Street in the old city, Dubrovnik
I'm working on an article about travelling in Croatia, and I find that in my notes I've mentioned a book I'm reading. I don't usually include comments about books, as it would mean giving a resume of it, to explain its impact or importance. But it strikes me that books one reads on a journey are just as much a part of the experience as everything else. They are part of the journey just as dreams are. Sometimes very graphically linking up exploring, expanding commenting on and opening out experience, and sometimes not clear at all in terms of relevance. Not at the time anyway. What dreams have to say can become much clearer when looked at later. Sometimes we simply lack the ability to stand outside of our situation sufficiently to make sense of what dreams are saying, but the distance of time can hand us this perspective.
The book I was reading was Silk Road by Jonny Bealby, an account of travelling along the famous Silk route, in the company of someone he had not known very long. As everybody knows, travelling with someone, even someone you know well, can uncover such previously unrevealed aspects of people, as if we were layered as deeply as soil, and travel crumbles into fragments our seeming-solid table of topsoil, so that something raw and vulnerable can no longer be hidden. It can feel intoxicating or unsavoury, depending on many things, these oh so uncontrollable circumstances. This of course, along with the excitement of all the new things to see, all these new sensuous experiences, is the great gift of travel, this uncovering of layers of oneself, and possibly of others.
Travel is not just the movement through different places and all that we see and hear and the interactions with others. It is also the books we read, ones we bring with us or that we acquire along the way. It is the effect of these books, the effects of our memories, and the dreams produced by all the impressions, including what we read. Travel seems to stimulate the relationship between our waking world and our dreaming one.
In Silk Road Jonny Bealby has expectations, both about the journey and the relationship with the person he is travelling with, and he is quite open about this. When both begin to take unexpected turns, he at first resists the unwelcome incidents and disagreements, until at some point he goes off on his own and has a hard think about it all. This results in him realising that he had been trying to control the situation, both the trip and his travelling partner, wanting them both to be the way he'd decided they would be. He changes his attitude and becomes more accepting. At this point I have a lot of sympathy for him, and I admire his courage in recognising this, in facing up to the fact that his expectations and the actuality of what is happening, simply do not coincide, and in letting go of his former expectations.
And that night I have a dream that I feel is connected with what I'd been reading. I wake up with this feeling of excitement and insight into feelings that we judge as negative, such as disappointment that our expectations have not been met, or judging our emotions as being 'too much' or inappropriate. This feeling I wake up with is of a dawning of understanding, a penny dropping, an embracing. This feeling gives me an understanding of the tremendous and powerful gift the so-called 'negative' can be. How much it can teach us, show us, if we allow it, rather than denying it, pushing it away, being afraid of it.
The negative – where life has 'gone wrong', has not matched our ideals or wishes, has 'let us down' – is a gift, if it can be accepted as it is – it can tell us us about ourselves – in every moment, there is a feeling, a response. When that feeling is accepted, something happens, something changes.
And the season has changed, so suddenly it's like a slammed door. Only a few days ago the snow was thick on the ground. The branches of whin bushes have turned a smoky purple-brown, so dark it's almost black. All day I've been in the garden, weeding and preparing the plant pots. I've even planted a few flower seeds. It's curious the way the warmth of the sun brings one so completely into the present and at the same time jolts memories, and a stream of images wakes up and begins to flow and chatter. The same thing seems to have happened to the birds, only they sing their memories and conversations. There's the gorgeous dipping, rising blackbird song, the regular chirrups of blue-tit, the oyster-catchers and the first curlew I've heard this year, the high keening of buzzards and even a day-time owl mixes in with these memories-on-the-move. It's as if a presence has flown in and reverberates around me, a cloak made up of birdsong and memories, the scent of warm earth, a bumble-bee, a butterfly. A thick gleam of yellow/orange light shines between the tree trunks in the wood. Now there's a whoop-ee bird. And a cawing rook.