how to think
Episode Five: Omikemi

Rajni Shah
Omikemi
Fili 周 Gibbons



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Episode notes

In this final episode of the podcast, released under the full moon in Scorpio, Rajni Shah and Omikemi engage in a long, slow, deep conversation, in which they reflect on the entanglements between the felt world of lived experiences and the systems within which we live our lives.

Infused by the sounds and shapes of the ocean, this episode feels intimate and visceral – and perhaps more than any of the others, like an invitation to eavesdrop on a conversation between friends.

A few notes about content: there is some swearing in this episode; and the conversation includes themes of trauma and harm, though nothing explicit or detailed.

In the accompanying offering, Omikemi invites listeners to spend time with a question that was present for them at the time of recording:

Download MP3

Both episodes include sounds of the ocean, which were recorded with care and respect by Omikemi at Gullane and Portobello beach in Scotland.

With special thanks to Mau Caron for the story about the shining eyes.

Episode themes

Introduction [00:01:07]

  1. Opening [00:03:45]
  2. Arrival [00:07:20]
  3. The hustle [00:18:03]
  4. What makes you stay? [00:30:34]
  5. Reciprocity [00:35:50]
  6. Knowing [00:43:33]
  7. Not Knowing [00:48:39]
  8. Systems are People [00:55:19]
  9. Care and Vulnerability [00:59:23]
  10. Transformation [01:03:03]
  11. Not political enough [01:06:11]
  12. Free to be carried [01:08:38]
  13. Water [01:18:40]
  14. Closing images [01:20:57]
  15. Kinship [01:27:34]
Epilogue [01:34:55]


Series Credits & Acknowledgements

This podcast was made on Indigenous lands, including the lands of the Bidjigal, Gadigal, Woi Wurrung, and Boonwurrung peoples in so-called Australia, and the lands of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation on Turtle Island. We pay respects to the custodians of the lands on which we have created and edited these recordings, and we acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded.

how to think is being co-led by artist Rajni Shah and Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca, the new head of DAS Graduate School, as part of the AHRC project Performance Philosophy & Animals, in partnership with the Centre for Performance Philosophy at the University of Surrey, UK.

Project conceived and delivered by Rajni Shah
Editing, mixing, and sound design by Fili 周 Gibbons and Studio Apothicaire
Recording and technical support by Roslyn Oades
Contributors: Ria Righteous, Julietta Singh, Khairani Barokka, and Omikemi
Special thanks to Theron Schmidt, Leo Burtin, Nadia Chana, Astrid Korporaal, Sheila Ghelani, and the Acts of Listening Lab

Before these conversations were recorded, podcast host Rajni Shah posted a small zine to each of their fellow listeners, in which they outlined the invitation for the conversation. You can see a copy of the zine for reference here.


Transcript

[sounds of cello plucking and bowing a fiesty little tune weaving in and out of the following words that begin each episode]

Rajni:

how to think is a series of slow conversations between humans who recentre the work of listening, healing, justice, and love. Created with recording and technical support from Roslyn Oades, and with editing, mixing, and sound design by Fili and Studio Apothicaire.

This is a DAS podcast, presented in partnership with the Centre for Performance Philosophy at the University of Surrey in the UK, and is part of the AHRC project Performance Philosophy & Animals led by Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca, Head of DAS Graduate School in Amsterdam.

For transcripts, full credits, and acknowledgments, including land and water acknowledgments, please visit the Performance Philosophy website which is linked in the show notes.

Thank you for listening.

[cello stops]

[pause]

Rajni:

Hello dear listener, and welcome to the fifth and final episode of the podcast how to think. I’m your host Rajni Shah, and in this episode I have the great pleasure of being in conversation with a dear friend, Omikemi.

This episode is really very much about the values of friendship, kinship, love, and reciprocity. In many ways, this one feels to me the most like an invitation to eavesdrop on a long and intimate conversation between friends. This one also dives into some deep places, so I encourage you to listen at a pace that works for you, and to pause as and when you feel the need.

There’s a strong water element in and around this conversation, which returns again and again to the ocean. The sounds you hear were recorded by Omikemi at Gullane and Portobello Beach on the Scottish coast.

There are, as always, show notes to accompany this episode if you want to follow up on anything that’s mentioned. And there is also a corresponding episode in which Omikemi offers us a question to sit with and move with.

One last time then, I you enjoy the listening!

[sounds of waves lapping, seagulls, and distant voices for about a minute before Rajni’s voice comes in]

Rajni [fades in slowly]:

It's very… mysterious, and very process led. Um. Yeah, it's, it's… it's an experiment in listening and an experiment in trust. And um, so thank you, for trusting me to do this. Um. And what I'm really inviting is that we both just bring ourselves, whatever that means in this moment. But also that we, we speak with each other, like in a … in a way that isn't already thinking about it being recorded or thinking about what it might be. And that we just try and let… something emerge.

Omikemi:

Yeah. Can I say something there, or … ?

Rajni:

Yeah, of course. You can say something at any point.

Omikemi:

Okay, that's great [laughs]… Yeah, look, I'm just kind of approaching it as though I'm talking with you, as I would. You know?

[ocean sounds fade out]

Rajni:

Yep.

Omikemi:

Yeah, so. I just thought … just thought I might let you know that in case you wanted something else. [laughs gently]

Rajni:

No, that's exactly what I'm wanting.

Omikemi:

Okay, great.

Rajni:

Yeah … yep.

Um. So … I'm inviting us to be … I'm welcoming inarticulacy, and also wanting us to be okay with silences and listening as part of our conversation. There's – I don't want us to feel like there's any need to fill up the space, or to worry about time, or to have to say anything. Um … I'm really interested in us kind of placing words between us and, you know, responding if we want to respond, but also sometimes they might just sit there between us and we might say something in response, we might not. And they might sit between us uncomfortably or they might sit between us really peacefully. [smiles audibly] But I'm really interested in those um … in the silences, in a, in a conversation, and how much they're a part of a conversation.

So … yeah, I'm inviting listening to be valued equally to speaking. Um. And this next thing is kind of … I'm not married to it, but it's … I'm inviting us to avoid direct questions. Just because they can get a bit like, erm … I guess I feel like questions can be quite coercive and I'm really interested in questions being open to sit between us rather than directed. Does that make sense?

Omikemi:

Mm hm.

Rajni:

And the final thing I want to say is that everything is welcome … Yeh. Everything is welcome.

[ocean sounds fade in, and then out]

Omikemi:

Uh, yeah, so I'm just acknowledging the room that I'm in. Um … It's like a little meditation space. There are some bookshelves, and there's a bunk bed, the bunk bed that I was meant to sleep in but… I sleep on the floor. So. I think it was only about a year and a half ago that I got a mattress. And I've been sleeping on the floor for many, many years. So the idea of a bunk bed [laughs] it's definitely not … not the thing for me.

So, yeah, um. I'm not at home. I’m in Edinburgh. Er … I've been trying to find out, I guess the, maybe the native people here. And like everywhere it's a complicated story. So I'm gonna choose not to name anyone, but acknowledge that I’m in this particular part of the UK … where there’s a lot of fireweed actually. What I'll do is I'll acknowledge some of the herbs that I was walking with and through yesterday on the hill. So… shout out to some heather and fireweed [laughs gently] and many other things that were up there.

Uh. Yeah, I feel… I feel a little bit tense, er, in my upper back and my legs. Er. And … It's interesting. This morning, this morning I feel quite um … steady, and quite sober [laughs gently]. Er … and being close to the sea for the last, for the last few days/week, um, has really brought me into this dreaming kind of psychic space. It's great, but it's also quite um, just makes me woozy. So, yeah, I feel quite steady, feel quite grounded. Little bit of tension.

And yeah, I'm curious. I'm curious about how much openness there really is to this process. [laughs] So … yeah, there's a little bit of er … there's curiosity, there is um … mischievousness, and there’s suspicion.

[exhales]

And then I'm, I’m feeling really, um … It's like I don't really know how to hold it, but I am holding it and I'm holding it against my sternum, or maybe by my thymus, but I’m holding it, that you have invited me into this, and you think that I may have something that's worth listening to. Uh. Ah. Yeah, that feels very precious to me. So I'm … yeah, I'm kind of trembling while I'm holding that, whatever that is. [laughs] But I do feel mischievous, yeah.

So that's, that's where I'm at. Thank you.

Rajni:

Mmm. Thank you. [smiles audibly] I um, yeah, I appreciate the honesty of that.

I … what do I need to say? It's funny because I started talking to you – I've had a whole day here, waiting for us to meet, and er preparing in various ways – and I started talking to you in the shower this morning and I … so I've had so many conversations already [laughs] and kind of arrived myself many times. Um.

So I should say that I'm on Bedegal lands, unceded Bedegal lands. I'm not at home either, very much not at home. I'm in an office, in a university. So it's, it feels important to acknowledge that there's, um … I’m in a place that feels quite disconnected from what I'm doing. And maybe even that has a violent relationship to … you know, that definitely has, so much of the time, a violent relationship to the lands on which it sits. Um. But also to, I think, this kind of work that I'm trying to do, which is so much about … knowledge systems and wisdoms that can't and don't fit and are not welcome in a place like this. So it's a strange place to be. I also feel very lucky that somebody has allowed me to be here and that people have supported me in all kinds of ways to make this happen. So, um … yeah, I'm grateful for them.

I'm clutching this crystal that you gave me once. And I'm really not very good at facts and so I, I don't even know what it is. But it's been a companion to me ever since you gave it to me. Um. Often really close, sometimes when I've been sleeping. And so I'm, I'm holding onto this. And I also have a spirit stone that was made by an Aboriginal artist on Gumbayngrr lands. So those are my companions.

And yeah, I think I feel … I'm always really interested in, in your, your energy. Because I do feel so often it's … it's mischievous and irreverent and also incredibly deep and grieving and painful and honest. [laughs] Just so many things. So I'm really um … I’m curious, too. I’m curious.

Yeah … and, um, in one of my arrivals into our conversation, just maybe an hour ago, I was thinking about armour – I'm always thinking about armour, I'm sure that you and I have talked about armour so many times – but I was thinking about this idea of trust or vulnerability and, like, I was imagining: could I … could I or will I or am I taking off my armour to be in this conversation? And then I thought: … what feels so much more … intimate and challenging in a way – no, maybe not challenging – intimate, and what I desire more than that, is to show you my armour. And for you to know it and touch it and be with it.

[ocean sounds have faded in]

So I, I kind of want to acknowledge that too, that I'm not here without armour, for sure, but I am here very very willing to – I think very willing! – to, to have you be with my armour, which feels like a very intimate state.

[pause, ocean sounds continue]

I think that’s, that's my arrival.

Omikemi:

Thank you.

Is it okay to be in response to er… yeah, in some way in response to what you've just shared?

Rajni:

Yeah.

It is.

Thanks for asking.

[ocean sounds slowly fade out while Omikemi speaks]

Omikemi:

So, it was, it was the word ‘armour’… [laughs gently] and I guess because, you know that I'm mischievous, immediately I thought ‘Armour’, oh, ‘a synthetic thyroid preparation’. And I knew that you weren't talking about that, but I kind of like doing that sometimes, like: this thing is something else, too. And I guess something that's really significant in my life, because, as you know, I don't, I don't have a thyroid.

And then I came back to the, you know, to the moment, and um … I had a thought yesterday. I was outside doing some writing by the sea and I had this thought, which is: when does… when does vulnerability become a hustle? [laughter] Because I had the image of you and some armour. And then I thought, oh, what's my armour? And I think sometimes my armour can also be a kind of maybe faux nakedness, too. That's very armoury too. I feel like I can be quite raw and unedited. But sometimes that's the hustle, you know? [laughs]

Yeah, so it's that question. And I feel like so many of us have been beckoned. It's like incense, you know, like when you watch incense unravel, it's like it's calling, like it's [laughing] calling you, and it’s like so many of us have been beckoned into um… undressing. I don’t know where these images are coming from – maybe undressing like the incense stick, you know, it's like undressing, showing your vulnerability. And then somehow there's a moment where that slips into the game, into the hustle. And I’m really exploring that in myself. Where it becomes something … yeah, where it becomes something that I in some way sell.

Yeah. Vulnerability. There’s so much around that at the moment. All these different speakers. And everyone wants to be vulnerable. [laughs]

[exhales]

Rajni:

Mm.

Omikemi:

I'd like to be too. But I think that means different things for different people. And I'm quite resistant to this kind of uniform vulnerability.

Rajni:

Hm!

[ocean sounds fade in, and then out under Omikemi’s words]

Omikemi:

That thought came in response to this book I'd been reading, by er … a Canadian writer. I don’t know what, I don’t know what group, what tribe she's from, actually. But the book is called Heart Berries anyway. And there's something about … at the beginning, I can't really remember it now, but, you know, she talks about … at some point, her story became the hustle. And er… I feel like somehow that's – it came back, it came back to me yesterday in my own little dreaming by the sea. Thinking about my, yeah, thinking about the way that I carry, that I carry my armour.

Anyway, it often feels good for me, to also – ha! that's interesting – for me to cite, for me to acknowledge. Yeah, it’s not ‘cite’, it’s not citing, I’m not a citing person! [laughter] It’s for me to acknowledge –

But you see, it's so easy to get pulled in, to get pulled into that, ah, that language! I like acknowledgement, actually. It's important for me to acknowledge where things come from, when I know, when I can, and when I remember, and when that remembering is like from my body. And that body is not only my physical body, but the energetic and the dreaming body, you know?

Rajni:

Mm.

Omikemi:

Ah. Yeah … Which is troublesome. Because I don't feel like anything's mine. [laughs gently]

Rajni:

Mmm. But … I'm wondering why that would be troublesome.

Omikemi:

Well it potentially makes me a fantastic Buddhist!

Rajni:

Yeh. [laughter]

Omikemi:

If that's what I'm going for. Um …

Because, because … Because somewhere in the universe, er … there were ancestors and there are descendants and they’re, they're playing music for me and for you, Rajni. And they're singing for us. And they’re chanting for us. And I'm only just coming into really feeling this, like, that there are people that have prayed for my arrival, for me to be here at this time, on this land, in this conversation. That there's something that I'm meant to be doing here, big or small or medium.

And so there is something that is my own, you know? There is something in me that is, that is me. It’s no one else. It’s a very specific offering, gift, medicine. And I think not to acknowledge that is to, is to disrespect those ancestors and the descendants who are calling for it too. It's kind of to ignore, it’s to ignore that call. And I've been doing that a long time, [laughs gently] and it's no good. It's no good for the bones. For the blood.

Rajni:

Mmm. Okay, yeah. Yep. … That speaks to me. I … I think the language that I've been using for the thing that I think you're describing, or the thing that I hear through your words is one of … weight or gravity. And I could not really tell you why. I've always, I've always been a little bit obsessed with this. I remember writing in my diary when I was young, quite young – it was like my first diary – I was writing about this, like, coming to Earth and gaining weight and being on Earth and being heavy. And recently it's come back to me, not that image, but this sense of being too light to exist. And wanting to … feel gravity.

And that might not sound like the same thing that you just described, but it feels very aligned to me with … something that we've spoken about before, actually, which is this … my – what I thought was a truth for most of my life – which was that I don't have a story. And that, again, I couldn't tell you why I felt that was a truth. But I lived with that truth for so many years that, now that I'm … trying to unpick it, there's just a lot of blankness there.

Omikemi :

Mm.

[pause/ocean sounds fade in]

Omikemi:

So … Yeah, I feel, I feel like I … I felt it, what you were saying. Um … I guess like the threads, the connecting threads between your, your er description of this experience is like – the sentences would be for me, you know that, like: what brings you, what anchors you, and what makes you stay? Like, for me, that's what I heard as the gravity, in a way. So that's how I feel connected. How I feel like my own experience connects to what you just said. But does, does that, does that seem to connect in some way? Or have I missed you?

Rajni:

No. It feels resonant.

Omikemi:

Yeah. What brings you? What anchors you? What makes you stay? … Yeah, what makes you stay, huh? Cos there are so many reasons to leave right now.

Rajni:

Yeah.

[ocean sounds fade out]

Omikemi:

There's a quote that I love, and I think it somehow connects into all of this. And it's from this book, erm. For some reason, I feel a little bit of shame saying this… [laughs]. But, yeah. Um. So the book is The Book of Thomas or The Book of Saint Thomas. I might've said this to you already, actually. Er, and so the book of Thomas is like a um, it’s believed to be like a bunch of, er … Christian gnostic texts um that weren't included in the Bible or were found, they were found somewhere in Egypt in the 40s, in the Nag Hammadi. The collection is called The Nag Hammadi. So that’s a bit of background. But anyway, um…

You know, it's even interesting that I felt that I needed to do that. [laughs] That I couldn’t just say it… you know? And I can't – and I feel that often. I often feel like: look, Omikemi, you're under-researched, [laughing] and you’re, and you’re irrelevant, you know? And I don't think that is just my insecurity. I think there's something about … like, I feel like people are always checking: yes, but who said this first? Yes, but where…? And why can't it just arrive, you know?

Rajni:

Mmm.

Omikemi:

But anyway, clearly, I am also at it. [laughter]

Er, but the quote is – what a long introduction to the quote! It's gonna be really disappointing now! – but the quote is: If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. And if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. Feels so, so true to me.

Rajni:

Yeah.

Omikemi:

Yeah. [exhales]

[pause]

Omikemi:

What makes me stay is people like you, Rajni. That's what makes me stay. And being able to have these conversations. And the sea, and the sky, that give so much perspective. And my bike that lets me zip around, [laughing] and flee. Yeah, my bike brings me so much joy! That makes me stay in a strange way. It probably sounds contradictory, but… Ah. Yeah, some really precious people in my life who … who are patient.

And there are some ancestors as well who, who make me stay. [laughs] They’re like elders. Like you’re having your hair done, and you’re kind of wriggling around and they're like, keep still! [laughs] You know, sometimes they’re like that. They’re like, no you’re gonna, you’re, you’re here for this one. Like: this is, this is not a holiday! 

I think I heard someone say once, like, this is, ‘you didn't come here on vacation’, you know? Which doesn't mean I think you came here to be in pain. I don't think it means that. I think it means you're here to enjoy yourself. But there's also, you know, there’s also your work, whatever that is. And that could be blowing bubbles, like, on all kinds of levels, d’you know what I mean? It could be literal, could be metaphorical. But you're here to do … your thing.

[pause/ocean sounds fade in]

What’s your thing, Rajni?

Rajni:

Oh, that was a direct question if ever I heard one! [laughter]

Omikemi:

Take it any anyway you like.

Rajni:

Yeah, I don't think I could answer that question. But I know… I know what my thing is very deeply and clearly at this point in my life, but I don't think … I don't think it fits very easily into words.

[very soft star-like sounds play under the next section]

But it is about people. I feel very similarly like I am surrounded by these incredible constellations. And, in particular, there are people who allow me to … hmm. So a friend said this really beautiful thing recently which was … and they were a bit shy about saying it but … we were talking about how, about the first time we saw each other and how we both had a crush on each other and – or we have talked about that previously, so that's kind of the context – and they said: I, I realised something recently. I realised that when I met you, you had this, these shiny shiny eyes, and I just thought, wow, what is that? And I've realised that what was shining in your eyes was that you were seeing me.

I think that is my gift that I … it’s, it's a reciprocal gift … that I give and receive. But there's something actually very profound about that observation for me. That also, yeah, could sound really superficial. But there's something about that that's really like, oh, I've been allowed to meet people who I recognised.

[ocean sounds briefly fade in and then out]

Omikemi:

Yeah. I get what that person said to you. I think it's true. It's my experience of you.

I don't think I've ever … I think I've tried to tell you. But … It's probably been one of the most significant things, gestures, that er … that’s changed how I viewed myself, and the story that I was telling myself about who I am and what I’m capable of. [small laugh] And erm you, you were – I can’t remember what the process is called – is it called a viva? Is that what it’s called? It’s a PhD thing.

Rajni:

Mm. Mm. Yeah, a viva.

Omikemi:

So you, yeah, so you’d returned to England, to er, to do that process, I think this is it. Look, you can tell me if I’m getting the details wrong, but I think this is kind of it. [laughs] And you had a gathering and … and you asked me … yeah, you asked me: can I, can I give you something? And like, I won't, for as long as I live, I won't ever forget that.

Ah. And I don't know if it, you know, referring back to what your friend said, I don't know if it is about your ability to see the other person in a way, because I think that's part of what's in there, that the person can see themselves. But anyway. Um … it was the first time, it was the first time that I experienced someone checking that it was okay to give me something.

And I feel like that meant, it meant that you cared actually. And I feel like so often what can happen in the giving process is that the proximity and how it feels for the receiver – so many things are not considered. Erm. And then it totally undermines the giving, for me, in my experience and… as I'm speaking about it, it makes sense in terms of the work that you do. Creating spaces for listening and, and speaking. [exhales]

But anyway, it was really big for me because I, I had a – and it's still there from time to time, you know. You know when it's like, you have a weekend when you play your classics, you know? You get your old tunes out … [laughter] Well I can have that in my mind, but they're like, they're not great classics. They're like, they're like the old narratives, like the old tapes. And er, you know, one of the old tapes is like, that I’m not capable of receiving. And, and, and you just, you just like, you just opened that and you just – it was just like, actually, no, I am, I totally am. But like, this is one of the conditions maybe. You know?

[ocean sounds fade in]

Rajni:

Mm.

Omikemi:

Yeah. Yeah.

[pause, ocean sounds]

Omikemi:

I wanted to loop back a bit.

Rajni:

Mm.

[ocean sounds fade out under Omikemi’s words]

Omikemi:

So I'm thinking about your eyes. The description of your eyes, in this, what your friend said… and it's like you can see something. And I, I'm not even sure all the time that you’re aware of what you're seeing either, but that there’s something that allows you to just be with the seeing.

And it's making me think back to this, the description of the gravity, what I'm calling the offering, the purpose, the medicine. And that what all of this really requires is like, the people, the places, I don’t know, the communities, whatever it is that recognise you, and recognise you have an offering – I feel like our lives are like these missions, where we go on these missions and … there's some kind of sacrifice, you know, that we bring back, that we bring to our community. And it's like really in the receiving of that, that offering. And like … the seasoning of it, you know, people season it and they marinate it. And like that's how the gift or whatever is is activated. But it's activated in this relation, in this, I guess, reciprocity in some way.

And I think it's disorientating not to have this. And it's one of the many reasons why I'm grateful for, for having you in my life, because I feel like it really … you reorientate me. [laughs] There's something reorientating about it, too. You know, it’s like: Ah. Ah. Ah, this is home! Ah, home is this direction! You know?

Because often I'm following that smoke. You know that smoke we talked about at the beginning, the incense, like that beckoning? Like often I'm fucking following smoke home, you know? [laughter]

Rajni:

Yeah.

Omikemi:

Anyway, you get my point.

Rajni:

Yeah, I do. I mean, the thing about it is that you offer that to me too. That's the constellation that I'm in, that will, you know … that you're in differently cos your constellation is different. But you're also part of my constellation. And so …

I think I used to be … I didn't used to know I could experience that in my relationships. So I think I might have provided that for other people, and they weren't providing it for me. And that's not anybody's fault … but it, it – I think I didn't used to know … how … Ah, knowing! [laughs] There are things that I've known. All of the things that I didn't used to know, I also knew. I just didn't pay attention.

Omikemi:

[exhales]

[laughter]

That makes me want to lie down! [laughter]

Yeah. Felt that in my bones.

[ocean sounds fade in and then out]

Omikemi:

I think it's easy at the moment – like, there's a lot of rhetoric, a lot of story around ‘knowing’ and ‘your deep knowing’ and, you know, different forms of knowledge and knowing – but I think it’s easy to move into spaces of shaming people because they're not fully in tune with whatever their specific knowing is yet. You know? Just in the way that some, I guess, um, ways of thinking can become quite exclusive. I think that that can happen in the, in the school of subjugated knowledges too. [laughs]

Rajni:

Hm.

Omikemi:

I guess that's why in some realms, you know, I don't feel like I fit anywhere. I feel like I'm always in between. And there's something you said earlier about … you know, this is something that I find hard is … Ah yeah, I said, you know, what's your thing? And you said actually that, you know, I got a sense that you, of you being sure in yourself, but you know, the words, that thing around words … but you said it had something to do with people.

And I'm glad you spoke about it in that way, because it's such an area of insecurity for me. And I got an email yesterday, and it was something to do with, you know, someone wanting to talk a bit about bodywork. Um. And er, it was like an introduction. And the person introducing me said, you know, ‘Omikemi does many things’ and like, it was like, it was quite clear that they still don't know how to introduce me. [laughs] And I think that's the case for a lot of people. They’re like, yeah but what is it? It’s just kind of like, but what do you do? [laughs]

Yeah, not knowing. Not knowing. You know? Is it okay? Is it okay for you to not know exactly what it is that I do? Is it okay for me to not know? Am I still a person? Am I still worth talking to? [laughs] Am I still worth inviting into a conversation? I think … I think that comes up for me a lot, you know, because there's such a pressure to be like: “I am this in the world, and I do this, and…” And I think some of it is also my um, my own issues, clearly, in terms of, to do with visibility, you know, and my own issues with er … maybe commitment? Although I think I'm deeply committed to some very fucking difficult things, actually.

Rajni:

Hm.

Omikemi:

Yeah.

Rajni:

Yeah, well … [pause] I think … See, here's where … being in reciprocity is … a survival tool. Because the relationships that I'm in where the giving and the receiving aren’t … separable, maybe? … are the ones where I can see why I have a right to exist. Even when I can't see it for myself, because I can so deeply see it and understand it for another person. Or I can understand why it's so important that you are being you and doing the work that you do in the world right now. And I can also understand why … it’s, it's hard to feel like that work is valued. Complicated word, um, but ‘valued’ in a way that isn't … a, a consuming.

Omikemi:

Mmm.

Rajni:

Which I guess comes back to the hustle.

Omikemi:

Yeah. Ah, yeah, yeah. And I feel like this is one of my… This is why I don’t feel I'm very marketable, in some ways. [laughs]

Rajni:

Yeah, but I mean, listen to that phrase, you know! [laughter] I had a whole career in which I had to market myself and my body, as a performance maker, and … I stopped and I walked away from that.

[ocean sounds fade in]

Omikemi:

I just want to take a, take a moment.

Rajni:

Mm.

[pause]

Omikemi:

I wanted to say … yeah, that systems, systems are people. It just felt important to say that. Like, they don't exist without people. And it's like, there's a lot of, like: we’ve got to take this system down! But the system is me. You know? Not all of me, but some of me. A lot of it exists in me.

Rajni:

Mmm.

Omikemi:

And that's hard work to do.

You know, the eternalised, internalised… I said eternalised! I fucking hope not! Ooh dear! Lie down now! [laughter]

[ocean sounds fade out]

Yeah. Internalised, the internalised oppression. You know? That’s like, that is the work for me. That's part of the work. Um … I wish, I wish, I wish … er … I wish the work was more like cultivating joy, you know? But I'm, I'm starting, I'm so happy to get older and to kind of start to accept that that’s not the energy that I came here with. You know? It's part of it, sometimes. But yeah, I've got like Pluto in the Eighth House and I'm a Scorpio Moon. [laughs] Like, it’s heavy it’s… it's transformation.

You know, it's stuff that I don't want to look at, other people don't want to look at. So, yeah, it's been difficult for me to … to like hold that space as a person walking through the world. It upsets people. It upsets me! [laughs]. Erm …

Somehow this… I don't know why it's come back, but … the hustle, the vulnerability and the hustle and … yeah that’s it, walking away. You spoke about walking away. And I think, yeah I think in that sense we're like the two, you know, that mainstream image of Pisces, like the two fish swimming in the opposite directions.

[ocean sounds fade in]

And it feels to me like I am now, I've spent a lot of time doing that, and I'm wanting to walk towards. You know? To in some way become more defined, you know, in, in what I'm doing here.

And I feel like part of the process is … ha … strangely, because I've – there's been such violence… uh … but strangely, part of what's going on for me is about, is about care – I was quite hesitant to use that word – and people who require care, er … people who require attentativeness.

[ocean sounds fade out]

Like look, you know, some aspects of my life have been really unbearable. You know? I've had very extreme experiences. And this is not – [laughs] someone called it recently like an Oppression Olympics – and this is not, like, this is not that, you know. I'm just saying that actually … yeah, I'm gonna own it and say, like – there are certain levels and depths that I go to that I could only go to because of those experiences. And there are certain places that I can sit with people – for example, people that are suicidal – actively. So I'm starting to understand it as a, as a gift, you know?

Rajni:

Yeah.

Omikemi:

There's a er – without getting all Brene Brown [laughs] – like, there's a, there is a er … there's a potency, actually. There's a potency and there’s something radical about … vulnerability – in a, in a certain way. But it, but it's often been made, like, it's kind of dismissed or … or like, oh you're weak, or you're fragile if you need, if you need care…

Rajni:

Mm.

Omikemi:

…you know? But actually, we all need care.

Rajni:

Yeah.

Omikemi:

And, you know, because of the systems [sighs] – which are made up of people [laughs gently] – we, um … some of us, er … like, live this, like the fragility, every day, you know. I think some of us live, er … [clears throat] what am I trying to say? Someone else said it a lot better. Something about being violently uncared for. Yeah? Some of our bodies, unfortunately, are in that zone on a daily, minute to minute. You know?

Rajni:

Yeah.

[ocean fades in, then fades out under Omikemi’s words]

Omikemi:

So I went into a shop here. I’ve always got these little stories, but fuck it. I went into a shop and, you know, I was just – it was one at a time. It was on a sandwich board outside: one person at a time. Really big, brightly coloured, like Playschool writing, you know, it would attract a little kid, for sure. It was that kind of set up. So I was in there just shopping and … and then the shop assistant – there was someone else that wanted to come in – and the shop assistant said, “Oh yeah, it's fine, come in, there's no one in, there's no one else in here.”

[laughs] And I was like, hang on a minute! No one else? Huh. Oh, I guess I’m the no one else. Hmm. You know? And look, this isn't anything new to many of us out here, but it's just an example of that everyday … that everyday stuff. [clears throat] And so that creates people who need a lot of … who need care. [laughs gently] Um.

I don't know if I'm making sense, but I think part of what I'm wanting to get at is that, yes, there is a point when the vulnerability can become the hustle. But the vulnerability can also be the place of, like, deep transformation. And it can be potent and it can be quite radical, you know, as well, to turn to each other in that way. And it's hard.

Rajni:

Mm.

Omikemi:

It's hard to … you know, [clears throat] especially when all ten of your buttons have been pushed. [laughs] Like, let’s show up for some care then! You know?

Rajni:

Yeah.

Omikemi:

And that's why it was beautiful what you said about, not so much about, you know, taking off the armour, but showing the armour. I think that’s a beautiful place to start caring.

[ocean sounds fade in]

Rajni:

Mm … Yeah.

[pause]

Omikemi:

I feel like I'm not political enough, you know. I should be talking about what really matters. [laughs] But. But um.. But this is, this is what matters actually.

[ocean sounds fade out]

Rajni:

But see, this is where, this is where the mirroring happens because… I say that all the time about myself, and I feel that all the time, every day.

Omikemi:

[laughs] Really?

Rajni:

I'm not political enough. I'm not involved in activism. I'm not, you know, ‘in movements’. [laughs] There's a lot of language that…

Omikemi:

Mm mm mm.

Rajni:

… I don't even know what it means, some of it!

And yet, I feel like … Yeah, it just depends how you, how you interpret that word, doesn't it? But, you know, sure you're not involved in party politics, maybe … or maybe you are, I don't know. Um. But political? I, yeah I feel like it's so political to understand the systems or the systemic in the ways that you've just explained it or talked about it. And to understand the … facts and the gifts of your own experiences.

Omikemi:

Mm.

[ocean sounds fade in]

Rajni:

In some way, it feels hugely political. But I'm not, I also … Yeah, I also don't… I don't know what to do with that word, really.

Omikemi:

Yeah. I don’t kno , either. I just whipped it out. [laughter]

[ocean sounds continue under most of the spoken text from here on, washing in and out, and the spoken words gradually become more spacious]

Omikemi:

Maybe I shared this image with you. This has been a thing for me from, from a child, you know, like I, I think in … like, if you, if you imagine, like, blowing, you know when you blow a bubble? You know, from a kid, images for me were like, you know when the bubble is just… just beginning to expand, you know, before it leaves the handle? And like, images would come like that for me, and then I'd like watch them float off and then they pop. [laughs] And I remember sitting there for hours like, like that. And, and I feel grateful that that hasn't really ever left, you know.

Erm. And I had quite a strong image, I think it was about … a few months ago, maybe two months ago. And the image was of me lying, I was lying down on, I was lying on the ocean on a plank of wood. And erm … I'm, I'm fine, you know? I'm like, oh, I'm on the ocean on a plank of wood. Okay! And I'm aware that I'm moving. And that feels okay. And then at some point, for some reason, I'm like, “woah, hang on a minute – that's not right!” So something happens. And I try to bring my body upright, you know … and I can't because my, my feet and my hands are tied. And then, like, it was… it was only when I struggled that there was a problem. [laughs gently]

And anyway, I like, I worked with that image for a while. I have this kind of image amplification process that I do sometimes.

Rajni:

Hm.

Omikemi:

It takes a while. Takes a while for the messages to get through. And anyway, the words came that I was finally, like, I had my feet and hands tied, and they kind of – I was finally free. I was finally free to be carried. You know?

Rajni:

Hm.

Omikemi:

And I've had, like … yeah, I’ve had so much.

What stops me, what scares me, what – you know, these things – is trust, actually. Is trust that there is something there supporting me and carrying me. And that, and that something manifests itself through hills, seas, these conversations – people like you, in my life, you know.

So that was like a really big moment for me just two months ago. Really to get to receive that image. It was like, okay, we're gonna, we're gonna shut this down. So, so, so that you, so that you will let us carry you, you know?

Rajni:

Mm.

Omikemi:

I'm sure many people have been through this. But this is how, this is how they come, and they talk with me.

Who are they? I don't know. I think they're the same people that my grandmother would talk to. [laughs] I’d walk into the kitchen, and she was like, talking to the air, you know? [laughs] And I’d be like, who is she talking to? But like, I kind of, I get it now. I get it now, you know. So … that's who they are. [laughs gently]

Rajni:

Mmm. That's such a… it's such a powerful image. You have shared it with me before.

Omikemi:

Hmm.

Rajni:

I'm really glad you shared it again.

Um. I was … I had a strong feeling recently to … refind the um, the transcript from my visit to the clairvoyant [laughs gently] in … 2010 maybe? The clairvoyant who had just a sign, a painted sign I think it was, on, on this road in Cornwall, that just said ‘clairvoyant’ and had a phone number. [laughs] Um. And I thought, okay, yep, gotta do that.

And it was so, yeah, it's amazing to look back actually on all of the things that she described seeing. Um. And she just dropped into this place and described what she saw and occasionally she'd say, does that make sense to you? And if I said no, she would try and describe it in a different way. Um … And she said at one point: yeah they're telling me … you … it was something like, you do have the capacity to see them as well, and hear them.

Omikemi:

Mm hm.

Rajni:

And it's something I know. You know, it's that knowing again, isn't it? I know at some level. But how do you talk about that? And then I told my mum that I’d seen a clairvoyant. She said this amazing phrase: “You do know that's a complete waste of time and money [laughs] don’t you?”

So clear, you know? So clear.

Omikemi:

Hmm.

Rajni:

Hmm. Anyway, that's a whole other story that we probably shouldn't get into right now. [laughs]

Omikemi:

No no, it’s … Well, I don't, I don't feel … I don't feel, I don’t feel like that actually. It feels like it's part of the … when I think about the image and … it’s part of the struggle. Like, I don't know … It's like letting go of, letting go of what we know. And the kind of moving into what we at least feel in the moment of entering that room that we don't know. You know? And then we get in the room and go, oh, actually that is familiar! [laughs] I think that's the, kind of … that's part of that struggle, you know, and part of like getting up and being like, Oh, actually … oh no, I can just allow myself to be carried into that space.

Rajni:

Mmm.

Omikemi:

Um. And I feel like that, that, you know, the voice – them, they, you know, whoever, however we name it – I feel like that's always there. And … er … I feel like that’s what’s new for me in my life now is that I know that it’s always there and that it always … And these words, these are bad words, aren't they? ‘Always’. ‘Never’. Usually they indicate that you're in some kind of regressive state, [laughs] according to some, I don’t know, some theories. But anyway, they’re always there. It's always there. It's available. But it requires work and it requires turning towards, you know?

And that's the thing, isn't it, when you’ve got like … If you want the medicine, and the, all that comes with it, I feel like you need to be … it wants your life in exchange. [gentle laughter] Yeah. You need to give your life to it, actually.

Rajni:

I want to say that I feel very attuned with the sea. And I thank you for that. Because I live by the sea and I don’t always tune into that feeling. But even your, the audio that I'm getting through from you, is like the sea. Not just your voice, but there are sounds that sound a bit like the sea.

Omikemi:

That's my, that’s my mother.

[small laugh] Yeah.

You know what I mean by that? Or not so much?

Rajni:

Um. Oh, I don't know.

Omikemi:

Yeah. Omi. Omi is ‘water’. And… [exhales] Yeah, I came by that by, by way of, my mother, which is really the water.

Feels like that’s the, that’s the energy that … has the strongest presence in my consciousness. It's not the only one. But yeah, the water.

Rajni:

Mm. Omikemi.

Omikemi:

Yeah.

[pause]

So, I'm gonna, I feel like I'm settling. Kind of, kind of feel it in my sitting bone, actually. … Yeah, that feels right. I feel like some energy moving downward, er, into my sitting bone. [exhales]

And I'm … Yeah, I'm getting a sense of myself. It's, it’s, it’s part of sometimes a practice that I do … [exhales] The image that’s coming now is a little bit different, but, yeah, I feel like I'm sitting on some water again. But like, like I'm sitting upright, actually. And. Yeah, I'm just, I'm just floating.

Just floating on the, on the waves.

[very subtle star-like sounds fade in and then out under Omikemi’s words]

But then surrounding me there’s this like, it's like a wreath of people.

[breath]

And the words come: “I don't know, I don't know where I'm going.”

And as I've said that I'm smiling now. Although you can't see me, I'm smiling because, for the first time … one of the, yeah, it’s one of the few times that that feels okay.

[breath]

And then the circle is like, it's expanding. It's like a ripple expanding outward, actually.

[breath]

Like, as many, as many circles as there are knots in a tree, kind of thing. Just around and around, just expanding.

Yeah.

And I'm feeling rooted in the water.

[breath]

Rajni:

I loved hearing from your place.

I felt like I could also be there, in a certain way.

The, the water feels like it's inside me. And I don't allow that very often.

I'm aware of my spine, like um seaweed, like those bubble seaweeds.

Feel quite open. And part of that openness is an openness also to the night, which is here. And that, too, is something that I don't allow very often.

My hands are soft and laying on the table, palm upwards, fingers curled. Warm, with the crystal in my left hand.

I feel like a thread of exhilaration.

But also some washing through.

And some tiredness arriving.

Yeah. That's me.

[ocean sounds have faded out, then slowly fade back in over the next section]

Omikemi:

Thank you, Rajni.

Something came … to me. It feels like it's inappropriate to say now, but that's why I'm gonna say it.

[Rajni smiles audibly]

Erm… All of these things, I think I've said to you before, but I guess a significant part of my own experience here is, at least for a very long period having to separate myself from my kin, you know, for my survival.

And … there's something important for me right now about restoring kinship too … you know, questions about what that means. But that's a very distinct kind of experience that … I feel like there's a whole bunch of invisible people out here who, you know, have experienced estrangement or are still in that process, from, from their family. Yeah. That's a different kind of er … it’s a different kind of medicine. [laughs gently]

And it reminds me, I guess, in some kind of closing, of that, of, er, one of the, one of the pieces from that book, Dub: Finding Ceremony. And the last line that always rings to me – like, it comes near every day since I read it. It was: “We would sincerely appreciate it if you stop pretending to be alone.”

[pause]

Omikemi:

There's one more thing, Rajni.

Rajni:

[laughs] Are you messing with me? Is there really one more thing?

Omikemi:

No. I just wanted to say I love you.

Rajni:

Aww.

Omikemi:

That's okay. That one more thing’s allowed, surely?

Rajni:

It is surely allowed. And I love you, too. Very much. Mm.

[sound of ocean, segulls etc. plays for about three minutes, and then fades out]

 

Epilogue

Omikemi:

Hey, Rajni. Um [laughs] it's like an after-after-afterthought. But um [clears throat] yeah, it won't… it won't… it won't leave me alone. So… So, yeah. It’s up to you what you do with it, I guess.

Ah. Yeah, I was walking around and um … I was talking about care, you know? Do you remember that part of the conversation? And I mentioned care and I mentioned vulnerability a lot, but what I didn't mention was upset. The importance of upset. And upsetting each other. And that's like a really, really important part of er … of the process too.

And I don't, I don’t really know how I forgot that, because it's such an important part of my own er [laughs gently] my own constant churning, is driven by upset and hurt in some ways. It's driven by other things but … those are important factors.

Yeah, so um, I don't know if somehow you can include that. I promise not to leave any more notes with other things that [laughs]: Please, can you include this?

Um. But, yeah, it just, it just, I was walking down the street and it felt like, yeah, there’s something not right and it’s – I just went for a walk and I’ve come back and I thought, yeah just drop it, and it's just with me and I'm trying to get on with something and it's just with me. So. Er, so I'm listening to it and I'm passing it on and … I guess we'll see what happens.

But I guess in terms of the social, the times that we find ourselves in, you know, it feels important for that to be, for that element of the conversation to be there too, you know. The upset. Because I, I feel like a lot of what is going on is about deep upset and hurt, um, which is necessary.

That's not me courting it. [laughs gently] It's just me acknowledging that it's part of, it's part of the care and the vulnerability, and the healing.

Anyway, I'll close there. Thank you.

 

Offering

[fiesty cello sounds from the episode intro play over Rajni’s introduction and then fade out]

Rajni:

Welcome to this short offering that accompanies episode five. In this recording Omikemi shares a question that arose through movement, and invites you to spend time with it. If you feel you might want to note down the question, grab a pen or a device before you listen. Enjoy!

[ocean sounds fade in]

Omikemi:

Something that I wanted to ask and I didn't. And it was like a general thing, that would, that would be for anyone that was like, listening, was something that came when I was doing some movement practise, was like: what would this body, what would this body be if I let it dream? You know. What, what would I be, what would this body be, if I let it dream? I just wanted to offer that as a, as a meditation, you know?

What would this body be if I, if I would let it dream?

[ocean sounds play for around five minutes, then they fade out]

[end of Episode Five]

 

Works Cited

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. 2020. Dub: Finding Ceremony. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9781478007081

Mailhot, Terese Marie. 2018. Heart Berries: A Memoir. London: Bloomsbury

Meyer, Marvin W., ed. 2009. The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts. New York: HarperOne.

Spirit stone made by Jeremy “Mudjai” Devitt. Accessed 10 February 2021. https://nationalaboriginaldesignagency.com.au/our-artists/jeremy-devitt

Biographies

Fili 周 Gibbons (we/them/us) are a musician and recording engineer working across a range of community and professional contexts to support plural voices, expressions, and sonic experiences. As well as leading community workshops they frequently work with other sound and video artists, drawing on listening, memory and intuition as guiding forces in collaborative making practices. Their work interfaces with plural cultural histories and experiences, intangible arts traditions, and community-oriented sound practice.

Rajni Shah (they/them) is an artist whose practice is focused on listening and gathering as creative and political acts. Key projects—always created alongside and in collaboration with others—include hold each as we fall (1999), The Awkward Position (2003-2004), Mr Quiver (2005-2008), small gifts (2006-2008), Dinner with America (2007-2009), Glorious (2010-2012), Experiments in Listening (2014-2015), Lying Fallow (2014-2015), Song (2016), I don’t know how (to decolonize myself) (2018), Feminist Killjoys Reading Group (2016-2020) and Listening Tables (2019-2020). In 2021, Rajni will publish a monograph and series of zines as part of the Performance Philosophy Series, entitled Experiments in Listening.

Omikemi is a writer and healing arts practitioner based in London, UK.


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