Red Dust (2) “In the Shadow of the Turtle, Meditation “
Posted on February 25, 2014
Part 2: In the Shadow of the Turtle, Meditation.
On that same Angola beach, where I watched the ripples roll in, and die, smoothly, on their very last stage of their Long March, there were mounds of sand. Turtle nests.
Former… turtle nests.
With an air of decay, and emptiness, and futility hanging over them. With the old wooden signs, discolored, rotting, fallen down, but still imploring people in various languages, to respect the turtles’ habitat. The many empty tunnels, hand dug by groping human hands, testimony to the failure of those signs to elicit compliance, or even a modicum of compassion. I wondered at what stage the signs, and their falling timbers, their paint fading and peeling, would in turn be looted, for a convenient supply of firewood. To be burned, fleetingly, like so much other transience and ethereal impermanence.
It was a depressing sight in many ways. I would often wander amongst those former turtle mounds, and touch them with my hands. Sadly, reverently. And reflect on aeons of turtle comings and goings. Thousands of turtles. Tens of thousands. Maybe millions. Patient, steady, despite awesomely long Ocean journeys. Always returning to here, to give birth to future generations. To this exact stretch of this exact beach. And nowhere else.
Now, no more.
And I would think of the many times I had spotted turtles from my Tuna helicopter, far out, in Mid Ocean, hundreds and thousands of miles away, patiently swimming along. Always solitary. Always patient. Always steady. Following the quiet harmony composed by All Our Mother. Obeying All Our Mother. And, in their own way, honoring and glorifying All Our Mother.
Now, no more.
I would ask the local Angolans if they ever saw any more turtles coming up out of the sea. And they would frown, and shake their heads, or simply shrug their shoulders. Or walk off without speaking. It was as if they didn’t relish the questioning, as if, on some level, there was a hint of guilt. For the terrible thing that had been done.
I would listen to the bitterness amongst the ex-pats, the Helicopter Pilots and the Mechanics. The Oil and Gas workers, and the support staffers. Their sneering, contemptuous, judgmental condemnation of those stupid primitives. Imbecile natives! How could they not see? How could they DO that?
In their head shaking, their hard eyes, their body language, I could read their self esteem. Their self satisfaction. Their enlightenment. Their perceived intellectual superiority.
I would walk back down to that beach, after the day’s busy helicopter flying, and take my shoes and socks off. And paddle out into the incoming ripples, and feel them lap gently and warmingly around my tired feet. Soothingly. I would study the former turtle cities again, seeing, in my mind’s eye, vividly, the now bygone turtles, at last, exhausted, arriving back on the beach of their birth. Only to be either trapped, and devoured. Or, if they succeeded in laying their precious eggs, to have them dug up and stolen by groping hands. Hundreds of thousands of years of Patient Tradition. Over. In an evolutionary blink of a hungry Hominid’s eyelid.
I talked to an Angolan camp security man once, and asked him why they couldn’t have done more to protect future generations. Now doomed to be unborn forever. He answered, quietly, that the looters would come under the cover of darkness, and that there was nothing they could have done. It would have been dangerous to interfere.
I spoke French, and I was therefore able to talk much more intimately with many locals. They seemed to dislike most -not all- of the Americans, but they would tell me that I was Irish, and that I was all right. Why? I would ask. “Because you don’t look down on us”.
I would puzzle in my limited mind, what gave these people that ability to pick up on that fact.
Because, deep down, I did not look down on them. At all. We are all the same human family. I knew of their poverty. I knew how often the electricity went out. I knew how the coolest place to sleep was often the bare ground. Which was one reason why their simple cinder block houses were built directly and crudely on the ground. Without a concrete slab. (the other reason was prohibitive cost). I knew about their recent civil war stories. Because I had asked. I knew how many had starved to death, or survived only by eating dogs and rats, cockroaches and bats. I knew how many had helplessly watched parents starve to death, or brothers, and sisters.
Could I condemn a man trying to feed his starving children?
I would think these thoughts, and my hands, gently, reverently, would touch the former turtle mounds. I would still feel a strong, intimate Life Force connection with these long gone, gentle creatures.
In my sadder moments, I would find myself worrying about the ever increasing pressure of teeming human populations on more than just turtles. I would think of the competition for increasingly scarce basic resources of space, and air, and clean water. I would feel this hopelessness, this despair, this sense of foreboding and doom. Wars yet to come. The vision of a world gone mad, and consuming itself in an orgy of lust and non-thinking.
But at other times, I felt a great acceptance. A Peace, almost.
* * * * *
Time morphs. It is not a straight line constant. When you meditate, peacefully and quietly, and when you go where the spirit moves you, you find that Past and Present flow together. In your silent mind, stripped with difficulty of the unnecessary burdens of Desire and Illusion, of Vanity and the urge to seek Permanence, you slowly learn to see connections. Streams of thought blend former experience with today’s feeble learning. Linked entirely logically in my quiet mind, I move, patiently and softly, from the beaches of Angola, Africa, to the simple story of a Taoist Monk… I see him, and I hear his gentle voice. His soft spoken manner. His compassion.
* * * * *
This Taoist monk was an old man. Quiet and thoughtful, who had lived a long and solitary life on a remote Chinese Mountain. What visitors he received, were respectful and quiet spoken. There is a long tradition of respect in China for hermits and sages.
That all changed abruptly one day. He was visited by a gang of screaming, angry, threatening young people. They forced their way into his abode. They were the mostly teenage (and easily manipulated) Red Guards. During the so-called “Cultural Revolution” which took place in various abrasive incarnations between 1966 and 1971.
(It had much more to do with Mao Zedong trying to restore his own, vain, personal power and prestige within the Communist Party, than with any appreciation of China’s old and venerable culture. In an insane fervor, the mostly teenage and very impressionable Red Guards had attacked, looted and destroyed many temples and shrines, and burned books and priceless ancient artifacts. They had viciously beaten monks, and nuns, and rich people, and forced many into work gangs. For what? More moderate and sensible politicians, soon reversed this tide of destruction, but by then nothing could undo or mend the broken pottery, the smashed heads and porcelain, the incinerated parchment, the torn paintings, and the lost Ancient Chinese scrolls.)
Into this cauldron of discontent and cheap, low, political intrigue fanned by the political opportunism of a vain, power hungry, unsophisticated buffoon, came this quiet Taoist monk. By the name of Master Yang. The screaming hordes beating down his door were not to be reasoned with, and he knew it. Years later, interviewed by Bill Porter (“Red Pine”), (see “The Road to Heaven”, p. 215) the thoughtful monk tells this story:
“I didn’t really learn to read until I left home and became a monk. Since then, studying has caused me a lot of trouble. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. It was like wind blowing past my ears. So I decided I’d better concentrate more on practice than on study. Still, over the years I’ve read whenever I could. After Liberation, we weren’t supposed to read old books anymore. But I managed to collect quite a few Taoist books, and I hid all the important ones away. Then the Cultural Revolution came, and they started burning books and arresting people. By that time I knew what was inside the books. So when the Red Guards came and demanded we hand over our books, I brought out a whole chest to them, including things that I had written. I told them to take what they wanted and leave me the rest. They took everything into the kitchen and burned it.”
Bill Porter: “What a pity. Were you upset?”
Master Yang: “Not really. It was just change…“
* * * * *
Just… change. I think about that, and I try and apply it to my quiet fears for mankind’s future.
To the turtles. To Life. Death. Passing. Just… change. I meditate, in my own, simple way, and try and purge my spirit of all the unnecessary baggage. I need to quieten this cacophony. In my mind’s eye, I push it with my left hand away to the left of me. Sideways. Away. Sometimes, eyes shut, my hand moves, in a sweeping motion. More and more clutter leaves my mind. Things that matter, in their own way, at the appointed time, but not now.
Bills and money…
Off to the side.
Mortgages and rent houses…
Off to the side.
Off to the side.
Off to the side.
Off to the side.
Off to the side.
Guns… And former Violence. Past hates. Past?
A bullet I placed. Coldly and Surgically. Right in the brain. Forty caliber hollow point. Not even a kick.
A deep, shuddering sigh.
Past. It’s over. “The flower and the wind are old friends”.
One by one, I find and identify an area of thinking, and concern. Of pre-occupation. And I purge it out of my mind. For now. Begone. Later perhaps, we shall re-visit with you. But not now…
My mind is emptying, slowly. The clutter is becoming less. Obstacles and attachments lose their tenacious grip. But now it gets harder. I have to deal with my Nemesis, Desire. And, closely linked for me, Illusions.
I sigh. I need Simplicity now, and Sincerity.
I have never sought Nothingness. Like so many seem to teach. Nothingness in my mind seems pointless and futile. In this thinking, I deviate from many accepted and traditional recipes and formula for Meditation.
I, a simple creature, I do it my way. One item at a time, I strip them away. I unload them. I toss them overboard. For now. I try also to lose Desire. I try to face Illusions. It is hard for me. I try to be simple, and honest, with myself and with others, to find out what is left over, when I have stripped out all the Static, and the tinsel, and the Razzamataz. Why lie to myself? Why fool myself?
Ah! I am left with my constant Achilles heel. My weakness. I face it reluctantly. Some part of me that loves (craves?) Recognition and Praise.
I must discard them as well. I struggle. With my eyes shut tight, I laugh at my scribbles. The naivety of my questioning. The simplicity of my language. I laugh at my curiosity to see how many people have visited my web site. I laugh at my pleasure when somebody sends me a complimentary email, or posts a nice, appreciative comment. I tell myself none of it matters. Because it doesn’t. All things will pass. I am small. So small, and finite, and mortal, and limited in my understanding. There is nothing wrong with blending life and Art, if I may call my scribbles that. But that expression of feelings, again, is just a tool. A joy for itself. A gift from somewhere. I’m happy when a small handful of soul mates enjoy the flowers I plant, that flank and color the stones on my path. But what matters is the path.
Ah. I feel more of it disappearing, off to my left. More of the false pride is going. More of the hubris, the vanity, the immaturity, the silliness.
I sigh deeply. I am getting there, slowly. Even I, the chopper jockey, the air show pilot, the performer, the comedian, the cheerful, incessant talker… even I.
The bag is emptying out. What is left? What really matters? If we accept the transience of Life, and if we can be amused at our frantic efforts to build something permanent. Then what is left?
Peace. At last. I see what I often see. The world. From Space. I see the colors, and the clouds, and that wonderful, thin, fragile gaseous layer, in which all living creatures live and die.
And I think of the monk. His calm. His wisdom. His compassion. His acceptance. Of change.
He is right. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The more some men fight, the more others value peace. The more Man pollutes, the more species die, or diminish, or go by, unappreciated, following the Tao, the more precious and beautiful it is to wander amongst the deserted turtle towns. The more Nature will eventually compensate for this one, destructive, pestilent species.
I do have hope. I have hope. There are so many good, enlightened, kind people down there. And I have confidence in that beautiful world of ours, which I gaze at, for long hours, from my quiet perch, here, in Outer Space. There are times I wish I could disappear into one of my stories. This one, perhaps.
We are all members of a close family. Maybe it is indeed true.
That there are no two things in the Universe.
And if that is true, then as for those tumultuous, terrifying, distressing changes I worry about, seen in the context of aeons and aeons…?
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on September 8, 2014, 8:17 am