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

Friday, 28 June 2013

wind ravelling through the mind: soul, Plotkin and Monbiot

My favourite writers seem to work at that intersection of human and place. It's as if there's a node here that's like a little tidal rip, or petrol trail, marked by a sort of human response that spells a psychic extra-aliveness aligned, in my experience, with the ferment of creativity and visionary possibility. 

Bill Plotkin describes place, a personal relationship to a specific place, as being a way to understand soul. Plotkin's one of my very favourite writers, and his book Nature and the Human Soul a key text for me (yes, it's in that ever-expanding list of my Top Ten books, and one of a handful that I feel should be mandatory reading in secondary education, along with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Brian Clarke's The Stream, James Hollis' The Eden Project [no, not about Tim Smit's garden], Robert Johnson's The Psychology of Romantic Love, Robert Bly's Iron John, Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Women Who Run with the Wolves, and a couple of others). 

Plotkin's book maps out the journey of individuation, from the narcissism of the undeveloped ego to the generous expansive wisdom of someone whose orientation is no longer confined to 'me and mine', in a particularly rich and comprehensive, and at times very moving, way.

I've just come across this small piece of his in my 2011/2012 journal:

'Given that the human soul is the very core of our human nature, we might note that, when we are guided by soul, we are guided by nature. Both soul and greater nature do guide us in our individual development, whether or not we ask for this guidance. But if we know how to listen, we can benefit much more. Living in an adolescent culture' [he defines Western materialistic culture in this way] 'does not banish us from soulcentric development. The assistance of nature and soul is always and everywhere available. In our own society, a large minority of people develop soulcentrically despite the cultural obstacles. The soul faithfully comes to our aid through dreams, deep emotion, love, the quiet voice of guidance, synchronicities, revelations, hunches, and visions, and at times through illness, nightmares, and terrors. 

'Nature, too, supports our personal blossoming (if we have any quiet exposure to her) through her spontaneities, through her beauty, power, and mirroring, through her dazzling variety of species and habitats, and by way of the wind, Moon, Sun, stars, and galaxies.'  

I'm only partway through it, but already Feral, by George Monbiot, is edging towards being a list-book too (and TM, having read it, has now agreed to what I've been badgering for for years: leaving the grass between woodland margin, orchard and veg plot as meadow, not lawn – George, you're a star). If you know Monbiot's Guardian columns you'll know his passion, his clarity and his commitment, as well as the quality of his writing. You might not realise how deeply poetic he also is, though. Nonetheless, he probably wouldn't like to speak overtly of the soul, and I suspect that he wouldn't want to confine his incisive dedication to a political vision to any kind of soulcentric label.

What I'm interested in in the similarities and contrasts between the two of them, though, is that they each present a vision which is broadly ecocentric, and includes the concept of rewilding – something I've also always felt very keenly, and which I've always considered has to be a twofold process: reclaiming our own inner wilderness so that we can lift some of the controls we impose, often brutally, often by exiling, whether through ignorance, fear or greed, on the outer. 

And yet if we allow that our soul is intimately bound up with place, our place, in both senses, in the 'outer' world of nature, it's almost impossible (or at least it makes no sense) to speak of soul, place and nature as distinct and separate entities. 

And here's Monbiot speaking on place which, as you'll see, is both a particular spot (at the time, and often, in his case, in his kayak in Cardigan Bay off the Welsh coast, fishing,) and a state of being that I'd call soul-centred:

'Every time I go to sea I seek this place, a place in which I find a kind of peace I have never found on land. Others discover it on mountains, in deserts or by the methodical clearing of their minds through meditation. But my place was here; a here that was always different but always felt the same; a here that seemed to move further back from the shore with every journey. The salt was encrusted on the back of my hands, my fingers were scored and shrivelled. The wind ravelled through my mind, the water rocked me. Nothing existed except the sea, the birds, the breeze. My mind blew empty.'

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

a diversion, and the dusky coastpath

To divert my attention from the fact that I might just have wiped – what, 15 years' worth of emails and email addresses in relation to my work? as well as my whole email programme – while Microsoft for Mac is having a wee exploration of cyberspace on my behalf, I'm determinedly going to think about something else. (But if you haven't heard from me when you were expecting to, right now I have no answer as to what to do instead.)


One of the things about having been ill is that I've had to learn how to challenge almost all of my lifelong habits. Specifically, the one that in the end brought me down was my addiction to intensity of experience, both 'out there' and 'in here', coupled with my need to be forever engaged, one way or another – whether with ideas or people or communication or work or campaigns and worthy causes – and simply just doing stuff.

What this led to was an inability to recognise my limits – that I had any, even – and, more, acting and living like an extravert when actually I'm an introvert, and an extremely sensitive and easily-over-stimulated one at that. I burnt out, and my heart has been telling me that in firm terms – times when the simplest exertion would make my whole body shake from the pressure on my heart (and I mean eg just getting out of bed).

Thankfully, due to acupuncture, rest, taking notice of my dreams (I mean nocturnal messages from the psyche kind of dreams, though the other ones count too!) and medicinal herbs, that hasn't happened for 3 weeks now.

It is, of course, a continuing process to undo these habits. And I'm making progress.

Rest is a new habit. I who fear boredom find I love it. An hour in my hammock in the sun on occasion takes some beating. My heart is now slow and steady.

I've kept exercising; after all She Who Wears Her Grey Matter On The Outside still needs her twice-daily walks, but a mile or two has mostly been all I can manage the last little while.

The best thing is that the other night I did a not-inconsequential walk of around 11 up-and-down miles, very fast (I'm naturally a kind of shortarse Sunday-stroller, enjoying looking and smelling and listening, while TM and his very tall son who's with us at the moment do the Roman-soldier route-march thing), on the Southwest Coastpath. OK, it's true that 3 or 4 years ago TM and I walked a 'severe' section of the coastpath from Sidmouth to Lyme Regis in a day, carrying packs; that must be about 22 or 23 miles; but since last autumn that's been inconceivable to me; I've just felt too weak.

But it was a beautiful evening, just past the solstice, and we stopped at the pub in Hope Cove partway (there's a diversion on the Bantham to Hope Cove section due to landslips; it adds a mile or three to the there-and-return journey).

Microsoft for Mac is whirring away still behind this window. For light relief for us all, here are some pics. Keep your fingers crossed for me that technology won't scribble me out so that I have to Get A Proper Job.*

 Near Thurlestone

 Stonechat - photographed at a great distance!

 One of them thar umbellifer-family thingy-things...

 Viper's bugloss, one of the echium family, related to borage – all great for bees. I associate them with the wonderful ecosystem that is Braunton Burrows behind Saunton Beach, my childhood wilderness, a(n) SSSI. Got a poem about it (really about the invasion of Iraq) but I'll spare you that this time.

 Rushes in the nature reserve at South Milton

 The lovely candystripe convolvulus – so prolific in the Devon lanes of my childhood

There were eight of these little things cheeping and flipping and diving on their own, unparented. I'm guessing they're baby shelducks

 Mmm. Oh to be here with a fire and a tent...

...and towards Burgh Island, the Yealm estuary and Rame Head

* Hooray! I can at least access my email programme now, two hours later.

Monday, 24 June 2013

...for today...

'We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions and ideas.'
~ Alan Watts

Sunday, 23 June 2013

pro-Palestine, pro-Israel – and pro-peace

Rami is an Israeli; an articulate, loving man whose 14-year-old daughter was killed when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up alongside a group of teenage girls. Bassam is an intensely passionate Palestinian; also a devoted father. His 10-year-old daughter was killed by a soldier in the Israeli Defence Force.

How one survives the loss of a child is unimaginable to me. Of course these men's lives as they knew them were destroyed, in one way, forever. Both of them have good reason to hate the other and all they stand for.

Instead, they've dedicated their lives to speaking up for peace; Rami by going into Israeli schools and speaking of the urgent necessity of learning to walk in another's shoes and to replace hate with empathy; Bassam by speaking to friends in Palestine who consider themselves to be freedom fighters and terrorists. Bassam has recently come to England to study for a Masters in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at Bradford. They are members of a group called Combatants for Peace, consisting in the main of ex-fighters on both sides of the conflict who have come together to heal the divide in a different and inspiring way, but also of laypeople who know that the way forward cannot come about through violence.

These two extraordinary advocates for peace are the central subjects of a very moving documentary where we follow their deeply loving engagement with each other in the cause of solidarity and unity. Last night the film-maker, Shelley Hermon, and an Israeli man who is touring with the film (usually they're accompanied by at least one Palestinian, too) spoke to us, after the showing of 'within the eye of the storm', of the message and its importance.

The central message, articulated by Rami in the film, is 'There can be no security for Israel without freedom for Palestinians, and there can be no freedom for Palestinians without security for Israel.' We cannot simply be pro-Israeli or even pro-Palestinian; what we need to be is pro-peace, they argue. While everyone agrees that the Occupation has to end, all parties involved in CFP are convinced that the only way through is through dialogue and transforming our attitudes to those who are Other, different.

CFP is doing its best to spread the message and the film ( (They also need donations, and are completely transparent about how the money is spent.) If you feel you could offer to host, organise or suggest a venue where the film might be shown, buy a copy of the DVD or get in touch with Shelley[at]firefly-pictures[dot]com.


Rami's wife, an academic, gave a memorable speech in Tel Aviv on the 45th anniversary of the 1967 war. This is a small excerpt, found here:

'The time has come when we must join our neighbours all over the Middle East, to sing the praises of the true rebellion, to declare the opening of the borders and the breaking of the barriers, to break down the doors of the prisons, to return the olives and the vineyards to their owners, to return the Children of Palestine to their borders and their land and to try to recover what was lost and trampled under the hobnailed boots of the fat bullies. Only then, if the true children of this country will permit us to learn how to live in it, we too may be able to liberate ourselves from the Occupation and be free from fear, because as Menachem Begin said: “The essence of freedom is freedom from fear, because fear is no less terrible a ruler for its being concealed. ”'

Saturday, 22 June 2013

pea beans, peacocks and books

Well, we had the sun – all blue day of it, hot and hammock-beckoning. Then we had thunder and the sky turned on its hydrants, and now we have a milky mist holding us in the palm of its hand, swallowing the moorland tor I catch a glimpse of from the high lane. And already we're past the solstice and the longest day.

The plants in the various bits of garden have almost doubled in size, visibly, in 36 hours. The new bee and herb garden is just on the cusp of flowering; I understand how Wallace Stevens felt when he spoke of being undecided which he preferred: the blackbird’s song, or the moment just after it. Here, though, it’s the anticipation or the actuality which is in question. Same uncertainty. I love these borderland moments.

Speaking of bees, there are plenty of solitary bumble bees around, thank goodness, appreciating the lavenders, rosemary, purple sage flowers, and blue cranesbill, the marigolds and stocks. However, I’ve seen almost no butterflies even out here in the unsprayed rural meadows and green lanes, and even fewer honeybees. If Mr Paterson has his way, the neonicotinoids, the pesticide undoubtedly at least in part responsible for bee decline, will continue to be sprayed on our crops and coat our seeds, GMO crops will be the way forward, and there’ll be no badgers left in the English countryside. (Thank goodness Scotland, Wales and Ireland don’t have to fall in on the latter, at least.)

At last the veg garden – if not exactly abundant – is showing signs that we might after all have something to eat this year: the early potatoes, the wonderfully tasty Colleens that we discovered last year, have flowered and we’ll be digging them at the weekend. My row of rocket is now harvestable, and the rainbow chard, static for so many weeks (months) have sent up fat fleshy new leaves.

The beans are a different story, though; very low germination rates this year. One neckar-king plant. One soissons. One borlotti. However, the cobra, new to us, and our only picking-green French bean if the neckar doesn’t get a move on, has filled its row beautifully. The cannellini, like the others above part of our winter harvest for freezing, has done OK. Yet again, though, third year running, the star of the legume bed is the pea bean. Despite being planted weeks behind the others it’s caught up, and I think now we’ll fill in the many gaps with more of these. It’s a pretty bean – once, as a child, I found at Loe Bar on the Lizard in Cornwall a beautiful jewel-like piece of serpentine, half-red and half-green. Pea beans are like that, and are also a tasty and substantial addition to a vegan meal.

I have to admit to a confusion in my mind of pea bean and field bean – the latter usually a green manure crop, or grown for animal feed. Sometimes the broad bean is known as a field bean. I call pea beans field beans too, but I don't know if they're actually interchangeable. Are they the same thing? Charlotte du Cann writing in a recent issue of EarthLines says, and I think she's referring to the pea bean: ‘Three years ago I wouldn’t have understood the significance of these beans. Unlike most pulses they can grow in the cold and damp of Britain. They need little input to flourish and little energy to cook. To live in harmony with the living systems we have to downshift our diet, and these versatile protein-rich beans are key staples for the future.’

In the lanes, the bluebells, campions and stitchwort have given way to purple vetch, tall belled wands of foxgloves, and those delicate little five-petalled emblems of the Goddess, the dog roses.


Driving across Dartmoor, you get used to navigating around pony mares and foals, cows and calves, sheep and lambs wandering across or snoozing in the middle of the unfenced roads. I’ve never had to brake hard for a peacock, immobile in front of my car on a bend, though. For a minute I was tempted to bundle it into the car, till I reckoned that very small space, big dog, peacock and several hours together probably wasn’t a good mix. And, OK, it may not have wanted to come with me.

Speaking of braking hard, it’s a good job I rarely meet (or are followed by) other drivers on our lanes, as on the four-mile journey back from Totnes this afternoon I braked six or seven times for fledglings – jays, rooks, robins, blackbirds, sparrows and – hooray – yellowhammers.


And to books. Apart from the usual stack of non-fiction, I've just finished, finally, Julian Barnes' Man Booker-winner The Sense of an Ending. It's an excellent exploration of the unreliability of memory and the fallibility of personal interpretation, and it's also a well-constructed plot that engaged me immediately, and even when I guessed, two-thirds of the way through, what was going on it didn't spoil it in the least.

And being Barnes he's good at inserting philosophical questions into the narrative or the dialogue. For instance, can history ever be truly objective (apart of course from a list of dates and kings), given that every recorder of history has their own perceptual bias as a result of their own history? This question in broader terms is something that concerns me when I hear people (including myself) speaking in absolutes and certainties, when none of us has access to the whole picture, or a hotline to The Truth. Everything we believe is going to be coloured by context: personal, psychological, behavioural, social, societal/cultural, historical, particular personal interpretative lens, current incarnatory burden (karma), some of us would say, etc. All this created a lively and long-lasting debate here with TM and myself, his son and my daughter, round the outdoor solstice fire and beyond.

Speaking of books, I see River Suite has now appeared on – ahem – Amazon (sorry to mention the unspeakable). If any of you reading wishes to purchase it I'd be delighted, of course; and if any of you who has bought it is willing to give it a small write-up in the reviews section I'd be equally delighted. Everyone who's seen it is hugely complimentary; it'd be so good if some of that were out there to persuade others!

I heard from my wonderful publisher yesterday. My new novel, The Burning Ground, is already being type-set despite the fact that they have a move on the cards and have had two big bereavements this year.

As with my previous novel, in addition to the fact that the land plays a big part in the story, I notice that there are two prevalent themes. One is the twin pulls of the heart towards on the one hand security and responsibility, what we think of as 'settling down', and on the other freedom and the rejection of routine-bound conventions in order to live more creatively. Inevitably these two clash; one of my preoccupations is if and how we can resolve these two aspects of our nature, and what happens if we don't, but instead repress one? A recurring theme for me is the axis of responsibility to self, and other; and what we do when they seem to be in conflict and questions of integrity and soul arise.

The other theme is the eruption of a community tragedy as a result of or through persecution or oppression (in Imago this was of a so-called 'heretical' sect, the Cathars; in TBG it's less obvious but, set as it is in part on Dartmoor during the foot and mouth crisis, we're looking at the wiping-out of thousands of cattle and the bankruptcy of a farming community, and the complete mismatch of understanding between the urban government and the needs of a rural farming population).

Yes, of course it's a love story. Love, sex, loss, death, hope, friendship, place/the land, the past, the future, and the place of memory... all the best stories involve these themes, don't they?

And the best best stories – well, I'm rereading Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet, one of those books that had a huge impact on me in my twenties, to see if it still lives up to my memory of it*. I'm struck again by the depth and breadth of Durrell's intellect and erudition – is it me, or are there fewer novelists with such richness of imagination and learning in the C21st? Actually I know there are still many, but it's not the norm, to be expected, any more, perhaps. Have cultural mores changed, or do we simply care less about learning?

I flipped to the notes at the back of the (satisfyingly fat) book; I'd forgotten their existence. I'll leave you with this nice little quote: 'Art is not art unless it threatens your very existence.'

* First impressions: hmmm. Pretentious and over-written in places. I also don't like the characters very much. It's definitely 'of its time'; nonetheless, I think it's a tour de force.

Friday, 21 June 2013

poem for the summer solstice 2013

The moon-daisies are late this year

their constellations in the banks and verges

faint and incomplete in the thin drizzle

that makes the moors with their stone-row horizons

invisible, a lost wild kingdom from which today

I’m exiled.

Thirty-five years ago it would have been that we

stepped out from the Sixties concrete building

by the river where the houseboat was always

half-stuck in mud and where you instantly

an accident if symbolic dropped our new

marriage certificate in an oily puddle

and our mothers exchanged glances.

I haven’t seen you in decades, but anyway

I’ve always felt unmarried. We were young.

My mind probes further back: those swifts

ready to leave, shrilling the hot mountainside

the cherry-trees on the lower slopes

the apple meadow where once

the wild boar chased me up a tree.

Six months that changed everything I knew

and joined me to a much older past

than ours, and our past really is another country –

its territory a fiction, half-remembered history

open always to our own rewriting; grist

to the great wheels that might make

at last some meaning from experience.

© Roselle Angwin 2013

NB: I know that a lot of people come to my blog via searching for solstice poems. I've written a poem for most solstices and equinoxes and some of the cross-quarter dates of samhain, imbolc, beltane and lughnasadh since I began this blog two and a half years ago, and most of them are less personal than this one. If you put any of these keywords into the 'search this blog' bar you should get there (note that I tend to call the spring equinox the vernal equinox - though inconsistently). 

If by any chance you wish to repost these poems – and you're welcome – please please credit me and provide a link – they're my property and copyright. 


Saturday, 15 June 2013

by Uffington White Horse

When I first met TM, we indulged a joint pleasure by spending three or four days walking and camping on the high prehistoric Ridgeway from Oxfordshire to arrive at the wonderful megalithic site of Avebury, in the Wiltshire downs, for the summer solstice one June. The trip was not without drama, and back home a tragedy was unfolding; but that's a different story.

On the walk, I wrote a series of little prose poems, some of which appear in my book Bardo. Here's one:


And Remember (near Uffington)

It was a hard ascent up to the chalklands into places that didn’t know water. Then stepping into a sky bigger than anything except mind, and how we live sometimes as if the sky were not big enough to swallow us whole, holy, but that day we parted the tranches of barley like waves in a field canted towards the horizon and knew that we could fly, upwards into the scudding blue intervals; and later though you were a foot away I could hear your heartbeat through the chalk and the day breathing the greengold barley and the silvermauve grasses and little downland flowers that knew something of blue and the skylark kiting its song, and below us the white horse dreaming in its long slow sleep as it has for millennia and the sky came down anyway – a moment when we might enter someone else’s life, and remember.

© Roselle Angwin, 2008

Thursday, 13 June 2013

summer rain (poems)

In the hayfield
the ghosts of corn marigolds
kept from blooming this year
lift imaginary faces
to the June rain


Queen Anne's lace
gracing summer hedgerows
I remember my small friend
I remember how even when dying
she loved to swim every day
I remember
helping her over the threshold
one such June


June –
my mother's name –
now this rain
fills the buckets
overflows into everything


In the courtyard the new blackbird
too young to know fear
old enough to know slugs
is breathing the same air
as the yellow irises
as the slug feasting on
birdshit and blossom
as me


This rain
its million notes
our one tune


© Roselle Angwin, June 2013

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

... and back to the material plane...

 ...where, after a couple of days of rain after two weeks of sun, the garden at last is beginning to take off. Everything's about a month late, here, right now; in the hedgerows the foxgloves are just starting, and the yellow flag irises are powering out from the reedy Beenleigh Brook, the other side of which some Ruby Devon (deep red-brown) and South Devon (chestnut) cattle are grazing. The horses next door have noses dusted in gold from the cloths of buttercups spread over every meadow – they're not very good for horses, but beautiful powdered onto soft charcoal, palomino and chestnut muzzles, and against the vibrant greens of this lush area.

A couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of this sunny period, I spent a few days down in my native West Cornwall helping my painter and printmaker friend Jenny set up her exhibition for Open Studios. As always when I'm down there, walking the coastpath played a big role, and I miss the sea so much. Jenny's just sent me the wonderful pic above: the bluebells, ox-eye daisies (I call them moon-daisies), foxglove, red and bladder campions against that blue blue sea spell 'home' to me. I believe my lucky sister is down there at the moment walking and writing and being paid for it... what a job, hey? 

Speaking of writers (and also Cornwall), two participants on one of the Scottish courses on which I tutored in April have written books I'm currently reading: one is The Passionate Sisterhood, by Kathleen Jones, biographies of the three women associated with the Romantic poets Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey; the other is a novel, a ghost story set in West Cornwall – completely engaging – by Shirley Wright, and called Time out of Mind.

Once, on a rock near the view above, I watched a cuckoo close by. I haven't heard one here in Devon at all this year, though on Skye there was one every morning, doing the round of the garden fencepost to fencepost, within yards of the house, cuckooing away, for 30 or 40 minutes at a time. It was being chivvied by various small brown birds – pipits, finches or warblers, maybe. It took no notice at all of them. I'm struck by the irony of the fact that the smaller birds know that it is in some ways a predator, and yet their instinct is still to incubate and rear the changeling cuckoo egg/chick deposited in their nest – even though that fledgling will heave their own eggs and fledglings out, and even though the fledgling will be bigger than its adoptive parent within days of hatching...

In the garden there have been no slugs, and not even any weeds worth talking about this year. However, there's been little food there for us over the winter after last year's washout, either; and almost no germination. We've had the usual slug-discussion nonetheless, as this rain will no doubt entice them out in droves; so far, I've won, and we're using once again the plastic slug collars which are reasonably effective if not infallible, and also around some of the plants in my new herb/flower/bee-garden I'm using twists of thin copper wire (apparently it gives the slugs the equivalent of a small electric shock and thus deters them). I won't kill slugs: partly because they're food for other creatures, partly because I like to live in harmony with other species and the ecosystem, and also because the garden and house are organic – I don't use toxic substances of any kind, and we don't seem to have suffered any through a non-sterile home environment. (There's no need to use bleach, anti-microbials or the usual supermarket cleaning substances/laundry powders etc. when plant-based products that entirely degrade do the same job gently; if we need something anti-bacterial I'll put essential oils of tea tree, rosemary, oregano, thyme and such like into warm water and use that.) However, back to the slugs: we lost almost all our crop, on which we rely very heavily, to rain and slugs last year; and TM was understandably enraged at the slug damage. I'm very much hoping it won't come to this, but he has squirreled away a little cache of animal-and-bird-friendly slug-killer pellets for if need be.

M and B, our neighbours, brought us around a little punnet of new courgettes and mangetout peas from their polytunnel. Uprush of envy. For all that we hate using plastic we too might have to go that way – climate change means we are likely to have more rain generally, and milder conditions (well, cooler summers, probably, and wetter winters) down here in the southwest, and fewer of the cold snaps needed by gardeners to kill off the pests naturally.

However, I had a little harvest of broad bean tops – some say that if you pick out the growing shoot (I took out about 10cms from each plant) you can help prevent blackfly infestation. My daughter gave me a recipe – originally I think from Riverford – which was so completely delicious I'm going to share it with you here. If you're a gardener, use your own broad bean tops; if not, you can use mangetout peas, or broad beans themselves when they come into the shops.

Bring some pasta to the boil (I use wholemeal spelt). While it cooks, grate the zest of and squeeze the juice from a lemon, and chop a small handful of fresh mint. Just before the pasta is cooked, throw in the bean tops/mangetout peas to wilt/blanch (I added the courgette flowers too). When it's all cooked, stir in the lemon and mint, lots of black pepper, some chopped feta cheese or toasted cashews as a vegan substitute and a good slosh of olive oil. I served it with sautéd courgettes on the side and a salad. Mmmm.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

the difference between brain and mind

It seems to me that we make a fundamental mistake in the West, and have been doing so for millennia – at least since Greco-Roman times, reinforced by mainstream Christianity after that, and now the prevailing paradigm since Descartes: thinking, and therefore acting, out of dualism.

I've written whole articles on this elsewhere, as of course have many many others, most of them better qualified than myself. The point is that this view, in my opinion, underpins and reinforces the mindset that allows us as individuals but also collectively as a society to see ourselves as separate from (and, at least in relation to non-human species, in the arrogant western reductionist mindset superior to) all other beings. 'Me' versus 'you'.

This 'us and them' view is supremely dangerous, and I would argue is what allows us to exploit and/or harm the planet and her other inhabitants. It's also diametrically opposed to the Eastern perspective; and in fact even Jesus Christ said 'Whatever you do to another you do to yourself', or words to that effect.

Much of my writing is predicated on picking apart this dualistic view, so I won't continue it here except to say that seeing the one in the all and the all in the one is the holistic view that also encourages compassion, and means that we take a very different attitude to the universe.

I've written before on my blog about the Indra's Net model; and I was thinking of it again as I watched the woodpeckers and greenfinches at the feeder in the garden, and the rain opening the flowers to which a damp bumblebee or two were paying attention, and the pumpkin seeds germinating at last and my heart lifting at it all and seeing almost visible lines of connection between us all: the ecosystem manifest on so many levels.

Where I'm going this morning though is somewhere more defined, and actually brief and simple. I woke thinking of the difference between brain and mind (as you do), and I want to write a few words here about this, as this too is fundamental.

In the reductionist materialist viewpoint that characterises contemporary Western thought, we tend to see brain and mind as interchangeable, synonymous, and basically all 'in here'.

I was at a talk the other day where the speaker, a professor of consciousness studies, seemed to me to be making the fundamental mistake of conflating the two (it's possible that, in a limited time slot, he was simply being a little careless, but it struck me quite forcibly). This view suggests that there is 'me' locked in here in my brain, where 'mind' is, and there is the world, outside and separate.

Of course, on one level, the reductionist model's level (the purely material model of reality), that view is, or seems to be, true. The speaker, however, is aware of both the Eastern model and the holistic paradigm, but still seemed to be falling into the narrow materialistic perspective, which is, of course, what we're all steeped in here in the Western world. But this view seems to be flawed, to me; and being unable to keep my mouth shut I raised this point.

I should add that my views below are informed not only by the Eastern perspective but also by psychology which, other than in its laboratory-rat-study manifestation, also puts forward the view that 'the other' is not merely a being outside of us but also very much coloured, as we respond to that other, by our own projections; to this extent we are also shaping that being, at least in our own perception/imagination, in some way, and cannot therefore easily declare that he or she or it is entirely separate from us. ('We don't see others as they are, but as we are', as someone famously declared.) Then there is the Jungian notion of the collective unconscious to be taken into account, too.

The brain, I suggest, is the physical organ, located in the human body; basically a collection of flesh and neural impulses, used to receive and transmit.

The mind, however, is something altogether different: it is consciousness itself. It is the what that is received and transmitted, where the brain is the how.

Mind inhabits us and we inhabit mind, and our 'portion', by which I mean the particular collection of experiences, perceptions, thoughts, feelings, sense of meaning, etc, that makes me call myself 'Roselle', is that portion of Universal Mind to which, in this incarnation, we (I) have access. However, on a supraconscious and subconscious level, I have access to so much more than I am consciously aware – all the time.

And if 'my' mind is connected to universal mind, and everything is interconnected, while my brain as an organ might degrade at physical death, that has little to do with mind.

This view of mind is a participatory model, and it is both inclusive and co-creative. This is a really significant point. This is one way of looking at Indra's Net, the web of being of which we are each a node; and in this model a tug anywhere on the net affects the whole.

Jai Lakhani, a Hindu scholar, who also spoke a year or two back in the same forum, invited by said professor, expressed it brilliantly: 'Thinking that consciousness resides in the brain is like thinking that electricity is generated in the light switch.'

That says it all.

Friday, 7 June 2013

holding down the demon

In the New Age movement there's that irritating, because smug, but also irritating because true, aphorism: 'There's no growth without pain'. 

In response to this, my friend Anne*, with whom I shared a workshop in the top draughty attic of an old mill building back in the days when I was a shoemaker, was fond of quoting that line by Moore or Cook, I can't remember which (and nor can I remember which of them was Dudley or which Peter – was it? –, not being a TV-owner and so only vaguely being aware who they were): 'I'd rather be stunted by pleasure than grow through pain'. This has a certain ring to it and makes me smile.

By the way, lest anyone thinks I'm in the throes of pain and despair, not so; this is more a holding post while I whittle down the many words I want to write about Weighty Things to a blog-post size, and can drag myself away from my new regime that includes rather a lot of rest in a hammock, and the occasional page addition to my newest creative project.

But I do think a lot about consciousness (pretentious? Moi?), so, carrying on the theme of the post about kindness, below is this perennial little nugget from Dr C G Jung.

'There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.'

The third sentence in my view is a bit of a firecracker, given how many people in the spiritual field think that it's enough to focus on 'bringing in the light' (and I'm not knocking it; we sure need as much light as possible in this poor fractured world) and avoiding the darkness; but wholeness, which is what we're actually after, I think, can't be really achieved without facing our shadows, demons and terrors, the drives from the unconscious; and owning up to and then integrating rather than sidelining them. 

The trouble with the latter, sidelining, is that they become split-off little cluster bombs that others cop as we fire them off in the shape of criticisms, snide remarks, negative perceptions, sarcasms and barbs – projections of our own dark stuff, in other words, of which we're not conscious; and because we're not conscious of them, we don't notice how they take others down. (They can take us down, too, given that quite often we direct our negative views and beliefs at ourselves as well; and there is also undeniably a rather karmic boomerang effect to the negative stuff we put out in the world, if we have the eyes to see it in terms of cause and effect, which is really all karma is about. If I voice my negativity at another, is it any surprise that I receive it back?)

What's more, holding down our own personal little demons takes so much psychic energy that we also lose our ability for joy, and often our creative energy, too.

Or as I said myself once, and I'm rather proud of it: 'Because we have suppressed the dark, we cannot bear the light.'

Much better to bring the demons, one way or another, into the light of consciousness.

And remember the poet Rilke, who feared that if he was treated for his mental ill-health, his 'angels' would desert him along with his 'demons'? Far better to use that unconscious energy wisely, and turn it into the gold of conscious creative expression...


*Anne is a tapestry maker. She's responsible for this wonderful image on the front of my recent poetry collection All the Missing Names of Love:


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

3 Horse poems, by Barbara Farley, Edwin Muir, and me


The anything-goes, Jazz Age, over-the-top,
up-and-at-‘em, to-the-gate-then-back-again
horses have returned to the lower pasture.
Under the blackbird’s swinging rhythm sound
the bass notes of their loud harrumphs.

Wake to kettle drum thunder as they gallop
first this way then that, the cymbal crash
of their hooves through the stream,
the drunk-on-the-moment, blood-pumping
stomp of this crazy rag-time band.

Barbara Farley

This poem by Barbara, who attends my regular 'Two Rivers' poetry days, was written at one of those day workshops, and captivated me when I heard it read aloud. I can think of almost no equivalent poem that so portrays the energy of horse, and so conveys their exuberant herd-energy turned loose at pasture. Barbara's own delight in witnessing their joy positively steams off the poem. I'd recommend reading it aloud a couple of times. Thank you, Barbara, for your permission to post it here.

My ears and eyes are tuned to horse medicine, as I mentioned a few posts ago. Companions of the human for so many thousands of years, how might they not find resonance still somewhere in our ancestral memory, if not in our blood, heart, imaginations? Consequently, I also notice good poems about horses, of which there are a number; I'm thinking here of Ted Hughes, James Wright, Kenneth Steven, James Dickey, Jane Hirshfield. If you have any favourites, I’d love to know. I've just discovered that there's a website dedicated to poems about horses, if you too appreciate horse medicine; the link doesn’t want to paste, so google ‘poems about horses’.

My personal favourite is probably that by the Orkney poet Edwin Muir which, as you’ll see below if you don't know the poem already, is both about horses, and about so much more besides. I read into it too a lament for how we have lost our way; and how horses and horse medicine can represent and also offer something of 'essential spirit' as we find a way forward in our dislocated war-torn over-industrialised world.

The Horses

Barely a twelvemonth after

The seven days war that put the world to sleep,

Late in the evening the strange horses came.

By then we had made our covenant with silence,

But in the first few days it was so still

We listened to our breathing and were afraid.

On the second day

The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.

On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,

Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day

A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter

Nothing. The radios dumb;

And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,

And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms

All over the world.
But now if they should speak,

If on a sudden they should speak again,

If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,

We would not listen, we would not let it bring

That old bad world that swallowed its children quick

At one great gulp.
We would not have it again.

Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,

Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,

And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.

The tractors lie about our fields; at evening

They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.

We leave them where they are and let them rust:

'They'll moulder away and be like other loam.'

We make our oxen drag our rusty ploughs,

Long laid aside. We have gone back

Far past our fathers' land.

And then, that evening

Late in the summer the strange horses came.

We heard a distant tapping on the road,

A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again

And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.

We saw the heads

Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.

We had sold our horses in our fathers' time

To buy new tractors.
Now they were strange to us

As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield.

Or illustrations in a book of knights.

We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,

Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent

By an old command to find our whereabouts

And that long-lost archaic companionship.

In the first moment we had never a thought

That they were creatures to be owned and used.

Among them were some half a dozen colts

Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,

Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.

Since then they have pulled our ploughs and borne our loads

But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.

Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

Edwin Muir

Finally,  a little poem of my own about my daughter's Arab/Welsh colt, Cirrus, who filled our lives with so much grace and curiosity and animal-affection from the day he was born until the day he died, only 13, as a result of another's mistake:

Going into the meadow after the retreat

In the meditation hall
we interrogate the silence
for a way of being human

then later again
barefoot and slow on wet spring
grass in the wild dervish storm

and back
picking twigs, ash, feathers
out of the ‘no inside no outside’ teachings

later, home
the horse’s light breath on my cheek
the way he delicately politely

only just
meeting my eyes reads my face
hands hair with his gentle muzzle

as if he smells
questions, as if I were an event
blown in on the whirling wind

as if
from within the zero
of Zen in which he dwells

he barely
recognises me, each thing wholly
new, every encounter the first.

Roselle Angwin (published in Bardo, Shearmsan 2011)

Sunday, 2 June 2013


What a difference small acts of kindness make to our lives, and our view of being alive. When I was in Scotland and blogging in April, I remember adding in to my posts snippets from Radio 4 programmes that I was listening to on the long drive north; one of these was a phone-in dedicated to people publicly thanking strangers who'd helped them, then gone on their ways anonymously. By the end of the fifteen-minute slot (I think it was), driving through Glasgow as I was (and I'm not at my best in city driving, perpetually over-stimulated by everything), I was weeping enough to have to peer really hard to make sure I took the turn for the Erskine Bridge and Loch Lomond instead of ending up in Gourock on the wrong bank of the Clyde.

Yesterday, looking through a book of poems to read a handful to my regular group, I re-met this poem and thought I'd post an excerpt. Reminds me of Kahlil Gibran's words on allowing sorrow to carve deeply enough into your being that joy has somewhere to reside.

from 'Kindness'

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye

from the abridged Staying Alive, ed. Neil Astley

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