by Nick Crowley
Daria is asleep, curled up and facing the old grey curtains that line the side window of the van. The people camping next to us started drinking early and they’re well into the sesh now. It’s ten o’clock and loud slurring voices sit behind the rise and fall of Daria’s breath. We spent the afternoon swimming in clear salty water. It was a hot day, so we were in and out of it a lot - lying in the sun till we began to sweat, playing in the water until we began to shiver. And then the sun became low and golden, so we walked back to camp and made tacos with fake meat on the fire.
I adjust the pillow that I’ve propped against the back window of the campervan and begin to notice things; the faint buzz of the battery which powers the fridge, the prickle of my paper, the crinkle in the blanket which sounds soft friction every time I take a breath. And the crickets. They hum beneath it all, assuming the face of silence – what’s there – when everything else falls out of focus.
Sound has an irreducible autonomy of its own which is incommensurable with the quality of the other senses, yet it is nonetheless tightly conjugated with them; I mean, I see Daria’s closed lids and I hear her breath, the two phenomena have little in common in terms of their isolated substance but fit seamlessly into the immediate experience of ‘Daria’. Yes, the senses – despite their resolute incomparability, despite the fact that each opens out onto a unique plane of contents wholly distinct in form – they nonetheless commune in a common plane of consistency. This place of communion is, of course, the world itself – or rather, ‘the world’ (as we experience it) is nothing other than the disparate senses’ articulation as a singularity. Yes! The world is the strange and immediate fact of sight and smell and texture coming together as perfect coalescence; a sliding-into-each-other-as-a-seamless-whole. Things collide but when I look they’ve already been smashed into the singularity that is the world which I interminably find myself toward.
And the unity of the world has its correlate in the unity of the body. Sitting here, I conduct the sound of rowdy campers and the dim campervan. My experience leads out of me in different directions, yet I do not come on the scene as a flash of inchoate colour and sound. No, the different rabbit holes of the sensory are tributaries to my body. The body snaps it all into a crystal; it’s all happening to me.
Headlights shine through the curtains, the sound of an engine trickles up the road which leads through the middle of the park: A camper arriving late, setting up a fire, lightly crackling wood and tired and a forced conversation with their partner about the beauty of the night which they don’t really feel.
The looping of my mind; before in the mire of concept, now back to presence, the immediate strings of sensation, tickled by something arresting in the world around me – a camper arriving late. A camper arriving late, but I’m ready to fly off again; into abstractions; into imagination; into memory and into the long anxiety-fuelled fantasies. Yet I always manage to close the loop, to come back to worldly presence – it’s the place from which you wander, but things tend to go ok if you can manage to come home at least now and then. Presence is a caring parent like my own who I live far away from but with whom I make an effort to keep a strong connection with. And this keeps me in good stead.
But how long is your loop? How long does it take you to navigate out of the sticky images and ideas, and get back to the world? And how long can you stay in the world before you’re thrown back into the theatre of your mind? I guess meditation is about shortening the loop, about returning to the embodied present with increasing frequency and for longer periods of time. With practice the loop is whittled down to a tight knot which eventually unravels into a smooth string of uninterrupted presence – the mind is sinks into the world, the looping ceases, attention to presence is unwavering.
The Meditative Imperative: Stifle the minds tendency to wander and learn to swim in the immanent flow of presence.
But maybe we need to loop in and out of presence, intertwining our immediate engagement with the world with wanderings through thought and imagination in order to act considerately? Perhaps opposed to the Meditative Imperative, we have the Ethical Imperative: Loop out of presence to anticipate the consequences of potential paths of action – use your wanderings into imagination for thoughtful and considered decisions! Of course, the Buddhist would say that if you meditate in a disciplined fashion, you will become ever fuller with love and your actions will naturally become considerate and compassionate without any need for concerted, imaginative reflection.
But for us down in the cave of the flesh, looking about for a way to live well without a rigorous meditation practice, maybe we need to utilise this looping out of presence, maybe we need the mind and imagination and ample reflection on ourselves to ensure that nobody gets killed!
I’m back. Daria’s half awake and fidgeting with the sheets. The neighbours are still talking loudly. A quick wind is draining through the foliage, but only a faint breeze manages to seep through the thin opening in our window. Its cool, the faint wind, and it holds me here a little longer than usual. Goosebumps rolling up my arm. Sitting still, staying here, but I’ll be gone again soon.
Nick Crowley is an Australian writer and visual artist currently based in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. His poetry has previously been published in HalfandOne and he is currently writing his first novel. You can read more about his thoughts on mental health and philosophy on his Medium page, and check out his art / t-shirt store on Instagram.