Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Part two: travel and choices

2. Everyone experiences defining moments in life, forks in the road of destiny at which we have to make changes, give up something, start doing something we haven't been, whatever. Will you choose one defining moment from your life and write about it? I'm especially interested in how you realized you were at a defining moment.

Hmmmm. Many of these. My life has twisted and turned like a twisty turny thing. Most often, these things are only apparent much later.

Nine years ago, I was teetering on the brink of what I can only think in retrospect was something like a nervous breakdown. I was confused. So 'other' oriented that I had lost all sense of who I was. My four-year-long relationship had come grinding to a stormy sticky halt. Years of stress from his ME, my depressive tendencies and the nasty things couples do to one another when things go bad. We had separated, but we were still writing, still knew we had a lot of stuff to deal with – so walk away, or go back and sort it out?

I was working with a theatre company as a designer. An exciting project that really meant a lot to me – a production on environmental issues, that would tour southern Africa and play to Ministers of Environment and other policy makers. The production part of things had come to an end, and they needed a manager for the road trip. An amazing opportunity to get to know theatres, arts journalists and environment bigwigs in Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique. I wanted it.

My on-again-off-again frustrated love was taking refuge from our storms in the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo. Sore, but trying to reach out. He arranged for me to come and stay there for six weeks – free of charge if I developed the small pottery studio they have there.

I hovered.

I knew it was a life-turning moment. I knew that if I walked away now from this man I would walk away from a lot of Drama but I would find more Drama elsewhere, probably on the road. It was more than a choice between a man and a career. It was about finding a new way of doing things, in myself.

We were staying a house that had once belonged to Olive Schreiner, in a small town in the karoo, where were rehearsing. I dreamed of an enormous spider that was fat from having devoured its mate. Hanging, pendulous from the ceiling above my bed. I realised that I didn't like who I was at that moment. This creature with so much capacity to hurt.

I knew that I had to choose kindness.

And I went to Ixopo.
Morning meditation
Noble silence
Green hills, beautiful “beyond any singing of it” as Alan Paton has written of those rolling grasslands of Ixopo.

We have had one more major crossroads since then, me and that fella. But we are ok. In fact we are doing well. And I still get opportunities to contribute to environmental theatre in Southern Africa. I know that I am a much better person because of that choice. I didn't know it at the time, but it wasn't a choice about a relationship. It was about me learning how to receive.

Funny thing, I liked to think I was someone who gave and gave, inexhaustably. I didn't realise the inherent selfishness of this. The arrogance of not being someone who can also be small and needy. My time there was a slow painful slog, the way healing can be when you finally, grudgingly turn around and face your defences. The hard work of sitting, and sitting, and feeling the waste products of your biography slowly unknot from your shoulders. Life is funny. I thought I was choosing a person and 'sacrificing' something that meant a lot to me. But I wasn't. I was choosing me.

Ok Time for this question -
Do you enjoy travel? Do you dream of exploring far-away places? Where would you go if money was no obstacle?

I'd like one day to explore Earth's most spiritually significant sites. I want to go to the Great Pyramid, to Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Chartres, Notre Dame, Delphi.

Then there's the decadent trip - Amsterdam, wine routes, food routes, whisky tasting in Scotland.

The theatre and ritual trip - ancient ceremonies in India, Mongolia, South America, West Africa.

I've always dreamed of sailing in a dhow up the east coast of Africa.

I loooong to go to the Amazon. This is one I've wanted since I was a wee gurli.

But also - Poffader, Paternoster, Pilansberg - so many places to see on our doorstep in South Africa. I want to make the ultimate African road movie.

America? Mostly because of people. Washington, to have tea with Reya. California - a walk with Freya, Alena and Lori.

The European Art tour - the one I was supposed to do when I was 17 but I ended up going to Hong Kong and Malaysia instead.

And also - atrocity sites. Rwanda, Auschwitz. I believe in simply being in places where terrible things have happened, and doing Tong Glen meditation, where you breathe in the sorrow and breathe out lovingkindness. I believe such things make a difference.

Um, Yes, I guess I do want to travel! Thank heavens for blogland!


fush and chips said...

Ixopo's name is Zulu, from the "ix" and "hlopo" sound that cattle make walking through swamps.

I hope the hills were kind to you.

Lori ann said...

Such a beautiful thoughtful response Tam, i can see that you've spoken right from your heart and i feel like hugging you. Thank you for practicing Tonglen, my favourite of all exercises.
And YES please come here and walk with me!
the light in me sees the light in you.

Janelle said...

wow tam tam tamara! can i jump in your suitcase for any of those itineraries...the Scotland one looks kinda up my street... i always think my favourite journey with you was that early morning, when we were still in our evening frocks on the bikes, cruising through the forests on our way to Nkwali....and all the flowers scattered on the short grass...remember?? i'll never you xx j

tam said...

Thanks Fush, those hills are both kind and inscrutable. And one learns more about Buddhism from the Zulu folk who walk those hills than from any of the official teachers around there.

Lori, it did kind of come gushing out. I have another Tonglen story, but will save it for another time.

Janelle, that morning is one of the single most extraordinary EVER and now I wish I had written about that instead of my other angstig dilemma moment. YES! That morning was like hatching from a chrysalis.

Reya Mellicker said...

Wow. The defining moment response made me cry. In a good way. Of course you had to choose kindness.

Come to Washington anytime. Tea, yes, but wine too and good food and long walks.

Wow. You. Wow.