Friday, 21 May 2010

The Tower's tumbling

For my mum and her special affinity with words

A few Shouts back I wrote about the blight of the Brown and Root Tower that confronts me on my journey to and from home. It may be coincidence (I’d prefer not to think of it like that) or timeliness (I prefer this) but the Tower has been condemned for demolition. The grim industrial grey coiling car park is already being bulldozed. Half of it has been drilled through, leaving iron tendrils clutching onto the emptiness like flailing entrails from a body sawn down the middle. Light now filters in that empty half; not quite candescently but promisingly.

If you would indulge me I’d like to muse here on the timeliness of tumbling towers – those many conscious or unconscious blocks in our lives that we perceive are finally coming down. I don’t like to call this coincidence because spiritually I find this a cop out. It’s too easy. Anything that is momentous in our life, I feel, deserve a moment of our contemplation, a reflecting (that annoying ‘thinking too much’ of which I’m sometimes accused) on the experience.

My mum uses ‘affirmations’ for everything. I don’t mean neurotically – but it’s part of the way she expresses her very individual spirituality. ‘Words’, she says, ‘have “moulding powers.”’ You utter or chant your conviction (otherwise meditation) – a wilful intent to bring into effect something that benefits your journey. This ‘benefit’, rather than its association with materiality is a kind of alignment with a deeper purpose. Affirmations are the meditative expressions that realign us with a greater awareness of who we are; where we are, what we want to do/be and how to step rightfully along our path.

I confess - lest you think me a charlatan- that I’ve not always used the affirmations (and I can’t tell you how many of these I’ve typed for my mum); at least not in the way and with the same consistency as my mum. Instead I have written things down (one of my nieces teases me about writing lists) as a way of settling some issue. When the writing’s over I feel a kind of liberation from the troubling experience. It’s better, I think, than allowing the issue to foment into a Tower. This strategy sometimes seems cowardly – the confrontation is done on a page not necessarily with the direct object. Letters sometimes get posted (another of my mum’s teachings) to the Universe asking for someone’s forgiveness or forgiving them. It’s a way of releasing the situation, she tells me.

So I wrote about the Brown and Root Tower, that pervasive monstrosity that darkens the light of my journey. I like to think my writing was an unconscious affirmation that hurried the process of the Tower’s demolition. “Divine Order and Divine Timing,” are mum’s favourite words. Nothing happens through pressure or force. Ever notice sometimes that when you try to force things they don’t happen? That’s not to say they won’t or that they aren’t meant to. I have a three strike mental policy. If I have to try something more than three times I feel I’m forcing it. This was tested the other week. I tried to get to an event my friend had invited me to. Obstacles were hurled from every angle like those computer games my nephews play making me eventually late. Vexed, I enforced the three strike rule and decided to abandon the event. My friend called and persuaded me to turn round (I was nearly home!) and try again. The way she saw it was that I was ‘meant’ to attend the event and I was being somehow challenged. Though later than any self-respecting African should admit these days I went along and got much from the second part.

Sometimes despite the challenges and blocks as big as the Brown and Root Tower we have to stride determinedly. When passing the Tower, no matter what time of day or season there’s a powerfully abrasive wind that forces your body against gravity. At times I’ve walked backwards, pressurising my backside against the Tower’s windy force. There is after all no other way to get to my house. Perseverance here is necessary rather than enforced.

We have no idea how they intend to demolish the Tower. We’ve been surmising the possibilities. Seems likely they’ll have to do some kind of controlled explosion; collapsing the Tower the way the Twin Towers seemed to come down. I’d said in the Brown and Root Shout that I was ‘not psychically willing’ there to be such an explosion. But clearly nothing else will destroy the Tower. They’ll have to seal off the area, probably for hours, more likely days, so enormous the impact would be. There’ll be some who will miss the eyesore – it has been a constant; indelible to the community landscape; a knowing sign of our corner of London. Some of us are comfortable with Towers, spend years constructing them. We’re happy for them to remain, hardly noticing how much they block our light.

It depends, I think, on how deeply we feel about our ‘beingness’. If we think that to ‘be’ is to suffer, to struggle (that longsuffering projection of ‘woe is me’) then of course Towers in our lives will never be condemned. I’m sure you know people who always seem to drag their burdens around with them – they’re never ‘great’ or ‘good’ – but ‘so so’ or they say ‘mustn’t grumble’/’cant complain’ but they’re dying to do just that on your poor already heavy-laden shoulders. After a brief sitting with them you feel just about ready to string yourself up. These blessed folk feel secured by Towers. They never feel responsible for constructing them, though; someone else is always the culprit.

If, however, you associate ‘beingness’ with an attempt to nurture the soul, to scrutinise matters of heart and spirit, to rise each day like Osiris, to brace against hurricanes and be discovered like that brave Haitian boy whose beaming smile was so humbling, his arms outstretched in a conqueror’s prayer of thanks because he understood the rare gifts of life, you too would be elated by signs that the Tower is coming down.

That elation will not likely come without your preparedness to see Towers for the certain blight they are. What do I mean by blight? Take the word itself to understand my meaning– ‘b – light.’ Our light is our life, it’s our mini -Moon, our subtle Sun – it is who we are. We have shadow because we are light. It’s what makes us see beyond the sense of sight; it’s how we intuit. It’s the way we know without instruction or certain kinds of cognitive processes. The ‘b’ added transforms ‘light’ from a source of your aliveness into some pervasive block by which your journey is darkened.

Below are only a few examples of Towers you should rejoice to see come down. For brevity these are merely suggestive, you should try to observe your own. It takes a certain kind of readiness – that timeliness I spoke of earlier - to perceive these Towers tumbling. If you don’t have such insights about the blocks in your life perhaps you can start by putting up signs for their demolition.

Tired, Worn-Out Relationships
The capital letters for each word is not stylistic. They emphasise the importance of observing when certain relationships are dead; and yet we’re often reluctant to do so. I must again call on my mum here. She has an affirmation (she gets them from the mass of metaphysical books she reads) that goes –‘I now release you (slip in the person’s name) to your highest good. And you (again their name) now release me to my highest good.’ Some people, she says come into our lives like spirits looking for a blessing before they move on. Just bless them and let them go. I love the way she describes those passing sexual encounters we women sometimes turn into soul mate discoveries. Some men, she says, only want to ‘mash mash your body.’ When she puts it like that (those words oozing so candidly from her septuagenarian mouth) I regret knowing precisely what she means.

Of course it’s not only sexual/romantic relationships that get raggedy beyond recycling. Some people (so called “friends”) hang on in your life long past their time and purpose served. They hang on because you let them, tolerating their inconsiderations and insensitivities (or over-sensitiveness); their thankless, selfish nature which you’ve learnt to tolerate but cuss about every time they display those doleful colours. These “friends” are the useless, empty rooms in the Brown and Root Tower, the marked spaces in the disused car park. You’ve outgrown them but they’re part of the Tower you don’t know how to dismantle. What more can you teach or learn from them. Nothing. There’s nothing left between you but frowsy air. Bless them and let them go.

There’s no precise measurement for how long the relationship should be before it’s ready for demolition. Relationships can start fast and intense and sometimes expire just as fast; not before leaving an equally intense emotional attachment. I’ve been there – those ones can be crippling. They can otherwise start dreamily, apparently heading toward the long term but sometimes in such cases the end is longed out. You might find yourself in a 15 year relationship that ended 8 years previously. When it began, you were dreaming or at least sleeping, right? How then could you see the myriad signs?

Family disagreements
Toughest towers to tumble are perhaps the blocks imposed by some major or minor family dispute. After a while these are quite pathetic but the “pride tower” impedes resolution that children would readily find to hug, make up and continue their innocent play. If you check – honestly - why you’re not speaking to a member (or any) of your family you might find you’re more responsible for the disagreement than they are. I mean that only you know – really deep down know – why you’re upset with them. Whose Tower is it, who has erected it? Them or you? Only you know – really deeply know – what to do to relieve the situation.

And why would you want to relieve the situation? Members of a family are like chambers of a revolving door. They circle through one end, out the other and circle in again through another. The ‘in and out’ movement has to be timed just right which means understanding the rhythm of the door and the integral part each chamber plays in the revolving motion. Most times we’re fixated with the short comings of another member of family that we don’t realise that we’re the ones who need to fix up. Adjusting the way we ‘see’ each member of our family might help us to understand them and develop a better relationship with them. I think it’s true also that we might never understand them. All we can then do is accept them just the way they are with all their ridiculous flaws that we in our self-righteousness would strain to perfect.

That ‘pride tower’ needs a close up. We’re never too big to say sorry, if not with words then gestures. Notice when a member of our family is gesturing their plea for forgiveness. Caution will prevail – they really hurt you – but caution and pride are cousins. Pride sometimes need to be worn to be respected (as in being a proud father/mother; of the job you do etc). Other times it’s worn like a straitjacket conflicting with charity and reason. You have control over how wide you open your arms to that pleading member of your family who circled back through the revolving door. Family and skin are the same; it’s not easy to be done with family. Even when you think you’ve found a replacement for them it’s always only that. Time will come when you just need to go back home.

Fixed attitudes
To have an opinion, to be critical and to think, whether deeply or superficially are liberating in ways we shouldn’t take for granted. So when I speak about ‘fixed attitudes’ I’m not suggesting we abandon the freedom of our convictions and political position (hah – politics – a ‘dirty game’ my blessed mother calls it). Let me give one example of what I mean.

Some years ago when I first wore my hair short, a cousin of mine was outraged. She said- a woman’s hair is her beauty and that I’d cut off all my beauty. She asked, indignantly what I was trying to do to my race. I really didn’t know! Her hair was gloriously long and relaxed so she seemed to think it abominable that I should cut off my hair. Last week a family friend said something similar (my head is often wrapped so she didn’t realise my hair was cut low), ‘you cut off all your strength, girl.’ This fixed attitude about short hair on women stems from the Samson and Delilah and other such allegories in the Bible. I tried, like a fool leaping into the air after a loosed helium balloon to say to the friend that it was Samson, not Delilah who had to preserve his strength. But she believes what she has always believed and only God, the illustrious author of the King James’s version of the Bible can come down and tell her this is a load of nonsense.


Knowledge is always partial. We never fully ‘know’ what we think we do. A Degree is one of 360 yet we own that portion of knowledge about a given subject. And because it’s partial, knowledge always advances. It never reaches some predestined absoluteness. Fixed attitudes prevent us from advancing as knowledge does. We’re stuck in the limited state of our belief, a lonely place from where children are happy to leap. An openness to what else there is or might be, a willingness to change our minds about something; to reconsider our position, take someone’s advice and importantly be critical of our own attitude suggest spiritual maturity and the kindling of soul force.

God/Goddess complex
I accept that understanding who we are as divine beings is intrinsic to kindling soul force. This is a long journey beyond many lifetimes of spiritually evolving and perfecting our god centre. We might think we are ‘gods or goddessess’ but have no idea what this really means. Often it reveals itself egotistically, self-righteously, judgementally and arrogantly. These are more Towers that must come down if we are to walk rightfully and with that certain kind of humility that comes from being deeply in tune with your own expression of divinity.

Your divineness is not something about which to boast. It’s not to be lauded on others as if in fact you are the one true God. It’s your thing, meaningfully expressed without arrogance or self-aggrandisement. It speaks itself without affectation; doesn’t exert pressure for praise. Your divinity is not the same as the Orishas (Yemaya, Oschun, Ogun, Shango etc.). They are, as I recently heard Wole Soyinka say, ‘heightened expressions of human impulses.’ Our divinity then cannot compete with deities: to what supreme height can we express such impulses as jealousy, arrogance, sensuality, love, anger? These impulses turn demonic when as humans we boast about our beingness as gods. That’s why it’s a ‘complex’ (a block or Tower). Humility, perhaps because it doesn’t seem so impulsive might be regarded as a weakness. But since the Bible is a common reference we might recall that Samson was brought to a state of humility, so too was David, Solomon, Moses and of course Christ. This was the esteemed path to wisdom along which they each had to journey. It was from this wisdom that Solomon built his Temple (divinity). Without it he would otherwise construct his divinity as many who ill-express their divinity into a Tower.

So finally, we’ve tried to imagine what might replace the Tower when it finally comes down. For a while we’ll enjoy the light and space; the freedom to walk without bracing the wind. I don’t think we’ll get the cultural centre with book shops, art exhibitions and independent caf├ęs/restaurants I’ve dreamed might go there. We know it will be flats. The space is big enough, the location optimum (right next to a tube station and shopping centres). But it will be a new scene, life will stir from each one of the flats – couples cuddling, rooms filled with love and laughter, windows flung open to take in air. And I will ever express my thanks for the moulding power of words that have the potential to turn Towers into nothing more than refused rubble.

Shout Out