The gift of perspective – a view from Nagarkot

Nagarkot

Nagarkot

It takes me four hours to climb from the screaming city; to wade through the accomplished rural chaos of Bhaktapur to Nargakot. I end up so high the trees look like broccoli and mud brick houses shine like chocolate smarties in the hills. The air is crisp like fresh sheets; it seems to breathe me, not the other way around. Below and above me everything appears small and vast, chaotic and ordered at the same time.

Suddenly I’m filled to bursting with the universe’s blissful disorientation, and I’m struck by an intimate and comforting knowing – I am part of that same crazy confusion, it is my own internal aliveness.

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Everything we’ve lost can be found

The bowl in question

The bowl in question

at the cliff edge upon which
everything still sane with the world
teeters or is lost completely,
there are moments
when with utmost clarity
humanity reveals itself
wide and deep like an old bowl
to save sanity from falling.
in that human moment we
might be forgiven for thinking
that everything we’ve lost
can be found.

Yesterday i bought the most beautiful handmade Nepalese-Tibetan singing bowl. I’d played scores of them all over the place before I found this one that resonated deeply with something in me. They say sometimes of instruments that the instrument chooses you. This felt like that.

On my way from the singing bowl shop to another appointment, I caught a taxi with a nineteen year old Nepalese man called David who had a crooked homemade cross and the word ‘Jesus’ tattooed on his forearm. Over the heavy bass of a strange but rocking Nepalese-Anglo dance remix, we talked about Christianity, guitars and other things. It was a good twenty minutes following my exit from the cab before I realised I’d left my singing bowl in it.

To my surprise, this actually didn’t upset me too much. There’s something really cool happening internally over here – a combination of acceptance, awareness and something magical I can’t quite put my finger on – so I was sort of resting in the conviction that I’d manage to find it again.

And find it I did. It took me most of the day today, but with the overwhelming generosity and help of a group of Nepalese cab drivers, who truly went out of their way to rally the troops and to help me locate David – one young cab driver in a BIG city – I’m happy to say I have my singing bowl back.

It’s really nice to know that against a pretty bleak global backdrop, there are still really good humans out there. Sometimes you just have to be open to the possibility and look a bit harder.

Side note:

In addition to the cabbies, I also want to pay credit to a couple of people I’ve had the honour of acquainting over the last few days – even if just in a literary context. I came across Alice Walker’s title ‘Anything We Love Can Be Saved’ the other day at a truly inspiring talk on ‘Men Against Sexism’ in Nepal which was presented by Ben Atherton-Zeman. Ben travels the world talking to communities about gender-based violence and gender equality and is a pretty inspiring guy. You can have a look at his site ‘Voices of Men’ here. Ben cited Ms Walker’s ‘text and I thought it was so beautiful and profound and poetic I wanted, in some very small way, to pay homage to it – hence the title of this blog entry.

She writes:

“It has become a common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our heroes falling over the years, that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame.

This is the tragedy of our world.

For we can do nothing substantial toward changing our course on the planet, a destructive one, without rousing ourselves, individual by individual, and bringing our small, imperfect stones to the pile.”

Pretty beautiful stuff if you ask me.

x

One day the words will come

The dead burn at Pashupatinath temple, Nepal

The dead burn at Pashupatinath temple, Nepal

I’ve been trying to find words to convey the enormity of my experience at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu last night. I’ve done hardly a thing today, though not for want of trying – I feel like I have been split open and it’s hard to be coherent in that state. Though some garbled words have come to me, it’ll no doubt be a while before I’m able to articulate even part of the story to my satisfaction. Indeed, that time may never come. The decision about which parts of this story I want to share publicly and which parts I want to keep for myself may also take some time to reveal itself to me. Until then, I will share with you one of the very few photos I managed to pull myself together to take. In deep, deep gratitude and wonder. Briony.

 

A love letter, from autumn to summer

Boys climb stairs outside Pashupati, Kathmandu

Boys climb stairs outside Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu

 

i met you just as the last of your flowers
bid their wishful goodbyes to branches
that had cradled them for three months
or longer. you grieved into my outstretched
arms, seduced my chill with warm fingers
breathing perfumes from your mouth
lovers grasped at the last straws of light
we tickled their noses with fancy
that this year, we might just skip the other
seasons.

but you knew as i that change should be
the only thing as certain as death so
we burnt gold the leaves with our fierce affair
others swayed in verdant envy breathing
as we danced each other hard and fast
those lovers bounced beneath branches orange
sad and heavy with the brevity and sweetness of
seasonal romance.

when you pulled away and made to
voyage unknown ends of the universe
the first leaf fell like a tear and the lovers
peering from their safe window
watched them pile up and up and up
they deluged the earth until all the trees
were exposed in their nakedness
accusing skyward with skeletal fingers
i wrapped them up in blankets made
of my melancholy and reminisced for
you.

crisp days turned into cool nights
though sunshine often teased of your
absence. and the trees whispered they were cold
without their clothes, without your sun to
keep them warm. but i was soon used to you gone
we were all soon used to you gone
your memory a footpath puddle evaporating
at a time when you were in your
body.

now the happy lovers make fire
lie by the hearth entangled in limbs
they read to each other
imbibe red wine from glasses that
shine with their reflections
they make love while
piles of leaves outside combust
and slowly turn to
mush.

Dear human, just feel me

Dear human, just feel me

Dear human, just feel me

yesterday i spent three hours
at guru swami dada’s place
through esoteric talk of
chakras ghosts and death
he said: you see the problem
with humanity is that
communication has
simply broken down

we don’t believe each other
how bizarre that we should
need ID to prove that we
are us as though plastic
has more weight than word
imagine god at heaven’s gate
turned us back because
we lacked a visa

Krishna’s birthday in the clouds

Krishna’s temple

she calls the people and
the mountains to her
valley-bound the sound
falls like tumbling hair
the people tuck it
round their ears and flock
like moths, tributes to her
amaranthine spirit
upon her alpine throne
she beams pink-skinned
and owns the dawn
as if it is only hers

To begin again – a sketch from the roof

From the rooftop, Boudha, Kathmandu

Boudha, Kathmandu

from the rooftop
colours blend through
rain-covered lenses
marble pools like
melted rainbow
paddlepops

clothes stick
to me bewitched
by thick air
its heat unsettles
like piled-on
woollen blankets

in streets below
cars spit dirt
on muddy kids
their laughter mixed
with prayer bells
chorusing between
tall houses

this divine chaos
is not lost on me
it comes from
all directions

but

up here i dream
i’m floating under
water heavy with
symphonic echoes

quiet exists
deliciously and
only inside

Side note: 

As many of you know I have recently moved to Kathmandu, Nepal. I am staying here for a little while primarily to work with the Women’s Foundation Nepal, a project partner of the Global Women’s Project of which I am Director back home in Melbourne. I feel incredibly lucky to have found myself in the company of some formidably passionate and capable Nepalese women and there are no doubt many great things ahead for the partnership! If you’re interested in staying in touch with the work of our two organisations please subscribe to our GWP blog.

Although I will no doubt also write about my work here, this blog, Burning the Couch (which has been been asleep for so long!), is primarily a space for me to reflect creatively on the deeply personal decision to come to Nepal. Like so many people tired with the banalities of modern life I really found myself wanting back in Melbourne; craving inspiration, more creativity, colour and chaos. I’ve been here just two days now and already I am heady with it. In such a place the words just flow.

If you, like me, feel an urge to get off the couch, or to set fire to it, please do keep reading.

In gratitude, namaste x