Thursday, March 05, 2015

Tribute to Ani: a wise and beautiful woman

It was Ani's funeral today.

Ani was the founder of the Wild Goose Sangha in Edinburgh: a very beautiful community of people following the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.

I loved Ani: earthy and mischievous, she had such twinkly eyes and such wisdom to her.

But somehow I couldn't feel sorrow for her death. I had the sense from her that she was ready to go, had indeed been ready and waiting to go for a while, and I found myself feeling happy for her.

Dying is difficult and I felt glad that for her it was over.

And it was lovely to be back in St. Mark's church, where I performed JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN. Lovely to see the old familiar faces and take part in a walking meditation again.

In general it was a very beautiful ceremony: a blessing to take part in'

And a blessing to have been part of this wonderful woman's life.

At one stage I would see her once a week and she would tell me episodes of her extraordinary life.
The plan was to make them into a performance piece: but somehow the time or the circumstances never quite came together the way we intended.

One day the form will emerge, and so will these accounts. In the meantime, here is her account of

The nightmare or  My First Lama

I seem to recollect that this nightmare may have began around the time when we had the very strong experience of our company’s team mate’s suicide. That could have sparked it. And it was somewhere around 1956 or 57 shortly before I left Buenos Aires. 

The nightmare came up every now and then and it was all about having to be in a performance and not being able to get to the theatre on time. In several chapters of it, which lasted for some 20 odd years, I found myself so far from the theatre that the anxiety born from the idea that I might not be able to “make it “, woke me up every time.

The scenery changed: I could be too far away, or delayed by heavy traffic, or not realizing the time had gone by. The scenery was different but the essence was the anxiety of “not being able to make it”. NOT BEING THERE. I was not going to where I needed to be because there were obstacles on my path. 

But, somehow, along the years, the circumstances changed and I was each time getting closer to the performance place, to the theatre. At a certain point I had arrived at the theatre but I was muddled up, lost in the corridors on the audience sector, searching for a way into the back stage. At times I got there but the obstacle or impediment for me to be in the performance was that I either did not have the proper dress, or the make up or realizing that I could not remember my lines.

Not knowing the text and feeling guilty for it was probably the strongest feeling that came several times once I was on the right side of the theatre: the performer’s side.

At some point I found myself so close to the stage that I was able to hear the dialogue being delivered there, but it was dark, very dark, so I could not see the actors or anyone else.

Around this time in my life I had recently settled in a Dharma Centre in Barcelona.  It was probably 1979. The news was that a Lama would be coming shortly. It would be my first experience of being in the presence of one. When the opportunity was offered to go and pick him up at the train station I was not eager to go and preferred to stay home and have things ready on time for his arrival at the Centre. I had seen his photo and he did not seem very attractive, his face full of smallpox scars.

So when the doorbell rang I went to open it without any real expectations.

 There he was, a bit plump, his belly firmly in front of the rest of his body and with the most warm, joyous, friendly smile he exclaimed rotundly:  “Amma la!!”. 

I didn’t really know what he meant. Later I was told that Amma translated as Mother and La was an honorific particle. But it didn’t matter. 

He completely won me over. 

That night my dream came back to me, But it was completely different.
I was on stage and had no guilty feeling, nothing seemed amiss. The stage was brightly lit, full of colours and filled with actors happily performing their parts. If I forgot my lines someone would discreetly whisper the words I needed to say. So any feeling of guilt or awkwardness had no place to manifest. I was happy and at ease, and so was everyone else. 

So at the end of the play the audience called for the Director, we looked to the side of the stage and…….who other than the Lama was coming to the center of the stage! 

And the shock was so intense that it woke me up only to hear the Lama’s steps in the corridor, he was going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

My heart was beating fast, so I got up and when he came out I went after him and cuddled down outside his door for the rest of the night!

And that was the end of the nightmare  for ever.  

Ani Mavericka. As told to Jo Clifford.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

The pulpit Queen Jesus preached from this morning

I preached here today. Or rather my trans* Jesus did: Jesus The Queen Of Heaven. Preaching in this bastion of apparent straightness.

Maybe I did it out of mischief. Certainly not the best place to communicate with people from.

But it felt like a good place to stand in and rail against the fact that so many of us are forced into prostitution. A good place to declare my personal pride in embodying "this so-called shame and this disgrace". A good place in which to remind the congregation that Jesus never condemned gay or trans*people. The people he condemned were the self-righteous: "those who condemn others and imagine themselves good".

And a good place, above all, to remind everyone that Jesus is Queer. "Always was. Always is. Always shall be. From now until the end of time".

I was there, at Broughton St.Mary's in Edinburgh, in a time when certain other congregations in the Church of Scotland have decided that their hostility to homosexuality is the most important thing about their Christian faith. But this congregation and their minister are determined to affirm their commitment to ending discrimination: and they invited me to affirm with them.

So I did the Queen Jesus sermon, and the story of the Prodigal Daughter, and blessed them all as part of their regular Sunday service.

And the congregation were lovely. They all wanted to hold hands for the blessing; they made me so very welcome; they made sure I had water to drink and a hymn book to sing from and that I was able to join them in communion.

I was so moved by their warmth. I had been nervous coming - still affected by the memories of the hatred expressed by Christians at my first performance, and by the fact that when I was young and forced to lived as a boy it was in church, above all, that I could never ever be myself.

So today brought healing for me; and a reminder, too, that change is coming in ways we could never have imagined. Not even in our wildest dreams.

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Monday, February 09, 2015

What is to be done?

A major source of suffering for so many of us, I think, is that we can so often see disasters coming and, however much we may protest, seem helpless to prevent them.

The Iraq War for instance…

And the consequences of that disaster have been even worse than we imagined.

Dr. Lanyon in my DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE suffers from this, and its attendant weariness and despair:
             I foresaw the destruction of Bangladesh
Its one hundred and sixty million people being submerged under rising sea levels
I foresaw that the city of Sao Paulo would be destroyed by thirst
Its twenty million people deprived of drinking water
The riots. The chaos. The millions of deaths.

I was made aware of the situation in Bangladesh when I visited Dhaka way back in 1989. It has haunted me ever since.

The country exists at one of the mouths of the Ganges. It is very close to sea level and vulnerable to floods from the river because of the deforestation of the lower slopes of the Himalaya, where the river has its source.

At the same time climate change, the increased ferocity of the monsoon and of tropical storms, make it vulnerable to storm surges and flooding from the sea.

Especially because climate change is also causing a rise in global sea levels.

The outlook for this beautiful and densely populated country is incredibly bleak. Many of the people I spoke to at that tme knew this: but kept on working.

As Calderon says: even in the bleakest of situations, “the good you do is never lost”.

The threat to Sao Paulo is more immediate. Again, I never knew about it until I went there.

The city is running out of water. The largest reservoir is operating at 5.1% of its capacity: and this lessens with every passing day.

Climate change is causing drastic drought in the South eastern region of Brazil; and the privatised water companies have done very little to reduce leaks in their pipelines or engage in long term planning. Instead they have been more concerned with paying dividends to their shareholders.

And this may be why we have heard so little of this crisis. It contradicts the prevuing orthodoxies of those who govern the world’s media: who want to deny the existence of climate change and assert that privatisation is the best way forward for public utilities.

It is compounded by the fact that 95% of industries, offices, hospitals and enterprises in the city have no contingency plans to deal with the water shortage.

100% of hospitals have no contingency plans at all.

The authorities are remaining tight lipped about what measures they will take. But it seems increasingly likely that they will have to cut off the city’s water supply for 5 days out of every 7.

In summer time, when temperatures are reaching 40 degrees.

As I write this, the magnitude of it all so tempts me into the general state of denial.

Surely this cannot be happening?

And I so wish I had made it up.

But I didn’t. Some things are too appalling to invent.

All I can do is write a play that, among other things, tries to warn.

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