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 29 June 2015

Horse Medicine 2

So it's happened: my weekend on Exmoor, outdoors facilitating a workshop with horses (handled so skilfully by my friend Cait who owns – if that's ever the right word for our co-habitation with animals – several very beautiful horses and works alongside them in her coaching and therapy work). I've been building up to including hands-on work with horses into my Wild Ways programme for a long time, with a few false starts along the way.

Friday began with mist sliding in over Dartmoor, then a brief burst of heavy rain as I drove along the very beautiful Exe valley from Tiverton to Dunster, stopping off at the Rest and Be Thankful (I was) pub at Wheddon Cross to meet my sister for an hour or two on a rare sighting – she lives in the north of Scotland, but has work down here sometimes in connection with the South West Coast Path, and Exmoor National Park.

As I pulled in at Cait's the rain had eased, but the saga of the campervan hadn't – a pipe was drooping onto the ground. I tucked it back behind a strut (or something); I've no idea what it's for, but the brakes and fuel delivery seem to function fine still, so I'm not too worried. At least the water issue seems to have been fixed – hooray.

And on Friday evening the sun slipped into view, and one by one the participants arrived, having travelled from Wales, Cornwall and Devon. The horses watched.

I realised almost immediately how crazy it was to think we could possibly cover my theme, Animal Archetypes, in a two-hour session, even as an introduction to the hands-on work we were doing the next day. We needed a whole weekend at the very least; so it was a bit of a crash-course in what I'd put out as publicity:

'The intention behind all this work is to bring together felt experience of the natural world with our imagination and some psychological exploration to re-vision our relationships with self, other (including and especially the other-than-human), and the wild – as well as to produce new and inspiring pieces of writing (no previous skills needed in any of this). Think of it as ecotherapy plus – the ‘plus’ being a reciprocity: shifting our centre-of-attention from the needs solely of humans to the needs of other species and the planet as well.'

We looked at our relationship with animals in the outer world as other species sharing a journey with us but in their own way within their own sphere of consciousness, and with so much to teach us of emotional and multi-sensory awareness, instinct, co-operation, altruism, loyalty and herd principles. Henry Beston in his book The Outermost House puts this so well: 

'We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.'

What a great and magnificent collaboration might take place if we could learn to look more deeply, listen differently and relate more consciously, in a more egalitarian way, to animals.

We looked, too, at how animals (also) live within us, in our individual and collective psyches, as archetypes: symbols of particular qualities of energy that we might draw on.

Myth and fairy tale are full of 'helper animals' who guard a threshold, or arrive when a human needs help: for instance, in the myth of Psyche and Eros, ants arrive to help Psyche sort through an impossibly huge mountain of grain when she is set the task of doing so; an eagle arrives when she needs help picking out something specific from rushing waters, each offering their own particular strengths that she may find her own inner equivalent in response. 

Then there is the shaman's calling-up, or shape-shifting to, a particular animal or animal spirit: animal-as-mediator to move between the worlds; journeying into subtle states of non-ordinary consciousness where non-verbal communication, reading body-language, and the skills of intuition, emotional intelligence, playfulness, spontaneity, telepathy and imagination are stimulated by our association with a particular animal. Then there's the whole field of animal lore, augury and synchronicity (and Jung's thinking in relation to these subjects) – far too big to go into here.

So what with exploring this and my leading of a visualisation the two hours passed intensely and swiftly; and later I slept deeply in my van up on the heights of Exmoor near the horses, Porlock and Dunkery Beacon flanking us just ahead; the sea an imagined glimmer just out of sight.

Saturday, the horse day, began with my reiterating the intentions and motivations behind the day:
  • An experiential awareness of the fine, subtle and strong threads that bind us, all of us, human and other-than-human, in this web, and how our relationship to it, the all of it, needs such urgent re-visioning. This is the perspective of deep ecology.
  • The therapeutic agenda: relating to animals, perhaps especially horses who have shared our lives for so many thousands of years, giving us so much that has changed our relationship to the world (an equivalent to the discovery of fire, or invention of the wheel), can bring so much healing.

    I wanted to emphasise that this needs to be two-way: as we are healed, so we also need to heal the wounds our species have inflicted, often in the most unimaginably brutal ways, on animals in general, and horses in particular (and still do: most people who work with horses still take the 'breaking in' attitude: breaking the animal's spirit with force, coercion and punishment).
  • Then there is creativity. It's my experience that deeply immersing myself in an animal's presence, particularly a horse's, can stimulate new ideas and imaginative responses; there's something, for me, about being jolted by presence out of my own light and out of the rational judging mind into more of a flow. 
  • And there is too a release from the chattering of ego-mind into a deeper collective soul-mind in which there is no longer 'I, me and mine' in the usual way.
So we talked of all this, and more, and then Cait took people, two at a time, to enter the temporary pens with a horse each as partner. The choosing was done by horse or human or both, and in the watching it became clear to me that the pairings were perfect.

Cait had decided not to set a task or have an agenda; rather to let the process unfold and evolve. Since we had a couple of experienced horse-people with us, I was slightly anxious that they might feel restless simply being around a horse doing nothing in particular. I needn't have worried, of course: all three horses partnering us that day are very tuned-in to humans, very engaged, trustworthy. And this kind of 'time out' with the horses was invariably a deepening.

Each horse is very different. Here's William, a big French ex-racehorse who didn't cut it, according to his owners' agenda, and was rescued in quite a dramatic way from a particularly horrible fate as 'bait' for bullfighting:

He's only been with Cait for a month, and behaved impeccably: one of the sweetest, kindest horses I've ever met, and with such sensitive intelligent eyes. 

One person fell in love with him big time, tearful when she had to leave at the end of her turn. Another person who'd rarely spent time with horses spent most of her 20 minutes with him cheek-to-cheek: very moving to watch.

Then there's Freddie: an inquisitive mischievous cheeky little Welsh B pony with attitude, guts and playfulness. Because of numbers and time I hadn't expected to have any time with the horses myself, and if I had I'd thought perhaps I might see if I could spend a little while with William and his capacity for quietness. I thought that'd be good for me. Once I'd focused in on this I felt so strongly about working with William it was all I could do not to elbow C out of the way to get there first! – all that restrained me, in addition to basic if nearly-forgotten politeness, was the fact that C had paid me for the experience!

So it happened that there was time for me – with Freddie.

Of course, it always works out; and what I took away from my time with Freddie was the importance of playfulness – life has been very intense and in many ways very demanding lately, and I so easily fall into taking myself and life far too seriously, and forget how to swim, let alone play, in it all. Freddie doesn't let that happen: first thing he did was lift my leg up (I was lying on the ground) by my boot. 

Rowan is a bit of a star: he's the one with whom I worked when I first came up to Cait's feeling not at all well a few years ago. I wrote about it here.

Rowan's an Arab; in my view a breed unrivalled for beauty. He's spirited and kind, and stood over M and then J-A when they lay and sat, respectively, in his pen, with attentive kindness.
It was good to see over-stretched N able to let go of all the rushing and demands that had accompanied her, and simply to immerse herself in grooming Rowan – time for herself, as brushing a horse is a two-way nurturing process.

For J-A, unfamiliar with horses and not even sure she wanted to enter the pen, risking her nervousness and sitting trustingly close to Rowan anyway was 'a transcendent experience' – she wrote to me after to say that it was one of the most special experiences ever, and she'd like to do it all over again, please, the very next day.

And so we shall – but next year. 

Saturday 20 June 2015

poem for the summer solstice 2015

Last night I stood outside
where the wind had loosened the oaks back into their own quietude
watched Venus Jupiter and the moon slide over the western horizon –

benevolent planets conjunct in the rinsed-blue sky of a midsummer night.
We’re always travelling east following the path of the sun
always seeking new beginnings

I lose track of days    time seems so irrelevant –
is it two years or three since we last walked the sacred stones together?
How your smile used to break my heart

as the fullness of summer lanes does now and always –
astringency of meadowsweet enigmatic bells of foxglove
hidden lives of trefoil vetch wild strawberry

What is there to say that is not already being said by the trees to the wind
by the blossom to the light    by the animals
burrowing in their intimate darkness in the earth’s skin?

And us – how we spend our days skyjumping out of the paradise
that is here now immanent
then the rest of our lives like Icarus flying towards the sun.

© Roselle Angwin

Please note that all creative work on this blog is copyright and needs my permission to be reproduced

Monday 15 June 2015

plus ça change

I've been silent here because there are so many significant things happening in my life at the moment for which I seem to have no words. I've barely sat down to write creatively, either, in months now – a somewhat frightening state of affairs, but next month that will be challenged. I hope.

TM and I have been walking in my favourite forest in Brittany, dense as it is with history, legend and story. This place has been a major node, let's say, on my inner map for maybe thirty years, and is twinned with my family's home town, just to anchor me further.

One of the things I love about this forest is that it reminds me of the magical Wistman's Wood (possibly from Wisht Maen, or Wise/Sacred Stone) on Dartmoor, except that this forest is about 2000 times bigger, and the rocks and trees themselves Goliaths to Wistman's Lilliputians (to mix my metaphors). 

And I have a new project there, of which more anon.

It's a long and snaking path we all live; one that does not succumb to reason or planning (thank goodness), and proceeds in great loops and spirals, bringing us back to the same or similar places, literally but also metaphorically, where we meet ourselves again in deeper ways.

Brittany has been part of my consciousness, my psychic reality, all my life. I come from a minority culture with its own language, as have my family from forever: in our case a little tribe from the very far West of the British Isles, in Cornwall. We share with Wales, the Isle of Man and Brittany a Brythonic tongue (the Scots and Irish share variants on the Goidelic branch of the Celtic language). 

My father was very immersed in Brythonic Celtic culture. My own later passion for its myths, legends, pre/history, megaliths and language informed my switch, on arrival at Cambridge University, from English to Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, where I specialised in the latter, plus mediaeval French (and the Picts). (As it happens, I also feared that to study English at a time when my creativity wasn't yet properly formed would prove an inhibiting factor on creative expression ever after – a theory that's been borne out by friends' experiences.)

So, although I don't speak Cornish at all fluently except in the sense of picking out words and place-names, I did learn Middle Welsh. When I am in Brittany, cousin-culture, not only am I also home, in a way, but I can also understand many of the words and place-names.

One of the loops took me to the high Pyrenees in my very early 20s. This period, echoed later in the same place, brought me what I can only describe as three 'out of body' experiences which have undoubtedly shaped my life and my consciousness since. Also out of these experiences grew my first novel, Imago, a novel about the persecution of the Cathars in the 13th century.

But that's not where I'm going here. One of the periods in the Pyrenees was a winter spent in a big old mas, or farm, become commune, right on the French border with Spain. Three miles from the nearest road, we also had to walk a half mile to fetch water from the spring, and we grew or milked our own livelihood.

During that winter, which in some ways was hard, my back inexplicably gave out (I say inexplicably, but in fact I had fractured three vertebrae as a child, with temporary paralysis of one leg. However, I'd not had any trouble since it healed.) For a few weeks I was completely bedridden, in pain, cold, and with nothing to do. One day, a couple of the communards carried me down the mountain on a kind of stretcher thing made of coats and ash branches (this also figures in Imago). 

A little lower down there lived an old man amongst a small farm of cherry trees and bees (I know this sounds like a fairy tale, and in some ways it was). He turned me over, laid his hands on my lower back, and after ten minutes I got up and walked back up the hill.

Things happen. I've never forgotten.

Nor have I forgotten that one communard, a Breton guy called Jean-Yves, during the time I was bedridden came every afternoon with Breton books, some of them cartoon books, to teach me Breton. Afternoon by afternoon my grasp of the language and my affection for the Breton who was kind enough to give me an hour every day, and by extension the Breton people as a whole, grew.

So, loop on loop, my life has brought me back to a place where France in general and Brittany in particular is claiming a significant part of my life again, thirty years after – I haven't talked of this – it first loomed on my horizon as being my own personal Isle of Ys (not just the Isle of Ys that is also connected with Brittany in the collective and mythological consciousness of the Bretons), before it then sank without trace.

If all that's enigmatic, so be it. It's worth tracing the way our lives loop back on themselves though – we can learn a lot from the similarities of aspects of our inner lives, no matter how much the outer expression and times are divergent. Repeating patterns have something to say of the soul and its purposes, I think.

Monday 1 June 2015

and more: the view from Buddhism on deep ecology

Following on from one aspect of my blog yesterday, to do with our arrogant notions that we humans are the culmination of consciousness (or perhaps the only being that possesses it in our vast, luminous, electromagnetic, pulsing cosmos) here's Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher whose work on interbeing/interconnectedness moves so many of us. This arrived synchronously in my inbox this morning:

The Diamond Sutra is the oldest text on deep ecology

The Diamond Sutra advises us to throw away four notions...The second notion that the Diamond Sutra advises us to throw away is the notion “man,” human being. This is not too difficult. When we look into the human being, we see human ancestors, we see animal ancestors, we see vegetable ancestors, we see mineral ancestors. We see that the human is made of non-human elements. We see that we are at the same time a rock, a river, a cloud, a squirrel, a rose. And if we take away all the non-human elements, the human being is no longer there.

This is the deepest teaching on deep ecology. In order to protect the human being, you have to protect elements that are not human, because these elements are our ancestors, and if you destroy them there is no way we can be here. That is why discrimination between man and nature is a wrong view. You have to see you as nature, one with nature.

That is why harmony, respect of life, is possible. So throw away the idea that the human being is the boss, man is the boss, man can do anything to nature. The key is contemplation on impermanence of non-self.

The first to be thrown away is the notion of self, the second is the notion of man. With liberation from that notion, we become less proud, less arrogant as a species. We have to respect and protect other species in order for us to have a chance

That is why we said The Diamond Sutra is the oldest text on deep ecology.

From a dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hahn


“As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space, an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble, a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning, view all created things like this”

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