses, supposedly!)

vilges suola said...

Thank you for the wishes! (Must change that photo if it makes me look bald - cos I'm not!) 120... I'm not sure I would like to go on that long! My father has been disappearing into Alzheimer's since he was 65, which is nearly ten years now. There's only any point in going on to reach a century if you can avoid the degradation involved in aging for as long as possible. This is the sort of thought that visits me at three in the morning.

Will have a look at that biography of Suzuki if I can get hold of it. Must stop ordering books from Amazon, though - I have a backlog of about sixty books to get through now and there isn't room in this tiny British flat for me AND them.

I'm not for joining in with others either, in anything, social political or religious. Hate 'togethernes'!


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