The White Horse

In Catching Infinity, I wrote about 14-year-old Alice biking all the way from Jericho in the city of Oxford to the village of Uffington, where the White Horse had danced for 3,000 years, so big that it is visible from the skies. Here, she had lain quietly, alone,  looking at the stars and thinking about her love 8,272 miles away in Cape Town, South Africa.

Nobody knows precisely who or what civilisation created the White Horse of Uffington, only that every year, on chalking day for thousands of years, people had come here to clean the Horse. This tradition still goes on to this very day, with teams of volunteers turning up to clean and chalk this ancient monument of beauty. You can read the article on Smithsonian here.

I wrote this poem on May 16th, 2016:

ON BEING ENGLISH

When I close my eyes
And kiss your lips
I hear the winds
Of Uffington Castle
Singing in my ears
And the White Horse
Of Oxfordshire
Dances behind my eyelids
Hooves pounding in my heart
As the unmistakable taste of
An Englishman
strong on my lips
Each time I kiss you
Open your eyes
Show me your colours
Whatever you may say
Stop fighting me
Lay down your sword

Let go of
Your strength
Love yourself
And love me
Don’t give away
Your nationality
Don’t give away
Me
Together we are bound
By the heartbeats
Of our fair England
For Cross of St George
And my Englishman
My fire burns

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If you are interested to become part of the white horse of Uffington’s chalking team, please click on the National Trust’s website to volunteer.

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Getting in touch

We often forget, we are magic. Or maybe we have never thought of ourselves in this way. But each and everyone of us is. Magic.

We open our eyes and we see, “Me” and “You”, and then because of conditioning of society, we see “Us” and “Them”. We see the separation, and the gulf, rather than the components, constituents, building blocks and the purity of the architecture that build the human beings we see as “Others”, “Hate”, “Not like me”, “Gay”, “Straight”, “Black”, “White”.

We create these divisions in our minds and society encourages us to. In time, we lose sight of  who we are. Who we truly are.  Let’s start with you.

Close your eyes. Hug yourself. Take yourself inwards with your breath. Turn your eyes into your body, so that your sight follows your breath’s journey inwards. Begin to feel the muscles beneath your skin. We might be obsessed with the physicality of someone’s touch, but when two people are connected with pure love, the layers beneath the superficial skin and muscles come alive. The cells within us respond to love, which is the most fundamental of four fundamental forces of nature. It is the wind beneath the wings of these physical forces that govern our universe.

But it starts with you, not with your partner or your child. By connecting to your deepest self, you begin to understand you are Magic. You begin to feel Love. You begin to feel that in each and every cell of you. You begin to understand. Magic and Love becomes real. It is then you pass it on.

I recently did this experiment with my partner. We sat facing each other, not touching, physically detached. It took some effort, because we are so deeply connected to one another. By the sheer force of our willpower, we took ourselves away from each other and turned our eyes inwards. His image burned at the back of my eyelids and I struggled to look past him into my own self. At first, I saw the ugliness of me – my need for him, my dependency on him, my fear of losing him. I saw how empty my life would be without him.

But beyond that, there were this bunch of cells. They were just getting on with their own business. At first, it seemed like chaos, like entropy in the world. Ten trillion times a second, the molecular reactions take place in our bodies to collectively confer upon us the attribute of being alive. 

But from chaos rises order. The kinesin molecules walking on the cytoplasm of the cell, transporting a heavy vesicle containing life-making atoms. The calcium pump embedded in the cellular membrane to maintain the processes of life. The constant weave of the long threads of structural proteins. All in the silent theatre of life. Sheer magic (please view the VIMEO below by John Liebler).

And then we opened our eyes and saw each other. When our fingers met, there was this great energy charge happening between us, this seismic force called Love.

Try it ❤

So long as your heart shall beat

Listening to someone’s heartbeats is one of the most intimate things you can do, when you lay your ear against a pregnant belly listening to the fast and faint foetal heartbeats, or when you rest with your head on your lover’s chest listening to grown-up cardiac music.

There is music in heartbeats, if you listen carefully. The first sounds you hear is the closing of the mitral and tricuspid valves during the systole. Systole is the name given to the phase when blood is forced out of the ventricles into arteries that will take it round the body, nurturing and sustaining distant parts. These valves close like efficient biological doors to prevent the back flow of blood back into the heart chambers.

And then you will hear the second sound, the sound of diastole. You can tell a lot about the heart from this sound, without having to break into the rib cage. A healthy valve closing should sound like a gentle, muffled tap on a soft surface. Any variation is an indication that all is not well within, when the valves are not playing to the primal beats of life. I could spend forever listening to these primal beats.

Because hearts are not just four-chambered organs with a lifetime function of supplying blood, waiting to die from a litany of breakdown causes – aortic dissection, haemodynamic deterioration, dyspnoea, syncope. It has a finite life. It is not just about the valves and the sounds either. Sometimes, when cardiac muscles forget their place in this orchestra and play to the wrong beat, the heart begins its dance of death. Death follows hot on its heels. Angor animi. When you are about to die, you feel an anguish of the soul, this angor animi. I know, I have felt it, this anguish. But as I lay listening to his heartbeats on Halnaker Hill on this glorious summer’s day I know that I am alive, because so long as he shall live, so do I.

To do:

Put your hand on the spot on your ribcage directly above where your heart sits. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Bring your attention inwards, following the flow of your breath. Where the breath goes, energy and consciousness follow. Connect to the rhythm of your beating heart. Listen for its music. And then say to yourself, again and again, softly, “I am, I am, I am.”

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From the ruins comes Love

The protagonist Professor PW Vanderleyden was a man obsessed with The Hunting of the Snark. Alice Liddell his 21 year old mistress with her Wonderland magic delivered him the Snark for the price of his soul and his seed. I thought of making the story happily-ever-after for PW, Alice and their baby.

But I felt very strongly that there is a more important story to tell.  One of my best-loved books on African literature is Cry, The Beloved Country, written by Alan Paton in 1948.

A priest in the novel says, “The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again…It suited the white man to break the tribe, but it has not suited him to build something in the place of what is broken.”

Yes. Things get broken because such is life. Idealism, trust, love – they get shattered in the ordinary course of living because life is not perfect. No human being is perfect and imperfect people break perfect things.  It is the picking up that makes us stronger, wiser, more human. It is the rebuilding – forgiveness – that is a testament of love.

Can a person ever forgive a huge, deep hurt? I would say, depends on the love.

In Catching Infinity, The Wife forgave. Many would say, she had no choice because she was completely dependent upon her flawed husband (she was unworldly and uneducated). But she forgave because she understood human nature, and human nature is essentially Love.

This drawing is from Buddha Doodles which sums up forgiveness and love:

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The later chapters of the book chronicles The Wife’s emotional rollercoaster.  She had done nothing wrong, lived her best life for him yet he betrayed her trust wilfully, put her through hell, hurt her immeasurably and destroyed a part of her forever because of the darkness and the poison in him.

Change, terrible change, had come into her safe life. Her adored husband had become a stranger who wore an ugly mask. He had brought someone into their pure world.  It struck a deep fear in her heart. Fear and pain change people – they often make decent people do terrible things because as animals, it is in our primal nature to lash out when we are in pain or in fear.

But The Wife held on to love because in her words, that was how humanity was fought and won. It is through Love – the mother law that spawned the four Fundamental Laws of Nature, the Cosmological Constant and Space-Time – that we live our best lives.

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When time stands still

He stood up and pick his wife up in his arms easily. ‘Enough of that talking, let’s go to bed.”

He knew deep down that with his old wife, there is spirituality and true beauty in all that they shared because they were simply following the set path outlined in Fibonacci’s sequence; in a world spiralling outwards with excitement, ambition and unnatural sex with his twenty-one year old mistress, he will always come home to this sameness, to this life in Die Uitkyk, living simply with his family.  Individuals don’t have an independent existence but exist only as part of an ensemble of many. Maybe that’s the meaning of life that he had been seeking, he thought: just to live each day well and love truly and deeply those who love you selflessly, to propagate that love that lies beneath all aspects of creation.

She wriggled out of his arms and kicked her shoes off. In her stockinged feet, she stood six feet three quarters of an inch tall.

“Just promise me one thing, PW,” she said as she began taking off the clothes; the way she did it with her back facing him, her head turning slightly towards him as she spoke sent his heart thudding like the hooves of wildebeest in his ribcage.

“What?” His eyes ate her hungrily. At this moment in time, he would have promised her anything and everything she asked.

Her clothes came off swiftly, deftly, until she was stood there in her lacy white panties. Where did she get those from, he wondered inconsequentially. She turned to face him, meeting his eyes steadily. “Never stop going to church, PW, even when you are far away from here. Because we have to love like we did in the beginning. All this will pass and in the end there is only the love between us that matters. And whatever we have missed with each other in the bad times like now, together we possess the precious, the real, the one true path. So don’t stress, my husband, just love.”

She put a white cotton nightie over her head, slid her arms into the sleeves and fastened the buttons.

The cynic in him wondered if life could really be that simple: just love your wife and all would be fine. And then he thought, for all the unimagined vastness and unfathomable complexities of the Universe, there are only four fundamental forces that shaped everything.

She got under her covers and held her arm out to him. He removed his trousers quickly and joined her eagerly under the covers.

‘Just hold me, PW,” she said firmly, much to his disappointment. But as they lay nose to nose, he felt a gladness permeating his heart.

“Hey,” he said softly to his wife, feeling like a seventeen-year old inexeperienced youth, like the plasjaapie he had once been all those years ago. He smiled at her in the dark and she felt, rather than saw, his smile. He stroked her hair gently, and he thought to himself, how beautifully our bodies fit together like this.

He wasn’t sure whose lips found whose, but when they met, it was sweetness itself. The tentative first touch, soft like the caress of dawn, holding the same shyness and the same smile. The hunger and the yearning were there but they were tamped down by something deeper and infinitely sweeter. His fingers undid the top three buttons of her nightie and he slipped his hand in to cup her left breast. And there his hand stayed as they fell asleep together, nose-to-nose, lips lightly touching.

I am the integrity you lost when you became like her instead of becoming truly you, she whispered in her sleep. And for once in this lifetime, the Higgs field was completely silenced in tribute to the loveliness of this purity and giving, all the particles within it stilled and the four fundamental forces were in abeyance.

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Excerpt from Chapter 15: Natural Laws

On the edge

“I am possibly leaving bruises on your hips I am holding you so tight,” he said, his words jumbled up.

She revelled in the moment, marvelled at it. St Giles Oxford was totally silenced on this magical June night, as if the Universe in its entirety was built solely on their mingled breaths, their thundering heartbeats and something called Now. Physicists have long studied Time, but there has been no significant progress made on that special unit of time called Now. This perfect moment is all we ever need for the spirit to soar. The body is temporary, transient, gone very soon, and along with it, expressions of physical love. All that remains then is the spirit, the 101010010101 ad infinitum, soaring.

Her voice was soft as she quoted the words from his own book, In the Quest For Absolute Zero, “Because at the extremes is where interesting things happen. Because each trip to the edge teaches us new things and opens our eyes to new dimensions.”

PW trembled. “Yes, that is what I feel, Alice. That’s what I am feeling now, trembling on the edge.”

She said nothing.

“Like catching infinity,” he continued. “The Universe is expanding and we are always on the edge, spiralling outwards. Life wouldn’t have existed if not for cosmological inflation.”

In a static Universe, we would have long been destroyed by colliding neutron stars. In its infinite mystery, the Universe breathes and expands so that there is space for life to be. The infinite mystery is why the cosmological inflation is as it is, just right for life. The mathematics of Einstein’s General Relativity did not work until he added the cosmological constant into the equations. It was then things began to breathe.

“Can you feel my love for you?” Alice asked softly. “All that there is between us?”

PW could.

Alice whispered, “Be still, PW. The Universe is not moving. The Universe is infinite and is already everywhere, and to try to catch it would be like catching infinity.”

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Excerpt from Chapter 4: The emptiness of space

Related article on life and cosmological constant can be found here.

Photo: St Giles Oxford at night.

The Wife’s Choice

Our mother’s voice is very often the strongest, and for good or bad, we hear it deeply within us, the loudest voice of all. It took me 48 years to learn that my Ma is not always right, for I was 48 years old before I learned that for life to function beautifully, there has to be balance, equality and a beautiful status quo.

When I was young, my Ma used to tell us that she had enough love for EVERYONE. There was no need to fight for it, there was no need to ‘keep accounts’ and there was no need to feel the lack. She had enough for all.

When I was an angst-ridden teenager, I used to argue with her, ‘You love Daddy more than he loves you” and she would reply peacefully, “I love him enough for two, dear, so it doesn’t matter who loves who more.”

In Catching Infinity, the wife Karin van Achterberg loved her husband PW Vanderleyden ‘enough for two’ too. She loved him deeply, loyally and with great patience: she stayed at home and raised their three sons whilst he played at being the ‘great’ Professor. In truth, he was just a mediocre man who believed too much in his own publicity. But she, The Wife, was always there when he came home, ever ready to listen about his work though it bored her to death. She did not give a damn about Fibonacci numbers or the Grand Universal Theory, but nonetheless she quietly listened to his monologue. He never once asked her about her day because he was so full of his own self-importance. Thus, he never appreciated how she had grown in their 17 years of marriage and after 17 years, he had forgotten too that he had once been passionate about her, that he had involuntarily sank down to his knees at the altar on their wedding day in gratitude to God that this beautiful woman would take a gawky farm boy like him to be her husband.

How many Karin Van Achterbergs are there in the real world?

I intentionally set the story in a homestead deep in the South African veld, in a place where women do not walk out on their marriages. Karin’s husband had hurt her immeasurably, but she took it stoically. Being religious, she saw the suffering as her cross to bear. Love will triumph in the end, she told herself. She believed that, totally.

What made Karin’s story poignant was the fact that she was the only child and she was so loved by her old parents. They treated her like a Princess and taught her only about the good things in life. This wasn’t the suffering they envisaged for their beloved daughter.

When I started writing Catching Infinity, Karin was just a secondary character but as the story developed, I began to feel an affinity for her. She became the women I have known in my life and parts of her became me. I wanted to reach into the story and tell her (oh, so many times), “Karin, leave this man. He is not worth it. You can walk out of an abusive relationship, girl, do it.”

As a devout Catholic, I live my faith through Karin. But as a yogi, I believe in balance, equality and a beautiful status quo as eschewed in a beautiful balancing pose. When all is on balance, you catch fire inside. It is a liberation, a jivamukti. And as a yogi, I celebrate being alive, not being killed by life.  Here’s to putting life into your days, not days into your life.

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How physics can change your life…

I am in the process of selling Catching Infinity.  I am absolutely passionate about the 75,000 words that I have agonised over, contemplated, slept on, deleted and yes, inspired by, and finally sent off to an agent. Why is this novel so important to me, not the least I spent a good ten years (at least!) writing it?

Quite simply, I am passionate about Catching Infinity because it is a book that changes lives. I didn’t want to write an airport novel or a chicklit or a bonkbuster. I didn’t want to write a highbrow academic textbook either. I wanted to write a book that millions of men and women pick up out of curiosity and through the pages, get to know a bit about the Universe they live in and why things happened as they did in their lives.

In November 2015, my life started unravelling. My very foundations – the principles of kindness, compassion and decency – have been challenged when I fell sick. Up till the age of 46, I have always only known good things by and large. Even the bad things when they happened to me were couched in the basic principles of human goodness. I, the firm believer of the law of karma, simply could not believe why my good deeds had sowed such bitter harvest.

Why oh why oh why! I railed against God as the protagonist Karin Van Achterberg did. Why had this supposedly inviolate law been broken and why did I get the shit I did not deserve?

Watch this clip. You will understand just how small you, your problems, your beliefs, are in the grand scheme of things. Your place in the Universe is like a nanoscopic speck of dust. Wait, your Universe is like a nanoscopic spec of dust. But you are part of something huge. HUGE. And that huge thing is alive and moving on its own momentum irrespective of what you think, feel or do. This big tide is sweeping you along. What creates it? What drives it? What’s its purpose?

I believe it’s love. I believe love is the great universal law that all other physical laws obey, one that brought all into existence in the first place. And it is alive and breathing, growing. Be part of it ❤

 

 

The most difficult paragraph

The most difficult paragraph to write is the following one in Chapter 17.  The protagonist in Catching Infinity, PW Vanderleyden, had won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in higher dimensions, which brings future generations of scientists one step closer to solving the mystery of our creation and existence.

But here’s the thing: PW Vanderleyden had also been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature for his raw and beautifully written books about his work and his quest for answers.

How the hell am I going to write like a Nobel Prize nominee????

Here’s my best effort:

Human beings are a species that wants and needs to know who we are.  We need to create our own “why’s”, just as we have been doing since humanity began. Of course our answers keep changing, but that doesn’t matter. The effort of creating the answers gives us meaning, a validation of our place in this Universe. Always remember that we are made of the same material as stars: oxygen, nitrogen and carbon. In fact, we are remnants of the early stars, recycled down the years. Thus, we are but pieces of matter called humans that are parts of the Universe too. We are One and when we allow ourselves to be, we put the being in human being.

Excerpt from Chapter 17: Fibonacci Is Breathing

A lesson in kindness

PW of the old would have scoffed. Ha! You don’t have to teach kids how to be blerrie good husbands and mothers and parents, when the time comes, they just do it, rite? It’s the most natural thing in the world!

And therein lays the sobering thought: he grew up in cold, harsh Die Uitkyk where there was not much kindness around. Success was measured terms of harvest and health, and in level of obedience to God. Thus, his father was always too busy with the farm whilst his mother was too weak and ill to get out of her sickbed to teach her sons and daughters some very important lessons in life. Like how to be good husbands, wives and parents. Like kindness.

“Your Ma’s probably right.”

They walked on. PW wrestled with the deep, disquieting thoughts that had been plaguing him for years. He decided to plough ahead and ask his son, for if a man cannot talk to his son, who can he talk to? “Do you think I am a good husband to your mother, Hennie, and a good father to you and your brothers?”

“Yes, Pa,” came the dutiful reply.

“Come on, Boy, speak the truth!”

“No. I won’t speak the truth.”

PW stopped walking and turned to face his son. “Remember the conversation we had about being brave like a lion? Think of yourself as one, and roar out your answer. Never be afraid to speak the truth, Hennie.”

“I am not afraid of you, Pa. I am not telling you the truth because Ma said truth is not worth it if it brings pain to someone. That’s the big lesson we had to learn, when to speak and when not to speak at all.”

“I am a scientist, I need to know the truth. That’s always the case with me, Hennie, I always want to find out answers, whatever they may be. The not knowing torments me.”

“In that case, Pa, you have not been good for us.” It hurt the boy to say it, but there, it was out there now. He asked for it.

My God, truth hurts. And to be told that one is not a good parent hurts more than anything.

Stung by his son’s answer, PW recoiled. “Thank you, Hennie,” he said simply, with genuine gratitude.

They walked on in silence for a bit, then Hennie spoke. “Ma said not to be angry at you, because it is not your fault. Your parents did not teach you kindness. They had tried to make you tough.”

“Yes, my parents did that. I was never good enough. There was a lot of unkindness in my childhood. But maybe that’s the Boer way, we have to grow tough children for the tough life out here.”

“Ma said it’s more important to teach children how to be kind. Because with kindness, you get better results.”

What was it that Karin said? Love is the most efficient law.

“Sometimes, people hurt you because they are hurting inside. Even if they are kind, they forget about their kindness when their own hurt is bad. Are you hurting inside, Pa? Is that why you made Ma cry?”

Excerpt from Chapter 15: Natural Laws