In which Jack, having fled the city, is reminded of perspective by a skylark and is assailed by visions of Pacha Mama.
In the morning of that night, I woke from a dream. In the dream, I was taking ayahuasca in the jungles of Peru and I’d met Pacha Mama, the great Earth mother. She was huge and kind and smelled of damp earth and told me I should use a revolutionary new hair product that would restore shine and bounce whilst retaining control and I grew suspicious. She said she could offer me a special discount on a bulk purchase and a loyalty card and all the chicks would love me and it turned out she was working for Aveda in the astral plane and I shook her off. Blinked my eyes and she was gone. Flying lizards and rainbow serpents for a few moments, a glimpse of a possible humbleness in the face of eternity, then another Pacha Mama came up, said she was the Real Thing and offered me a drink with dirty leaves in it. Tastes like coca cola, I said, and she said, Nothing but the Real Thing, like I said, kid… It’ll give you superpowers. Get out of here, I said. You’re not the real Pacha Mama, not the genuine article at all, and besides, I’m more of a dandelion and burdock kind of a guy, if you know what I mean. A whole succession of Pacha Mamas, all trying to sell me things in exchange for their magic tricks. Looks like the corporation’s got in there deep. I’m lovin’ it, she tells me. Just do it. Does what it says on the tin… Inspiring capital… Watch out for swine flu… I was expecting something more along the lines of the medicine wheel, the sacred hoop of creation. Turns out it comes in three refreshing new flavours, one of them sugar-free, all fair trade and no bitter after-taste. No more embarrassing moments with the women, it’s claimed. Keeps your gums clean, she says. I’m being spammed in my sleep.
I woke up and forced myself back into the world. It seemed like a more honest place to be, lying out in the may morning with the skylarks exalting in their praise of the world. Didn’t seem like they were struggling to much with complex integrations of the spirit. Simple pleasures of flight and singing, susceptible to dancing mirrors their only downfall…
Dream-remnants were wandering around the nether regions of my brain, trying to interest me in time-shares and subscriptions to glossy magazines about saving the earth. I ignored them. Not interested; do not disturb. Move along now, nothing to see.
The day was glorious. Simple shreds of white cloud high above gave no suggestion that they might turn into thunderous downpours and, though that in itself made me think they might do just that, I allowed myself for a moment to believe that it might remain a sunny day. Such is the earth-element security of Scottish weather. Expect the worst, dress for the deluge. Delight if you are overdressed and then discard everything you can for the brief moments in which the wind isn’t tearing the skin off your bones. I was daydreaming that I was in a country where the sun shone all the time – I’ve heard these places exist somewhere, but that it drives people mad with happiness and they turn to killing one another for the simple relief it affords. Safer to stay in Scotland in the relative certainty of misery. No jihad or holy war could ever really take off here; a sunny day would throw it into chaos. Knights and lords stripping down to their skinny white carcases and drinking buckfast in the blistering brightness. Holy Land? Mine’s a tennents, son. That and the sullen sky do not inspire us to delirious heights of such holy madness – a quick stabbing here and there, nothing fancy, mind; the odd riot if the pubs are closed. When Scotland storms the gates of heaven, it’ll be for the free drinks and a scratch-card…
I remember being young. A snapshot, if you like; a small vignette of Jack-the-lad, before the sorrows… An ascendant youth with his eyes on the stars.
Back then, I once met a man who looked like a monkey, but it turned out to be a trick of the light. I said ‘Are you Hanuman, the monkey-God aspect of service to Rama? Is this a cunning disguise that you’re letting me see through to illuminate my soul?’ He looked at me askance and asked me my name, but I said, ‘no, you first. I want to see what level we’re playing on here…’ Then he asked me where I lived and I told him, ‘in the present moment, friend, the eternal present moment.’ He stole my watch and I took it as a sign that I was on the right track. That’s the wide view for you. Full-throttle illumination and not a toehold on the ground.
Look at me, Mama, i’m flying!
Get down here son; do the washing up!
It doesn’t exist, ma, it doesn’t exist: you’re beautiful. Woah! Watch out for the buzzards, Mama!
Ha. It’s all good, man, it’s all good. Took me a while, but I came down to earth. Fell through, up to my neck – feet really on the ground now, hanging out in the underworld. Baby Yaga cracking my bones ‘til I learned the new script. It’s all going to shit, man, it’s all going to shit. Heavy with soul. An extremist, of sorts, you could say. Took me just as long to clamber out of Hades and curl up in a ball on the Earth and admit I didn’t have a clue. Wrestling with my human-ness, I called it. Father sky, mother Earth, what’s that you say? Walk in balance? Great Mystery? Mystery to me is where my rent’s coming from, man…
Those were the days…
Now I’m all grown up and nowhere to go. That’s the cold steel Zen for you. Now it’s Pacha Mama sponsored by Easyjet and the Pope’s really a lizard. The age of conspiracy theory in full swing. Edinburgh is actually Hgrubnide backwards, see… What the mind does when it doesn’t have anything better to do. Next thing, you’ll be telling me the politicians aren’t to be trusted and there’s something wrong with burning all the oil. Craziness.
Skylark sings its song. Clouds gather in the wide blue sky, hatching schemes of delusional grandeur. I lie on my back, waving my arms in case the aliens are watching – look at me: I’m making angels on the Earth and no one can see. it’s beautiful and tragic and the world keeps turning.
Some day in the end of things, Pacha Mama will come along and take me back to the bosom I was in all along and I’ll meet myself there, try to elbow myself out to make some room and complain about the cramped quarters, the damp earth and the smell of milk. i’m a vegan, i’ll say. Not drinking that. Got any tempeh? Any carob, Pacha Mama? She’ll split my ideologies down the middle and i’ll get the message. Just shut up and drink, Jack.
All her illusion-sisters are trying to sell me their line, trying to get me to be this and that and I can’t take it. Spiritual materialism – all the powers of the universe at your disposal, Jack, just wear this logo in your aura… I see a bright, orange future of gurus sponsored by KFC and Macdonalds. They’re the high-fliers. Here it’ll be Greggs and Lambert and Butler… Mecca Bingo and Somerfield… Buddhas in drag-paint so thick you can’t see whether they’re smiling or crying or both.
So says my bitter and twisted mind, but the skylarks say otherwise. Singing of the beauty of the world, they remind me that the Scotland of my dark perspective is only a passing dream on the face of the world. Look, they sing: the may morning, the bright, clear sun that will not last; the soft, slightly damp grass beneath you, this fertile wonder of green and blue and, yes, somewhat overbearing grey. The hills and the streams know nothing of the city’s madness. The hawthorn is blossoming; cast worries like clothes. I try to tell the skylark that there are two sides to every story, you know, and never a rainbow without rain and all that, but it sings on, defiant, unsponsored, unclaimed by any corporate branding. If I detect a fraction of the Nokia ring-tone in its warble, that’s my problem. My gloomy estimations of the country’s fate don’t stand a chance in the face of such overwhelming cheerfulness.
Slowly, the ground begins to restore me. Dreams are dreams are messages from the unconscious, e-mails in my case, of dubious origin. The Earth beneath me speaks a simpler language. Skylark sings; dandelion glows; stream bubbles. No imitation Pacha Mama can sing that song, only the true mother of the Earth. I feel the grass press against my back and I stop waving my arms at the aliens – they can take care of themselves for the time-being. The hills around me are buzzing with early summer life and my own little life buzzes along with it, singing its mad song of wonder and despair. The city-sickness drips off my bones like coffee into the ground. Something is entering my body from the earth, not only the centipedes and the myriad tiny beetles whose purpose is unknown. Soon enough, it will rain, certainly, but there is the possibility of dancing in the downpour and howling in the wind. I am remembering.
Skylark sings and the clouds that were far apart begin to gather together for the afternoon’s conference of rain. I feel the first specks blown on the delicious, slightly chill wind and smile. Once, I was young and thought I knew the world – the mystery of life could be contained in the circle of my mind. Now, I am older and know less than I did before, but it is a softer knowing; skylark, dandelion, uncertain weather and the annoying beetle in my armpit. I lie on the Earth and breathe in the morning. Heaven above, ground below – it looks like the right way up from here.