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, 29 March 2012

the calm of stones

Out in the very early morning, frost still steeping the meadows, icing the brook's breath. A solitary red deer doe grazing by the far hedge. Sun greening the world back to being. 

Precious moments to be only fully here – no more, no less.

Back home, the new bread is rising, and I am aware that in me something that was raw is slowly being cooked to maturity. (More than about time, some would say!)

I've always been known to friends and family as a bit of an idealist, a dreamer, an extremist. I've feared the 'quiet desperation of the English way', and I dread a kind of complacency coloured by – driven by the need for – the inertia of the status quo, security and comfort.

I'm a salmon, perpetually swimming against the current. It gets me to interesting worthwhile places and I'm so glad to have done it. I will continue to swim against the current of mainstream values and my own shallower ones, if those values seem soulless and inhumane, as they so often do – based on greed, on vanity, on ignorance; on exploitation of other sentient beings (including the planet) just because, as my Buddhist blogger-friend David Ashton says, we can. ('Snow Branches': )

But in my own life, personal and professional, I'm seriously burnt out with doing things the hard way. I'm giving up struggle and strife – you have witnessed my saying this! – and breaking lifetime habits of feeling one is only alive if one is living perpetually on the edge, in some discomfort.

One of the wisest contributions of Buddhism is the idea of the Middle Way – walking the path that leads between the pairs of opposites, holding the truths of both without being swayed into identifying oneself with one ideology in opposition to another, for instance. And knowing that even truth, any truth, as we can perceive it from our relative unenlightened position, is partial, incomplete, a shadow on the wall of the cave.

That's not to say that there aren't 'right paths' – but that may be more of a judgement call than we like to think, and who are we to pronounce on Ultimates? And, even knowing the right path in any situation, and committing to walking it, making the intention to stay with it, it's still wise, Buddhism would say, to not be attached either to that path, or to the outcome. Otherwise we will do that thing: 'The truth comes knocking. "Go away!" I say. "I'm looking for the truth!" The truth goes away, puzzled.'

When my Zen teacher first spoke of situationist ethics, I felt very uneasy. What, wishywashy uncommitted sitting-on-fenceness? 'Anything goes'? But of course that's not what it is. It's recognising that there's a tyranny in any pronouncement that declares itself to be The One Right Way. I don't 'believe in' killing; but if anyone were threatening my daughter's life I'm sure that notion would go out the window. I 'don't believe' we need to kill animals to survive; but it's easy to say that, living here in lush Devon where I have a choice; if I were an Inuit with little to eat in the way of plants, grains etc would I really starve myself to death? I 'believe in' honesty, and have always declared that it should be 'complete honesty'; but would it, for instance, help my distressed and ailing father to know the truth of the huge emotional, mental and financial cost to we four daughters of the struggle we've had in relation to his and my mum's illnesses and the complexity of the ramifications the last few years? 

And the human heart doesn't operate in black and white values; that's the opinionated bias of aspects of the rational mind, coloured by emotional responses (the Heart is of a higher level of feeling).

So I am at last valuing as a felt experience, not simply a concept, the idea that while the Middle Way might not be as exciting an adventure as living on the edge, I'm finding there's a deep deep quiet satisfaction, to my surprise, in the maturing process that brings clarity and a willingness to let things be a bit without fearing that I will lose my fire, that there's no vision in these quieter places, that I will simply calcify. And yet, speaking of calcification: I am, as a friend counselled, learning to listen to the calm of stones...

'Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.'

(John O'Donohue)


  1. What a very wise blog, Roselle. I think there's also something to be said for the notion that what may be a 'right path' for us at one stage in our lives may not be a right path at another. Maybe there's a different road to eldership. Whatever it may be, I'm sure you'll walk yours with grace.

  2. Thanks, dear Sharon. I know we share an enthusiasm and passion for this life and its many things/aspects that call out to our interest and engagement and passion – and that has to be a strength. But for me that's become an addiction, a shot of which has become crucial in order for me to function. That's what I'm challenging now in myself – and as my partner would say, it has to be noted that that's aspirational as much as actual, certainly at the moment.

    Yes, I agree re right paths changing over time; and it's hard to change course if you've been steering it forever – it involves a lot of unlearning! – but for me it's not only crucial for my own wellbeing but also so that I can be more effective in living more deeply what I know to be true, even as that shifts and changes... :-)

  3. I can really relate to this post - moving away from lifetime habits of living on the edge towards the middle way, being with the stones and finding more fire rather than losing it. Learning by unlearning. ... and thanks for the link to my blog :)

  4. Thank you, David. I've a long way to go in practice, but my vision is a bit clearer on the 'how' now, a bit... Always good to know these struggles – and giving them up! – is common experience...

  5. Well, if you keep John O'Donohue in mind every day, I'm sure finding the 'middle way' in most of life's situations won't be a problem. If anybody can take your mind away from "living on the edge" it would be him. :-)

    All the best ...

  6. Thanks, Chris, that's wise counsel. Do you know his 'Eternal Echoes'?

    And by the way, I was completely astonished to hear that, given your excellent writing, you are not a native English speaker! I knew you live in Denmark; I hadn't realised you are also a Dane! (Your name doesn't really give that away...)

  7. "Eternal Echoes" is one of the books still on my wishlist ... I have "Benedictus", "Anam Cara" and "Divine Beauty", and I am finding great comfort in re-reading passages from these books - especially "Anam Cara" - in times of stress and conflict, both within and without - so to speak :-)

    Christopher Marcus is my writer's name or pen name if you will. I chose it mostly because I believed it would be easier for English speaking audiences to pronounce (and remember) than my native name. They are, after all, my main reader group ... or intended to be, that is.

    Well, I'm also quite damaged from reading English comics from when I was 13 or thereabouts :-)


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