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.
Friday, 30 October 2015
Sunday, 25 October 2015
on the other hand, my soul is, and i'm listening...
Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Tuesday, 20 October 2015
Instant karma, you could say. Ms Sanctimonious, over here on a very-long-awaited and much-needed writing retreat, broke her writing arm while walking in the forest yesterday.
At the moment she doesn't yet know the implications of all this, but she is in some pain and writing anything significant with one finger of her left hand seems a challenging idea.
Expect not much more than occasional haiku here, dear readers! And send me some sympathy...
Sunday, 18 October 2015
They’re hard for me to live up to, too – I remember a winter living in a campervan with my then-husband and toddler on the coasts of Charente Maritime in France in one of the coldest winters on record, sometimes as low as 13 below zero in the daytime, breaking ice on buckets of cold water to wash out my daughter’s cloth nappies, which then festooned the van as I attempted to dry them, rather than succumb to disposable nappies. (The good aspect was that for at least two months that late autumn and early winter we were able to live almost entirely on foraged food from the coastline and in the forests.)
So I live a fairly frugal lifestyle by most of our Western standards – and very rich by those of many other less fortunate nations.
My big driving motivation is to avoid buying foods or products that involve serious depletion or pollution of the ecosphere, and animal suffering. This means, for me:
- being mainly vegan, though I do eat some eggs, free range only. For many years I relied heavily on dairy, as a veggie; but a) it’s not actually terribly good for us – something like 80% of adults don’t have the enzyme properly to digest cow’s milk – and b) eating cheese, for instance, even when it’s Soil Association accredited to guarantee organic status and, importantly, a reasonable degree of animal welfare, and even if it uses non-animal rennet rather than calf-stomach-extract rennet, still means that calves are taken from their mothers too early, and a high proportion of them slaughtered sooner or later. I also:
- don’t buy convenience or processed foods
- or disposable anythings, including kitchen paper and tissues (except loo-paper – recycled, naturally) - that is except very rarely some tin foil, and sponges for washing up, and I’m about to revert to good old-fashioned washable cloths for the latter
- don’t use any kind of chemical product in the house or garden
- keep driving to a minimum; and almost never fly
- almost never shop in supermarkets or multinationals generally
- try not to buy anything that’s prepackaged or comes from another continent/is out of season (except tea)
- and especially try to avoid plastics and petrochemical products generally if at all possible.
Monday, 12 October 2015
'Grace' is one of those words that's tricky to define, and comes as such a loaded term that many people can't stand it anyway. So it's hard to use, especially in a non-Christian context.
But I'm also discovering how important it is for me – to recognise and name, to cherish, to incorporate into my daily life.
Last night, my 93-year-old mother-out-of-law and I had one of those brief quiet conversations we have when we are alone together for a few minutes. She and I share many interests, views and values. As co-founder of the Medical and Scientific Network, and co-director of a spiritual Centre for many years, she has an interest in integrating the spiritual with the scientific, with the psychological, and especially with the sociopolitical. She routinely and with great passion writes to MPs, David Cameron and the broadsheets with her articulate views on Gaza, climate change, poverty, capitalism and the benefits cuts.
She is becoming frailer physically, and was speaking of the fact that she has to accept a much more limited physical presence in the world on eg political demos and rallies. So we spoke of how she handles this loss of action.
Eileen is a Quaker with an interest in what she calls liberal Catholicism and in Taoism. (I have always so wished that she'd had the opportunity to meet my father before he had his stroke; he too incorporated many spiritual paths into his own Way, and had much to say of them in relation to living in the world.)
'Grace is becoming more and more important in my life,' Eileen said last night. I asked how she experienced that, and she spoke of 'Letting go and letting God.'
TM, ever keen to dive into a conversation on more-than-mundane matters, came into the room at the point. 'What do you mean by grace, though?'
Eileen said something about standing in the benign and generous presence of the Divine in an attitude of surrender. I knew how the word 'surrender' would catalyse TM's fierce objections. However, he restrained himself admirably from taking that definition apart, or shooting down the word 'surrender'.
I rarely speak of this to anyone, but I added that from my perspective it is something to do with emptying oneself to All That Is so that one slips the leash of ego, at least briefly, in order to align oneself with presence and whatever it is that is so much larger than we are, and what we might call – though I have huge hesitations about naming it at all – the Intelligent Cosmos, Great Spirit, the Great Mystery, the Creative Intelligence; or simply the Web of Being (to borrow from the Buddhist notions of Indra's Net).
Moments of grace, if one is open to them, present themselves in every moment of the day. We, being human, of course, live so much in the past or the future that we may consider ourselves blessed to notice simply two or three.
When I notice one such moment – and I make a practice, both as a writer and as a meditator, of putting myself into the position where I may be showered with them at the start of each day – I experience a deep sense of both calm and ecstasy.
So, now, this morning, early, there is the little thin serpent of rivermist hovering over the brook.
There is the way the sun glides above the hill, and colours in the field with its spent umbelliferae and spider-threads, as I stand at the field gate.
There is the robin, who appears when I go out into the border of the field and, eyeing me all the time from less than a foot away, lets his or her throat swell with the very quiet song he seems to be offering directly to me; the bigger a gift because when I go and fetch food for him he is not interested, but continues to gaze at me and sing.
No matter what happens next in one's day – and today for me what happened next was a major and time-expensive computer crash – the moments remain in the blood, in the nervous system, in the heart of me.
Wednesday, 7 October 2015
How wonderful that 'rush hour' means a small herd of 5 or 6 Belted Galloway cattle, smaller and hairier, furrier, than most breeds, and charming with their white 'belt' on dusky black fur, with their gentle faces and long eyelashes, calves at foot, wandering down the moorland lane.
How good to arrive fifteen minutes early and lean on the old steeply-arched bridge listening for the ghosts of hooves where Daughter and self sometimes rode ponies up on to the open moor behind Sheepstor all those years ago.
And how good to journey the same trans-moor road again today, to work at another primary school.
And how very different the schools, and the ease – or not – with which the writing flowed.
Much of my time used to be spent in primary schools when I first started freelancing as a poet and author. It's a while, though, now, and it starts badly this time in that I have no idea where to find my folder of poems I've written for children. That starting point goes to the winds, as does my usual method of referring back to 100s of previous workshop notes to begin to build something appropriate for this day, for the same reason.
Well, I think to myself, if I can't ad lib a bit after 24 years of doing this stuff, what does that say? Because I'm not a teacher, I also have some kind of free rein; although it does mean I need at least to glance at the curriculum from time to time to make sure I haven't fallen off my branch in terms of content. But because they're paying me I also feel it has to be good, and productive, and fun, and informative. Especially inspiring. And something that the usual class teacher can't deliver.
No pressure then, as they say.
And I do ad lib (despite my newly-minted intensive notes), and the first class is attentive and engaged, charming and creative. By the end of the day the pupils, who range in age from 6 to 11, have written, with my input but their own ideas and vocab, a number of poems about their moorland environment that I feel they can be proud of.
Today was a different matter. Same material, loosely the same stimulus, same age range, another moorland location. Utterly exhausting wading against a tide of noise and disinterest (thank goodness I'm not a teacher who has to deal with this every day), and until early afternoon I had the sense that they'd no idea what I was on, or on about, that I'd lost them and that the day was a write-off (ha!).
But at one stage I had taken them outside, had them lie on the only-very-slightly-damp tarmac of the playground and stare at the clouds until they felt the clouds staring back at them (which was about 3 seconds in total duration for most of them). Another good idea that didn't seem to take off.
Nonetheless, something seemed to have happened; suddenly, about an hour before end of day, poems started to be born. Interesting poems. Original phraseology. Clouds figured a bit. And – hooray – the moor, which was the brief.
Why do we write? I asked the children yesterday. And why do we read? And particularly why poetry?
To make people feel things.
To make ourselves feel things.
To work out things.
What kind of things?
Sadness. Friends and stuff. When people go away. A pet dying.
Because sometimes I can write things I can't say.
To make other people listen.
To sort of make music with words.
To make pictures! Pictures with words!
Not to feel too lonely.
Because it makes me feel calm.
Why do I think it's worth spending my life catalysing people's writing?
For the value in itself for people of spending time with the imagination, and an expressive art
For the journey: for what is discovered, uncovered, recovered in the following of the pen, or the cursor
For the results of that – poetry, story, creative non-fiction, journalling and everything that lies in the gaps
For writing's well-researched contribution to psychological and physical health and wellbeing
For the fact that it opens people up to the psyche and its wisdom
For its contribution to self-awareness, self-understanding, self-knowledge
For its potential to enrich relationship, empathy, a sense of connectedness
To explore and deepen our place in the local and global communities
To bring attention to our relationship with our environment, the rest of the natural world and other species
To help to heal splits: between self and other, head and heart, human and wild.
So – I know this sounds pretentious – but something to do with adding to collective consciousness, potentially, at least.
And perhaps above all, as Burghild Nina Holzer says in her journal on journalling: to be more deeply alive.
Thursday, 1 October 2015
So I have been home, and in so many ways I'm restored. Just three days without phone or internet, routines or work, in hot sun on the West Cornwall cliffs and something has righted itself in me.
My daughter and I and the dogs took the campervans down to a cliffside campsite to celebrate the equinox and my birthday.
In those few days I remembered what it feels like to relax completely, and to follow only the promptings of what made my heart sing. Why is it such a luxury? It should be how we live. It restored enchantment, magic, deep longing of the inspirational sort, and the fulfilment of that longing at the same time.
Down here everything makes my heart sing: the cliffs, the sea, the granite, the many wildflowers, the light on the water, dusk, dawn, the charms of goldfinches on the hay meadows, the buzzards and sparrowhawks, the waterbirds, the herd of organic dairy cattle in the next field, so sleek and fit and shiny and healthy. The walking. The dreaming.
Here are one or two:
This is Penberth, where filming was in progress. It was supposedly secret, but everyone knows that the next season of Poldark is what they're shooting. And I know because a romantic gypsy fiddler on the cliffs told me he was an extra on the set (though I'd have guessed that anyway).
Here is one of my beloved holloways; probably dating from at least early mediaeval times, and possibly prehistoric.
Hello Grandmother Thorn, just back from the cliff's edge. I read stories in your lichened branches.
There are rocks that encourage leaners. The rock here is granite, 'my' rock, and this particular monolith pulled me strongly. Warm in the evening sun, its licheny scent took me back more than thirty years to when, a young mother, I'd wander the cliffs of the North Devon Atlantic coast to gather materials for vegetable dyeing the wool I used to spin, then knit and weave into garments – a way in which once upon a time I made a living, of sorts.
My baby daughter would be slung on my chest, and we'd (I'd) gather plants and barks and tree-lichens; just very occasionally rock-lichen, which makes an extraordinarily beautiful dye and retains, in the wool, an indescribable and warm peaty scent, but takes so many decades to grow it's not environmentally-friendly to pick much.
Leaning on this rock was strangely like being given a hug, whimsical though I know that sounds. But everything has its own quality of being, and maybe rock is, as First Nation people believe, as alive as anything else, vibrating at a slower lower rate than what we normally consider animate. In my view, everything is animate, and it's a mistake to judge 'living' by mammalian characteristics only.
Strangely, coming up by quite a different route from me, my daughter is now a weaver (on a much more serious scale than my own small weavings, which were really panel inserts for knitted garments).
Coming home, I stopped off near Lamorna with its megalithic history – once upon a time I led a number of workshops and retreats within the grounds of Rosemerryn House, now a B&B, which is not only sited within a triple earthwork, but has a fogou in its grounds.
West Penwith has, mile for mile, a greater concentration of megalithic sites than anywhere else in Europe. Perhaps it's this that gives it a palpable sense of Otherness?
In the Boleigh area are the remains, sadly bisected by the road, of what must have been quite a significant site once.
Still intact is the 'dancing circle': the nineteen stones of the Merry Maidens. (Someone lent me a pair of dowsing rods when I was in the circle; delighted to see I haven't lost my touch.)
And off to one side are two tall monoliths, and the supposed burial chamber of Tregiffian, or Cruk Tregyffian, a once-extensive site from the late Neolithic, 3000-2000 BCE, now sadly abbreviated by said road.
And then the winding lane to Lamorna Cove, and coffee overlooking the sea for a last dreaming, before heading back up the A30 once again.
Some or all of these sites, plus others such as Men an Tol and one or two holy wells, will form part of my retreat week in West Cornwall ('Poetry, Place & Pilgrimage') next June. My websites have yet to be updated, but if you think you'd enjoy such a week, please do contact me through here.
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