from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

the snake and the frog

(from September, in France)

I'm sitting here on this sunny balcony high above the lush alluvial plain of the river Lot. There's the sound of a tractor and a distant dog, a woodpecker, the chittering martins jinking and jiving at eye level the other side of the wisteria, an occasional French voice. In the distance plumes of water sucked up from the lazy loops of the Lot are irrigating fields of sweetcorn and sunflowers.

The local market on Sunday was rich with the harvest from the region: soft fruit, a huge variety of veg, honey, goat's cheese, mead (honey wine), and local wines. They all say that because of the recent heatwave they've had a bad harvest – The Man and I look at each other and smile slightly wryly; this is a bad harvest? In relation to ours this year (for the opposite reason) they're in a cornucopic paradise!

Yesterday we walked the high crescent ridge above the limestone escarpment between Calvignac and the Chateau de Cenevieres, parts of which date to the C12th. (Within, is one small well-preserved C16th practising alchemist's chamber, complete with frescoes and iconography composed of images from myth and archetype.)

Unfortunately, we missed a little of the spectacular scenery due to falling into one of our Patterns. You know – how couples can press each others' buttons and go off on one.

There are in most relationships I imagine, even when both parties have agreed to 'work on it' – rare enough in our culture – and/or to hold fire on tricky subjects, one or two 'default' grudges that can kick in at flashpoint moments and hijack not just the relationship but our better natures, our goodwill, our fine intentions... recognise this? They represent, basically, unsolved conflicts, ones that maybe cannot be resolved in an either/or way, and ones which – assuming a certain level of goodwill is present and not too much game-playing takes places in that relationship – may represent certain deeply held values, interests and needs that are not shared by the other; or that we perceive as not being respected by the other.

Once one steps over the threshold of a flashpoint, there's no going back. What's more, the debates tend to loop round and round in a closed system, a voie sans issue.

Ours this time was about our differing needs for space.

In order to 'hear myself think', my life as a writer and sometime painter requires regular solitude. This to me is 'normal and natural'. TM doesn't share my requirement, and asks quite reasonably why, since he's hardly a noisy intrusive type, I can't do that thinking and writing in the same room he's in. I could speak of a woman's more diffuse awareness, as opposed to, stereotypically speaking, a man's more focused attention; but actually no matter what the reason I simply can't. I find it hard to immerse myself in my writing if there's anyone else in the house, even. (I'm not alone in this – any number of professional writers I know rent extra space somewhere else when they're writing. Many go away for months at a time. It's just how it is, but it is probably hard to accept if you're not primarily a creative type.)

Soon of course we're galloping down the pained and grievanced road. I have a brief moment when I determine to take the quiet unruffled Middle Way and simply not react – and an equally brief moment when I don't want to be That British Couple shouting at each other through the tranquil French countryside, and then we're both gone, polarised in moments into The Differences: My Position, Your Position and why they're irreconcilable.

Trouble is, as long as we're both wanting a) to be right and b) to be seen to be right (ie having the other concede to our take on reality) we're fighting an unwinnable lawsuit against How It Is.

How it is is that he's how he is and I'm how I am; they differ, and they're both OK. And ultimately, like everyone, we share the same needs: to love, and be loved; to be seen and respected for who we are; to exhibit and be shown a reasonable level of goodwill and kindness; to be both separate and connected; to fullfil our own individual sense of purpose and to be supported in our quest for that, as well as to be able to create a joint vision. What's so hard about this?

I guess the fear is that if we are are too different, either one of us will feel ourself in danger of being subsumed into the relationship at the cost of our own authenticity, our own path; or our paths will be so divergent, so destabilised or destabilising, that we will end up splitting up.

So the Pattern kicks in.

Walking back below the sheer cliff face on which, 70m above us, the castle is perched, and next to the river, where we're still engaged in being irritated and offended, I'm struck by something. On the hot tarmac between verge and verge, a mature grass snake, maybe 60cm long, is squashed utterly flat, hinged jaw locked open. Just out of reach of that jaw, centimetres ahead of it, equally flattened, is what was presumably its intended prey – a large frog.

It strikes me that this is how it is when one gets locked into such a pattern: we become so obsessed with whatever it is we're pursuing – our appetites or momentary desire, our need to justify who we are or what we do and say, our fixed sense of identity, our opinions masquerading as The Truth, our need to be right – that we don't even see the bigger picture; don't notice that we're about to be overtaken by a much weightier, graver and altogether less negotiable truth that will obliterate us, argument and all, if we don't look up from our obsessive focus, don't let go. Our attention to the micro eclipses the macro; or rather we allow the small picture to become our universe, our means of identity. And thus our attachment to ego eclipses the cosmos.

We're not really seeing how things are. We're seeing them how we are. We're seeing the Other, and the world, through the lens of our own unconscious motivations, our needs and expectations.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer says: 'At best, actions based on an inaccurate picture of what is are unlikely to create the change we desire. At worst, they cause greater suffering.'

In our case, it's something to do with an unwillingness to allow the other to be who they are whether or not it suits us. Human enough, but scarcely loving. This is coupled with an unwillingness to listen, to really listen, to what is being voiced beneath the words of the other, and to listen to the movements of soul rather than the clamour of ego. We know this, but the heat becomes such that we give into it because we're unable to stay still long enough with how things are, without reacting. It's a compulsion, an addiction. It's fear.

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