Friday, 21 October 2011

More Water

My friend Helen Tennison and I have recently begun working on a new piece.  So far, all we really know is that its theme, starting point, call it what you will, is water.  It's in its very early stages at the moment and will probably sit somewhere between dance and theatre.  After our last meetings (on a recent trip of mine to London), we decided that in the time we were apart, we should write on water and email the results to one another as a basis on which to base some of the next round of studio-time.  What I came up with was a bit of a surprise to me.  Here it is.

I kneel to meditate. I am working with the image of an ocean, an ocean of consciousness. My thoughts arising are each a wave in this infinite ocean and resolve themselves back into it. I bow to the meditating Shiva, gold in the darkness, though I cannot quite see him as I touch my forehead to his feet. The Divine Mother, savage, ghastly, love, is behind and in me, darker still.

I settle my breath and watch it for a while. Sure enough, thoughts begin to arise. They are waves on the borderless expanse of this ocean and as they dissolve back into it, I feel my own edges dissolving. With it comes a wave of relief, relief at the dissolving of my existence as me, relief at the unreality of me as me.

Then comes a thought – or is it a feeling? Whatever it is, it is black as coal and dense as lead. It is grief, pain, injury and I am unsurprised at its arrival. But this density does not dissolve. Instead it takes me down, down, down to the floor of the deepest part of the ocean.

I find down here that I haven’t dissolved at all. I sit, entirely me, by a rock on the sand and the water around me is ink in its blackness. The surface is too far away to see, though I have a dim impression of light somewhere high. I sit for a while and wonder what I am supposed to be doing here, alone in the stillness and dark and cold.

Nothing happens, so I swim to the surface, seeking answers. Up there, a storm has risen and I am slapped and tossed by waves I am forced to drink.

I swim back down, from storm-light to silent-dark, to the stillness of the ocean floor.

When I get there I know it is time to take this ocean around me into me. I deliberately inhale the water. Old fear and sickness rise, remembered from times I have inhaled water unwillingly. The salt stings my sinuses and the lining of my lungs. But I know I must breathe it and it will not hurt me, however counter-intuitive. After a while, I reach a strange homeostasis of water inside and out. Perhaps I have grown inner gills.

A shark swims towards me, huge, a Great White.

“Will you kill me?” I ask. 
“No,” I understand.

Then comes the vastness of a Blue Whale, filling the horizon above me.

“Will you kill me?” I ask.
“No,” I understand.

Then comes a Killer Whale, its white markings startling in the dark.

“Will you kill me?” I ask.
“No,” I understand.

The shark and the whales swim above me in a wide circling as a giant squid, a creature I thought existed only in legendary sailors’ tales, large enough to take down a sailing ship and suck its contents into its beak, swims up to me from some crater I hadn’t seen.

“Will you kill me?” I ask.
“No,” I understand.

Then comes a jellyfish, its countless tentacles long ribbons of phosphorescence streaming behind it in the black water.

“Will you kill me?” I ask.

It pauses, hovering in the water for a moment, the lights of its filaments and body startling in all the darkness. Then it pulses towards me and embraces me, wrapping me close with those bright tentacles. They fill me with poison and the shock of electrocution which I both suffer and witness. But I am not harmed and I know it, whatever the hurt. When it pulls away from the embrace, I know the co-existence of love and pain and I am still whole.

I scan my body and notice a familiar ache under my shoulder blade is in fact a spear that has passed into me, entering through the top of my right shoulder and piercing down into some fathomless soft place low in my left side. The five sea-creatures line up, the Great White closest to me, its teeth on the shaft of the spear. I look up to see the five twined around one another in a long line and despite their monstrous size, the tip of this line reaching up to the surface is still far, far below it. Together they pull at the spear, swimming it out. Its head is of stone, cross-bound to the wooden shaft with a leather thong. It is a cunning weapon, designed to do more damage on its way out than on its entry into my body. The rear points of the arrowhead tear easily enough through the softness of my organs, but as it reaches my right scapula, it catches between the wing-shaped bone and the mesh of my ribs. The spear shaft shatters and as it does, four of the sea-creatures swim away.

My breath is strange.

Only the Great White is left and I feel him attacking the stone head, which has somehow shattered into the flesh and bone under my shoulder girdle. I wonder how a mouth so huge can clear the fragments of stone at all precisely. I see my wound, for all it is behind me: a funnel of torn red flesh and white bone, embedded with a few remaining fragments of splintered stone and a razor-like shark tooth, lost in the clearing. It is not entirely precise, but it is savagely accurate enough and perhaps the remaining shards will swim themselves free of this open, bleeding wound into the inky water surrounding it.

I go back to Shiva’s feet.

“What am I doing here?”

His hand presses the heavy grey coils of his serpent into my neck, the echo of a familiar caress. That hand continues to press, gently, silently, inexorably, presses me back down to the ocean floor.

I sit there in the darkness, my blood filling the water, alone except for the Great White who circles above me in a strange reversal of what I understand to be shark behaviour. He is not circling for the kill, drawn by my blood. Rather, he is circling to fend off any other attacker who may be drawn by it, that I may sit in the dark and cold to bleed and suffer, kept from death by one of this ocean’s fiercest predators.

Is this suffering with no death not the most terrible of all?

I think: is this despair?

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