Writing the Bright Moment
If you really listen, you can hear that spider spinning her web in the corner of the window. Listen a bit harder – and there’s the blackbird singing to the rain. And oh – is that waves, breaking on a faraway shore? – The world going about its business on the edge of one vast ocean of space.
Listen more deeply again, and you can hear the fixed stars singing in their sockets, the planets spinning their deep hums, or their high whines; and – there, listen again – the chanting of the spheres.
Closer, there is the pulse beating in every animal, bird, fish, plant, insect – and did you know that trees breathe in and out too?
Closer still, right here, right now, you: separate and not separate. You with your central nervous system, your eyes, your hands, your heart; your thoughts, feelings, dreams; your fears, regrets, loves. Your bloodstream flowing through the branches of your being, and within it and beyond it all your consciousness that knows all this, sees all this, shares all this, embodies all this, transcends all this.
You and All That Is, eternally in relationship.
The rains have come after such sun, such an amazing start to our vegetable-growing season, and under the oak tree that graces our courtyard I turn my face up to the light drops; can hear and smell all the plants, herbs, little trees, bee-flowers sighing, opening, drinking.
Instead of today's tasks away, for once, from the computer and work – continuing to clean up Clarissa, my ancient and much-loved campervan who needs a new home, and potting up or planting out numerous seedlings, saplings or overgrown plants, or giving the young dogs a longish walk, I decide the rain means I can take pleasure in sitting quietly by the open door, in reading, writing, thinking, at least for a little while. These all feel like luxuries in how things have been for me since I switched my Islands of the Heart courses on the Isle of Iona to virtual courses, where actually of course these moments are essential nutrition.
And so my mind slips towards what I’ve been mulling: my new poetry, nature and mindfulness course might, this morning, have some room to spread its wings, then land on a twig not too far from me and resolve itself into shapes I might work with.
Poetry, nature and mindfulness. Embodied and transcendent practice: fully here, and fully inhabiting soul, including anima mundi – for we are ‘in soul’ as much as soul is in us.
‘...[Our] great works are done when we are not calculating and thinking... [through] long years of training in the art of self-forgetfulness. When this is attained we think like the showers coming down from the sky; we think like the waves rolling on the ocean; we think like the stars illuminating the nightly heavens; we think like the green foliage shooting forth... indeed we are the showers, the ocean, the stars, the foliage.’ D T Suzuki (I’ve changed ‘man’ to ‘we’.)
Mindfulness is 2,500 years old. It grew out of Buddhist practice, and then was honed and clarified in Zen meditation practice, a mere 1500 years ago. My own practice only goes back a blink of an eye, a mere mere 40 years.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of psychospiritual work. In the West, it’s become immensely popular in its ‘secular’ form as a stress-reduction technique, and it’s great for that.
But it is originally about waking up: to our true nature, to essential nature, to the truth in the fact that we are not separate but utterly interdependent, all of us, everywhere, human and other-than-human, to the tyranny of the ego, to the conditioned habits and patterns that run us, to the truth of transience and uncertainty, and to the beauty, fleeting and eternal, of this one moment – the only one we ever have.
My practice began informally in my early solo attempts in my teens after having read Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, then the poetry of Gary Snyder, and D T Suzuki and Alan Watts. Then there was a difficult formal attempt – sitting for long periods, in silence, with a group of older men, all hardcore Soto Zen practitioners – when I was a student at 19 or 20. We would sit with our eyes not quite closed, facing a blank white wall, for what felt like hours, and then leave without a word. My later involvement with the Network of Engaged Buddhists under the guidance of Ken Jones was a much warmer, and deeply inspiring, experience.
Mindfulness meditation is about being aware of the present moment, with all of yourself, with full attention and intention, and leaving behind your opinions, judgements and reactions to the content of this moment.
From such a place, we can pierce the veils of illusion, see into the nature of reality, appreciate everything about our surroundings, our relationships, the rest of the natural world and how beautiful it all is – even when terrible things are happening. But it’s not about quietism – it’s also about taking a stand for what we know is ‘right action’; simply not being ruled by our emotional reactivity as we do so.
And the writing of poetry or prose from such a place inside, especially when it meets the outer world, can be a profound way both of exploring and expressing this All.
It does not offset my despair at ‘the state of the world’: COVID19 and all the suffering involved in that; the earth burning up; the destruction of forest, the lungs of the planet, for our industry and our industrial farming; the suffering of the billions of animals kept in appalling conditions to be our prey; the starving of thousands of people each day; mental and physical suffering of so many; ecocide on an unprecedented scale. The prevalence of fear and cruelty.
But a way out of the suffering we experience in knowing all this, in being part of all this, in feeling hopeless and helpless, is to remember and celebrate the beauty and abundance that is around us, too. How privileged I am to be reasonably healthy; and to harvest and cook this artichoke and to eat it outside, with lemon and olive oil, garlic and parsley for lunch; and how I enjoy every single long moment of it.
I’ll write Part 11 soon. Meantime I’ve been uploading more Iona poems to SoundCloud, and there will be further podcasts to come.
For more on the new course, go to here.
My dear friend Michael has also found a way to record to MP3 and CD two creative visualisations, shaped by Jung’s active imagination techniques, that I developed for my Myth as Metaphor workshops in 1991, wrote about in my first book in 1993, and first recorded on cassette tapes (remember those?) in 1994. Another friend composed music to go with them, and ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Journey to the Healing Spring’ will be available to buy from me soon. Feedback has always been that they’re relaxing, restorative and healing.