Saturday, 20 December 2008

Creativity in Nature

I was mildly surprised at how little was found when I typed this into Google. My reasoning behind writing the title of this blog was the question of whether Nature is inherently creative. Can the concept of Nature being creative be held as different to the creativity that we humans define as creativity? Trees don't go around making pots out of clay and blackbirds don't write novels so perhaps we have to change our perception of what creativity could means in this context. By Nature I mean the non-human component of the natural environment around us. There is clearly creativity in diversity, in species, in habitats etc. but is this inherent to the basic evolutionary (or whatever) process or is there a fundamental consciousness within it that 'creates' and, if so, what does it create? Just as we might decide to go out to paint a picture, if a tree decided it wanted to be creative, what would it do?

My thoughts began on this subject when I was reflecting on an experience I had a few weeks ago. I was lying in bed with a juicy cold/flu type thing in a state of complete inability to summon up any energy to anything but doze. For a few moments I began to reflect on a place in the countryside I had been to in the summer and which had inspired quite a long blog. In my mind I then started to create a quite long and detailed poem or piece of prose that seemed like a complete revelation of inspiration. As I was half asleep I had no inclination to try and remember it or and write it down so I had to just enjoy the fleeting experience. What I think surprised me how it seemed as though perhaps my conscious mind tapped into a latent part of my unconscious to break through a barrier of creativity and release something of beauty and meaning. This has then now led me to wonder if I can regain this level of being creative so freely, how can I be more creative, and can I learn about creativity from the natural world around me?

I have always struggled with developing my creative skills. I feel there is a barrier that I have to cross and I can never quite identify it further than a "I don't know what to do" type of thing. I have read numerous books on the subject and should really read them again. The more I read, the more things seem to fit into a more holistic framework, and I like holistic frameworks. For example, I have always known I was more of a visual learner, and my NLP course has now helped to focus that in a more positive way. Perhaps I need to get my sketchbook out more again and develop a more mind-mapping, visual type of creative expression. I know I have thought this before, but as I need to be hugely creative at work and I want to be creative for my blog and my family I feel I have to do something.

Questions:
  • How can I use Nature to stimulate my own creativity?


  • Do I fear the creative process because I am worried about an inability to produce things people will like?


  • What unconscious barriers might there be that I need to try and break down in order to release personal creativity?


  • What does Nature create if it is 'creative'?


Is there a subconscious connection of my creativity to any 'creativity' that may be inherently part of Nature? From the spiritual point of view there has to be - if you feel there is an 'other' part of you that connects to the natural environment, then there should bea connecting of energy, soul, spirit or whatever you want to call it.

I mentioned the fact that trees and blackbirds may not creative as we might define it, but I wonder how they could be if they indeed are? Blackbirds adapt their external environments by making nests and thus exhibit the ability to take objects around them and make something of use. Craftsbirds you could call them. Is a tree creative? Well, the fact that a deciduous tree undergoes a huge transformation each year to cloth itself in leaves is a great creative undertaking. It may be just a biological necessity to our eyes, but it is all about taking resources and making something new. When plants adapt to and colonise a new piece of ground they are creating a new environment, new ecological niches, new colours, new biomass, new microclimates and so much more. Are they acting independently from each other or is there a deeper something that is energizing and awakening the situation?

It is an interesting area to think about and I will probably return to it.

Further notes made whilst on a bike ride the next day

Organic natural creativity is found in nature (possibly without man). How does this compare to production uniformity that characterises man's evolution in the past 100 years or so?

The act of creating is constant in Nature. It is always in a state of change with continuous cycles of birth, growth, reproduction, death and decay. Is this comparable with how it evolves?

All living things are different even at a species level (Amoeba even?). Every tree trunk is unique like a fingerprint, and every leaf is different in how it grows and orientates itself on a twig to gain maximum potential for photosynthesis.

To create is an organic process - always changing.

Is the process of life just a process of creation? Of new beginnings, always moving on, adapting to new situations and always changing. I am sitting in the sunshine, in a cool breeze on a rather warm mid-December day amongst some trees. Even in the depths of winter the process of creation is going on all around me, much of it not on a timescale that I am usually thinking about. Leaves are decaying to form new top soil; seeds are lying dormant in the soil but being subject to temperature changes that will cause enzyme or hormonal changes within them to encourage them to germinate in the spring; new buds are forming on branches; and the wind brings changes in temperature and humidity. I happened to notice some concentric rings in the bark on the trunk of a tree and I should have taken a photograph of the. They reminded of the act of creation, something small, growing and radiating outwards, like the ripples on a pond - the creation affecting the world around it.

Does a tree "know" that the leaves it bore all through the summer are now decaying around it to form humous and the habitat for organisms that will benefit the tree's growth?

Does a creative process always bring about growth?

For Nature, creation is the art of survival. It is how it moves forwards in evolutionary terms. But for Man, have we moved on from this? Creation for many of us is no longer about making tools to kill out food or to weave rugs to keep us warm in the winter. Creation has become the making of aesthetic things - we have moved it to another level because our basic needs have been satisfied. Survival has been taken care of. We have a large enough population to enable us to achieve different levels of creativity.

Creation is about gathering resources for expansion. You cannot create out of nothing, there is always something behind it, even if just energy. A song we sing is only made possible by the food we have eaten. At a universal scale you could say that even our ultimate beginnings had to be made out of something.

How does man manipulate or change Nature's creativity? What about cutting down rainforests, mowing a lawn or Genetically Modified crops? Are they interfering with the natural processes of the continuation and evolution of life?

What do we seek when we try to be creative? What needs are we meeting within our selves? Is it an attempt to tap into the connection with nature we so dearly need? What is the difference here therefore between painting a beautiful landscape and designing a new oil refinery? Does it matter what we put our creative energy into?

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Drum Making

It has been a strange autumn for me, and one that makes me feel as though I have lost my way rather too much. What with having been very busy at work, having had several nasty cold bugs, having the feeling that I've been lacking any useful creative stimulation and also the feeling of being on a bit of an emotional low, I have felt quite miserable! I am sure the lack of daylight, fresh air and decent exercise hasn't helped. I am determined to pull out of it and I am looking forward to a break over Christmas in just over a week. As I am sure I keep on saying, trying to be a spiritual and balanced person is actually hard work. If I don't apply mental energy to it then I just drift off into nothingness!

Drum Making
Last weekend I, and around 20 other people, attended a Drum making day with the Dartmoor musicians Carolyn Hillyer and Nigel Shaw in Hitchin. I had always wanted to do something like this and it was a special treat to myself.

We started off with a 16" diameter circular frame of laminated wood which we sanded down and added some wood stain and a small painted icon/image of our choice on the inside edge. A smaller metal ring was wound with black cloth and then attached to the inside of the frame. The skins we were using were from Red Deer and had been soaked in water prior to our using them. The circular piece of skin was hole punched round the edge and then the wooden ring laid on top. The skin was then pulled round over the frame and strung to the metal ring with a long piece of thin skin. This was progressively tightened until the right tension for the drum reached. A handle was finally added to the metal ring at the back of the drum. In the photo you can see that I have the inner ring a little off centre, but it doesn't matter. I'll know how to get it right if I ever make another. A beater was made with a hazel stick, on the end of which was tied a piece of chamois leather stuffed with wool.

I have no real idea how and when I shall use it, but it was a great thing to make. It took almost all day to make and I really enjoyed the experience. Nigel and Carolyn gave a concert in the evening which made a great end to the day.

The drum has now been sitting at home for a week and has dried out well. I am amazed at the quality and beauty of the sound that I can get out of it. Even just playing it with a gentle tapping with the drum held close to the ear reveals different tones and harmonics over different parts of the drum.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Calming the Soul

I have been amazed recently at how much a grip anxiety and worrying about non-existent or perceived events can have on me. I am not going to go into much detail but one thing has been occupying my thoughts for a month or so and that has been the rather destructive and disrespectful behaviour of some rather young children just up our Close. In the end I had to call the police, but not before I had made a good attempt to communicate with many of our neighbours and share our concerns and intended course of action.

I do not react to conflict well, but when you get it after trying to be kind and friendly then you can be left feeling a bit confused. Perhaps I have led too sheltered a life, but it has thrown open a door to part of my emotions and being that didn't like being awakened. My NLP course is teaching me a few lessons in positive thinking and I think part of the problem is my lack of exercise and the demands of work - I'm just not leading an active, balanced life that deals with all the hormones running around in my blood. I am realising that anxiety can drain a huge amount of energy from the body.

I am looking to answers in dealing with anxiety from my spiritual path. It is easy to read about solutions to problems and ways to outwork a daily practice but, in reality, it can be less than easy. I think it is all about learning. I just have to learn, experience and then outwork things. It's b****y difficult at times and I feel I fail often - perhaps I am being too hard on myself - but I love the challenge, I want to learn more.

I wonder how Nature deals with conflict...?

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Celebrating Samhain

The Celtic New Year tradditionally began at the beginning of November and was a time for feasts and celebrations - to give thanks for the harvest and to prepare for the onset of winter and the year to come. I am drawn to think that, with the loss of a predominantly argrarian based society, the rise of the more scary and ghoulish Halloween celebration has taken over. This is fueled by the media's presentation of horror and more frightening entertainment through the likes of television, film, books and computer games. With the loss of contact with the natural world, do we draw into ourselves a more depressive and self-destructive love of fear and violence that pervades our culture? Supermarkets don't particularly celebrate a farmer having grown successful crops whereas Halloween paraphenalia is far more commercially viable. A week ago I joined with a few friends to celebrate this traditional Celtic festival in a positive and meaningful way.


A Pilgrimage

It felt like I was going on a pilgrimage
this dark, windy and very rainy evening.
Along the lonely country lanes
with windswept leaves everywhere,
A journey to the unknown
welcoming anticipation and hope.

The tipi asked us in
to sit upon the golden bales
and touch the warmth of the fire,
to join with a sharing of our souls.

We respected each other
awaiting our turn to talk with antler
to express our thanks
for the year that has passed
and look to the future
with our visons and dreams.

The rain beats on the canvas
the fire gently crackles:
natural music to fill our thoughts;
and after we have gently warmed
the deerskin drums over the flames
our music, too, joins with nature.

I am there, welcomed and warm
giving where I am able
taking what I am able to receive,
and my apprehension turns to peace.
It feels like this just continues
all my previous experiences
in many churches and conference halls
but yet this feels closer to me
something I have been longing for.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Birth and Cycles of Change

Deciding a few thoughts to write about: Birth from the world and continuation of life; Work ethics and balance; Creative play; Is it just escapism?; Difference between appreciating nature and a deeper ecospiritual living; ...

I am catching up with some reading at the moment and keep dipping into three or more books and so getting quite an amalgamation of thoughts.

I came across the concept that we are birthed from the world and not in to the world. I am just a continuation of the creative process that is unfolding on the earth. I didn't appear from outer space and land one day in a tiny patch of Worcestershire. I was the product of the combination of the flesh and cells of my parents formed by the metabolism of the food they ate and the air they breathed. Their food was grown in the earth and so perpetuated the long cycle of creation and decay that characterises the development of life over millions of years. My window on the world is so infinitesimally small compared to the big picture, and perhaps that is one of the failings of our modern society. We live in a world that divorces us from the reality of the big picture of creation and nature. Are we really just like fleas on a dog's back? We can see the big picture because we have the ability to stand back and view the world but the perspective we chose may not be from an ecological view.

Although I feel encouraged to live in the present and not worry about future, I think it must be important to somehow recognise the past, the customs, the people, the culture and the natural world that has been part of my creation to this point. From what I gather, that is what Halloween is traditionally all about - celebration for the end of the summer and its provision for the harvest; a time for realising that the darkness of winter is ahead of us and that the closeness of death is ever present; and a time for remembering the people who have brought us to this place so far from our past. I realise there may be some darker aspects to it in some cases, but as that is not something I relate to or wish to discuss I will move on to something else.

Nature is always birthing even in the depths of the cold of winter. As the winters here have got warmer over the years this is becoming very noticeable. Buds forming on trees, spring bulbs pushing up though the grass - even a hibernating mouse is alive and slowly breathing and growing. Even a pile of dead leaves changes through the growth of fungi, micro-organisms and bacteria. Cells pass from life to death to assimilation to life in a never ending cycle.

(Now here's a challenge in connectivity) Jesus... as well a being human, and so part of this great natural creative cycle, had the skill to transcend the normal prespectives of his culture and see a bigger picture of the past, present and future. His ability to be a cultural and social philosopher was probably grounded in a deep connection to the earth, though I have to assume this as biblical language isn't always very ecocentric! He must have been very much like the creative thinkers today who want to see changes to the economic, consumer driven and unsustainable lifestyles we lead. When I read Resurgence magazine I am sure many of the writers there are, in what may be a heretical thought, Jesuses - people who are visionary, explore alternatives to the norms of society and seek changes to better the world around them.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Developing the Ecological Self

Perhaps just writing the title to a blog before I have even thought of its contents will encourage me to write in a more thoughtful and inspiring way. Let's see what will happen here...!

I was with a friend a few weeks ago who commented on an apparent duality in my modes of thinking and actions. On the one hand there is the 'me' that wants to go out and do things, be practical, be active, be funny, be extrovert and do as much as possible. On the other, is the more relaxed, calm, thoughtful, quiet and thoughtful 'me' that is keen to find balance and contentment in every day life. Now that I have started to be more philosophical about life I have noticed these two potential extremes and wonder how they can co-exist within me. I may be exaggerating the points, but I feel this duality causes a certain amount of conflict within what I do.

An ecological self must be one that recognises the existence of one's self within a greater picture of interactions with the external environment. The most immediate contact I have with the world outside of my body is with the air that I breath, and then it might be the food I eat, the clothes I wear and the ground upon which I walk. In more tradditional, ancient or less consumer driven cultures the ability to satisfy these basic needs of interactions may be the boundary between life and death. How often in my life have I been in a state of starvation or cold that would be life-threatening? For many of us in our Western society we have forgotten what it means to live life close to the boundaries of our ecological self - where the food, clothes, air and the un-acknowledged natural environment around us comes close enough to us to be seen as both a Saviour and yet the beckoning finger of suffering.

I suppose the frustration I am feeling, as mentioned in my previous blog, is the coming together of my ecological self with the techno-consumerist post-modern self. One seeks balance, peace and belonging; the other seeks action, stimulation from the media, the ability to take hold of all that life has to offer and the need to belong to the world of business for financial security and work.

My ecological self seems to be creating a big pull on me - it is the foundation for my personal development more than anything else (I'm not a great green eco-activist for this cause or that, or deeply engrossed in green politics or business). I am forming the theory but know I often fail in practice, such when I get angry with my daughter or when I struggle with work and stress. But I want to develop something that works for me - it is bl***y hard work, but I believe worth it.

I am 43, and will be 44 in a few months time. It is easy to feel at times that I have lived a sheltered life and have passed by much that could have been challenging and character forming. I often feel I want to start over again, but I think that in an ecological context I have to recognise the place I am in, to be thankful for it, to see my past and future within who I am, but knowing that I can draw upon resources from outside to help me on my journey.

I'm picking up my book on ecopsychology again and continuing to read it. All that I am talking about is really this sort of thing and I wish I could be more verbally eloquent about it. It is a huge subject and one I eagerly devour. There are many people who think and dream of new ways in which we could live more harmoniously with the planet and it doesn't imply we should all go back to living in round houses and pulling out bad teeth with pliers. As the news is now full of companies going out of business, China toy factories closing all over the place and a recession lasting several years, perhaps this is a wake up call for humanity to try and get its house in order. I don't think it will learn though - our ecological selves are being repressed all the time - but you never know, I'm sure it isn't all doom and gloom.

I was just thinking about a man I saw in Hitchin the other day evangelising to passers by with the word 'sin' thrown all over the place; and comparing that to my talking to a girl at work today about my tree experience as mentioned in my previous blog. We were both sharing something profound about our lives that had deep significant meaning. I pray for more inspiring moments like that.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Healing Trees; Wheelbarrows and Frustration

Eeee, what a week!

Yesterday's 'Butterfly Effect' blog was inspired by the first part of a bike ride that I went on. Whilst on my way back and in a fairly relaxed mode my thoughts seemed to be overtaken by a very negative and worry based set of thoughts that followed me for a good couple of miles. Although I was happy to be out on the bike I found it hard to disengage my mind from this deep time of anxiety. It annoyed me because it was upsetting my day and, although I am not going to mention what it was about, I knew that all I was trying to do was sort something out and deal with how I react to situations I find myself in.

As neared home I passed by a close group of four old oak trees and I could almost say I felt them call to me to stop and visit them. I did so and was immediately overwhelmed by a deep sense of peace and beauty that instantly lifted the deep anxiety I was facing. I only stayed with them a few minutes as people then kept walking by and there is only so much hanging around trees one can do without beginning to feel rather self-conscious! But I left feeling totally different.

* * *

Today, whilst out in the car, I passed a large pile of fly-tipping on a local country lane. I spotted amongst the builder's rubbish an old wheelbarrow. I stopped and retrieved the old, rusty item and took it home. Although it had a puncture and was a little worse for wear, I actually had a decent wheelbarrow for the odd few occasions when one would be useful around our garden. I also picked up a large good quality plastic bucket.

* * *

I am not going to dwell on it, but, eee by gum, I don't half feel a bit frustrated, emotional and fed up at times. This summer and autumn has been quite full of it (I blame it on the Resurgence weekend away - I laugh!). This weekend hasn't been good. Perhaps I have just been tired, very busy at work and not feeling I am being creative, networky or social out of work. Perhaps I am being too hard on myself.

Want to go back to Dartmoor again. Haven't been there since last Christmas.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The Butterfly Effect

This was the view from a place of meditation this morning. I liked the horizantals in the landscape and I sat and looked out over the fields on a cool, windy but sunny morning. The ground was cool and damp but refreshing to touch and I had found a place sheltered from the wind. The field jn front of me was a feeding ground for a flock of pigeons and I sat and watched them flying around the autumn landscape. It made me wonder about the Butterfly Effect (A web definition: "A butterfly flaps its wings... a hurricane strikes miles away. According to Chaos Theory, a seemingly irrelevant action can precipitate, and contribute to, a major event. The right set of factors comes together and a major event takes place.). Under this theory I wondered how significant the flap of a pigeon's wings could be. With all the movements of their wings in the field in front of me, could they inadvertently be changing the shape of the world as we know it? It was a windy day and I then noticed how the wind was moving the grasses and leaves around me. How does this fit in? Can each movement of each blade of grass be significant in ways that we just can't fathom?

"Be the change you want to be" is a quote I have been thinking about this week. To what extent is it possible for me to change my life and who I am? I know I could bring about dramatic changes to my life, but somehow I don't "do" the dramatic or the revolutionary. Perhaps I should. I am better at doing the low key and subtle things that bring about change over time. And yet somehow that frustrates me, but am I giving fear a home?

Friday, 24 October 2008

Keeping Balanced

The past week has been a testing time in several ways and I am not sure quite how I have coped. Sometimes I felt completely overwhelmed and I need to learn how to deal with those situations. It has been a week of dealing with annoying and disrespectful young kids from up the road; going to a parents evening and making what I hope was a good attempt to build rapport with our neighbours; dealing with the demands of work in a slightly stressful and very busy environment; trying to work out how I design cards that instantly meet my manager's approval; desperately trying to be creative and wanting to do my best, but often feeling I fail; getting depressed at the onset of dark drives to work and dark tea times; being excited and inspired by my NLP course and teacher; wanting to go out for a walk in the wind and rain but not having the time to; meeting a group of people (Resurgence/Gaia Group) with whom I shared some common interests and touching a wider world of ideas; being given a book on shamanism (hmmm, not sure it is my thing, seems a bit too much like an area that I'm very wary of); and going for a walk at Old Warden in Bedfordshire and sensing the sights and smells and textures of autumn.

On looking back at the above there are so many bits and pieces floating around at the moment and as always I want to see them as a whole contribution to my journey and not just isolated happenings. Isn't that a bit like the chaos theory or whatever it is where a butterfly flapping in one part of the world can affect something global elsewhere?

When I met up with some fellow Resurgence readers we shared some thoughts and ideas on our lives, philosophies and ideas. Here are some things that I jotted down in my notebook:

  • Be the change you want to be

  • Be the best that you can be (love?)

  • Keep good company; Do inspirational work; Unconditional service (Satsang, Indian philosophy)

  • A wish to see people and things that are free from pain

  • What makes you smile, what gladdens your heart?

  • Work/life/home should inseparable from a holistic/spiritual viewpoint

  • Apply spiritual work to a problem

  • Common theme: Ideas and translating them into action; a daily outworking of our spirituality


Oh yes, a couple of weeks ago I found myself on a Sunday afternoon in Primark and Macdonalds in Luton. As I have had enough of being negative this week I will decline from writing anything about this experience!

Prayer
As I welcome this new day
May the wind and the rain refresh my spirit.
May I see a positive in all I do
and help me not to get bogged down
by those thoughts that darken my mind.
May I be a light
that honours the great Creative Spirit.
May I draw from that Spirit
the strength and inspiration
to be who I am -
without fear
without uncertainty
with strength
with peace
and with love.

Bless J and E.

Thank you for this day.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Change

The Autumn is well and truly here and the trees are seriously amidst the process of change. They are changing colour, retreating from the season of production and fruitfulness and preparing to survive the expected frost and winds of winter.

The news is full of change: Credit Crunch, recession, shares rinsing and falling all over the place, petrol prices dropping after the summer highs and many companies going out of business. It all reflects just how much we base our lives around money, the desire to have more, to earn more, to use the earth's resources as if they are unlimited, to seek self-satisfaction at the expense of others. There are voices that call for new visions for how we live on this planet, but I wonder if they will really be heard or actioned in a way that will have real effects and substantially change the way we do things.

I often feel I have to sacrifice my desire for a more ecologically based lifestyle in order to have a job, pay the mortgage and support my dear family. Perhaps I fear making a radical change. I would like to, but I don't think I can do it by myself... not sure...

Quite a few of my friends at my old workplace are facing redundancy. My wife has kept her job, which I am thankful for, but I do feel for the others most of whom I have known for many years. Change happens, no-one is immune from it. Perhaps birth and death are the most drammatic changes our bodies undergo. Many of the changes we usually face in life, unless they are accident or illness, are just psychological - we just have to adapt our minds to new ways of thinking about our lives, what we do and how we do it.

I wonder how Nature copes with change, or indeed individual plants and animals? Can I learn anything from it? At an individual level. perhaps we are just the same. Put anything in an environment in which it faces stress and it either survives or dies. I have killed several treasured garden plants over the years just by moving them around too much or putting them in unsuitable places. Animals and humans are the same. Put me in a desert without the means to cope with a new environment and I wouldn't survive very long. But when changes are subtle, or within our means to cope, then we can survive and move on, even fourishing better than before. On a global level, I wonder if Nature will have better chances to survive and adapt than humans. But, of course, you could easily argue that we are all part of the same system anyway, so it isn't possible to talk about any separation. We are Nature, just as the tree that stands outside the window is. Humans do seem to have undergone a creation that is unique - I wonder if that creation has been too quick... it puts huge strains on our lives - we all want jobs, a car, a house, access to health servcices, the latest HD television, the ability to get compensation and have insurance for anything. Are we beginning to get scared of loosing ourselves and our existence? If you treat Nature as a separate entity from humans, then I am confident it will always exist for as long as the planet can sustain it. As a whole I believe it has a greater capacity for self-preservation and continuity. It has been around millions of years longer than we have. I am sure humans will always continue to exist on this planet alongside the ant and the oak tree, but they must live sustainably and I think that, as a whole global society, we haven't even really grasped what that means yet.

What I suppose we fear most about change is the ability to support ourselves and our families, to live the lives we want to live and to have what we have grown to expect from our modern world.

On my NLP course last week we were talking about timeline therapy and how if we think about the past we visualise it behind us, and if we think about the future we visualise it as being in front of us. Ever since, I've been practicing this and either I "want" to view this differently or I do actually see it differently. For me, the past is either place related and is in whatever direction an event occured (i.e it happened in Herefordshire, St Albans etc which I imagine to be where it is geographically from where I am standing); or it is "within" me - sort of carried as a memory in my body/mind. I think the future is similar. I am my future, it is within me, I create it. My future will be me in whatever situation I find myself in and I will imagine it either in my current position or within a geographical location I know or can visualise in any direction.

So, change. We all face it. We cope with it in different ways. We can never escape it. How we deal with in depends on what resources we have mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We have to dig deep sometimes to draw upon an inner strength that will carry us through. The supermarket won't help us, the DVD player won't help us, our investments may not help us. We need to have resources that we can draw on from within ourselves.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Guerrilla Litter Picking and Rain

I have had enough of going out on my bike and finding piles of litter or rubbish by the roadside and not doing anything about it. So last Saturday I went out with the bike and two bin bags to an unsightly collection of beer cans and rubbish possibly left by some nightime revellers alongside a local bridleway. I had passed it several times over the past few weeks and decided I'd seen it enough times. I cleared up one bin bag of empty beer cans for recycling, another bag of general rubbish and filled one of my paniers with glass bottles. I felt much better. I can't pick up everything I pass on the roadsides, but perhaps I should do a bit each time I go out.

The next day it rained. So I went out for a walk and got very wet. I love sitting in woods in the rain. I found a place to 'be' and just sat, looking and listening to all around me. I saw squirrels darting from tree trunk to tree trunk and a group of four pheasants that tentatively scratched their way past my field of view. I did see a deer or two, but they ran off as soon as they saw me. Just walking, silently and slowly through the damp autumnal wood was worth getting wet for.

Finding Our Way Again

The following book was lent to me by a friend and these are a mixture of notes and thoughts I made on it. It was probably more aimed at church leaders and those who have roles within a church, but I found a few things that caught my attention. I admit I did rather skim read it at numerous sittings so I am am sure I may have missed key points, but this isn't a review as such.

Finding Our Way Again
By Brian Mclaren. Thomas Nelson, 2008. 978-0-8499-2106-3

Is your religion a way of life or a system of belief? When people reject Christianity it may be just because of the way it is presented, structured and lead. Conventional organised religion doesn't have all the answers and perhaps we need a fusion of the sacred and the secular. Religion and secularism both fail to provide answers.

There are three options that we can take in forming a framework for our beliefs: militarist scientific secularism, pushy religious fundamentalism and mushy amorphous spirituality. We need something more, a fourth option.

How does daily life affect you? How do you deal with what happens to you and how does it change you? That reminds me of something we were talking about on my NLP course recently: how we think and how we react to situations influences our behaviour and feelings. What character do you want to have and what are you developing? Can spiritual practices help to bridge that gap? They can be earthy, they are about humanity and aliveness. They could be called life pratices or humane practices because they help us to practice being alive, and humanely so. They develop not just character but aliveness, alertness, wakefulness and humanity.

Spiritual practices are about Spirit and being open to God, tuning into the Holy, hearing the Word and the gentle pressure of presence. All creation unfolded from the Divine source and spiritual practices are ways of becoming awake and staying awake to God. They can help reshape us for a more intentional, alternative and perceptive way of living. What will your character be like in 10 years? How alive do you feel at the present moment?

People of faith may interrupt their lives with an intentional experience of discomfort, dislocation and intensity to seek new and unknown places. They may interrupt their family, work church life and any other familiar things to go on a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages need a home to set out from and a destination to reach. See Abraham (Genesis 12:1-4). Also important are fasting (not just from food), sacred meals, prayer, tithing/giving, sabbath/rest and liturgical prayer. I know that my journey feels much like a pilgrimage, though I have no clear idea where the ultimate destination is - other than being in a new place after having gone through a process of travel, learning, exploration and challenge. I feel that any trip I make to Herefordshire or to Dartmoor is one. Even going out for walk or bike ride locally can be a mini pilgrimage. Walking or cycling out into the countryside is always about going on a journey and experiencing something new.

Jesus was not a Christian but a Jew who proclaimed a new way, a new management and set of values, a new order and a new array of priorities and commitments, a new vision of peace and how to achieve it. He embodied this new way "I am the path". He was a leader, mentor, teacher, artist and rabbi. Jesus never makes Christians or converts, he forms disciples who then follow his way. He pointed the way for a movement, not a religion or an institution. I wonder whether emphasis is often placed more on Jesus as a forgiving person and Saviour than on what he himself may have actually stood for. I'm happier with that than the concept of just giving my life up to Jesus, focussing entirely on him and not actually taking responsibility for forming a balanced approach to my spiritual life. If this isn't clear, perhaps what I am saying is as follows: I have a path that I would like people to follow of they choose, but in no way do I want to become an iconic figurehead that is worshipped and revered. If Jesus did think that way, then I'd be happy to be put right if I should ever meet him, but it doesn't sit with my perception of how it should be.

Heaven and Hell are popularly understood as destinations beyond history and outside of this earth. If we focus on them in the wrong way then it can lead us to ignore this earth and this life. Do you want to escape this earth to be with God in Heaven or do you want to join God in healing this earth form personal and social evil? If we make Heaven after this life our prime destination for our spiritual way, are we then running away form the problems of the world? What if God's goal or destination for creation is a healed and healthy earth, with plant, animal and human systems that share in that health? Rather than seeing God's earth as a lost cause. What if God cared both for this life and the after life - they are both "life", both the Kingdom of God, both two facets of the same gift? Why does this seem like a "so obvious and why haven't I heard this before" type of thing? Though I probably have somewhere.

"Practice makes possible some things that wold otherwise have been impossible. [...] The gift never stops being a gift, but the gift 'happens' to those who are practiced in ways it doesn't happen to those who aren't." Contemplative practices then, are means by which we become prepared for grace to surprise us:
  • Solitude, Sabbath, Silence

  • Spiritual reading and study

  • Spiritual direction/friendship

  • Practicing God's presence

  • Fixed hour prayer

  • Prayer journalling

  • Contemplative prayer

  • Simplicity and slowness

  • Fasting and self-denial

  • Feasting and celebration

  • Holy days and seasons

  • Submission

  • Gratitude

  • Meditation and memorisation

There is quite a good passage in the book about community and the role the church plays in this: "Going to church when you don't feel like it becomes the most important kind of going to church there is". It is about commitment to the purpose - we should learn and live a way of life that motivates us to turn up. Withdrawal from community practices can become a habit and also an unhelpful practice. People of faith then become grim and apathetic, so the author says, but then goes on to say that people who drop out of churches can seem happier, healthier and closer to God than before. I understand the important role that churches play in the creation and development of thriving Christian communities but perhaps I just have to work through some things...

The ecology of our planet is in trouble (Hmm, so is our economic system!) but isn't that outer disharmony and imbalance related to the disharmony and imbalance in our inner ecology? We should be thinking of practices that form and transform both our outer and inner ecologies of souls and world.

How can churches meet the needs of people who want to move out of their "box"? I you stop people form learning, sharing and loving then isn't that working against God and the plotline of the universe? Are you willing to change, to let go and allow change - to find your way again? God's Spirit works across denominations, ideologies etc in different ways at different times - I imagine it may be like waves with peaks and troughs of inspiration by the Holy Spirit. Where do you draw the line as to what is Christian and what isn't? I don't think it is as obvious as I have been led to believe.

The book offers a model for practicing a new way of approaching that above through various "Via...". I wasn't grabbed by them in a deep way, whereas the "Via..." ways that Matthew Fox illuminates I found far more meaningful (Via positiva, Via negativa, Via creativa and Via transformativa).

Friday, 3 October 2008

Celtic Prayer

The Path of Celtic Prayer
by Calvin Miller, IVP 978-0-8308-3504-1, 2007

I have just read this book which I borrowed from a friend. I made quite a few notes, but realised much of what was doing was just copying directly from the book. So, in order to respect copyright, I have re-written my notes in more of my own words with my own thoughts added. Some text is retained as written in the book, in quote marks. It may be a bit disjointed as I only picked out the parts that I feel spoke to me. It was very good book exploring Celtic Christianity and the author was, I felt, discovering it from a fairly charismatic evangelical viewpoint which at times felt a bit claustrophobic. But the underlying sense of discovering a more ancient and creation based spirituality was very strong and I liked the style of writing and the sense of discovery and journey within nature. The book was an easy read and so didn't always present a greater depth of exploration where I would have liked. If it had been my copy I would have been writing things and underlining bits all over the place.


The Celts (Greek keltos for stranger or alien) are a people of somewhat unknown origin, possibly from middle Europe, who found their way to our land somewhere between 1500 and 500 BC. The Romans drove most of them to the outer western edges of the British Isles where remnants of their ancient languages can still be found. Various missionaries such as Patrick and Columba then bought the gospel to them and so Christianisation of the Celts began.

Like most people the Celts prayed in ways that were appropriate to their lives and the context of their society, environment and culture. Their gods were drawn from the natural world which was to be expected. They were outdoor people, a concept probably that was meaningless in their time, as that is what everyone was. Nature was too big for them to grasp and so they naturally sought help from the gods from the land and sea and sought to manipulate them through prayers and incantations. When Christianity was bought to this pagan landscape so the Christian God became the King of Nature. The Celts may have confused their Christian God with nature but for most Christians, God is always greater than and separate from His creation. Nature can therefore be allowed to inform spirituality but you couldn't say God IS nature. I have a sneaking feeling that there is an alternative view. God is present in nature, it is His creation, in it He is constantly creating and evolving and thus there need be no separation.

At the heart of Celtic devotion there is a force called neart or nirt which is the Divine spiritual and creative energy behind all living things and it comes from the Trinity. Prayer is a way of tapping into this energy and the triune God. In praying to the Trinity we are praying to the full Godhead that creates and pervades the natural world and thus there is no separation of God, Son and Holy Spirit. As the Celts only knew the natural world they worshipped and prayed to a God who surrounded them just as the natural world did. Very Psalm like. God was not an icon fixed in a temple, but could be found amongst the rocks and bushes. "YHWH was the breath of the God of storms, whose wind (ruach) created, threatened and gave life."

Christians often pray to one part of the Trinity. God deals with all the big stuff; Jesus the personal; and the Holy Spirit just makes them feel good. The Trinity is expressed in the knotworks of neverending patterns of sovereignty and foreverness. In praying to the Trinity we can truly commune with it - we are taking God in His completeness and therefore we are complete. God has given us the earth's resources to meet our needs, but the whole Trinity is invloved in both our creation and sustenance.

The Celts were poetic people using ornate phrases of praise direct from the heart that weren't spontaneous but carefully formed. In "Megachurch 'entertainment evangelism' Jesus can be trivialised as a congenial host who smiles alot". The spoken word was believed to be more powerful that words frozen to a page. "They saw the Bible not just as God's word that should be applied, but as literature born on the high ledges between this world and the next".

The author warns about taking the Bible and fitting it to meet our own needs and something about needing to be careful about confusing the important biblical and doctrinal distinctions of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No further expansion on this was given and, although I think I know exactly what he meant, I am not sure I agree with his frame of thinking.

Praying scriptures out of doors is to be encouraged as then we are surrounded by the grandeur of God as exhibited and enhanced by nature. Try these passages:
Outdoors - last chapter of Job, Psalm 19, 23, 46, 90 : Mountains - Isaiah 40 : Harvest John 4 : Christmas - nativity : Epiphany - Matthew 28, Luke 1 : Seashore : Jonah, Galilean passages beginning at Matthew 4 : Sheep - John 10 : Evening - Passion narratives : Mid-morning - Sermon on the Mount : End of day - Romans 8, Philippians 2


The word Lorica is often used for 'breastplate' prayers: prayers that ask for protection as they journeyed to an unknown future. The cross is a bridge between this world where we live temporarily and the higher world where God reigns. We can never rest in a place of faith. In it we travel and learn of heaven and hell, life and death, sin and the gospel and the triune God. Each adventure we have becomes a metaphor, a new way to teach us about nature, the power of the Trinity and the gospel of Christ. When we live on the edge then pilgrimages are born.

I wonder if nature worship encourages a less self centered desire to pray and worship?

To the Celts, the forces or evil and death were very real with sickness, pestilence and enemies part of Satan's weapons. Lorica/breastplate prayers were their protection. Do people who look out for the work of the evil one actually attract it to themselves...? I personally have yet to be convinced fully of the presence of Satan (or even Jesus if I dare say it!), even after 20 years of being in an evangelical Christian environment, though I will acknowledge a 'dark side'. But that is a discussion for elsewhere.

The Celts took confession seriously because they took God seriously. If you believe in God then you see yourself as both sinful and needy and confession gives us the ability to escape all false opinions of ourselves. It is about a desperate longing for God, agreeing with God that our sin is sin, and serving God in the world. Yes, I agree to a point, but I could see things from a different perspective if persuaded...

Creation and redemption go hand in hand and at the end of the age He will recreate heaven and earth. Well, again, it depends how you see things...

Nature Prayer
This was the juiciest part of the book and I have saved this bit until last.
Nature encompasses a far greater world than can be observed and it is the place where mere mortals become God's servant of praise. With the Spirit flowing naturally though the entirity of life it must therefore permeate the worship of church. With God sustaining creation, in order to know the Creator you must seek him though creation. The Eucharist can be an excellent example of the concentrate of God's presence in all things. When in nature we automatically want to praise and if we allow our environment to deteriorate we have not only disobeyed God but we will have no place in which to praise and worship. "We can easily paste nature over supernature so that it becomes mere scenary. We so separate nature and faith that it can seem that would be essentially unchanged if creation were to cease to exist. Not so with the Celts (or the Bible)." Everywhere the Celts looked they saw creative love and the almighty nature of the holy Trinity. "...we must break through the cold, hard walls of our institutionalized worship and reach for the soft, warm reality of God that is found outdoors. It is impossible to imprison God within the walls of a church and yet claim that Christianity brings light, growth and life. We need to open the windows of our souls to admit God's creative energy..."

"Nature must not forget the Christ that died to redeem it from its great destroyer - Satan". To me, I feel that it is us humans who are ultimately nature's great destroyer. Perhaps... is there a 'satan' within us all that creates the dark side of humanity. Perhaps we are our own evil. We create it from with our own psychology. We are nature's satan. Not sure, don't know.....

The Celts had an holistic worldview, a world where faith and reason wound seamlessly together as the natural and supernatural worlds are intwined in their artwork.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Morning Meditation

It is early on a cool, end of September, morning. There is quite a thick fog, but I know the day will brighten to a warm clear day. I travel to a place I discovered last year, I think, and to which I have always wanted to return to do a meditation. Finding places for such an activity is not always easy around here unless I venture off the public paths a short way. I look for places where you won't be disturbed by traffic, walkers or whatever. Being found by a game keeper is a likely possibility, but I am always surprised at how quiet the countryside can be. Very rarely have I come across any farmers or game keepers on even my normal walks and, more often than not, they are whizzing around on quad bikes or similar. But wherever I am I still respect the land I am on. I just know my landscape intimately so I always know where I am and who or what I am likely to find or meet. Sometimes you just have to take a small risk.

In writing notes after a meditation, they become an aid to recollection of some thoughts but, as I often do a moving, speaking meditation, the content and focus of what I write will be different in places. When I am meditating, I don't want to have and stop and jot things down every few minutes. Today I just retraced my steps, noted things in my sketch book and then wrote this up at home later. It may not be written exactly how I performed it, but I've written it in a more practical and logical order, and in a sort of note taking style.

Anyway, here it is:


I first face the sun and prepare myself. I did a simple exercise in thinking about the directions and the symbolism they evoke:
To the East:
The sunrise. Awakening to a new day. Renewal. Watching and waiting for the new. Birth. Welcoming. Moving to the unknown. Beginning of the day, journey or meditation. Preparation.

To the South:
Growth, activity, doing. The sun is at its highest. The journey. Being in the present.

To the West:
Sunset. End of the day or journey. Completion and finish.

To the North:
Rest, sleep, darkness. Winter and cold. Waiting. The unknown, yet expectation.


Then I did a little four-stage action based prayer that I do in many situations:

Welcome
I welcome the place and acknowledge my presence there. I prepare, quieten and become still. Focus on my being there.

Ask
I ask that I might me shown things. That I might offer the right prayers. I ask for inspiration and guidance from the place I am in.

Receive
I ask to be open to what I may receive, and know answers to my prayers.

Go forth
I give give thanks for being there and ask for a blessing as I go.


Now I become more deeply aware of the place I am in and tune into my surroundings, first by walking around and then by standing still:

Circling
The place I am in is a patch of trees and undergrowth at the corner of some fields. There is a circular patch of grass surrounded by various trees. Mostly tall ashes, but also oak, elder, hawthorn, blackthorn and elder. It is cool. The mist lingers and the sun's hazey light is barely strong enough to cast any shadows. The grass has been worn to the earth in several places by the presence of deer and scuffed grass and moss and deer droppings also indicate their presence. The surrounding fields have now been harvested, ploughed and await final cultivation and seen sowing.

I slowly walk around the circle, keeping my steps silent on the damp grass. Around me, the trees and grasses are covered in water droplets and cobwebs are so highlighted everywhere I look. Such delicate beauty in many amazing forms. How do the spiders develop a sense of space in their surroundings to enable them to construct their webs? The task seems almost impossible to my mind.

Contrasts: The strong and the weak - the tall tree trunks and the delicate beauty of the cobweb; Light and Dark; Life and Death - insects/midges, a rising toadstool, decaying piles of wood.

People: we are surrounded by and, interact with, so many people. In this place I am surrounded by plants and trees. All unique and different. Similarities. Some of my friends are facing a period of deep change and uncertainty - an autumn, from which new things must grown and evolve. Sometimes we meet people we don't get on with. We have to learn to co-operate, to live together, to understand, to know how to relate to and understand them. Others bring great inspiration.

I pick up some freshly turned soil at the edge of the field and enjoy its fragrance. A single nightshade flower of purple and yellow brings a focus of almost incongruous colour to the place. Red hawthorn berries, bold in the sunlight. I touch an ash tree. Its bark almost softa nd warm. Beautiful patterns are created as the bark splits in growth. Lichens on a elder branch - such a bright green, seems almost out of place. Was that a squeek of a mouse in the grass? I see where possibly rabbits have been scratching in the soil, though on my way here I found some deep digging that may have been the work of badgers.

Standing
I find a place to stand in silence, in stillness, to just 'be'. In front of me are tall golden grasses, water droplets glistening on their seed-heads as the sunlight brightens. Around me is the constant sound of water dripping off the mist soaked trees. Birds: jays, an unseen woodpecker tapping, wrens, possible assorted tits and chaffinches; a couple of pheasants scratching for food in the field.

A stoat appears beneath a patch of blackthorn about 12 feet away. It hasn't noticed me, and it scurries around for a while before wandering off.

With the sun in front of me I realise I can actually see the droplets of mist moving horizantally across my field of view. Almost imperceptible.


I finish by giving a thank you to the place and giving a small bow. I am grateful for the timelessness of being there, for experiencing new things even if it is just a new time to just be still. The smallest detail in nature can be inspirational, you don't have to look for the big event, the best view or the most beautiful flower. I know that I have to be thankful for being there, for being able to freely pray and to be comfortable in what I do.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Reflection

After what felt like an intense period of journeying and discovery over the summer, things seem to have fallen flat for a bit. I think I have been preoccupied with work, have had some freelance design work to do and just seem busy doing whatever needs to be done. Perhaps I am just 're-grouping'! Finding the right things to inspire me always seems an effort. Anyway, here are some short notes on the past couple of weeks.

The Old Apple Tree
I was looking at an old apple tree a couple of weeks ago. Just a short exercise in really looking close at it. These are some notes I scribbled down whilst sketching it:

Sedate, Queen of the garden. Home to the leaf miner, lichen and numerous small insects and flies making a home the leaves and bark. And delicate spiders with impossibly long legs sheltering beneath a leaf, camouflaged and almost invisible. Holely leaves where something has gone munch! Apples holding water droplets, the branches: a perch for the blue tits using a feeder. Apples: the fruit of the Garden of Eden; fertility in spring; harvest in the autumn; memory of childhood and the taste of nature.


The Leaf and the Deer
I am sitting in a small patch of woodland beneath a couple of tall chestnut trees. It is early morning, warm, with a clear sky and sunshine that is so welcoming. The chestnut leaves are full of tiny caterpillers, munching their way through the upper and lower leaf surfaces leaving translucent holes on the fading leaves. I watch a leaf fall, a silent twist of yellow, caught in the sunlight as it parts with an upper twig and tumbles to the crisp ground. All the chestnut trees around here began to go brown weeks ago, way ahead of the other trees. They stand out from all the other trees around them. I think they have a disease or something but I keep forgetting to look it up on the web.

I am aware of a sound behind me and I slowly turn. A fallow deer has appeared and stares warily at me. It is so grey, I always think of deer as being brown. I sit motionless, it is just slightly out of my line of sight so I can't really observe it comfortably without having to move my whole body. It stays for a few moments before bounding off, a sort of leaping on all fours, over the undergrowth.


Perception
Learning to perceive things differently is a skill and it can take a bit of work on our part to do so. I was talking to a friend last night about tuning in to more of what is around us (in the natural world) and also started an evening course in NLP which covered similar ground. We all view things differently and we have to train ourselves to see things in a different way. The course in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) will, I expect, improve my communication skills and confidence. I am sure I cover much of the subject intuitively anyway but it will be good to get taught by a professional. I was surprised at how much I could relate to what I have already discovered on my journey.


Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Grass Walking

Upon the warm summer earth
soft to touch and a path of green,
with seeds heads held to the sky
tall slender stems reaching
holding fertility to the wind,
we walk, together, as one.

We are present, but in time
will become the ancesters
that live in your songs and dances
and lift your spirits high.

Through the rustling grasses
a path well trod before us,
feet connecting with cool leaves
and the soil that lives
for our fragile earth,
seeds scatter to await the new.

Around us, excited butterflies
gathering from flower to flower
and the hum of bees and flies
their freedom is the scented air.
Our toes touch the bedstraw
thyme, cranesbill, plantain and clover
delicate beauty, we take for granted.

We are the landscape and yet
we will change it for ever.
But though our feet will tread
through love, harvest, and war
the seeds will always survive
for they are our future.

How little we understand.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Painting at Luton Hoo Walled Garden

Luton Hoo Walled Garden Project is restoring an old walled garden and I go there from time to time to help out with gardening work. Today I had offered to lead a children's painting activity for their main open day of the year. We have at last had a warm sunny weekend, and it certainly brought out hundreds of people (or more) to see the work done so far. I set myself up in a marquee with some large sheets of paper, pots of paint and felt tip pens and got anyone who wanted to just draw gardeney sort of things. The kids loved it and so did everyone else I spoke to as it was an easy and cheap to do creative project that had a big result. I later placed the artwork alongside one one of the main greenhouses with sunflowers as the backdrop and took the photos here.

Personally, I was in need of a bit of a confidence boost and thoroughly enjoyed chatting to parents, visitors and encouraging young people to take part. It was also good to be back participating in a public event again and just doing something different. It drew upon all the skills I feel I am good at and gave me a positive hope for change. There is another open day in October which I got really excited about and said I would love to be involved again. Unfortunately this evening my dear wife reminded me it was on the same day as my daughter's birthday. Pooey - I was more than a little annoyed and upset! I think family responsibilities will have to take priority. It isn't easy for me to take on board new things and several times this year new possibilities have not worked out in areas I am so keen to get experience or knowledge. I don't think it is anything conspiring against me, it is just the way life works. Things get cancelled, diaries clash and somethings just get in the way of others. I will just have to look for other opportunities to do something.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Bogged Down, but a Ray of Light!

Bleurgghh! Have got stuck at work with a project that I didn't identify with and I feel frustrated and annoyed with various things. I'm not going to go into details but there is quite a pressure to be creative and I do enjoy the work, but I've been a bit unsettled this summer and I don't think my mind quite grasped the plot. Having moved from a charity to a commercial business is still proving an interesting challenge for me in coping with different styles of working, expectations, management styles and creative experiences. My aim is to work through things, improve communication skills, be accountable, improve my creative skills and understand more about the Directors' working styles. My path tells me I have to work through things positively and take my 'ministry' to the work place.

I am not going to make a point of bringing my work to this blog, but as it forms a significant part of my waking day, it is a significant part of who I am and what I do.

One thing I did do this week was to write a deep 4 page reflection on a friend's recent sabbatical experience. It was an exercise in stretching my writing muscles and in providing thoughtful and relevant inspiration to another person. They seemed to appreciate it and I felt I was drawing on some of the deep things I have learnt over the past couple of years and beginning to outwork them for the good of others.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Reflection

Having just ploughed my way through Resurgence No.249, July/August 08, there were just a few things that paused me to ponder.

  • I am surrounded by music in life, yet do I create any of it myself? We are often obliged to listen to music whether we choose to or not. It may be in shops; from neighbours next door or even many gardens away; passing cars or perhaps even mobile phone ring tones. I do often listen to music at home or at work - it can be for many reasons, such as to hide from background distractions or for the pure enjoyment of it. But should I sometimes create music myself? I stopped playing the guitar many years ago because of the problems with RSI I had. I enjoyed it, but never really quite got beyond a certain level probably through a lack of will power. I am going on a drum making course in December for a day which I am looking forward to. I think it will be my Christmas present to myself. Sometimes perhaps we need to have a place where we can make music in whatever way we want to. With complete freedom of expression and no fear of doing it wrong.

    Does music happen when I paint a picture? I wonder what the pencil markings, erasings, paint brushings, brush stirrings and ink bottle shakings would sound like as a piece of music, or even an orchestral score? How could it be interpreted?

    How can you interpret nature as music? I love Nigel Shaw's music. Do I find it beautiful just because it touches me emotionally, or does it have an innate sort of belonging to the landscape which inspired it and which draws me in? It is so easy to bring landscape pictures to the mind when I hear it. Many composers have attempted to bring nature into the realm of humankind through the language of music, there is obviously a need within the human psyche for many people to do so.

    Is there music in the movement of a leaf in the breeze?


  • 'The earth can only survive if we develop the pursuit of poetry and mysticism. Free ourselves from the anthropocentric myth of the Apocolypse and adopt the mystics path of identifying with the cosmos.' (From a review of John Gray by Mary Tasker).

    Being mystical in a life that has to be practical or functional doesn't always come easily. For me, it almost has to take a concerted effort to switch to the mystical/poetic 'me'. I feel like I keep stepping off my 'path' to deal with daily issues that seem to 'get in the way': need to fix this, mend that, go to work, be with family etc. I know that everything I do is part of my path, but it isn't always easy finding inspiration or space to do so, and without it feeling as though it is being forced. I've just rearranged my room at home and put an armchair in it. Now I can at least sit down in my own space in a comfy chair without always having to go into the cold summerhouse in the winter and squinting at a book or sketchpad by candlelight.


  • How is my personal sense of belonging being eroded by giant corporations? (From Reviews, by Tony Juniper)

    This is something else to think about when I want to blog about local/global issues and isolation from the environment etc.
Here's another quote I want to remember:

In Nature's sheme of things, there is little concern for the individual plant or animal. The well-being of the commmunity is most important.
(Interpreting the Environment. Sharpe, G. W, John Wiley and Sons Inc, 1976. London).

Monday, 1 September 2008

Looking and Collecting

My daughter has now found out how interesting it can be to go out and look for things in the countryside. Last week we were in a patch of woodland looking under rotten logs for beetles, centipedes and woodlice. She got quite excited at looking for things - no idea where she gets it from!

A couple of days ago I took her out on the back of my bike for about a 16 mile bike ride. We stopped at a favourite place of mine where the corners of several fields meet to see what we could find. She took her tuppaware box and found all sorts of coloured leaves and different things. I helped, of course, but she really seemed to enjoy searching for stones, seeds, grasses, leaves and anything else. It is a great time of year to go out looking for this and that. Later, at home, she stuck some of the bits onto card to make a picture. She particularly seemed to like the black field bean pods and opening them up to get the hard beans out.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Wisdom Seekers

The wood has drawn me in,
in from the sunshine
in from the August breeze
to sit on the damp earth
to shelter, quieten, to be still
to exist in almost nothingness
to hide from all that fills my thoughts.

From awakening in the East
like the rising sun they came.
Those who inspire and dream dreams
and those who bring passion
Sages and wisdom seekers:
born of the Earth.

As I stand in the wood
with sunlight dappled
through the high canopy
and the harmony of the wind song
all around me,
I have a deep sense of awareness
peace, that welcomes me
and seems to be saying that
everything will be alright.
When the winter comes
and darkness prevails
Spring will be my hope.

There will always be a Spring.

A sycamore sapling
on the woodland carpet in front of me
is bathed in sunlight
perhaps for the first time this day
just for five minutes.

The Masters of wisdom
have given their light
to shine to people
who accept or reject
their grace and understanding.
Long do I wish I could
shed my burdens
and speak to inspire.

There are two parts of me:
the Hare that runs and chases,
the Hare that sits and listens.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Reflection

Having been to the Resurgence Summer Camp and then spending a week back in my 'home' area of Herefordshire, my big summer adventures have drawn to a close and I now seem to be preparing for the long autumn and the draw up to winter. It feels like the end of September: the mornings seem dark, the sky is forever filled with rain laden clouds and even winter clothes have found their way out of the wardrobe.

I enjoyed my week in Herefordshire but somehow, as always, I expected too much from it. I happily admit that finding a right balance between what I want to do and what I should be doing with the family hard. 'My' time can be so precious that fully entering into it without trying to do too much can be hard. It was great having the focus at looking for wild flowers though. I had read Bill Plotkin's 'Soulcraft' before I went and was really looking for something more 'otherly' from my week away. Perhaps it will appear through some more subconscious form of expression and outworking. As with all things, people tune into things in different ways and in Soulcraft I was amazed at the journeys and experiences people have in working with nature.

Now I am back in normal life and feel fairly relaxed for once! I seem to have a deep sense of wanting to do something. Somehow I feel as though I have let the world pass me by. I know I often look back and wish I had done certain things in the past but now I feel as though I am in a transition period. I enjoy my work but, for once, I am not complacent and I have a feeling that I am meant to be moving in another direction - not this year, perhaps not next year. I'm not sure. Something within me is yearning for learning and discovery again. I would really like to develop my people/communication skills somehow, but that is one of the hardest areas I feel I have to deal with. Part of me would love to be a teacher, a life coach or nature educator. Perhaps the latter is what what I feel I am getting drawn to in some small way. It isn't too late to learn but, when I look back on my previous job with the youth charity, I had all the opportunities to learn the required skills right in front of me. And did I use really use them? No. I had no vision then, no bigger picture to work towards. But that's not quite true, because at that time I just wanted to develop my artistic skills, which I did. Now I have moved the goal posts and feel like starting over again. I don't wish to be negative about my current job, but it is very isolating - but perhaps that is what I now need to help me look outwards.

So, what shall I do...? I'll have a look and see what evening or training courses there are that I can do to get some sort of ball rolling.


* * * * * *

Oh, one thing that was quite special about a being away with my daughter for a week was just spending time with her. She will be off to big school in a week or so, and it was good to just spend quality time outdoors with her. We all went up onto Croft Ambrey which was quite a decent walk. I carried her up most of the way as it was a steep climb, but she happily ran down again. We also went for a beautiful walk one evening down to the river. I love being out in the evening anyway and just watching the sunset and the moon rise was an amazing experience to share with her. She is just getting to the stage of properly being able to appreciate such things.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Walking with Flowers

Here is picture of Harebells on Croft Ambrey. Whilst up in Herefordshire last week I took the opportunity to rebuild my long forgotten knowledge of wild flowers that my Father inspired me with as a teenager. On one day I went out for reasonably long walk (Titley to Wapley Hill and back) with the aim of drawing all the flowers and plants I didn't recognise. However, as it took me about an hour to cover the first mile with so much stopping, bending down and drawing something, only to repeat myself a few yards further on, I decided I needed a better approach. Ah, the joys of digital cameras! I was soon snapping away as well as doing the odd sketch. I was amazed at how much I found.

I did another walk, a couple of days later, about 10 miles or so, and again had my head focused on the ground for much of the time (Titley to Wapley Hill, Shobdon Hill Wood, Sned Wood, Croft Ambrey and ending at Croft Castle). The photo is taken from Croft Ambrey, looking back to the hills I had just walked over. In covering so much ground and passing through so many different habitats such as river banks, conifer plantations, open heath/grassland and arable fields, I began to be accutely aware of what plants prefered which habitats and what I would be likely to find where. There were often surprises as sometimes I would find something completely new in an unexpected place. It was actually quite hard work - always looking and trying to remember what I'd seen elsewhere, but very rewarding.

Although I have recently bought a new flower book it wasn't until I was back in Luton several days later that I really began the task of identifying what I saw. I had forgotten that, even with four main flower books it is not easy deciding what is what. In the field some things look so much as if they should be easily identifiable and yet the books don't quite have the perfect match. I have begun to look more clearly for the sorts of things that really identifies a plant. Umbellifers can be confusing unless you know what to look for, but it is the sort of self-heal/woundwort/calamint type of flowers that seem to get me. And even the flower books seem to illustrate the same species differently - one picture looks distinctly as if it is the wrong illustration compared to another two books! It took me hours to plough through all my drawings and photos and I only have a few plants left which I am uncertain about.

On ploughing through the flower books I was amazed at just how much folklore was attached to plants in times gone by. So many were medicinal and a good number are poisonous to varying degrees. Even some of the smallest plants seem to have had some medical property attributed to them. How on earth did people find out that a tea made from a bedstraw could clear a nosebleed? Why not just stick a wadge of grass up your nose? People must have been so much in tune with plants in the past, but then I suppose we nowadays would instinctively know that lemon squash tastes better than bleach even though both may look the same, come in the came sort of plastic bottle and come from the same supermarket.

One final thing. After my first long walk, and a day spent with my face in the middle of hedgerows and my nose to the ground, I came across a beautfully and immaculately trimmed hedgerow that had only just been cut by a tractor and flail mower. This represented everything I had been looking all day, now all mulched up in its prime. I know the farmers have to do it, but somehow it just showed how fragile nature's existence around us is and how much we shape it for our convenience and need.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Riverside

The River Arrow runs north from Kington in north Herefordshire and I walked down to sit on its bank near Titley one August evening last week. It isn't a large river, probably around 20 to 30 feet wide around here and you could probably walk across it in the shallows in a dry year, but there has been much rain recently and the water was rather brisk moving and muddy.

I've found a place to sit just near the water's edge. I had to walk through a puddled corn field and then find my way through the riverbank, here a tall feast of nettles, comfrey, docks, grass, willowherb and bindweed. I'm sitting on a piece of discarded plastic as the earth is too cool and damp for a long wait. My back rests against one of the many alder trees that line the riverbank. It is the end of a very intermittently showery and sunny day. It is a private place though I am not far from a small stone road bridge, but no cars break the peace of the quiet country lane this night. I am wrapped up warm, a thick winter shirt keeps the cool breeze away form my still form. A rainbow led to me to this place. As I walked here it appeared on the hill in front of me - bright, against the dark grey clouds. I am now sitting below the place where I perceived it to exist.

Will there be any different about this place tonight? What will I observe?

All I can hear is the fast tumbling and swirling of the water over the stones and the gentle rustling of leaves in the tall alders.

Ooops, I absent-mindedly squash a tiny weeny spider on my sketch pad that I see out the corner of my eye!

I face downstream, the cold water just a couple of feet away. I give thanks to this place.

A wren chatters. Was that a dipper flying past?

A pile of flood debris forms a wall against the alders on a small island in front of me. A large pale blue plastic barrel, incongruous in the field of view sits there too, washed down by floods earlier in the year along with tree trunks, roots and branches.

Not much really happens does it? I feel a little awkward being here with an expectant heart. Perhaps my perception of time and timescales is at fault. My 'time' feels so inconsequential to Nature's. Should I have done a little ceremony on arrival I wonder?

I am suddenly aware of a low sort of thunderous noise seemingly getting louder. It isn't thunder and, as my view to the field on the other side of the river is obscured by the alders' I wonder if it is a herd of cattle running down down the steep hillside. It gets louder and through the trees I glimpse a herd of ten to fifteen brown and black cattle approach the river bank. Some climb down the six foot muddy drop to the water's edge and stand in the mud and the river. I can smell them, even from around fifty feet away. Then, after ten minutes or so, the slowly and silently return back to the field.

A fish jumps.

The sun has long gone over the horizon and the light is noticeably fading. Do I hear a robin? A faint shape moves in the branches on the opposite bank. Is that another dipper flying past? A dove coos. A wren is calling again, unseen and always on the move. A spider is on my hand. A buzzard calls far away.

Brrr, it's cold!

Alders: always in touch with the water or in the moist soil of the river bank. Tall thin trunks reaching upwards. Beautiful foliage silhouetted against the grey sky

I'll have to move, I'm getting uncomfortable. I give thanks to the place and then depart.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

On Wapley Hill

Wapley Hill is in the very north west corner of Herefordshire to the south of Presteigne. It is largely covered by conifer plantations and a large Hillfort covers the hill summit. As with many of the hills in the area the views are spectacular - if you can see them, that is, over the tops of the conifers. I spent a day walking there recently and this blog records my observations as I sat for forty minutes, just looking and watching.

I am sitting on top of the main rampart on the north east side of the hill looking out towards Presteigne, Stonewall Hill, Coles Hill and north towards Knighton. It is a fresh August midday with the sky full of grey clouds and a strong coolish breeze moves the trees. I sit on some soft grass sheltered by a wall of bracken. I overlook a series of huge ancient ramparts that were cleared last winter, or thereabouts, of invasive birch trees and undergrowth to create a more open outlook between me and the conifers that down on the almost impossibly steep hillside here.

It is quiet up here. Just the wind in the trees, the odd chirping of birds in the forest and the distant hum of traffic and farm work. The clouds are great grey, heavy, flat and dark bottomed masses moving slowly above me.

I am surrounded by a rich vegetation of bracken beginning to brown at the edges, birch and oak regrowth, grasses, ferns, Ragwort, seeding Foxgloves, Rosebay Willowherb, Wood Sage, Elder and much more. Everything is thriving in this wet summer. Occasionally a bumble bee hums past and several ants and other walking insects pass over my sketchpad or my clothes. A small bright yellow spider moves over a blade of grass and an invisible thread of silk next just next to me.

The hills remind me of my father, of the paintings he did and of the many walks we did in this area when I was young.

In the distance I hear some children enjoying the freedom of being up the hill and out in the open.

There is so much growing around me and I observe the huge variety in shade of green spread out before me. From the bright green, almost yellow, small herb (not sure what) to the dark green of the bracken and ferns. Then there are the yellow splashes of the Ragworts and the pinks of the Rosebay Willowherb, Foxgloves and Red Campion. There is a beautiful assortment of delicate grasses waving gently in the breeze. From my viewpoint over the ramparts below me I notice how all the plants are arranged: individually in isolation, clumps and in groups. There are numerous areas of colour and shape where each plant species has its own area or block of existence. There are patterns of randomness and order, all are natural. This just seemed like a place where it was so easy to see how different species of plants colonise an area of land - how they might disperse their seeds or reproduce vegetatively. And yet it was almost like looking at blocks of colour on a painting, with different brushstrokes and paint splatters here and there.

Watching Bats

After an afternoon and early evening of rain, some heavy, some just a light drizzle I walked out from Titley to brave the elements. Did I want to go out or not? Would I get absolutely soaked? With only about an hour and half of daylight left I was cutting it a bit fine but decided to go out and make the most of the first evening of our holiday.

The rain gently clears and I walk down the puddled roads and through rain-soaked fields. It was warm but still very overcast. I walk alongside a wooded, disused railway line behind me - I am on the lee-ward side, sheltered from the evening breeze that ripples through the high branches. Whoosh! Something flies right past me about six feet away at waist level. A quick dark shape. Too big for a bat I think - perhaps a sparrowhawk? The evening darkness approaches and I can barely see to write in my sketchbook. I sit under an oak tree at the corner of a field. I see bats darting above me against the heavy grey sky, flitting here and there - so fast. How do they see their landscape I wonder? Are they roosting in the old trees around me? They fly past with just a faint flutter. All is quiet, apart from the breeze and water drops falling off the wet branches above me.

Learn to observe, even in the most mundane places. I am in a simple corner of a field and yet surrounded by so much.

A light appears on a hill a couple of miles away. Why so bright? Why do I need to see it?

How is my perception changing of the way I interpret the landscapes I am in?

I walk back down the tiny country lane. I smell the bracken and honeysuckle. I notice the movement of the hedgerow leaves against the sky. The song of the breeze. The sound of my boots crunching on the loose road stones and swishing through the puddles; the rustle of my coat, the flapping of my wet trousers around my legs and my breathing. The distant thumping of music, probably from a car. A pale moth flutters past in front on me.

As I approach the stream and the road crosses over the old stone bridge, I slow my walk to a silent meditative pace, making as little sound as possible. I stop on the bridge and acknowledge the presence of the water below me; from it comes and where it is going. I listen to the sound textures as the water tumbles over the stones - different either side of the bridge. I bow and thank the river.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Breadmaking and the Soul

Satish Kumar was talking at the Resurgence Camp last week and launching the idea of Slow Sunday - regaining Sundays for the family and reducing the need for shopping, travel, computers, email, etc (good for reducing carbon emissions too!). He suggested that having a day off each week is an ecological imperative.

He was reminded us of the value of making bread as an example of the spiritual, aesthetic and art in practice. There are numerous things you can associate with baking bread: you are in physical touch with the ingredients, mixing and kneading them; you can think about the origin of the ingredients - particularly if you are using organic or traditional varieties of corn; you can smell it; it requires patience - waiting for the yeast to work, perseverance, you can't rush it, it's about slowing down; it can be like a meditation; it is like working with the body of the Cosmic Christ - Communion (can you imagine the body of the Cosmic Chris in a factory made wafer?). It requires love care and patience.

What was then great about the talk was that people were then given the chance to go out into the sunshine and actually participate in a group bread making session. I didn't because I had already spent an afternoon a couple of days previously in the kitchen making a bucket load of bread for the camp. People were so excited by it though and all making little rolls or asking questions.

This weekend I decided to make some more bread myself and not just use our breadmaker. We had a friend staying and when I said I was going to do that she got so excited. In the end she made two loaves - the first since being at school many years ago. She was so inspired by the experience and I found it quite amusing showing someone else how to do it. We made a couple of wholemeal loaves with mixed seeds in. I still can't seem to get things to rise too well as I don't really have an ideally warm place for it, and even waiting for nearly two hours didn't produce results I would have liked. But she loved it and it was a great sharing experience!

Perhaps I could hold a bread making party or a meal with lots of different types of bread. I'd love to make some outdoors in a brick oven or something.

In the Sweat Lodge

I had been very apprehensive about doing a sweat lodge at the Resurgence Summer Camp last weekend. I thought it might be a bit too "spiritual" in ways I would be uncomfortable with. In then end, having talked to a guy about his experience with one on previous years, I went for it and I really appreciated how well lead it was and how comfortable with the experience I was. It felt very neutral and that it was up to me to approach it how I wanted to. Being in a small tent, with some red hot stones, about ten people, a large jug of water and complete darkness was fun. With just our thoughts, singing, freedom to express ourselves and a good deal of humour we had a great time. Oh, and outside it there just happened to be a hole dug in the ground full of mud and water for us to fall into and gaze up at the star-lit sky!

In the blog "On my Dartmoor Stone", April 2007, I had been struggling to cope with the sense of immense darkness and loneliness I felt within and beneath a stone I often visit on Dartmoor. In the sweat lodge I returned to those thoughs but here I felt another experience that sort of healed those uncertainties - the absolute, yet safe darkness from which I come and will return to (physical or just the darkness of the unknown past/future); the immense heat of creation that formed the rocks now glowing in front of me and which dwells at the centre of the earth; the refreshing water and hot steam that cools and gives us life; the intimacy of other beings in a completely unshameful way; the music of our communal song and an intense moment of escaping to a different place.

Sometimes you just have to do things that take you out of your comfort zone.

Three Books

I have bought three books in the past week which should keep me going for a while:

Ecopsychology. Edited by Roszak, Gomes and Kanner. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1995
A collection of esays on psychology, nature, Gaia, wilderness, ecology, earth. I'm only a little way into it. It's quite heavy going, but very inspiring and thought provoking. I had been looking for a good introduction to the subject and this seems ideal.


Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and the Psyche. Plotkin, Bill. New World Library, Novato, California, 2003.
Looks like a good general practical book on nature/soul work: imagery, animal tracking, silence, pathways, journalling, relationships.....


The Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland. Coates, Charles. Frances Lincoln Limited, London, 2008.
I have several flower books, but this looked a good buy as it had higher quality identification paintings and also good general notes on each flower that combine technical facts with folklore and other information. As I want to increase my flower identification and knowledge skills, this combines several books into one.


Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Knapp and Papermill Nature Reserve

The Knapp and Papermill is a nature reserve owned by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and I walked around it a few days ago. The visitor centre had an interesting notice board upon which visitors and the Warden could note down the wildlife that had recently been seen on the reserve. What inspired me though was what may have been quite mundane to many people but which, to me, was a beautiful work of nature and creation.

The reserve has an old apple orchard which you approach as you walk down to the stream from the entrance. The huge old apple trees are on a gentle hillside bordered by the river and trees at the bottom and woodland on the other sides, forming a small enclosed orchard in a small valley. I love meadowsweet, but here were clouds of the beautiful cream flowers, red stems and almost turquoise leaves carpeting the orchard. There were also docks, greater willowherb, umbellifers (may have just been Cow Parsley), convolvulous, tall grasses and brambles all intertwining over each other between the trees. There was a beautiful assemblage of creams, greens and pale browns. Occasional white butterflies speckled and danced in the dappled sunlight. The stream murmured in the background, the air was still, very warm and it was mainly sunny. The tall apple trees towered upwards, already laden with small fruits and their high canopies umbrellering outwards. The grasses gently swayed in the breeze and mistletoe clung to many trees.

Why describe it? A lesson in observation. It was a beautiful place, an ideal place to be after a long walk in hot sunshine over the nearby Suckley Hills. Sometimes a place just reaches out to me and almost asks me to join with it in appreciating creation.