“Os Últimos Dias” and the Vixen of Newhaven

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And the earth will swallow us.
But not yet, not yet.

Keep on moving,
keep producing and possessing.

See some old places,
visit some new ones.

Feel the cold, the heat, fatigue.
Stop for a moment; continue.

Discover in your movements
unknown forces, connections.

The pleasure of stretching; the pleasure
of crouching, holding still.

Pleasure of balancing, pleasure of flying.
Pleasure of hearing music;
letting your hands slide over the paper.

The inviolable pleasure of seeing;
certain colours; how they dissolve, how they adhere;
certain objects, different in a new light.

Keep on inhaling the fragrance of fruit
and rain-spattered earth, keep grabbing,
imagining, and recording, keep remembering.

A little more time! To meet a few more people.
To learn how they live, to help them
.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade, from “Os Últimos Dias” (The Last Days)

I came across a handsome book in Denver. “Multitudinous Heart: Selected Poems” by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Brazil’s foremost modernist poet who was writing from the 30s right into the military dictatorship of the 70s and 80s. Like Ginsberg and Whitman he writes in broad, declarative strophes – not usually my cup of tea. But of late I have been reading Ginsberg and Whitman with renewed gusto. They make me feel young and teenage again. And that’s a feeling I want to encourage even as I approach my 47th year.

I spoke in the last blog about the drum-beat of to-do lists and how dreary they can make a life. As I struggle with the mechanisms of inner stress, I am simultaneously doing Reggie’s ‘Practice of Pure Awareness’ which is his version of Zen Shikantaze – a very still and precise sitting posture that allows you to sink and dissolve into the space around existence. I experience that space like the sunnier breeze of a teenage morning. It’s precisely that half-memory which comes when I do practice: the sense of walking or sitting or running around as a young teenager, awash with the possibility of life and an excitement about what might happen. This spaciousness is the solvent for all the accretions of habit: that calcification caused by the slow death of a million moments which then sink down, unattended, to the sea bed where, like the dead shells in limestone, they harden into rock.

Yesterday afternoon, still struggling with the tail end of a 10-day viral bug, I walked in the garden and trimmed the dead leaves off the hellebores under the ash tree and sniffed a hint of Spring. Just a photon shimmer of sun-to-come but enough to really lift my spirits.

I sat meditation in the shrine room with the door open and facing the outdoors. As I sat breathing in this delicious Shikantaze space, the vixen from the end of the garden padded up and glanced in. She looked to either side and then stepped cautiously in through the door, sniffing but unaware of me because i was so still. Then she hopped forward picked up one of my slippers and scarpered down the garden. Which then sent me hopping, one slippered, across the lawn in pursuit.

That made me smile for hours.

Alongside Reggie’s practice, I’ve also been lucky enough to be teaching mindfulness to several groups. And we’re in the middle of exploring mindfulness of the body and the senses. This is always the most directly delicious of the mindful practices because it’s so vivid and so simple. Almost without exception, when I encourage people to go around sticking their nose in the wet grass or really eating up the colour of leaves with their eyes, they immediately start to remember being a child. This is doubtless because the last time we really did these things – inhabited our bodies, hopped across lawns, smelled rotting seaweed – was when we were kids.

So hopping, slippered, across the lawn, enjoying the ‘pleasure of stretching; the pleasure/ of crouching, holding still’ is the most direct path underneath the calcified rock strata of habit. This fuelled my smiles.

It’s what De Andrade points to: ‘The inviolable pleasure of seeing;/ certain colours: how they dissolve, how they adhere; certain objects, different in a new light.’ The power of really seeing things free from mental construction is re-vivifying. Really seeing the colour of a thing is a process quite removed from the chains of worry and thinking. And the more we do it the stronger those neural pathways in the visual cortex grow to include pleasure and joy rather than triggering more and more to-do lists.

“Keep on inhaling the fragrance of fruit/ and rain-spattered earth, keep grabbing,/ imagining, and recording, keep remembering.”

Keep doing this and the limestone of dead habit will break-up without any doubt. It’s is an inviolable pleasure that can’t be resisted – but we need to make time to do it. So I vowed, after Shrove Tuesday (our pale English version of the riot of Brazil Carneval) to give up discipline and to-do lists and read more Ginsberg and do more gardening and look for more occasions to lose my slippers to the proverbial fox.

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