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

Monday, 17 February 2014

a moment

The thing about meditating is that in the end, whether or not you're a 'good' meditator (whatever that might mean), it becomes more natural to drop into that place of stillness which we encounter when in meditation (and whether or not that is an occasional moment or a frequent long experience). I'm not saying it's easy to access, but I am saying it becomes a familiar quality of being without which, for me anyway, life feels too fully-charged, an unbroken stream of too-muchness.

My own experience of meditation, largely rooted in Zen mindfulness, goes back 40 years, to my rather harsh encounter with an all-male hardcore Soto Zen group when I first arrived, a fresh-faced naive country girl, at university. However, I'm far from being able to say I've meditated daily for the majority of that time.

What I can say is that the place of interior stillness is so familiar now that I can access it pretty much at will, pretty much despite what's happening in my outer life (and of course my inner responses to that outer life) – even if only for five minutes. When I can do this, the little currents in my life – a personal or professional rejection, a disappointment, a small unkindness from another, an unexpected bill – become what they actually are, a mere ripple in the grasses. I don't need to identify with the 'small' me.

When this stillness brings inner and outer life together, there's a deep sense of everything being aligned exactly as it should be; or rather, I'm in step with it all. When I can dwell in that stillness, things become foreground audible and visible that might otherwise just pass me by in the river of background detail.

In the field, above the orchard, above the veg plot, above the ash and oak from which I suspend my hammock-chair, right up at the top in a glade, brow of the hill, in the woodland margin, is my 'deep view'. Facing east, this is a spot that catches the morning light; we've placed a whacky asymmetrical bench there, hand-carved from a tree trunk. It's somewhere TM and I come to meditate on a sunny early morning.

To the left is a small yew tree at the margins of the margin; to the right a stretch of young native deciduous trees. Amongst these and in the old Devon bank are fox earths and badger setts. Sometimes, looking up the field, I've glimpsed a young fox, a roe deer, a hare, bathing in early sunlight in front of the yew.

The corner exudes tranquillity, and Ash, She-Who-Wears-Her-Grey-Matter-On-The-Outside, often looks up at me when we're walking the top path and then sits down beside the bench. I sit too, and we share a long moment, a long view.

At dusk on Saturday my daughter and I and both our dogs sat and shared that moment in silence.

Dusk is one of those moments where the earth seems to take a deep breath, everything briefly suspended in utter quiet, before rolling onwards towards night. I love catching that wave of stillness at its peak, before it unfurls into the future-present.

Things happen in that space. Or rather – we pay attention to the things that are happening there anyway and ourselves become what we always are: part of the unfolding cosmos in that moment. So I notice the single snipe that flies away inland from the brook at around this time, the dimpsy, the witching-hour.

My daughter gasps. 'Look! A shooting star!' I miss it; but together we see the second: a bright light I'd been aware of in the sky above us, noticeable and seemingly fixed among the stars, has suddenly dropped out of its orbit, leaving a hole in the night sky. Just as it enters the earth's atmosphere, presumably, it burns a sudden hot neon-green, then bursts into deep bright red-orange-yellow flame and, flaring, falls to earth, seemingly, over in the east. At this distance, it's impossible to work out whether it's huge and far away, or small and local, but it feels like a small gift, even as I'm aware that the night sky seems less bright without it.

Then – small rustles of roosting birds in the trees around us, headlights of a distant car on a distant lane, tumble of the brook in the valley – I become aware of the sound down near and over the brook of a bird I'm not familiar with: a deep burbling throaty ascending warble; deeper and unlike a curlew. (Anyone know what it might be? At dusk? – Not a small bird; not a frog or toad; and we're inland so not a salt-marsh bird or wader. I don't think it's one of the tawny owls, nor a barn owl, unless either of those has an addition to its more usual repertoire I'm ignorant of.) I realise that I've been aware of this voice for a few nights at dusk now; without bringing my attention to it fully I notice I've been puzzling slightly.

And then, icing on the cake, the full moon starts shouldering over the hill, its low dome pumpkin-coloured. And we're there witnessing. What a grace, this being alive.


  1. I love that moment just before dusk falls as well: when the whole world seems to be holding its breath waiting for the stars. Is your bird a thrush? They often sing as dusk falls. We have one who is singing its heart out right now, in the old pear orchard beyond our garden. Hardy, in his poem of the same name, called it 'The Darkling Thrush' - such an apt description

  2. could it be the snipe doing his dusky display call?
    lovely piece...
    and I like " she who wears her grey matter on the outside"
    : )

  3. Hello Mo, and hello anon - thank you both. Mo, it's definitely not a thrush. We do have both mistle and song thrushes here in reasonable abundance. This note is a very deep bubbling call, rising but NOT like a curlew. Anon: Is a snipe's voice that deep? The time is right, in that I see a single snipe flying over often at around that time, but I'd have said the voice belonged to a bigger bird. It seems to be a ground bird (ie not in a tree), so it might be a waterbird-type. Having said that, I couldn't identify a snipe's call, so it could be. I appreciate both of you commenting :-).

  4. hello Roselle, yes a snipe's display call is deep and sounds a bit like the sound of a boomerang whirring... : )

  5. Thank you - yes - beginning to think it's a jack snipe. Yes, it is a bit as you describe, though with a bell-like resonance too...

  6. Was fascinated to hear a snipe so I went to the RSPB website and their audio, I think, matches your description. Quite an eery sound, intriguing and very different from curlew (part of my Pennine childhood – walking there, that is.)

    A lovely post, Roselle. Always a treat.
    Love, Miriam.

  7. Bestest good idea I never thinked of, Miriam (my nephew aged 3 or 4), going to the RSPB website. And thanks. I wonder whether R4 has put up snipe on their 'tweet of the day' page (5.55am). I haven't caught all of them. Love x


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