Based on a detail from a Canaletto painting……
“Mark my word”, my wife says to me as we drive to Heathrow, “You’ll regret having spent four hundred dollars on New Age hocus pocus – you mark my word.”
What annoys me is that my wife may be right. I’m now in Palm Springs, California and I’m nearly halfway into this ten-day workshop, and nothing has happened. I’m sitting cross legged on a mattress in a darkened room with some thirty other participants listening to soft music and alternating between breathing exercises and meditation. We have been doing little else for four days, apart from meal and coffee breaks, and talks on altered states of consciousness and psycho-babble about so-called ‘theta brain states’. The whole thing is beginning to sound like nonsense, and I’m annoyed.
What irritates me particularly is that some other participants seem to be enjoying some (probably bogus) success. Only yesterday a bearded and sandaled man said that he had been in contact with Krishna, and another said that he had been present at the creation of the universe. Someone else claimed to be a shaman. And even today – and we have only been going half an hour – a young woman has started writhing around as if she was St. Theresa having one of her ecstasies, presumably some kind of cosmic orgasm.
I decide to press on with the meditations, at least to show some willing. I turn my attention to my breath, gently sliding into relaxation. At least there is some effect. With half-opened eyes, I take a sneaky look at my watch – another forty minutes to endure until the coffee break. And am I desperate for a coffee! God help me – please!
How time can be slow! Do they have clocks in Heaven? Do the hands go forwards or backwards? Or do they go forwards and backwards at the same time? You can tell you are in Heaven by the clocks. Also by the auric moondust and the angel starbeams….
Abruptly, I am wide awake, alert, standing on all four legs. I am overwhelmed by a kaleidoscope of smells – the exotic perfume of my mistress in the cabin behind me on board the boat, smells from the rotting vegetables in the water, smells of sewage, smells from other animals on the shore, other dogs each with their distinctive odour, the oarsmen smelling of sweat. And smells of food: the waft of this morning’s freshly baked bread, the wood-smoke, smells of exotic spice from passing cargo-boats. And the sounds too, which carry so well across the water: the greetings of boatmen and passengers to each other, the familiar bark of recognised dogs, the unfamiliar squeal of new arrivals. I turn my head and look my mistress straight in the eye. How I love her. She looks back with love.
How I love that dog, beloved companion, beside me through all my tribulations and betrayals. I have known her since she was a puppy. She has been the only one faithful, wonderful love, passing the love of men. I almost feel I can get inside her soul, and she into mine. Perhaps we are all indeed one soul. How she enjoys standing so firmly on the prow of the boat, so sensuously drinking in life. I wonder what her thoughts are? And if we are all one soul, can others know us outside time? I feel the presence of God in the early morning sunlight on the gently rippling water, the townsfolk starting their daily routine the early morning light and the gentle breeze and the sound of the gulls……O that I could share all this with someone……
A gong sounds, a long resonance trailing through the room. I rise slowly like a deep sea diver, summoned from the surface.
“We’ll break for coffee now – please be back here by eleven-thirty promptly for our feedback session.”
But part of me is still back in eighteenth century Venice with the woman and her beloved dog and I want to go back there again and I will now forever know that there is indeed another country where God is in the sunlight and the rippling water and that I will never be entirely at home and at ease in this world.