I used to drop my daughter off before I went to work. I tried, if I could, to turn this into something that resembled a meditation; to be, if you'll forgive the cliché, in the now. I concentrated on the seat, on the way that it rumbled underneath me, but mostly I just looked at the trees.
I made some progress with this. I noticed, for example, the way that different branches move at different speeds. There's a line in a Les Murray poem about birds that "trickle down" through a tree's branches, and the wind can seem a bit like that. The top branches can appear to shiver, sometimes, even when the ones at the bottom are barely moving. There was a tree that looked like it had been blown backwards even when there wasn't a wind. It looked like it was being back-combed; like it was being worked over with a hairdryer.
Of course, you're not supposed to think like this. Words, analogies especially, are just another way of shaping what you see. The ideal is "to be", as Mark Doty writes, "my looking". You should be so engrossed in the act of attention that you lose yourself in it. And I did. I nearly did. But then I switched on the radio and that was it: no more trees. There's a Buddhist text that describes the mind as a "wild ape" and that feels right to me. Sometimes, I can meditate. I can feel the way that my breath tapers off on the upswing – the way that it seems to become the downswing of its own accord - but then I lose it again. I spend half an hour circling the same pointless and stupid thought. There are times when I'm reminded of Christopher Isherwood's Swami, who told him that we're all "like inkwells"; that we have to scour and scour and still we won't be free of everything that clutters up our inner lives.
But then I discovered Noah Rasheta, whose Buddhist podcasts I have been transcribing, now, for a few weeks. And Pema Chödrön, who says: "What causes misery is always trying to get away from the facts of life, always trying to avoid pain and seek happiness – this sense of ours that there could be lasting security and happiness available to us if we could only do the right thing." In other words, accept it, whatever it is. Accept whatever the facts of your life are and work from there. If you can't do something then it's fine. Don't put so much emphasis on what you think of as your successes and failures. Just... breathe. Don't get hung up on the stories you tell yourself, or, indeed, on the fact that you can't help telling yourself those stories. Feel what you feel, accept it, assimilate it and move on. It sounds easy, this, but it isn't: it's just as hard as the former, fiercer kind of discipline. But it's liberating, too. Attend - really attend - to Pema Chödrön and what she's saying can change your life. I am honoured and delighted to be able to share her teachings here for the next ten weeks.
Elsewhere, we have Nick Coleman; another poem in the Staying Alive series; poems from Richard Skinner, Nkateko Masinga, James W. Wood, Louise Peterkin, Yvonne Reddick, Chloe Yates, Cynthia Manick, Stanislaw Lecki, Mehvash Amin, Zita Izso, Maggie Sawkins and myself; another story in the Life Writing 2020 series, this time by Sue Hann; Brandon Robshaw on etymology; Noah Rasheta on Buddhism; our Track of the Week; the continuing saga of One Hand Clapping; a performance of John Cage's "Cartridge Music", filmed by Helen Petts; and Simon Russell, writing about creating the soundtrack for the BBC's new series Once Upon A Time In Iraq. That thing about losing yourself in the act of attention? Open up some of these articles and I think you'll find that it happens on its own.