The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Saturday, 30 April 2011
Friday, 29 April 2011
Thursday, 28 April 2011
And I think another important point is the significance of wildness, wild margins, weeds ('flowers in the wrong place', as someone so succinctly characterised them); not being in a hurry to tidy, to clear everything up, but to allow too chaos, shambolicness, lack of clarity, contradiction, uncertainty. These wild margins, literally and metaphorically, of course, are often host to the most flourishing, vital and surprising growth.
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
A little later: leaving home this morning I realised that probably the above is about as clear as a mug of milk. No doubt you have already got there - the 'yes and?' moment in relation to the above (and my hubris has gone into minus figures and is heading towards severe nutritional deficiency now!): what I am trying to say is that Kant considered – I gather! – that reason couldn't go the distance in terms of comprehending the nature of essential reality; but since he thought that humankind doesn't have the faculty of intuition, we by definition can't perceive the metaphysical realm/essential nature at all. I think.
This suggests to me that The Man's views and mine are closer than he sometimes thinks: we both consider that there are ways in which we humans can perceive/experience the metaphysical realm; we simply differ in the detail or labelling of our own experience of and relationship to what is loosely called the spiritual.
I think I've exhausted that one for the minute. More of other things soon. Promise.
Tuesday, 26 April 2011
I would like to point out very smugly that, despite not having read CoPR, I nonetheless by virtue of associative thinking entirely free of any contamination by educated or informed logical deductive analysis and judgement have arrived at the same conclusions as Kant: ie that reason alone cannot go the distance.
TM admits that Kant arrives at the same conclusions as I put forward in my mythos logos post. It's just that he doesn't agree with Kant's conclusions; or, needless to say, my methods.
But the fact that I arrived at the same point as the great thinker (Kant not TM in this case) is enough to make me want to put a smug smiley icon here. I am just about resisting it.
When I have got over my egotistical self-satisfied inflation fit, I will post something altogether less smug. And maybe more in keeping with the Very Important Issues I have spent the last three hours at a Green Party meeting discussing, like how on earth we're going to achieve electoral reform, let alone save the planet.
- I believe that the universe is a unified field
- I believe in inclusivity
- I believe that both/and is a more accurate perception of and relationship to the world than either/or
- I believe that attachment to the dualistic either/or, on an individual level or globally (me/you, us/them), is single-handedly responsible for more aggression than anything else
- I believe that interconnectedness is essential nature/reality; and that it also needs to be a felt experience in order for us to truly recognise the ultimate non-separation of self and other.
BUT what is a belief other than a deeply-held opinion, sometimes and sometimes not apparently borne out by experience?
Of what value is a belief - unless it helps one to live with more kindness, more compassion, more input into the collective project of evolution of consciousness?
And Zen would of course have one ask, in order to gain insight into the nature of ego: Who is it thinking 'I believe'?
For 35 years I've espoused a spiritual path that in essence is simple. Its aim is to lead one beyond the appearances of things, beyond attachment to things being permament, and beyond identification with ego as a substantial separate and all-determining entity. Its focus is the development of metta: loving kindess, or compassion. And it is so hard to live according to this. And if you read yesterday's blog you will know how much time I personally spend defending one view (one ego's view) of the universe against another. Either/or. Over and over the practice, of course, is to move beyond this; and of course one draws to oneself experiences and situations that will show exactly where life pinches, and test one's truths.
As a reminder to self to cultivate the 'so what' of the attitude attuned to transience, here's a little Zen poem I share with you:
Nothing, nothing at all
dies, says the shell again
from the depth of hollowness.
swept off by tide – so what?
in sand, drying in sunlight,
in moonlight. Nothing to do
or anything else. Over
it vanishes with the wave.
Monday, 25 April 2011
Yesterday it shouldn't have been a big deal – I was only travelling 30 miles across Dartmoor from one lovely place to another. What the deal was was to do with having refound a different rhythm, living on my own for a week without a work agenda except to redraft and type up poems (and write new ones), and doing only what I wanted to do – a rare experience for me in the last 30 years. My days for that week were spent sleeping when I wanted, getting up when I wanted, showering or not, as I wished; being with animals, dreaming, writing, reading and hanging out, on rocks, often midstream, in bluebell woods, simply being.
So I was pleased, transitionally speaking as well as friendlily speaking, when The Man agreed to come and meet and walk with me somewhere on the moor, first. We took a path I'd always intended to follow, upwards to Laughter Hole Farm (isn't that a great name?) from Dunnabridge Pound through Bellever Forest, intending to drop down to the West Dart and seek out some swimming holes.
First small shock: I've forgotten, in my week of strolling, how fast and purposefully The Man naturally strides out. I'm short, and I tend to the 'hello clouds hello sky' mode, and the only way I can keep up is by – well, scurrying. My dignity being what it is, I refuse to do that, so we proceed in a kind of crabwise fashion, with the distance between us elongating, with TM waiting for me every so often.
Second small shock: before even arriving at the lane bridge on the West Dart we are alerted, over the river music and through the trees, to the fact that approximately 200 assorted humans in various states of undress have taken over the river bank with plastic chairs and barbecues. However, via the stepping stones, we outstrip them easily (they all cluster round the newly-erected public loos), and soon find ourselves in idyllic riverlight on our own.
Third small shock: The Man has not forgotten a statement I made glibly by email mid-conversation earlier in the week (that shouldn't be a shock as I know that he can retain information, a skill which I sometimes sadly lack). (I should perhaps say that we are spared the bickering over who's done most washing up lately [he wins hands down, and never complains]; we save our ire for pedantry over the use of a single word. It would be hard for anyone else to imagine, I think, the lengths to which we can go to define and redefine a word or a phrase.)
So he opens, conversationally, with a fairly innocuous-sounding query/statement. Coming back at me, my words sound quite intelligent. Unfortunately, they also sound not only opaque, but completely impossible to substantiate in any way that will hold water, especially after a week of dreaming and reading/writing poetry. 'OK, so tell me what you mean when you say that a question such as the existence or otherwise of God cannot be empirically proven like a mathematical equation?' Uh-oh. I stumble around vaguely mentioning the fact that you can demonstrate that two oranges added to two more oranges can reasonably be demonstrated to most people as adding up to four oranges, whereas no such consensus can be applied to proving or otherwise the existence or non-existence of God (I should say that we'd been talking about – him – the fact that the rational mind should equally well be applicable to metaphysics, whereas I was contending that one needed to move beyond the rational to have and relate to experiences that are, by definition, transrational. So I'd said that one can't apply the laws of the concrete universe, maths, or reason, to metaphysical questions.) He doesn't buy it. We spend a very long time - an embarrassingly long time - debating all this.
What is actually going on, I think, is that he and I espouse two different modes of intelligence as our 'default'. He proceeds in an academic way by a process of logic, deduction, reasoning and conclusion. I suppose this is the 'scientific method'; let's say 'left brain' for shorthand. I proceed through associative thinking, 'right brain', where what present themselves to me are images/feelings and connections between apparently disparate objects/ideas/situations – I think this is a mode common to creative expression. Karen Armstrong might label the two modes 'logos' and 'mythos'. The difference causes a lot of confusion, not to say Trouble. Of course, we need both; and it's hard to adopt, or even relate to, sometimes, an approach that's different from your own. I have much more to say about this (another time), but that leads me on to...
We're just back in from seeing the screening of 'The Caves of Forgotten Dreams', a documentary by Werner Herzog about the painted prehistoric caves of Chauvet, in France, which contain I believe the oldest rock paintings in the world - 35,000-year-old potent and stunningly beautiful depictions of rhinos, lions, leopards, horses, boar, auroch. The stories in these paintings are palpable, and the scientists given permission to go in and examine and film them have, they say, a sense of the people who painted them as alive and present still. This was exactly my experience in a profoundly moving visit I made to the caves of Pech-Merle in the Lot. 'There is', said a French commentator in the film (and I paraphrase), 'visible in these the sense of fluidity and permeability with which our ancestors related to the world and its stories.' I suppose this is where I struggle with the scientific method; or rather where it seems to me to have limitations: it squeezes out, or perhaps rather ignores, our deep need for mystery and meaning, and wriggle-room for fluidity and permeability, not to mention creative interpretation. (And boy how useful is the slack of 'creative interpretation' sometimes!) More anon.
I leave you, for the minute, with an extract from the title poem of my 2012 collection All the Missing Names of Love, about Pech-Merle:
And something glimpsed in those oxide
hands, the bear’s face and horses
half a mile under the limestone, 25,000
years ago drawn with love and deep
knowing as if pets, as if yesterday,
their carbon and manganese fixed, though
the artist has long since meshed atoms
with everything there is...
– Roselle Angwin
Saturday, 23 April 2011
you do what you do & the world keeps turning by itself you take one step, & anotherbreathe, keep breathing – flicker of light, cloud-shadow, larksong, rain – the whole of it there in its radiance you're alive * If you have been paying attention or, rather, managing to get to the end of my longer posts, you might recognise the snippet above. As so often happens, a few words lifted are much stronger than the impact of the same words embedded in another mediocre few thousand...
Friday, 22 April 2011
They buried their dead so high
the graves are specks on the cliff-face.
They imagined ancestors watching
over their comings and goings.
Fingers pointing upward they'd name
great-grandparents, sensors of daybreak's first impulse,
approaching weathers, who now voiced thoughts
in thunder, directed lightning, conducted stars.
Inside the crevices a puzzle of bronze bracelets, shell beads
circling what was clavicle, axe heads clinking on metatarsal.
To reach a geological hour all they had to do
was lie still, while rain seeped through limestone.
Thursday, 21 April 2011
At Huckentor already the bilberries - 'whorts' as we call them in Devon – are hanging out little pink Chinese lanterns. The berries will be even earlier than usual this year; maybe June, and no doubt I'll forget again.
|here - photo Beatrice Grundbacher|
Meditation and I have a longstanding, turbulent and at times dysfunctional relationship (though I admit the turbulence and dysfunction are all on my side). As a young hippy growing up in a pocket of surprisingly alternative rural North Devon – early Earth Fairs, squats and music, wholefood shops, small festivals and ashrams – I came across meditation as a teenager. It seemed to me to legitimise what I already did so well and at great length: daydreaming, only with a candle and/or mantram as focus I could call it 'spiritual' and feel nicely virtuous for doing what I loved doing.
My experience with Zen meditation came as a huge shock to me. As an undergraduate I rather timidly asked to visit the local sangha and join the zazen sesshin. First session: 6 or 8 very stern-seeming, serious and sober men, older than me and terrifyingly composed (never my forte), plus the most wonderful roshi, the Rev Hofuku Hughes who came up from the London Zen Priory every week to run a session. Hofuku, a full time monk, nonetheless worked part-time in a local car factory, was enormously insightful, and had a bellydeep laugh and a vast sense of humour. Because of him, I stayed for a term, but it was hard. Zen meditation as practised by that group involved 45 minutes to an hour of silent meditation, facing the wall, eyes open, and guided to do nothing other than follow the breath. This was followed by walking meditation, kinhan I think the term is (never been good at the labels), and then more open-eyed sitting.
This was a long way from my gentle visualisations.
I continued with my own path, a kind of mishmash added to by other spiritual practices, for many years on an erratic basis. Although by now I had realised that actually meditation wasn't just daydreaming and relaxation, I still mostly used a visualisation practice as the heart of it all. Then I started to feel that this was another way (for me) to avoid the core act of simple and unadulterated presence. I know that it's different for each of us, but for me I need a way that involves a kind of emptying to the present rather than filling; and for all these long years Zen has sat behind everything I do: saying nothing, not being exhibitionist or drawing attention to itself; simply being (of course).
When I came across Jon Kabat-Zinn's teachings on mindfulness I knew that here was also a homecoming. Kabat-Zinn, a doctor, uses mindfulness practice in his work (and has spawned a school of MBSR: mindfulness-based stress reduction; it has been shown over and over to be enormously effective in health and wellbeing). This is a very important aspect of it.
But also I need a practice that is more than simply tending my psychological wellbeing – that for me is a bonus, not the goal. It's something about the integration of the spiritual with the psychological. I need too to touch the ground of being behind everything: to slip the traces of the 'I' and its struggles; to attempt to move beyond our dualistic perceptions of 'self' and 'other'. So finally I have found a practice that works for me in returning to the simplest of Zen teachings, partly through Zen poetry and sometimes through its prose writings (I have a wonderful book by roshi John Daido Loori, late abbot of the Mountains and Rivers Monastery, sent me by a dear friend: Zen and Creativity, which is a luminous practice text), which I couple with mindfulness of this moment and the world of the senses, to stop me flying off into daydreaming, and I open and close my meditation sessions with teachings from the British pagan tradition with its visualisations and awareness of the elements, the four directions (plus the above and the below), the natural world, and the interconnectedness of all beings. All these teachings are linked by the centrality of the development of compassion.
But there are two key things for me: one is that the heart of it all is simply learning how to be, with my breath, with what is, without losing myself in dreams and regrets from the past, or hopes and fears for the future; and the second is that the real work starts when formal meditation time ends.
And of course, after all these years (30+), I still struggle (or at least I would, had I not decided to give up striving a few months ago, partly as a result of a conversation with said friend – thank you, Susie). One thing that's gone is my beating myself up if I don't meditate every day (I simply don't do it every day). And rather like with writing: once I give myself permission to meditate on only five rather than seven days a week, and just for ten minutes if that's what I feel like, it works, and I want to do more. So what happens now is that I meditate most days: sometimes I touch the ground of being where self and other dissolve; mostly I don't. AND THAT'S OK.
What made me think about all this this morning is being aware, once again, how hard it is simply to keep my attention on my breath, coming in and going out, which is usually the starting focus in Zen practice. Over and over my attention wanders; like training a young horse, I gently follow it, gently bring it back. It is so simple; and it is sooo hard. I read the other day that the average American adult attention span is 18 seconds (I don't suppose it's very different here), and that shocked me into being aware of how difficult it is simply to be fully present with, and only with, my inbreaths and outbreaths to just a count of 10! I count and breathe slowly but was still shocked at myself, at how my mind wanders. So my challenge now is to prove to myself that I can.
And here, just to finish off (if you're still with me) is Kabat-Zinn's rather lovely (paraphrased) definition of mindfulness: paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement.
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
So I went back to my essay, and found some words from my favourite essayist, Barry Lopez: 'If I were asked what I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it’s to contribute to a literature of hope… I want to help create a body of stories in which men and women can discover trustworthy patterns… Every story is an act of trust between a writer and a reader; each story, in the end, is social. Whatever a writer sets down can help or harm the community of which he or she is a part…’
I concluded the essay like this, and I guess my thinking hasn't changed: 'At the end of my first book, written in 1993, I asked this question. Of course, I am still asking it. How would it be to read books and stories that support us in being more fully and compassionately human? Ones that give us tools to grow and change; offer us models of functional, healthy patterns of relating – whether to ourselves, to each other, to the wider human sphere or to the planet as a whole, rather than narratives that merely underline how grim ‘reality’ is, and how untrustworthy and self-seeking people are, thus confirming our view of the world and the human condition as basically beyond hope?
Tuesday, 19 April 2011
Walker Between The Worlds
Monday, 18 April 2011
The bank to my right borders and contains Vellator Marshes with their herds of placid Ruby Red Devon cattle. Here my father used to take us as children to net the little stickleback that we'd take home and keep in a vast glass tank; and tadpoles. It was here that I'd cycle lonely as a – no, not cloud; as lonely as a romantic teenager with poetic leanings can be; and ride on the foal-grown-to-ponyhood that I'd bought straight from Dartmoor with my £25 Post Office pocket money savings; and here I'd bring friends and, later, boyfriends to walk the 3 miles to the idyllic 3-mile long beach.
It was here that Henry Williamson of Tarka the Otter fame (written about the stream that ran 100 yards from our house) set his most magical book, The Pathway, about a conscientious objector, and with a little story within a story, The Star Born, which so caught my adolescent imagination. Williamson was a contradiction, and, like many of his era, made some to us unimaginably crass-seeming and unthinkable decisions: himself disgusted with war after being conscripted in WW1, and determined to do all he could to prevent Britain and Germany going to war again, he in WW2 joined the Fascist Party. But I try not to hold that against him as his nature writing is excellent (and that raises the old old question about whether art stands alone or whether one has to judge the artwork against too the integrity of the creator. I can't easily answer that for myself: I want to say the latter, as I always hope idealistically no doubt that there will be congruence between the two. And yet we have work like T S Eliot's 'Four Quartets', to my mind some of the most extraordinary poetry produced in the C20th – and he was reputedly anti-semitic. And our literature would have been that much the poorer without. So.)
But that was a diversion. What I wanted to say, have been thinking about, is that that memory – and although I experienced similar (and occasionally a great deal more dramatic) trips a number of times, it's that one in particular – seems to me to encapsulate the enormous sense of wellbeing, happiness, that comes when one is living truly in one's own skin and also within the deepest song of the universe, no matter how brief the moment, with no separation. A 'peak experience', or moment of transcendence, I later learned it might be labelled. In Zen we'd call it a moment of satori. And I guess after a moment, or moments, like that we spend the rest of our lives repeating or trying to repeat that experience – or deadening ourselves in order not to feel the pain of not experiencing it...
And for me that is the measure, I guess, of whether my life serves me and I serve my life; and whether I then serve the greater purpose, whatever that might be, of life itself; whether I can close the gap between 'self' and 'other' being one expression of it, perhaps.
And the second thing I have been thinking of, related, is how one digs down through the layers to restore the canto hondo (or cante jondo as Lorca had it): the 'deep song' that might, if we let it, sing us. As I think about this I think about reclaiming that which is deeper than ego and the ego's desires and connects us into – well, everything; and how much work, a life's work, maybe more, it seems to take to reclaim that part of ourselves. (Or maybe it's a continual and ceaseless process. Yes, of course; that's more like it.) I go in search of Clarissa Pinkola Estes book here where I'm horse-sitting for my daughter; I'm not sure she's read it but I know she has it, as I gave it her; and no doubt, when she's ready she'll read it (always a mistake to give to your children the books that are important to you!). I look up canto hondo and she says very little about it; but she does say this, which is lovely: 'When we think of reclamation it may bring to mind bulldozers or carpenters, the restoration of an old structure... However, the older meaning is this: The word reclamation is derived from the Old French reclaimer, meaning "to call back the hawk which has been let fly"... to cause something of the wild to return to us when it is called.'
Yes. That's the work that excites me. That's calling the canto hondo.
Sunday, 17 April 2011
But from left field and synchronistically comes this from my sister:
to go beyond
the end of the no through road
shoes whitening with dust and pollen
a scrambling of tumbled walls
dry leats and beech trees
crickets and clover filling
a grey day with summer.
Following the undefined
over white fields of wind
each step the crossing of a boundary.
Taking time to explore
the beguiling network
of small journeys
little fields of celandine and stitchwort
and in the hawthorn’s shadow.
Taking time to touch
the edge of everything.
Friday, 15 April 2011
- ► 2016 (88)
- ► 2015 (78)
- ► 2014 (123)
- ► 2013 (157)
- ► 2012 (199)
- tasting the seven seas (zen)
- margins - the practice of writing
- how to love hornets
- (poem) everything there is wild and tender
- PS to (Kant) reason & intuition (& take 2)
- me & Immanuel Kant
- Zen, credo and nothingness
- mythos, logos & cave paintings
- (poem) the circle of the world
- poem: a geological hour, by Rebecca Gethin
- mindfulness take 2
- 'to poison a nation, poison its stories'
- (poem) how hard it is to speak of happiness
- Begin Anywhere, Begin Somewhere
- (poem) walker between the worlds
- kayaks, cusps, peak experiences & the canto hondo
- already more on mermaids
- (poem) to go beyond: Bridget Thomasin
- of mirrors, mermaids, the past and the future
- Reeling in the Fish (the practice of writing)
- Libya: that whiff of oil...
- (poem) this being human
- (prose poem) small benedictions of finches' wings
- the purple sprouting broccoli of the bourgeoisie
- the slow singing of stones (inc. poem)
- Islands: immensity & emptiness (inc poem)
- Mull & Iona: heartlands & homelands
- ▼ April (27)