from BARDO

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.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 30 July 2012


Begin anywhere

for instance here, where from time to time you turn, and the person you were who follows you is lagging further and further behind, dwindling until you look back one last time, and that you has gone

only an exhalation on the blue of the distant hills, fainter than smoke, than evening

and in front of you is the you you haven’t yet been, stepping down off the smoky mountainside, bare feet now on thyme and turf, dust sandy between your toes, oystercatchers keening, ocean sparking light – metallic, cobalt – ahead of you beyond the white strand with its tidelines of miniature shells

thoughts stripped down to this footstep, and this other, and no absence, no presence, can take away or add to this THIS

it all happens in a second, and it all happens in a continuum, like a Mobius strip

Saturday, 28 July 2012

doing nothing; creativity; the aleph and the ox

My friends, I have been occupied – preoccupied – with three things this week. 

I've liked noticing how different it feels when it's sunny, and noticing my extreme reluctance to be indoors. 

I've enjoyed, in a rather obsessive slightly stressed way, working very intensively at my assessments of the final assignments of participants on the January to July Elements of Poetry distance learning course. 

And I've fallen in love with discovering what it feels like to try out 'il bel far niente' – this beautiful doing-nothing. I've only got up to about 15 minutes so far – but hey I really really like it. Watch this space (where if I get good at this practice il bel niente might indeed be the case). 

My favourite places for far-niente-ing: the birdsongy courtyard in the early morning with a first cup of tea; the little secluded round space, once to have become a sacred garden but now simply a lovely contained space with a fire pit and a bench, at the head of the ex-silage-pit horseshoe-shaped area where we grow our veg, the only flat bit excavated from a north-facing slope, after lunch, in the sun (FAR too many subclauses – Ed.); and the secret quarry pool, like a green eye in the woods.


So this is one of those ragbag blogs. I want to add two things here, briefly: one is the opening paragraphs of John Daido Loori's excellent book The Zen of Creativity, into which I'm dipping again.

'Creativity is our human birthright. It is an integral part of being human, as basic as walking, talking and thinking. Throughout our evolution as a species, it has sparked innovations in science, beauty in the arts, and revelation in religion. Every human life contains its seeds and is constantly manifesting it, whether we're building a sand castle, preparing Sunday dinner, painting a canvas, walking through the woods, or programming a computer.

'The creative process, like a spiritual journey, is intuitive, non-linear, and experiential. It points us toward our essential nature, which is a reflection of the boundless creativity of the universe.'


A very creative time for me in my past was the several years when I attended, as a tutor, the Poetry OtherWise summer school at Emerson College, Forest Row. Emerson was the headquarters of the Steiner movement in Britain, training teachers in this system in which the arts and spiritual practice are central.

The man whose vision created the poetry summer school is the inspiring and much-loved Paul Matthews. One of the hallmarks of an excellent teacher, in addition to their ability to inspire, is playfulness, and Paul brings this to all his work – in combination with a depth of vision and wisdom. I've had the good fortune to be in touch with him again, and he's given me permission to reproduce this excerpt – it made me smile, and it's accompanied by a beautiful and typical poem of Paul's – from a piece of his in his book Slippery Creatures, and on his website (This section comes from 'Poetry and Poetics'.)

Finding Out a Joy

As I walked out this May morning
I heard the Blackbird
calling from the wood

and there without a word
the Bluebells spread and I said
look at me you pure inquisitors

and this they did -
their mute gaze finding out a joy
I’d too long shaded from the view

and as the Blackbird
carolled in the sunlit glade
I wept for being seen through.

The Aleph

What better place to start than with the letter A. The beginning of learning and the door of heaven, is what that madman Christopher Smart called it. Its shape comes from the head of an Ox, they say, and ‘Ox’, according to my dictionary, is, 1: Any bovine animal. 2: Castrated male of the domestic species. It was Smart’s strong conviction that there is life in language, a generative power. The current view of the matter, however, would go along with the gelded version, holding that language is a domestic arrangement, an information technology which in itself is devoid of life and mystery. I suppose that ever since people began to think about language, instead of simply living inside the spell of it, a tension has existed between these two views - the magical and the rational. Perhaps the very act of thinking about words is what severs the Ox from its magic potency. That; or in encountering some untamed element of the Aleph we do indeed stand in jeopardy of  being tossed into a madness.

Weak-minded people, wrote Arthur Rimbaud, beginning by thinking about the first letter of the alphabet, would soon rush into madness. In the overweening confidence of his youth when, by his own confession, he considered himself Magus or Angel, exempt from all morality, he made that famous sonnet in which he claims that each vowel has a colour, and that the sounding of them conjures up images in the mind: A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies which buzz around cruel smells, gulfs of shadow. Following a deliberate path of poetic initiation, he battered at the conventions imposed on language by the one-eyed intellect until its vowels became for him five Halleluiahs heralding a change of consciousness. One must be deader than a fossil, he wrote, to finish a dictionary in any language...


Poem and excerpt © Paul Matthews

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

the still mind and relentless participation

TM has an admirable quality of focus in his life. There are two or three things that are very important to him and his priority is to achieve a concentrated focus in relation to them without being too distracted by other stuff.

Sometimes our styles clash. My mind is more like a trawl net. I extend it in many directions at once, fishing for rich ideas, intense experience, significant friendships. Never mind that (friendships aside!) what is sometimes caught are old boots, broken shells, half-dead fish; sometimes, just sometimes, I bring up a flock of stars (or whatever the equivalent is in the fishing world).

Sometimes I remember that fly-fishing might be more effective: choosing the right fly, the right spot, casting carefully. Sometimes I think I need to cast harder and more often, thus agitating the surface of the water and scaring all the fish away.

As a vegan, I'm not entirely comfortable with this imagery.

As a writer, I know how apt it is.

As someone interested in archetypal approaches to psychology and the life of the soul, it's hugely potent, the idea of fishing (in the waters of the unconscious).

As a meditator, it's a really useful image for me; or rather, what's useful is the image of interacting with the water and stirring it up; or choosing instead to sit quietly and watch for fish to rise and then sink again without any grabbing or pushing until finally maybe even the fish don't disturb the surface, for a little while at least. The fish – the thoughts and images and feelings thrown up by the human mind – are not, in fact, the point here.

The first part of Zazen is entirely about stilling the mind and losing our identity with 'small self'. Without this, no kind of transcendence, or the bliss of a sense of unitive rather than egoic consciousness, can occur. This is so hard, even after decades of (admittedly erratic) practice. Monkey mind rules the land; but how on earth can I start to see things as they really are when I'm running such interference in a torrent of opinions, beliefs, pre-judgements, emotional knee-jerks, attachment to this, aversion from that, thoughts about instead of immersion in What Is – etc etc.

As a human being, I am at last learning (at least in theory) the huge power of being able to cultivate the still mind.

Actually, that's not true. What is truer is that I've known that nothing effective can change without a still mind since my first encounter with a hardcore Soto Zen group in my student years. What is true now is that my psyche, and my body, can no longer cope with my endless need for 'relentless participation' (thank you Elizabeth Gilbert for crystallising what I knew but couldn't articulate so exactly as in that phrase. It's been so helpful to think 'Ah yes, here I go again – my relentless need to participate.').

For the moment I've dropped off my social media perch, and I am saying 'no' (occasionally!) where my addiction to intensity of experience, and my unconscious elision of quantity with quality, would have me 'out there', eternally seeking more. (This partly explains my scarcity of blogs lately too.)

It's always as if this experience, this idea, this person, this group, this interaction, will hold a key for me. And almost always, in fact, they do. But where to hang all the keys, where to file all the new information, and what door is it I'm looking so relentlessly to open?

How can I transmute information and input into wisdom? Quietly, I suspect, in the solitary moments when I've stopped even needing to feed my mind with words.

Withdrawal symptoms? Big time, as they say.

I have to thank Ms Gilbert too for reminding me of the Italian phrase 'il bel far niente': 'the beautiful doing-nothing'.

This morning I walk to the quarry pool in this gift of a scented sunshiny day, and I watch how the deep opaque green water simply receives, and reflects back – no effort. I watch how, over ten minutes, my mind slows down. I watch how the ripples happen, spread and dissolve with no effort from me or the pool. I notice how my heart calms to simply sit here. I don't even have to interact with it all – I can just sit here.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing
spring comes and the grass grows by itself...

ladling out clear water from the depths of the fire

(The Zenrin)

Friday, 20 July 2012

'Imago' and the cross-genre novel


Many people before me have spoken of what an odd business this writing thing is. The relationship is between you and your pen/cursor, alone in a room, locked up together (if you're in the process of A Project) 24/7 (or so it can feel). It's like a drug, or a transcendent experience, or a love affair, sometimes. At other times it resembles something dysfunctional and distinctly suspect; the kind of relationship you'd counsel your best friend to escape from.

Let's assume you suspend 'reality' long enough as to create something you're proud of (and often you don't know whether you are or not until you see it in print). If you're lucky enough as to find a publisher (and for my novel Imago this took 17 years and a great many near-misses; plus it really is like buses: after 5 fallow years I've had 3 books appear in the 12 months between May 2011 and May this year). After a day or two of not really believing it, there is a jubilation unlike almost anything except giving birth, or falling in love (perhaps that should be the other way round??). 

Then there's the underwhelm when it's actually out there, and you have no idea if anyone's reading it; plus it's a long time to the first royalty statement and a longer time again till the first royalty payment. If you were paid an advance, as I was on my first two books, both put out by relatively big players in the publishing field, it takes a year or two to offset that against royalties, especially if your work is 'minority interest'. With the smaller publishing houses, with no advances, the royalties, in my experience, are in two figures, or the low threes. In other words, it won't keep you even in the style of poverty to which you'll need to become accustomed.

And the book seems to have been swallowed into the belly of the Great Cosmic Void – this thing, this entity, you've nurtured so long simply disappears.

But now and then you get some feedback – by email, or post, or as a review. This makes it all worthwhile – if only one person enjoys it, you think to yourself, that's OK. And I've just had a lovely review, which also raises some questions about classification of fiction, and whether a publisher accepts or turns it down on such grounds; so forgive that I boastfully post it in its entirety from Shirley Wright's blog:


'Imago' and the cross-genre novel

There’s a lot of discussion at the moment around the topic of genre, or more precisely about the problem of so-called ‘cross-genre’ novels. It seems that readers love them – viz the success of, for example, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger or ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ by Mark Haddon. But agents, publishers and booksellers, so we’re told, are not so keen. How do we market this thing? What shelf does it go on?
  And writers, especially début writers, are having work turned down because it doesn’t fit neatly into someone else’s pigeonhole.
  On the other hand, before there was genre there were books. For hundreds, maybe thousands of years there have been stories, tales passed on by word of mouth. And to my mind the story is all. If you are gripped, transported, moved to tears, who gives a damn about classification? So how has it come about that the tail now wags the dog? Could it be yet another aspect of our wonderful world of commercialism gone mad?
  I’ve just finished reading ‘Imago’ by Roselle Angwin, a cross-genre novel if there ever was one: a modern-day romance morphing into historical fiction crossed with metaphysical musings, poetry, an exposé of twelfth-century religious heresy in France and esoterica.
  In her Author’s Notes, Angwin explains the difficulties she’s had, over many years, getting this book published. Thank goodness that she and Indigo Dreams Publishing eventually found one another. Thank goodness there are still publishers out there (OK, smallish publishers, independents who have the courage to stick their noses above the parapet) willing to take risks on the hard-to-categorise.
  I loved ‘Imago’. It’s absolutely the sort of book to appeal to me: a romance set in the south of France, written in a style that evokes all the colours and smells and tastes of the Languedoc (and in so doing, testifies to the author’s credentials as a poet). But ‘Imago’ also makes you think, makes you question, because it’s unafraid to tackle the eternal themes: life, death, the soul, reincarnation. The reader is required to pay attention, engage the brain and join the debate. 
  So if you like grown-up books, I think you’ll like this one. And you can thumb your nose at the tyranny of big-time narrow-minded publishing.

Shirley Wright

Big thanks, Shirley.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

southwest coastpath day 1

Hang on, something's not quite right. We've parked up a back street and we've shouldered our packs and something seems out of kilter. Ah yes! Contrary to the patterns of most days of the last two months, plus the weather forecast, the day is dry, nearly. So far. Oh – spoken too soon – here comes some northwesterly mizzle, though it's light and almost refreshing in the July mugginess.

The Sid has clearly burst its banks probably a few times lately though, judging by the devastation in bordering gardens and the huge quantities of shingly pebbles and gravel silting up the channels, presumably washed down from higher up.

There are the clothes shop ('I want I need' – no really that was the name of one), the shoe shops, the tacky tourist shops and the shabbily genteel villas. When my Italian husband-to-be and I first came back to England from the High Pyrenees, where we'd met, I worked in a greengrocers' here to pay the rent on a beautiful old house in a nearby village that we shared with a handful of other friends of mine, musicians, from university days until I couldn't stand it any longer (working in the shop. My fiancé couldn't stand it either; being Italian – and a non-English speaker at that stage – he considered it an affront to his male dignity that I was the breadwinner. He ended up not being able to stand my musician friends, either, in the end; and after they'd not contributed to the earnings of the household for too long he threw them and their gear out. But that's all a different story; as is the fact that the owner of the house was in jail. And too the story of that one wintry lunchbreak, as I sat with my sandwich on the shingly beach in my long green cloak – this was pre The French Lieutenant's Woman, by the way – when a red setter dog mistook me for a groyne – is that the word?? – a wooden post, anyway, and peed on my back...)

Now, here, Wednesday July 11th 2012: one last cup of coffee, etc, and we're standing (after attempting one of TM's 'shortcuts' that turns out to be a cul-de-sac) at the foot of the steep ascent up from the seafront.

This is an 'easy' day in terms of miles to be covered – maybe 10 or 12, according to the book. Anyone who knows the coastpath, though, knows that 10 or 12 on the 'severe' sections is not a mere stroll along the promenade.

I think of myself as fit. I walk every day, I dance, I do yoga. I also know the sections we're walking; and unfortunately I know that despite the apparently minimal gain in horizontality there will be vast gains in verticality, via four really quite strenuous sharp steep ascents (though not as in, say, The Himalayas, admittedly).

Plus there's the stress and exhaustion of the last 6 years of serious and relentless family troubles and losses – it feels like having a major car crash, emotionally speaking, every 2 or 3 months – coupled with the ongoing stress and exhaustion of being single parent and sole breadwinner working very long hours in a creative field for most of my adult life – all this means that I look up, and look down again very rapidly. I'd quite like to find a snug hollow on the shingle under the cliffs and go to sleep. (This latter seems to be my major preoccupation these days – not that I achieve much of it, that sleeping thing. I'm told it's good for you.)

Then there's Walking Style. In my experience, a man and a woman rarely walk at the same pace or speed.

My style: 'Hello clouds, hello sky! Oooh a wild strawberry. Now, is that a thrush's song or a blackbird's? Ahh the pattern those leaves throw on the track! And look – the barley's greening up, a gold blush on it... Oh, listen to the lark... Hang on, if I were to describe that in words in a non-clichéd way, the thread of larksong tumbling to earth, how would I describe it? How might I paint larksong?' Sometimes, just sometimes, I use a walk as meditation, which means moving really almost impossibly slowly, as one does on a Zen retreat in 'kinhin' (various spellings of this I think). And then there are the times when I need to give the dog a 45 minute walk in 20 minutes, because I've spent too long dreaming; in those times I can be very brisk indeed. For a Cornish shortarse.

TM's style: focused, muscular, incisive, head-down very fast route march. (I am certain that in a previous life he was a Roman ?centurion? – whoever it was who led battalions, or whatever they were, to my Brythonic goosegirl.) (I don't mean he led battalions to me, by the way. I mean 'in comparison with'.) Everything is a challenge and a battle to be won. He RUNS up the hills, while I'm still catching my breath 20 yards up at a slow walk.

So I know that 'walking the coastpath together' will mean that TM will stride ahead to the next bend, then wait for me, then when I catch up stride ahead to the next one. We will deal with this with a mix of impatient frustration and kind patience.

I stop to look at the amazing colours – terracotta, burnt sienna, brick, ochre – in the compacted sandstone soil at the base of the hill; I've used pigment from these cliffs before in paintings. I look up and TM has of course disappeared.

The ascent zigzags steeply upwards.

Elderflower agrimony stitchwort campion sycamore.

One step, then the next...

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

a part of, not apart

'A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.'

~ Albert Einstein

Monday, 16 July 2012

time's backstitch

Backstitch is one of those stitches where the action takes place under the surface. For each stitch that you take on the surface of the fabric – and which is a stitch back the way you came – two happen forwards, invisibly, on the reverse of the fabric to jump ahead. What this means is that each time you want to move forwards you actually appear to be going backwards, but at least it's only one stitch back to every two forwards. (I suppose that at least it reverses the Sod's Law theory.) Nonetheless it's an odd thing to be going back to the place you started the previous stitch.

Can I apply this metaphor to our passage through time? Seems to me something like this happens periodically, when time seems to loop back on itself. Thanks to relativity and quantum mechanics we know that time probably doesn't just unfold in a neat linear forward motion; that's just our way of measuring things conveniently from the so-called past to the projected future.

In other words, there are the great cycles of time in history where history itself, as they say, repeats itself. On our own human-sized microcosmic scales, in our little individual lives, we experience this too.

It's relatively easily explained psychologically on the individual plane: simplistically speaking, we tend to draw to ourselves, or be drawn to, at a subconscious level, others who and situations which exhibit patterns with which we are already familiar, patterns that find their match, their resonance, in our own psyche.

According to this thesis, this is why we find ourselves, in our relationships, up against the same patterns, the same issues, the same problems, over and over, even with, say, a new and quite different (apparently) partner – until we have confronted and tackled the root problem. (This may also explain the sense of familiarity we have on occasion when meeting a stranger whom we experience as being significant in some way to our lives; sometimes we fall in love with that stranger. I know this isn't a romantic view; and there is also the notion that our souls might reincarnate within a soul-group, with some of the same 'others' as before, so the sense of familiarity may in fact be an actual recognition. But that's not what I'm writing about here.)

Sometimes this sense of history repeating is not so easily explained.

In the summer of 2008, TM and I, fairly newly partnered, were doing a long-distance walk along the ancient Ridgeway, a prehistoric Wessex track, over three days and four nights, camping as we went, to arrive at Avebury. Early on the morning we finished, I had a panic phone call from my daughter to say that her little horse had been fatally injured. Cirrus was a stunning and gorgeous pony whom we'd bred – our first and only foal – from my daughter's little outgrown white mare (we keep our animals for the span of their lives, so the mare had been retired).

Cirrus was perhaps the biggest and most loved 'project' in my daughter's life; 13 now (ie still fairly young, in horse terms), he was being trained to pull in logs, as well as allowing E to ride the wildish reaches of Dartmoor. We'd handled him from day one, and 'training' involved only kindness, and explanations using body-language coupled with words to evolve a system of co-operation. (We don't ever use any kind of coercion on animals in our family.)

After this phone call there followed a period of very intense nursing using every available means of allopathic and complementary treatment; my daughter mortgaged herself to the hilt, as they say, and also practically lived in the makeshift stable, in which, in addition to everything else, she'd installed a CD player for soothing Bach to be played at a low level all the time.

Although for quite a time he seemed to rally, there came a time in mid-July when it was obvious he wouldn't make it. I've written about this elsewhere ('And Remember') in my new poetry collection All the Missing Names of Love, so I'll spare you the detail. Suffice it to say that my daughter dealt with his dying, his death and his burial with enormous grace, love and dignity. A rite-of-passage.

(Since then, there have been a number of other family bereavements – we as a micro-collective have been dealing with a lot of loss and death now since 2006, so this seems to be a particularly dense period in our personal family history.)

But how to explain this? Last week's three days' walking on the coastpath, four nights away, with TM – the first time we've done a long-distance hike carrying our gear since the one in 2008 with its grief-stricken ending. The morning after the last night, last Saturday, early, almost to the day of Cirrus' death, there's a phone call from my daughter to say that Cirrus' mother, said little white mare who'd shared our lives for nearly 25 years, was suddenly, inexplicably and critically ill, and that she (my daughter) had spent the night on her own in the field in the rain trying to keep the pony warm; and then another call to say the pony hadn't made it.

Déja vu as I walk across the field to find my daughter later that same day; déja vu as I see her beautiful tired sad face.

Monday, 9 July 2012

a word full of secrets

In an old copy of 'Resurgence' I've just refound an article by Michael Ventura on writing, 'A Room to Write'. In the article he points out that the one outstanding commitment one makes to this process is the commitment to showing up at your writing desk (whether that's a café, your van or the kitchen table) and staying there for as long as it takes. 'Writing is something you do alone in a room,' he states. 'It's the most important thing to remember if you really want to be a writer...How many years––how many years––can you remain alone in a room?'

He's not, of course, by a long way the first to state this obvious but hard-to-achieve truth. All writers and writing tutors say it. 'Your talent of the room, your ability to be there with all your soul, can overwhelm you,' he continues. Yep – there is something crazy about this process, about the fact that our life here at the desk, with the creations of our imagination, becomes so real to us – sometimes so real that other things can recede into the unreal.

'The psyche is dangerous,' says Ventura. 'Working with words is not like working with colour or sound or stone or movement. Colour and sound and stone and movement are all around us; they are natural elements, they've always been in the universe, and those who work with them are servants of these timeless materials. But words are pure creations of the human psyche. Every single word is full of secrets, full of associations. Every word leads to another and another and another, down and down, through passages of dark and light. Every single word leads, in this way, to the same destination: your soul. Which is, in part, the soul of everyone. Every word has the capacity to start that journey. And once you're on it, there is no knowing what will happen.'

Sunday, 8 July 2012

eco-writing retreat in France part 11

I've a problem with blogger at the moment, which for reasons of its own (probably to do with the google empire) has decided not to support Firefox any more as a browser. I work on an old Mac that doesn't support blogger's browser of choice, Google Chrome. Sigh. Gnash teeth. Etc.

The upshot is that I wasn't able to either post the details of the eco-writing retreat nor add or delete anything after Firefox crashed. So below, in a minute, is the info I promised on my last post.

Before that, I wanted to add to my list in that post poet Kathleen Jamie (and there are many others).

First, some words of Gary Snyder's:

'How can ... writers manage to join in the defence of the planet and wild nature? Writers and artists by their very work 'bear witness'. They don't wield financial, governmental or military power. However, [they are] given, as in fairy tales, two 'magic gifts': one is the "Mirror of Truth". Whatever they hold this mirror up to is shown in its actual form, and the truth must come out. The second is a "Heart of Compassion", which is to say the ability to feel and know the pains and delights of other people, and to weave that feeling into their art. For some, this compassion can extend to all creatures and to the world itself. In a way nature even borrows the voices of some writers and artists...' who find themselves, like the shaman of ancient and some present indigenous and other communities, 'spokespeople for non-human entities communicating to the human realm on behalf of nature in the old way'.

So on this retreat we'll be looking for ways of speaking of and for the non-human world.

This is what the blurb on the flier says (there's more information on the Gardoussel website, as in 'abri' etc below; plus Sharon is extremely helpful about travel details and the like):

1-8 September 2012

Set in the lush Cévennes mountains of the Languedoc region, Abri Creative Writing is delighted to welcome Roselle Angwin for a week of writing and inspiration in a magical, unspoilt setting just 1½ hours from Nîmes and Montpellier.

Come and enjoy late summer sun, and writing… This retreat will focus on exploring and deepening our relationship to the natural world through our own writing and that of ‘nature writers’, in both poetry and prose. We’ll inspire this through being outdoors, quiet walking, reading/talking and writing via a number of exercises and suggested starting points. There’ll be time to ‘stand and stare’, and lie and gaze at the sky, as well as swim in the waterfall pool. We'll explore the art of paying deep attention with our hearts, senses and imagination, during time spent together and alone.

The course costs £595, which includes accommodation in a single room, all meals and tuition. Meals are delicious, vegetarian and organic. Swimming and massages available. Non-writing partners welcome.
email: sharonblack1969[at]
tel: + 33 466 60 16 78

2013: This is a previous course. The next retreat that I'm leading at Gardoussel is late August into early September 2013. Although the focus this time is not eco-writing specifically, a great deal of our attention and time will be spent out in and writing in relation to the natural world. See

eco-writing retreat in France (& see next post)

This refers to the first course I led at this venue. The content of the ongoing course, Writing the Bright Moment, can be seen here.

In 2015, I'm offering, in addition to the Writing the Bright Moment course at the end of August, a weeklong residential THE WILD WAYS: ecopsychology & the new nature-writing in the same venue (4–11 September). See:


One of the things I'm most passionate about, in both my own life and the courses I lead, is exploring what it might mean for us as a species to live in this world as an integral and essential part of the web of life in a less dominant, greedy and separate way than our current model encourages. How can we experience ourselves as 'part of' rather than 'apart'? What would it mean to live within our means, to experience an 'us-ness' rather than a 'me against you, against nature'-ness? How would it be if we stopped seeing the natural world as a resource and playground for our appetites, and instead a whole and interconnected ecosphere in which every single part has a part to play, and counts? How about our experience of ourselves as more than domesticated; experience too of our wilder connected nature?

One of the most poignant phrases I know is a quote from Jungian James Hillman, and I'm sure I've mentioned it here before, probably more than once (and possibly more recently than I care to remember!): 'Because of our neglect, the world is strewn with unrelated objects.'

So one of my informing visions is finding ways to put the fragments back together. To this end, many of my courses and workshops emphasise re-visioning, making conscious, imagining, as well as noticing our relationship with the natural world and the many many 'others' with whom we share this planet.

I like to work outside and to use various means, such as mindfulness and deep immersion in the land and our experience of it, and also story and poetry, even movement and artwork or music, to effect the minute shifts in consciousness that lead to a wholer sense of being all in this together, human, wind, rain, seasons, rock, water, horse, dog, gnat, fern, oak tree, mouse, badger... and so on. We're looking for connections, for associations, for signs of and experiences in relation to interbeing; to wholeness, and finding ways to speak about it.

And, of course, we use writing.

Looking at 'nature writing' from the last 20 or 30 years I notice a subtle change in the way we speak and write of the natural world. This fills me with hope. We are no longer, collectively, writing about 'nature' and 'the land' as something 'out there', separate and distinct, to be written about objectively and even analytically; but increasingly we are writing as if we, other species, and the land itself, to use Henry Beston's word, are 'brethren'. Writers like Gary Snyder, Rick Bass, Terry Tempest Williams, Jay Griffiths, Robert MacFarlane and many others are writing 'from the inside of the web'.

So in the interests of nature writing, in September, I'm thrilled to be going back to the Languedoc, one of the most inspiring areas I know, and in which my timeslip novel Imago is partly set. I shall be leading an eco-writing retreat in late summer sun at the beautiful Gardoussel retreat centre in the Cevennes run by my friend Sharon and her partner Alex. We will be spending much of that time outdoors; experiencing, imagining.

It'll be a small and friendly group, and you're welcome whatever your level of writing experience; come and share your own ideas and passions and writing contributions...

The blurb's in the next post, in case I can tempt you!

You can see more about the venue here

Friday, 6 July 2012

the sign of cancer

'There is never enough darkness to extinguish a single candle.'


Hello again – from among the torrents, and, despite the vagaries of my very old Mac and Google, which seem to be a little at odds with each other, a few words!

We had one whole day of sun here yesterday – or if not sun, at least a little brightness: I could at least see the white disc. A being-outside day after weeks of rain. Bliss to wander up into the orchard, and to sit outside with the dog and a book and lunch with the bees (and the hornets) and the bluetits foraging in the cranesbill around us. And now again flood warnings in place.

And in this torrential rain, my sister's been walking the southwest coastpath, as she does, for her job (even with the rain it must still be the best job in the world!); and my friends Francis and Steve have set out from Land's End in Cornwall, at the far west of GB, to cycle the hundreds of miles to John O'Groats for various children's charities, weather or no. (Among them the Chernobyl children's charity, and also Ocean Stars; should you feel inclined to sponsor them this is the link: <>)

I have been thinking about the astrological sign of Cancer, which rules this month that begins with the summer solstice – an apparent anomaly, Cancer being a water sign (OK not so much of an anomaly this particular summer), and quite 'inward' in its focus, at a time when the year is burgeoning, in the northern hemisphere, in theory, at least, with the sun at its zenith and all manner of extraverted fecundity, heat and light.

But there is a connection, esoterically speaking, between Cancer, water and light, so maybe it's not such a surprise that Cancer rules the period beginning with the longest day, here in the northern hemisphere.

There is also a connection between Cancer and the notion of 'home' – home and family, astrologically the matter of the fourth house, are central to a Cancer sun-sign person. According to traditional interpretations, people born under the constellation of Cancer are supposed to be emotionally heavily armoured, like the crab, to protect their soft and sensitive interiors. Esoterically, though, perhaps the body-armour of the crab is rather, in the human, the cloak of the etheric body or aura, the 'light-body', which is drawn around one to protect the small flame within; and maybe one of the gifts of Cancer people is the sense of taking the small flame of home with them and guarding it, no matter where they are; tending it through the turbulence of the seas on which we all travel, setting our sails towards – something; something bigger than we have left, something which seems to us to be the light to which our small candle properly belongs.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

five guidelines for mindful loving

We know there may be no ultimate irrefutable answers to the big questions to which we as humans have access. We know too that in some ways the process of questioning itself is the answer – the willingness to be uncertain, to take nothing for granted, to be open to possibility,  and to journey (ie to change).

One of the Big Questions, of course, is to do with LOVE: what it is, what it means, how to do it better. Don't we all want to be clearer? Don't we all feel we should have been born with a map to the territory of the human heart, and the right eyes to read it and mind to apply it at all times? And definitely with a roadmap with detailed topography in relation to our Significant Other/s? Don't we sense that there must be some consensus of wisdom from those humans who've spent their lives up that mountain, staring love, its psychology and its ways in the face?

Increasingly I am feeling that the truth is probably more accessible than we like to think; it's the fear of the possible cost that puts us off. I also sense that the guidelines for a well-lived integrated life, and a healthy relationship, may truly be a great deal less elaborate than we feel they are.

So when I stumbled across this, I thought the five guidelines were succinct and possibly useful. I'm not sure they're unique or particularly profound; but that doesn't mean they're easy to put into practice, of course.

Various thinkers have pointed out that love is not some blissful state into which we stumble or fall, but an active verb. This guy's take is similar.

'Most people think of love as a feeling,' says David Richo, 'but love is not so much a feeling as a way of being present.' In this book, Richo offers a perspective on love and relationship that focuses not on finding an ideal mate, but on becoming a more loving and realistic person. Drawing on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, How to Be an Adult in Relationships explores five hallmarks of mindful loving and how they play a key role in our relationships throughout life:

   1.  Attention to the present moment; observing, listening, and noticing all the feelings at play in our relationships.
   2.  Acceptance of ourselves and others just as we are.
   3.  Appreciation of all our gifts, our limits, our longings, and our poignant human predicament.
   4.  Affection shown through holding and touching in respectful ways.
   5.  Allowing life and love to be just as they are, with all their ecstasy and ache, without trying to take control.

And I see in another of his books that he also uses the motif of the Hero's Journey as a model for growth and transformation towards individuation and integration, as do I in my book Riding the Dragon (mentioned here before). In case I can tempt you, I will be working later this year – finally – to create a course programme based on the 8 stages of development and growth as mirrored in myth, as I see them.

Monday, 2 July 2012

a palmful of rain

Rain. July so far as wet as June. In the courtyard a family of bluetits flits through the seeding cranesbill twitteringly, like a handful of seedheads themselves. I park by the little churchyard with its old wooden gate, lichen-bearded. They've taken the two condemned but as far as I could see perfectly healthy young trees, and the meadow is marked by two absences. Behind, in the cemetery, in rain, beneath reprieved trees, someone is hunched on a bench in front of the graves. I can see even from here how he's brushing water from his face. With a now-familiar shock I remember yet again that my mother is dead

     I tilt my face to the rain, hold up my palms, think about absence, about washing-away. And then the dance. T makes the shapes of tai chi. J smiles serenely. A is a mad monk then a Sufi dervish. I forget death, absence, illness, stress – I forget who I am in the dance. There is a moment when the music and my body slip me, whoever 'me' is, through a narrow keyhole into ecstasy. Time starts to slide and I'm back on the blue heights of Treshnish, above the white crescent of Traigh Calgaraidh, wind roaring at my ears until all thought is washed out and the wind is me and I am the wind

and again there is only the dance

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