Meditation develops mind, and permanently elevated levels of perception, problem solving and consciousness. Can we stop teaching children the building-blocks of reality, language, citizenship and morality if we teach them to meditate? Is this the way to create a world of loving-kindness in which building-blocks are known to be empty causes of confusion and division? By example, monks claim to enlighten the world by perfecting themselves and teaching that suffering arises from clinging to a fixed self in an objective reality imprisoned in time. Do they?
We are well aware of the danger of undervaluing a healthy ego. We don’t want students to succumb to melancholy, depression and suicide, and we don’t want them harming others on rampages of resentment and vengeance either. We want them to be centred, confident and successful, and only drawn to the ladder of spiritual practice with a natural desire for enlightenment. Is there anything worse than organized ignorance? Ask the Rohingya. Ask the Arakanese.
Meditation is natural. Not only mystics do it, but birds do it, crustaceans do it, and perhaps even the trees do it. Can you imagine any living thing not desiring to prolong bliss or the glimmer of self-consciousness? Is it not ultimately an instinct for transcendence that will overturn this bucket of crabs you find yourself in?
Way back at the dawn of civilization the ancestors imagined into being an aid to the task of clambering out of the bucket. Answers to the question, ‘How do I fit into the scheme of things?’ come from within the nascent consciousness formed by meditation, but how to get in there to control the answers, how to be sure we are not just sacrifices to time in an eternal crab-race?
“Angels (they say) don’t know whether it is the living they are moving among, or the dead. The eternal torrent whirls all ages along in it, through both realms forever, and their voices are drowned out in its thunderous roar.” (Rilke, The First Elegy, trans. Stephen Mitchell, The Duino Elegies & The Sonnets to Orpheus, Vintage International, 2009.)
Clamouring with the antediluvian authority of journalists on social media, the white cockatoos rearrange themselves on the tree of life. You never see them, unless you are evolved indeed! Their raucous flight takes place, and is impossible not to hear, in the underworld houses beneath the ground, where they endlessly challenge the Monk’s mind with ancestral bypass. Like the numerals on the back of football jerseys, and the nations of the Earth, their bodies are interchangeable.
Antares, 11 million years old, is 550 light-years away, a supergiant 12 times the Sun’s mass, 680 times its diameter and nearly 100,000 times its luminosity. Its nightfall transit heralds the arrival of true Spring’s generic obligations in the South. It is one of the cardinal Royal Stars.
Uriel represents an ancient argument about the basis of stability, triangle or square. They are variously the angel of repentance, the pitiless, the south wind, patron of the arts and of confirmation, angel of the face and the earth, one of the four angels of the presence, ruler of Tartarus. They are in awe of what is occulted by Earth.
Canopus is a bright giant 310 light-years distant, 8 times the Sun’s mass, 71 times its diameter, and 10,700 times its luminosity. Its right ascension places it in Breamlea Zodiac Gemini, and those in the North above latitude 35° who can never see it can reason its upper transit beneath the southern horizon on a line projected from Mirzam and Tejat, and its opposite lower transit below Kaus Australis.
Sandalphon’s head reaches to heaven, and like music, is firmly rooted in, yet soars beyond, the body of the world. As the immortalized Elijah, they are the protector of the unborn, and their almost human cry resonates with the pangs of your faltering attainment.
Altair, 1.2 billion years old, is one of the closest stars visible to the naked eye, about 16.7 light-years. It has about 1.8 times the Sun’s mass and 11 times its luminosity. It spins so fast, once every 8.9 hours (compared to the Sun’s 25 days), that it is 20% flattened at the poles, and observably brighter at the poles than the equator. It is prominent in August and September nights.
Akathriel, an angel of the presence, and possibly God themself, is the angel to some of Kether (meaning ‘crown’), the topmost of the sefirot of the Tree of Life, and no wonder here in the Tropics, but in temperate latitudes they find themself outscreeched up there. Anything for a quiet life, says the circling Yesod eagle. They have 8,760 eyes, one for every hour of the year.
Fomalhaut is about 449 million years old, 25 light-years away. Nearly double the size of the Sun, it is 16 times more luminous. Its visible transit more or less overhead in Chile, Argentina, Southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific begins in June and disappears in November, heralding Summer. It is one of the four Royal Stars, the watcher of the south (at the Winter Solstice of 2,600 BCE–in 1,150 years it will be at the Northern Vernal Equinox).
Gabriel is God’s messenger, the plucker of new souls from the Tree of Life, the guardian angel of Israel and the bearer of revelation to prophets, such as Muhammad. Gabriel administers severity in the North, and may accordingly assist in death. In the South they squawk to the other side of the tree. They announce high summer, and affirm the victory of instinct.
Achernar, 139 light-years away and 37 million years old, is the first magnitude star on its own opposite the Southern Cross on the South Celestial Pole clock. It spins so fast, rotating every two days, that its equator is 56% greater than its polar diameter. It blinks on at upper transit at the latitude of Melbourne, Florida, and is visibly circumpolar below Melbourne, Australia. Seven times the size of the Sun and 3,150 times more luminous, it lurks below the southern horizon at Tehran.
Belial is the archangel of cleansing and hostility to hell, but that is because they are reformed. Historically the angel of darkness and destruction, one of the fallen ones, they may have fathered Lucifer and been the avatar of Satan, but liar that they are, they seek to overcome their worthlessness by promoting self-sufficiency and personal accomplishment. They would have you address them as Independence, or Headwater, but their tight wheel brings a waterboarded Cassiopeia to mind.
Aldebaran is an orange giant 44 times the diameter of the Sun and 425 times its luminosity, though only 1.7 times its mass. Aldebaran is 6.6 billion years old, nearly half the age of the universe, and around 65 light-years away. It is the eye of the Bull and the baleful follower of the Seven Sisters.
Michael is the highest in rank of the angels, leader of the armies of God against evil, the Prince of Israel and the archangel of mercy (it was they who substituted a ram for Isaac). They are in charge of the soul of justice, and roost in the west side of the tree, on your right facing south, or remember, on your left if you go behind the tree.
Regulus, a star-system of two pairs of dwarves, is about a billion years old and 79 light-years distant. The main star rotates every 16 hours, has over 3 times the Sun’s mass and 360 times its luminosity. Its name, meaning ‘little king’, identifies it with the basilisk of mediaeval bestiaries. It is one of the Royal Stars marking the cardinal quarters, and is notable for its regular occultations by the Moon, and its encounter every 8 years with Venus.
Raphael is the healing archangel, bestowing submission to the severity of the wound with a healthy sarcasm, directed towards the tropical duality of meditative connection and theology’s engrossment in perfectionism, often misinterpreted by those unfamiliar with the spirits of the underworld, being focussed only on cognitive diagnosis.
What do stars and angels, higher consciousness and music, social media and stigma, gender and mental illness all have in common? They are in the body! Ah, Monk, you smooth talker! You have me in two minds.
You are certainly higher than I on the ladder leaning to heaven’s restoration of innate human divinity, and if Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics, the permanent improvements you have made to your consciousness, and pharmaceutical or psychedelic alternatives to our disembodied spirituality can all be combined, the pilgrim’s progress may prove to the benefit of all, but if gamma waves prove barely to rustle the leaves of the tree of life, suspended as it is above a lower realm of struggle and strife, and the most heightened consciousness cannot elude its underworld, might we not be wise to use meditation on the body which is the world the mind is embedded in, to connect us to history, and to forgive us our past and theirs rather than engineer a future unlike it?
Turn off the lights so that children can see the stars. Encourage the inexperienced to be alone, carry a tune, remember change, and blaspheme against the prophets’ words with their non-binary, non-perfectionist bowels. Let children discover the underworld of country in sidereal time and project the houses of the Vertex onto their social firmament before we teach them its emptiness and the existence or otherwise of angels.
“But if the present is only a time because it is passing away, how can we say that it exists, since the reason for its existing as time is that it will soon not be, which means we can only say it exists because it is on its way to non-existence?” Augustine, Confessions, Book Eleven, III, 17 (Penguin Classics).
Guess what? Speech has just three basic components: waffle, prattle and wank.
Waffle is making something out of nothing. Prattle is making nothing out of everything. Wank is making everything out of something. Depending on which voice you heed, the evening appearance of the Warrior sky might mean something, everything or nothing. It might portend the end of an Indigenous initiation season; it might illustrate a fundamental observation of the nature of time, that any configuration of the sky first appears before dawn, finally appears after sunset, then disappears into the afternoon; or it might serve as an example of dependent arising, one delusory form among the many snares of human suffering. We say we ‘pay something no mind’ when we simply fail to register it among more pressing concerns, when it doesn’t enter our ‘space’.
Did ancient Australians measure time by the motion of the Sun? When they erected their stone circle on the rise overlooking the river now known as Little River, and invested the West with the significance attested to by the three enigmatic boulders facing the extinct volcanoes of the Anakies in that direction, did they dance to the left, like the inner clockwork of Big Ben? Even primary school children know the loss of country suffered by Indigenous people under colonization, but who appreciates the cultural upheaval of learning to tell the time clockwise?
Like any map, the stereographic whole-horizon projection can be difficult to orientate. You need only keep in mind that the Earth rotates to the east–that is the very definition of East–then you will instantly see that the stars appear to revolve clockwise around the South Celestial Pole, and anti-clockwise around the North Celestial Pole, unless it’s not the sky’s face we’re looking at, but its body. Look up, and you see the face; look down, at a map of your sky, or through the ground at your Underworld, and you see the body. Furthermore, your face is at the bottom of the chart, and everything over the Prime Meridian is projected upside-down. Tilt your face back far enough from the daytime direction of the Sun and imagine what is going on behind you as the experience of a night sky on the other side. Don’t get it? Perhaps your gamma wave needs some work?
Or try this exercise revealing everything connected to everything else: raise your arms in opposite directions, rotate them in tight circles the same way, and notice that one hand is in clockwise motion and the other anti-clockwise, and that an observer beyond either arm would see the opposite motion to what you think it’s describing. Think about that the next time you query the meaning of retrograde motion, adopt identity or hear your habitual inner voice: perhaps, for example, something is being made out of a prattler’s nothing. And I assure you, on the face of it, any resonance in the influences of exactly opposite stars, the so-called stargates, must be pure wank, since I projected them seven years before the Breamlea Zodiac.
Voices and their words, the concepts they communicate and the behaviours they influence are all embodied in culture, in turn embedded in history, and like the clockwork of Big Ben and the psychology of colonization (and gender for that matter), are coming at you from the opposite side of your face, out in the ageing body of the world into which you were born and cast your narrative. No matter how successful you are in wresting back the clock-face of your heartbeat and breath, the body of time has fossilized your life-span. When you try to share your life, you cannot free it from a narrative the Other creates.
Of course my conjectures are just more waffle, commemorating like a plaque a shared ‘space’ in time, for old and young, ‘right’ and ‘left’, male and female, native and exotic. The fact is, I would waffle you out of your wounds, contrived by the spatialization of time, of displacement and historical injustice, into this time-space I also call ‘Country’, an empty space made of now, pulsating with codependent, reified, numinous historical forms such as the body, the clock, real estate, difference, evil, the mere male and the warrior, the whore and the mother, the psyche, and even consciousness itself.
Behold the reconciliation of separate perspectives, of geographical hemispheres, of consciousness and sleep. The markings on the clocks indicate different ways of going, but the signs are in the same temporal houses. Thus does space wed time, body wed mind, self wed other. “Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve” (John Archibald Wheeler).
The essence of human existence, which it shares with all animate and so-called inanimate entities, and which Buddhism knows as dependent arising, materialism knows as history, and we all know as culture, is within time, not space. Life is within death. Body is within change. Mind is within experience. Connection is within habit. Death is not a place. Its essence is permanence. Culture is not a structure. Its essence is freedom. Identity is not a thing. Its essence is relationship. The world is not a thing. Its essence is clockwork.
We are beguiled by the prospect of making the world a better place, but we are pinned like dead butterflies to a map, and the market of cultural interchange is located in a cul-de-sac. We embarked long ago on a project of what Fromm called ‘rootedness’ to make all of the categories of existence we could imagine into spaces within themselves. The psyche, once a transcendent identification of life and self, air and breath, became merely a compartment of being along with the body. Community became an assembly of individuals, heredity an arrangement of DNA. The world became a jigsaw-puzzle and death became part of eternal life. Consciousness forgot how to be unconscious. The horizon formed a space, seasons and phases were fixed on calendars, language banished the nameless, heaven was subsumed by distance and light extinguished the night.
This all happened in a period of not more than twenty thousand years. The next twenty thousand years is a mystery which defies compartmentalization, and yet we are already within it. Voyager 1, which was launched half a life-span ago, accompanied by two time capsules, will take twice as long as the spatialization of being to reach the vicinity of the nearest star in its path, but nonetheless is already nearly five times further from us than the outermost planet of our system. It is already beyond our within of light-minutes from Sol, the nearest star. Soon it will be beyond the within of light-hours, but even after forty thousand years, it will still be connected to any descendants still here, and to us now, though we be long dead, by the momentum originating here, in our neighbourhood of heaven.
The spatialization of the alienated self continues apace. “Keep ‘it’ buried in the not-me, and ‘I’ am what remains, blameless, shameless,” is prattle. No, comforting Jeremiah, putting definitions and boundaries in the right context, requires us to embrace time as the essence of self. Every ‘thing’ is indeed not connected to everything else, because ‘everything’ is an error, a closure, a linguistic confusion of ‘is’ and ‘is not’. The land and the inhabitant, the artefact and the commodity, the violater and the victim, each breathe history into the other, but the mantra, ‘always was and always will be’, is an absurdity. Country is not ‘timeless’. It obliges fearless familiarity with change. Whereas separation is emergent in space, connection is emergent in time: the meaning of a foreign language, the lifespan of a cemetery, the scar made out of flesh, the village’s love for the newborn, the faith in whom we have chosen which makes us the right choice, the barely perceptible dying breath of a machine in the silence between stars, and the knowledge of a warrior staring up at someone’s Underworld.
Think of time as waffle, prattle and wank. It is embedded like a signature on the treble clef of speech. The Moon and the stars chant its music, have you noticed, not on the horoscope page, but at the hour you sometimes remember to look out?