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

Thursday, 7 April 2011

the slow singing of stones (inc. poem)

that was the day I saw the eagle
wings so tuned to the wind
it seemed to be made of it

What is the wind? A quickening, a thickening, of molecules or a more forceful wave of energy than simply that of still air? What is a wave in relation to the sea – a build-up, or peak, of energy that takes a more visible form?  How can we separate ‘wind’ from ‘air’, ‘wave’ from ‘water’? What if everything is alive, at slower or greater speeds... What if a stone is simply a dense waveform that means that matter vibrates at a very low slow frequency, and the colour violet, for instance, a high-frequency vibration that is more energy than matter?
   What is it, if not simply a firing of neurons, that allows us to feel love (that is not simply self-seeking), pity, compassion, empathy; to write a sublime symphony or poem, to paint a picture that offers a viewer a transcendent experience?
   Of course we’re in the quantum realms of the ultimate indivisibility of particle and wave, matter and spirit; and since I'm not a scientist and besides only have a twenty-minute 'gap' in which to write this, I think we'll leave that there...
   But if I define for the sake of argument ‘spirit’ as that animating consciousness which inhabits and informs matter, in these thin-veiled places such as Iona the material and the spiritual never seem as separate and distinct (and sometimes uneasily opposed) as our post-modern Western world so often makes them out to be. Here the spiritual, or numinous, whatever each individual understands by that, is simply a fact of life on the island – the way things are. (It’s true that much of that focus is on the Christian expression of spirituality, but the old Celtic ways with their nature-based awareness infuse everything, and the ecumenical Iona Community centred on the Abbey is influenced by that tradition, too. Many of us who come are conscious of the island’s ancient druidic past, and that too informs the quality of the experience here, as another layer of ancestry in the palimpsest.)
   A five-day retreat in such a place, such as I’ve been leading here, seems to allow participants to bring themselves ‘home’, to reorder the scattered fragments of themselves, to find a resting place out of the whirlwind of our habitual accelerated lives. I love seeing people come back to themselves, and start to inhabit, too, the land and sea here, finding a new way of being ‘home’. I love seeing how they then fly out from that place in themselves where their essential nature takes over and a wholeness emerges. I love the way too we start to ‘be’ in relation to each other, making a community that is tuned each to the other, the way starlings are synchronised. I love the words that emerge, and the way that the group becomes a safe place to talk of griefs and joys, hopes and fears and losses. I love their trust. Already I miss all this, despite all those years of Zen practice at living in the present moment.

I think about Camus’ words: ‘We travel for years without much idea of what we are seeking. We wander in the tumult, entangled in desires and fears. Then suddenly we arrive at one of those two or three places that are waiting for us patiently in the world. We arrive there and the heart is at last at peace – we discover that we have arrived.’
   So today, the last full day, and knowing that it’s been such a rich time that some people already are struggling with the idea of leaving, I ask the group to write about home; and I say, borrowing from Natalie Goldberg, that I’d like them not to write about any house they’ve ever lived in.
   I offer them the ancient Irish ‘dunad’ form as a container; in this case a little 12-line poem where the opening phrase and the closing one are the same, or very similar. By the time we’ve heard them all several people are weeping. Later tonight, when we regroup for our ‘ceilidh’, I’ll request permission to maybe post one or two. Meantime, in case you’re interested in the form, here’s my example of it:


I have made a home in the air
where the lapwing curves and the new
swallow streaks across the sand

in the stones and the rocks –
their ancientness, their earthlit hues
the slow deep stone-songs they know

and in the green water that runs
like a herd of wild horses, where
the seal’s head bobs at my call

in the fire of the heart, these words
you write, the fierce longing that joins
us all – here I have made a home.

– Roselle Angwin

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