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Sunday, February 6, 2011

A king, commoners, and a tortoise [Final part]

Tracey and Christian are back in the pool right now, in the dark. The water temperature remains perfect. The air temperature is fine. I would go back in again too but for all the trouble of getting in and out, and the showering, drying off and dressing afterwards.

   I’m sure you forget how hard all that is when you've done it automatically ever since the time yo momma did it for you until you were 5 or so. But tomorrow - I’ll be there. You betcha. Even with this cyclone looming up east of the Queensland coast, it should be fine here for the next day or two.

   Oh, my foot's swelling has gone down. So it really more a circulation thing, by the look, and ambient temperature isn't so much the issue. Took me only eight months to figure that out....

   I used to think that one of the limited advantages of dying comparatively young was that you would escape practically all the trials and tribulations of aging. You know the ones.

   That may be true if your life is suddenly snuffed out by some event - some accident perhaps. But now I realise that for me at least, there seems to be little chance of escape. I am going to have to go through many of these indignities and trials, only at a much greater rate than the elderly. Please may I be spared the worst of them, if only for the sake of the people I love.

   Two years ago I was vain enough to believe people when they reckoned I looked ten years younger than my age - in my early fifties, they said. Now, the sad truth is that most of my physical reactions are like those of a man in his early eighties. You think I’m exaggerating? If only.


8.45 am Thursday, 3 February.

The time is flying by. I am really enjoying this beach holiday. I will be sorry when it comes to an end. It’s mainly that this house is so perfect for our needs. A 5 Star luxury apartment on the Gold Coast wouldn't serve so well.

   Looking forward to the pool again when the shade comes over a bit. Right now would be ok as the pool is shaded by the date palms - but Tracey and Christian are both asleep still and I won’t disturb them. I woke early but I suspect the ‘effortless’ effort of yesterday made me exhausted enough to want simply to go back to sleep.

   And what strange dreams. A toddler on the edge of a high waterfall with crocodiles waiting, not in the water below, but in the folds of the cliff face that the water was pouring over.... and this was being filmed by someone! I was able to pluck her off the edge [not sure how I would've managed that!] She looked puzzled as if wondering why I was spoiling her fun.

   The pool was again beautiful yesterday, but like any experience, never quite the same when repeated. The present memory of a past experience always affects the present experience. Happily, getting in and out we did much better. The feeling of freedom, and the profound heaviness when leaving the pool - those didn't change.

   And so it is Thursday. And what have I done? Another day older, a new one just begun... the drama with the cyclone will unfold more today with reality and not speculation. The ABC has done a superb job with its broadcasts. I heard some reporting on commercial TV when I flicked over and was annoyed by the appalling exaggerations - 10 even reported as fact that 285 kph gusts were hitting Cairns at 11 pm last night! And the expressions they were using were all over the top. I‘d call it hyperbole but you aren’t meant to take hyperbole seriously. Apparently they think we should.

   No wonder Bob Katter was complaining about the media terrorising people in the affected area. Now I understand why. He must have heard that sort of exaggeration dished up as reporting. Don't these idiots understand that a Class 5 cyclone doesn't need any extra dramatising? Dammit, it's already sensational! You don't need any 'angles', nor to make anything up. You’re way too used to dressing up a story about some starlet’s failed romance than real news. Just report what's happening when you have a genuine story and stop behaving like dropkicks.

   I sound like a candidate for Grumpy Old Men, don’t I? So be it. I qualify. I’ve got lots more where that came from, but maybe not just right now.

   Still, at this time, we don't have any real assessment of the cyclone damage, though one thing's for sure - you are going to be paying lots more for your sugar and sugar-based products, and for bananas!

   Perhaps the best thing that could happen for the health of the nation is that sugar prices go spiralling off the high end of the scale, and people start to buy real food again and not junk. 'Pure, white and deadly'. Sugar is a drug and has us totally enslaved.

Friday 4 February, 8 am.

Hanging out
Our beach holiday is rapidly coming to a close. It has been a wonderful time. I would have to rank at the top the incredible feeling in the pool that my body was like that of a child's again. Had I suddenly developed wings and been able to fly effortlessly I don't think that would have topped it. I stood. I walked. I swam from one end of the pool to the other.

   Joy is to feel 'normal' after a long stretch of feeling otherwise, even if it’s for a fleeting time. A bit like Avatar, I guess, when what's-his-name in the wheelchair becomes one of those ... very tall green people, all bits in excellent working order.

   I have an avatar and he's maybe ten years old. And can swim like a fish.

   Remember that, O ye who have nothing worse to complain about than that it's Monday again and you can’t wait till Friday. You are wishing your and my life away. The blessed memory of feeling normal will help me to put up with the increasingly difficult struggle just to get up from a chair, walk through the house.... get in and out of the car, climb stairs. And, I hope, the memory will help to deal with the unknown, yet to be experienced challenges looming ahead. It's a roller-coaster as I've said many times, and parts of the ride are fine. The others? They stink. But it could be worse.

   I started out this whole story with the header, ‘Do you want the good news first or the bad news?’ That story I started out on has nothing to do with anything I wrote above - not a skerrick! It's about something else entirely. It'll be my next project, perhaps.

   Ernest Hemingway, you may have had your stream of consciousness and your Old Man and the Sea. I had a king parrot visit me, and a weightless swim.

Sunday, 6 February 2011 7:30 AM.

I also know another thing. A new chapter has begun. But now I draw a line under this one.

part 1 | part 2 | part 3


  1. I understand that this is not what you were saying, specifically, but there is for me also a sort of rebirth in swimming -no, I mean in being in the water. And being in a different realm for the body is part of it. It's part of our primal consciousness perhaps. Maybe when our body dies we enter another realm like that. The Tibetan Buddhists think so -not just 'think' so, but say they have knowledge/experience of it.

    Last night we watched the film 'No Country For Old Men' and the sheriff, who has just retired, says that he always thought as he grew older that he would meet God, but it hasn't happened. I liked that line the best in the film. I think its the human condition, mostly, thinking that a completion will just come about. As a gift of grace, perhaps. Perhaps it is the Christian view that perpetuates this vague expectation.

    The dream of innocence and fear, and the water of emotion, and the observer (the camera).

    King parrots are wonderful birds. They come to our garden and we feed them, and they can become very tame very quickly, usually a male (the redheads!). They even will follow me in the garden, or look in on us in our front room, telling me they are there for their seed (they love pieces of apple too). They are gentle birds who always decline to fight others (though squabble amongst themselves). None of the other wild birds relate to humans in such a way.

    The cyclone: I was very afraid for my cousin in Cairns. I also wished they would stop telling us how dangerous it was. At the same time they repeated that people must remain calm! Ross Garnaut says we ain't see nothing yet and in my senses I believe him.

  2. I've been off line for a few days. I think the weather effects satellite access, and even though it is a typical dry hot summer here at Chinook, not so in the rest of the country, which is either underwater (again) or on fire.

    As the garden crisps up, I worry about the Uralla Garden Club's visit in two weeks. What will they see? A parched, desolate, weed-infested horror? If Tasi honours us with his? her? presence, it will green up and I will be proud. Otherwise, the garden club will think I've got tickets on myself to drag them all the way out to such a mediocre display. I'll blame Carl. He invited them.

    As for mirrors, the mirror mirror on my wall is not the kindess, and it has recorded the ravages of 20 years in this single harsh environment. Clothes cover a lot of unsightly, sagging flesh, heading for the floor. But what to do about the chin?, which cannot be hidden.

    I comfort myself with the knowledge that our friends and enemies do not see us the way the mirror or the sudden plate glass window does. They see the light or glare in our eyes, the smile or grimace on our lips, and the open or clenched fists we offer them. They don't see the flab, the sags, the bags, or the crevases. They have enough of their own to worry about.

    Julie, you have one of the most interesting faces I know. All the delightful complexities of your personality are displayed there. Denis, you look like an angel. You glow. That's what I see, and so does everyone else.

    Since we came from water, both the oceanic kind and the amniotic, no wonder you feel so wonderful in the pool, Denis. It's where we belong. Some journalist pretending to be an anthropologist once hypothesised that we evolved in the water and only recently waded onto the land, hence that is why we are naked. She caused quite a stir, and usually, stirs indicate pressed buttons; pressed buttons indicate some grain of truth.

    Enjoy your return to your primal home - water.

  3. I imagine that in the final stages of a ‘normal’ death (whatever that is!), many of the things described by those who have had near death experiences are the consequence of the steady dissolution of ego, of sensory-intellectual consciousness and individual identity, which can no longer be organised by the brain as it usually is, in normal life. The loss of this identity may well lead to the sense of identification with something universal – the melting of boundaries on the finite self. In Sanskrit, the famous ‘tat tvam asi,’ or a precursor to that - an ecstatic state, in the literal sense of the word ‘ecstasy’ – ex = out of, stasis = self. Ecstasy has never been limited to a few, but at times to almost everyone.

    Joan – I hope you got a bit of rain from the thunderstorms that passed through today. Perhaps in the breakup of Yasi you will get more. If it’s not as pretty out there as when I saw it last, you can use it as a lesson on how quickly things can change! At any rate, blame Carl! That’s what husbands are for....☺ and you are quite right that people are generally far too worried about their own appearance than ours. An angel? Hmmm – Satan was one of those. I could maybe fit loosely into a Fallen Angel category, but even that would be drawing a long bow.

    Water makes us weightless and it cools us down in hot weather - that’s a beautiful combination - which isn’t to decry to notion of primal sensitivities to all things.

    Interesting comment about meeting God, Julie. As usual, until we have some common understanding or acceptance of what God means to those in the discussion, we couldn’t really make sense of it. A kindly old man with a long grey beard, a fierce warrior lady, or some infinite sea of being? Or something else entirely?

    As usual, I have probably said either too little or too much.

  4. Thanks for writing all that. I don't think it matters what definition of God was in that story as each person will interpret it for themselves. A comment on that 'meeting God' bit and why it mattered to me -when I was in India the first time, at one stage I thought I was going to die. I became very upset at the thought that I was not ready to die as I was 'incomplete' ie my 'soul' was. So after that I set out to understand more about that, and having cancer some years later made that process even more important. I'm still incomplete, undoubtedly, but at least I've thought about it!

    I dunno what to believe. The scientific theory of the dying brain creating certain experiences is quite possibly correct.I still trust my instincts and thoughts (unformed as they are!!) too, though, and believe we should remember that science still can't explain a lot.

    You did read that article called 'Postcards from the edge' in SMH Good Weekend August 1, 2009? On this topic, with contributions from skeptical neuroscientists? Saying they don't really even understand memory.
    I hope you don't mind my talking about this, clumsily. It's something I think about so often. Whatever happens, it's there for us all.

  5. PS I really appreciate that first comment you made. You don't just mean it in the 'scientific' sense. (I've been talking about this with Michael). What do you think of the atman? Also realise you are trying not to be too computer active at present) :)


  6. Denis, you're starting to sound like Philip Adams :)in some ways.

    I like what John Wren-Lewis had to say to Susan Blackmore, the neuroscientist/zen practitioner, who would ascribe to the dying brain theory, that consciousness is just an epiphenomeon of the brain, and has no substantial reality in itself: "Why do we think the brain is any more real than a thought?"

    I do love John Wren-Lewis. Taken from an advaita point of view, his comment could be understood to mean that neither the thought nor the brain are real; but taken from perhaps a Tantric point of view, both the thought and the brain are real.

    He also said, "The inside story of everything is consciousness." This comes from his own personal experience, which is odd coming from a Mathematical Physicist who, for most of his life until he was 60, was fervently among the Richard Dawkins congregation.

    That "God" may not be the great Santa Claus in the sky does not mean the universe is a howling, meaningless emptiness.

    I'm on the side of the "something else entirely," as you say, Denis. But I also would not totally discount that there may be much in between the ego and the "that we are."

  7. It never matters what definition people have of God [God probably being indefinable anyway] as long as people aren't trying to discuss it based on different premises but believing they're the same.

    I didn't mean to imply, by the way, that the description of the process of dissolution of ego [or id?] is the same as moksha, but that they could have some features in common.

    No, I don't mind talking about it. I do have a particular interest at this point.... But we should all bear in mind that it's something no-one alive has ever done! So we are speculating, every one of us. Neuroscientists, believers, unbelievers, nut-cases and theologians - we have in common that we've never been there. That's why the experiences of those who have just about done so are specially interesting.

    Joan - not sure about sounding like PA but I am beginning to look like him from the neck down... :) I have always liked him, though we'll see as he gets older and more crotchety how he turns out. On reality...another BZZZT subject. i.e., when we discuss it are we talking about the same thing? Maya comes into the discussion right here. Or I hope it does or there's no point discussing it!

    Agree with your last two paras, Joan. Especially the final sentence. Those who think the finite mind have a perfect handle on the infinite are ridiculously presumptuous.

  8. Yes, we are all speculating, and it is interesting that even the texts written by people who supposedly knew what they were talking about can appear to be contradictory. It's a great mystery, and one that perhaps does not fit into words, not even Sanskrit words. However, the contradictions do not mean that what they were trying to express was all crap, as our beloved PA would say.

    One can intuit possibilities, and one can read accounts of people who have had non-ordinary experiences, outside of what we would consider normal or sane. And many of us have had beyond "normal" experiences which suggest possibilities. Of course, most people don't talk about such things for fear of being deemed crazy.

    I had to laugh at a NewScientist article trying to debunk the out-of-body experience. Apparently, if you put this complicated gizmo on your head, which acts on the brain in some kind of magnetic fashion, you can have the sensation of being out of your body. I laughed because anyone I know who's had this experience never had any fancy gizmo on their head.

    I think we are entitled to be "ridiculously presumptuous" in the face of the great mystery. Certainly the conclusions scientists come to after their experiments with magnetic gizmos are "ridiculously presumputous" to all kinds of people having all kinds experiences outside of the scientific paradigm.

  9. Now the words have got in MY way! ☺ I presume you mean that PA believes that it some of it is valid. There’s one of the problems with words. Their meaning can be in the eye of the beholder!

    People who are supposed to know what they are talking about may either disagree or appear to do so. Or both! Even emails can be sadly misinterpreted. Words are a big part of the problem, but how else can we communicate when they’re what we depend upon, especially using this medium? No opportunity for raised eyebrows, laughs, immediate corrections, denials....

    Of course people can have out-of-body experiences. Every ecstatic experience is one, so everyone does. Losing your sense of self is an out of body experience. [ho ho I can see some wordy worldly misunderstandings of that coming up - pardon me if I let it go through to the keeper....] It doesn’t necessarily mean the sensation of being 20 feet above your body, though that may be a manifestation of it. Arthur C Danto’s ‘What is mysticism?’ chapter in his book on mysticism is very useful there.

    Agree with your last paragraph. When a person believes that everything in the universe can only exist if we can rationalise it or understand it through sensory-intellectual consciousness – or think we can – then we are on a hiding to nothing even trying to discuss something like this with them.

  10. Julie: the atman.... another time. I've run out of puff. Or is it huff and puff? Some may think so..... :)

  11. When I taught Business Communication at TAFE, much of what I had to teach had to do with body language. I was told by my textbooks that 90% of communication is non-verbal. No wonder it's easy to go astray in communication through email.

    I haven't read the book you cite, and must do so. I was very interested in Transpersonal Psychology back in the 70s, when researchers were exploring non-ordinary experience. From my experience of reading and talking with other people, there seems to be at least two different kinds of out-of-body experiences in which the person actually feels outside the body, not in a state of ecstasy in which the body drops away (quite different).

    One experience includes consciousness of the external world as it is, and experiencers report seeing things that they otherwise could not see in the gross body's position. Something on top of a cabinet; people doing things in the room or another room, their own body doing something that turns out to be true.

    The other is more problematic and harder to interpret -- the experiencer has the subjective and very clear experience of leaving the body, but the surroundings are more "dream-like". They may resemble closely the real environment, but subtle changes to it indicate something else is going on. This experience may be related to sleep paralysis, but it is distinctly different in that the "body" is not paralysed, but moves about in a floating manner and can be difficult to control.

    Philip Adams would not have any piece of either of these experiences, and would say they are hallucinations. People who have them, are not so convinced they are not in some way real and meaningful. Just what they mean is another issue, and people find answers in various places. I'm quite happy to give Tantra some credibility on this as it is an old tradition with lots of experience contributing to its body of knowledge. Something is definitely going on.

    On the "hiding to nothing" problem, I've given up with most people who don't share something of a similar world view to mine, although Carl has softened up considerably over the 30 years we've been together. When I first met him, he nearly lost his lolly when he discovered I was reading The Tao of Physics. It had been an intense subject of derision in the Physics Department at UNE, where he'd worked for 7 years. I had to read this and similar books at work and didn't dare bring them home. A few years ago, I bought Rational Mysticism for him, and he's read it twice. I reckon that's represents a considerable distance to travel. Nearly to another planet.


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