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

Sunday, 30 November 2014

folding the wings

'Fold your wings, my soul,
those wings you had spread wide to soar 
to the terrestrial peaks where the light is 
most ardent: it is for you simply to wait
the descent of the Fire – 
supposing it to be willing to take possession of you.'

~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

just this

Clatter of woodpigeons from the losingleaf oak. 

This tightrope – birth, death, suffering, joy; cycling over and again.

One still, pure, moment on the hill – neither thinking nor not-thinking, neither lost nor found.

Taking refuge in the Buddha
meaning in wisdom teachings and the Buddha-nature in everything
Taking refuge in the Dharma
meaning my feet continuing to follow the path as and where it unfolds
Taking refuge in the Sangha, 
meaning in the All of it, in the human and other-than-human community of the Web of Being

Sanctuary in the present moment. As it is. Its pain. Its presence.

A breath. This moisty bosky air. How blessed I am.


To the north, Dartmoor's hills outlined charcoal, cloud-swathed. To the southeast, a brave assay of this tiny splash of sunlight penetrating cloud (the awakenened mind).

The Way leads between attachment which is not love and detachment which is not love.

This third thing: love – the compassionate heart that sees all, hears all, takes all in, holds all, lets all go, gently.

By the farm entrance, 47 new blue periwinkle flowers in this grey day. 

My feet, walking.

May he be free from suffering
May he be free from suffering
May he be free from suffering


Monday, 24 November 2014

Tongues in Trees 2: earth & spirit

kate compston

We live within a vast interconnected web, an animate web. Everything to which we are connected is alive; everything, in its own way, is an expression of consciousness.

Left to itself, our earth will get on with ensuring a harmonious interaction and communication between every living thing. Things breaking down into disorder and then reshaping is a natural cycle. This is, in effect, the Gaia principle.

It's probably true to say that disharmony, fragmentation and active destruction are predominantly the contribution of the human race. 'Because of our neglect, the world is strewn with unrelated objects,' said Jungian James Hillman.

A significant manifestation of the web in action is a continual exchange between every part of the web and every other part – everything is in constant co-operative action, and we alone as a species apply judgements to what we deem 'good' and what is 'bad'. The earth's intelligence makes no distinction between birth and death, for instance; both are simply necessary to the web of being.

In the West, we have inherited from Plato, from Roman/Judeo Christianity, from the patriarchal societies of the last two millennia, and maybe from way before all of those, a hierarchical picture of the universe that puts us, homo sapiens, usually man (sic), at the top of the tree. Mainstream Western science does this; mainstream Western religion, too. Both think unquestioningly in hierarchies.

We forget to allow for the fact that other species have their own particular kind of intelligence, and that each is crucial to the maintenance of a healthy web. Though many of us know this intuitively, paradoxically we have science to thank for bringing this latter, at least, to public attention with its awareness of ecosystems, and the fact that each part of an organic system has its own integrity and its own inherently important contribution.

We may not experience ourself as actively interconnected with All That Is; in our postmodern reductionist urban culture it seems that dislocation, deracination and a sense of disconnection is more the norm than not.

Both mainstream science and mainstream religion have done us and the earth a great disservice.

Science, by its denial of spirituality, by which I mean here the existence of subtle levels of being and our interconnectedness on all planes, and its divorce of the earth and other species from anything other than a reductive existence as matter alone, has taken a wrongheaded turn.

Religion, though it has contributed an awareness of subtle levels of being and direct perception through intuition, gnosis and direct experience of these non-material levels, by its splitting of earth/matter from spirit and valuing the latter over the former and (like science) the human over the non-, has taken a wrong-hearted turn. They are, perhaps, equally dangerous.

What we need now, in my view, and what all my work and life is geared towards, is a way of living that draws together spirit and matter, 'heaven and earth', the visible and measurable and the invisible (to the 'ordinary' senses), and the unmeasurable (by our current instruments and the rational mind), by recognising the equally-strong and equally-necessary apparent poles of immanence and transcendence.

Everything in the tangible universe, in this view, is animated by spirit and it makes no sense to polarise them. 

This recognition happens through integration, not through separation.

More specifically, perhaps, we need to recognise that the soul of the earth – that living web behind all manifest external appearances, that which animates All That Is – is no different from the human soul (except in particulars and tasks). We are part of world soul. We are living a collaborative project, a collective process, which needs to reconcile the splits and fractures in our world view and therefore the world conditions that we create.

In other words, a spirituality that does not include the earth and all her inhabitants will serve none of us for a harmonious future, any more than a view of the universe that is mechanistic or materialistic alone does.

lynn baxter
The purpose of my Tongues in Trees day was to begin the process of encouraging and enabling a sense of active participation and collaboration between human and tree, with an emphasis on ways of relating that are rooted in the knowledge that this exchange is necessarily two-way – the tree is as much in contact with us as vice versa. Clearly this requires an openness to the other-than-human, a suspension of scepticism, and a way of listening and receiving  that is not a much-practised skill in our time.
It seems that many participants on that day experienced a profound sense of this exchange in the  communication with the non-human. You can see on this page some of the many visible and beautiful results of my prompt to create a shrine, an offering, or indeed an expression of grief, at the feet of the tree each individual had chosen/been chosen by during the morning work. Walking slowly and in silence all together between the offerings was a moving and beautiful experience; one that many of us will not forget.

We're all in this together.

'The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth,' declared Chief Seattle. Time to remember. Well past time to remember; but maybe there is still time.

With thanks to all the participants of that day.

Monday, 17 November 2014

air things; going to ground; & earthing

It's flocking time of year. It's an astonishing sight, a dark spiralling twisting mass of starlings, or pigeons, moving in such synchronisation (in the case of starlings, each bird is in touch with its 7 immediate neighbours).

A white egret is back upstream, away from the littorals, immobile in the lightning-struck oak above the brook like a hunched dwarf angel.

The winter birds are here now after their migrations: lapwings, fieldfares, redwings, thrushes, blackbirds. The avocets will be back on the Exe and the Tamar.

Night after night, two owls call across the house; yesterday at dusk a snipe startled from the hedge a metre away from Dog and self.

In the middle of the current world tragedies, I'm also a little brokenhearted to hear that 6000 ducks are to be culled after an outbreak of avian flu in the north of England. Ducks, those wild creatures at home in three elements, should never be farmed intensively, without access to water or flight. (Thing is, most people who eat duck have this romantic view that they've somehow been wild-caught or sweetly gathered from where they peck around on a village green with a pond, whereas most of them are factory-farmed.) And of course NOTHING should be farmed intensively.


I'm aware I've gone to ground. Thank you to those of you who still visit. I'll be back with more of a flow soon. I'm still feeling fairly wordless; and also am sitting in one of those liminal places where my path could fork via one of many ways. I quite like liminal, and am doing much better these days at just holding still, letting things unfold, instead of feeling I need to push every river, whether it's going my way or not...

And right now, my going to ground is a few days writing, overlooking the sea. Don't pity me too much.


Speaking of going to ground: yes the bloody foxhunt. Illegal. And alive and thriving. When I was younger, I crossed swords with the hunt a number of times, on my part always in a non-aggressive but I suppose obstructive way (unblocking earths that they'd blocked up to remove a fox's bolt-hole; leading their hounds astray with aniseed), and received their retaliation. 

The last time was when the harriers, on foot with hounds, were pursuing one of 'our' hares. I found a fury I didn't know I possessed; and received a polite apology from the headman, and an assurance that it wouldn't happen again. It hasn't; not in our neighbouring fields, at least.

Foxhunting happens frequently here, though. It's usually a Tuesday. It caught me off-guard last Saturday to hear the foxhounds in the valley; or rather, Dog alerted me. Dog is always delighted when the hunt comes; perhaps because I find such depths of outrage and rage in me that I forget to stop her barking (and in fact hope it might prove a distraction to the hounds). Plus she gets an extra walk.
Ash on full alert ready to see off any foxhound
This time, older and wiser of course, I decided I'd be nothing other than pleasant, open and polite. I remembered not to stomp or frown, and not to cross my arms as I approached the stile. All the land 'this' side of the stile, divvied up into small packages worked by people doing interesting and sustainable variations on permaculture and conservation, is taboo – none of us supports foxhunting.

So I walked towards the stile, and the whipper-in (or whoever) came cantering towards it and me, hounds around him. We politely greeted each other, and I politely enquired whether he was intending to stay that side of the fence. 'Of course, Madam,' he responded. 'We've laid the trail this side, so the hounds will stay here.' (The official line is that hounds don't chase foxes any more, only false trails. Bred and trained to hunt foxes, I do wonder how they decide, a pack of 20 or 30 hounds, not to set up a fox or chase it, when it appears, instead obediently following a dumbass false trail. Anyway.)

One of my good points, and one of my weaknesses, is that I tend to think the best of people, take their words at face value, and tend to believe what they say, to trust in their better nature. On the whole, people are trustworthy. I've been caught out a few times, though, by not examining further. I forget that sometimes we all say what people want to hear, and that our motivations are not always as clear as we might like. (Naïve, gullible, some might call it.)

So I'd walked back the way I came for a couple of minutes before it occurred to me that, in all that deep gorsey scrub, it would have been difficult to the point of impossible for a man on foot or on horseback to lay a trail of any kind.  By that time – guess what – the hounds had poured under the stile, were quartering the field adjacent to ours after a fox, and then had slipped over the old stone bank into our own land.

So then my fury found its voice. Luckily, the fox went to ground, where its home is, in our garden.


Earthing. Now there's a subject. 

Any child knows how good it feels to slip shoes off on grass, or paddle in water. I'm continuously astonished at how difficult it is to get adults to take their shoes off outside, even for a few minutes. On all my outdoor courses, one or two do, at my suggestions. Sometimes. Just occasionally, someone does before I suggest it. M, one of the participants on my recent 'Tongues in Trees' day, took his shoes off as soon as we went outside, and kept them off all day with no prompting from me. Mostly, though, people politely (tonight's adverb) pretend not to have heard my words. 

I was at a college last month for National Poetry Day. The teacher had agreed that, since it was sunny, warm even, and we were writing about the land, I could take a group barefoot round their mown, manicured, clean, tidy, dry playing field. You wouldn't believe the fuss, especially from the girls. I'm gentle, not coercive; but one girl cried at the idea.

What is this about?

For many years, I earned my living as a shoemaker (entirely natural materials). However, my preferred footwear was always my own skin.

Well, turns out the science seems to back the perception of some of us that walking barefoot is essential to full health. It's not just a sense of rightness about stepping out of our insulated synthetic lives/shoes to join the animal kingdom again. It's not just that it feels good. It's not just that it's a way of reconnecting and reinvigorating ourselves, although it does those things; it's not just about attuning to the earth's magnetic field; and it's not just 'grounding' ourselves in a nice, right-on New Agey kind of way.

Get this: it has numerous health benefits that are measurable, not least in relation to sleep patterns, inflammation, joint pain and circulatory issues.
Apparently, when the body is not in direct contact with the earth, it can carry a positive voltage relative to the Earth, which some people believe is not good for us. Earthing the body redresses the balance by restoring its voltage to zero.

One of the ways in which it works is by enabling a flow of 'good' electrons from the earth into our body. Electrons can help sop up free radicals. 'The idea here is that by connecting ourselves with soil or wet sand or sea, say, we can "suck up" electrons that effectively act as "antioxidants" that can quell inflammation and enhance health,' says Dr John Briffa. Free radicals, he tells us, lack the 'sparks of energy' that are electrons.

'During the normal processes of metabolism the body generates [...] "free radicals",' continues Dr Briffa. 'Free radicals are involved in the process known as inflammation, which is part of the healing process. However, low-grade inflammation throughout the body may lead to pain and other problems in the muscles and joints, and is also believed to be a key driving factor in many chronic diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In short, we want free radicals, but not too many.'

And do check out the PDF that Briffa links to, for further information. There are books on this as well. 

But meantime, do yourself a favour and take your shoes off as often as you can for as long as you can bear it, even if that's only 5 or 10 minutes. Yes, I know that in GB it's winter. It'll feel wonderful when you put warm socks back on!

Monday, 10 November 2014

'tongues in trees'

It's happened at last – the first day of the ecosoul course I've been working towards publicly for four or five years, since the inception of my 'Ground of Being' days on Dartmoor at the solstices and equinoxes, and privately for – oooh – 4 decades or so.

I'm still assimilating the depth of the day on my friend Carrie's rich land in Cornwall (appropriate that the country of my birth would hold so beautifully the birth of this yearlong project, designed to begin just after Samhain, the birth of the Celtic New Year).

13 creative and interesting people joined me. One of the wonderful things was the diversity of the group, and the unique perspectives and contributions made by each. We were united in our sense that we humans need a different way to relate to the earth, and by our passion for this and for sustainability, and for work that has depth of imagination and soul, whatever the latter word meant to each of us.

This first day was to deepen our understanding of and our experiential relationship to trees and the tree realm – crucial to our survival, and taken for granted at best, seen as objects for our use or, worse, cut down because they inconvenience us, just as often.

I chose trees to open the course because – actually, I didn't. Trees insisted themselves into my imagination every time I thought about this course. It seems counter-intuitive to open an outdoor ecopsychology course with trees at a time of year when many trees will have lost their leaves.

In addition, it seemed a little crazy to offer this in cold November storms as an outdoor workshop. When I drove down from Devon early that morning, the weather was utterly filthy, with worse forecast. On the opposite carriageway, I passed an overturned car, and further along a 4x4 firmly wedged in and at right angles to the bank. Not for the first time, I wondered what I was doing.

However, part of the point of this course is to meet the natural world on its terms, not ours; and that means in whatever conditions are given us. Luckily for me, everyone turned up – some from a huge distance. Luckily for all of us – and Cornwall does this often – on the dot of 10am, practically,  the start time, the sun started to dissolve the storms.

So the work outside could take place. 

And what very beautiful pieces were created outside by the group; poetry of and to the earth in the form of shrines, or offerings to trees. I'll post some of the images another time (the ones here are mostly the unadulterated work of the land).

I'm still too close to the day to be able to talk coherently about it, and anyway I'm worded out.

What I can say, though, is that work that has depth to it will also bring challenges. This was as much the case for me as for some of the participants I spoke to after. It's hard to allow yourself to be visible; it makes one feel silly to think of creating a depth relationship with, speaking to, or for, trees, let alone in practise and in words, out loud. It's much easier to stay small, invisible, in our comfortable unchallenging creases, than to allow ourselves to be as large as we are; to live from soul in accord with essential spirit rather than according to the conditioned or prevailing spirit of the time. 

So working outdoors in such a concentrated way was also to winkle ourselves out of the insulated comfort of our lives. We all, of course, struggle; we all have our sorrows. But here in the West we're fortunate; and each day we're alive is such a gift; easy to forget that.

And the day was such a gift. Carrie had put so much effort into making our day uplifting; the land is beautiful in all seasons; the weather and the hordes of sparrows and white doves in the garden helped; the trees were obliging about collaborating; and it's an immense privilege to work with people who will put themselves on the line in enquiry and exploration, with their imaginations and their hearts.

‘When there is the encounter with the other, when there is mutuality, when there is presence, when there is giving and receiving, and both are changed in that encounter, that is the moment when you can begin to move toward transformation.' ~ Richard Rohr


You can read more about this course here. I'm delighted to say I shall be leading a similar course in the Cevennes Mountains next September, a week after the creative writing retreat I lead there (the week in between can also be attended as an untutored writing retreat week, and there's a special deal if you sign up for both courses and this week). You can see more details here.

AND: for more comprehensive details of my forthcoming retreats and courses, click here. There are earlybird discounts on many of them.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

witching hours, earth gifts & exploitation

Bliss to walk early, as dark gives way to light just post-dawn, dawn like dusk a 'witching hour', at this elemental and dynamic time of year with all the shifts in weather.

In the valley a low stratum of frosty mist filters the light; above it warblers and tits are chasing tiny insects in the last leaves of the willows. In a couple of months time, their slim trunks will be blazing red gold, bringing their own fiery light to the dark months.

Two buzzards take off and cruise at eye level above the meadow to my left, mewling. Once again a crowd of mixed corvines lifts off from the ash trees on the hill to harass them, hypocrites that they are – crows at least are far more predatory than buzzards – plus we're nowhere near nesting time.

During the walk, rainbows emerge and dissolve on all sides – clouds' bright contrails.

The hawthorn is lanterned with berries; they're an important ingredient of the herbalist's pharmacopeia, for normalising both blood pressure and heart rate; I take them in my tincture for heart arrhythmia. 

So many gifts we take from the plant and tree families, mostly without any acknowledgement: food, medicines, timber, paper and in the case of trees that irreducibly crucial element, oxygen. Without trees and plants the earth could not support other life.

The point of the work I'm currently doing is to reactivate our awareness and our creative imagination in relation to the other beings who share this planet with us: to move from a separatist and hierarchical perspective to a horizontally-interconnected, rhizomatic one that recognises and respects the web of being, and experiences kinship. 

The other-than-human is so often unheeded, or viewed merely as a resource – legacy of so many centuries, millennia, of human moves to relegate every other-than-human being (and indeed some of the human beings of the earth, too) to inferior status needing stewardship, and over which we have dominion, at best, and connected with this our common view that the earth is our playground and other species are here for our use as a 'resource' (a word that really gets me going in relation to this theme). 

As Jung said, increased rights bring increased responsibility; but a consumer-driven culture promulgates an almost-divine-right approach to taking, to exploitation, and forgets the other half of that sentence.

Anyway. Down in the dark part of the valley where the ruined quarryman's cottage is, sky is thrown back white from the laurel leaves. 

The banks near the little well are festooned with red bryony berries, and long long ribbons of brambles drop from the trees above, ready to begin their leapfrogging takeover bids. 

Oaks still hold on to their leaves; the bare ashes already display sooty apical helispheres (delighted to slip that phrase in again this year too!) edging towards new growth. 

I hear in the woodland beside me that the redstarts and migrating thrushes are back.

Ahead of me, a single raindrop on the tip of a laurel leaf is an almost inconceivably bright point of prismatic light, stronger than any electric fairy-light.

Dawn glimmers / and a November day / prepares itself for birdsong and weather, as T S Eliot didn't say. Over the hill / clouds bloom / their running commentaries. / I am here and nowhere / there and everywhere / feasting on rainbow / on silence.

Monday, 3 November 2014

samhain, late, & a triolet

The riptide off the Devon coast yesterday was fierce – sandy kelpy turbulence stretching quite a way out to where green and grey met and clashed in broken rollers. It was also quite a good metaphor for how life has felt here the last couple of weeks, which is by way of an apology for a paucity of blogs. (I'm also gearing up for the forthcoming first day, 'Tongues in Trees', of my new yearlong ecosoul course which, in addition to my putting together next year's programme, is taking up my imagination.)

Another samhain, and TM's birthday, hence breakfast in the Beach House shack and the beach-walk, followed by a longer walk along the beechy banks of the peaty swirling River Avon ('avon' comes from the old Brythonic word for river, 'afon').  

I was tempted to post my favourite samhain poem here that undoubtedly I've posted more than once over the years, but I've spared you.

Instead, I'm going to post a triolet for this time – the midpoint between equinox and solstice, a time when the veils between this world and the other, spirit and matter, are thin, and the ancestors and those we have lost are nearer for a little while. I put candles in all the windows, as a welcome.

It's also a time, as I see it, when the solar gods, the masculine principle, are handing over to the goddesses, the feminine principle, of moon and earth, during this early part of the descent into the dark. The nine in the poem refers to the nine goddesses, or the triple aspects of the Triple Goddess of Celtic pagan tradition. It is at this time, samhain, though, that down in the darkness new life is being conceived, ready for birth at the midwinter solstice.

Walker Between the Worlds

I am the god who fills the head with fire.
My blood is ancient as the blood of stone.
I walk the threshold between day and night.
I am the god who fills the head with fire.
My tongue’s the language given by the nine.
I speak the wild waters, the song of bone.
I am the god. Who fills the head with fire?
My blood is ancient; is the blood of stone.

© Roselle Angwin, in All the Missing Names of Love

For you poets, here's the lowdown on the triolet form, should you wish a poetic challenge (see also Carol Rumens' 'Jarrow' poem):
Triolet: AbaAabAB

This is a 13th century French form that emphasises rhyme and repetition. It's in 8 lines, with only two rhyme schemes, notated as A and B. 

NB: where the letters are capitalised, above, this is a repetition of the entire line. Where they’re lower case, you are repeating the end-rhyme but using a different line.
The 'refrain' needs to be a strong enough line to bear repetition (rather like in a villanelle), as it is repeated in its entirety three times. However, the twist is that you need to find a way to very slightly alter it, usually by altering the punctuation, to change its meaning, however marginally, in its final repeat in the penultimate line.

In mine, above, I’ve also altered the last line, which is also repeated in its entirety.

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