Friday, April 20, 2012

Happy in my own backyard

Heinrich Zimmer uncovered a story from the Khassidischen Bucher of Martin Buber, which seems to represent the "archetypal" reason for travelling. The story is about a rabbi called Eisik who resides in Cracow, and who has a recurring dream of a voice telling him to travel to Prague to look for a treasure under the bridge of a castle.  After the dream is repeated three times, the rabbi decides to listen to the inner voice and make the journey.  When Eisik arrives in Prague, he finds the castle guarded and dares not approach.  Instead he loiters until he attracts the attention of the captain of the guards, who asks him, and not unkindly, what he is doing there.  The rabbi tells him of the dream and of the voice that prompted his adventure.  The guard laughs and tells him about his own inner voice in a dream, which had told him to travel to Cracow to find the house of a rabbi called Eisik, where he would subsequently find a treasure buried behind a stove in a forgotten corner of his house.  The rabbi thanks the guard; then travels back to his own house and looks behind the stove to discover the treasure.
Zimmer comments that the real treasure is not very far away; certainly we need not travel and search for it in a distant country.  'It lies buried in the most intimate part of our house; that is of our own being.  It is behind the stove, the centre of life and warmth that rules our existence, the heart of our heart, if only we knew how to unearth it.'
Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz learns much the same thing, to not go looking for her dreams or her heart in any one else’s back yard but her own.  And if she can't find it there, well she never lost it to begin with.

As a young girl, unlike Dorothy I was happy in my own suburban backyard, on the outskirts of Melbourne. I would lay in the banana lounge chair, skin oiled, book or imagination wide open, and travel in my book or reveries, while my dog lay beside. While my friends made their grand European journeys and sent back their postcards (many of which I appreciated and still have), I never felt the compulsion to leave my own backyard.  Once the summer passed and I resumed studies at university, friends would assume by my tan that I’d traveled far and had many adventures. I’d smile and keep my inner journeys to myself…

It was only as a woman in my early thirties that I felt restless, as though my heart lay elsewhere, beckoning.  A house under the beautiful Mountain Ash Gothic in the Dandenongs wasn’t enough.  I would often climb onto the roof when my husband Ed cleaned the gutters, and sit to stare up at the sky and wonder about what was beyond. Tall trees pushed the sky further away, much as I felt further away from my heart.  One of our favourite pastimes was for Ed to put on a carousel of his slides, for unlike me he had traveled widely, mainly through Australia and had amassed a huge collection; and along to the music of Copland, I would travel with him in my armchair. However, I left my backyard and went in search of my heart, which I thought was ‘over there’ on the island where I was born. It took many journeys back and forth to realize that my heart had never been lost. Perhaps confused but never lost.  Of course, in the process I lost my backyard and Ed.  I felt like a fool. Yet, I needed the reflection of the self found by encountering ‘the stranger’.  

The archetypal or spiritual journey is usually for self discovery, or remembering our own treasure, not to tick another item on your ‘to do or to see’ list.  More recently, on a train coming back from Giverny in France, I overheard some tourists discussing their list – the next stop for them was Montmartre which they needed to see to tick off – and it was not unlike our own list I thought wryly to myself. I couldn’t be bothered traipsing the many steps to get to Montmartre that afternoon and fortunately, we got lost. 

Travelling with a list of sights to see or experiencing the trip behind the lens of your camera, because you want the ‘proof’ that you were there and it’s not even to collect into an album anymore, but to post on Facebook. It is rather like experiencing the new or strange as an automaton. Where is your Self in all of it?  When you feel the need to get away, what is it you want to get away from?  I knew when I suggested that particular getaway that I wanted to get away from myself, but also to find a connection to that self, as I approached one of those 'big' birthdays. I hadn’t anticipated that we would get away as far as Europe.

I’ve been pondering what travel ‘means’ to me because this year the Melbourne Scarf Festival has this question as its theme for the scarf makers, and I usually contribute a couple of entries.  It may not be terribly exciting but what it ‘means’ is remembering and savouring the treasures from my own backyard because now I know where that backyard is.  Like the duke Des Esseintes in Huysman’s  A Rebours I understand how wearing it is to actually make the journey to not only discover that I’ve brought myself along as baggage, but that I could just have easily made the journey in my armchair. One need never leave home.  For instance, in my armchair in front of the computer I can get much closer to the many treasures in the Louvre without queuing for hours, without feeling dehydrated because I've been forced to dump my water bottle, without getting lost, without being pushed, without someone blocking my view, without another saying that I’m ruining her photo by being in front of the painting when I actually get an opportunity to get up close.  In my armchair, I can get a closer view of the Mona Lisa than I did being in the same room.
A play on the postcards we send back home or keep for our own memories

Making use of the eucalyptus leaves collected from my backyard

First experiment, Nuno felt on China silk 

We often dismiss children and adolescents as not being very ‘worldly’ but sometimes we don’t need to have seen or been in the world to know what it is we want, or are.  As we get older, it is then that we lose our spiritual connection to things, including what’s in our own hearts.  It is usually then that we think, or someone has led us to believe that the grass is greener or more exotic on the other side.  Of course, what we discover when we get there is the mud, or the dust, the heat, the mosquitoes, the sand flies, the one thousand steps we need to climb…  It is never as we anticipated…That girl on the banana lounge with her dog beside, was much wiser than I ever gave her credit. 

The story of Eisik is recounted by Mircea Eliade in Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries, Translation Philip Maires (1975, pp244-5: N.Y.: Harper Torchbooks).

1 comment: