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The recognition in repetition

Updated: May 21, 2020

There’s a lot of repetition these days.

In the circling walks that are my only outing, in the routines of baking and cooking and limited shopping, in the merging of weekdays into weekends. I find myself in the same place I was yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, much more than I used to.

Before lockdown the repetitions didn’t pile up on each other like this. It would take at least a week before something re-wound - a Saturday might be like the Saturday before, but it might not, too. There were choices for Saturdays, for Sundays, for entire weekends, that meant that they could mostly not resemble the weekend before.

Choices. Different choices for different days, because remember when different things happened on, say, a Monday and a Friday? On a weekday or a weekend? Remember how choices would play out in myriad ways, every day? I might work from home, or I might go into the office. And I might walk part or all of the way into the office, or might ride a bike, or I might take the tram. I might take one of three different trams. Even the notion!

And once I was in the office, I would choose what to have for lunch. I would decide between ramen or don or Malaysian, or that really good Israeli salad place in Melbourne Central, or pizza in Hardware Lane. Or maybe a takeaway sandwich at my desk. Or I might bring in leftovers from home. And don’t get me started on which coffee outlet I would go to. There was a careful daily rotation of baristas, which seemed entirely sane.

And I would select outfits! Different outfits, depending on whether I had meetings, or what the weather was doing, whether I was walking or taking the tram, or if I was going straight out after work. Whether I was meeting friends in a bar, or going to the movies, or having dinner, or maybe attending an outdoor event, or rally. Or seeing live music. Or even DANCING.

I would wear a bra. Every day. I repeat - a new bra, every day.

How did I cope with such a dizzying range of choices, every single day? I feel giddy just thinking about it. It was glorious, of course, and exciting, and looking back now it feels that every day was full of endless possibility.

But - but. There’s something about building layer upon layer of daily experience. There’s a kind of deep sinking into place and time that comes with regularity. There’s this thing that happens when you walk past the same tree at the same times, very regularly - you notice the way the light falls at different times, or the fallen bark that is new, or variations in sound and smell around you. You get to know exactly when and where to be for the rise and fall of the sun; how the wind changes as it moves past the brick wall around the zoo, through the grass and the she oak fronds, or as it rattles the stringybark leaves. You notice how the bell birds are silent just before rain.

And there’s something else that happens. Your memories and thoughts attach themselves to certain places. You will crest that hill and remember the thing that occurred to you yesterday, when you crested this same hill. It might have been a stray thought, a new realisation, or a memory. You will have the thought you had yesterday and then something else will occur to you on top of that. And tomorrow you will also remember that thing when you take this walk, and your mind will settle back into that deepening groove. You will shortcut to the level you were at and each day go a little deeper. You will build on your thinking and it is as if the land itself has started to store your knowledge.

And before you know it there will be certain learnings that are attached to certain places, and you will automatically trigger those, just by going there.

You get a glimpse of a mindset that sees landscape as something both deeply connected and integral - as it is. Without commodifying it or seeing its erasure as inevitable and part of progress.

And you will start to feel a deep kind of prickle. A thud in your blood. And you will start to wonder if you are remembering something truly ancient. Having a glimpse of some collective memory, some original way of learning that we all had, once. When we stayed in one place, or rotated between places in different seasons, when it was normal to walk the same paths and know your surroundings deep inside you. When things did not change as fast each day, or even each lifetime. When, perhaps, it wasn't just your individual memories embedded in the land, available for upload.

Nowadays our surroundings are demolished and rebuilt on a regular basis and any major city has a constantly changing skyline. Things are new and different all the time. This is the norm and we simply can’t experience anything else in our cities, in the modern world.

Maybe it takes a pandemic for us all to be able to experience deep repetition. And yes, this repetition can be boring and maddening and frustrating, and more. But it also opens something that feels very old, and very quiet, within us. It feels like a glimpse of something profound. Something, perhaps, that Indigenous people have known much more recently than us. Something we have long lost.

A deepening knowledge, rather than the endless scattergun information cramming our mental bandwidth. One where we start to see the patterns around us; recognise the connections that link the pebble to the star by simply being present, again and again.

And to see how we're not separate from the physical world around us. That we're not exceptional, or even other. How can we be, when our very minds have become part of the land, the sky, the trees? When they, in turn, shape our thoughts?

There's a comfort in knowing that, say, a tree will hold a piece of me safe.

And how fundamentally differently do I see that tree - as something that is part of me, and it of me. With respect and yes, reverence. Such a simple, profound shift in seeing.

Some things do bear repeating.

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