Thoughts on Self

Aloofness, birds, and waiting

Девятый вал (The Ninth Wave) by Ivan Aivazovsky (source: Wikimedia)

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
~ from Everything is Waiting for You by David Whyte

With the blank page staring back at me, I struggle to find a single word to make sense of the echoes inside my heart mind. Like trying to answer an unheard question, I fumble around with ideas of what it means to truly apologize for life-altering mistakes or to take responsibility for actions that were at once both enlivening and worrisome or to stand waist-deep in the sea with an air of acceptance that what once was will no longer be. The oneiric conversations traverse waywardly towards memory. The inspiring light diffuses into a collection of moments, blinking in and out of existence. My hands reach for something that is no longer there, instead, finding the charred remains of the familiar.

Standing in my kitchen, silence disrupted by chattering podcasts halfheartedly listened to, I move through the motions of peeling, chopping, seasoning, and roasting vegetables (another glimpse into a weightless past that is present). Outside the kitchen window stands a moringa tree, once torn apart under the searing winds of a typhoon, that is starting to show small white blossoms. A lone blood-red honeyeater alights on a branch, maneuvering their beak around the flowers, turning to stare back at me, and suddenly vanishing out of view. I’m reminded of a story you once shared with me, gazing out of your own slatted window, the deep greens washing over the hillsides, thoughts there but not there, questions proposed, dreams within reach.

The etymology of ‘alone’ comes from a combination of ‘all’ and ‘an’, to be ‘wholly oneself’. Contrary to Aristophanes’ creation myth of two halves split by Zeus constantly seeking an end to separation, to be alone allies itself more with the beliefs of Arendt and Emmerson. The latter encouraged teachers to push pupils into ‘habits of solitude’ so ‘that nature may speak to the imagination.’ Sitting on the damp moss of the jungle, the babble of streams and terns dance with images of stories and poems and ideas that avoid comprehension in the illumination of fluorescent lights. In the same vein, Arendt called for a vita contemplativa, a Socratic self-reflection, a ‘ silent intercourse’ with one’s own heart mind.

A new group of people arrives on this small island, like they do time and again. We talk about home and what that word even means, or rather we fumble through the stories of self we’ve become so disillusioned with when meeting someone new. I lived here then there, I studied this then that, I loved her then not, I wrote poems then deleted them one night when the ninth wave subsumed me in a fit of manic despair. There’s an uneasy silence as we size each other up, deciding what friendship looks like. No journals get filled with exacerbated pleas for understanding, no daydreams of future possible worlds, no hands clasped pulling the other through liminal spaces like gateways to inspiration and fear.

That was the last time, or was it the next time? I look around and notice all the other souls trapped on the tattered remains of sanctuary. Arms wrap around bodies, water swells with laughter, the weight shrugs off ever so slightly. We can’t talk anymore, not like we used to. The chatter between crows distracts me from an aloof thought about a distant moment when things change and heart minds falter and uncertainty is no longer a topic of such obsession. Such a crisis (shared Latin roots with certain) never occurs, the past vies for our attention, we are triggered by sights and sounds. My hands wrap around the kettle as I pour steaming water into a mug that reads ‘be like water.’

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you,” declares Joseph Campbell. You must see the good in yourself, you must relish in your aloofness, you must release attachment to that grandiose story that traps you day after day, you must walk away from that neat world into the messy habits of solitude, you must remember the feeling that can shatter worlds, you must seek out a certainty that isn’t tainted by needs or anxieties or cultural norms, you must accept that everything is waiting for you. The gods, the dreams, the love. On the horizon past the swell, a warm sun beckons to me, to us. The birds are waiting with their conversations about humans and islands and trinkets brought back from their travels.

Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Tasmania, studying climate change adaptation, risk perspectives, and coastalscape values.

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