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, 18 May 2018
Should you be interested, I've been thinking about how we can ease our passage here, on the earth – for ourselves, each other, and the other-than-human, and be happier, too.
It has to be said that the below is a list of quick thoughts while outdoors listening to a cuckoo this morning (avoiding my 'real work'). I don't pretend it's comprehensive or even perfectly articulated. But I'm keen to resume the blogger habit, and encouraged by those of you who responded to my previous post.
So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts. I'd positively welcome your additions in comments below! (And NB I've tried to stay away from too much proselytising, but there is still some eco-worthiness, of course.) At the risk of being a Pollyanna:
1 Remember that our peace and security lie in accepting that everything's uncertain and transient – that's just how it is on this plane of being
2 At the end of the day, take a few minutes to revisit your day in your memory, and the gifts in everything that arose for you today, even the hard bits
3 Take time out every day to feast your eyes on green, to listen to birdsong, wind in trees, a river – even five minutes, even in a city
4 This one comes from Michael Ventura (who co-authored, with Jungian James Hillman, We’ve Had One Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World’s Getting Worse, Harper San Francisco, 1992 – but this doesn't come from that but from an endpage article in Resurgence decades ago): No matter how busy your schedule, take a few minutes in the morning with your beloved to be quiet ('beloved' might mean partner, of course; but it might also mean family, dog, garden)
5 Practise listening, really listening, to others. Harder than we all think
6 Practise generosity. When a criticism of someone springs to your lips, see if you can find, instead, something positive to say (or just think) about someone. How much nicer to hear 'So glad you did the dishes while I was drinking tea in bed' than 'Why do you always leave the pots and pans?' or 'I really enjoyed your last poem' rather than 'That reading went on too long'
7 Stop criticising yourself
8 Go barefoot sometimes, even if only for a minute or two. Walking in dew is exquisite!
9 Tell those whom you love that you love them. Often
10 It's not what you accumulate or achieve that counts, it's the people you love, your attitude to them and all living beings, and the depth and richness of your experiences – and what you make of them – that make an authentic life
11 Live lightly on the earth. Be mindful of the effects of your choices and actions on others, no matter how trivial the actions or invisible the other
12 This follows on: change your consumption and shopping habits. Bin the supermarkets (yes I know they're cheap, but not so much once you've succumbed to the promos and offers – and if I ever enter one I know I buy more than I need, my eyes being bigger than my belly). They benefit no one except the multinationals. Take your own bags and go to a farm shop, market, small local store – and buy less if you have to and use it mindfully. Refuse plastic. Don't buy Wetwipes or bottled water etc etc. Try cutting back on animals and animal products in your diet if you haven't already*; incorporate more organic; think foodmiles and seasonality; shop locally as much as you can. You'll feel better for it (and in markets, small shops etc there's actual person-to-person interaction); you'll reduce the world's suffering; you'll help the planet and you'll benefit local small businesses. Learn to forage!
(*some nutritional advice is offered on my site; and the best vegan recipes in the world are here)
13 Remember that other beings, human or not, and the planet herself have not been put here for our use and benefit. One of the worst words applied to the rest of the natural world is 'resource'. As George Monbiot has said many times including in his latest post, we tend to muddle monetary value with intrinsic value. How can we view the world as 'capital', morally speaking? Similarly, we so often seem to think, albeit unconsciously, that other humans too are here to help or serve us, to fulfill our needs and desires, one way or another. Of course, that's also the general attitude to animals
14 You are responsible for your actions and words. Assuming you've acted in good heart, you are not responsible for others' reactions to them. Watch out for the guilt trips – your own or others'
15 Do you really need to switch on that phone/computer/TV? (OK, sometimes you do. But does the phone need to accompany every conversation, gleaming away on the table at your side?)
16 Regain the slow lane. Take refuge in the slow lane. Slooooow. There. Doesn't that feel good?
17 Consider learning a meditation practice. Just 10 minutes a day can open up space in your life
18 Next thing you do, do it with your whole attention, as if nothing else matters. Indeed, for that moment, nothing else does
19 The biggest mistake we tend to make in the West is to identify our 'self' with our emotions (of which the baseline one is fear). Step outside them – they're generally reactions to insecurity –and see the bigger picture
20 The happiest people tend to be those who dedicate themselves to something bigger than simply their own ego, whether that is a metaphysical belief system, work that benefits the greater good, or a community or environmental project, for instance. It doesn't have to be big or worldshaking; merely something that, hopefully regularly, takes you beyond 'I, me, mine'
21 Give back. I love the old principle of titheing – passing on a tenth of one's gains. I try and practise it, though a tenth is tricky on my income unless I think in non-monetary terms, so I try to think beyond money. There are many ways of titheing after all. (We certainly do it with the wild predators in our vegetable plot, albeit rather involuntarily and grumpily)
22 See number 1.
© Roselle Angwin, May 2018
Wednesday, 16 May 2018
and the forest here in Brittany is big enough to get lost in, though TM doesn't do 'lost', so I suppose I mean take an unscheduled scenic tour, arriving back accidentally at the remote and beautiful little woodcutter's cottage (also originally an unscheduled visit) deep in the heart of the forest after quite a long trek, followed then by an undignified scramble through scrub in approximately the desired direction, according to the now-lowering sun.
I spent quite a long time trying to find the 'ancienne fontaine' marked on the map, hoping that it was one of the old holy wells. And it probably was, once. Now it's a rather sad rounded structure, completely blocked in, against which has been built a hunting lodge. Sometimes at night I hear the wild boar; send up some thoughts for their continued survival.
It's possible to walk from here and almost never repeat the walk. I love that. I love too the tall old trees; though many are new-growth after the tempests in 1987 and 1997 that took down so many broadleaves, there are still plenty older ones, jostling among the massive boulders, or growing through the cracks with an etiolated trunk that suddenly swells into something elephantine, or like an as-yet-undigested animal in the torso of a boa constrictor (do snakes have torsoes? Aren't they all torso?) once it arrives beyond the grip of the stone.
You may have noticed an absence of blogposts. I have noticed a reluctance on my part to sit at the computer. Lately – that is, until Iona in early April – I have acquired the habit of sitting at my computer all day. All day. I didn't choose the impoverished creative life to spend it sitting at a screen, and it's made me feel ill. I love communicating and working with people, and of course I'm also a writer, but something has to change.
What has changed, since my retreats on Iona (which were wonderful, and I hope I speak for all the participants in the temporary family we create together: profound, exciting, stimulating and very creative*) is that I'm spending a great deal more time outside, hands in and feet on the soil. It feels SO good to be back among growing things.
Author Neil Gaiman reputedly said something along the lines of: 'Once I was a professional writer. Now I'm a professional email-answerer.' That. Please don't let that put you off writing to me! – but Ms Usuallyultraconscientious is likely outdoors somewhere and probably won't answer immediately.
And when I am on the computer I need to spend more time actually writing – which is what I'm supposed to be doing this afternoon: an article for Green Spirit magazine on 'Sacred Feminine, Sacred Masculine' – the focus of my 'Wellkeepers' course in Cornwall in November.
Speaking of courses, there's a new week coming up, indoors and out-, probably in September or October, probably in Cornwall. More anon.
And before that, two outdoor half-day workshops near Totnes in Devon: 'Presence – mindfulness, haiku and haibun' on Sunday June 24th in the South Hams, and 'Tongues in Trees' in beautiful woodland on the edge of Dartmoor on Sunday July 8th. If you'd like to come, I need you to sign up soon.
For various reasons that I don't need to mention here, I've been feeling quite anxious. Purely selfishly, I was heartened to be reminded by George Monbiot in a post of his how to deal with such states. George has recently had an op for prostate cancer, the ramifications of which could have been horrendous (fortunately, his new blogpost suggests that it's essentially a positive prognosis).
In case it's of use to you, here are the 3 principle that he considers essential to happiness:
'... imagine how much worse it could be, rather than how much better; change what you can change, accept what you can’t; and do not let fear rule your life.'
On that note, I'm out for a walk before – yes, truly – sitting down to begin the article.
* – though extremely full-on, and not without incident, the major one being someone breaking her leg in the second group. I also had a challenging drive back: they moved the M5 intersection at Birmingham which resulted in me, squeezed between far more motorway lanes than is decent, ending up having to do a detour via Oxford, thus adding a couple of hundred extra miles and five hours to my already-very-long journey.
NB there is a place for a returner on the first April group, and just one place available on the second. I'm in discussion about a 3rd week on Iona, in late September or early October.
Monday, 30 April 2018
An apology from me that you are rereading last Beltane's post. Too much going on.
However, I'm celebrating Beltane, that old Midsummer fire festival ('midsummer'??) by recharging myself from two extremely intensive ISLANDS OF THE HEART retreats on the Hebrides (next year's weeks are already nearly full): 5 Rhythms dancing this morning; digging the garden for my (very late) broad beans this afternoon; and with TM round the firepit in our 'horseshoe' veg plot, near the blossoming apple trees, this evening. And cooking up some new residential workshops...
Wherever you are, I wish you a joyous Beltane/May Day, and may the fires of inspiration burn brightly for you this summer.
Unite and unite, oh, let us all unite –
For summer is a-coming today
And whither we are going we will all unite
In the merry morning of May.
So begins the ancient May Day song of my childhood, for the equally ancient rites of 'Obby 'Oss in Padstow, north Cornwall, as the Old Oss, a fearsome snapping black and red ‘stallion’ of winter meets his death at the hands of incoming summer on May Day evening, welcomed in today.
The Obby Oss* is led on by a dancing ‘Teaser’, who prods him – he is of course in effect a pantomime horse – with a padded stick, or wand. Behind the teaser are the drums and accordions, and the crowds – these days many thousands – sing the traditional songs. All the time the Oss makes dives into the crowd to snatch a girl or a woman to drag under his cape, in a symbolic and laughing reflection of the old fertility rites of Beltane, for some say that this ritual dates back four thousand years (others say it’s more recent).
The whole event which, in true Celtic style, begins at midnight of April 30, involves much drumming, dancing, laughing, singing and general merriment, and even though the days when it was merely an event for the locals, as when I was a child, have long gone, the general excitement and fizz of its original power still remain. The town is decorated with flowers and a maypole – phallic symbol – and in addition to the Old Oss there is now a more recent ‘Blue Oss’, as well as a ‘Children’s Oss’.
In the old calendar, the year begins at Samhain, November 1st. Beltane, in honour of Bel, the ancient sun-god, six months on, is seen as the beginning of true summer.
Traditionally, fires would be lit on the beacon hilltops, and younger people would jump over or through them to ensure fertility. Sometimes pairs of fires were lit, and cattle would be driven between them, for the same reason. (This was also traditionally the time when cattle would be turned out onto summer pasture.)
It’s hawthorn day, that heart-balancer, whose five-petalled blossom represents the Goddess.
At Sancreed Holy Well
And you, solitary waykeeper hunched by this stile
and then again standing proud by the cloutie-well,
one among multitudes, and yet to each of you
your own song, here on this granite peninsula
at the land’s edge where you lean to the northeast
in a slant sweep, your compactness
like the people of this land, surrendering
to wind, to seafret and rainfall, to the deep
lodestones of the ores beneath your roots.
Midsummer, and your spilt five-petalled blooms
a bouquet for Her, sparks of milky light
harvested from sun, from cloud, from the misty
rains that stroll these ancient downlands.
To you, then, hawthorn, the secrets of guardianship
of this land, the protection of her sacred
waters, the wisdom of yielding to the elements
without giving up the one place
where your roots are nourished into blossom.
(RLA Sancreed, 2016)
It would be now that the May Queen, she of the hawthorn, may blossom, as chosen representative of the Goddess of Sovereignty, the Goddess of the Land, in early times would lie with her consort, Cernunnos, the Horned One of the Greenwood. This was in order to bestow kingship, sovereignty, on him that he might make a true servant of the land.
The gift of sovereignty was always more than the right to rule over a country and its clan. It was a divine power, bestowed by the goddess of the land in the guise of a particular living woman on the king, who thereafter acted as her representative. In his symbolic marrying of the Goddess he was also marrying the land. It was only through such a union – either a recognised marriage or ritualised sexual encounter, but always in the spirit of the Sacred Marriage – with her that the king could rule. By joining with the goddess of the land, he in turn became profoundly connected both to the land and to its people.
One such archetypal May Queen, Queen of the Land, was Gwenhwyfar, she who bestowed kingship on Arthur.
On an inner level, this is a time to celebrate the bringing-together of our own masculine and feminine aspects, or anima and animus, ying and yang; for bringing together our inner and our outer lives. It’s time, too, to close the door of winter, for now, and welcome in the building energies of the summer months.
© Roselle Angwin 2017
* for photos, see: http://greatbritishmag.co.uk/lifestyle/what-is-obby-oss (the essay is slight and not entirely accurate but the pictures are true)
Sunday, 15 April 2018
You know how it is when an experience is too profound to write about, or write about yet? – That.
My lovely first group of participants, some of whom have joined me here every year since the beginning or close to, has just left (most of them – some are harder to winkle out), and the second group will start arriving soon (no doubt equally lovely – I just don't know them all yet).
And for once I'm lost for words; steeped in a particular kind of heart-companionship, immersed utterly in the beauty of this ever-changing little island, this thin place at the edge of the earth (though in prehistory on a major sea-route), and dredged in the words of joy and grief, longing and love for the world that these people bring.
And there was the launch of my new poetry collection, A Trick of the Light, here in the Community Shop last Monday; I watched in amazement as tens of people poured in, listened with deep attention, and bought the book. In Devon, swarming with poets and writers and venues for poetry, a launch might draw a handful of people. Here we were 50 and counting: islanders, visitors, and of course the group. My dedicated publisher brought a host of nibbles from France – French toast, tapenade and confit d'oignon most appreciated by the gathering.
And that's as much as I find I can say; so here for you are some photos, and three poems from the collection. This first one, though, is a small section of a new longer poem (first draft):
yesterday a small white boat
was pulled up on the narrow strand
of Eileann Anraidh opposite where I'm standing
where I saw the seal-people basking that time
a dozen lined up, a plump-bodied family sleep-in
today a lone seal is back
the white boat gone
I lean on the rock and take root
... at Traigh na t-Suidhe (above top) wave after wave of greylag and barnacle geese overhead christened the day Spring. The flock of barnacle geese above on the ground by the Sound of Mull was a fraction of the hundreds that arrowed west; just out of sight towards the camera are many greylags.
Almost A Prayer
After we’d trudged so far to the pass at the top
of the island, rain and wind beating our faces,
rising like a single uncluttered thought
from the lochan’s dark mouth a pair of swan,
whoopers, passing through to Siberia,
their curd-white a thickening, a measure
of silence hefted against grey air,
their presence an act of grace, almost a prayer.
My life as a breaking wave
I breathe in and out
spent, I loll in my own shallows
in a kind of intertidal doldrum
a shadow of the ocean breaker
I was not so long ago
I’ve travelled the whole Atlantic
to rest on this particular shell-white strand
under an April full moon
in my lips I’ve caught mussels
and pearls, the dreamings of crabs
green and maroon wigs of weed
I’ve caught the whisperings of fish
still blue keenings of porpoise
the ghosts of herring
I’ve caught a shoal of silence
out there in the deep sea
where we’re unruffled into one long fathomless body
the sailboats and gannets wing
I breathe, in and out
no end to the cycle of tides
no end to the I that is we
our deep song
and still I break
still I break
With your burden for its heart
you are walking the labyrinth
in an easterly March chill
and your feet are bare.
I can see from here that your eyes
The tails of my waterproof snap like sails
and I’m embarrassed until I remember
that noise and loss are as much a part of life
as stasis and silence are of death.
Behind us the bay is tarnished
with sea-fret. A gull keens.
First swallow’s back. Everything
knows its place in this world
even if that place is perpetual journey.
We seem to take so long to learn this.
See the way the gulls let the east wind
almost lazily lift them languid
into air, and simply leave them there.
All poems © Roselle Angwin; also photos (all from this year's first week)
Next year's Islands of the Heart is filling fast.
Wednesday, 4 April 2018
It's that time of year. In fact, it's 3 months past that time of year, but better late than... So we headed off to the coast on a gusty galey day that promised serious storms. The surf break was the biggest we've ever seen there (once upon a time I was a Malibu surfer). And yes, even with waterproofs I got soaked to the knickers, but it was exhilarating; and we brought back around 25 huge sacks of wonderful free fertiliser for our spuds, onions, leeks and squash beds (we found out the hard way that beans don't like seaweed).
As a kind of tithe to the sea, I did a quick beach-clean, too. (I also like the idea of titheing a tenth of our produce back to the land via other species; however, the fact that the other species are pigeons beheading most of our fresh greens brings out a murderous streak in TM, and I have to say I can't blame him.)
A week later, after dramatic snow, we went back on a day that couldn't have been more different – gentle sun. However, what kelp there was was a great deal further down near the low-tide mark, and it was a struggle – for me, anyway – to carry half of the next lot of 30+ stuffed-full sacks back up the slope to the road. How satisfying, though, to feed the soil like this (in places such as the Hebrides the crofters' 'runrig' systems bedded their veg almost entirely in seaweed; and sheep still browse on it, as below, on Iona. I'm vegan so don't like to think of this much, but apparently the mutton is very tasty when they've browsed saltmarsh and seaweed shores.)
A second beach-clean done. Beach-cleaning is my promise to the land for this year, in addition to my other environmental commitments, but what with weather or being snowed-in twice I've barely managed the monthly visit I'd envisaged – so far.
As we headed up to the café for a late veggie breakfast, we met a family coming down with the most adorable little golden-curly-haired girl. I don't know what it is about blonde toddlers for me, given that I'm not especially drawn to others' small children, but they melt me completely. Perhaps it's a memory of my own adorable (mostly) daughter at that age. I longed to pick her up and hug her, and to show her where the snails go in the winter:
... but I didn't, of course. You can't now (I remember my shock at being warned a few years ago working as a visiting writer in a primary school that even if a child was crying, I wasn't allowed to offer them physical contact of any sort. What a sad sad world.)
Oh the snow! Thick thick thick here, and this is Devon. My beautiful hound would have loved this, galumphing and frapping around, tossing it in the air with her snout.
The birds had such a hard time of it. They clustered in our courtyard: bullfinches, goldfinches, marsh tits, willow tits, bluetits, coaltits, great tits, migrating redwings, blackbirds, chaffinches, dunnocks, and NINE (usually territorial) robins all at once. To my distress, the one who feeds from my hand appeared to have disappeared; since animals and birds with whom I have direct contact are my points of entry into the other-than-human world, to have lost 'my' robin companion after three years on top of my wonderful hound the week before was devastating. (I can't tell you how delighted I was when he turned up after the snowmelt.)
Two mornings running, a shy jay was on the doorstep (alongside the three pheasants). Perhaps they need landmarks to remind them where the buried acorns are.
One morning after first light – in other words in full daylight – a barn owl swooped up from the border of the courtyard just yards from us. They too have to feed, but I imagine there's one fewer vole now, or maybe one of this summer's family of mice who play at dusk copped it (see photo – that's an acorn beside it).
Another morning, a male sparrowhawk tore into the miniature weeping willow right beside the front door, where the smaller birds line up for food. As it happened, I was standing on the doorstep less than a yard away; not sure which of us was more shocked, but we were both immobile for long enough for the birds to scarper. Hawks see the ultraviolet trail of their prey; did you know that?
And so. I've been silent here partly because I've been grieving the dog as a family member, and mostly because I've been doing a lot of mentoring and also course planning, but also for once concentrating on my own writing.
A Trick of the Light – poems from Iona is out and doing well; and I've had lovely feedback (please, if you've read it, I'd love a sentence or two on Amazon). I shall be launching it on the Isle of Iona (Community Shop, 5pm) next Monday 9th, should you just happen to be nearby!
And finally, after 6 drafts, my new book, written and set in a forest in Brittany, has gone off to seek its fortune. That book was hard work. It's a memoir of grief; it's about treelore; and it's about the lost feminine through the lens of the Grail myths (and local legends) – my specialist study for over 40 years now.
So glad to have completed the book, and am wondering whether a new novel is gestating.
The next time you hear from me, I'll be on the Isle of Iona where the first of my two weeks of ISLANDS OF THE HEART begins this Saturday, to my immense joy. I've been leading this for 18 years now, and it has become a lodestar – not just for me, but for the many who join me year after year from all over the world. I'm so looking forward to sharing this week with those pilgrims, and with the newcomers who don't yet know how Iona has a habit of changing your life... 2019 is filling, but not yet full, should you be tempted.
Both photos are from the hotel garden. Sometimes, just sometimes, we see dolphins wheeling up that Sound.
Wednesday, 21 March 2018
Kwan Yin holds still
Monday, 5 March 2018
I've been obsessed with the wild birds in the garden. There's been a long list of the usual visitors or passersby:
greater spotted woodpecker
and with the cold weather carrion crows, and a trio of exhausted redwings.
I fear for 'my' robin: one of the five that live here and the only one who eats from my hand routinely, who hasn't appeared the last few days. One of the five was overwhelmed by the cold and hunger at the beginning of the snowfall, and I've yet to work out how many have come through.
Missing from that list of tits is the long-tailed: they have fluttered through the garden on occasion en famille, but haven't stopped at the feeders. However, one brave juvenile, hungry and bedraggled, broke that pattern on Friday, and also let me photograph it from no more than six inches away:
and was followed yesterday by two adults. In the lanes today, snow only surviving now against banks and on north-facing hillsides, I saw three yellowhammers, and the skylarks were out jubilating.
My mindfulness morning walk at National Trust Greenway was postponed – just as well; as was my monthly 'Two Rivers' poetry group. The former will now happen on Wednesday 14th March (we hope), should you wish to come along to appreciate spring, slowly, as the beautiful gardens come back to life.
I'm offering fewer day workshops at the moment. I find I really love the depth offered when working with an individual over several months via online mentoring and courses, and also and particularly the weeklong retreats, of which there are a few coming up.
However, I've provisionally a day booked on 6th May to work with my 'Tongues in Trees' material in a wood on the edge of Dartmoor. Later, with the lovely Sam Wernham of River Dart Wild Church, I shall be offering an afternoon session on sacred wells, rivers and watercourses in mid-October. My websites have yet to be updated on these.
Meantime I'm looking forward so much to my two retreats on the Isle of Iona, beginning in a month's time. Should you happen to be on or near the island on Monday 9th April, we're launching my new poetry collection in the Community Shop at 5pm. The island's 'glass-blue light' (when not stormy!) and poetry for the soul, wine and nibbles for the body...
'A Trick of the Light' has been out just over a month. There are two lovely reviews on Amazon, and whatever you think of that great warehouse-in-the-sky, there's no doubt that Amazon reviews help. (If you've read this book, or indeed any of my several others, I'd be delighted if you could find the time to post a review – even a sentence helps.)
In June, I lead an annual walking and writing retreat in West Cornwall. The Land's Wild Magic takes us to holy wells, dolmens, stone circles and of course the beautiful wild coast* in search of inspiring writing. There's just one place left if I can tempt someone!
*And the mermaid:
While I'm at it: my mind keeps homing to Gardoussel, the lovely retreat venue in the Cévennes mountains where, for several years, I've been leading a weeklong course that is both intensive and deeply relaxing (that comes with the venue) in the late-summer sun. If you need a boost and a kind of physical and psychic deep refresh, Writing the Bright Moment (prose, poetry and eco-writing) in early September might just bring it. (Hammocks, a dip in the waterfall pool, excellent and plentiful vegetarian food, and a massage, anyone? Oh and quite a bit of writing and laughter too.)
And last but not by a very long way least: many of you know that for 27 years now I've been leading courses that focus on the continuing significance of myth in our individual and collective psyches, specifically the understanding and application of the Grail wisdom teachings which I first studied in their original languages at Cambridge in the 70s. My attention was caught and deepened to the extent that this subject became part of my final thesis in my counselling training in archetypal psychology in the 90s. I've written of this ever since, notably in my first book Riding the Dragon, published in 1994.
I'm as passionate about all this as I ever was. The soul needs to drink from these wells; especially during times of dryness, the emphasis 0n technology, industry, logos and rationality. Many of us are in grief about the related – consequent, in my view – state of the planet at our hands. How might we attempt to heal it? The earth needs us to remember that matter and spirit are not separate. How might we live this truth, men and women working together?
'The Wellkeepers' course that I've been leading in various incarnations on and off over a couple of decades has taken another shape, and I'm hugely excited by it. In November, I'll be offering a weeklong course, again in West Cornwall, The Wellkeepers: sacred feminine, sacred masculine.
I shall of course be guiding it, but I also want collaborative enquiry and ideas as to how we might move forward together.
There has been a lot of interest in this course, which I expect to be intensive, invigorating and restorative, I hope. I'm inviting applications now, and will be selecting on the basis of who might offer what qualities to the week. I would particularly like to hear from men. I do need to warn you though that I'm expecting participants to have already completed quite a journey of personal inner work.
There were other things I wanted to write of, but for now this is more than enough.
Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Greetings from very snowy Devon, where I've a huddle of up to 35 birds at a time clustered on or near my doorstep, and the least-timid of the five robins in the immediate vicinity leaps to my hand as soon as it sees me draw it out of the birdseed tub.
I should have been leading a two-hour mindfulness walk and session at National Trust Greenway today, a brief continuation of my residency there; but to walk at zen-snail-pace in this extreme chill seemed an unfair hypothermia risk for participants: after all, we're not actually Zen monks (who in traditional monasteries often die young from the extreme endurance required). If you might like to come (it won't be extreme, just gentle), it's been rescheduled to 14th March. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/events/ef5f6f5e-6c5b-4c83-935b-3b0b41da7c73/pages/details
There has been little let-up for me in the last decade of illnesses, deaths, and general Hard Things. This week brings another hard thing in the family, on the heels of the death of my best beloved dog on 12th.
I remind myself that this is simply how it is, sometimes, and my power and equanimity both depend on my response to how it is. I can respond, or I can react. As I've written so many times on this blog before, 'we can't stop the waves but we can learn to surf' (I think that's Jon Kabat-Zinn: I had a poster on my wall as a teenager with an image of a guru in full robes surfing a big break, captioned with that phrase, which I've never forgotten).
This is the Two Arrows teaching of Zen practice (the first arrow is what happens and is unavoidable; the second, over which you have control, is how you relate to it).
Well, I've done my share of reacting, but I am also remembering the choice I have. Any life to be well-lived requires some self-examination, and in my brighter moments I chuckle at the embrace of hard stuff by G K Chesterton: 'Oh good, another obstacle.' I can relate to that.
Well, maybe it's my Catholic upbringing. I prefer to think, though, that I love freedom, and anything that expands our awareness leads us towards freedom.
So it was apposite that a Buddhist friend asked me (among many other Buddhist practitioners) to supply for her three quotes, slogans or aphorisms that helped my practice for her blog.
I thought for a day or two. There are so many! (And I forgot the one mentioned above, which is perhaps my key go-to quote.)
But I came down to these three, which I post here in case they're of interest to anyone else. Interestingly, only one is Buddhist.
The first, to my intense surprise as I blame him for a lot of our cultural ills, comes from Plato:
'Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.' Hard – and crucial – to remember that when you're so embedded in a reactive situation with another that you've lost perspective.
The second is from T S Eliot's The Waste Land (the burial of the dead):
'And I knew nothing. Looking into the heart of light, the silence.' I chose this because I find it incredibly stilling and in some way that I can't articulate quite reassuring. I've repeated it to myself over and over for maybe 40 years.
And the third is a Buddhist precept. I can't remember but I think this version comes from Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh:
'Practise non-attachment to your own views in order to be open to be to others' views.'
This is perhaps where I find the reassurance I wrote of above. There's a freedom in letting go of what one thinks one knows (and yes, it's hard).
I'm SO opinionated. I've spent a great deal of my life thinking about the world and examining my place in it, my lapses and failures (yep Catholic burden of mea culpa), my contributions and responsibilities to self and other, and after my training in psychotherapy and being in psychotherapy myself I consider myself aware and self-aware. I mostly am aware of and take responsibility for my own shit and expect others to do the same. This also makes me self-righteous and idealistic, and I forget I'm human and sometimes wrong (though I also forget I'm human and sometimes right, far too easily taking the blame for others' shit, too). But I also forget to let other people be human.
I also think I know it all.
Like most of us, I fall into thinking of my own response when someone is offering a challenging perspective, rather than really listening and gently trying to understand their perspective, detaching from my own firm beliefs in order to give another's credence, even if their conclusions are very different from my own. (I don't mean ignoring critical thinking; I mean allowing for the fact that actually I don't know it all.)
So this one, perhaps, is the most significant of the lot. After all, surely most wars (or smaller domestic battles) begin because we think another's perspective is simply wrong?
Which, of course, is also another way of identifying with ego. But that's a whole different blog.
Back to feeding the birds, then a bit more online mentoring.
Friday, 16 February 2018
7th January 2004–12th February 2018
It took a minute. Less than a minute.
All those months of fear and the anticipation
of pain – mine, of course. In seconds,
her eyes simply closed. Gentleness
is like that. And love. I had my hand
on her head and was stroking that soft place
in front of her ear, the place the silver
of pussy-willow in spring, though that
should be dog-willow. I was singing.
Yes, I carried on singing for minutes
though my voice couldn’t bear me up,
though I was the desolation of a distant
foghorn, broadcasting to nothing,
nowhere, no-one, on and on.
Listen, you have to bear the darkness.
You have to hear it. You have to walk
into the darkness willingly, without
wishing for light. If you don’t (I wrote
once), the darkness will come looking
for you. Listen, the journey to the
Palace of Nowhere is not long,
not even arduous. You have
simply to open to darkness, let it
into the sanctum of your heart
until it meets with light and is melted;
and in that marriage you might
at last be free.
© Roselle Angwin, 15th Feb 2018
'Palace of Nowhere' is a phrase of Thomas Merton's
Thursday, 1 February 2018
Imbolc is the first of the fire festivals, the first cross-quarter date, in the Celtic new year. Situated at1st/2nd February, we could see it as the cracking-open of the earth now that the light is returning as we move further away from the darkest night of the midwinter solstice.
Very much dedicated to The Lady, at Imbolc, or Candlemas as it has become in the Christian era, we celebrate the birth or rebirth of the Maiden from the darkness, like Persephone. At this time, we start to move away from the time of the Crone, or Cailleach, sometimes known as Cerridwen, towards the time of the Flower-Maiden, Blodeuwedd.
We’re now exactly poised between the solstice and the vernal equinox, when Maiden and Mother share a moment.
It’s a misty time in the southwest of Britain. Sometimes the weak sun allows us to sit outside; but elsewhere, and sometimes here, it can be a harsh time, with the snowdrops and catkins seeming merely a faint promise. This year, though, they're in full flower in the lanes and garden, with daffodils showing a hint of yellow too.
As the word ‘imbolc’, or ‘oimelc’ tells us in its early Irish etymology, the time is ‘milky’, with ewes bearing the the first (white) lambs (those that weren’t born in November). In parts of Scotland, women still offer milky porridge to the ocean at this time of light and water.
Nine months on from Beltane, May 1st, and its old midsummer fertility fires, many children, too, would be born at this time.
Snowdrops are, of course, the perfect symbol of this new life being reborn through the snows of the winter. Here in Devon the catkins are fully out now, dusting the bare hedges with their gold. Snowdrops have been open for a week or two; my witch hazel flying fragrant streamers for a month; hundreds of periwinkles are studding the hedgerows, hellebore are shaking out their greeny-rose flowerheads – and I picked the first wild garlic a few days' ago.
One of the trees dedicated to the goddess of the late winter/early spring is the blackthorn, whose blossom arrives before the leaves. I haven’t yet seen any blackthorn trees in flower; sometimes the valleys are white with them down here in Devon even in January (hawthorn flowers don’t come till May, as their other name, may blossom, tells us).
Candles’ soft light reminds us of the stirrings of new if delicate life as the returning sun fertilises the waiting earth.
This festival is presided over by Bride (or Brighid, Brig, Brigit), the Lightbringer, one manifestation of the Great Goddess, who gave her name to so many places in Britain (which itself is a variant on her name). She is associated with sacred fire, the fertile earth, poetry, smithcraft and weaving, and healing.
You can make a Brigid’s Cross, as I have above, from reeds gathered by the brook at this full-moon time (info on Youtube).
Light the candles and dream new life into incarnation.
NEW FOR IMBOLC, APPLICABLE FROM THEN TO THE SPRING EQUINOX: A SOLO DAY-RETREAT, AVAILABLE FROM THIS LINK.
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