The night time is the worst.
Within a world which contains so little, I find myself clinging to what is there; growing more present to the slightest changes in my meagre environment. When the daylight starts to fade in the evening, which happens earlier and earlier under the gathering cloak of Autumn, I can actually feel the waves of darkness changing the atmosphere in my cell.
Light to darkness . . . an exemplar of the polarity that underlies manifestation of the world of ‘things’. I must return to deeper thoughts on this; but not today. Today I must enter the world of ‘not things’ and try to use the brutal facts of my imprisonment to help me find meaning in my new life . . . it’s a big ask, but the alternative is unthinkable.
The twilight is a portal into that worst time of day, but it can also be the best. The best because the poignancy of the last of the departing light is compelling, but it is so brief; and then darkness follows.
It is dark now. I could switch on my cold light, fixed behind a grill in the ceiling, complete with its collection of dead insects, but I do not. Instead, I sit in the gloom and talk without words to the assembling shadows, half real, half invisible, which I must transform from spectre to friends . . . or lose my sanity.
Where do we start? My emotions are in turmoil. The spectacle of psychic cruelty with Yellow Eyes has finished for the day. He is satisfied with a Friday well spent in which he has succeeded in getting beneath my defences by assuring me that the police have found new evidence that I was assisted in the crime which took place here in Bakewell; and that it will not be long before my fellow ‘conspirators’ are caught. I knew he was lying, but the exchange has prompted longing thoughts, and he registered that, and is well satisfied with his ‘hit’.
Through this haranguing I remained silent, using the stream of vitriol to imagine my friends, Don and Wen, who I know will be thinking of me, regardless of their power to do anything. I pictured them walking the hills, among the ancient stones – perhaps discovering new ones? Happy to be in their native mode of discovery, but sad to be accompanied by the unwanted companion that is the presence of someone taken away . . .
What where we thinking? my mind screamed; but Yellow Eyes saw that – the doubt – and was pleased with his success.
Now I am alone with the unmetered darkness.
This black silence is a strange thing. There is, of course, a traditional and biological unease associated with its return. From our genes and our childhood rises the spectre of this ancient companion.
I think about fear. I am growing used to its weight. There comes a point , though, when some deep part of you can choose to be bored of its company . . . and then interesting things happen.
Some days it lies, cowering and vanquished in the corner of the cell, bettered by a disciplined mind. On other days, it invades the cell like a putrid tide, penetrating and filling the spaces where the thin psychological skin of the solitary human is peeled back to reveal the sliding, dark liquid of unnamed terror. Imagination fuels fear. I know this to be true and it opens the inner gates of deeper contemplation. It is time that I carried out the practice that I hope will keep soul alive in this place.
I settle into the position I have found most comfortable for these journeys of the mind. Seated on the floor with my back to the mattress, I arrange myself cross-legged and buffered by a small cushion, which, during other hours of the day, doubles as my extra pillow. At first, I do nothing but breathe, letting myself become aware of the whole sensation of my body, and its associate tensions. Then, as the purposeful attention grows, I slide one hand into the other as though in a prayer position; but then knit the fingers, leaving my thumbs until last, and locking my awareness into my overlapping and joined thumbnails, which lie on the X-shaped support of my crossed forefingers. It is not a formal approach to inwardness, but it works for me . . .
All my consciousness draws itself from the body into that cross and we leave the confines of the physical cell and enter a world where the very notion of ‘wall’ is nonsensical.
I am far from my ideal – which is to maintain this state without effort; but the other way forward is to follow the chains of thoughts which inevitably surface, without becoming attached to any of them, and this will often suffice to bring out the truth.
I return to imagination – the spectre of what I think of as the first gate – at once the greatest gift and the greatest foe of mankind. The dark in the cell is now so total that I don’t need to close my eyes – but I do, anyway . . . The tide of shadows becomes animated with my thoughts, my presence in the moment of dark entry immediately spoiled by the forms and sensual garments it takes.
I should have expected them to be there; to be just below the conscious surface, since I think about them so often. They are on a hilltop, far away in the bright Autumn sunshine. I am racing towards them across the long wet grass, lush from the faded Summer’s constant rain. Don and Wen hear my breathless approach and turn, delight filling their eyes. He holds out his left hand; she, her right. My heart is pounding as I close the distance between us, my own hands outstretched . . . but then the landscape recedes, and they get smaller and smaller as the range of hills takes them away, and I am left sobbing in the muddy grasses, on hands and knees, feeling the water from the moor seep into my skin.
But this is imagination, fuelled by the emotion of longing. It will drag me down, so I choose No and reject the abandoned image and the harvest of despair it will bring. I let my thoughts become free, again.
Images of dark years ahead rise up, taking hold of my heart in the process. In this image, around Bakewell jail there forms a queue of visitors, clutching the Bakewell Gazette whose favourite pastime is to pay my jailer so they can stand on the other side of the bars and gaze, unmercifully at their corporate captive – the man who dared to interfere with their little-visited heritage. In my mind they nod their approval to Yellow Eyes, their appointed guardian of all things jail and church . . . and pay him in the colour of his eyes.
Jail and church. This thought is different from the last. As though watched from a place of unafraid attention, it is instantly illuminating. I pull back from the early stages of this meditation to lock the newfound fact in consciousness, like a discovered pearl in an oyster.
Yellow Eyes is linked with the local church – the church that was the scene of our crime. I know, now, that this is true . . . from the depths of my unformed terrors the simple fisherman has caught something of immense value . . . I can feel the smile on my face as I cut short the inward attempt and consider the implications of what I have learned.
The shutter in the door slams shut. He has been watching all the time, though he could have seen very little in the chosen darkness. For a second I feel the conditioned response of resentment at this, but every reaction counts, in here; and I reconsider. By spying, he has become part of what I have just experienced; has felt, if not seen, the triumphant smile on my face.
By my not resisting this, and just for a second, Yellow Eyes has become part of my story instead of me being part of his.
———————————————————–< to be continued-
Ben’s Bit is a continuing first-person narrative of the character created by Stuart France and Sue Vincent, which may bear some relation to the author of this blog, Steve Tanham, their fellow director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. In the latest of their books, Scions of Albion, Ben is arrested for his overly enthusiastic part in a mad escapade, and the other two are nowhere to be seen . . . For more, enjoy their Doomsday series of books, and the new series (Lands of Exile) beginning soon. Click here for details.