Michel de Montaigne ~ an Inspiration on ‘How to Live’

Lucy shared excerpts with me from Sarah Bakewell’s book, ‘How to Live: A Life of Montaigne‘. This 16th Century diarist is one originator of the modern penchant for describing everything we experience and think about, as it happens to us in minute detail. In particular he was obsessed by dying until a near death experience relieved him of the worry. A hazardous fall from his horse at the then mid-life age of 36, altered his outlook.

“In dying, he now realised, you do not encounter death at all, for you are gone before it gets there. You die in the same way that you fall asleep: by drifting away. If other people try to pull you back, you hear their voices on ‘the edges of your soul’. Your existence is attached by a thread; it rests only on the tip of your lips, as he put it. Dying is not an action that can be prepared for. It is an aimless reverie.”

“He particularly liked the story of Marcellinus, who avoided a painful death from disease by a gentle method of euthanasia. After fasting for several days, Marcellinus laid himself down in a very hot bath. No doubt he was already weakened by his illness; the bath simply steamed the last breaths of life out of him. He passed out slowly, and then he passed away. As he went he murmured languorously to his friends about the pleasure he was experiencing.”

The strange thing about Montaigne’s experience was that in the aftermath of his fall he had been convulsing violently, in what appeared to be a disturbed manner, yet simultaneously he felt very light and floaty; he was enjoying a sort of ecstasy!

He wrote, ‘If you don’t know how to die, don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately.”

He said it is best to ‘slide over this world a bit lightly and on the surface.’

“Through this discovery of gliding and drifting, he lost much of his fear, and at the same time acquired a new sense that life, as it passed through his body was a very interesting subject for investigation.”

He was very taken with contemplation and wrote, ‘let us cut loose from all the ties that bind us to others; let us win from ourselves the power to live really alone and to live that way at our ease.’

He regarded Seneca’s advice for achieving peace of mind; ‘focus on what is present in front of you, and pay full attention to it.’

And Pliny, ‘each man is a good education to himself, provided he has the capacity to spy on himself from close up.’

Of his own essay writing Montaigne wrote, ‘It is a thorny undertaking, and more so than it seems, to follow a movement so wandering as that of our mind, to penetrate the opaque depths of its innermost folds, to pick out and immobilise the innumerable flutterings that agitate it.’

Bakewell writes, “He was so determined to get to the bottom even of a phenomenon that was normally lost by definition – sleep – that he had a long-suffering servant wake him regularly in the middle of the night in the hope of catching a glimpse of his own unconsciousness as it left him”!

I found Bakewell’s analysis quite soothing, and her snippets of Montaigne intoxicating. Thank you Lucy for pleasurable advice on how to live.

Working Through Anger (and my Voodoo Child)

Yesterday was disabling. Unsent angry letters! It worked though because by the end of the day the anger was gone.

Today was melancholy and introspection, treading softly, taking care.

What a difference – I know where I’d rather be. The morning felt delicate, tender; the evening light, beaming.

I really didn’t know how long it would take to diffuse the anger; it was so dominating, it felt like it might stay a while. I think the answer was in allowing it to take over me, not blocking it. It didn’t feel like a choice, but at some other juncture I think it was.

It started with writing rationally, cataloguing. When that was through and sending would obviously not yield constructive results, I moved on to harm wishing. I was consumed by righteous rage and this revealed something profound (to me). Whilst imagining awful accidents befalling the person in question, I reasoned to myself that that is the only way I could imagine them coming to a transformation whereby they may acquire enough humanity that we may get on again.

To clarify: this wasn’t considered or premeditated visualisation. It was in-the-moment-blind-and-going-nowhere rage.

As I reasoned however, I remembered a childhood preoccupation. As a small girl with an angry, unloving Mother; I used to wish she was dead. And I would picture her dead and buried in our garden. I even imagined her rotting bones.

I was not surprised when as a teenager I was told she had gotten a degenerative disease – MS. The thing is now, I associate that condition and disability with my Mum becoming a more decent human being with whom I have a reasonable relationship. Dependence on others changed her outlook, made her humble.

So when I momentarily wish ill on people messing with me now… I ultimately mean them good!

Melodramatic pose I am currently doing for sculpture; this is called an ecorche – (underwiring and) basic bone structure, muscles, no skin

Meeting With Freedom

When the doctor calls in the middle of the night, come to the hospital, this could be it. We don’t know if she’ll make it, but we need to know from you what you would like us to do if – if the life in her is not worth – if when she opens her eyes there is nothing there. They have the power and they need to know, have you thought about it? Yes because it happens each time – different doctors, sometimes different hospital, but each time she is under they have to ask.

Sometimes my instincts check in advance, they are not feeling adrenaline, I am sure this time will pass. Often I am pulled in to the brink on the edge of the rollercoaster seat. By the bedside crying, and appreciating time in the relatives’ suite, because that is the most meaningful conversations the rest of the family ever has with Dad. The family drama; and when the doctor calls, I know now that he is hoping. This time could be his meeting with freedom. He has discussed her wishes with her and the answer is to switch off from a life not worth the trouble. Meanwhile they continue, we keep on.

At the front of The Royal Festival Hall, Lucy and I find a table and furnish it with my large painted Spirited Bodies sign. We discuss the press release, skirting over our brushings with mental health. I was supposed to prepare the meeting we are about to have with our brand new SB models. We’ll wing it; well it’s not like we haven’t done it before. The hardest thing I find is putting myself in the position of someone new to the whole business. Remembering what it was like before nudity was normal, and even then it wasn’t that new to me. And tuning myself to a sensitive mode that is ready for newbies both anxious and nervous, as well as those in it for the craic, or because they just love what we’re doing. I’m a tiny bit nervous but it’s going to be fun.

They arrive one by one, with warm hand shakes and smiles, chairs gradually accumulated from across the room. They find me familiar, I have been emailing them individually, and it’s like we know each other, except now they’re all here I don’t know who each one is. It’s ok. We have important informations to impart and light-hearted anecdotes of bodily fluids and anti-sexual encounters. We – Lucy and I – are on familiar territory, and we pick up after each other. I try to feel what the interested faces are hoping to glean, and they ask about the photographs (for London Drawing) and how to choose poses. It goes well and I am high and full of love afterwards. That’s why we do it, because of them (and us). I love it when they are happy. The artists make another level of content, but for me it’s for the models first. They make me feel both humble and worthy. They are on edge with excitement to meet themselves in a space that is about just being, and being drawn. And they will be together, as in a drama, complimenting and interacting with each other, creating a story where there are bodies. We will be guiding them, but now already these that we have met, know more what to expect. Their minds will imagine and start to build the scene of the next event. The seeds are gestating in time for a rich bloom.

Taking Time For Ourselves

At the first meditation meeting of the Women on Fire, most of us were tentative about speaking up, coming forward. Judith had some salient advice; many of us, whether by nature or nurture who knows, feel drawn to helping others a great deal. All too often to the detriment of looking after ourselves. I don’t know if this message came to Judith from spirit, as they say in shamanic circles, or if she just felt it intuitively. I felt its resonance.

I am not sure if people around me in my life would especially notice whether I take enough time for myself. Not having children, other dependents or a regular full time job means I am more likely to be taking time for me. The way I reflect on Judith’s advice, is to consider more, how many years I have given over to trying to nourish the impossible. In other words, relationships with men which were mighty troublesome.

I am so happy and grateful to be in more favourable circumstance now. It has perhaps been in trying to establish where my priorities lie in friendship that I may have felt myself spreading a little thin. It is needs part of the process of finding out how different friendships fit.

The regular meetings with the writers workshop in the theatre are already providing valuable structure. I have to present an idea, pitch a project and I am unused to doing this in such a group. Whether I come up with the right project or not, I know I won’t be satisfied unless I have given myself the appropriate amount of quiet and private time in order to realise whatever ideas I may.

At the Women on Fire meeting I tell them I am there because I want to root myself more, so that I may build my work more effectively. I am in good company.