Kwan Yin holds still
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.
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.
Saturday, 27 January 2018
So I said no new blogs for a while. Here's an exception.
I've been clearing the decks, as they say, this last week, and working really quite hard to do so as I'm DETERMINED to finish this Brittany book before I go off to Iona in early April.
One thing regarding clearing the decks was my sudden decision to stop offering my annual THRESHOLDS day. I've been leading this as reflective practice for 20-something years, and have loved it. Participants have loved it, too, it seems – many come back year after year.
But actually the finding-a-venue, renting it, making fliers, advertising, dealing with admin, giving directions, answering queries etc is exhausting, and I think my time and energy are better spent on the longer projects and retreats I offer; and my own writing. The one day actually ends up being nearly a week, one way and another.
It suddenly came to me that I wanted to offer this as a download, for people to put into practice in their own quiet space, as a one-day solo intensive retreat.
Originally, Thresholds was offered as a day close to the turning year. The last 4 or 5 years it has been offered as part of a residential retreat attuned to the Celtic fire festival of Imbolc, 1st/2nd February, which sits between the midwinter solstice and the vernal equinox. (The material is appropriate to use any time between now and the vernal equinox, so choose your day. I personally think that Imbolc or the weekend immediately following is potent: there's a 'doorway' that opens then.)
At this time in the northern hemisphere – or at least in the British Westcountry – snowdrops are out, catkins are gold-dusted, birds are belting out spring songs, my witch hazel in the courtyard has hung out her fragrant yellow streamers. And it is still cold and wet.
In Celtic mythology, the 'Maiden' aspect of the threefold Goddess (Maiden, Mother, Crone/Cailleach) is just escaping the clutches of the winter king to return to the upper world from the Underworld.
In this day workshop, we attune ourselves to this point in the turning year. The download – 12 pages of intensive material that includes information on Imbolc and the presiding Celtic goddess of this time (Brighid), a relevant story, some practical offerings and several tasks in the form of questions – is designed to make us more aware of aligning ourselves to natural cycles on earth and in the cosmos, at the same time as giving us an opportunity to enquire into our own lives: what needs letting go? What are our intentions for this coming year? How might we make changes that affirm who we are and and where we find ourselves?
I've put decades of skill and experience into this, and thought very carefully how best to 'frame' it for a solo retreat to re-vision the coming year.
If you could do with a guided reflective and restorative day such as this, head over to this page on my website (NB although this is not gender-specific, be aware that we focus on the feminine principle in the material, as Imbolc is her time).
NB: THIS IS NOT RELEVANT TO THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE - SORRY!
Tuesday, 23 January 2018
My friends, I'm aware that my posts have been fewer and fewer. Right now, my energy levels have ground to a halt as I'm waiting for a glimpse of a way forward: there's much inner change going on and it's all very fluid right now.
Just as significantly, I'm trying to clear my life for at least two months to concentrate on the book, set and partly written in a Brittany forest, which has had such a difficult labour lately (the beginning was so sweet!), and is on the 5th draft.
So rather than adding another 'should' to my interminable list, for the next few weeks I'm intending to repost old blogs, and/or post here items from my various creative works.
Today, here's a reblog (from 2012, when I'd been quite ill) of a post on the perfect imperfections of being human, from the perspective of my adult-life-long (and sometimes erratic) practice of Zen.
Our condition is one of living with joy and sorrow both – that's simply how it is – whatever our circumstances; and we do best to say 'YES' to it all; simply YES. It's the resistance that brings the suffering.
So there has to be a YES to opening my heart over and over to the dharma, which is simply the Way – the journey; in this case right here right now, to what my heart is telling me.
And here on my meditation stool this morning, having decided at last to give myself rest, so a lazy start to Bach on the CD player and a gentle breakfast by the courtyard window, here on the stool I meet those old friends, the 'five hindrances' of the human condition, according to Buddhism: craving, aversion, apathy, anxiety, doubt.
I've been doing this for decades. They don't go away, these old friends; utterly loyal, we meet each other over and over. The good news is I don't fight them so much any more – not quite. I nod, and let my attention rest again in silence. And again. And again. Yes, that's progress!
'We all dread the helplessness of losing control, and yet real freedom lies in recognizing the futility of demanding that life be within our control. Instead, we must learn the willingness to feel—to say yes to—the experience of helplessness itself. This is one of the hidden gifts of serious illness or loss. It pushes us right to our edge, where we may have the good fortune to realize that our only real option is to surrender to our experience and let it just be.' (Ezra Bayda, "The Three Things We Fear Most"; from Tricycle Daily Dharma)
Zazen, Zen sitting meditation, is one of the toughest practices, it seems to me. When sitting, you simply – SIT. How hard is that? When I was a teenager muddling my way towards some sort of path that was spiritual but not 'religious' or monotheistic I learned all kinds of lovely soothing meditation practices with candles and mantras and mudras and visualisations and substitutions of positives for negatives and 'bringing in the light' and chants and prayerbeads. Dreamy trancey stuff.
Then one day I decided I'd give 'proper' Zen meditation a go. Boy, was it tough. Bearing in mind I was a romantic young thing, newly-arrived at university, into poetry, music, New Age stuff and a little experimentation with soft drugs, Zazen shocked me awake.
One austere white room. Half a dozen scary-looking austere silent men, all much older than me. Two forty-minute sitting sessions, facing the white wall, eyes a little open. No movement. No mantra. No guidance. No distraction, not even a candle. No words. Twenty minutes silent slow walking in between the two forty-minute sitting 'sesshins'. My mind, cartwheeling, freefalling, bored, running amok, disliking intensely this confrontation with – itself, no distraction.
You could ask: 'and the point?' – To be present. Really present, in each moment; not to rush towards death in a flurry of trivia and distraction. To peer deeply into everything and everyone you encounter, including your own internal horrors, illusions and errors and the way you visit them not only on yourself but on others. To appreciate the 'isness' of it all; the 'suchness'. To face head-on the fear of emptiness. To live as if everything mattered. And nothing.
Zazen is also perhaps, it seems to me, one of the most courageous meditation practices. You don't attempt to fill the emptiness that arises when we're no longer distracted. You simply watch the mind – its games, its addictions, its evasions and duckings and divings, its endless babble. You watch it. This is how it is. You don't need to hang onto any of it, though the mind will try and try.
Sometimes, just sometimes, you break through this chatter and you fly free, for a little while – 'free of the false, free of the true' as the Zenrin has it. Free of all our conceptualisations, as well as our preoccupations. 'Me, you, these walls, these books, all gone like a waterfall over a cliff.'
I have other spiritual practices besides, mainly on the Old pagan turning dates of the year, that draw on my transpersonal, druidic, Western Mystery Tradition values, but Zazen is core. It's like the movement from a very beautiful very elaborate celebration in an ornate temple to a very simple hut in the woods. How little we need, not how much.
Zen is a practice to do with cutting through the games of ego. It's integrative rather than transcendental – and as someone who craves transcendental experience it's been really useful and grounding for me to stay with something unshowy and simple and direct. The aim is to enquire, to see clearly, into the nature of reality by becoming aware and slipping the bonds of the things that keep us stuck: our fears, our anger and resistance, our greed, our dislikes, our cravings; and seeing them all as ways of distracting ourselves, as reactive constructs of the ego-mind that sit between us and All That Is.
Yep, it's still as hard, sometimes, as when I was a teenager. Sometimes it's not. I'm learning not to resist or judge. And I have discovered that Zazen is the candle. And my heart likes this spaciousness that opens up if I can just sit with everything exactly as it is, without needing to change it or move away or towards it.
Friday, 12 January 2018
Last night I caught on my face light from a star
ejected from the sky unimaginable centuries ago.
This morning, walking early, day has draped
shrubs and bushes with nets of frost and fog,
laid them into my hair, on my coat. By the farm
a hundred violet periwinkles drink mist. Home,
the robin lands on my hand for food; three blackbirds
scurry to squabble over seed by the yellow witch hazel.
I'm watching a sky the colour of waiting.
Whatever it is that needs to be said
is not on my tongue yet; hasn't landed
in my body. I can be patient. I'm old enough
now to know about waiting, about uncertainty.
So the government has unrolled its 25-year environment plan. The pledges it's made on plastic are utterly outrageous; by 2042 it will have put an end, it hopes, to 'avoidable plastic waste'.
2042? As anyone knows who has watched Attenborough's beautiful and moving 'Blue Planet', this is far too little, far too late. Avoidable plastic waste should be avoided RIGHT NOW. It's nothing like enough to charge for plastic bags. What's more, May and Gove (admittedly, after a very dodgy start in relation to whether animals are sentient or not, he has pledged a couple of improvements to current environmental law in comparison with how he bodged education) are 'consulting with Industry'. Not one of the 4 points in the 4-point action plan they discussed 'with Industry' includes any kind of commitment to removing or replacing plastic. As usual, 'industry' will go on pulling all the strings.
Lobby local councillors, producers and retailers (it doesn't have to be aggressive).
If you live in the South Hams, we are lucky enough to have in Totnes a zero-waste shop for not only almost all the loose organic wholefoods you can think of, herbs, teas and spices but also refills for all Ecover products and a machine that will make almond or peanut butter for you. They provide paper bags for loose products and sell cloth bags for eg flours and jars for the butters. On the website you can find 31 tips for reducing single-use plastic. What's more, their loose strawberry and basil fruit tea is to die for, as they say.
As usual, George Monbiot has much to say about it.
I'm currently winding down from all my usual courses as a) I'm exhausted and b) I need to finish the book I've been working on for more than two years.
I'm continuing with a little mentoring, but trying to avoid much work other than my own writing until my Iona courses in early April. I'm looking forward to getting more sleep, being less overwhelmed with admin etc, and focusing on my own creativity and personal inner work.
One thing I've decided to let go of, to my surprise, is my one-day Thresholds workshop. I've been doing this retreat-day as personal practice at this time of year for about 30 years, and offering it to the public for more than 20. It's about re-visioning your life, and realigning yourself more truly to your core self, soul life, and the turning year, as well as exploring the unique qualities you can offer to the world.
The last few years it has been tied-in with a workshop I offer for Imbolc, the Celtic early-spring cross-quarter-date when new life, in the northern hemisphere, is beginning to stretch towards the light, and we start to feel as if the earth really is beginning to turn back towards the sun.
News is that I'm about to shape it to offer it as a self-facilitated personal-retreat download instead of as a face-to-face group workshop. My websites are woefully un-updated, but it will appear here in a little while, and will be available to purchase later in the month, in time for Imbolc (1/2 February).
I shall be still offering my mindfulness walk for the National Trust on February 28th (I'm looking forward to that as the woodland gardens are so inspiring, and I'm missing my residency there), but there will be no other day workshops now until May.
The second of my Iona 'Islands of the Heart' weeks has been full for a long time, but there is still one place on the first group for someone who has attended my retreats there before 2015.
I'm delighted that, without any advertising, The Land's Wild Magic week in Cornwall is filling, but a few places remain.
To come in early September is my prose, poetry and eco/nature-writing in the beautiful Gardoussel in the Cévennes mountains of southern France (think Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey). 'Writing the Bright Moment' is open for bookings now.
Then, in the autumn, my redesigned The Wellkeepers: Sacred Feminine, Sacred Masculine will be happening, also in West Cornwall, as a residential intensive instead of a year-long group. NB: details have yet to be confirmed.
So looking forward to sharing these weeks with you lovely people, known and as-yet-unknown, who join me for this depth-work.
My new collection of poetry from the Isle of Iona has yet to arrive in my hands, but any day now, I'm assured. Watch this space as I'm sure I won't be able to avoid a little glee and boasting...
Thursday, 4 January 2018
Wrong book. It's actually All the Missing Names of Love; also available from me or to order from bookshops.
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