At one with Dao
At 56 I started staring at the wall for 3 years. As I approach 59 I have been preparing to stare at another wall. I have been dancing with enlightenment and immortality and I am now ready for that wall and beyond that wall. 3 years becomes nothing. Time, space and spacetime become no-things. All is constant change. I embrace it. I embody it. In parts of my moment I am one with Dao. I cannot put that into words. But the words appear on the wall as I stare at it. Darkness and light are one. I am part of that.
Some of us are not meant to mix in society. After years of being semi-hermit I finally went full hermit a couple of years ago and have never looked back (or regretted it). My ‘hero’ for decades was Lao Tzu, who disappeared off into the mountains.
Since becoming full hermit (and adopting my hermit name White Daffodil – a name I’ve carried as part of my identity for over twenty five years) I have experienced peace, personal growth and learned to let go and embody wu wei on a daily, moment by moment basis. I have embraced change and become myself. It’s what ‘normal’ folk would call these days ‘my best version of self’ but I just call ‘being.’
I do not advocate this way for others and I do not feel pride in my choices. Initially they were choices made partly from a sense of necessity in terms of ‘dealing’ with trauma and identity. But latterly the choice has become the most fulfilling ‘way’ I can imagine.
I went virtual hermit at the same time as I became fully live hermit. I’d been semi-virtual hermit for some years too. After experimenting for a decade with online communities, participating, building, sharing, I came to the conclusion that for me the virtual world offers the same challenges as the real one in terms of human communication. And being virtual hermit also ‘fit’ me fine.
Having achieved my own understanding of enlightenment, I felt perhaps I should challenge myself by rejoining society in some degree. I wondered if this was part of a necessary balance for life. I decided to explore it as an open circle. The virtual world offered the first opportunity. A Daoist community. Seemed like the kind of place, above all else, I could re-enter while remaining true to myself. But it sits uncomfortably with me.
Covid taught me that my experience of the world is entirely different (and often opposed, or viewed as opposed) to that of society (and most people within it). While others struggled, I felt freed. The virtual community is similar. I feel distanced from the people in it. Even though they espouse the same basic philosophy, in actuality there are many people who (to me) seem to be on entirely different paths to my own. For many dao is fashion, or religion, or a way to ‘meet’ people. And while I can share, and share freely who I am, I do not feel that my sharing is valued or accepted any better than it has been in any other community context. Why poke the bear. Or, perhaps, using a metaphor from life experience today – chase the badger.
In 58 years of life I had never, till today, seen a live badger. My first encounter with badger was one dark night some 25 years ago when my car hit and killed one. I carried that life/death around with the guilt of the student in the movie Spring,Summer… I felt a connection to badgers would endure my whole life because of that incident. Just over a decade ago, my dogs found a badger and killed it. I had to wrest it from their ravaging jaws, dead, and leave it dead at a place which then became known as ‘badger bottom’. Both dogs bear physical scars. I added another mental scar to my badger life/death connection.
And this morning, I went out for a walk. I was meditating on community and the virtual hermit and whether it was time for me to engage or to leave for the mountains. Share or return. I got caught on the point of whether, by explaining my position I would be seen as ‘prideful’ or ‘abnormal’ and whether it was possible to engage with this group without having to ‘explain’ - it didn’t seem likely. I don’t want to explain myself to others, I just want to live, let live and (perhaps) share commonality. But what is the commonality, when I have to explain my ‘way’ and subject it to critique from the community ‘norm.’
And then, ahead of us, a badger. In broad daylight. It was nearly 8 in the morning. It was just past ‘the family trees’ (of significance for me in my writing for years) and of course the one dog not on the lead took off after it. The chase was on. The badger, glorious badger, ran much faster than I could imagine it able to do, a lumbering, loping speed but it was no match for the dog. In the same moment as I was marvelling in my first sight of an active live badger (not on a night vision trail cam) I was terrified that I was about to witness another badger death. I whistled and shouted and shouted and whistled. They took off into the forest. I stopped whistling, realising I was doing no good. I waited. Not long. The dog DID come back and I knew that the badger had eluded him. I had braced myself for the noises I remembered too well of a dog tackling a badger. They never came. I put the dog on lead. A short lead. I took ten very deep breaths to recentre myself and was about to step forward when, from over the brow of a hill, another badger appeared. This one came and stood a few yards ahead of us. Looked in our direction. It was a still day, maybe it smelled us. We certainly took it by surprise. I wanted to reach for my camera but to do so would be to compromise my hold on the lead and the more important thing was to keep both dogs from this badger. By the time I had almost worked out a strategy, this second badger had taken to his loping run into the forest. The dogs strained. I waited. I saw, in the undergrowth ahead, a sign that this badger had taken a different path to the first, and doubled back on itself. Our way was a path through the middle of where we’d last seen them. I gave everyone (myself included) time to calm down and we proceeded, dogs firmly on leads and under control. Was I under control? Not really. What an experience.
The rest of the walk gave me time to reflect on the meaning I would derive from this experience. And here it is. If this was a fable these would be my morals. This is not a fable. It is my life. And these are just thoughts put into words. Waves fixed in timespace. The words can be deleted but they will never fully disappear. They now exist and are part of the Dao. Here they are:
Some beings are not meant to be seen by others.
Some beings need to be left to live their lives alone in peace.
Sometimes the mere act of being seen can lead to one being chased down and torn apart.
The message for me – my ‘way’ is hermit. My ‘way’ is badger. It is a natural bond we share.
And only now, reflecting an hour later do I come to another thought.
Today I saw two live badgers. In my life I have been responsible for the death of two badgers. Today I helped these two badgers stay alive, though I had the means by which they might die and would have carried that responsibility and worn it on top of the guilt I already carried regarding the taking of life, albeit vicariously or unintentionally.
In one sense I might say I have been expiated for the ‘guilt’ of the badger deaths I’ve been responsible for. I have regained the balance that was lost.
In another sense the badgers have shown me that we are connected and that it’s fine for me to be badger natured. To embrace that. And to accept that I am not meant to be seen by others. That I should be left to live my life alone in peace. (By alone I mean not in ‘society’, not entirely isolated from all others of my species). In common parlance the trivial world might define my position as #bemorebadger. But I am not of the hashtag world. Real or virtual.
In conclusion I will interpret (since that is all we do in any communication or interaction) the badgers as metaphors and signs that I am on my own path and that being a hermit, real and virtual is perfectly fine for me. I have seen the wonder and the danger fused together in one yinyang moment of constant change experience. This moment offers me the opportunity to become entirely freed beyond society. I shall take that offer.
I thank yinyang and humbug the badgers (as I so ‘name’ them) for the lesson and the opportunity they have gifted me. I feel freed from guilt now that I have managed to act responsibly at the moment of challenge.
I am white daffodil. I live with badgers.
That is my story.
That is my reality.
Starting work on a new project - Once Upon a Place. Here's the first draft...
Under the words are the stones and the stones are the stories.
The story stones are stories beyond words.
Yes they can be constrained by limitations. One sentence can be made with each set of stones. Lay them out in a line. Make a sentence. One word can be made with each set of stones. Make a seven letter word. One could write letters or characters on them and use them instead of a book. How many words would it take to write the story of all the starstorystones?
Story stones are personal and flexible and the meaning made is different for every 'reader'.
A ‘set’ of story stones consists of 7 stones.
One stone for each of the seven words.
A round stone (pebble type) for the NOW
Another round stone, or one of different colour perhaps for ‘the untold story’
Five other stones - varied which represent either a) a self contained ‘story’ or b) part of the bigger life story. (or both)
In deciding what story to tell one picks up the stones, thinks about what each stone means and places them into relative positions.
The ‘now’ stone is at the centre of the life/story of course
The other stones may represent specific times of a life or stories within that life - moments of personal significance or memories. Things that are bigger than words.
Each of these stones can be taken as the ‘key’ stone from which one builds another perspective. So that each story as stone as story can be developed through placing the set in another order - and the purpose of doing these is to think about how that element features in both ‘Now’ and with reference to its own many perspectives.
The creative process involves making choices about what each stone represents/means - what part of a story it tells and this requires reflection on the non now stories. The tactile nature of the stones can present choices and inspiration and the difference between the smooth ‘now’ and the jagged ‘storystone as memory’ has significance.
They can be kept in boxes for safe-keeping, but my stories have always been about opening boxes.
Some personal 'stories'
This version of the story is set within the YinYang stymbol. Now is set in the middle. In the dark (yang) side is set past stories: childhood and the life in London while the yin in the yang is the ABC drama story. Right next to the ‘now’ stone is the ‘untold story’ stone and in the yin side (white) are ‘books’ and Daoism.
My intention is to create a story space something akin to a Zen garden - in a tray filled with sand (this example isn’t yet filled with sand because I want to put in ‘my’ Loch Enoch sand, but need to work on the container and space around as I do not want to spill any of that precious sand! But for me, placing the storystones in the sand will have a deep meaning as Loch Enoch sand becomes the bedrock for my appreciation of the NOW and my personal ‘storied’ transition.
THERE IS NOW AND THERE ARE STORIES
Seven words to live a life by.
The (creation) story of the creation of the story stones.
This is a part of a story which has been told in other narratives, told here for the first time. It fits wherever you want it to fit in those other stories - or in your own life.
They walked the biggest field in the world frequently. And one day Nick noticed something he hadn't ever seen before. The ground, if you looked, was abundant in white stones. Like marble. But not round like marbles. Jagged stones.
'Hey nan,' he said as he picked one up. 'Look at this'
She explained to him that there were as many white stones in the field as there are stars in the sky.
'Have you counted them?' he asked.
She shook her head.
'How do you know?' he asked.
'I believe it,' she replied.
'And is believing the same as knowing?'
She didn't answer that question directly. Instead she got down on her haunches, squatting at his level and looked him directly in the eye.
'One day,' she said, ' the stars all came down from the sky, right here, to the biggest field in all the world. So instead of wishing on a star, you can wish on a stone. And if you take this one home with you, you'll be able to carry a star in your pocket with you always.'
'And do stonestar wishes come true?' he asked.
'They are the best kind' she replied.
'I believe you,' he said solemnly. 'But I know something else too.'
'What's that?' she said.
'A bit of the story you missed out,' he replied.
'Tell me,' she asked.
'It's this,' he said. 'The stars come down here every morning, when the sun rises. And when the sun sets they go back up into the sky to shine down on us in the dark.' He paused.
'Do you believe me?' he asked.
'I believe you,' she said. 'It's a very good explanation for the existence of what the ancient Chinese call Heaven and Earth. The sky and the earth. Because heaven is just the sky.'
And many years later, when Nick and Helen were no longer walking together in the biggest field in the world, starstones were found at the family trees - part of a bigger story.
All the stars in the sky can be found in all the stones on the ground in the biggest field in the world. If you believe it.
And if you take a starstone from the field, does that mean it's not in the sky at night? Or does it mean you're taking a piece of the sky with you wherever you go, in your pocket?
The answer to the question is the story you tell yourself, the story you want to believe.
I've not been here for quite a while but I had something to say (or write) - to 'share' even - and this seemed the best place (now I'm not on social media). Inspired by my dear writer friend Mary Smith, whose blog on her cancer 'journey' has been just that, inspirational for a lot of people over the past year , after her last post I felt, like most people, immediately devastated. But devastation doesn't help anyone, so I tried to think of something positive. Here goes:
Mary has written many times of spring bulbs. Of how last year she didn't know if she would still be alive to see the ones she planted in autumn 2020. Now, again, she's facing that same reality. Should she, or shouldn't she... and the resounding answer from many of her friends (real and virtual) is YES. Plant those bulbs.
It struck me that the planting of spring bulbs is in some sense an act of resistance (I don't do 'hope' but I do do resistance') - we cannot change what will come but we can, if not control, then make a statement. Another of Mary's friends described this as planting a 'Riot of Colours.' And so, yes, project 'ROC-on' it is.
My suggestion is that all who know Mary (and Mary herself) plant spring bulbs this autumn. Do so mindfully and with meaning. With love and empathy. And take pictures/video of the planting. Then when they come up in the spring take more pictures/videos. SHARE THEM. Do it not just in solidarity and love for Mary but for the people of Afghanistan whose own spring must be looking incredibly bleak right now.
Many people 'know' Mary from her writings about Afghanistan, indeed I first met her at a reading of her non fiction book 'Before the Taliban' way back when. So it seemed only right that we broaden the scope of our 'project' to make it a gesture, perhaps an act, to remind us all that while 'wee' people can't change the world, we can still have our voice.
Mary joined me in 2003 when we put on a 'Not in My Name' performance in Dumfries (which did NOT stop the war in Iraq) and for the 10th anniversary of that event I published the pieces by our fellow writers:
Jo Abbott, Jackie Baldwin, Mark Frankland, Vivien Jones, Mary and myself. I'm making that ebook available again for free for anyone who wants to download it HERE (pdf format - don't complain, I'm amazed I was ever able to find it in my hard drive of hell)
Time presses on. There's nothing any of us can do to really help Afghanistan, or to prolong our time with Mary. BUT rather than suggesting she does 'not go gentle into the good night' or 'rage, rage against the dying of the light' as male poets (Thank you Dylan) might suggest, how about we do something positive? If 100 or so of Mary's friends ALL commit to planting bulbs (and taking pics, sharing on social media for those of you who do that sort of thing) and commit to doing that EVERY year from now as a mark of our friendship with Mary, I hope that we might show her NOW, when it matters, just what she means to us all. Mary, however long you have, I promise that for as long as I am around to do so, I will plant bulbs in the autumn to contribute to a Mary Smith Riot of Colour in the spring. I truly hope that you'll stick around for the first act of this event next spring - but know NOW that it will go on in some form for many, many years to come, a legacy to and inspired by you.
My own two planting sites are already planned. I will plant (actually replant) some white daffodil bulbs (see earlier posts on this site) at two places.
1. The Family Trees. These trees feature heavily in two of my works: Brand Loyalty (2010) and All Moments are One Moment. (2020) I visit them every day. So from now on, every day Mary will be there with me in my thoughts. Part of the 'family'. I treasure Mary's comments during the editing of Brand Loyalty and her review on its publication. * see bottom of post.
So it finally happened. I got a smartphone. Still vastly against my will. However, when not trying to figure it out, I have been revisiting 2003 lately in my 'brain in vat' project and I came across (many) something interesting (things).
There isn't a point I can mark as the start of the journey but I'd say a significant point in the Return to YinYang Mountain was the first 'attempt' which came in the form of The Other Side of the Mountain. I wrote this around 2002 and it was performed a couple of times, once in 2003 as part of a Trilogy of my plays (along with Love is an Urban Myth from 1998/9, and When Time Stands Still dating from around 2000/2002). These were produced by me under the auspices of Bamboo Grove Theatre Company which I set up in 2002 in tandem to my work as Playwright in Residence. [Bamboo Grove ran its course after 8 years or so but they were 8 happy and productive years]
But The Other Side of the Mountain story started even earlier. I first started thinking about it in the early 1990s, with the initial inspiration being Scott of the Antarctic and my interest/fascination in the 'madness' descending on them as they sat in their tent, knowning they were dying. Quite when the drama morphed into a Daoist drama I'm not sure but by 2003 the Daoism took it over. And so, reflecting from another part of the moment, I suppose it was my first Daoist drama (indeed my first Daoist inspired writing). Perhaps I should label it as 'Daoist infused'.
This is all by way of an introduction to announce that as I move further into the Return to YinYang project, I've been revisiting my time with The Other Side of the Mountain and you can experience this journey too.
You can download the playscript here (as it was in 2005)
or view recordings of rehearsals from the two performances in 2003 and 2004.
Please bear in mind that the technology (and my skill level) were very different a couple of decades ago! But hopefully they still have something which may appeal to anyone with an interest in the Dao.
Some readings are coming up in February - a year after the publication of All Moments. These will be found in the new section available from 0102 2021 - Moments 2021
Reflections as the year turns. Attempts at Chinese which may not pass muster from anyone who actually speaks Mandarin... but you have to start somewhere... and when there is no beginning you just have to start!
My translation is: If you don't nurture, you have to repair.
Find out more about the theory, process and meanings - an exercise in creating a brain in a virtual vat.