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

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Remembrance Day for Lost Species: 30 November

One of the things that keeps me awake at nights (and I'm sure I'm not alone with this) is the thought of what we are doing to each other (the whole community of sentient beings) and the planet. It's a guilt and a dread like no other, as the scale of it is too big to encompass, let alone know how to approach and address.

Three species are lost as a result of human actions FOREVER each hour.* (Another estimate puts it at five an hour.)

You might like to reread that.

The cause? Human greed, ignorance, complacency, convenience, materialism, disconnection and – most of all – anthropocentrism. And those of us who realise the vast scale of it can do nothing about it other than cycling and recycling, maybe, which makes us feel better; and is merely a plaster on the symptoms – after all, what can we do in the face of such enormity of loss? 

This is so big I can barely even write about it from sorrow and my inability to get my head and heart around it all without going under.

Mostly, my views on speciesism and our unconscious assumption that because we have a reasoning mind, can articulate our reason, and are capable of exploiting the rest of the natural world, we are therefore somehow superior, top of the heap in a hierarchical world, are implicit in all the work I do, and generally I don't shout about them as although I'm passionate I don't like polemic. Sometimes, though, they are explicit, as in this post.

Thing is, we don't have the luxury of time to ignore all this. Our air is not fit to breathe; our water either too plentiful or too scarce, and in any case often not fit to drink; crops are failing; pollinators are being killed off; glaciers are melting, seas rising; topsoil being eroded by the million tons; deforestation proceeding in the Amazon alone at the rate of an area the size of Wales every couple of months; and that's without starting on the species loss which is occurring as a result of all this. And of course you can't more than double the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, as has happened since the Industrial Revolution, and not see an impact.

A view that is often put forward to me is James Lovelock's original Gaia Hypothesis (plenty on the net if you search): that the planet is a self-regulating organism and will if necessary simply shuck us off and survive herself.

I understand this argument, but in a less obvious way it's still anthropocentric. What it's easy to lose in the arguments and debates on anthropogenic climate change is the moral aspect: that we are taking the other species along with us in our destructiveness.

And there's the fact that even Lovelock has more recently suggested that the Gaia theory is a time-limited option, and we're running out of time. (He has since also said that climate change, and our demise, is now an inevitability. See The Vanishing Face of Gaia.) 

If you didn't read George Monbiot in the Guardian the other day, here's a link. (Warning: it's depressing.)

So what can we do? Keep talking about it. And yes, signing petitions – so many of us now do that it is in fact having an impact on policy.

And perhaps all we can do in addition is to pay attention; not turn our backs; add something heartful, positive; light a candle by not forgetting. 

Perhaps you might like to take a little time out today, Remembrance Day for Lost Species, as I have been doing, to acknowledge these fellow beings, in whatever way seems appropriate – a quiet walk in the woods; a few minutes' silent acknowledgement and contemplation between supper and bed; a meditation/reflection; writing a poem; joining an event (if it's not too late), feeding a sparrow.


To close, here are three things: a link to W S Merwin's moving poem 'Notes for a Coming Extinction':

A link to Buddhist and eco-philospher Joanna Macy's wonderful terrible 'Bestiary' poem:

('...Your tracks are grown fainter. Wait. Wait. This is a hard time. Don’t leave
us alone in a world we have wrecked.')

And some words by Henry Beston from The Outermost House, about 85 years ago:

‘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.’

* This statistic, as far as I'm aware, includes plant, insect and marine life as well as birds and mammals

Tuesday 22 November 2016

reblog: the four agreements

I'm on the coast of Brittany on a writing retreat with friends. I've been well stuck into redrafting my current book, with little internet access and not a lot of time to blog.

So – because it's always relevant – here's an old blog of mine for you.


the four agreements

For me, there is only the travelling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart... ( Yaqui Medicine Man Don Juan)

Some of you might remember, if you were of the right age and of that inclination in the 70s, several books written by Carlos Casteneda of his time with the Yaqui shaman Don Juan. The first, The Teachings of Don Juan, and the succeeding books shaped my own vision.

Built on similar foundations but much simpler and with an altogether shorter scope, but nonetheless insightful, is the book by Toltec medicine man Don Miguel Ruiz: The Four Agreements (Amber-Allen Publishing).

There was a time in my life when, living alone, one of my biggest joys was sitting by the kitchen window early in the day with a first cup of tea, watching dawn come back to light up the river, and the garden slowly fill with birds. Gradually, as my cup emptied and I filled myself with riverlight and birdsong, I'd turn to my journal and also some book of sacred texts or spiritual writings, or poetry – so much more warming a way to wake up than with, say, the news.

This morning, with TM off to work early, instead of rushing to meditate, shower, then walk the dog straightaway, I sat with a cup of tea watching the birds in the courtyard, and then picked up Ruiz's book.

Ruiz has four proposals; he says they're Toltec, but in content and range I'd say they are also in effect a distillation of psychospiritual perennial wisdom teachings from all times and cultures. If we live according to these four, he says, we can transform our lives. Need a shot of transformation? See what you can do with these.

Be impeccable with your word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don't take anything personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

Don't make assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always do your best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you're healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.*

*I'd qualify this one by saying that our problem in the West, (or maybe it's a British problem), is not that we don't do our best, but that we believe that our best isn't enough, or good enough. We may need to challenge that deeply-ingrained belief.

Thursday 17 November 2016

transience, enduringness & the Otherworld

This is Ti Ar Boudiged, La Maison des Fées, House of the Fairies, in Finistère, Brittany.

I first came here the day after Bataclan last year; the last ten days I have found myself longing and then really needing to go back, but I didn't realise consciously until we were actually there earlier this week that it was the anniversary of Bataclan.

I've visited probably hundreds of megalithic sites since I was a teenager, here in Brittany, in the Lot, and of course in GB. Of all of them, this one uniquely bathes me in a kind of deep peace; it exudes something quite extraordinary – tranquil, uplifting, enduring, receptive, soothing, welcoming.

I also came to this one this year and last because a few days before was the anniversary of my mum's death, and she sometimes exuded the same tranquil receptivity.

I can't tell you quite what it is this particular place has. It's kind of domestic, in a way I'd normally hate. It's part of the immediate and current village; it's tended; it's not in any way wild or remote. Each time I've visited it's been lounging in its glade of sunshine, guardian beech tree by its entrance. But the genius loci is strong, and that strength seems so freely given to visitors – it pours from the monument.

The dolmen is 5000 years old. No remains were found in it, and my own sense is that it's a ritualistic site; I've various theories that will appear in the book I'm writing while I'm out here (redrafting now, in fact).

Brittany is, other than West Cornwall, the most densely-stocked area in Europe in terms of megalithic monuments per square kilometre. It's partly why I'm here.

One of my most precious memories is riding on hired ponies, with my young daughter, early one morning down one of Carnac’s unparalleled stone avenues, in the days before they were closed off, like zoo animals, to the public, who now witness them from ‘viewing platforms’. You can’t possibly appreciate the extent of the buzz as a bystander, voyeur, like that. 

Animate and placid
in the warm summer rain
the stones point at something
five thousand years
beyond our knowing. 

The mysteries of the megaliths hum in this land, and draw you into a sense of the Otherworld, even if it’s hard to articulate what that means. Even, I suspect, if you don’t believe.


These places. Ways of remembering living and dead in the same moment; paying tribute to the enduring continuity of the life force, whether or not we ourselves feel besieged by transience, uncertainty, personal and collective trouble and sorrow.

Friday 4 November 2016

teign gorge: where the dance is (poem)

Teign Gorge, Dartmoor, TM's birthday, November 2nd 2016

Where the Dance is

This is the long hour –
Eliot's 'moment in the rose garden'

where you stand with your lover
here in the kingdom of air

bridging heaven and earth
above the autumn waters

this deep gorge
carved with the patience of river
from Dartmoor rock
where the blaze of beech and hazel
sparks the whole valley, the river
into long flame 
that sears your retina
and hollows you out 
as it fills the reach 
of river, boulder, tree
where a slow salmon leaps
and slaps back under

and you remember that ancient longing
that tells you
this is where the dance is
this place you will never leave

– even as you turn away west
and walk back through the meadows
through the cows to the road, the cars
the fading light – 

everything being as it always was
always is

© Roselle Angwin 2016 (poem & photo)



Tuesday 1 November 2016

interrelationship – or why the anthropocentric view has to fail

Well, there is SO much to say about this, and now is not the moment.

But I was at a Rewilding Dartmoor conference at the weekend; very inspiring range of talks, presentations and audience knowledge. (The most trenchant contribution was from Peter Taylor, perhaps the originator of the term 'Rewilding', or certainly one of its godfathers.)

The content of the day is for another more spacious time, but as always when I attend something like this, I come away thinking about the elephant in the room: namely our insidious, dangerous post-Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian belief that this planet was put here for us, to serve our every desire, no matter what the cost, and that we're top of the heap, naturally and indisputably. 

I'm sure I've said this before, and it's the core theme behind my work with The Wild Ways. But I'll say it again: nothing will change until we shift our consciousness from the hierarchical anthropocentricity with which we tend unconsciously to view the rest of the natural world to one in which we know, and live as if we know, that the wise – maybe the only – way forward is that of ecocentricity: we're each part of the web, we're all in this together in what Buddhism calls interdependent co-arising. Each tiny part is essential to the whole.

Even those keenest on sustainability seem to simply not get this.

When I got back, I opened a package that contained a book of essays by Mary Oliver: Winter Hours

Here's a passage from the title sequence that comes in at such a view laterally. (I've separated her paragraph into individual ideas to further clarify my point):

'When I write about nature directly, or refer to it, here are some things I don't mean, and a few I do.

'I don't mean nature as ornamental, however scalloped and glowing it may be.

'I don't mean nature as useful to man [sic] if that possibility of utility takes from an object [also sic] its own inherent value. Or, even, diminishes it.

'I don't mean nature as calamity, as vista, as vacation or recreation.

'I don't mean landscape in which we find rest and pleasure – although we do – so much as I mean landscapes in which we are reinforced in our sense of the world as a mystery, a mystery that entails other privileges besides our own – and also, therefore... right and wrong behaviors pertaining to that mystery, diminishing it or defending it.'

We are an integral part of that greater whole, that Mystery, with our own particular contribution to make – but we humans are not a superior part, in my view. Each part is unique; each is consciousness; each essential in its own way.

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