The Yappy Little Dog Within

Having spent a whole, luxurious month away from facebook – my personal purification ritual, being unable to fast Ramadan due to breastfeeding – I managed to get embroiled, on my very first trip back into that warped cybernetic watering hole, in a discussion on someone’s page in which I ended up being brutally flamed.

Scorched, in fact!

Grilled to within an inch of my life!

Needless to say, I shouldn’t have got involved. I could see it was one of those highly emotive issues which so easily seem to plummet to the Rebekah Wade level of propaganda, screaming warnings about X, Y or Z and hammering them home with the hefty guilt trip that you are endangering your childen’s lives, nay, the entire planet’s wellbeing, if you do not immediately fall into line!!

It doesn’t actually matter what the debate was about; it was really only a vehicle for a familiar, angry little side of human nature to leap out of the woodwork, in a comfortably untouchable arena, and spit bile at complete strangers. That nasty, yappy little dog within that likes to think it can take on St. Bernards and carthorses if it can just get enough people behind it.

You cannot navigate the web without coming across flames, those predictably insulting comments to so many YouTube videos or on forums. A lot of pitiful, hurt people out there are seeking a way of venting their anger at the world by typing mean words onto a white screen stored in some arbitrary, distant web host hard drive.

What better metaphor for impotence is there? Wouldn’t they rather jut get together and throw ketchup at one another?

The internet is power, if that’s what you give it. I obviously did; I found myself lying awake, for the second night, thinking about every time I have engaged with ridiculous arguments with loved ones over trivial things (as someone once said, “It’s never about what it’s about”), how hurt and shaken up I felt because of some pathetic remark made by someone whose name I don’t even remember. Mentally writing and rewriting my scathing retort, imagining feeling freed by it, then desperate to know what the response is and being stung all over again when the game continues.

And it always continues. Each new wound creates a fresh desire to retaliate, get the upper edge, be superior. Judging others, whether for better or worse, gives you a place, at least, in the moral landscape, a niche carved out of the rock face to call one’s own. I am something because that person is different.

What would it be like to leave the pitch-wrangling for once? Let it drift away, leaf-like, on a river current? No longer to have a spot to squabble over, a city to be beseiged in? Would it feel like floating? Would that yappy little dog finally abandon its designs over the St. Bernard’s bone and just sit quietly, watching the flowers turn purple?

I think there is a secret in this, a message in the ashes of every flame: Do not give illusion power, and it will never overpower you.

The Death Knell of Illusion

Shock is the death knell of illusion. The initial impact wakes us out of a stupor, and as the reverberations die out the stupor returns, only to be dispelled again with every remembered toll.

I had been given my neighbours, a retired couple from England, Spanish lessons for several months. The last time I saw him was at our lesson; I was drilling him on the conditional tense. He seemed distracted, in love with his garden, almost floating, but still badgering me to create a strict lesson plan so they could keep learning. Less than a week later, his wife and daughter came by to tell me that he’d died.

It shouldn’t be a shock to us that people do that. Has anybody ever heard of someone who didn’t die? Apart from the ones who haven’t yet? People get ill, parts of their bodies recriminate them for their former lifestyles, their unintentional neglect, or merely their genetic code.

But death is the sharpest revealer of our imagined state of permanence. If it weren’t for the illusion that we’ll be hanging around forever – from which we all suffer much more than any physical disease – death wouldn’t come as a shock at all. Mundane reality would recognise its own constant loss; it would see itself trickling away from the solid shape of ice into the clear liquid it was carved from.

Is it possible to maintain that clarity of vision all the time, aware of the true nature of being in the world without feeling sad or lost or robbed? Would it be a burden to keep it up, or does it come naturally with a certain realisation, hearing that death knell and never returning to the happy dream of immortality? Must it take a death to bring us out of the neat-fronted shops in which we stack up our merchandise for the world to see, the reassuring to-do lists of work and entertainment, the day as it’s defined by a plastic ticking tyrant?

If we saw a train heading for us full pelt, we wouldn’t shut our eyes and pretend we were ice-skating. As someone told me before the birth of Shamsie, it’s only the anticipation of some unknown event that creates fear, just as the anticipation of pain creates pain.

Once you’re there, fear is ridiculous; it’s a corridorful of marbles when you’re trying to get out the door on time. And when that self-concocted hindrance is gone, you can see the liberation of death, just as you can see the mind-combusting beauty of birth, over and above the pain and the inelegance of either.

I remember thinking during my labour with Shamsie, ‘I don’t feel anything, no great psychedelic experience, no overwhelming presence of the Great Spirit or anything!’ At first I thought I’d been conned. But a moment later I thought, Perhaps this IS God. The idea came as a shock, of course. My expectations had been shattered; my ideas about how God would be were, as all ideas about God are, my own creative nonsense.

It is at the thresholds of earthly existence that the no-thing-ness of reality sinks in. The birds keep singing outside. The cars keep beeping their horns. But something essential has been transformed on the inside, and there is nothing to grab onto. Words cease to be useful coat hooks to hang concepts on: it is all just as it is.