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 28 June 2011

the bird of paradise

The lanes now here, a little over the cusp of midsummer, seem to have lost just a little of their fresh crispness – or maybe that's me, or the weather. The colours shift throughout the growing season – have you noticed? – and now in the hedges, although there is the yellow of St John's Wort, what predominates is white or off-white: bedstraw, convolvulus, the umbelliferae, yarrow, bramble flowers, lesser stitchwort, moondaisies (ox-eye daisies), and the purple end of the spectrum: tatters of purple vetch, mallow (and the almost-all-year-round pink campions). 

Walking without fail restores connection, meaning and equilibrium for me, no matter what.

As I was walking my mind was wandering over the field of 'peak experiences', and what one might characterise as those threshold moments that divide our lives, somehow, emotionally, into a 'before' and an 'after'. We don't usually experience them as such at the time, I think; it's usually with hindsight. They are often associated with moments of external change – changing jobs, relocating, getting married, having children etc. Sometimes they're to do with loss; sometimes with significant meetings. Sometimes they are an encounter with Place. There is an element of touching a spiritual or metaphysical/existential experience often, too. Sometimes they take place simultaneously on the outer and inner planes; sometimes just on the inner. They almost always involve a deep resonance, felt at the time or in retrospect.

One such moment came for me on being taken into the Pech Merle prehistoric painted caves in the Lot, in France. (When I came out I was literally speechless for quite a long time – I have to say that that is unusual for me...!) It's hard to talk about that experience in brief, in a blog; I can't do it justice. (I have written about it elsewhere.) But many images remain with me, and the felt response to them is still resonant; a child's footprint side-by-side with its mother's, laid down and preserved in clay thousands of years ago by flesh and blood people long gone, is something I shall take with me to my death.


'...something glimpsed in those oxide  
hands, the bear’s face and horses  
half a mile under the limestone, 25,000  
years ago drawn with love and deep  

knowing as if pets, as if yesterday, 
their carbon and manganese fixed, though 
the artist has long since meshed atoms 
with everything there is...' *

When I came out I was not the same person as she who went in. The 'doors of perception' were not simply cleansed but blown right out of the house.

I'm thinking about this partly because I hope to be revisiting those caves in August; and partly because I'm still reading Jim Perrin's wonderful book West. Within this he speaks of psychotropic experiences with pure LSD from a small 'factory' in Wales in the 70s; an experience I too had. Here he quotes R D Laing on the nature of such peak experiences:

'I have seen the Bird of Paradise, she has spread herself before me, and I shall never be the same again.
  There is nothing to be afraid of. Nothing.
  The Life I am trying to grasp is the me that is trying to grasp it.' **

I didn't know that's what I was going to write about today. Back soon to those books I promised, I promise...

* (from All the Missing Names of Love, forthcoming from IDP in 2012)
** The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise

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