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.
Tuesday, 11 August 2020
For many years now – 25ish, I suppose – I've been leading writing workshops entitled 'Writing the Bright Moment'. The locations have varied from Dartmoor to the Cornish coast, from the Cévennes Mountains in France to a Zen retreat centre. In 2005 and with the help of an Arts Council England grant I published a fat book of that title, with essays and suggested tasks.
The key component of all these workshops has been reflective and creative writing rooted in contemplative awareness of the present moment in our immersion in the living world. In doing so, I've drawn on my 40+ years of Zen meditation, my transpersonal psychotherapy training, and my deep passion for and understanding of the rural other-than-human world in which I've lived all my life.
Nowadays, the contemplative aspect would be called mindfulness; and in fact I've used that word in designing, at last, an online course that draws together poetry, the living world and meditative and reflective practice with an intention of bringing inner and outer worlds together. This, of course, is about how we live, as I guess all my courses are.
As we have built up to this week, and as I've been designing the five days' practice work, I've alternated between excitement at finally offering this course as distance learning, and fear that surely this time it might not work. Well, the latter has still to be tested, as we're only on Day 2, but so far people seem to have found it immersive and creative. I'm working with a lovely group of people, many of whom have worked with me before, and their words on our Facebook group are inspired and inspiring. Despite the challenges with making a living in the way that I do, I never forget how privileged I am to live where I do, offer the work that I love, and work with the individuals and groups that I do.
When you're asking people to do certain tasks, it seems only fair to do them oneself. All the work in the module is practice that I myself do, and I have been taking the early present-moment observation and writing suggestions as part of my own morning practice this week (as I often do anyway, but it's different when you know others elsewhere are also doing this).
The dog alerts me with a bark to the presence of a bee crawling across the courtyard. The other dog comes to have a look – both of them craning from a safe distance, occasionally bringing their noses close, then jumping back and freezing like children in Grandmother's Footsteps. I extend my forefinger for the bee to climb on to, then carry it over to my little walled herb garden. I lean over and let it join a whole grove of bees picnicking in the purple salvia, which seems to have drawn every bee in the garden.
I go back to the garden and the same thing happens all over again, this time with a young bumblebee. This one proves reluctant to leave my finger. I lean over the wall, which is at chest-height, and hold my finger in the centre of the spreading salvia bush. Beside it is a ladies' mantle plant, and I'm admiring its fanned leaves that look like Elizabethan ruffs. Despite the heat the scalloped edges of each leaf are neatly hemmed with an intricate string of minute dew droplets, like tiny appliquéd diamonds.
I lean closer to look, maybe 4 or 5 inches away, and am surprised to have my eyes met momentarily by another pair of eyes. The young fieldmouse holds my gaze for a few seconds then dives back under the nearest leaf, barely shaking it (to paraphrase Ezra Pound's wonderful poem, below).
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