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

Saturday, 28 December 2013

grief and gratitude

The moor in winter has a dark and commanding grandeur that is entirely missed by the summer trippers; winter suits it. It feels bigger, somehow, and more feral. I’m always amazed, too, how when you look, even though the amethyst of the autumn heathers has gone, its apparent sere uniformity is in fact a subtly dramatic palette of ochres, fox-reds and rusts, acid greens and peat blacks, linked by the white rush of one of the leats or brooks. Sometimes, in winter, coming out early into weak sun, a whole hillside will be winking  – sheets or ragged patches of ice where bogs sit, or where rills have left gloops of themselves as pendula, ice chandeliers, at their margins.

Winter is a time for the buzzards and kestrels and sparrowhawks; sometimes a peregrine or merlin speeds across your vision. Single ravens cronk from the tops of tors, and the foxes come down lower to hunt or scavenge, appearing even in daylight in the lower fields or on the shoulders of the tors.

So it's no hardship to travel across it, as I have done so many times since I moved in with TM this southern side of the moor nearly five years ago. The road I choose to take is one of the most beautiful in the universe, and every moment, every day, every mile is different, with fast-moving weather fronts gathered here on the hills between coast and coast, though there are also constants.

Sometimes I catch a glimpse, a silver smear, of sea in the distance. Sometimes the hills and tors of Bodmin Moor are visible as blue silhouettes. Sometimes a canny mist sits just feet above the road and it's impossible to know where you are unless you know each kink in the road as well as I do.

Always, always, it blows my heart open – which means I can bring more of myself to the heartfulness needed to deal with my grief about my mum's death two years ago, restimulated each time I drive from Ashburton to Tavistock, two of the bigger moorland towns near our individual hamlet/village respectively, by the memory of travelling across the moor most days to see her in her last few weeks, the double-edged-ness of gratitude for being able to see her, and knowing she was slipping away – as of course she had been with Alzheimer's over the previous few years. I had a very warm easy relationship with my mum, and I don't know if my sense that one never gets over the death of one's mother, not really, is because of that or if it's a general experience. I have of course learned to live with it, and I know that accepting death is also part of saying YES to life.

This all has another edge now that I travel to see my dad only, and to let myself absorb the pain of his stroke-induced dementia, the enormous unusual polyglot/polymath intelligence dampened, though still sparkling in a smile, or a self-parodying grimace, from time to time – adding extra poignancy as well as allowing us all to laugh.

Despair, sadness, grief – all just the other side of the coin that allows us to feel joy, hope, love. May I keep saying YES.

I'd so much rather this than numbing the feeling response to life. I think of this when I read Joanna Macy's quote in my inbox this morning: 'The suppression of despair, like that of any deep recurring response, contributes to the numbing of the psyche. . . Of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to permanent war, none is so great as this deadening of our response.'

May my feeling response to the world never be deadened, but may I not be dragged hither and thither by transient minor emotions either. I wish that for me for 2014; and for you too. And for the wisdom to know how to hold it all lightly, too...


  1. How is it your blog posts always match what I'm thinking?? This time of year, when everything else stops, I always lurch between joy and despair. Love the Joanna Macy quote - I'm only just discovering how liberating it is to acknowledge/allow painful feelings.

  2. Belinda - thank you. It's a strange time, isn't it, between Christmas and New Year, when there's a hiatus and we secretly suspect that Others, Elsewhere, are having fun, and we should be too - but also at this time all the things that we hold at bay most of the year can rush in. I'm with Rumi: invite them all in to the guest house of the soul... :-). There's no problem unless we start to identify 'me' with any one of them... Love to you. Rx

  3. So interesting, this numbing of feelings. Years ago I succumbed to anti-depressants at a highly anxious time. At first they calmed me to a strange, rather foreign, serenity and helped me to function better until I realised one day that I couldn't stand the monotony of all the affective blandness. Then I knew I was better, preferring the old see-saw of myself and able at last to accept it, stand back and live with it (though it took years and I'm still not there yet!) Medication seems anathema since then. Now, I welcome these mood changes, am reassured by them and they make me feel human, which isn't to say they're easier to bear, by any means.
    Roselle, I do empathise with your feelings of mother-loss. Mine went 12.5 years ago and I mourn her gradual fading in my mind, overshadowed by Dad's more recent (2.5 years) death. But we never stop dreaming about them, I think, and maybe they don't actually fade, but simply ease out of view temporarily.
    It is a strange time this, I agree – no matter your creed or philosophy. The blank page of January beckons – let's hope it brings some renewed creativity for us all. Thanks again for making this online community possible (first coffee just drunk whilst reading this latest – and I do love your painterly description of Dartmoor). With love, Miriam.

  4. PS (Miriam again): Just wondered if you'd seen yesterday's Guardian article by Philip Hoare (p54, broadsheet, Comment&Debate)? Touches on what you say including poignant image of a starling.

  5. Miriam, thank you - first time in many many years I've actually stayed in bed as feeling too ill to do anything else :-(. So we didn't get the Sat paper Guardian as we usually do, but I'll see if Hoare is available online (TM only reads the online version so may have seen it). Thanks for the alert. Back to bed now! Rx

  6. Thank you for your honest blogs during the year. I hope you soon feel well enough to get out of bed though at times it's the place to be.


  7. Marg, thank you for your companionship and kind comments. It means more to me than you might know to know that you're reading these. Hope 2014 brings you all you could wish for - and much creativity. Rx

  8. Miriam, I loved the Hoare. Thank you for drawing my attention to it. Rx


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