In the last post, I describe how William Wordless, Frederick Mires and I had been arguing over how to combine breadth of interests with depth of exploration. Then we joined the main path back to the cafe, with the games and picnic area on our left and the redwood grove in the middle distance on our right.
It’s too cold a day for the picnic area. As we look ahead we see Indira Pindance, our vulnerable new friend, and Emma Pancake, activist and pamphleteer, huddled at a table using steaming cups to warm their hands. They appear to be waiting for us.
‘Where’s Chris?’ I ask when we’re in earshot.
‘Sitting on a bench under a tree somewhere, I expect, waiting for enlightenment to strike,’ Pancake sarks. ‘What have you been doing?’
‘Arguing as usual,’ Mires sours.
‘What about?’ Pindance asks anxiously. She’s always sensitive to any hint of animosity.
‘Books mainly. Well, not exactly. About whether reflection will help us get more out of what we do including reading books,’ I attempt to explain.
‘Reading is a waste of time,’ Pancake flatly declares. ‘There’s not enough time as it is if we are going to change things for the better before we die. Wasting it on books is a crime against humanity.’ She’s just trying to be annoying now, and may be succeeding.
‘Don’t talk such rubbish,’ Mires shouts, catching the bait as usual. ‘Without books you won’t understand the reality you are trying to improve.’ Pancake barely manages to conceal a triumphant grin behind her coffee.
‘I think we need to have Chris here as well if we’re going to be able to talk about this calmly and constructively,’ I suggest.
‘I’ll go and find him. I think I know where he is.’ Pindance has made a strong connection with Humfreeze from the very beginning. He was the one who made first contact and encouraged her to come out of the shadows and loneliness of her earlier existence. She runs off up the path towards the Autumn Garden.
‘Anyone else want a drink I ask?’
‘Coffee for me,’ says Wordless.
‘Tea for me,’ says Mires.
‘D’you need a hand?’ Pancake asks.
‘I can manage,’ I answer with an echo of Pindance’s original independence script. ‘Are we staying outside?’
‘I think it would be better,’ Pancake advises, ‘given the way the conversation might unfold when we’re all together.’
By the time I come back with the drinks Christopher Humfreeze, meditator extraordinaire, has joined us with Pindance sitting next to him.
‘Sorry, Chris, did you want a drink?’ I ask in a tone that indicates that a refusal would be welcome at this point.
‘No thanks.’ Humfreeze waves his bottle of water vaguely in the air. ‘This is healthier.’
‘Have the others brought you up to speed, Chris?’ I ask as I squeeze awkwardly into the gap between the attached bench seat and the wooden table, almost spilling my coffee over Mires as I do so. I must remember to always put my drink down before performing acrobatics.
‘So, what do you think?’
‘Well, I daresay you can guess, and it’s not gone down well with Fred and Emmie. Not sure about Indie. She’s not said anything yet.’
‘Well, fill me in anyway, Chris.’
‘OK. I personally don’t think there’s any need to read obsessively or keep constantly busy. We should just meditate consistently – then we’ll do only what really needs to be done and read only what needs to be read, and no more.’ He paused, then added ‘Simples,’ in Meercat style with a defiant grin on his face.
‘But how do you know that the books you haven’t read are not for you right now? You can’t know till you start reading them surely,’ came Mires’s predictable response.
‘Surely you learn more from direct contact with reality, than you can ever get from a book, and meditation in a vacuum, cut off from the oxygen of the ordinary world, is a fast train to lala land,’ came Pancake’s attempt to refute them both.
‘Only if you refuse to believe you can access a wiser self through silence and solitude,’ Humfreeze snapped back. ‘Our wiser self has access to levels of consciousness deeper and broader than any book, but it’s hard to reach and hear it in the distracting hubbub of the social world.’
‘We’re in danger of creating another stand off if we carry on like this. That’s not what we agreed we would do from now on. We need to work together on a solution that works for us all, not just for one of us.’ Mires is remembering his psychology at last.
‘That’s going to be easier said than done,’ Pancake chips in. ‘It’s not easy to step back from the habits of a lifetime, especially ones we feel are vital to our survival as ourselves, at that.’
Wordless nods in agreement. ‘I’d like to hear from Pindance. I bet she has a different view of things again.’
She looks hesitant and uncertain but manages to speak at last.
‘Do you remember, Pete, a long time ago, over coffee in a basement kitchen, a good friend of yours who died recently, shared a great idea.’
‘I’m not sure what you mean, Indie.’
‘You were telling him how hard it was to focus on what you needed to do. He asked “Why don’t you try time-banding?” Do you remember now?’
‘I do,’ I said softly. ‘It was such an important idea, and yet so simple. Just put a fence round certain spans of time and do nothing but what you have planned to do in that time frame. It might even be only an hour, but protect it from distraction. How is that going to help us now though?’
‘Well,’ she added thoughtfully, ‘for a start time banding protects you from time bandits.’
‘I get that all right. Distractions steal time and we need to shut them out somehow. But our problem is we have competing priorities. Chris’s bandit is Fred’s best friend!’
‘You’ll have to make a deal,’ Pindance spoke more forcefully than usual. ‘I can’t stand to see you all at odds like this. Your arguments really upset me. I need you to be kind and calm together, or I get scared that one of you will betray us and what we should stand for, like I was betrayed before, and we might all have to go down into the shadows I was lost among before.’
She stared round anxiously at all of us, straining to read our faces, as though fearing we would not understand her.
‘I just want to create harmony and peace. I want to learn to get to the roots of mine and other people’s anger, fear and sadness and transform it into something more positive – I’m not sure what exactly. I just know that each of you, as well as me, have pain and trauma rooted in some experience. Your passion for reading, Fred, yours for poetry, Bill, and yours for action, Emmie, have their roots in something in our past. Understanding these roots can help our branches create more nutritious fruits.’
That definitely focuses our minds.
Pancake has clearly got part of her point at least. ‘If time banding works, and we can find enough time to divide between us, we can each take our share of protected time to use for what we value most. More than that, if we all help each other make use of this special time it could work better than before. If Fred doesn’t make me feel guilty for being out there in the world, and I don’t keep nagging Chris to get off his backside, we’ll all benefit. And that includes your poetry, Bill, and your reflective approach in all these things, Pete. We may even manage to create some spaces for covering a wide range of interests as reflectively as possible, and others for a more focused and deeper exploration of specific topics. I’m not sure what you need time for, Indie. You need to let us know.’
‘How can you be so young and yet so wise, Indie?’ Wordless finally manages to get a word in edgewise. ‘You speak almost like a poet.’
‘Because I have been quiet all this time, and simply listened and watched, for fear of being harmed, I’ve learned a lot.’
‘You must share this with us sometime,’ Mires quietly requests.
‘I can only explain what I know how to put into words so far. Maybe, Emmie, I need quiet time to dive beneath the surfaces I only float across so far,’ she replies. ‘I’m not really sure yet.’
‘At the risk of raining on your parade, I have to say that there’s just one other slight snag with all this. Time banding is just one part of the solution.’ Humfreeze is speaking quietly but with an almost irresistible firmness of purpose. ‘An equally important consideration is mind-banding as a way of resisting mind-banditry. It’s true that if we all co-operate, mind-banding will be easier. But we can’t assume that we are all the entities active in Pete’s mind. There may well be others keen to sabotage our project for what seem to them good reasons. We have to take up Pete’s idea of trying to master the art of reflection as well as my pet discipline, mindfulness, if we are to be sure of fending off enough of the possible distractions to get the most out of whatever experience we are jointly having. Does that make sense?’
‘Complete sense, even to me,’ Pancake confirms. The rest of us are all nodding as she speaks, and, as she stops, the phone rings and I wake suddenly. Irritated, I listen for the message before I pick up.
A robot voice begins ‘We understand you recently have been involved in a serious accident . . .’ I press to answer and immediately hang up.
Still half asleep I pick up the pencil and the pad from the bedside table and begin to write. What I have just dreamt is far too important to forget – far more important than an accident that never happened.