Posts Tagged ‘water’


my shame of owning
this brand new iPhone 5S
— reveals my inner
monk/puritan — quite distinct —
a sub-personality

Well, microchip technology is quite something after all. Conversely, I experience a swell of pride that I successfully weaned myself off a mild addiction to Twitter and Facebook (I’ve deleted both). The film Steve Jobs was, for me, a useful prod to the imagination to help grasp just how momentously computers have changed all our lives. Computers somehow engage our emotions whether we like it or not — which is quite some irony given they are totally emotionless themselves. Since a couple weeks ago I now own my first ever brand new iPhone. Prior to that, I had been using my sister’s cast-offs. I dreamed last night that I was holding my iPhone 5S under a stream of running water, trying to wash it clean. Then I realised with a jolt that I was supposed to have waterproofed it first. There was some quite  specific procedure for waterproofing, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember if I’d already carried it out or not. This was an anxiety dream and a wake up call to realise I care far too much about my iPhone! But the poem focuses upon the figure in my own unconscious who seems to be always whispering to me how much better off I would be if I owned nothing at all.

grim truth

was I better off
homeless and mentally ill?
I possess enough
imagination — but not
the courage — to believe it

It’s a familiar thought. When I tell my story of recovery from mental illness, for an audience, I make a point of floating the idea that I was better off homeless, or at least suggesting that there was a loss involved for me, in becoming ‘normal’. But I never allow myself to believe it completely. In my dream last night there was a kind of lift shaft, but it was bottomless. Myself and a couple of others were perched precariously near the edge, at the top, and it was understood that someone had actually fallen. I chose to believe it might be possible that she would have landed in water and been able to swim to safety through an underground river. In writing my poem, I felt suddenly aware how protected from the fact of my own (and for that matter, other people’s) mortality I am, in my cocoon of ‘normality’, my bubble of safety and prosperity. That’s a terrible indictment of normality, safety and prosperity. And in that moment I briefly grasped what I habitually evade: it could be true quite literally, and completely, that I was better off in that previous era of my life when I was homeless.


it’s challenging, to
come down safely from a high —
meet that challenge — learn
doing by doing nothing
— what the Taoist calls wu wei

Eastern wisdom gets a bad press in all sorts of ways. From Jung’s dire warnings against trying to mimic a foreign spiritual tradition, to one’s own suspicion that maybe there’s a kind of inverted racism in believing (as I do tend to believe) that Eastern cultures really might be superior, spiritually, to Western ones. I dreamed I was climbing a ladder or gym wall bars, and when I reached the top, had to climb down the other side. ‘Coming down from a high’ describes more or less the problem I had yesterday coming back into the office after most of the day spent delivering a talk about my experiences as a mental health service user, homeless person, and talking about my life and outlook in general. My poem draws a parallel between ‘coming down’ and wu wei, and that was probably suggested by the classic metaphor for wu wei which is ‘the watercourse way’ — in other words, to practice wu wei is to follow the line of least resistance, exactly the way water follows gravity. The title of this poem is probably much too loaded with a ton of personal, idiosyncratic philosophising. It’s meant to touch on the irony of how any feeling of empowerment, enablement or positivity — as for instance ‘I can understand wu wei‘ or ‘I can put it into practice’ — is already the very worst starting point for understanding wu wei or putting it into practice.

the Well

a glass of water —
how does this simplicity
measure side by side
against the whole edifice
of psychoanalysis?

The Well is one of the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching (no.48). I dreamed I was enjoying drinking water — the spirituality and purity emphasised by the vessel, a wide-brimmed bowl which felt ritualistic and special, and also by the fact that I was sharing the water with a spiritual brother. The man in question feels somewhat like a spiritual brother in real life, but I’d normally tend to dismiss that feeling. Partly because I don’t know him very well and only come into contact with him occasionally through my work. I also dreamed of a certain stretch of pavement on Kilburn High Rd. In 1994, my mother was living just the other side of Kilburn High Rd, in Brondesbury Rd. I slept one night in a shop doorway opposite the end of her road, and had a very bad nightmare about drinking water from the toilet cistern which was somehow more like hair gel than water. Through the eighties and nineties I used to take a weird pride in my frequent nightmares and in my ability to tolerate them. Arrogantly perhaps, I felt I was someone with a special ability to gaze without flinching into the very worst recesses of the human psyche. On this occasion however (the only such occasion), upon waking I gave way completely to fear. Compelled involuntarily, I ran from where I was sleeping, to my mother’s front door in the middle of the night, and started wildly ringing the bell, seeking some kind of comfort. I had regressed momentarily to childhood. She wasn’t in. Looking back, I feel inclined to suppose I was under the influence of the suggestive power of the idea ‘Oedipus’: I fell headlong into the Oedipal dynamic and acted it out, just by virtue of the suggestion exerted by the geographical location at the end of my mother’s road. Tree-lined Brondesbury Rd often looked to me just a little like a beckoning womb even in broad daylight. The archetypal Well is another womb symbol of course, too. In the preface to Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching, Jung writes of hexagram 48 The Well. For him, the well symbolises the I Ching itself, and by extension the unconscious itself — and so, by extension perhaps, psychoanalysis itself. Freely available water = freely available wisdom. Just how freely available the wisdom of psychoanalysis actually is, is debatable of course. In practice, it tends to be for the educated middle classes only. It talks their language, and it takes their money.


the soul is a bird
swooping and skimming over
water — a bundle
of startling energy —
and it is none of these things

The bird in my dream was something like a swallow or a bat — small and swift, capable of long journeys — but also at home on the ocean surface, diving in and out, submerging and re-emerging. There’s a continuity with yesterday’s dream of diving. I wanted to include the word circularity in the poem, but gave up. The circularity of asking what does the bird in my dream ‘mean’, then using poetry to state that the bird is my soul — as if that answered anything at all….. What is ‘soul’? Well, it’s the bird in my dream. Etc, etc. This is more than an exercise in futility however. We aren’t the prisoners of our own words, though it sometimes seems that way. The word soul is incredibly powerful even though nobody knows what it means. It was the crucial word that played on my imagination in the first few days and then weeks and months and years of my ‘psychosis’ in 1978. The fear that I had ‘lost my soul’. As a result of a dream (and a remarkably noisy flocking of sparrows in the tree outside my mother’s house where I was living) I became interested in a folk tradition to the effect that birds were somehow equivalent to the souls of the dead. I did not have Google in those days, so had to wait until now to find this

good enough

satori — diving
into the cool, clear water
of Rachel’s patience

I reached the idea of an equivalence between water and patience via a simple play on words in a draft of the poem which described filling a swimming pool ‘with patience’. In my dream, I had a slow running hose pipe, barely more than a trickle of water, and had to fill a small swimming pool to the brim — but I was perfectly patient about it. I was intending to dive in, asking myself if the pool was long enough (and I guess deep enough) so that I wouldn’t hit my head with the force of momentum of my dive. I was also anticipating the coldness of the water. Everything was right about this dream. The pool was exactly big enough, the water exactly cold enough, my patience exactly patient enough, and my courage exactly brave enough. Good enough as my title however, refers to D.W.Winnicott’s ‘good enough mother’. It’s also meant to convey a kind of wry understatement of just how lucky I am to know Rachel (as when people say in conversation “I’ll take that”). It seems to me Winnicott recommends what might be termed a ‘philosophical attitude’, of having deliberately modest expectations (of oneself). The Japanese term for enlightenment satori could not be further removed from that. It’s all about achieving the ultimate in a flash. So I’m saying ‘Look at me how lucky I am to have some idea of satori. I’ll take that.’

Common Prayer

We are not worthy
so much as to gather up
the crumbs
— the British
Empire chants in a soft voice
— self-abasing, arrogant

Again, just the tiniest fragment of a dream image, and had to be quite severe with myself to hang onto the notion that even the tiniest fragment is meaningful. I was directing a jet of water towards a collection of crumbs in order to sweep them away. In the background, I was also aware of the American poet Michael Donaghy who taught a class I attended for a year 2001-02. In the dream (and in reality) I wished I could have him as a personal friend: I loved him very much as a teacher and as a poet (he’s dead now). Last night I saw the film Interstellar and quite enjoyed it. This morning’s poem is a reflection on British and U.S. imperialism, whose roots go back to Elizabethan England — and how my own Protestant upbringing implicates me in all those poisonous assumptions on which Hollywood culture seems to rest (around the essential nobility of our entire 21st century civilisation) and which were very much in evidence in the film. The italics are a quote from the Prayer of Humble Access, which always used to affect me quite deeply when I found myself saying it as part of the Communion Service as a child:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.