How to sum up a year that feels like it should still be in March?
I have but one word to offer you, ‘bardo’.
As always, this column is more a stream of consciousness as I try to navigate the shifting tectonic plates of the events, learnings and needs that our Gippslandian art world built upon. I’m sorry, but my consciousness is exhausted, so please bear with me.
Like many of you, since lockdown my time has been filled with adaptation at a zooming speed: self-discovery, shifting in life’s priorities, some fear, then doubt and back to fear again. There’s been a sprinkle of anger, a shake of sorrow and a light dusting of Tinder gone wild. Simply, I’ve had lots of time with my own mind.
During the year I learnt three skills: using watercolours, meditation and how to really shake up local politics. But it was through my meditation practice that I found a word, or concept, that really summed up 2020 for me — Bardo.
The Bardo teachings of Tibetan Buddhism are profound. While I have a shaved head and love a robe, I’m only 20 hours in to my Level Two course (I haven’t spent even a night in a cave!), so I’m not going to really try and explain it. The best I can do is provide a bad summary and a strong endorsement to check out www.tergar.org and read Buddhism for Busy People.
"Annoyingly, it’s these moments of suffering that provide the most opportunity to change our lives by letting go."
According to Tibetan tradition there are six stages of life and death, and the transitions between life and rebirth are known as the bardos. The bardo teaches us about impermanence and the insight that can be gained in the special moments where you feel like shit, like you’re dying, or you actually are dying. When something or someone you thought was forever or solid disappears (or is broken) and you don’t know what’s next, how to get there or how to make it better, then you are in the bardo.
Annoyingly, it’s these moments of suffering that provide the most opportunity to change our lives by letting go, grieving and learning how we need to shift our perspective to see a new path or opportunity, which we didn’t see before. After this realisation, we can feel reborn, even if the outside circumstances haven’t changed at all. I also think of it as between knowing and the unknown.
Now let’s talk about trying to know the unknown in the form of running a local council election campaign here in the Latrobe Valley.
It was, as you may expect, run more as an arts project and call to arms than me actually wanting to be in council for four years. The prospect of not being able to leave Australia for the next year or two suddenly made my backyard very interesting and even more important.
Initially googling the local council revealed it strangely resembled an old loaf of perfectly-preserved Wonder White, and not a diverse multigrain loaf with seeds, packed with the nutrients needed to fuel growing bodies of change.
With a six-week runway, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and tried to lasso a couple of youngsters to join the rodeo with me. I found myself saddled up next to local bucking bronco, 20-year-old eco warrior, punk rocker and A New Power founder, Ella Darling, who only a year before was organising school climate strikes where over 300 young people marched for their future. This impressive feat had me in awe of her.
Ella shows tremendous leadership, organisational skills and courage to boot. Demonstrating the very qualities we desire (and lament the lack of) in our young people. When Ella decided to run beside me, I felt like the election was already won.
I thought about sharing the motivation and clever strategies we employed to run as a united front — the Vote 1 & 2 Lockdown Creative Assault of the Senses online campaign drawing as much attention as we could to the fact that our council will never represent our community until our voting cards do. But we didn’t get enough votes to challenge the status quo. Maybe trying to turn a dry local government campaign into an experimental arts project isn’t the strongest approach?
Ironically, our launch collided with the launch of the Social Dilemma documentary, which resulted in an exodus from social media, which made people harder to reach. After this, we threw ourselves into a heartfelt community consultation: listening to concerns and hopes on the issues that affect us the most.
One voting day, we launched into the cage with the political animals and confronted a stark realisation that maybe there’s money to be made from a township that remains poor. From that insight, it didn’t take long for me to find myself in bardo. There I remained, unable to move as we waited for the votes to be counted.
With one unknown finally known, I found myself dead and rebirthed, craving the next bardo.
But I wish to share this transition dream again. So I’m going to leave this year with a love letter, the letter I wrote to the Latrobe Valley as I witness its own bardo. The kind of seismic shift that I’ve only seen in the period dramas I binged watched this year.
The world is changing and it’s not done yet, so I wish to console you and myself.
I hope this letter finds you well.