Feeling the earth move under my feet

Yesterday was a great day for me. Even though I was sleep-deprived, I woke up early and did Tai Chi- I try and make it a habit to do every morning when I wake up. Just on a brief tangeant, I’ve learned about 74 of the 108 moves, so I’m really excited that the end is in sight. I’m really looking forward to practicing with my friend Jess, who learned the system on which my form is based on.

Anyway, reading Love as a Way of Life on the train, I got thinking about the nature of kindness and the joy it brings. I admit, I’ve been so obsessed with straightening out my own life I’ve forgotten how happy it makes me to go out of my way to help someone. I’d like to find more of a balance between giving freely to others and looking after myself.

I got to work and had lots of fun shredding enormous piles of paper and lighting incense. Massages were given, coffee was made, everything was really awesome. Soon after there was a mild crisis where someone came in sobbing hysterically, and the pessimism of one of my workers was really draining of the energy of the morning. But I went shopping for medical supplies (yay! I can’t believe how exciting it is to have a company card to buy whatever you deem necessary for the company) and went out for a two hour lunch at Annalakshmi with my co-worker Rachel, whose lifestyle and attitudes continue to inspire me. It was probably a little longer than necessary, especially since it was a paid break, but Thursdays are supposed to be recreational days for the young people. It’s just none of them came. It was really awesome that I work in a place that lets you do that.

When I went home I decided that I’d not trouble Mum by calling and just walk the 25 minutes to my house. But I had this really strong, really weird impulse to do it barefoot. So when I got to the train station, I put my shoes in my bag (probably a bad idea- my bag smelt like feet for a while) and just hit the road.

When I was a kid I used to ignore shoes. They were a waste of time- you had to bend over to put one on and then the other. And don’t even get me started on these “laces”- the shoe stayed on fine if you just slipped it on and off. Thongs were convenient but they were too flimsy to really help, unless you were riding your bike or climbing the chains on the playground. The rest of the time, barefoot was the way. More grip, you could feel the sand and the grass better, you could run faster. Sure your feet got dirty and your Mum made you wash your feet before you stepped inside the house, or you’d have to stand on an old towel and shuffle to the bathroom for a shower, but it was totally worth getting a healthy caking of dirt and water for a few hours.

Those days are long past. Everyone covers their feet now. We were rubber and leather and other shoe-related materials to prevent us from having contact with the ground. Our feet grow soft, and a little smelly, because we don’t want to touch the floor with our skin. And admittedly there’s good reason for that- cuts, disease, dirt in general. But I think by cutting off that part of ourselves we’ve lost something important. So, in resolute defiance of society, I walked home in my jeans without shoes. It was so fresh, so relieving. Sure the bitumen was a little painful at first, but only for a little while as my feet got used to the sensation. Sure I had to jump over a large pile of horse scat (how on earth did it get there, and why yesterday of all days?), but I would have done it anyway with shoes on. Sure I had to walk in mud, but that was kind of refreshing, and it came off just by the process of more walking.

I’m not suggesting everyone stops wearing shoes. But I think we’re losing a lot by covering our feet in artificial casings. Just watch Avatar and see the look on Jake’s face when he starts to run and stops to feel the soil of Pandora. Maybe, just once in a while, we can take off our shoes and remember that we are a part of this earth as much as any creature, even if we cover it with road and pavement and floorboards. It’s kind of fun! You know, just for kicks.

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Journey into the Centre of my Heart

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted! I try to post every month because… Well… I haven’t missed a month since I started this blog, like, six years ago. More importantly there’s been something on my mind, and I figure rambling without any kind of order or decency to logical progression of ideas might be helpful.

I love Nat from communitychannel. I’ve spent two or three hours now just going through her videos, enjoying stories from her life and her entertaining sense of humour. I think we would be awesome friends, but I suspect she has enough of those. Or at least enough fans to fill her spare time.

I’ve been sick the past week or two. It’s been a while. My health goes up, it goes down. Normally I just take a night off from training (I normally train five days a week- Tai Chi, Iaido, Hand-to-Hand and Boxing + fitness circuit) and I’m better, but whatever this is it’s really persisted. And it’s really punished me as well. I’ve been in a fair bit of physical discomfort the past few days in particular, but I’m on the mend. It’s been really good and really bad to take some time off. Good because I’ve had the chance to play a satisfying amount of Fire Emblem and watch four out of six of the Rocky movies in this week. Bad because I’ve been missing a lot of work, and unfortunately I could really use the money. There are always more things to spend your money on, but I’m a few hundred dollars in debt to my Mum because Eugene and I are going to Sydney for a weekend as an early birthday present. We’re watching the Lord of the Rings, but the music is being performed live by (most likely) the Sydney Symphony Philharmonic Orchestra. Or maybe it’s just a random ensemble- I’ve just heard the SSPO bandied about on Classic FM so I’m trying to sound smart. Anyway, I’ve got about $1 in my spending account and $40 in my savings, though that’s probably dropped due to all the public transport I’ve been catching, and there are regular deductions from charities, unions, banks… So I’m basically running short of money, which is fine, but I’d really like to start saving for a home for Bethwyn and I some day. I should probably stop jumping in on Eugene with his impulse holidays- he arrived in Vietnam today after seeing the tickets were cheap like ten days ago. That’s the kind of guy he is, and I’m happy we enjoy each other’s company enough to holiday together.

There is another bad thing about being so sick. I’ve had all this free time, and for the first few days I was delighted to be able to play and watch uninhibited. But today I guess I got kinda sick of it. I hated being so unwell, cooped up in the house. Standing up was a chore. Cleaning up was a chore. I just wanted to sit and be comfortable and have everything done for me. I got really restless, and part of me started freaking out about all this empty time that was coming into my day. I’ve basically ignored it, repressed it and just done more stuff to distract myself from how bothered it’s made me. Why don’t I like free time? Why can’t I face whatever it is I’m distracting myself from?
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to write for a while and see what comes out. Might delete it later to save you the agony. Might not to let you know what goes on in this head of mine. Free association, Freud called it…

What’s bothering me? What’s under the surface? Why is it when emptiness or blankness appears in my head I shovel dirt and ideas and rubbish on top of it? I’m not sure- it’s like a steel wall, all smooth with no way through it. Like I’m digging but a solid barrier prevents me from going any deeper just under the surface of my mind. Excuse me Mr Wall- may I pass please? I’d like to know what the earth underneath is like, and it really is my mind so I should really be able to walk around uninhabited. Hm… Tell you what. I’ll be very careful. If you wouldn’t mind opening up a trapdoor for me, I’ll make sure not to touch anything or move anything- I just want to have a look around so I can get to know the soil a little better. It might be really good for growing things you see (not that I’m being condescending). And if there’s something unpleasant down there, it’s better not to leave it to rot. Or at least to see what it is so we can bury it respectfully, without having to hide it like a body or… what’s it called… compost.

I can see the steel softening to iron. It’s easier to pass through, but it’s tentative. You need to be respectful, no tricks, just honest inquiry. It’s hard to let someone in to the tender parts of us, where they might do the most damage. But it’s important if we ever want to find true peace, to be content with who we are and what life is like.

Thank you Mr Wall for keeping me safe, and for doing such a good job of looking after me. But it’s not what I want. I want to know me. I want to see what’s underneath, what I’m made of. And I know that it can make me a better person if I do. I’m ready to face whatever it is you’re protecting me from.

The wall is in front of me now. It’s not in the earth- we’re together in a room full of emptiness. And I know that however far around the wall I walk, I’ll never find its end- it loops in on itself, a perfectly impermeable membrane. So I don’t think I’m going to try and conquer it. I’m not here to fight or sneak or win. I’ll just sit here, with the wall, and keep it company for a while. It’s done such a good job keeping me safe I don’t think it’s ever really had the chance to be with a person. Too busy keeping people away (me) to spend time with them or let them be close. And that’s okay. But the wall is a part of me too, and I want to get to know it. It doesn’t have to disappear ever if it doesn’t want to- there’ll always be place in my heart for it to go. Just like the lonely little boy who stood by himself looking cool because he was too scared, too hurt to admit he wanted to be accepted for who he was. He leaned against a lot of walls then, but for the wrong reasons. I’m not here to look cool and impress the ladies. I just want to hang out a while and chat.

So do you ever get lonely? Not that I’m diverting the focus to you, please don’t get me wrong. I mean, if it was me, I’d get pretty lonely. It’s a solitary job by nature. You never see the person you work for, you just do the job because you know it’s what you’re meant to do. But all alone in the darkness… You keep such a vigilant watch, I’m impressed. I’d promote you if I had any medals. Thank you for the excellent work. Maybe you’d like some coffee? Not that I imagine you drink it, but it’s healthy to share a drink sometimes. Whiskey, perhaps? I’m not too sure if I like the stuff- only had it once. But you’re welcome to it if you like. I’ll just leave the bottle here when you’re ready.

So where did you come from? Did someone build you? Were you made of different metals found scattered throughout the world from time’s existence? What’s that? I made you? Wow… I did a pretty good job if I may say so myself. You’re pretty flawless. Well, not perfect, but nothing is, and I wouldn’t want you to be. Whatever the reasons I brought you into existence, they must have been important to put you together to urgently and so well. Do you know what those reasons were, Wall-san? Mm, I see… That’s okay, you don’t have to tell me. Do you mind? Thanks. *takes a drink* Mm, warm. Little strong, but it’s not bad. Go on, have some. Here, let me wipe the lip first- I’ve still got a cold or something. Nah, I’m fine, just need a little more rest. Tess wants me to work tomorrow. Well, I mean, I think she does. I haven’t been in a week, and I feel like I’m not honouring my duty, my loyalty to PICYS, to her and to the young people I work for by not going in so long. I know I don’t do much at work, but I still do work, and it’s important work to be done.

Do you have any dreams, Mr Wall? Do you ever see the stars out (or in) here? It looks pretty lonely. Here- I’ll just pull on this tassle and let some light in… (The sky opens up and stars fill the ceiling. They’re majestic- beautiful- unimaginable stories from unimaginable worlds.)
…It’s a pretty big universe we live in, isn’t it? It makes me feel really small. How insignificant we must seem to the suns and stars and planet-eating Galacti out there. But we’re important too, Wall-san. We’re part of this great world. Everything we do, everything we think and feel changes the universe as much as it changes us. We’re an important part of everything. And we must always remember these connections- the spiderweb of energy that brings all life together, including you and me. And it’s nice, you know, just hanging out with you. I think it’s been what I’ve been looking for. I hope I’m not troubling you too much.

I am pretty curious about your origins though. Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself? Please, let me make myself more comfortable. I’d love to hear what you have to say. You’re here to protect me, right? Well… you’ve done an excellent job so far. I know it’s hard for you to talk to me. I’m really touched that you can open up to me and tell me how you’ve been feeling. I’m really grateful. Please, go on…

It’s a little hard to describe the sort of conversation we had… Wall-san and I talked awhile. I made guesses about what could be so horrible, and I get the feeling I’m on the right track. He didn’t say anything when I asked whether it was about finding meaning and purpose in my life. I tend to question myself about whether it’s all worth it every few months, what I’m really doing and what I really want… Could that be it? Could generativity, stagnation, worries about wasting time or not getting anywhere be driving me to fill up all my time in the desperate hope I’ll do something “productive”? Yeah… Yeah, you know, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve always been worried that I’m not on the right path, that what I’m doing is a waste of time and money and energy. But as long as no one stops me, then it’s not so bad, right? Filling shelves is such a simple, easy way to pass the time and earn a living. It’s mindless. But it’s not what life. Life isn’t about being bored so no one will judge your potential. Life should be about taking the risks to create something worthwhile. No, you’re right, it’s not always easy to know what’s worth the effort…

My good friend, my teacher, says that nothing worth doing is ever easy. Mr Wall… Maybe I need that challenge? Maybe I need to take a risk. Maybe my life is full of shit, of worthless, time-wasting rubbish to pass the days. I need to know if it is. I can’t wait fifty years and look back on my death bed and say “Damn. Now I know what life is about, what was worth being alive for. I wish I’d done it then.” Then is right now. Now is right now. It is the only time that I will ever have to do something important.

So let’s look at my life, Mr Wall. How have I been spending my time?

Watching movies? Pah. Yeah sure they have lessons, they make me feel good and they’re an interesting way to pass the time. But they’re empty. My life isn’t any better or any worse for watching them. (Unless they’re particularly meaningful.)
Reading magazines? Come on, really? Sure it’s something to do on the train, but being on the train is something to do on the train. There’s a whole world you’re missing while your head is in the pages.
Playing video games… Come on. Think about it. That list of fifty games you have? That list of games you want to play? That list of games you want to own? Really, really think about it… If you were to die the next time you fell asleep, would you want to play video games with your last few hours? Yeah, they’re good games, but that’s not all life has to offer you. That’s not why you’ve been given this chance. For God’s sake John, open your eyes to the possibilities. Billions of stories. Trillions. Infinite. Every human being, every flower, every particle of dust is worth exploring. The closer you look the more you see, and mate, you’ve been walking around blindfolded. This is the most amazing gift anyone has ever been given. Don’t waste any more of it you fool! Everyone has to die eventually. Your time is coming with each moment that passes.

Hai… You’re right Wall-san. That’s only half of the problem. I am avoiding the other half. It’s not so easy to just say “Hey, live life to the fullest and you’ll be happy!” The hard part is finding what I want from, out of, and for my life. It’s not an easy question to ask. Most people die trying to answer it. What are the things worth doing?

I’ll start you off with an easy one. People. Friends, love, family. All of life is made better because of these things. Get out of your world Xin. It’s not all about you. You’re one of the billions, and you’re not the most important. There are people in the world who miss you. Who need you. Who enjoy being with you. Stop scheduling time for yourself, start scheduling time for togetherness. It doesn’t matter how, or when. Stop with your boundaries, your time limits, your deadlines. Right now is your deadline. What are you going to do about it?

Where do you really want to work John? What is it you want to do to earn a living? Are you happy with social work? Sigh… No, and yes. It’s hard work man. It’s fucking hard. No one told me that putting yourself out there every day of your life was going to wear you down over time. But I’ve experienced happiness that I’ve never felt before from doing the work that I do. To be able to help a person, to truly take their hand and look them in the eye and say “I care about you, and I want to help your life be better” is an amazing experience. (Not literally of course- people get sued for that.) The truth is, social work is bloody hard, and my heart is so vulnerable for pains like insult, rejection and failure. It’s so much easier to avoid the risk. But the risk is what makes it worth it. Social workers wear their hearts on their sleeves- not all of them, but the great ones that I picture in my mind. They take the risks. They really give themselves to the people they work with, and they help them in a way no one else has ever bothered to. It’s not easy. It’s not safe. But goddamnit, it’s necessary for anyone to get anywhere in the world. All you have to do it give a shit. To care, and to do something about that care. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. That’s how I’m going to change the world. Not in a big way. Not in a way that will make people remember me for all time. But it’s what I want to give with the time and the energy I have. It’s what I want for the world. And I wish more people understood that.

You’ve been living a lot for yourself John Marshall. But you’re just one in seven billion. Open your heart. Take the risks. Don’t be afraid anymore of being a failure, of not being productive. It’s up to you now to choose how you want to spend your time. How to live, what risks to take. The change isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be scary. But you can do it. Your heart is made of gold and fire, and you can do anything you damn well want to. Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams. It’s the only way you’ll catch them.

All right, that’s enough for now. I’m tired, but… I’m really proud of myself, and Mr Wall for all the soul searching we did, and all the answers we found. I’m going to make the effort to live for now, in the way that is most important to me. I’ll start by telling my parents I love them. Sure they might not get it. They might brush it off or laugh. But that’s the risk I’m going to take, because it’s worth it.