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.