After partaking of the first two in 2015 and 2016, I am about to enter the third iteration of a “writing” course with my Nigerian brother, Bayo Akomolafe. He calls writing a “tool of emergence,” but for those of us fortunate to walk with him, more accurately, it becomes a mirror of our personal and collective journey into realms beyond reductionism, duality and colonial influence, beyond boundaries cultural, linguistic and egoic.
Prior to the launch the current course, he asked a question:
What profane jewel did you re-earth as you danced with mountains amongst fellow travelers and tribes?
This and every question, every use of the word tribe or emergence or indigenous now leads to the same considerations. While we play at the limits of language, tease ourselves toward the edges of our identities and beyond, slip out of our innermost garments together, uncertain yet eager to trust and be trusted, we enter a realm of poetics and play, a release from the strictures of identity, race, nationality, culture–or at least, this is what I imagine is possible.
This is part of my personal definition of decolonization: stripping away every arbitrary divisive construction possible, not merely revealing ourselves to each other, but dissolving the very idea of ‘other’: what Bayo calls with-nessing.
I imagine everyone can feel the momentary shifts back and forth across habits of thinking on a daily basis, or indeed, intra-daily, noticing conditioned ideas about others, a tentative entry into a liminal space of not-knowing and not caring to “know”–as such a thing feels too much like our reductionist training–our internalized colonization–asserting itself, back to the socialization of elementary school with its annual placement of one more ring of patterning upon the trunk of our willowy youth. And then all the years of adulthood cementing those rings into the structures that likely determine our bias for the rest of our lives.
Along with the de-conditioning that seduces us, like a clean and clear pool of purifying waters somewhere in a New Mexico desert, just waiting to receive us, there is a giddy awakened exhilaration upon entry, an un-tethered whimsy in which we find ourselves, particularly because we are engaging in this rhetorical and psychological and spiritual skinny dipping with a crowd of like-minded others.
Drape yourself around this rock. Allow its residual heat to warm you as it slowly dissipates into the night sky. What words erupt from this? What feelings demand expression? Is sound even necessary? What poetry entangles the feeling and words and the air moving in and out and the place and the others here with you? What do we share that is begging for discovery, for which there are no words yet invented, yet can never be uprooted?
What haunts me, the profane jewel with which I have an approach-avoidance (avoid-dance) relationship is that for all the exhilaration, the whimsy, the refreshment of my soul, the stripping naked, the dancing around the fire, the pure addictive release of the jail-break from ego, all revolutionary acts, I must remind myself that what we dally with is also deadly serious. I’ve read and heard and witnessed plenty of people who talk about human evolution, birthing the “new human,” the transition to the Ecozoic. But it’s mostly talk.
It’s philosophical or it’s spiritual or it’s New-Agey, but they don’t use the word “decolonize.” That’s a very practical term. It means peeling back the layers of harm we do to each other–and to ourselves– knowing and unknowing, in the name of all those functional but ultimately arbitrary labels….like “tribe,” or “nation” and especially “self.” Modern corporatist- socio-political culture, late-stage capitalism, is all about invading, manipulating and mining the resource of the isolated, unconnected self who wants nothing more than to satisfy ever more bizarre and meaningless appetites–which must then be constantly restored and reinforced….only to be mined further. It cannot so easily be mined or manipulated as soon as the labels are discarded.
I repeat this exercise in the name of bridge-building, in the name of connecting these revolutionary acts with the expanding web of emerging danger, the radioactive waste of Hanford, Washington, the North Pacific gyre, the barrios of Mexico City, the rainforests of Brazil, the melting permafrost of Siberia, the calving of Greenland, the wild Karnali river of Nepal, super-bugs, the introduction of recycling to a place like Varanasi, India. On and on. It is a far-flung self we engage beyond the simple definitions of cause and effect, of the linearity of influence, beyond the oppositional games of coalitions and compromise. I am slowly learning to operate on a different plane where the definitions of complexity and uncertainty merge with ancient yearnings, birthrights, mysterious practices and incantations.
The profane jewel, if you will, being re-earthed here, is that we get to be all that, or at least try it on, or at least I open in that direction. And it’s painful, isn’t it?–the awakening? The discomfort is a sign of its seriousness.
I’m writing this on a train passing through rural India between Varanasi and Lucknow. My window is the closest I’ve come to watching TV in a good while. The passing scene is a darkening panorama of marginal living, environmental degradation countered by the soothing geometry of agrarian life, a nighttime soap opera in snapshots of cyclic existence, the human treadmill in it’s most abundant and resilient, starkest and brightest terms. Much of it looks like suffering to these western eyes. But really, am I so different? My margins are my own and my definitions of suffering may exist on a different scale, but I must also deal with my own order of attachment, loss, despair and renewal. Dancing With Mountains includes all this and more-cracking the boundaries so that light can shine through. We all need that now. Everyone says so, right?”