Saturday, 27 November 2010

TS Eliot 13.11.10

Time, Narrative and T.S. Eliot
by Vanda Playford

Vanda Playford decided to take us to two different venues, on the trace of T. S. Eliot. After meeting at the tube station in Kensington, we walked to the church that Eliot was a warden for 12 years of his late life. Vanda has informed us on Eliot and the peculiarities of his life that has taken her interest. After walking in the church we have sat on a corner where Vanda read us through her Shamanic journey she has taken to prepare for today's meeting. her journey was so resonant with strong points on Eliot's practice. Following, we started reading from Eliot's poetry (Four Quartets, mainly). After spending a good amount of time, and arriving at the limits of the patience of the priest, we have left the premises to go and have a drink at Eliot's local pub. There waited another task. Vanda asked us to write a story (in automated writing) on time on the cash machine rolls. After the session of writing, everyone switched their story which were read aloud. We have rolled our stories back and placed in a box to be thrown to the lake in the neighborhood. (For many reasons, neither the information of the lake nor the time will be announced.)

My first presentation for the collaborative art project with Vision Forum in Autumn 2010 was a creative intervention on the work of T.S.Elliot. Elliot was chosen because of his interest in time, mysticism and a desire to transcend the material world. I wanted to approach this task through a form that would involve all of the participants and would enable us to understand elements of Elliot’s vision and intellect. My preparation for the presentation involved going on the unlikely route of a Shamanic Journey to meet the Spirit of T.S. Elliot.

Thoughts on Shamanic Journeying in Shamanism
I work as an Artist and a Medical Doctor and became interested in Shamanism through working with a group of healers from Mexico who practice Mexhika Pactli. This is a pre-hispanic practice of Medicine, and in a western context a pre-modern practice of medicine, elements of which are Shamanic. Over the past five years I have also learnt a great deal about the power of shamanism and shamanic journeying through working with Zoe Bran who is a Shaman. Zoe has taught me how to journey and how to use this process to communicate with the spirits and tap in to an extraordinary visual, intelligent and powerful world. A world outside my every day consciousness, which through the experience of journeying connects me to the ancient and the present and possibly even the future. Quantum Physics is teaching western scientists to understand that everything that we categorise in to past, present and future is merely a way of organising our perceptions. But these categories limit our understanding of the Universe. Contemporary physics shows how time is a Newtonian construct and is now suggesting with increasing degrees of confidence that in reality everything we perceive and have perceived and much more, is in the now. My experience of shamanic journeying does not prove or disprove these theories but whilst in the journey, one feels connected to all that is possible in the Universe. I have no way of explaining this phenomena. My empirically trained left brain struggles to accept the idea of Spirit, but immersed in the journey when my right brain is liberated, and seemingly relating to and through the world of spirit, this seems to open up the possibility of limitless time and space and endless possibilities to link these spaces as if in the same space now. Whilst in the journey one is in an altered state of consciousness which is neither a dream state or a waking state but perhaps something in between. Unlike a dream, one is conscious of driving the journey in search of the answer to questions asked, but the journey requires no effort of thought, it appears. These journeys which I see and describe in to a story are too rich and spontaneously inventive for me to simply make up whilst lying down and thinking for ten minutes, and as such are my evidence for the existence of this virtual world of spirit. As a person trained in Maths and Physics, realising that physicists are describing the possibility of the existence a similar world with similar phenomena (but with slightly different methodology and terminology), adds to my confidence in this ancient shamanic process and a desire to continue to work in this way. I have used journeying to understand and resolve personal, practical and intellectual problems. The journey carried out with Zoe at her home, helped considerably with the intellectual task of presenting the works of Elliot to Vision Forum. Eliot’s formidable knowledge of philosophy, time and mysticism is evident in the writing of his most famous work The Four Quartets, which is the text I was most inspired by and wanted to think about in relation to the presentation. Realising that I only had a short time to research Eliot’s life and work, I decided to go on a shamanic journey to ask for a way of approaching this ambitious task. Amazingly and completely unexpectedly, the journey provided me with a way in to understanding something of Eliot's work and process. It also gave me source material, ideas and a structure for my talk. To wit, the talk itself became a journey where we carried out readings and performances at Eliot's Anglican Church in Kensington, walked past his home, had lunch and wrote stories in the pub that was his local and finally walked in the dark to his favourite lake in Hyde Park where we finished our ritual and homage - witnessed by the police in their sate of the art tracking helicopters who were clearly very suspicious of our activities.

Below is a transcription of the journey:

TS Eliot Journey
I am going on a journey to the middle world to meet my spirit helper to ask him to lead me to the spirit of T.S Eliot so that I can experience and understand his ideas on time and narrative.
(ZOE - We create or own reality, that’s what life is)
So I am setting off heading up to Wales in an Airplane, leaving city airport at rapid speed, and driving over the land, over the welsh mountains, coming in to view of Cardigan Bay, sweeping round Cardigan Bay, and landing in a small airport near Abersoch, and I’m taking a Taxi to Abersoch, driving rapidly thro’ the village up the pathway towards the Shanty and I’m paying the Taxi driver and walking down the steps to the Shanty and I’m looking for my spirit helper and I am calling out to him, and I know he’s around when he is hiding, and I’m going in to the house, walking around the house, walking down to the headland and then I see him on the beach and I call to him and he rushes up the steps and we sit on the headland in the wind and he is very friendly and playful and he is asking me where the hell I’ve been, and I say I’m really sorry I haven’t been to see you but I can see you’ve made a good job of looking after the Shanty and then he says “so, how can I help you?” And I ask him if he has heard of T.S Eliot the Poet, and he says “No” he hasn’t heard of T.S.Eliot, so I explain to him that he is a famous 19C 20thC poet and that he is interested in time an narrative and things spiritual and that he had a bad marriage and that I want to connect to his Spirit and can he lead me there? And then the spirit helper leaps up in to the air, barking, he thinks this is hilarious, and he says “yes, yes I’ll go and have a look” and he dives off, far away thro’ the bracken to the Shanty and I completely lost sight of him, and I walk back up to the Shanty garden, I sit in the garden, waiting for the dog to come back, and er, the wind’s got up and the sun is shining, there are white horses over the sea and I can hear the dog racing around but I don’t know where he is. He is sniffing and scrabbling in bracken and brambles, ………..and I’m still waiting and I can hear the sea crashing, the waves crashing…………….I can hear the spirit helper barking, that’s’ the thinking….wagging his tale furiously, ……………and then he comes in to the garden and he grabs me by the hand and leads me down over the headland down the steps to the beach, to the waves, and he drags me in to the sea and tells me to come swimming with him and am swimming out in to the sea and he tells me to dive under the water with him and he'll look after me and not to be frightened of the jelly fish. (Water is about emotion) And we are swimming under the water, we’re going down in to the murky sea, and there are jelly fish and seaweed every where and then he leads me to the sea bottom, and I see a treasure chest, and he tells me to open the treasure chest which is silver, and there is no key, and I open it up, thousands and thousands of little pages of writing flow out of the treasure chest, and he says “there is the spirit of T.S.Eliot”, and these 100’s and 100’s of little pages are flowing out of the treasure chest, streaming out swirling everywhere. And I say “hello spirit of T.S.Eliot, thank you very much for opening, for allowing me to open your treasure chest, it’s an honour to meet you, I don’t feel in any way up to this encounter and I’ll try not to put you on too much of a pedestal” and he asks me what it is that I want, why I have come to visit him, and I say that I have been chosen for some strange reason to present some of his ideas to the group but I don’t understand entirely what his ideas on time are about and can he help me to experience and understand them?And then he creates a whirling, whirling whirly pool out all the little tiny pages, and I’m whirling whirling round in the whirl pool with the tiny pages, as if I am a page, whizzing round like a spinning top, very, very, very, very fast, whizzing, whizzing, whizzing, whizzing and then I’m flung out, and then he is laughing, and then he is saying, How did that feel? And I’m saying, “exhilarating”, and then he is saying, “that’s how time is” (EXHILERATING FAST AND CIRCULAR). …….and I’m asking him what he meant by saying that all time past time present and time future…meet at once or something…and he says because they do it doesn’t really matter if you are alive or if you are dead, and that you understand that once you are dead. And I ask him if he had any regrets…and he says the obvious regret was that he married the wrong person and he doesn’t know if he wasted his time, but at the time it felt like it, and I ask him what he was trying to do with narrative…and he said he was trying to understand it more and to use it to empower him and to take him in to the world of spirit, away from the world of materiality, and to help those who were interested in his writing to connect to that world, because the world of materiality was destroying him. (Find something comparable in his work that bear this out)And the papers are still swirling around but they have become flatter, the patterns are flatter rather than vertical, and I am trying to grasp them in my hand and I ask him if it is ok to do that, and he says of course of course take as many of the papers as you can, and read them, immerse your self in them and connect. (He is asking for an emotional/spiritual engagement as well as intellectual)I ask him if his spirit is in the underworld and he says that part of his spirit is in the underworld and a lot of his spirit is in the upper world, and that I can join him in the upper world if I want to on another occasion, and I say “thank you very much” and the papers are beginning to settle and are (I am) being sucked back in to the box, very very very very rapidly thro the sea and thro the seaweed, are being sucked back in to the box. And the lid is closing and I say farewell and thank you and then the little dog who has been swimming around appears beside me, and says “come on let’s go”, because he couldn’t hold his breath (breath and time) for much longer. (Not and issue for me – Zoë) So we swim up up up up up the surface of the sea and there are white horses everywhere and the tide has come in half way up the cove beach (TIME). And then we are landing on the beach and the dog is shaking himself dry, and he takes me up to the Shanty and shows me where the towels are, and I am getting dry, and drying my hair and my clothes and he asks me if I want some cocoa? And he goes and makes some cocoa, and we sit there drinking the cocoa, he makes himself some cocoa. And I ask him if he thinks that really was the spirit of T.S.Eliot? And he looks a bit shocked and asks me why I don’t trust his abilities, and I say, “well you are a very playful dog, how did I know that you can reach the spirit of T.S.Eliot? And then he snaps at me the dog is part of the universe so why shouldn’t it be able to present the spirit to you the universe presents it to you in this form for a reason and says “well F you, ‘cos I can”……And we both start laughing………and I am sipping my cocoa, and thinking about the image of the tiny little papers streaming out of the treasure trove under the sea…………………….I ask the dog how in one week can I immerse myself in the works of T.S. Eilot, and the dog says well you’ll have to work very hard. …………..and we are sipping our cocoa………..hurm huem……………………………………………………………and I can see the treasure chest swirling around the room……..and I can see the lid slightly opening…and I can see words and bits of paper streaming our of the treasure chest, and swirling around the room, wrapping themselves around everything. And the dog is playing in the swirls, the paper swirls, and sniffing them, and I am trying to read the text, and it is whizzing by so fast, none of it makes sense, endless swirls of words and letters coming thickly out of the treasure chest, filling the room tightly and thickly so I can hardly move, it is like a nest…. and the dog is scrambling through the strands of letters and papers, wagging his tale and sniffing, and I feel engulfed but very warm, cos the paper is warm and dry, and I am rolling around in all the strands of papers and letters…’s like being in a barn of letters and papers…….and I’m gathering them all up and trying to push them all back in to the chest……and they won’t fit, there’s too many of them… and I’m still trying to push them all back in………and the chest is rattling and shaking and telling me not to do this, to let everything come out of the box…then I say to the spirit of T.S. Eliot “ you have come to the middle world, and I have to go, and in an instant he sucks everything back in to the box and slams the lid…and the dog tells me to go and he will take the treasure chest back to the sea. And I say thank you very much, and I run off to catch the taxi back to the airport, and I’m getting in to the plane and flying back to London and as I swirl over Cardigan bay, I can see the dog coming out of the sea, and he is wagging his tale and barking and saying goodbye. I am flying over the mountains, whizzing back to London, to city airport, and getting out of the plain and driving back home…….
Zoe “Are you back here? …..(Overhead sound of aircraft)….are you back here? ….
Vanda “Laugh…is that what you said ?”
Zoe “Yes”
Vanda “I didn’t hear you”

vanda playford, 27/1/2011 copyright