The Magical Heart

atisha2When my heart is full of pain

and fear and righteous anger,

it can be overwhelming.

It can feel like I’m drowning.

If I am feeling wise that day,

I will remember

Atisha’s transformation meditation

 

When the world is full of pain

war, hunger, prejudice and sorrow,

it can be overwhelming.

It can feel like I’m drowning.

Atisha’s transformation meditation

is the key

 

When my heart feels all alone

full of resentment, failure and regret,

it can be overwhelming.

Instead of drowning,

I try to remember

Atisha’s transformation meditation

 

Build compassion:

I breathe in – and with that air,

I breathe in all the hells, the miseries,

of all the creatures of the Earth,

including my own.

I breathe in all the darkness

into my aching heart

 

The heart is a magical crucible

heated with the heat, the light of love.

It con-fuses all things in the Universe,

distils life to its purest essence

 

Build compassion:

I breathe out – and with that air

I breathe out all the love, the bliss

the joy and benedictions

I can muster

to all the creatures of the Earth,

including myself.

From my magical heart

 

When we lose heart, lose love, compassion

that’s when we fail. We fail each other and ourselves

When we use heart

the eyes of love reveal another world

Every face a friend, every tree a sister, every bird a sign

And the air that I breathe in, so dark,

breathe out, so light,

surrounds me like a mother’s arms.

It can be overwhelming.

It can feel like I’m drowning

in love.

If I’m wise enough that day to remember

Atisha’s transformation meditation

 

https://kadampa.org/buddhism/atisha

On the Surface

fear

 

You are so much less than

The man you declared yourself to be

So loudly, so insistently

The anarchy symbol tattooed on your skin

Is a lie

When you think that you always know better

 

And although in the daylight

You’re almost convinced

By your own self-image

That fantastic creation

I know that deep in the dark

You feel the fear

You feel the lie

You know you’re falling

 

It hurts to feel the truth

Does it not?

To reveal to yourself through your actions

Not your words

That all your rebellion

Free-thinking

Environmentalism

 

Crumbles away in the face of

Shiny new things

Central heating

Domestication

And a woman who is so much more

Than she ever revealed to you

 

no labels

 

Summer Uprising

xr

Take to the streets

And dance for your lives

Sing the pollution

From your lungs

 

Take to the streets

And raise your voice in protest

Whose streets? Our streets!

Whose planet? Our planet!

 

Take to the streets

Talk to everyone you meet

Eat and sleep together

Share the hope and the love

 

Because it’s love

That brings us here

We do not want

To see you harmed

 

And so

 

Take to the streets

Sing, dance, raise your voice

Wave your flags

And bang your drums

 

Because we love you

We stand in your way

Because we love you

We take to the streets

 

We are standing on the precipice

And we are dancing

We are singing

To save humanity

Four Walls

painI don’t usually write about this sort of thing, but I decided to try. Perimenopause sucks a big one, but it is getting better as I get stronger and fitter and if I eat and drink and sleep enough. Love and good wishes to everyone going through this too, I hope you find ways of managing it that work for you.

 

 

I lay trapped in the tunnel of pain

The four walls

The box sets

The world is narrow

On a day like this

My body calls the shots

And shapes my whole reality

 

It doesn’t matter what I want

What I plan

Whatever my intentions

But I must lie

First one way, then another

Sometimes there’s no way

That doesn’t hurt

 

I eat I drink I take the tablets

And I try for the relief of sleep

Another sunny day gone by

While I lie

Trapped in the tunnel of pain

The four walls

The box sets

 

On other days grief overtakes me

Or hopelessness or rage

My whole psyche is so sensitive

I can’t bear even the gaze

Of another human being

 

I wish to be both far away

Alone on an island

In a storm-tossed sea

The blessedly cold salt spray

Caressing my hormone-hot skin

Or else wrapped up in total love and care

Someone to cook my eggs for me

And hold me

 

Inside the four walls

Migraine lays me low

Every joint and cartilage inflamed

Hot hot pain at the base of my skull

I press my knuckles hard, hard

Into my eye sockets, my temples

And pray for the pills to work

 

A hand has taken hold of my womb

And squeezes it, squeezes it

And I’m gasping, dumbfounded

There’s nothing to be done

But let it rush through me

Like the incoming tide

Is it better if I breathe?

Or if I don’t breathe?

 

I have to change position again

Sometimes there is no way

That doesn’t hurt

And I’m scared and alone

Trapped in the tunnel of pain

The four walls

The box sets

 

And all the pills and hot water bottles

In the world don’t help

Reassure me that one day

This will all be over

And I will be set free

To enjoy the sunny days

Outside of these four walls

And It Was All A Dream…

castle

You see, I built all these great shiny castles

Out of air and fairytales and need

My need to love and be loved

I think you built some too

But I don’t know what they looked like

I was too busy piling up summer palaces

Full of flowers and sunshine

Laughter and starry nights beside the fire

We laugh as I chase the boy and dog

Around and round the garden

I turned my face away

From anything that didn’t fit

And hoped that the fairytale of love

Would work its magic on us

But I see now

I am looking now

Only we can work that magic

Love takes courage

You can’t build it out of hope

And air and fairytales and need

And it should not be locked away

In castles and palaces

You must love everything

From the ground up

You must join with everyone

Join the dance

I won’t turn my face away from you

Although your jagged edges

Hurt my eyes

Although your rough surfaces

Scratch my skin

Although I do not know how to make

The flowers bloom in our garden

What you can do if you fall

fall

If you fall down, what you can do

Is let the shock wake you up.

Feel the pain, breathe, shout it out

Or cry. Then, in your own time,

Get back up.

If a friendly helping hand

Extends towards you, take it.

Back on your feet, you may feel bruised

And trembly, unsure of your footing.

Take your time.

Breathe. Check out your bumps and scrapes.

Rub them better, give yourself a shake.

And hope that you have learned

How not to trip again, over the same old

Twisted roots.

Your first steps may be uncertain,

But one day soon you will be

Far along the path, striding happily.

And you will smile ruefully at the memory

Of falling.

Solus and the City

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I’m very happy to be a part of this event via Degenerate Space

I’ve contributed this essay, which will be displayed in the structure that they are building. It can be seen from the 1st of June as part of the London Festival of Architecture at Greendale Playing Fields, just off Dog Kennel Hill in Camberwell, SE London. The themes were solitude, sanctuary, women negotiating urban space. Some of it is based on a previous post, Doing Identity

Here’s what I wrote:

On the Street

Growing up as I did – a ‘weird’ kid with undiagnosed autism, a unique dress sense, the oddest parents in the neighbourhood, and indoctrinated as a good baby revolutionary, was pretty lonely. Sometimes I had friends to pal around with, but more often, I didn’t. But, since home was not always comfortable, either, I walked the London streets alone a lot from the age of about ten or eleven. Often, I crossed and re-crossed the street to avoid other children, from whom I always expected, and often received, a hostile reception. I walked in a state of constant paranoia and tension, trying to remain alert to any possible danger. At home I got rubbish advice: try to be more like other people, because dressing my individuality was attracting the hostility, or to just punch people who bullied or physically harassed me. But as far back as I can recall, I have been a pacifist and an individualist. So no help there. At the age of twelve, I did try for a while to dress like everyone else at school, and I cut my problematic hair (curly, bushy, frizzy, huge). But I felt so miserable in my ‘normal drag’ that I decided the trouble it caused me to dress as I pleased was worth it; I returned to my own tastes.

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McEntee school, Walthamstow, which I regularly absconded from

That was the year I discovered, during the chaos of a teacher’s strike, that truancy was a thing. Rapidly I learned to take advantage of the fact that I was often mistaken for my mother on the phone: I rang up the school in the morning and excused myself, changed out of my uniform, then spent the day walking around London. Sometimes I wandered far, as far as the British Museum or National Gallery, where I swooned over Egyptian artefacts and Tudor paintings; sometimes I walked around and around closer to home, weary and driven, not enjoying myself at all, but unable to stop. The city streets are hard, they blistered the soles of my feet. I got lost in the maze of streets and had to retrace my steps. Sometimes I saw groups of truants in the shopping centre, where I would only venture on rainy days. They were having more fun than me. But I never went to speak to them, and I often saw them being questioned by authority figures. I didn’t want to get caught. In the backstreets of ‘Theatre Land’ I saw drunks on the streets, urine trickling away from them in streams that stained the tarmac. I kept walking, never stopping. Once an older boy, brother of a kid in my class, followed me for a couple of hours and tried to chat me up. I knew I had to be jaunty but firm, and to keep walking, just keep walking, to fend him off without making him angry.

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Me aged 16

As I grew older, leaving school at fourteen and spending a year travelling the world with my family cemented my individualism. I returned to London (sans parents), aged fifteen, did not attend school, and embarked on a year or two of constantly changing my appearance and hair colour. It called even more attention, not always hostile, but often it was the attention of men, in cars, on scaffolding, just walking down the street. Now I had sunglasses to hide behind, and a fierce image which I wore as a shield. I told the men to get stuffed if I was feeling confident, or just blanked them, hot, angry, humiliated on the inside. I cultivated what I like to call ‘fuck off-vibes’ and insisted that I would walk where I liked, when I liked. I would not take up the cultural burden of fear that society tries to drum into the female body. I drew on my anger about the fear culture and projected that outwards, striding along. I’m not physically brave, but walking through London at 3am, perhaps dressed as a punk, perhaps as Madonna circa Desperately Seeking Susan, I felt that I was willing to risk anything in order to feel free, as free as a man might. No-one ever approached me then, even in Soho, even in the 1980s ruins of Docklands – I must have looked pretty angry.

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Art on the street in Bristol

I also became a ‘tagger’ for a while, writing my graffiti tag as often as I could on every available surface. Our tiny crew walked everywhere, as much as we could, because that was how you found the newly-cleaned-of-graffiti bus shelters to ‘bomb’ (entirely cover with graffiti), and at night was the best time to tag post boxes, phone boxes, any kind of signage, billboards, etc. It was another kind of urban freedom – we claimed the space as our own by marking it, and we became part of a network. The first time I went Kilburn I was paranoid until I saw a familiar tag. I felt reassured – I was not in entirely unknown, unexplored territory. ‘Care’ had been there before me. So I still feel at home in areas covered in tags. I know they are not the acceptable face of street art. They are often poorly penned, poorly executed, and seem to me to be poorly chosen (a ‘tag’ is like a single-word signature that you don’t change often. If you come up with a good one, you may keep it for years, even decades. The word you choose may be misspelled in order to make the artistic flow of the letters better). A good tag is a beautiful example of the calligrapher’s art, executed at speed, often on an uneven surface and with felt tip or spray can. So I’m often, when in cities, caught standing in front of a wall of tags, looking for the good ones, laughing at strange word choices, by young people who may well wonder what the hell this middle-aged white woman is doing. If I lived in a city now, I think I would engage in street art again. It makes a city yours.

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Burnt-out taxi

Nothing makes me feel more liberated and powerful than challenging those societal fears that my female body might be violated if I am alone, or where I ‘shouldn’t’ be. I have experienced just as much – or more – violation indoors, in domestic settings, where I should have been safe. And in other ways, I like to play with urban space and feminism. Although I never ‘man-spread’ when space is tight, if the bus or train is fairly empty and my clothes allow, I will sit with legs apart, arms resting along the seat backs, just taking up space in the way I see men do all the time. It garners a lot of surprised looks (I admit, I relish those looks), but it makes me feel that I belong in the space and the space belongs to me. I will stick out my elbows and square my shoulders and muscle my way through a crowd, and only step out of someone’s way if they are also behaving politely. I’ll sit on the steps, on the ground, climb over walls and railings, dash across the road. Because the more you let the conventions of civil behaviour rule your body and where and how you negotiate the city, the more you ingrain obedience into your psyche. I do not advocate rebellion against civility itself – I am considerate, helpful, polite, always making room for people who need a seat more than I, offering help with a bag or a pushchair, holding doors open and trying to spread good feelings in my wake. But I won’t submit to rude, pushy and aggressive people. Nowadays, having lived out of London for sixteen years, I no longer generate my ‘fuck off-vibes’ all the time, I have slowed my pace, I can walk without being driven by paranoia as I was when I was a child and a young woman. I talk to people in shops and on buses like the bumpkin I’ve become. But something of the streets will always be in me, something of the rebel who jumps the gate instead of going all the way around, and the woman who enjoys messing with preconceptions about how to use space and where and when and how we can be in the city.