Satori on the Racecourse: An Encounter with Islam

I went out to the Racecourse just after dawn this morning for my usual fat-burn walk and communion with the spirits of the hanged and the butchered. They used to hang highwaymen here in the 1800s. Coming out and watching someone get hurled into the void at the end of a thick rope was the weekend equivalent of going to the football or staying home for the soaps. They had several thousand soldiers bivouacked on the same stretch of land in 1914, camping with their horses waiting for the call to go to France and get slaughtered in the trenches of World War I.

Sometimes when I’m in the park and the atmosphere is right, or my mind is right, I can see and hear it all. It’s as if psychic imprints of the soon-to-be-dead outlaws and the scared-shitless soldiers have been left on the trees and in the mud. Like yesterday: walking along the footpath near the kids' play area, I had such a spooky feeling of death, imminent death, I thought I was about to fall down and breathe my last looking up through the tree canopy at perfect blue sky. I’d only got a third of the way around the park but I immediately turned tail and went home.

Today was different. I was out at six (okay that’s not just after dawn, it’s about an hour after dawn) and I’d doped myself up on paracetamol to deal with an earlier headache; I have the constitution of a mouse, so two mild sedatives is enough to put me in a partial coma. No spirit-visions then. Just sudden paranoia. I thought, with a jolt, “Hang on, what the hell am I doing on the Rapecourse at six o’clock in the morning with no one to witness me being attacked by some knife-wielding lunatic looking for drug money?” (I knew they wouldn’t want my phone, but they might be interested in my wallet.)

I decided my fear was stupid. There was nobody about anyway. Then, with a frisson of something slightly worse than fear, I saw someone coming along the path. I drew a wide circle around him, not relaxing until I saw he was twenty or thirty yards behind me. And carrying a flask. Unfortunately, as I was approaching the basketball courts, I saw someone else; and he was behaving oddly. This guy, a brown-skinned fellow, was walking very very slowly along the court perimeter with his head bowed; he appeared to be talking to himself. And when he came to the corner of the court, he turned and walked back again. He looked stoned.

“Great,” I thought. “There’s no way I can avoid passing him now. What if he comes at me all crazy? Do I run? Fight?” I settled on fighting. I’m not a fighter; in fact, I’m a total coward – but I fight better than I run. I didn’t have to do either though. What I thought was happening (or would happen) was so far away from the truth I felt immediately stupid. At the other end of the court I saw another guy, brown-skinned like the potential mugger of my imagination. He had his hands clasped, his head raised up to the blue sky and he was reciting a prayer in some language I didn’t recognize.

I didn’t need to know what he was saying. The sight of this guy out in something close to nature worshipping his god was so beautiful in this capitalist machine nightmare we’ve made for ourselves I nearly stayed to watch him. I could almost feel something else revealing itself, something more than the everyday mundane material reality, because of the rhythms of his prayer and the fact of his reciting it here. But not undead soldiers or the hovering souls of hanged outlaws. Life! Eternal, boundless life beyond this decaying impermanent human form.Treating him like a sideshow, however, would probably have created some paranoia on his part or his mate’s – who it seemed, after all, was just waiting for him – and there’s enough paranoia going around in the country to keep everybody busy.

So instead of bothering either man, I put my head down and carried on walking. But I felt better for what I’d seen and I still do, a couple of hours after the event. Especially because it showed me that I had nothing to fear, that what I saw as a potential threat to my safety was a projection of my own anxiety based on what I thought I knew about the place I was walking through. The guy I expected to kill me was just killing time while his mate had a private moment with the divine; he was unaware even of my existence, although a fat, white blob might have briefly passed across the periphery of his vision. I'm not, in other words, that important, and what a terrific, funny lesson that is.

I wonder how much crap could be avoided in the world if we learned to tell the difference, all the time, between what’s real and what we’re making up, essentially to protect ourselves from an unreal threat?  


Ralph Murre said…
Bruce Hodder said…
Thank you Ralph!