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

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

tracking the deer into the forest

I've long known that a physical symptom is also a symbol. When the way we are living is out of alignment with the way our psyche needs us to live, the tension between the two naturally manifests, in the end, in the body (this is really what is meant by 'psychosomatic'). It's the psyche's way of alerting us to the fact that changes need to happen.

This is not how allopathic medicine tends to think, though thankfully there is a small but increasing number of medics who do see the connections. Holistically speaking, though, it makes no sense whatever to focus on merely alleviating the symptoms without addressing the causes. Psyche is persistent, and the issues will arise elsewhere, in a different form, or the same form again, that's all.

So a good question, at times of illness or distress, rather than 'What can I do to stop the symptoms?' (though that might need to be asked too), is 'What is my soul (psyche) requiring of me that I'm ignoring or that my current lifestyle isn't accommodating?' The answer, of course, is usually inconvenient, demanding change, and the relinquishing of familiar if dysfunctional or at least outgrown habits and ways of thinking.

There is a natural impetus in the psyche towards wholeness, and it is sensitive to imbalance.

I was pondering all this this morning early, walking with Dog through the misty valley alongside the brook. I was half-consciously following some deer tracks towards the woodland, and then suddenly looking up I saw the deer herself – a young roe doe. Dog didn't see her or smell her, and we followed her for a short way before she led us off towards the deeper forest and the little pool.

As we entered the woodland proper, two Canada geese flew over. I love wild geese, and I love the fact that they are at home in three elements.

Everything is itself, and is also, in an interconnected universe, a waymarker, if you like; a symbol. The convergence of deer and pool, and waterbird, reminded me of the fact that I know that beneath my physical symptoms of heart problems that arose at a time of great stress a couple of years ago was the demand that I change my life.

I've lived pretty much according to the promptings of soul and its values and passions, but it has been at a cost. I've always made my way in the world by following my imagination and my intuition. In Jungian and shamanic teachings this is the way of fire.

Given that I've pushed my body continuously beyond its needs for sleep and rest and time out, inevitably there would come a time when burnout would claim me. In acupuncture terms, my fire energy has been hugely depleted – the enthusiasm has remained but my body has said 'can't' (a word, incidentally – and this is part of the picture – that we were brought up as children in my family to believe didn't exist).

Living on adrenalin, my thyroid was no longer able to cope. With my thyroid out of whack, and some personal issues that were taking a huge toll on my emotional wellbeing, of course my heart protested.

I have taken various measures to address this, examining which parts of my life weren't working for me and identifying what would have to change. I still am working with this. Most of all, perhaps, I am (still) trying to learn how to take an hour out in the early afternoon to hang out, with no agenda, with music or a book or simply resting.

When I woke this morning I had a strong urge to get to the sea. My environmental conscience (I'd have to drive for 40 minutes each way) and my sense of responsibility to work (I have a number of deadlines) meant that I didn't. 

But water was calling. Arriving at the pool this morning, and witnessing the geese, neither of which I'd consciously intended, were clearly what soul needed from me. What I need in a burntout life is not to kindle new fires (always a temptation for me) unless they're small and contained, but to go to water. It's not a top-up of fire I need right now (though I do down the line) but rehydration.

In the symbolic world of Jungian and shamanic thought, water represents the feminine, the feeling function and the heart or soul (where fire represents the masculine, the abstract and the spirit). I also need to come down out of my head and simply feel.

What a sense of spaciousness in my chest when I remember this.


Later in 2015 (provisional date Sunday 7th June) I'm hoping to offer 'Soul Medicine: The Four Treasures' workshop, in Devon – a way of working with Celtic myth, archetypes, Jungian thought and shamanic practice to bring aspects of our lives into balance. This will take me back to my roots in 1991, where I led 'Myth as Metaphor' workshops following on from my training in Transpersonal psychotherapy.

Monday, 23 February 2015

going back forwards

The leaflet inside this little mediaeval church says: 'In the Assize Rolls of 1280 it is recorded that Thomas, the chaplain of Cattenor (Culbone), was indicted "for that he had struck Albert of Esshe (Ash) on the head with a hatchet, and so killed him." This kind of incident does not now take place in our tiny parish.'

The church is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and is supposedly the smallest chapel in England. It's dedicated to Welsh Saint Beuno, from whom comes its name ('cul' is Brythonic Celtic for 'Church', related to 'kil' in Goidelic Celtic). Culbone was the church used for the TV version of Blackmore's romance 'Lorna Doone', set nearby in the parish of Oare in the C17th.

It's also a bloody long walk for the parishioners – one of those Southwest Coastpath 'one and a half miles' that feels a lot more like 3, all uphill (yep that incline behind and to the right of the church) on a cool February day. And it's a wonderful walk through woodland, from Porlock Weir, below, and with thrushsong and the sound of the sea to accompany us all the way. As we descend at dusk, the lights of Wales are just making themselves visible across the sea.

This part of the world was well known to the Romantic poets, who thought nothing of trekking very long distances to see each other and for inspiration. (Somewhere between Porlock and Culbone on the inland route, laid up at a farm and almost certainly Under the Influence, Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan.) 

Exmoor National Park has details on its website of 'The Coleridge Way' – my sister wrote up the 51-mile walk from Coleridge Cottage at Nether Stowey to the Valley of the Rocks near Lynton, and has also produced an accompanying book, A Romantic Landscape – the poems of the Coleridge Way. On the Monday evening, TM and I sat in 'Southey's Corner' in the Ship Inn in Porlock, where the poet Robert Southey, thwarted by weather when walking to Lynmouth, composed his 'Ode to Porlock', which is calligraphed and framed in 'his' corner.

We're here for a number of reasons. One is simply that it's the day after Valentine's, and I was working plus we had family visiting that evening. It's also our 7th anniversary – bit of a record for me, restless as I have been in my past (what my mum kindly called 'a free spirit', not liking being tied down or feeling my wings to be clipped).

Another reason is that I want to show TM the Exmoor coast of my childhood – this combination of dramatic coastline, wild moor as hinterland, and pretty little wooded villages right on the shore's edge being as close to paradise as I might wish. Each of the Westcountry's three moors has its own distinct character. Bodmin is dark and brooding, not terribly welcoming to the casual visitor, but fringed with beautiful little oases of ancient villages. Dartmoor has a grandeur about it, a quality of masculinity and distance, the sort of elegance that a red deer stag possesses. Exmoor is beech-fringed, both soft and dramatic, and feminine in its quality, to me. 

And I want to revisit Culbone for the first time in two or three decades. Or more.

And yet another reason is that I'm hoping to lead some workshops up here, beginning in the summer. It's interesting that the place I'd come to visit, which sounded so perfect in so many ways, is unlikely now to be where I lead the courses. Instead, something that was only a distant possibility has unfolded itself, and will give me the opportunity I wanted to offer work with horses and with place – place in this case being an iron age fort with spectacular views. In addition, my long-time collaborator Michael Fairfax and I may be offering a Bossington Day like our Branscombe Day, with poetry and land art. So this is all very exciting; and for those of you who are further north, at least this little corner of West Somerset is more accessible than some of my venues.

And a secret reason, secret even from myself until I was up there, is that going back to Exmoor is a way of honouring my father, who had as his 'HQ' a wooden cabin up in the clouds at the highest inhabited point on Exmoor. The HQ was private. We went only strictly on invitation, and that was rare.

The psyche throws up what we need to do, and I knew for certain that Exmoor was where we needed to come on our first free weekend (well, Sunday and Monday) together. What I hadn't anticipated was a road closure on the way that meant we had no choice but to drive past my father's old place. It felt much too soon after his death to drive up there, much-loved as he was by me, and much-loved as the place was by him, and shocking, though inevitable, to see that the cabin had been demolished and a newbuild had arisen from the peaty soil. So the journey began, really, in the spirit of pilgrimage, even though that was not the conscious intention (though pilgrimage was part of the intention for the course that is now not going to happen). Sometimes the journey chooses you.

And so we had two days' of walking in swiftly-shifting weather. One of them was a long trek uphill – I thought the Culbone hill was bad enough! – from sea-level to Selworthy Beacon with its outstanding if stormy views:

and then back past Bury Castle, another iron age fort, through wonderful woodland with its miles of walls, some mediaeval, some being restored:

to Selworthy Green, a little late-mediaeval hamlet so picturesque as to be almost too pretty:

and back to the shore. 

And that just scraped the surface of the walking to be had here in these wild hills.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

entering the wood

I'm saturated with images and impressions from a couple of days revisiting childhood places on the wild and exquisite Exmoor coast. There are so many pictures and words I want to share with you about it, and also my excitement at the possibilities of workshops up there in the summer; but I'm also saturated still in work and deadlines, so once again this is some old work.

The brief excerpt below is from a long poem of mine called 'Entering the Wood', written during time spent in a friend's woodland a few years ago, not far from where I was in West Somerset at the weekend. The whole poem appears in my collection Bardo (Shearsman 2011).

Hope you enjoy this short section.


from Entering the Wood

February is coppicing
    spring-cleaning the wood

        remembering line, vaulting, architecture
    thinning hazel scrub
        to let in summer
when it comes

    the pattern of our saws
their dissonant harmonies
        weak sun on our backs
thin feather of smoke
    and the showers of rufous catkins
   around our feet
        the mallet’s knock
its echo

            on the road the erratic pulse
        of traffic
we think of tidying our lives

© Roselle Angwin


Friday, 13 February 2015

eleven things to give up in relationships

This is also a reblog from a couple of years ago (let's hope time, energy and inspiration all cycle together soon!). 

I find it useful to remind myself sometimes (frequently) of what Buddhism calls 'skillful means', here applied to our intimate relationships.


eleven things to give up in relationships

Here are some things that commonly block our ability to give and receive love. Giving them up can only make you happier!
The idea that your partner or anyone else is here to make you happy and to meet your needs. Your partner is here for his or her own journey on this earth; if you can support each other in your journeys and adventures then you have a chance of real happiness.
The view that you and your partner sail in the same boat. You are, always have been and always will be in two boats*; the choice is whether you steer side-by-side for the same open sea, or shore, or not. What you have in common is the ocean.
The need to merge or fuse with your partner. True union isn’t possible except when two individuals are clearly differentiated, knowing themselves and their partner as distinct entities. Work instead on knowing who you are, and seeing clearly who your partner is. That way, there’s a chance of real love and interdependency rather than co-dependency.
The need for that Other to be like you and to agree with you. Showing another who you really are and engaging with who the other is is an act of love; needing their agreement and approval before you can be who you are can be narcissistic, egotistical and insecure.
Controlling, whether by fault-finding, withholding, blame and coercion – or by praise. All are manipulations, and driven by fear. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t appreciate, out loud, who your partner is, nor ever express something that's pissing you off – it's more whether you are co-opting this to serve your fears. (There's an associated issue here: that of self-disclosure. This is a prerequisite for intimacy, but it's important to be aware of whether we use this as a manipulation to have the other reveal him- or herself to us, or as a genuine desire to share who we are with that Other without necessarily expecting reciprocity.)
The association of love with mind-reading: ‘If you really loved me you’d know without my telling you what I need.’ Instead, commit to knowing for yourself what you really need, and be willing to show that to your partner. Equally, learn from him or her what s/he needs.
Expecting the other to always ‘be there’ for you. It’s simply not possible when the other has his or her own life and journey, and s/he is not your mother/father.
Taking everything another says or does personally. While you may be offering him or her a 'hook' to hang their stuff on, another person's 'stuff' remains their stuff, and probably says more about them than about you.
Reacting. Instead, learn to respond. What this means is denying yourself the momentary satisfaction of blowing the other out of the water with emotional heat (you might feel it, but that doesn’t inevitably have to lead to exhibiting it), instead seeing clearly what the situation needs from you. You may still find you need to raise it with your partner anyway; if so, it helps if you can give yourself time to calm down so it isn't merely an attack. If you take time out, you may find you don't need to launch anything at him/her, but adjust an expectation of your own, or at least trace the roots of your reaction and its previous baggage (because there usually is some).
The need to blame – self or other. Instead, take responsibility and change a pattern for the better. We’re all human and we all get it wrong sometimes as we learn, and that is simply how it is. Learn to love yourself; then you can love another.
Struggling – with yourself or another – to be anything other than who you are/the Other really is.
But you don't have to believe me; just try it for yourself... And no, of course I don't manage it myself all, or even much, of the time! And this list clearly could go on and on, and no doubt at some stage it will.

Roselle Angwin

* The boat image is from David Schnarch's book Passionate Marriage.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

reblog: 'to poison a nation, poison its stories'

This is a reblog of a post from February 2013. (Sorry – I'm SO busy at the moment with current courses, new courses, being away a bit, and er oh yes Writing That Book...)

I've been thinking again recently how important it is to balance all the dreadful and at times tramautising news with reminders that we tend to recreate what we absorb, as it colours our belief-system ('you are what you eat', metaphorically speaking). Choose wisely! 


One of the things to which I return over and over is the importance of story. We carry the wisdom of the human race, and our ancestors, in story – long before the written word storytelling was one of the things that bonded us, allowed us to 'live right', as some indigenous elders have described it.

I'm reminded of this again this morning by a post from the wonderful Oriah Mountain Dreamer over at The Green Bough

Oriah says:
'Here’s a question to consider: Is the story I am telling – in the beliefs I espouse and how I live my life – heart-opening or heart-closing?' Heart-closing stories are those that separate us, that create inner and outer splits, she continues.
‘To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralised nation tells demoralised stories to itself’, says Ben Okri.

At a time when all we seem to hear about are the terrible things happening in the world, and dysfunctional relationships, I want to remind us again of stories that empower, that celebrate, that value diversity, that (re)connect us with others of all races and species, that are green and holistic, that illustrate what healthy relationships look like, rather than dysfunctional ones.

How, as humans, do we go through loss, fear, grief – because of course if we deny the darkness we can’t recognise the light – and yet still remember how to laugh, how to play, how to love, how to keep sight of bright moments? Dark times too are opportunities: ‘in a dark time the eye begins to see’ said Roethke.
‘If I were asked what I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it’s to contribute to a literature of hope… I want to help create a body of stories in which men and women can discover trustworthy patterns… Every story is an act of trust between a writer and a reader; each story, in the end, is social. Whatever a writer sets down can help or harm the community of which he or she is a part…’ These heartful words of Barry Lopez are behind my thinking for most of the work I do. How we keep heart in heartless times?

We all inhabit layer upon layer of story; concentric rings of stories lapping outwards as well as inwards. 

'A story is like the wind,' records Laurens van der Post of a Bushman's words: 'it comes from a far-off place and we hear it.'

There are our own personal stories – maybe the perfectly ‘ordinary’ events of our daily lives (which of course are also extraordinary). These stories are a continuation of our collective histories (and herstories!), so fall deep behind us, and stretch towards the future; they also overlap with the stories of our families, friends, lovers, and so become wider.

Then there are the stories of our neighbourhood and community.

Wider again than these are the folk tales and cultural narratives of our society.

Add to these the stories that we call ‘current affairs’ – the national and global events and tragedies and joys that ripple through all of us living at this time.

Further back, deeper down, are the metanarratives and archetypes that are inherent in the human race, across time and across borders – they are human story rather than cultural story. (Anyone who has seen the painted prehistoric caves of France and Spain, the pyramids, the aboriginal art of Australia or of the native Americans will know what it is to stand in front of these pictorial stories and recognise that we are linked across millennia with the creators of this art.)
So stories are who we are. Story can shape what we think and believe, and how we live. Of course the opposite is also true: the lives we live influence the stories we accumulate.

Barry Lopez talks about two landscapes – one outside the self and one within. He suggests that the inner one is shaped by where one goes, the people one meets, the stories one encounters as well as one’s moral, intellectual, spiritual and I would add emotional development. He also says that the purpose of storytelling is to achieve harmony between the two landscapes.

What stories do we need? At the end of my first book (Riding the Dragon), written in 1993, I asked this question. I asked it again in 2005, in Writing the Bright Moment. Of course, I am still asking it.

How would it be to read books and hear stories that support us in being more fully and compassionately human? Ones that give us tools to grow and change; offer us models of functional, healthy patterns of relating – whether to ourselves, to each other, to the wider human sphere or to the planet as a whole, rather than narratives that merely underline how grim ‘reality’ is, and how untrustworthy and self-seeking people are, thus confirming our view of the world and the human condition as basically beyond hope?

We need now stories that offer us healing, offer us the potential of wholeness, of coming through in the end. Empowering stories. Stories that show us human being at its best: its most courageous, generous, kind, loving, compassionate, wise, funny. Stories that celebrate the earth, wilderness, the diversity of nations, the diversity of species. Inclusive stories that allow us to imagine a new world order based on empathy, co-operation, kindness, discussion, negotiation, fairness, equality.

Stories that celebrate what is green, what is vulnerable, what is innocent, what is childlike, what is wise, what is empowered feminine, what is empowered masculine; stories about co-operation and harmony rather than competition and conflict; about people making wise choices. Stories that celebrate magic, mystery, miracle. Stories that help restore some sort of faith, whatever that may mean for each of us. 

© Roselle Angwin
This has been excerpted partly from Writing the Bright Moment (see sidebar) and partly from my essay in Prompted to Write, edited by Victoria Field and Zeeba Ansari (fal 2007).

Thursday, 5 February 2015

giving up the old gods

We’ve just passed through the gateway of Imbolc in the old Celtic Wheel of the Year (Candlemas to Christians).

Now, the Crone is giving way to the Maiden; the earth under its ice is beginning to crack open so that new life can emerge from the death and decay of winter – in our psyches as much as in the outer world.

Last weekend, as I said in yesterday's blog, I celebrated this turning with a group of wonderful women on my Wild Ways residential retreat (with others, not all women, joining us for one day). Our journey remains with me in an active and vibrant way.

For new life to happen in the psyche, for us to walk the path of our soul, the ‘old gods’ have to die. In this context, archetypally speaking the old gods are those habitual wornout and spent patterns of belief and behaviour that keep us small, and keep us safe. Usually, they’re introjected injunctions from our family of origin and external authorities, and are laid down from a very early age.

On the adventure of our soul-life, it’s worth questioning how much we’re living the life we’re called to live, living by essential nature, and how much we’re living by the requirements of others – family, partners, friends, co-workers and bosses, society, and of course our own needs for familiarity and security – that we don’t rock boats, behave in predictable ways, do what’s expected, don’t step out of line.

How much does how we live serve us, and serve the bigger collective, and how much is a conditioned, fear-driven response to the risks we perceive in being different, living differently? There are risks inherent in breaking free to follow the soul – of course. There’s risk inherent in anything that's worthwhile, and that isn’t driven entirely by our understandable need for security.

But sooner or later the soul calls us. Can we go willingly?

Wednesday, 4 February 2015


Ahead of me on the path, no doubt picking up my voice as I speak to the dog, a fox glows deep red against the frosted grasses, paw lifted as she looks over her shoulder at us for long moments.

The snow lays everything bare, makes it all equal. Against it, animals out foraging or hunting, and their tracks, are more visible. A couple of days ago we put up a deer in Simon's field; on Sunday night we followed a hare half a mile down the lane. Meadowpipits and skylarks danced and peeped and twittered above the farmland as I passed earlier, dog and I skidding, legs all over, on the sheet ice of the lane. We're not kitted up for ice and snow here, unaccustomed as we are.

Now, across the valley from me, a pair of white egrets sits in the oak tree above the brook, come inland from the Dart. Badger activity is evident, and a pair of squirrels and a cock pheasant ignore each other under the birdfeeder, unless one of the two moves too swiftly, when the other species will leap high in the air.

Dartmoor was beautiful and alien yesterday at dusk with its snow-glow. Coming back along the Wrey Valley road, where once my daughter and I lived in our fairy tale wooden thatched house with its cargo of wild bees living in the double-skinned wall and the huge riotous garden giving over to woodland on its flanks, the February Snow Moon sailed rose-pink over the bosky hill, then deepened to her intense butter-yellow.

The wheel is turning. In the Celtic calendar we have just passed Imbolc, or Candlemas, a cross-quarter date – waystation exactly halfway between the longest night of the winter solstice, and the vernal equinox when day and night are perfectly equal. Already under its cold crust the earth is beginning to crack open: crone gives way to snow-maiden, Persephone stretches and throws up the tender small snowdrops, primroses, crocuses to begin to colour the world back in.

Out of the old dyings of that which no longer serves us, the rich humus of decay, new life begins to stir, the 'inward flame' – in the psyche as in the soil, if only we can let go.

The quarter and cross-quarter dates, summer and winter alike, are always good for celebration – of change, of continuity, of creative renewal, of fellowship. And I want to thank the 13 people who joined with me this last weekend on my 'Imbolc – the inward flame' retreat for bringing such warmth, courage, intimacy and openheartedness (not to mention the heavenly food contributions) as we gathered to cross the threshold from grip of winter to – well, actually it still feels like grip of winter, but those little flames are flickering more strongly now, not least because of our gathering together.

One more brief turn of the wheel, just 45 degrees, six-and-a-half weeks, and March will be backing out with the equinox, as Eostre looms.


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