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.
Saturday, 27 January 2018
So I said no new blogs for a while. Here's an exception.
I've been clearing the decks, as they say, this last week, and working really quite hard to do so as I'm DETERMINED to finish this Brittany book before I go off to Iona in early April.
One thing regarding clearing the decks was my sudden decision to stop offering my annual THRESHOLDS day. I've been leading this as reflective practice for 20-something years, and have loved it. Participants have loved it, too, it seems – many come back year after year.
But actually the finding-a-venue, renting it, making fliers, advertising, dealing with admin, giving directions, answering queries etc is exhausting, and I think my time and energy are better spent on the longer projects and retreats I offer; and my own writing. The one day actually ends up being nearly a week, one way and another.
It suddenly came to me that I wanted to offer this as a download, for people to put into practice in their own quiet space, as a one-day solo intensive retreat.
Originally, Thresholds was offered as a day close to the turning year. The last 4 or 5 years it has been offered as part of a residential retreat attuned to the Celtic fire festival of Imbolc, 1st/2nd February, which sits between the midwinter solstice and the vernal equinox. (The material is appropriate to use any time between now and the vernal equinox, so choose your day. I personally think that Imbolc or the weekend immediately following is potent: there's a 'doorway' that opens then.)
At this time in the northern hemisphere – or at least in the British Westcountry – snowdrops are out, catkins are gold-dusted, birds are belting out spring songs, my witch hazel in the courtyard has hung out her fragrant yellow streamers. And it is still cold and wet.
In Celtic mythology, the 'Maiden' aspect of the threefold Goddess (Maiden, Mother, Crone/Cailleach) is just escaping the clutches of the winter king to return to the upper world from the Underworld.
In this day workshop, we attune ourselves to this point in the turning year. The download – 12 pages of intensive material that includes information on Imbolc and the presiding Celtic goddess of this time (Brighid), a relevant story, some practical offerings and several tasks in the form of questions – is designed to make us more aware of aligning ourselves to natural cycles on earth and in the cosmos, at the same time as giving us an opportunity to enquire into our own lives: what needs letting go? What are our intentions for this coming year? How might we make changes that affirm who we are and and where we find ourselves?
I've put decades of skill and experience into this, and thought very carefully how best to 'frame' it for a solo retreat to re-vision the coming year.
If you could do with a guided reflective and restorative day such as this, head over to this page on my website (NB although this is not gender-specific, be aware that we focus on the feminine principle in the material, as Imbolc is her time).
NB: THIS IS NOT RELEVANT TO THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE - SORRY!
Tuesday, 23 January 2018
My friends, I'm aware that my posts have been fewer and fewer. Right now, my energy levels have ground to a halt as I'm waiting for a glimpse of a way forward: there's much inner change going on and it's all very fluid right now.
Just as significantly, I'm trying to clear my life for at least two months to concentrate on the book, set and partly written in a Brittany forest, which has had such a difficult labour lately (the beginning was so sweet!), and is on the 5th draft.
So rather than adding another 'should' to my interminable list, for the next few weeks I'm intending to repost old blogs, and/or post here items from my various creative works.
Today, here's a reblog (from 2012, when I'd been quite ill) of a post on the perfect imperfections of being human, from the perspective of my adult-life-long (and sometimes erratic) practice of Zen.
Our condition is one of living with joy and sorrow both – that's simply how it is – whatever our circumstances; and we do best to say 'YES' to it all; simply YES. It's the resistance that brings the suffering.
So there has to be a YES to opening my heart over and over to the dharma, which is simply the Way – the journey; in this case right here right now, to what my heart is telling me.
And here on my meditation stool this morning, having decided at last to give myself rest, so a lazy start to Bach on the CD player and a gentle breakfast by the courtyard window, here on the stool I meet those old friends, the 'five hindrances' of the human condition, according to Buddhism: craving, aversion, apathy, anxiety, doubt.
I've been doing this for decades. They don't go away, these old friends; utterly loyal, we meet each other over and over. The good news is I don't fight them so much any more – not quite. I nod, and let my attention rest again in silence. And again. And again. Yes, that's progress!
'We all dread the helplessness of losing control, and yet real freedom lies in recognizing the futility of demanding that life be within our control. Instead, we must learn the willingness to feel—to say yes to—the experience of helplessness itself. This is one of the hidden gifts of serious illness or loss. It pushes us right to our edge, where we may have the good fortune to realize that our only real option is to surrender to our experience and let it just be.' (Ezra Bayda, "The Three Things We Fear Most"; from Tricycle Daily Dharma)
Zazen, Zen sitting meditation, is one of the toughest practices, it seems to me. When sitting, you simply – SIT. How hard is that? When I was a teenager muddling my way towards some sort of path that was spiritual but not 'religious' or monotheistic I learned all kinds of lovely soothing meditation practices with candles and mantras and mudras and visualisations and substitutions of positives for negatives and 'bringing in the light' and chants and prayerbeads. Dreamy trancey stuff.
Then one day I decided I'd give 'proper' Zen meditation a go. Boy, was it tough. Bearing in mind I was a romantic young thing, newly-arrived at university, into poetry, music, New Age stuff and a little experimentation with soft drugs, Zazen shocked me awake.
One austere white room. Half a dozen scary-looking austere silent men, all much older than me. Two forty-minute sitting sessions, facing the white wall, eyes a little open. No movement. No mantra. No guidance. No distraction, not even a candle. No words. Twenty minutes silent slow walking in between the two forty-minute sitting 'sesshins'. My mind, cartwheeling, freefalling, bored, running amok, disliking intensely this confrontation with – itself, no distraction.
You could ask: 'and the point?' – To be present. Really present, in each moment; not to rush towards death in a flurry of trivia and distraction. To peer deeply into everything and everyone you encounter, including your own internal horrors, illusions and errors and the way you visit them not only on yourself but on others. To appreciate the 'isness' of it all; the 'suchness'. To face head-on the fear of emptiness. To live as if everything mattered. And nothing.
Zazen is also perhaps, it seems to me, one of the most courageous meditation practices. You don't attempt to fill the emptiness that arises when we're no longer distracted. You simply watch the mind – its games, its addictions, its evasions and duckings and divings, its endless babble. You watch it. This is how it is. You don't need to hang onto any of it, though the mind will try and try.
Sometimes, just sometimes, you break through this chatter and you fly free, for a little while – 'free of the false, free of the true' as the Zenrin has it. Free of all our conceptualisations, as well as our preoccupations. 'Me, you, these walls, these books, all gone like a waterfall over a cliff.'
I have other spiritual practices besides, mainly on the Old pagan turning dates of the year, that draw on my transpersonal, druidic, Western Mystery Tradition values, but Zazen is core. It's like the movement from a very beautiful very elaborate celebration in an ornate temple to a very simple hut in the woods. How little we need, not how much.
Zen is a practice to do with cutting through the games of ego. It's integrative rather than transcendental – and as someone who craves transcendental experience it's been really useful and grounding for me to stay with something unshowy and simple and direct. The aim is to enquire, to see clearly, into the nature of reality by becoming aware and slipping the bonds of the things that keep us stuck: our fears, our anger and resistance, our greed, our dislikes, our cravings; and seeing them all as ways of distracting ourselves, as reactive constructs of the ego-mind that sit between us and All That Is.
Yep, it's still as hard, sometimes, as when I was a teenager. Sometimes it's not. I'm learning not to resist or judge. And I have discovered that Zazen is the candle. And my heart likes this spaciousness that opens up if I can just sit with everything exactly as it is, without needing to change it or move away or towards it.
Friday, 12 January 2018
Last night I caught on my face light from a star
ejected from the sky unimaginable centuries ago.
This morning, walking early, day has draped
shrubs and bushes with nets of frost and fog,
laid them into my hair, on my coat. By the farm
a hundred violet periwinkles drink mist. Home,
the robin lands on my hand for food; three blackbirds
scurry to squabble over seed by the yellow witch hazel.
I'm watching a sky the colour of waiting.
Whatever it is that needs to be said
is not on my tongue yet; hasn't landed
in my body. I can be patient. I'm old enough
now to know about waiting, about uncertainty.
So the government has unrolled its 25-year environment plan. The pledges it's made on plastic are utterly outrageous; by 2042 it will have put an end, it hopes, to 'avoidable plastic waste'.
2042? As anyone knows who has watched Attenborough's beautiful and moving 'Blue Planet', this is far too little, far too late. Avoidable plastic waste should be avoided RIGHT NOW. It's nothing like enough to charge for plastic bags. What's more, May and Gove (admittedly, after a very dodgy start in relation to whether animals are sentient or not, he has pledged a couple of improvements to current environmental law in comparison with how he bodged education) are 'consulting with Industry'. Not one of the 4 points in the 4-point action plan they discussed 'with Industry' includes any kind of commitment to removing or replacing plastic. As usual, 'industry' will go on pulling all the strings.
Lobby local councillors, producers and retailers (it doesn't have to be aggressive).
If you live in the South Hams, we are lucky enough to have in Totnes a zero-waste shop for not only almost all the loose organic wholefoods you can think of, herbs, teas and spices but also refills for all Ecover products and a machine that will make almond or peanut butter for you. They provide paper bags for loose products and sell cloth bags for eg flours and jars for the butters. On the website you can find 31 tips for reducing single-use plastic. What's more, their loose strawberry and basil fruit tea is to die for, as they say.
As usual, George Monbiot has much to say about it.
I'm currently winding down from all my usual courses as a) I'm exhausted and b) I need to finish the book I've been working on for more than two years.
I'm continuing with a little mentoring, but trying to avoid much work other than my own writing until my Iona courses in early April. I'm looking forward to getting more sleep, being less overwhelmed with admin etc, and focusing on my own creativity and personal inner work.
One thing I've decided to let go of, to my surprise, is my one-day Thresholds workshop. I've been doing this retreat-day as personal practice at this time of year for about 30 years, and offering it to the public for more than 20. It's about re-visioning your life, and realigning yourself more truly to your core self, soul life, and the turning year, as well as exploring the unique qualities you can offer to the world.
The last few years it has been tied-in with a workshop I offer for Imbolc, the Celtic early-spring cross-quarter-date when new life, in the northern hemisphere, is beginning to stretch towards the light, and we start to feel as if the earth really is beginning to turn back towards the sun.
News is that I'm about to shape it to offer it as a self-facilitated personal-retreat download instead of as a face-to-face group workshop. My websites are woefully un-updated, but it will appear here in a little while, and will be available to purchase later in the month, in time for Imbolc (1/2 February).
I shall be still offering my mindfulness walk for the National Trust on February 28th (I'm looking forward to that as the woodland gardens are so inspiring, and I'm missing my residency there), but there will be no other day workshops now until May.
The second of my Iona 'Islands of the Heart' weeks has been full for a long time, but there is still one place on the first group for someone who has attended my retreats there before 2015.
I'm delighted that, without any advertising, The Land's Wild Magic week in Cornwall is filling, but a few places remain.
To come in early September is my prose, poetry and eco/nature-writing in the beautiful Gardoussel in the Cévennes mountains of southern France (think Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey). 'Writing the Bright Moment' is open for bookings now.
Then, in the autumn, my redesigned The Wellkeepers: Sacred Feminine, Sacred Masculine will be happening, also in West Cornwall, as a residential intensive instead of a year-long group. NB: details have yet to be confirmed.
So looking forward to sharing these weeks with you lovely people, known and as-yet-unknown, who join me for this depth-work.
My new collection of poetry from the Isle of Iona has yet to arrive in my hands, but any day now, I'm assured. Watch this space as I'm sure I won't be able to avoid a little glee and boasting...
Thursday, 4 January 2018
Wrong book. It's actually All the Missing Names of Love; also available from me or to order from bookshops.
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