Zen and the Art of Toenail Painting

In the bath this morning I realised that there remains only a thin line of red nail varnish after my August pedicure. This means that in the seven intervening months I have grown a completely new toe nail. I wonder how many other body parts have been completely refreshed in that time. Then I wonder how much of the me ten years ago remains today. I know that I am ageing but the evidence on the outside isn’t too obvious, if the conversation I had in the park last week is anything to go by anyway.

I was there with Archie, who was staying with me to celebrate his first birthday and I had taken him to the children’s section of the local park for the first time. We sat together side by side looking at the children playing, while both munching on Lidl fruit bread. Then we went on the swings and the bouncy chair. Time for a change, so off to the sandpit we went, where in the absence of a bucket and spade, I let him use my credit card to shovel sand. It was there that I fell into conversation with one of the mum’s and she made a reference to Archie as my son. I couldn’t believe it and on reflection I think she might be in need of an eye test. But I accepted it anyway as a great compliment.

In truth it shouldn’t matter a jot whether I can pass for forty three in a bad light or not. The body is after all only a vessel for what really matters on earth. Right. Yet I get engulfed by waves of anxiety when I realise how quickly time is passing and how little time there is left. Ok I keep telling myself all that matters is now. But I am stuffing so much into now that it wont all fit. Time for more Zen I suspect. Do nothing and nothing shall remain undone, as my old boyfriend Nick used to tell me. Well I did nothing there and nothing was the result. That’s quite the opposite effect intended in the aphorism. I need to reach the place where I do nothing and everything is in place. Like reaching for the stars.

Professor Brian Cox, on extended and mysterious furlough from chasing the Higgs boson at Cern, has turned up all over the place extolling the wonders of the Universe. It’s the scientific take of course but he does have the humility to call it a creation myth. There he is in his Rab windcheater(Brian is not an anorak!), trudging through the Atacama desert or respectfully keeping his distance as a family burn their granny in the ghats in Kathmandu. The point being that the universe is all about the cycle of life and death from the stars down to us.

I’ll give him his due, Prof. Cox is really into his subject but there is something both cool and robotic about his presentation. It’s on a massive scale and he is just the man to walk casually away from the exploding prison building that he has just grafittied with the elements. I kept thinking how much I would prefer the whole thing to be shown to me through the eyes of Jarvis Cocker, who to my mind would better represent the suffering that being human brings with it.

The scientists with the help of some really extraordinarily far- reaching telescopes are capable of showing us with clarity and insight what we are made of and where the parts that make our bodies come from. What they don’t and can’t address is the why. Most of us are in some way or another seeking meaning and a union with the whole. Maybe poking around our stellar nursery helps us find our place. Maybe knowing unstable Beetlejuice could go super nova any day now is significant.

More likely all it adds up to is a distraction in a week when through the progress of science we watched in HD as the angry sea engulfed a nation the other side of the world and each one of us was forced to contemplate our own mortality. And when push come to shove, here on earth it is the suffering of others that makes us feel united. As nature increasingly shows the sting in her tail  and the scientists continue to denegrate the why as they tumble over one another reaching towards the wow, I’m with Jarvis. I want to sing along with the common people.

Being is about letting go. Simplicity and acceptance. Going into that first undifferentiated place. But how long can I stay there looking down at my blank toenails? Not for long. I’m off for a pedicure. Angel Red, Ruby Woo, Viva Glam, Fire down below, Red Lizard, Scarlett Empress or Mon Rouge. Whatever. But as I sit there, comtemplating my still gorgeous right foot, I will remember that red is the characteristic colour of a dying star and revel in the poetry of being alive now. There’s the touch of Zen.


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