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New year, old stories

Thursday, January 15, 2009 by Marianne Elliott

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Early sunrise in Waipero Bay

Early sunrise, 2009. Waipero Bay, East Cape, New Zealand.

I've been away for a long time. Today I think that I might be back, in the sense of an actual return to regular posting here. But these days I'm increasingly likely not to do what I say I'm going to do, it seems to be a reaction against all those long years of discipline and dogged persistence, so who knows what will come of this return to blogging.

I've been away from the computer a lot lately. First up was a trip home to the farm for Christmas with my family. Then I hit the road for a road trip and camping adventure in the remote East Cape where I remembered that I could surf and, even better, that I could sit still in the shade with a book for hours on end.

But the best thing I remembered on that trip was the feeling of being in community. We were eight in our camp. For the days we camped there together we became each other's entire world. No phones, no radio, no papers and no internet meant that there was nowhere to be and no-one to engage with except the place where we were and the people we were with.

I got to know my own friends better than ever before and I felt like a real person, a human being in community with others. Our days took shape around the dictates of the weather and our shared rhythms of sleep, play, rest and hunger. We spent hours together preparing simple but delicious meals on our wee camp cookers, eating together as though every meal was an event to be celebrated, which it is, and then enjoying the ritual of working together as we cleaned up.

For all those days I didn't write. I read and I sat and I walked and I talked. I would say that I did yoga every day, but in the spirit of that playful summer space what I really did was just played with the yoga poses. Lots of freestanding handstands and headstands that ended with me toppling into the sand or surf and lots of arm balances because I've finally found my sweet spot in bakasana and I felt like celebrating that. Yoga as play. It felt good.

Now I'm back and as soon as I arrived back in this house I wanted to sit and write. But I had two house guests, both rare treats from far away. So I chose to enjoy them and to tell myself that the moment for writing would come. Some days I was chaffing at the bit, feeling impatient to get to my writing, but I knew that if I didn't spend as much time as I could with my friends while they were here I'd regret it as soon as they left.

Now here I am, alone in my house and feeling the words ready to burst out of me. I've been back at work for two weeks and in those two weeks I've been working a lot on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Even if I hadn't lived in Gaza for two years I think I would be deeply moved by the situation, but as it is I think about my friends in Gaza every day. I wonder how it can possibly be that I get to live this life – of beach holidays and yoga and surfing and gardens, while they live with bombs and tanks and over flowing sewage and hospitals run out of basic supplies. I wonder if they are even alive and try to wait patiently for an email. I watch people here get into angry political, ideological debates about the Middle East conflict and my stomach twists and churns.

This morning I added a contemplation to my meditation practice, it's something I sometimes do when I'm really struggling with emotion when I sit. A friend recently gave me a special copy of a Dhammapada that her family had published in memory of her grandmother, so I've been making my way through the pairs of contemplations.

Every time I've opened it so far the contemplation has been absolutely spot on for the challenge I have been working with. My friend says her grandmother was always very good at that – the elbow nudged in your side to remind you of the obvious. Here is how she nudged me this morning:

Never by hatred is hatred conquered,
but by readiness to love alone.
This is eternal law.

Those who are contentious
have forgotten that we all die;
for the wise, who reflect on this fact,
there are no quarrels.

Yesterday I spent three hours talking about the role of the New Zealand military in Afghanistan. This after having first read a report about the increasing risks posed to humanitarian workers by the blurring of the line between military and civilian actors due to increased participation of the military in humanitarian and development activities. I also learned a few days ago that a past colleague of mine in UNAMA has died from the severe burn wounds she suffered when she was attacked while working as a civilian researcher embedded with the US military. Her story illustrates all too well the exact risk that many of us have been trying to communicate to the military for years.

When I sat here in Wellington with a man who had led a patrol of New Zealand soldiers in Bamiyan and we talked about what the military was doing in Afghanistan I had to repeatedly and consciously step away from the heat of my emotion about Paula's death and find a space where I could see his own compassion and concern. Never by hatred is hatred conquered. But by readiness to love alone.

With that thought I'm off to continue my writing. Namaste.


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8 Responses to "New year, old stories"

  1. Anne-Marie says:

    It’s great to see you posting here again. I am glad you went away and had a holiday [I’m still waiting for mine – February]. I wish you time and clear-headedness in which to write.

  2. John Mullis says:

    Welcome back – someone told me a few weeks ago that it can take as many years to re settle as you have been away. I greave with you in your loss and pray that it will become her gift to you in your writing. Kareem John

  3. amy says:

    thank you for sharing your moving and lovely words with us. i hope your surfing trips and yoga play continue to feed your spirit because the writing and other important work you have to do will only benefit from your strength.

  4. hik says:

    so wonderful to see your post, thank you. i’m happy you had this time to regroup and rejuvenate. sending you my healing and loving prayers & vibes and thank you for sending me yours.

  5. tiny noises says:

    i like that this post moves from the close community you shared camping and expanded to the community you feel with the rest of the world through your work as a humanitarian. we have to play, and meditate, and move past hatred to love. So hard and so beautiful. thank you.

  6. PJ says:

    Glad to see you posting again. your thoughts, your heart, your true spirit…is just amazing to me through what almost glazed-every-day-life I have in my ‘safe’ bubble of living in my world where so much is at a distance. Your writing really makes me think.

  7. [a} says:

    You sound so clear-minded & focused. Especially about the Gaza crisis.
    I go to college here in KSA, so there are a few Palestinian girls in my classes. Our college has been doing a lot to get funds, donate blood, write to organizations, etc., but it’s terrible being touched by the tragedy in any way. The Saudi community is doing so much, donations are in the billions, but we haven’t really changed anything. When your classmates are crying because some of their family and friends are still in Gaza, it can really feel like the sky is falling.
    It’s inspiring to me that you can live in the midst of all these muddles, the peacekeeping and humanitarian issues..and make your mantra
    “Never by hatred is hatred conquered,
    but by readiness to love alone.
    This is eternal law.”
    Something to meditate upon.
    And also that you aren’t repelled by the debates that go nowhere…you’re actively working to bring about change. That people are still hopeful that change IS possible…really really inspiring.

  8. susanna says:

    What an interesting place you find yourself. You have lived in war zones and in the comfort of western society. Those experiences enable you to view a situation with your eyes clear and wide open. I imagine that sometimes it must be difficult to hear points of views from people who have not experienced wars firsthand, who rely on the evening news for facts. Honestly, I include myself in that group, having never lived in a war zone. I admire you immensely for living such a generous, pro-active life in world events.
    And I’m happy for you, that you are spending time with your family and friends and soaking in all the beauty and goodness in New Zealand. You need that, too.

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