Meaning of Life

Discovering the soul and the symphony within the void

Jane E. Nelson
MA Student at the Edward De Bono Institute, Malta, Europe

I’ve been in bed for a week. How the time has flown but it seems like an age.

I think it was the acres of cast iron guttering I’ve been painting for the last three weeks. Three coats they need. Red oxide, after any rust is wire brushed off, then green undercoat and then the green glossy overcoat.

The smell is just awful. Thick and heavy fumes wafting up my nose all day as I hang over the pipes and troughs, naturally close so that I can see what I’m doing. Sickening, nauseating, so that by the end of the day I just have to sit like a hot, flopped chicken in the kitchen until I can recover myself enough to clean myself up and make supper.

But I’m good at that. Got to get the job done. Go at it full tilt. Ignore the nausea, it’ll be over soon. I’m good at the hot flopped chicken too as it’s usually how I end my day in the kitchen.

The doctor thinks it’s a virus but hasn’t ruled out the paint, but I’ve never had a virus that’s felt like this.

They’ve moved me down to the guest end of the house. I’m now above the kitchen, handy to nip up the back stairs and see to me.

The guttering was all being painted outside under my bedroom window and the rising fumes were just too much for my already overcome stomach. So the move killed two birds with one stone really. Mmm, maybe not the best analogy the way I’m feeling!

It took this much dire persuasion to get me out of my own bed which I had retreated to like a sick animal to its lair.

My bedroom is at the noisy front of the house where cars pull up and the sun rises full in the huge windows. The guest bedroom is in the back corner of the house. Shaded and quiet, looking out onto trees full of darting, singing birds, the soft summer sound of the stream in the valley and the smell of the ancient pink roses and jasmine wafts in the open window. The weather is warm and all the windows are open. The air is cool and fresh and full of smells that change with the temperature of the day.

The best part of it all is that this end of the house is decorated. We did this part first so that our guests would be comfortable. Our poor bedroom is a pit, the last room to be done.

I never realised how dreary and depressing it was. As I lie here day after day I look at the fresh peach walls and the glossy paintwork, the pretty curtains and the new green carpet, it feels WONDERFUL.

I feel so desperately ill. I can’t read, I can’t eat or drink, I can’t sit up, I can’t talk even. So I lie here, quiet, on my side, floating in this space. A few days ago I was fine. Hugely busy, striving, full.

I knew when I came around the side of the house on Sunday and bent to smell a beautiful deep pink rose that something was wrong. My stomach churned with violent nausea instead of the expected frisson of delight.

Next morning I couldn’t get out of bed.

It’s strange not being able to do ANYTHING. At first I felt quietly panic stricken. I asked for a radio but I couldn’t bear the music or the volume. “Talking”, I croaked, “talking only, no music”. Someone changed it to radio four and then turned it down until I could only just hear it in the total quiet of the room.

The next few days I floated in and out, connected to the world by the tiny thread of sound. Eyes shut, perfectly still, lying on my side. Women’s issues, public affairs, organic farming, stories, the Archers, gosh! I haven’t heard that for years. My mind lifted, transported, diverted from the body that felt no longer mine. Rising up out of the mist and pain I felt compelled to tell someone, “If ever I’m paralysed or something make sure I have the radio, just talking, no music, quiet.”

At first I listened carefully but time passed and I began to get used to the quiet. But it wasn’t quiet, the air was full of sound. I began to turn my attention to what I came to call, the music of the day or indeed the music of the moment.

The sound of the birds, a rock dove cooing in the distance, the ever-present stream as it tumbles over rocks down the valley. One or two bees adding their own solos, a fly or two. The low rumble of a car far distant on the road, a tap turned on in the scullery, the murmur of a voice, a dog barking, the ticking of the clock and the gentle breathing of the small dog by my side.

Alone, helpless and completely quiet I have listened to this music of the moment with a deep intensity and detached involvement that I have never had the opportunity to before.

It reminded me of my childhood in Africa. I was allowed to take a mat down the garden in the afternoons and have my rest under a tree. Lying there in that hot, still time, looking up at the ever changing clouds through the leaves or watching, fascinated, as the ants went about their business in the grass. I remember the music of that moment. The harsh caw of the crows, the sounds from the ships in Kilindini harbour, lazy noises from the chicken house, the soft swish of a panga as one of the gardeners cut the grass and my mother humming sweetly as she made her way down the garden to call me for tea.

I remembered too the way the warmth felt on my skin, the gentle breeze too and the smells, of hot vegetation from the mainland, the salty sea, hot African ground and my mother’s sweet and fragrant flowers.

I think this must be how it feels in the womb. Warm and safe and infinitely peaceful. All is beyond your control, you are removed and therefore can observe minutely and carefully with every sense.

I began to notice the feel of the soft sheets and the warmth of the pillow against my cheek. The soft summer breeze from the open window caressing my face, the feel of my heart beating, the feel of my bones, the feel of being in me, of being myself… just me.

Threads of smell began to play their own tune, distinguishing the Roses and Jasmine from the wafts of Elderberry flowers, the heat of the midday sun on the water, the hot granite of the house, and other subtler, unknown smells from outside. These mingle with the clean smell of furniture polish, the perfume of the soap in the bathroom and the waft of cooking.

Slowly my vocabulary increases. The strains of my senses begin to intermingle in a symphony, until the whole of me is aware, awake and really and truly alive.

The best thing of all is the loss of all responsibility and with it judgement. I cease to think whether I should be picking those Elderberry flowers if I want to make cordial, or the Roses need pruning, or if a noise is annoying or a smell not as pleasant as another. I am able to sit back in the audience and just simply lose myself in the music, explore it, enjoy it, live it.

What peace, I have gone beyond the radio and found myself. I am there in that rich silence.

The talk on feminism hits straight to the heart and feelings from deep in my girlhood sweep up through my life and engulf me in the now, until I am crying with grief for the soul in me still trying to express itself in this male oriented world. The subtle tentacles of society, conditioning and education sometimes still getting the better of me. It is so unfair.

Deep, dark, words begin to pour out of the black, swirling up into rows and columns of a long lament. It begins.

My soul is crushed into a tiny corner,
deformed and twisted as a Chinese maiden’s foot.
Soul screams like a distraught mourner,
mouth quiet as a silent mute.

I begin to think of what in all this life is really important and I play a game with myself. If you had to go to a different dimension or planet and you could take just one thing from each category of your life what would it be. No time to think just which one thing means the most.
one book
one article of clothing
one piece of jewellery
one piece of furniture
one music album
one person
one emotion.

I go down my chosen categories and find that the things I choose are quite unexpected. A simple book on Buddhism, an embroidered Indian shawl, an inexpensive bracelet that my grandmother had in the nineteen twenties, a little hand carved tray table, some flute music, yes, amazingly myself, and love. Love because love is caring and from the practice of this springs laughter and contentment and happiness, peace and joy.

In my mind I pack them all carefully in my box knowing I have learned something important from each choice.

Yes this is the root and heart of me. Here in this quiet space I have been given the chance to rediscover the peace of my inner soul. Somewhere between Africa and here I had lost it, the greatest treasure of all.

I am better today and sitting up. Now I have learned to see again with my eyes shut I hardly want to put on my glasses.

Now I can see the large container holding pots of stunning white, salmon, orange and delicate mauve geraniums brought to me by my husband and the big cream china teapot filled with a tumble of pink and scarlet Roses on the window sill, picked and filled by the loving hands of my son and daughter.

But I also see how the light shines on the glossy paintwork and the shadows fall on the wall turning the peach into subtle landscapes. The occasional bird lands on the cherry laurel outside the window, a leaf flashes in the sun as it lands and it is so beautiful I want to weep.

Still, quiet, hearing, smelling, feeling, seeing, whole.

Just a week ago I was panic-stricken at my enforced inactivity
I don’t even need the radio on now, my day is playing a symphony.