He’d only just sat down, carefully leaning his portfolios against the end of the bench. Dressed in Melbourne blacks, I could tell he was an artist of some kind.
“Do you think that’s a joke?” he said getting up and walking forward a couple of metres.
I got up off the other end of the bench, leaving my cello, and followed him to the platform’s edge. I looked down to the tracks. “Yeah, it looks real – could be some kind of hidden camera joke for television,” I said returning to the bench. “You could jump down and get it”.
“Nah, I wouldn’t get up again, but you could. Jump down – it wouldn’t take long, go on.”
“Wow, that feels naughty, jumping down on the tracks – but it is 5 minutes until the train comes.”
“Go on, you get down and get it and I’ll help you back up.”
So I did.
I jumped down onto train tracks and picked up the yellow $50 note. It had a bit of grease on it so it must have spent a little time being blown around under a carriage, but it was the real deal.
My accomplice helped me back up – the platform was higher that it looked, much higher than the rocky cliffs of the GR10 that I’d left behind a month ago where I’d had my last hands up.
Down to my last $2 til payday, I couldn’t have been more excited. Money on the train tracks – how about that! I thanked him for it and explained it meant a lot.
His mum always gives him $50 for his birthday. “It’s important to spend it on something nice, like a book or a CD rather than just losing it on a bill”.
We got talking on the short train trip into Flinders St station. Apparently this area had a reputation for large amounts of money just turning up. Back in 2016, a gardener found a huge lump of cash when gardening in Highett – what a Christmas present! Some people do have money growing under trees, in their garden.
So with my newly found cash, I did as all good artists do, and went and spent it. A treat for lunch and the rest on some new aquarelle pencils.
I continue to be overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers and the abundance of the universe.
“As the purse is emptied the heart is filled” Victor Hugo
You may remember last time I walked in France, I eventually blogged my 46 days. Well this time, I’m only going to hold myself to 100 words a day plus a photo … on Instagram. If you want to walk with me – head on over.
I’ve had several conversations with people in the last few weeks about being outside, and what draws me to this type of walking. There is a beautiful freedom and ironically, a sense of security in being outdoors, and I think Rebecca Solnit captures it with her words:
“Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors…disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
This idea also dovetails well with some material our philosophy group is working through at the moment,
“The whole world is pervaded by me yet my form is not seen”
It is worth pondering where our limits lie, and to also acknowledge that the whole world lives in us. William Blake’s words are brought to mind,
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”
I’ve always avoided White Night. It seems like the perfect storm to me. Bright lights, hundreds of thousands of people, packed public transport. It’s all too much for this sensitive soul. However this year was different.
I was meeting a friend visiting Melbourne from East Gippsland to go see a movie in the afternoon, and decided to do my occasional Degraves brunch to read the papers. I hadn’t realised that this day, Lunar New Year, was one of those when I avoid being out in public, but I spied a small story in The Age about a White Night experience with a difference, an audience with Tara the Liberator.
After our movie, Phantom Thread , Daniel Day-Lewis’ supposed last film and a slightly disturbing period piece with LOTS of amazing dresses, I suggested to my friend that I’d like to see Tara. I was pretty sure it was on at Hamer Hall, from memory, but I confirmed by stealing the article from Tiamo, aided by a couple of customers sitting in the window, “take the whole paper,” they said. I just took the article and we set out to meet some other friends and drag them along too.
My Christian up-bringing focussed on ‘only one God’, but my comparative religious education also included spending 18 months of my childhood in Bangladesh where I danced for Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge and Wisdom) pujas and witnessed the ornately decorated clay and bamboo Durga (Mother Goddess) being dropped in the river, a portent to the quality of crops for the year. So why have one God, when you can have many to cover all the challenges of life? And why not have some female ones? Given the year that 2017 was, it seemed an auspicious opportunity to spend some time with a female one. I found my goddess of choice on White Night, sheltered in the cave that is Hamer Hall.
Descending the three flights of escalators, we entered at the stalls level of the recently updated hall and there she was in her glorious green, radiant translucence. Tara is joined by 21 others depicted on this 15 metre high by 9.5 metre wide canvas painting made in three sections. She sits cross-legged in a dance posture, right leg slightly extended – ready to jump into action. Her left leg is close to her body, indicating her full control over subtle inner energies. My question is what to do about the not-so-subtle inner energies!
Tara the Liberator is the representation of “profound wisdom that is the mother all the Buddhas with constant and unconditional BIG LOVE for all beings, without exception”. Don’t we all wish for that.
Photo: Azriel Ferro
She reminded me of the character from Norse mythology, Erda, who I first me in Wagner’s Adelaide Ring Cycle in 2004. In the rendering of that spectacular version, Elke Neidhardt (who sadly passed away in 2013), had the earth mother contralto, sing the role with a costume that appeared to leave one breast exposed. What a powerful portrayal of feminine power and energy. Maybe she was fashioned on Tara.
We sat for some time in the subdued lighting usually reserved these days for The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cluny Museum or Van Gogh’s Haystacks visiting exhibit at the NSW Art Gallery. We bathed in the eastern sounds of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s mantras with gentle music. Some closed their eyes, some read the laminated card descriptions and I wept. Over 3,000 people visited during the night, moved by the scale of this artwork and the deep peace and calm that the experience brought. We left to have dinner, at the cheap and cheerful, Om Vegetarian but part-way through the meal, I felt a strong urge to return. My companions were similarly drawn back so we returned for more contemplation and meditation before retreating from White Night relatively early.
There were several other activities that one could busy oneself with in the foyer including making origami lotus flowers, signing petitions and learning about other up-coming events (March 17th, 7pm – 2am at White Night, Ballarat) and the final resting place (Buddhist Tara Institute, East Brighton) of this beautiful art work.
The artist, master thangka painter, Swiss man, Peter Iseli and his Tibetan wife, Jangchub worked on this piece for over four years at a Buddhist centre in Toulouse.
If you live in Melbourne, I’d throughly recommend a visit to see Tara the Liberator/21 Taras Thangka in Ballarat this weekend or at East Brighton (although I’m not sure of whether it will be displayed or just housed and brought out for special occasions).
For years and years, I have kept a box of cards and letters that I have received from my friend Helen. The cards began before the letters: birthdays, Christmas and just ‘cos exchanges, that morphed into longer letters when Helen got her first job in the country, 400kms from Adelaide.
They tell of a time where we were both testing our ideas, becoming adults with opinions, sharing jokes and quotes, extending and showing off our vocabularies, and of course revealing the inevitable love stories. Here I’d found a friend that ‘got me’ and while I missed her not being in Adelaide, our friendship via correspondence was always a source of great joy and continues, albeit less frequently, until today.
One of the cards we exchanged (I can’t remember whether I gave it to her, or she to me or whether I’m making it up completely) was by Judy Horacek, Woman with Altitude. Judy’s work was always appealing – it charted our conversations, the personal and the political. It acknowledged the inequalities women faced, with sometimes a not-so-gentle, cheeky, raised middle finger to patriarchy.
In the intervening years Judy has also been skilfully creating art for children’s books and worked with Mem Fox (coincidentally Helen’s university lecturer, and mother of Chloë, whom I sat next to in Year 9) on her books Where is the Green Sheep, This and That and Ducks Away.
This history all came together one chilly day in 2017 when I decided to visit Judy Horacek’s exhibit in the Melbourne Rare Book Week.
One of the welcome additions to the week-long rare-book fest is the celebration of art in books. Mini exhibitions have been hosted by the Melbourne Athenaeum Library (worth a visit if you’ve never been there).
So it was a serendipitous moment when I pushed through the wooden framed, glass doors of the old reading room, and walked up to a spritely woman who greeted me enthusiastically,
“Hello, I’m Judy”
So we had a writerly exchange and she did as all authorpreneurial authors should – encouraged me to buy her book, Random Life. How could I resist with all that history, an autograph and a very poignant foreword by John Clarke? Actually I couldn’t and I bought a couple.
Where is the Green Sheep?
Where is the Green Sheep? toy
The exhibit was small, consisting of a few limited edition prints and two displays in glass cabinets, of books and ephemera, but I was on top of the world, so size didn’t matter.
Sitting at a rail platform observing and listening to all the people collecting, ready to get on the train, and the Ben Lee song, We’re all in this together pops into my mind. I smile to myself with this realisation – and this was before I checked his lyrics,
“Woke up this morning
I started smiling
Cos you were smiling
And were all in this together
I’m made of atoms
You’re made of atoms
And were all in this together …
“And on the subway
We feel like strangers
But were all in this together”
It has been a week of it, hasn’t it? We may try to distance ourselves from what we see as the ‘other’ in politics or geography. But today more than ever, we realise that the world is actually small and that something that affects one of us, affects all of us.
We can take opportunities that present to us every day to enhance the connection we have to the people around us, whether familiar or unfamiliar.
Having a break from my survey work today, I was eating lunch at Flinders St station. I took a seat at a picnic table and it wasn’t long before the 82-year-old across from me struck up a conversation.
It doesn’t take much to connect with someone. Just listening to what they are saying, and responding with questions and observations builds a rapport that makes both of us feel connected.
I might not be able to solve all of the world’s problems or address suffering on a broad scale, but I can take opportunities to connect deeply and well with those who cross my path.
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” The Talmud
A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.Grace Hopper
I have, more often than not, succumbed to the magnetic force of the doldrums. My mind often gives me a run for my money, taking my negative experiences (of which there have been a few), and sucking me into obsessional thoughts that are at best unhelpful, and at worst plain destructive. Numbness, depression and ennui can set in like a London fog, confusing thinking and leading to less than ideal decisions.
It is interesting to note that term thedoldrums (according to a Google search), born in the 1800s, had it’s heyday between the 1880s and 1950s. These years seem to coincide with a period of industrial history where our senses became increasingly bombarded with sounds of industry, transport and war and strangled from an appreciation of the natural cycles, rhythms and seasons. In modern society, the occurrence of the doldrums has continued to rise and be ever more medicated. I am reminded that in music, the doldrums has birthed a whole musical genre, the blues.
Three separate occasions wove together this week for me, bringing new realisations and teasing out my understanding of handling the doldrums in a different way.
In our philosophy material for the week we touched on the wisdom Henry Thoreau gained through nature at Walden,
When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence – that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. (Where I Lived and What I Lived For).
As I have observed so often, the strategies we might apply with the best results, could be so easily gleaned if we were to stop and observe nature. In the absence of our own Walden experience, luckily these days we have other people to do the patient observation for us.
A new teaching came to me via New Scientist as discussed on the RRR 102.7FM program, Einstein a GoGo. I heard the wonderful tale of birds who skirt the areas in the oceans known as the doldrums to continue flying for hundreds of kilometres, seemingly without sleeping. These birds have highly developed sensing systems which assist them to navigate along the edge of these areas characterised by low wind. Sailors have long known these areas on one hand don’t have winds enough for progress and on the other can spawn hurricanes.
Is it necessary to have down-periods that might prove to be launching pads for new adventures: times of inertia where it is not advisable to attempt to move forward, but to gather energy for the next leg of the journey? Is it possible to learn the lesson of the doldrums without venturing into them?
It was not coincidence that in this same week I also spent a wonderful one and a half hours listening to the humble wisdom of Craig Hassed, mindfulness teacher, at Erasmus School in Hawthorn, Melbourne. The ideas he spoke of, dovetailed neatly. Through a practice of mindful observation and connection with the senses, may we also observe and skirt the doldrums?
Try it sometime. Pause. Find stillness. Feel the weight of your feet on the floor, the touch of your clothes on your skin, the air moving around your body, the smell, taste and finally the sound of your situation. Be present entirely. Merely observe the thoughts coming and going, letting them glide away.
Perhaps if we can practice tuning into our senses, becoming acutely aware of our inner navigation system, we will be able to skilfully skirt the doldrums.
I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.Louisa May Alcott