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.
Saturday, 30 May 2015
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?'
~ Mary Oliver
To make up for my recent silence, I thought I'd share here my response to a question someone asked me on facebook yesterday: what is consciousness?
Beats the trivia of 'what I had for tea', I suppose (not that any of my fb friends write about that). But what on earth do you say in a facebook response to such a q?
Well, I rise to most challenges; sometimes to mine and others' regret. So after a morning weeding and potting up in the garden, and before a couple of hours' watering, and in between typing up some poems I didn't know I'd written to meet a deadline, I thought I'd try and get my head around this a little further.
However, you might prefer to go off and think about tea rather than wade through my fumblings with a holey bucket in the deep well of the mystery of the cosmos.
You have been warned.
Briefly. Truly, briefly. Here's what I said, more or less. I emphasise that this is only my view, and what do I know?
TM would perhaps say that consciousness and energy are intertwined if not synonymous, and that everything therefore in the universe is consciousness in one form or another.
I'd add that consciousness – energy, I'm suggesting, and also what some call spirit – is the animating force, the electromagnetic force, that infuses all matter, and is modified or shaped in conjunction with the particular form it takes – galaxy, planet, tree, horse, gnat, human.
In this view, consciousness is neither confined to humans nor utterly distinct from matter. (As usual, it's more helpful to think in terms of both-and rather than either/or.)
My sense is that, if consciousness is energy, in effect, then everything partakes of it, just in differing degrees of density/vibration. Some of these manifestations of consciousness we are able, perhaps through cultural conditioning, to relate to (our dog or cat, maybe); other forms we can't picture as being anything other than inert.
We as humans find it hard, I think, to relate to the notion that other beings have consciousness; perhaps due to our anthropocentric view that it must mean 'self-awareness'; ie can only be experienced via those beings with an ego – that is, humans.
I wonder whether this says more about our own lack of imagination/perception in relation to what we perceive as Other than it does about the cosmos and its amazing being/s?
Consciousness is, I believe, also co-emergent – rather as in the quantum world the observer affects the observed, and no doubt vice versa, so energy/consciousness shapes form and form affects energy/consciousness in a process of co-evolution.
I believe that Scientist Roger Penrose spoke of consciousness along the lines of the wave collapsing. I can't pretend to know exactly what he means by that, but I do take some faint imaginative glimmer from what quantum mechanics has to say about this. I imagine in there is the idea that, as with Schrödinger's cat, the observer affects what happens; so the individual plays a part in the shaping consciousness of a moment, the forms it takes, and its quality of energy.
[A moment's pause here to reconsider the wisdom of taking this blog on: are black holes devoid of energy and therefore uncategorisable, according to my definition above, as consciousness in any form at all?]
Then there's self-consciousness: the subjective experience. This blog is named after qualia, which I define as individual units, if you like, of consciousness; not dissimilar in their relationship to universal consciousness from quanta and their relationship to matter.
I say in the bar on the right: 'We could use the term "qualia" to describe the quality of individual subjective conscious experience; eg the perception of a colour, or experience of a journey; our experience of person-ness. G defines it neatly: "Qualia are what save us from being machines."'
I have no idea whether the other-than-human has what we know as subjective experience; does that require an ego? It's certainly possible that animals and plants have a more collective sense, their experience being of intersubjectivity; does that include self-consciousness, just on a bigger scale than our own individualised experience?
Neuroscience would have us believe that it's all in the synapses. It seems to me that doesn't go anything like far enough; plus it's unbelievably arrogant to imagine we humans are all that consciousness is. I'm reminded of Hindu philosopher Jai Lakhani saying: 'Thinking that consciousness resides in the brain is like thinking that electricity is generated in the light switch.'
David Lodge wrote a novel called Thinks in which he explores the whole notion of consciousness. He followed this up with a non-fiction book called 'Consciousness and the Novel'. The books are both worth reading (but be prepared to dislike the male protagonist in the novel).
Um. OK. Off to think about supper. And the watering of all those tiny plant consciousnesses (singular or plural).
Till next time.
© Roselle Angwin
Friday, 29 May 2015
of my spirit and it chooses not to sing.
It is listening to learn its song.
Jack Gilbert, 'Trying to Write Poetry'
I'm watching a sky the colour of waiting.
Whatever it is that needs to be said
it is not on my tongue yet; hasn't landed
in my body. I can wait. I'm old enough now
to know about waiting, about uncertainty.
Thirteen writers here in Avalon, and my prompts, these raggle-taggle orphans of ideas, take flight and form and shape and I am amazed and humbled. Poem after poem from the workshop participants cutting to the heart, and me in tutor mode a novice again. And again.
My wren has been silent now for months, and I fear peering into the nest, seeing only a glimpse of departing wings. Is this how it always is at times if we are willing to give up the white noise of thought, being still, being a novice; waiting for something that can't be named?
The recovery vehicle drew up to tow my campervan back from the foot of the Tor, and I almost feared this unsmiling shaven-headed stranger with his tattoos and his evident lack of sleep, his pissed-offness at yet another job on overtime. Then we climbed in the cab and he said my dog could get in too not be left in the van, and he smiled. And I laughed inside at myself and my fears. This man so many years younger with his four children and his dreams of opening a restaurant, and me – sharing the particular intimacy that only strangers can, and a particularconversation about love and dreams and kids that I couldn't have had with a friend. Getting out of his warm cab on an industrial site in the early-summer not-yet-starred night with a tiny jolt of bereavement for, if I am honest, his smile reminded me of you, and I haven't seen you in so long and you are a splinter still in the dreaming of my tender and unhealed skin.
'Look at me you pure inquisitors' is what Paul Matthews says to the bluebells, and here in the meadow their ultraviolet chimes in waves through the wet air, rippling on and on, ever-present, never diminishing.
TM, on his way to London, is driving slowly so he can
listen to the arcane language of googlies, off-legs and before-wickets of cricket on the radio, on his way to take up the differently-arcane weekend that is his chosen way of the spirit.
In this waiting time, listening for the deep song, I am here in the meadow, dog and woodpecker, beech leaves and bluebells, rain, cloud, sun then rain again; my chosen way of the spirit.
On Sunday we climbed till the whole of the moor was opened up, and the other way the sea appeared; and something in my chest briefly opened its wings, tried out a few notes. Above our heads, near the Ten Commandment Stone, ('Thou shalt not take pleasure in the things of the world'), Dog did a Baskerville.
Last night MF slowed his car for me in the lanes, and we stopped to talk a minute, Dog (after the illness of the past few weeks) wanting to play, the last of the light catching in ash leaves and orchid. M met my eyes with all of himself; contained, but completely engaged. I thought how blessed we are, I am, to have people who care, who can smile naked with their whole face, who can open my throat with the furnace of their chests, who need nothing from me except the warmth of an easy exchange.
Later CT and I talked of land, growing things, the singularity of a love affair with plants; of love, anger and earth-as-mother – or not; about the impulse, just now and then, to walk away from one's life, or parts of one's life. He mimed that with his fingers on the table, and I am so glad to be human, to have the gift of movement, of speech; to remember we are not alone.
William Bloom said at the talk last night: 'The first expansion of consciousness is when you can step back and watch the way your mind plays tricks – not coldly, detachedly, but with compassion.
'The second expansion is doing that for longer than 5 seconds. Then 10. Then a minute. Then holding that in the middle of, say, a row.'
He also said: 'I am surrendered to a particular view of spirituality that says there is a basic benevolence to the cosmos; and I wish to dissolve into it.'
Now, the barley is long enough that the fields are running like the sea. Above my head, clouds come and go; rain softens itself into my hair. The buzzard rises from the ash tree. I am surrendered to the something of eternity that in this present moves through the grasses of the long field's dream of itself.
Wednesday, 20 May 2015
|Forthcoming soon from IDP a new edition of my first poetry collection|
By the time my first collection was invited in 2004, I'd already fulfilled those criteria over many years, had made an artists' book of poems and prints with Penny Grist, a printmaker, as part of our 'Year of the Artist' Arts Council England residency at Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset in 2000/2001, and had various pamphlets published. Then there were two non-fiction books by different mainstream publishers (if mind/body/spirit publisher Element Books counts as mainstream).
But there was nothing like the joy of holding my very first poetry collection in my hands, and the more so because the invitation to submit a manuscript came out of the blue, as they say, by the poetry editor for bluechrome press. He'd seen my work in various magazines.
I had a good time with bluechrome. The book was beautifully designed and produced with a lovely cover (thanks, Bea, for scanning and sending this when my computer was refusing), with deep blue endpapers, quality paper, a nice font, and it garnered some kind reviews.
There's a long story behind all that, but for now suffice to say that I was delighted after about 14 years to find someone who liked it enough as to publish it, and who gave me a fabulous cover:
Then suddenly the publisher did a vanishing act. Completely. Untraceably. (Some said he was a very ill man.) And my book came into print only in my imagination.
Again, the (now ex-) bluechrome poetry editor Ronnie came to my rescue. He'd left bluechrome some little while before the owner jumped ship, and had founded IDP. He emailed me, knowing about Imago, and asking what I was planning to do. Very little, was the truth. I had serious family illness problems, was working every hour to get by, and felt somewhat disheartened by what had happened. 'I'm asking you whether you want a contract with us,' he had to spell out. Hell, yes, of course, was my response; and we agreed on a 4-book contract.
How lucky I am with that – authors would sell their partners for less. And Ronnie and Dawn have been wonderful to work with, and are usually ahead of themselves and their own release dates – I'm reminded over and over how fortunate I've been with IDP when I hear the frequent tales from other poets of different hopelessly unreliable or just plain slack publishers.
However, I should just qualify all this by saying to any hopefuls reading this that small presses don't pay advances. In fact, any advances I've had from any publisher have been less than that for my first book, commissioned in 1993, and that was only in the low four figures (these 'bidding wars' make the news because they are news, as writers know only too well – the Society of Authors tells us that most of us earn less than £12K a year from our writing; some of us rather less than that. And of course the advances are advances against future sales, so your book has to earn that back for the publisher before you as author collect royalties.)
And poetry is not a money-earner, full stop – far more people want to write it and be published than want to buy it.
Nonetheless, a 4-book deal is not to be sneezed at; and IDP have given me Imago in print, my second novel The Burning Ground, my third full collection All the Missing Names of Love, and a reprint of Icarus (Bardo, a collection of prose poems, came out in between from a different publisher).
And so I'm delighted to say that Looking For Icarus will be out again this summer with that beautiful new cover above (thank you, Gay Anderson, and Ronnie Goodyer).
I have a tendency to find my old poems cringe-makingly embarrassing. However, I've been revisiting these in the light of proofing the ms, and have also been reading from this collection when I've been giving a poetry reading. I like them. I wasn't expecting to stand wholeheartedly behind them, but I find that I do. Hooray.
Here's a taster for you, from the banks of the River Tavy on the edge of Dartmoor where I used to watch otters.
You could have been squatting here forever
almost grown into bank, or become another
rippling ring of light on the dark river.
Twigs have roosted in your hair; your hands
river-stone-cold. Breath feathers the last of the day.
Where do we go each time we close behind us
the door of the present moment? Who
steps forward and who is left behind?
Who still squats by the water when you’re
long gone into tree, or bird, or sand?
© Roselle Angwin, 2005/2015
Sunday, 17 May 2015
~~~ I've been thinking recently about a phrase that Robert Bly uses in Iron John: 'the road of ashes'. It's a kind of turning away from ecstasy, pleasure, sensuality; a sort of turning inwards and downwards to face that within us which needs to be mourned, then let go. Strange, that it can rear its head in spring, when everything around us is burgeoning to its ripe pitch. The road of ashes brings a stillness with it that seems at odds with the rush and frenzy of spring. Perhaps winter's shadow hangs around a little longer than we think; a long shadow that needs to be faced and dissolved before we too can ripen towards summer.
Each of us will experience at times the way the path of delight, the way our heart's desires have led us, simply turn to ashes as we watch: the ashes of loss or change; projects we had thought to be the best turning out to be thistledown in our fingers; the way gold turns back to lead through no fault of our own. Underneath all this of course is our natural craving for things to be different from the only way they can be; our demand for permanence and certainty in a world that offers us transience and uncertainty.
We pick the peach, the perfect rose – and, naively expecting it to last, then lament its passing. There's a gap between our dreams and 'reality', however we experience that, that is filled with yearning, with hireath, with our desolation that nothing can last. Sometimes we have to retrace our steps: unpluck the peach, re-approach the tree, notice our motivations, bring more skill or compassion, check our egoic drive to make everything meet our wants. There is an argument that everything is unfolding as it should, whether or not we can see that, whether or not we like it. As Bob Dylan didn't say: 'You might know what you want but you don't always know what you really need.' Outer and inner worlds simply do cycle between order and chaos; through times of fullness and times of emptying out; times of swelling and expanding; times of falling away into ashes and decay. This is how it is.
What is there to do? 'You can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf.' Pluck the peach that the present moment offers. Enjoy it. Let the experience, with the peach stone, go.
Thursday, 14 May 2015
Oh and I forgot to mention the joy of working with eight very different writers. (Then there was the cake.) What's more, we had sun.
And the dog, after a four-week mini-hunger-strike, is eating again. The way animals with whom we have close bonds break our hearts!
My life, and that of family members, is pretty uncertain at the moment. However, finally these 40 years of (somewhat erratic but always present) Zen practice are paying off: I still wake with a deep joy, mostly, no matter what. (I say this not to be smug, but in some wonder: when I was younger I relished the huge ups and downs of my life, the passions and dramas. I so love, now, the inclusion of silence and stillness; so don't want to go towards another huge drama!. )
I love my work (despite the remuneration issues). I believe it helps, even just a little, with the global project of consciousness. I know it helps keep alive that small but utterly vital flame of inspiration and meaning, in a way that the arts, deeply engaged with, can. I know that I'm walking the soul path I was born to walk this incarnation; what deep security that brings, despite all.
In groups I sometimes remind people that our trouble is we identify with our emotions, rather than recognising them as transient weather conditions. If we can sit at the hub of the wheel and simply watch them bluster around us, maybe pick up a lesson or two as to what they're gesturing to that needs changing in our lives, rather than becoming our emotions, we might do better. Easy to say, of course.
Wisewoman Pema Chodron, Tibetan Buddhist teacher, puts it beautifully:
'THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH
In the Buddha’s first teaching—called the four noble truths—he talked about suffering. The first noble truth says that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort. Nothing in its essence is one way or the other. All around us the wind, the fire, the earth, and the water, are always taking on different qualities; they’re like magicians. We also change like the weather. We ebb and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon. We fail to see that like the weather, we are fluid, not solid. And so we suffer.'
The evening before last, going to fetch something from the car, I was arrested by a small movement like a flame in the neighbouring field. For maybe 20 minutes I watched a big dog fox leaping and pouncing on, presumably, voles. In between, he sat utterly relaxed and still, and 100% alert, looking around him.
Eventually, turning, I watched a thin stream like a wisp of smoke emerge from a space less than 1cm in diameter under the eaves of the barn that houses my study. Bats! Thirteen of them.
And now this spring rain has released all the fragrance of the bluebells; the newly planted beans and brassicas and squashes are practically swelling by the hour.
This life. This paradise in which it happens, despite all the fear, loss, pain, anger, hate that creates so much darkness in our world. This paradise earth; always here for us, always indifferent to whether we notice her or not; simply doing what she does so well, despite us.
Sunday, 10 May 2015
Here, the bluebells are scenting the air and astonishing the eyes. Have you ever seen such a heavenly blue?
Each May I think of a beautiful poem by Paul Matthews, part of no 4 in a sequence called 'Bird of Morning' in his Slippery Characters collection (I'm linking to it on Amazon but of course so much better to order it from your local bookshop). For reasons of respecting his copyright I won't reproduce the whole poem but here's the bit that I love:
'... and there without a word
the Bluebells spread and I said
look at me you pure inquisitors
and this they did –
their mute gaze finding out a joy
I'd too long shaded from the view
and as the Blackbird
carolled in the sunlit glade
I wept for being seen through.'
Paul was the course co-ordinator for PoetryOtherWise, a summer school on which I used to teach in Forest Row, and he's not only one of the best poets but also one of the best writing tutors I've ever known. I love his collections and writing books.
In the lanes, the bluebells are part of a company of early purple and flyspotted orchids, stitchwort, campion and the filigree leaves of windflowers. The wild strawberries have been in flower since January! And in Simon's field, sadly just sold, the kingcups and yellow flags are lighting the pool like a tribe of little suns.
In the greenhouse this morning the tiniest bee, shorter than my little fingernail, was marooned on my cape gooseberry plants, with no food. She – for I assume she was a baby worker bee – climbed gratefully onto my finger and then onto the dandelion to which I took her, and I watched her proboscis drinking and drinking the nectar. I took a photo for you but I need my specs these days – it was so blurry I can't post it. But imagine a bee less than a 5th of the size of the diameter of a dandelion...
And such joy, after a week of very hard computer-bound work, to have my hands deep in the manure and soil of the veg bed, planting out this year's squashes, some from what are now three generations of homegrown seed.
After such depressing election results (though TM – as a Green the only official opposition to the Tories in the local elections – garnered 33% of the vote in his ward, one in which he wasn't really known, which says something, I suppose), it's hard to imagine what a serious Left Wing – well, any Left Wing – in our country would look like now. Electoral Reform has to be a must.
Nicola Sturgeon was an effective and impressive speaker, and who wouldn't want free health care, no tuition fees, and no Trident? (NS for PM, I say.)
The downside is that the SNP wiped out Labour's chances. And it's galling that under our current system at 1.4 million votes the SNP took 50-plus seats in the House of Commons, while the Greens with 1.1 million took only one seat.
That night I was due to give a poetry reading at the lovely Thrive café in Totnes. I'd prepared an eco-set of my poetry, but felt that I couldn't simply walk round the election-elephant in the room.
My poetry isn't political in the usual sense; and during the day I had the kind of occasional crisis I have from time to time about what 'use' poetry might be when, as I say in a poem in my first collection Looking For Icarus (reprinting in June via IDP - plug alert!):
what use is poetry, if you're starving, or a refugee
squeezed between torture and war, or bleeding alone
in some dark alley
until I remembered that poetry is not necessarily about protest and justice and being right-on, but more about keeping alive the flame of the human spirit at times when external events, materialism and consumerism, capitalism and unsustainable growth, destruction, genocide, wrecking of the planet etc tilt us towards despair.
It's about meaning, about vision, about picturing an alternative world and committing to keeping that in view, it's about the imagination, it's about empathy, and a vote for soul and for the feeling nature – it's about how the world might be otherwise, in times when we're torn between witnessing terrible conflicts and utter media trivia, and for not being alone.
Sometimes these things are what keep us from falling over the edge; and sometimes this has to be enough.
Thursday, 7 May 2015
You may have noticed I've been a bit overtaken by silence. It's due to many things, but predominantly three: I still feel a bit inward after the death of my dad five months ago, and am currently dealing with the aftermath; two is that I have spoken and written of my annual retreat on the Isle of Iona* so many times now after each year's course that I have nothing left to say that isn't a rehash; three, I've come back to a morass of Things to Do here. And there are also changes in the lives of self and family (all good ones), which take some of my energy.
I am trying to retain the sense of inward spaciousness and stillness that the island, the journey across Mull with its wildlife, and the work give to me; and part of it is, or has been, fasting from computers.
After this kind of silence words queue up to burst to the surface, but I have to nurture that part gently until it's ready to be reborn.
So I'm thinking in more practical terms now, as that way I can protect the new shoots of whatever is gestating for the next creative expression.
I thought – in fact I'm sure – I mentioned on here my forthcoming 3-day event on Exmoor next month, just after this year's summer solstice, but I can't find the post. If your memory's better than mine – not hard – apologies. (Normal service – that is, blogposts on a range of subjects, might yet be restored, at some indefinable time in the future.)
I'm going to draw your attention, should you live in England and preferably the Southwest, to what I consider to be an exciting project. This is a combination of deep ecology, spirituality, and the sense of reciprocity in a healthy relationship to the ecosphere, and so flies under my The Wild Ways : ecosoul and the ecological imagination; and there are a few places left.
The next weekend (non-residential) course offers an evening on animal archetypes: focusing on the animals with which (whom) we have personal and collective bonds, and the gift from a shamanic and psychological perspective of their symbolic potential in our psyches and our lives.
The Saturday is a whole day working hands-on with one of two beautiful horses as mirrors of who and what we are, and as teachers and guides.
Sunday offers an opportunity of immersion in and a deepening of our sense of relationship to place while writing within the earthy ramparts of an Iron Age camp, high up on Exmoor.
So here's the blurb, and there are still a few places left on each of the three workshops (or come to all three at a discount).
THREE NON-RESIDENTIAL OUTDOOR WORKSHOPS ON EXMOOR
I’m excited to announce that my ecosoul programme continues with three new outdoor workshops. We’ll be using the wonderful high Exmoor land, with its glimpses of the sea, belonging to Cait Collins not far from Dunster.
The aim is to reinvigorate our sense of connectedness to other beings, our soul-life and the land through creative exploration.
Writing workshop exploring our relationship with animals through their symbolic significance in our psyches.
Horses have shared my life always, as they have Cait’s. I know how profoundly uplifting, inspiring and healing it can be to spend time with them, and to learn their ways. Cait and I both feel that humans need urgently to re-vision our relationship to these animals who have accompanied us through so many millennia, and done so much for us.
Cait’s two very beautiful horses, Rowan and Brigit, are enlisted in her coaching and therapy work. We will have the privilege in the morning of some hands-on work one-to-one or more probably two-at-a-time with Cait herself, and one of the horses, and in the afternoon I’ll take our experience further through exploration and writing.
(No previous experience needed.)
Cait and I are both qualified counsellors, and both influenced by Buddhist thinking (mine is tempered with the Western Mystery Tradition). You can read more of Cait’s work here: http://www.theconfidentridercoach.com
and you can see my blog about my experience with Rowan, above, here.
Immediately adjacent to Cait’s land is an Iron Age camp. As in so many of these prehistoric places, there is a tranquility and atmosphere of containment that’s palpable, even though the Iron Age camps were generally defensive structures. And it’s in a beautiful spot with glimpses of the sea. This writing workshop explores our relationship to place, the ways in which land touches us as we touch it, and how we may be changed by the experience.
If you decide to attend all three there are several good places to eat in nearby Dunster, and below you can source local B&Bs (or ask me). Camping on-site may be possible.
Places are limited
What you’ll need: Outdoor clothing (close to the solstice the weather can be very unsettled, so lots of warm layers, waterproofs, sturdy boots or wellies, oh and just in case, some sunscreen/sunhat. There is a field shelter but we are mainly working outside. Picnic lunch if attending the full days (we hope to have the means to offer hot/cold drinks, and will probably eat informally together in Dunster in the evenings). Drinking water A notebook and pen
Something dry to sit on (even a carrier bag will do)
Directions will be given on booking.
Monday, 4 May 2015
How in the end to articulate that which is smaller and greater than words? Words, after all, are only raiding parties plundering the unspeakable
Driving 600 miles home in a welter of words. Driving 600 miles home in a great silence.
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