Last December I took a long road trip across South Africa with my younger sister, which spanned more than 2000kms. That’s a lot of driving and consequently a lot of talking, but also a lot of silence. And silence goes hand-in-hand with that most dreaded of all pastimes: thinking. My introspection turned towards the notorious and unavoidable subject of mortality. Specifically, and my sister and I are both thus afflicted, mortality as it pertains to the psyche of the workaholic who is chronically busy and terminally unsatisfied with accolade or accomplishment and perpetually in pursuit of a perfect mind. Behind this quest lies perhaps not just a fear of inadequacy, but ultimately also of death.
In an attempt to reorganise my thinking so that it is oriented more towards living life and less towards hedging against death, here is the first of 16 meditations that I will be incorporating into the Tibetan and Asatru of my current repertoire of spiritual practices.
Stuff you’ve never dreamed is possible. These things are all within your reach.
During our trip, I was pretty unorganised in a few critical ways. I had neglected to check the exact location of our accommodation in Hogsback and also the directions coming from Queenstown. This meant that we drove, in the aftermath of a catastrophic storm, on a dirt road in a little 1400 hatchback for about 15km on a dirt road into the middle of nowhere, and then found that we were staying in a backpackers in a rural village. There were at least two discrete moments when we were in very real shit during this escapade.
The first occurred as we approached a vast valley about two hours from Hogsback. On the horizon, thick black clouds loomed ominously. We joked about a cloud that looked like a vicious dragon, threatening of a perilous way ahead. That was about 45 minutes before we arrived in the eye of the angriest storm I have ever encountered in my life to date. The rain came down in an endless torrent, making it impossible to see even five metres in front of the car. I clung to the wheel and cowered, inching forward along the river that was now flowing over the highway. In my confusion and terror I may have cried out “I want a biscuit!” in a fashion similar to what Frodo may have sounded like during a particularly unhappy morning fleeing from Nazgûl through Mirkwood (my sister was clutching a plastic ice-cream tub full of home-made biscuits, knuckles white and gaze transfixed in horror).
The next came when the GPS took us up an erroneous little dirt road into the village that I should never, ever have taken. I can still remember the sickening feeling of the steering wheel losing relevance as the tyres spun beneath the car in the mud, accompanied by the smell of burnt rubber and the wails of my sister (whose car it was).
By the time we reached the backpackers, I was haggard and woebegone and convinced that forces were at work that would have us perish. From there (except for a strange encounter with the people staying in the dorm with us who were snorting like goblins during the night) we went on to have a great time. We sat huddled by the fire place drinking wine, talked to the lovely hostess who came from Belgium and had married a Xhosa man from Hogsback, went to a shebeen and drank Black Label courts with some terrified tourists and a local tribal elder while looking up at a meteor shower and making wishes on shooting stars.
We sat around the fire with some of the other guests and chatted until the early hours of the morning with the host and two of the other guests, one of whom was a German engineer from Hamburg where I had spent some months, who had fled the routinised mediocrity of the 9-to-5 grind, the grey, rainy sky, the rules that choked the life out of his existence, in favour of an unashamed unemployment involving camping and a beautiful blonde girl from Centurion. They were looking for somewhere beautiful to make their home. Gauteng was not being considered (for obvious reasons if you have ever been there).
“I couldn’t anymore. I couldn’t anymore. I just couldn’t,” he said in heavily accented English.
There was an American girl staying there who had landed in PE and come to the shebeen right after. She had quit college and was travelling the world for seven months on her own. She was 19 years old, and that fucked with my head. I’m 27, and there is something of the conservative, practical fool in me that has regrettably not yet been able to take such a leap.
The accommodations and the living there in the village were simple, yet the inhabitants were proud of their way of life and rightly so, I felt, because one got the sense that they were resting lightly on the earth; they grew their own food, tapped condensation for water, used solar power, and built houses using mud and cow dung. What nobler way of living could there be? It puts to shame my sports car and Woolies microwave dinners.
Having had my eyes opened to these alternate ways of living, something ‘Tookish’ is swelling in my heart, something is crawling out and it has a fascinating bit of rhetoric on its side.
“If they did it, why can’t you?”
“Well, because I have to pay off my car and pay my bills and my rent and because I have too many clothes and scatter pillows.”
“Do you really want to be the kind of person whose scatter pillows will prevent you from seeing the world? Because, baby, let me tell you those flaccid bits of foam have nothing on the Northern Lights.”
Then the bastard quoted Brian Molko, and he had me.
“It’s in your reach… Concentrate. If you deny this, it’s your fault.”
From the 16 Meditations for Deranged Workaholics series.