Transcending Cultural Stress
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Transcending Cultural Stress
Cover: Ai Weiwei, April 2009. Photograph copyright: Elisa Haberer
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Photograph courtesy Simon Mitchell
Simon Mitchell offers some positive suggestions for enjoying the moment.
There are probably infinite ways to transcend and alleviate the stress of cultural self-destruct. Here are a few I enjoy:
Growing, making, eating food
After Nature’s excess with the pumpkins last year (four got composted eventually), this year we decided to grow an assortment of squashes. From planting the seed, nurturing the little plants, watching them romp across the beds, enjoying the huge yellow flowers and the pleasure they give the bees, and staring in rhapsody at the unique fruits they produce to the delight of picking, cooking and eating them, it is an experience without comparison. Eating food is one of the very few activities that employ all of the senses and can be completely transcendent. ‘Growing your own’ puts you in touch with Nature, increasing your awareness of its rhythms and seasons.
Physical work with Nature
I find something as simple as sawing wood, mucking out a stable or digging soil to be an intensely pleasurable experience. It is so ‘clean’. You harvest the wood: you get warm. You saw the wood (no chainsaws here): you get warm again. You burn the wood: you get warm again in front of the fire. I have had many moments over the years where, totally absorbed in physical work with Nature, lost for a time, transcended, I ‘come to’ and rediscover myself as an independent entity. Just sheer physical enjoyment of your body, your ‘animal’ nature, in sport or play or work can tune you in to the universe.
Using your hands is also a way to become one with the universe. You can see this in pottery, watercolour painting and a whole host of art and craftwork where the creator has become a vessel directly channelling the energies of the universe into the material through his or her own unique physiology. It is nothing short of fantastic when this happens to you and for a short moment you become ‘the one’.
Practising a sense of wonder
Last night we came home late and the crisp, autumn air made the stars light up. The Milky Way unfurled like a huge ribbon across the sky and uncountable pinpricks of twinkling light glittered above. If you consciously realise that each one of those pinpricks of light is another sun, then that pretty quickly puts things in perspective. You are Nothing. The Universe is Infinite. Simply expand your nothingness into infinity!
Enjoying time with children and animals
Children, as well as dogs, cats and other animals, are quite naturally ‘in the moment’. Join in with their world and play their games with them. Pretty soon you will discover a universe of fun-filled hours covered in mud.
Another way to spend fun-filled hours covered in mud, many sports can help you to connect with a sense of ‘oneness’ through sheer physicality: from oneness achieved through mastery of craft, skill or sport to the natural endorphins released through physical exertion. The more you put in, the more you get out.
I used to enjoy ‘freelance’ dancing but someone turned me on to salsa a few years ago and I searched for two years for a suitable class. Discovering this dance led me to book my only ever long-haul flight and go to Cuba to learn from the natives. I will never forget Raquel and Yodanke, who taught me salsa and son. Thank you so much. Talk about pure existence in the moment… I love dancing salsa like nothing else. Maybe salsa isn’t your dance, but there are so many different forms of dance that there is just bound to be one that suits you. Know that sometimes I go slightly ‘Skippy’ (the bush kangaroo) and my left leg wants to dance the hornpipe and my right leg wants to do the Scottish Country Sword Dance. Know that I have a tendency towards Whirling Dervish. Know that Sarah is very patient with me. I love to dance.
I have got this far writing this list and suddenly I feel utterly blessed, because I can play the guitar. How many times has making music helped me transcend the everyday mundanity of ‘necessary’ existence? Music is a pure form of energy and creating it can take you into another dimension. Through making (and hearing) music you can transcend ordinary reality and become one with a universe of energy. Like dancing, there are many forms of music and many ways to create it. From percussive music such as drumming, which can be deeply transformative, to strings, to wind… Go on a search to ‘find your instrument’ and use it as a key to open the universe around you.
Singing, like music, has the power to transform not just yourself but those around you. If you are lucky enough to have a good voice, please sing more often. If you are not so sure, maybe sing to yourself and don’t go on the X Factor. Or you could get some help, or even adopt an instrument. Humming can be pretty good too. Harmonica, anyone?
When I first discovered tantra, a friend claimed to be a tantrika but resolutely refused to tell me what it was about. So I enrolled on a weekend course with Leora Lightwoman (Diamond Light Tantra). It was an amazing experience. I have been on other courses with other teachers since then. It’s not what you think it is. It defies description. Go and find out for yourself.
Following on from the last, your partner (if you have one to love) is a gateway to the universe. Through union with another it is a short step to union with everything.
Mixing with elemental forces
Filled with awe at the Grand Canyon, amazed at the stars, lost in the playful flames, or relaxed by the rhythm of ocean waves… The elements in their raw state have a profound effect on a being open to their influence. Find raw elemental places in tune with your being and go to them to surrender yourself.
To an extent all of the above are forms of ‘dynamic’ meditation. Many people practise yoga, t’ai chi, qigong and other more formal forms of meditation, and if this suits you it is a great way to open yourself to other ways of being ‘connected’.
The universe is always there, always waiting for you to be in it. The culture in which we exist seems contrived to separate us from being in tune with the universe. We do have a choice.