from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

from the ragbag: spring, sea, pilgrimage & being

... which is really a way of procrastinating while I work out which is more of a priority: planning the reading for a poetry event I'm involved in on Saturday, trying to find a focus and a way in for a long essay I'm writing on megalithic Britain (proving difficult as I'm trying to condense 40 years and a book's worth of passion and research into a few thousand words), getting on with admin, or getting out into the garden while there's still some hazy sun before the forecast rain...

So. Two weeks nearly of sun, and spring flowers are blossoming everywhere. The fields are littered with lambs now, and the willows, elders, spindles and hawthorns are fizzing with green. Totnes is full of cherries, damsons, plums and magnolias in blossom, and birch trees have defined themselves with their magenta crowns, ready for leafing.

I always like to get the words 'apical helispheres' into a spring blog if I can: and the ashes now have bursting sooty ones.

Speaking of ashes, She-Who-Wears-Her-Grey-Matter-on-the-Outside, Ash, had some more big lumps off yesterday (luckily benign). Here she is just post-op (my wonderful vet, who is also an animal-acupuncturist, has a mobile surgery;

The sea was so different the other day when we went for another load of deepsea kelp, washed up by the ton in the winter storms. It couldn't have been bluer, more tranquil. Hard to believe, in the warmth of the sun, it's only mid-March.

From the inland wetlands a pair of whooper swan took off over our heads; given the number of twitchers with their binoculars trained on the sea, something else had been blown off-course, or there had been unusual migratory sightings.

We brought back 30 more sacks of kelp for the veg garden – very satisfying; and hopefully we'd worked off the veggie breakfast in the Beachhouse Café, which is our bribe each time. Now each of the four raised beds has had either seaweed or manure or homegrown compost this winter, ready for the onions and leeks, brassicas, potatoes and beans. The garlic's growing strongly, the broad beans and early potatoes are in, and much more is under the new cold frame. We're hoping to plant squash and courgette, as well as sweetcorn, in the woodland margin, facing sunwise, near the bees.

The 8 artichoke plants have survived the winter well: 

Look at this strange thing: I imagine it's a seaweed root, kelp, I guess, with a great 'main (severed) artery' on the reverse.

And some sandstone rock, with what looks like limestone incursion (the stone switches from one to the other further east along the coast from here, and this sandstone belt is I believe the same one, running diagonally across the county, as emerges on the North Devon coast where I was brought up).


Spring, and a wanderlust arises. Does it for you too? The campervan is serviced and ready to go, and I'm already thinking about my trip northwest in a month's time, to two Hebridean islands and then to the sacred Isle of Iona for the annual writing retreat I lead there; and because of that thinking too about pilgrimage, and what marks it out as different from 'holiday'. Of course, it's to do with intention, a spirit of undertaking a journey mindfully, with awareness; and where the journey is as much the point as the destination is. And of course there is much more to say about this; and I have elsewhere in this blog, as I have in various essays. I feel another small book coming on...

As of last year, I've created another 'Iona'-style retreat, but this time in the wonderful lush forested mountains of the Cévennes, in southern France in August. I'm utterly delighted that the Iona retreat has had its full complement of 15 participants since the end of last year, with bookings being taken for 2015; the French retreat venue is now full, too, although there are two or three places available on the course for people willing to sleep in the local Auberge. Looks like this too will now be an annual event. 

What's wonderful, apart from the fact that a small chunk of my small annual and generally unpredictable income is guaranteed, is that without fail these two longer courses create a deep sense of community, whether or not people have attended before; a sense that coming together for creative and reflective practice in relationship to place and the land is soulwork and matters, and adds, in its small way, to the growing sense that cultural, psychological and social transformation is possible.


One of my constant preoccupations is with the creative tension created by seeing ourselves as separate from others, whether those others are human, other-than-human, or more-than-human. It seems an inevitability, and it also, in my opinion, is both necessary to our individuation process and, paradoxically, exactly what allows us to push other beings around in this infinite and mysterious universe as if they were mere objects.

Because of my teenage introduction to Zen ideas about non-dual being, this question, paradox, has underpinned all my thinking (and subtly underlies all my workshops to the extent that they're about connection and relationship) for 40 years.

I've been looking back over an essay of mine (for the forthcoming book) on the act of naming, and the way it both helps create intimacy with another AND simultaneously creates division.  Synchronistically, I've been reading a book by non-dual teacher Adyashanti on being, where he also addresses this issue. I'll leave you with a paragraph of his, from Falling Into Grace:

'You respond to your name, you go to work, you do your job, you call yourself a husband or a wife or a sister or a brother. All of these are names we give to each other. All of these are labels. All of them are fine. There is nothing wrong with any one of them, until you actually believe they're true' [ie you start to identify 'who you are' with your labels]. 'As soon as you believe that a label you've put on yourself is true, you've limited something that is literally limitless, you've limited who you are into nothing more than a thought.'

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