The rock of the obvious
and every last kiss
There is a charm of (European) Goldfinches who have taken to appearing on our drive, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, marauding through, all chattering and gorgeous. Their splashes of red and yellow make them appear as though they have adorned themselves especially in celebration of the season. I’ve been thinking a lot about attention, of late, spurred by a line in the book I’m reading (Practical Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill):
What, out of the mass of material offered to it, shall consciousness seize upon—with what aspects of the universe shall it unite?
I very much like the idea of my consciousness uniting with these Goldfinches, so I have taken to stopping whatever I am doing when they appear. It makes for some disjointed conversations, but it is entirely worth it.
Reality has a way of becoming particularly interesting when we gather up the entirety of ourselves and channel it toward a singular focus. I once kissed the hand of a dying woman with such sincerity that I swear the kiss contained an echo of every kiss ever given as though it were the last.
The connective webbing of life is not bound by space, or time.
On February 15th, 2003 I went to the ‘Stop the War’ march in London. It was part of a day of protests held around the world, in opposition to the looming Iraq War. I was 17 at the time. I went with very little expectation, taking the train into the city with some friends and planning on meeting my brother in Trafalgar Square. As soon as the train pulled into the station it was apparent that every person on it, as well as every person on every other train pulling into the station, was there for the same reason. It was so odd, to be in a city and for the flow of foot traffic to be moving cohesively towards the same thing—an amassing which felt surreal and urgent; because, I suppose, it was.
As Trafalgar Square came into sight I realised I had no chance of finding my brother. I don’t think I’d ever seen so many people before, or since. Almost 1.5 million people joined the march in London that day. From atop the stairs in front of the National Gallery there was an endless sea of heads and placards in every direction you looked. It wasn’t until days later that I realised this sea travelled far beyond my visual field. Piccadilly, the Mall, Hyde Park, all dense with people of every age, class and ethnicity—each using their bodies as physical votes against the imminent conflict.
There was a cacophony of drumming, chanting and people shouting through megaphones. Great roars of cheers would erupt somewhere in the distance and then roll towards and through the square, like tidal waves of sound. Then, on the cusp of dusk, an imam took to the stage set up in the middle of Trafalgar Square, to recite the Islamic call to prayer. The roaring, drumming and chanting all came to an abrupt stop. The vast majority of people in that congregation were not Muslim, nor did they speak the language in which the call to prayer was given, but there was an unspoken, collective agreement that this did not matter and that the appropriate response to this ancient and sacred call, to this aspect of the universe, was one of hushed reverence.
The Stop the War march did not stop the war, but it did birth many an activist, and it did give people a temporary container in which to outpour their rage and disbelief. And it planted seeds of maybe, maybe, if enough people wanted, things could be different.
Another line from my book, which I cannot stop rereading:
“The surface-self, left for so long in undisputed possession of the conscious field, has grown strong, and cemented itself like a limpet to the rock of the obvious; gladly exchanging freedom for apparent security, and building up, from a selection amongst the more concrete elements offered it by the rich stream of life, a defensive shell of ‘fixed ideas’.”
Like a limpet to the rock of the obvious. Ouch.
May we all take on the work of rigorously examining the fixed ideas to which we have become attached.
May we have the courage to question everything, and to trust that subjects such as love, suffering, the divine and eternity are not for the rational mind to battle with.
May we be silent when reverence insists it, and may we roar when injustice demands it.
I leave you with a poem to which I return, again and again:
by Ross Gay
It’s a beautiful day
the small man said from behind me
and I could tell he had a slight limp
from the rasp of his boot against the sidewalk
and I was slow to look at him
because I’ve learned to close my ears
against the voices of passersby, which is easier than closing
them to my own mind,
and although he said it I did not hear it
until he said it a second or third time
but he did, he said It’s a beautiful day and something
in the way he pointed to the sun unfolding
between two oaks overhanging a basketball court
on 10th Street made me, too
catch hold of that light, opening my hands
to the dream of the soon blooming
and never did he say forget the crick in your neck
nor your bloody dreams; he did not say forget
the multiple shades of your mother’s heartbreak,
nor the father in your city
kneeling over his bloody child,
nor the five species of bird this second become memory,
no, he said only, It’s a beautiful day,
this tiny man
limping past me
with upturned palms
shaking his head
Yours in aimless flight,