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 21 October 2019

Introducing a Pause

‘It was a warm Sunday evening in mid-September. I was sitting on the terrace, looking up at the Sierra de Gredos, enjoying dinner and a glass (or two) of red wine with my good friend Chris Riley. We had spent the weekend on the other side of the mountains, hidden away in an ancient house in Avila, with eight other people and dozens of books, reading and talking about what we had read.
    ‘I could do that every year,’ said Chris.
    So we did.

‘Since I live in central Spain and Chris is in Oregon, it is hardly convenient. Yet every year, he travels over five thousand miles, for a couple of days, to do very little. Others travel considerable distances too. What is this about? It is about the power of a pause.’

Robert Poynton, opening paragraphs of DO/PAUSE/You are not a To Do list.*


On my way up to lead my third retreat of the year on the Isle of Iona last month, I stop as I usually do at the end of the first afternoon’s driving at Tebay near Appleby-in-Westmorland, a service station unlike any other (except its sister services in Gloucestershire).

I wander around stretching my legs, and of course find myself in the book section. A little and beautifully-produced book practically leaps into my hands. Poynton's PAUSE has gorgeous natural-world photography by Jim Marsden.

The rather sound-bitey title notwithstanding, I know I need this book (after all, it’s much easier to read about something than to make deep changes!).

That evening in my B&B I immerse myself in the book’s quiet and intelligent discourse.

In the last six months, even my 40-year daily meditation practice has almost gone by the board. I don’t stop – not even properly to eat lunch – from 6.30 in the morning till 9 at night, at which point all I’m fit for is sleeping; this has happened this year generally 7 days a week. My own precious quiet solo time has been completely absent. We’ve had a couple of instances of serious family illnesses, and our two gorgeous dog-brothers, now 9-month-old adolescents with too much testosterone and while individually amazing are together a small gang, are hard work, and I’ve been occupied with fulltime work coupled with caring duties and tending our large veg plot since the spring.

I’m not saying this for sympathy, only to tease out the state of mind I was in before the journey to Iona which is advertised as, and intended to be, a deep restorative and insightful retreat week for the participants.

Each time, I think I will arrange work etc so that I can take two days off before I leave for the long drive and intensive retreat. Each time, as this time, I’m working flat-out up until and including late into the evening before, attending to emails and deadlines barely met. I know this is not healthy, and hardly the state of mind to bring presence to a retreat which is rooted in presence.

The book jolted me back onto my axis. There wasn’t within it anything I don’t already know (though he expresses it with grace and elegance), but as a reminder it couldn’t have been more timely. It is essential to a healthy life – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – to pause, whether that pause is a moment of bringing ourselves back into our bodies and the present, between tasks; whether it is regular time out in a day or a week; or whether it’s total time out to be alone for a few days – something which I happen to believe not only revitalises oneself but also all one’s relationships. I can’t speak for men, but for women I believe it’s utterly crucial to take this longer pause, annually at least. Touching the depths, peeling the inessentials away, finding spaciousness.

I had a meditation teacher who spoke of every interruption offering that moment of presence, mindfulness: the doorbell, a dog barking, the phone ringing. Pause. Take three breaths. Bring yourself back, and then choose your response. I have continued to do that much of the time, though it too goes by the board when I’m in harried and frantic mode, which exemplifies this summer for me.

Before I drive on the next day, I take time to meditate – as I also do when I find that my ferry, and the next, are cancelled, leaving me with the distinct possibility that I might not get to my destination that night. How good it feels simply to stop, and not to worry about what ifs; to see the delays as a chance to really pause.

And more, I decided that I would introduce PAUSE into the week, frequently and regularly. I spoke to the (lovely) group, all women as it happens, of pause, spaciousness, the idea of a retreat within a retreat during the activities I set up. I spoke of resting: in the moment, and also in doing nothing at all. I cancelled in advance some of the sessions and activities I’d planned. We incorporated loosening bodywork and a lot of laughter. We incorporated, as always, silent time together – being silent together is a wonderful form of intimacy, once people settle into it. And we incorporated times of solitude.

Just as importantly, I challenged my own semi-conscious sense that for people to ‘get their money’s worth’ I needed to fill each day.

And it worked. All of it worked for – as far as the feedback suggests – all of us. Some people have written to me since to say they’ve incorporated some of the pauses and ritual-rhythms into their daily life. Several have written to say how deeply restorative and refreshing the week was.

And me? I’ve stripped down my working life to its deep-core essentials, so that I can focus on the aspects that are my central passions, as detailed in the last post.

And on practising this art of THE PAUSE.

* I personally no longer fly – haven’t done except for a family funeral – since 2007, so can’t condone that. However, that’s individual choice.

 Having said that, I’m thinking of introducing such a week into my core programme, with a few – limited – resting, walking, writing and reflection add-ons, in Europe. Be in touch if it appeals to you. 

But NB I'm taking a slightly longer pause myself, just now, so it might be a little while before I respond.

Thursday 3 October 2019

Liminal states, change & transformation...

Autumn is a beautiful liminal slant-light time, and a time too of transition. Here, some trees are dropping their leaves; geese are veeing overhead; squirrels , mice and jays gathering nuts; 8-month-old pups learning the joys of picking blackberries and hazelnuts; and most of the swallows have gone (happily, they bred well enough here to allay some of my early-summer fears, though swifts are still having a hard time of it). We are harvesting our abundant crops, and trying to find new ways of cooking beans and the first squash, eating rather a lot of crumbles. (I'm still working on my plant-based cookbook, though that has been pushed to the back of the queue due to some possible good news on my tree book.)
And I'm just back from leading a new retreat week, over the equinox and my birthday, on my beloved (and liminal) Isle of Iona. It was a very special and profound week with some diverse and lovely women; the course subtly different both in content and emphasis as well as in season from the spring courses. The island worked her usual magic and the week was soul-infused and exciting, with some magnificent pieces of writing. The seascapes here were all taken last week on the island.

My main passion and concern is how we might, as creative beings, add our small individual flames to the greater vision, increasingly urgently needed in our time, of transforming our relationship to our soul-life, to each other, to our home the planet and to our kin of the other-than-human nature. To the whole of the natural world. This vision is implicit or overt in all the work I do. I believe that the nature of this work, with writing as catalyst, furthers that vision in a tiny way.
And so I am making changes in the way I work to give more attention to this core focus.

Those of you who have worked directly with me will know that my courses have always been holistic. ('I thought I was coming on a writing course', said one of my participants a few years ago. 'Now I know that's it's also about how we live.')
Even the two writing distance-learning six-month-long novel and poetry courses (Storymaking and Elements of Poetry) are informed by deeper ideas. Storymaking, which boasts several now-published novelists in its history, is in its 21st year, and is rooted in archetypal ideas of the Quest (often known as the Hero's Journey). Elements of Poetry includes aspects of the soul in its approach, albeit mostly tacit.
It's a time in my life, too, of change, I think, as I look again at what I want to do with my course programme and my own writing. I've been an environmental activist all my adult life, and increasingly I want that to inform all the work I do.
In our times of great loss, uncertainty and despair, my programme of courses aims to deepen your life through the creative imagination and its expression in poetry, story, myth, journal-writing, land art and whatever else presents itself, and through time outdoors, meeting our other-than-human (and human!) kin with heart and a mindful openness. This invariably changes the way we relate to the world. 'Transformative' is a frequent word used of my courses; my belief is that unless we are willing to transform our own lives too we can't change the world. What I want is to be part of a community of people living deep, rich, meaningful lives and offering their gift, their unique gift, back to the collective.

I'm currently looking at stripping back to the essentials so that 2020, the 29th year of Fire in the Head, might usher in a more focused programme, with maybe some deeper changes. The main change will be that I'm removing the 'smaller' aspects of my work that leave me scattered, and are not viable for the (conscientious) amount of time I put in. I'm also determined to spend less time on the computer, and more time tending our animals, our extensive veg plot, the orchard and my bee-and-herb garden. And – new concept for me – taking a little time out, just for me.

The core elements of my work, whether my own writing or the work I do with others, are sharpening rather than disappearing. This is the focus:
Our relationship with soul: our own, each other's, and anima mundi
Our relationship with nature (the rest of the natural world)
Our relationship to the creative imagination, primarily through poetry- and prose-writing.
To enable this, I have decided to focus on three aspects of my working life.
The first is to reclaim time for my own writing. It looks as though my A Spell in the Forest: Tongues in Trees book, based on the course below, might have found a home, and will hopefully be published in 2020. This will be followed with a 2nd book, also related to the Brittany forest in which I spend part of my year. More anon.
The second is that next year I will be offering very few courses. The only certainties at the moment are the two residential weeklong retreats on Iona. These combine creative expression, mainly writing, with silent meditative walking, psychospiritual awareness, discussion, readings, sharing our poetry, stories, laughter and grief, and can offer a sense of belonging, and deep homing. (They are full, but there is a waiting list.) In 2021 I will be back with The Land's Wild Magic, and the 3rd annual Iona week.
The third is that I hope to offer more distance learning courses similar to my Tongues in Trees course (see below). You can read more about these ideas on my other website The Wild Ways.
From now, I'm putting on hold the mentoring and manuscript appraisal work (apart from with my current mentees), and most of the one-day workshops. NB that I'm offering a half-day eco-poetry writing workshop at the Exeter Literary Festival in Devon on Sunday November 11th. (Typo alert!)

For the rest of 2019, I'm focusing on completing the first yearlong group of Tongues in Trees, a course that has been so rich and joyful to create and lead, and with some amazing people who have brought so much (and there's excellent feedback).

I'm taking bookings now for the 2020 yearlong Tongues in Trees course. It begins on the winter solstice 2019. You can do the self-study option, or you can work one-to-one with me (the number of people I work with on an individual basis is strictly limited, and I only have one or two spaces left). In addition to tasks and up to 15 pages of material for each monthly module (13), with the latter option I respond to your thoughts and reflections, and specifically to the creative work that arises from that month.
This course seems to have more than fulfilled its aim, for those who have been really dedicated to it: deepening their understanding of trees and forests, and deepening their personal relationship to individual trees, species, and forests in general. And, of course, there has much creative writing (as well as photos and sketches) in response to each module. You can see feedback on the webpage.

For now, autumn greetings and blessings to you all, and if you have read this far, and especially if you have joined me this year and accompanied me in this work that I love so much, big thanks to you.

© Roselle Angwin 2019

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