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.
Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Greetings from very snowy Devon, where I've a huddle of up to 35 birds at a time clustered on or near my doorstep, and the least-timid of the five robins in the immediate vicinity leaps to my hand as soon as it sees me draw it out of the birdseed tub.
I should have been leading a two-hour mindfulness walk and session at National Trust Greenway today, a brief continuation of my residency there; but to walk at zen-snail-pace in this extreme chill seemed an unfair hypothermia risk for participants: after all, we're not actually Zen monks (who in traditional monasteries often die young from the extreme endurance required). If you might like to come (it won't be extreme, just gentle), it's been rescheduled to 14th March. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/events/ef5f6f5e-6c5b-4c83-935b-3b0b41da7c73/pages/details
There has been little let-up for me in the last decade of illnesses, deaths, and general Hard Things. This week brings another hard thing in the family, on the heels of the death of my best beloved dog on 12th.
I remind myself that this is simply how it is, sometimes, and my power and equanimity both depend on my response to how it is. I can respond, or I can react. As I've written so many times on this blog before, 'we can't stop the waves but we can learn to surf' (I think that's Jon Kabat-Zinn: I had a poster on my wall as a teenager with an image of a guru in full robes surfing a big break, captioned with that phrase, which I've never forgotten).
This is the Two Arrows teaching of Zen practice (the first arrow is what happens and is unavoidable; the second, over which you have control, is how you relate to it).
Well, I've done my share of reacting, but I am also remembering the choice I have. Any life to be well-lived requires some self-examination, and in my brighter moments I chuckle at the embrace of hard stuff by G K Chesterton: 'Oh good, another obstacle.' I can relate to that.
Well, maybe it's my Catholic upbringing. I prefer to think, though, that I love freedom, and anything that expands our awareness leads us towards freedom.
So it was apposite that a Buddhist friend asked me (among many other Buddhist practitioners) to supply for her three quotes, slogans or aphorisms that helped my practice for her blog.
I thought for a day or two. There are so many! (And I forgot the one mentioned above, which is perhaps my key go-to quote.)
But I came down to these three, which I post here in case they're of interest to anyone else. Interestingly, only one is Buddhist.
The first, to my intense surprise as I blame him for a lot of our cultural ills, comes from Plato:
'Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.' Hard – and crucial – to remember that when you're so embedded in a reactive situation with another that you've lost perspective.
The second is from T S Eliot's The Waste Land (the burial of the dead):
'And I knew nothing. Looking into the heart of light, the silence.' I chose this because I find it incredibly stilling and in some way that I can't articulate quite reassuring. I've repeated it to myself over and over for maybe 40 years.
And the third is a Buddhist precept. I can't remember but I think this version comes from Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh:
'Practise non-attachment to your own views in order to be open to be to others' views.'
This is perhaps where I find the reassurance I wrote of above. There's a freedom in letting go of what one thinks one knows (and yes, it's hard).
I'm SO opinionated. I've spent a great deal of my life thinking about the world and examining my place in it, my lapses and failures (yep Catholic burden of mea culpa), my contributions and responsibilities to self and other, and after my training in psychotherapy and being in psychotherapy myself I consider myself aware and self-aware. I mostly am aware of and take responsibility for my own shit and expect others to do the same. This also makes me self-righteous and idealistic, and I forget I'm human and sometimes wrong (though I also forget I'm human and sometimes right, far too easily taking the blame for others' shit, too). But I also forget to let other people be human.
I also think I know it all.
Like most of us, I fall into thinking of my own response when someone is offering a challenging perspective, rather than really listening and gently trying to understand their perspective, detaching from my own firm beliefs in order to give another's credence, even if their conclusions are very different from my own. (I don't mean ignoring critical thinking; I mean allowing for the fact that actually I don't know it all.)
So this one, perhaps, is the most significant of the lot. After all, surely most wars (or smaller domestic battles) begin because we think another's perspective is simply wrong?
Which, of course, is also another way of identifying with ego. But that's a whole different blog.
Back to feeding the birds, then a bit more online mentoring.
Friday, 16 February 2018
7th January 2004–12th February 2018
It took a minute. Less than a minute.
All those months of fear and the anticipation
of pain – mine, of course. In seconds,
her eyes simply closed. Gentleness
is like that. And love. I had my hand
on her head and was stroking that soft place
in front of her ear, the place the silver
of pussy-willow in spring, though that
should be dog-willow. I was singing.
Yes, I carried on singing for minutes
though my voice couldn’t bear me up,
though I was the desolation of a distant
foghorn, broadcasting to nothing,
nowhere, no-one, on and on.
Listen, you have to bear the darkness.
You have to hear it. You have to walk
into the darkness willingly, without
wishing for light. If you don’t (I wrote
once), the darkness will come looking
for you. Listen, the journey to the
Palace of Nowhere is not long,
not even arduous. You have
simply to open to darkness, let it
into the sanctum of your heart
until it meets with light and is melted;
and in that marriage you might
at last be free.
© Roselle Angwin, 15th Feb 2018
'Palace of Nowhere' is a phrase of Thomas Merton's
Thursday, 1 February 2018
Imbolc is the first of the fire festivals, the first cross-quarter date, in the Celtic new year. Situated at1st/2nd February, we could see it as the cracking-open of the earth now that the light is returning as we move further away from the darkest night of the midwinter solstice.
Very much dedicated to The Lady, at Imbolc, or Candlemas as it has become in the Christian era, we celebrate the birth or rebirth of the Maiden from the darkness, like Persephone. At this time, we start to move away from the time of the Crone, or Cailleach, sometimes known as Cerridwen, towards the time of the Flower-Maiden, Blodeuwedd.
We’re now exactly poised between the solstice and the vernal equinox, when Maiden and Mother share a moment.
It’s a misty time in the southwest of Britain. Sometimes the weak sun allows us to sit outside; but elsewhere, and sometimes here, it can be a harsh time, with the snowdrops and catkins seeming merely a faint promise. This year, though, they're in full flower in the lanes and garden, with daffodils showing a hint of yellow too.
As the word ‘imbolc’, or ‘oimelc’ tells us in its early Irish etymology, the time is ‘milky’, with ewes bearing the the first (white) lambs (those that weren’t born in November). In parts of Scotland, women still offer milky porridge to the ocean at this time of light and water.
Nine months on from Beltane, May 1st, and its old midsummer fertility fires, many children, too, would be born at this time.
Snowdrops are, of course, the perfect symbol of this new life being reborn through the snows of the winter. Here in Devon the catkins are fully out now, dusting the bare hedges with their gold. Snowdrops have been open for a week or two; my witch hazel flying fragrant streamers for a month; hundreds of periwinkles are studding the hedgerows, hellebore are shaking out their greeny-rose flowerheads – and I picked the first wild garlic a few days' ago.
One of the trees dedicated to the goddess of the late winter/early spring is the blackthorn, whose blossom arrives before the leaves. I haven’t yet seen any blackthorn trees in flower; sometimes the valleys are white with them down here in Devon even in January (hawthorn flowers don’t come till May, as their other name, may blossom, tells us).
Candles’ soft light reminds us of the stirrings of new if delicate life as the returning sun fertilises the waiting earth.
This festival is presided over by Bride (or Brighid, Brig, Brigit), the Lightbringer, one manifestation of the Great Goddess, who gave her name to so many places in Britain (which itself is a variant on her name). She is associated with sacred fire, the fertile earth, poetry, smithcraft and weaving, and healing.
You can make a Brigid’s Cross, as I have above, from reeds gathered by the brook at this full-moon time (info on Youtube).
Light the candles and dream new life into incarnation.
NEW FOR IMBOLC, APPLICABLE FROM THEN TO THE SPRING EQUINOX: A SOLO DAY-RETREAT, AVAILABLE FROM THIS LINK.
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