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

Monday, 31 December 2012

new fires for the old hearth

At 11.50 tonight I will be dropping TM off to catch a coach to Heathrow on the first leg of a long journey to Australia to spend a fortnight with his children.

When I get back here at midnight, in the light of the fire and candles, I'll lift a glass to the old year passing and to the new year coming in – and to you all, my friends.

Then I'll light the candle in my little solstice garden, above, light some frankincense, and open my notebook to unspool the year that has just passed. Month by month from December back to January, I'll note the overall tone of the month (to the extent that I can remember), the major events, if any, and the mistakes, regrets or losses of each month ditto.

Then I'll wind it back in again from January to December writing of the joys, the creations, the turning points, the gifts, the new people, skills, or lifegiving events that came in each month.

If I can I'll assign a keynote word or phrase to each month.

After that I'll consider the theme of the whole year, the summation of joys and losses. What did I learn from this year? What am I now letting go of? I'll note the latter on small slips of paper and burn each one as I speak it aloud.

Then I'll invite in the new year, and request ways forward that increase wellbeing and happiness for myself, those I love, and the wider world – all of us. I'll meditate for a few minutes, and then draw a tarot card as a way of allowing a relevant image or archetype to arise from the unconscious as a point of focus.

I'll finish with the tiny prayer with which I conclude my daily meditation:

May all being be at peace with themselves
May all beings be at peace with each other
May all beings be at peace.


Sunday, 30 December 2012

poem: ego as a robin

It’s like an umbilical: I appear
in the kitchen and robin appears
in the puddled courtyard perched
on the drenched picnic bench
(the one we’ve barely used this year
where my spinach, kale and artichoke
plantlets are still in transit) and cocks its
head (no way of knowing if it’s a he or a she), 
tilts a sharp eye my way. Go away I say I’ve fed you
four times this morning and it’s only midday
but it or he or she nods at the window
seems to bow, turns its head
this way and that and hops closer still and closer
and I smile and throw a slew of oats
into the sodden courtyard and think how it is
that, even sated, it’s our desires that keep us alive.
We’re not so dissimilar, robin and I at core:
having everything I need, still I crave more.

© Roselle Angwin 28.12.12

Saturday, 29 December 2012

flowers of the dark time

When Persephone (Proserpine, to give her the Roman moniker) was abducted by Hades (Pluto) into the Underworld, fertile life above ground was suspended by her grieving mother, Demeter (Ceres). When Persephone was at last released, a deal was struck whereby she'd spend six months of the year in the Underworld of winter (and the unconscious) in exchange for the restoration of flowers, crops and abundance above ground. We could say that the 'young' part of us, the ego, needs to make the descent into the Underworld and soul as part of the journey to wholeness, in order to flower and fruit as we need...

Persephone's flowers include the iris, and I see that they, in our courtyard garden, are already pushing up strong little spikes (her fruit is the pomegranate, and I like to include that in my solstice/Christmas feast).

Yet even this dark time has its flowers; the more special because they are few. Here in southwest England, the gorse, as almost always, sprinkles its deep yellow flowers over the hillside, and tattered little flags of red campion nod in the hedges. The hazel catkins have been shaking themselves out for a month and more now.

I was delighted to find at Christmas the tightly folded green flowers of the hellebore near here (the one I've posted at the top was photographed one early January in the oakwoods of the Lot in southwest France; it's raining so hard here in Devon I have little inclination to trudge a mile on very slippery tracks to get my camera wet today. The one here has darker fatter leaves and is more upright.) Its cultivars are known as the Christmas Rose, and the flowers can vary from green to pink to deep red-mauve. I don't know if I've remembered this or simply made it up, but I believe that hellebore is an Underworld-type Persephone flower too.

Update 30th December – here are two pictures of the local hellebore:

green hellebore, Devon December 30th 2012

Gerard's Herbal, first published in 1597, says of the hellebore: 'A purgation of Hellebor is good for mad and furious men, for melancholy, dull and heavie persons, and briefly for all those that are troubled with blacke choler, and molested with melancholy.' It was also used to drive out worms and evil spirits; being poisonous, this sometimes worked by killing the sufferer, which is I suppose one way of achieving a relief from madness, melancholy and parasites, material or spectral...

One of my very favourite shrubs is the beautiful hamamelis, or witch hazel. It so cheers me to see this one coming into flower at this time of year in its blue pot. The flowers are delicate and scented, and witch hazel tincture has been one of the mainstays of my first aid natural remedies kit forever. I use it so much – as a toner for my face, as a soothing tincture for any bruise, inflammation, swelling or soreness where the skin is not broken, on human or animal. Here it is, from just now, blurred by rain.

Time now, well past time now, to persuade the dog she'd really like to go out for a brief run and a pee...

Friday, 28 December 2012

year's end

After the floods at nightfall I stand in the wet field on soil so sodden it can receive and absorb no more. I stand and look at the purity of the moon in a clear sky with its slipstream-rider planets through the pure branches of the ash unadorned momentarily by the urgent blandishments and flourishments of the biological imperative of bud leaf fruit reproduce so that they    the branches    are nearly essential nature and while I know they are not really inert and beneath the skin the constant processes of xylem and phloem the rising and falling continue it looks from here as if they are bone neither dead nor living

and there is such a relief in this suspension from the endless becoming of everything – though still the stream in the valley naked and full as in pregnant harries and rushes the edges of the land and its chattering of secrets distracts so I tune it out and gaze again

 this pure moon sky

      and the ash twigs and me suspended in a kind of calm like the minute hiatus where the lungs are neither on exhale nor inhale but a moment fleet eternal like the old year winding down to zero but the new not-yet-born-into coming-to-pass (into transience)
     in the hedge the creamygreen phosphorous glow of the new hellebore flowers the soft high chatter of the roosting redwings
     and I think of the clutter of consciousness the clitter and chatter of thought and emotion that becomes who we think we are and the endless craving the narcissism the way we paint each others' faces with the I want I need of our own dreams and fears

the complex jangle along the entangled ganglia when I look at you so that my thoughts churn back and over and nothing ever seems simple

     and how hard to still ourselves enough to really witness the here now of this ticking earth beneath my bootsoles and the dreaming wren and vole in the hedgerow

and how tired I am of the endlessness of it all

of consciousness

yet when I stare long enough the way the shadows of the hedge simply dissolve this I this you this pissy little bundle of ego and atoms into a kind at last

of quiet


Monday, 24 December 2012

wherever home is

In the end although we don’t like
to believe it it is very simple
the rain at night on the skylight
the bulbs' slow swelling in sodden soil
in these darkest of nights
the animals taking what they need and now deep
in their blue sleep innocent as stars as frost
as the dreamtime before the world was made
and we here with our hearts so full
of distances and pain and longing
trying to do the one thing that’s right
for us the one thing that will allow us
to speak our own language
to be all that we might be      to love

© Roselle Angwin 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

a solitary raven

It is midnight on the 21st, and my sister and I are walking back the couple of miles on the long lane to where the car is parked. We both have reasonable night vision, and it's good to go torchless to appreciate the dark, to allow ourselves to moonbathe in the diffuse half-moon's bleariness behind cloud. We've celebrated the solstice with friends, fire, music, food at my daughter's little cottage in the deep and ancient heart of the moor.

I'm loving spending time with my sister, who's moved down to be close to my dad. It's not such a happy time for her, however: she's given up her remote cottage in the highlands of Scotland facing the sea and surrounded by mountains to be down here, and is suffering huge homesickness. Plus this intrepid traveller who spent so many months backpacking solo up through Britain badly broke and dislocated her shoulder, tearing sinews and tendons and muscles (disastrous if you earn your living as a walker/writer, and are a musician too); and to add insult to injury in a most literal way, she did it not climbing a Scottish peak but slipping on mud in soft Devon.

Suddenly the rain, which has held off this evening so far except as a querulous drizzle, begins in earnest. There is a kind of relief, for me, unhooded as I am, to be drenched so in this midwinter rain. The pounding of water on the crown of my head feels like a baptism, and drowns the deep sense of loss I'm feeling at the moment; the incessancy of thought and its attendant pain. I've been finding out lately that there is a point where one is so saturated – with whatever of the human experience – that 'more' simply cannot enter, and this is how it is now too with the rain. I allow myself to relish this saturation rather than resist it, to encompass the 'all' of the world, whether or not it's to my 'taste'. Saying yes to how it is; simply that.

I love the wet drive back alone, just me and the wild moor, scudding cloud and flooded tarmac, fog reducing visibility to a few yards. I drive slowly, filled with sorrow for how things are, as well as simultaneously a wild joy that both Dartmoor and human attributes like love, kinship and kindness can still exist.


The BBC announcer at news time on the 21st said: 'A few followers of the Mayan cult around the world were expecting the world to end at 11am this morning. It didn't.' I like the simplicity of this. And I think how the 'few' followers of the Mayan cult included mass panic buying (particularly in Russia and the East), stocking up on emergency supplies. This human need to ballast ourselves against future calamity – some of which of course never happens.

And as I write this I think of the many zones of the world in which calamity is a daily occurrence, in actuality. I don't need to mention the war zones, the killings, the gross examples of 'man's inhumanity to man'. I don't need to mention our inhumanity to the non-human. I don't need to mention that while I am revelling in a bit of rain, the consequences of anthropogenic climate change cause severe hardship and death for so many, whether as a result of floods, droughts or the severe zero minus 30 that is killing people in Russia.


On the zendotstudio blog I found this lovely offering from a Tibetan teacher:

'Imagine craving absolutely nothing from the world. Imagine cutting the invisible strings that so painfully bind us: what would that be like? Imagine the freedoms that come from the ability to enjoy things without having to acquire them, own them, possess them. Try to envision a relationship based on acceptance and genuine care rather than expectation. Imagine feeling completely satisfied and content with your life just as it is. Who wouldn’t want this? This is the enjoyment of non-attachment.'

(Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche)


And from a friend, Jo, a Quaker who spends a lot of time in Palestine as a witness, there arrived in the post this week a book of Gillian Allnut's inspiring poetry: How The Bicycle Shone – new and selected poems (Bloodaxe).

I love this poem:

What you need to know for praying

You need to know that no one has been here before,
not even you, though you are as ever

kneeling on the oblong Indian rug, its faded
tree, its dry blue birds.

You may imagine that
they sing. You need to know that

anyone who was or is or will be's
here with you in your always

unswept room. You may imagine it's an ark, the first or last,
and that the earth spins scattering dust.

You need to know your heart
will beat

its wings,
and will not berate you for imagining

you've sent it out,
a solitary raven, on its way from Ararat.

© Gillian Allnutt

Saturday, 22 December 2012

in a dark time

'In a dark time / the eye begins to see', wrote Roethke. We have to keep faith with this, remember that the darkness too needs a home in us for us to be whole.

At this midwinter turning, we've made the descent here in the northern hemisphere. We might as well go willingly – that way we learn, and are strengthened for our journey back up with the seeds and bulbs of our new life already primed for growth by our faith that the light will return.

In so many spiritual traditions across the globe, we find the motif of entering the darkness, sacrificing oneself, if you like, to the bigger processes that govern our lives. It is this that allows rebirth into whatever our soul is calling us to. In some traditions, including the British mystery tradition that predates Christianity, the initiate was 'buried alive' for three days, with the entrance of the chamber sealed with stones (you will of course recognise the ordeal of Jesus buried – also for three days, though at the spring equinox – and the tomb sealed with stones from 2000 years ago).

After the third night, at the point of sunrise on the shortest day, the rite of passage was completed, with the individual, almost translucent with the effects of such sensory deprivation, fasting and terror, emerging as 'reborn' into extravagant and piercing light – and the new life springing up in him or her. Think, too, Odin on the world tree; the shamanic motifs of climbing down the tree into its branches into the Underworld; and the hanged man of the tarot.

Archetypal motifs resonate down the centuries, the millennia, and call us too, one way or another. This is a harrowing journey, and we all must make it; maybe over and over. What's more, we have to make it alone, giving up all our reference points without guarantee of making it back into the Upper World.

Now is such a time, so if you are feeling a darkness in your life despite – or even because of – all the Christmas cheer, that is not surprising and you are not alone.

And let's hope that those who say that this transition from the Earth Age of Pisces into the Earth Age of Aquarius is really upon us now as we move into a higher 'octave' of mass consciousness and its attendant light are right. These are hard dark times; and it does seem to be the case that this is how it is before a revolution in consciousness, whether personal or collective. 'The darkest hour', etc.

Keep faith, my friends, and keep your eyes tuned to that tiny piercing ray of light finding its way through the cracks in the stones.

Friday, 21 December 2012

winter solstice poem


The Earth’s Midwinter Turning

In the water meadows once again
the wild geese
are on wild goose business
and the water minds its own

down the long coombe
away over, the moors float wild
and charcoal blue in cloud

365 days to bring me back where I started

and if it’s true that soul
is to do with knowing one’s exact fit
in the patterning of it all
the place and pitch of our own deepest song

but our hearts stumble at every ditch
or divot, or fall in love
with everything, all at once

is it any wonder we have
such a hard time
finding home?

 © Roselle Angwin


Thursday, 20 December 2012


Tomorrow, the winter solstice takes place in the northern hemisphere – a turning point, a time of inwardness, reflection, tending the inner fires or preparing the soil ready for the new growth.

What a fuss there has been about the ending of the Mayan calendar (which might of course simply have been to do with running out of stone, or stone chisels, or elbow grease; and since there are few people equipped these days to read the glyphs it's hard to be certain of the translation) and its association with the 'end times' (again). (see also

There is, though, an exact relationship (by degree) on 21-22 December between Jupiter (planet symbolic of expansion), Saturn (planet symbolising maintaining the status quo), and Pluto (symbolising explosive transformation), so it will be interesting to discern in the following days how these encounters might pan out.

As you will know if you read this blog sometimes, I take the position of 'as above, so below': that the movements of the cosmos will have correlates in the microcosm, including in our own little lives. We can attune ourselves to this 'music of the spheres', attempt an alignment of our own life with greater harmonies than we can imagine.

At this point of maximum darkness, I will be holding a small personal ceremony, with fire, water, earth, air and the six directions as 'containers', making a mandala of the year just past with its many changes, losses and gifts. In the middle I shall put a beautiful representation of life, my life; whatever I find, have been given or own that seems appropriate this year. I shall look at what needs to be let go of in my life, sacrificed to the darkness to feed the soil for rebirth – maybe my fear, my anger, my sense of loss, my uncertainty, the ways in which I hold back too much or rush forward too impulsively, ways of being that no longer serve me, ways in which I cause suffering to others. I will offer out loud prayers for those whom I love, and prayers for those who suffer. I will invite in the bigger light to meet my small candle. I will be thinking about the small cycles of change since the autumn equinox of my birthday, the bigger cycle since the last winter solstice, and the bigger cycles again, widening out throughout space and time.

And then I will write the poem that my friend Rose and I commit to writing each solstice and equinox.


Whatever we personally think or believe rationally, it's hard right now not to be infected by a kind of end-time scenario, superstitious and irrational though that may be. We are not, after all, simply creatures of the neocortex.

And then there is also the great consumer-fest that the rebirth of the Light has become, with its attendant pressures, anxieties and heightened tensions.

There seem to be an unusual number of crises and breakdowns/breakups going on in the lives of people I know and also the wider world. Each of us, of course, is plugged into the collective, and we all have more sensitive antennae than we sometimes know. How to hold still when the world around you seems to be crumbling?

In such uncertain times, the best thing one can do, maybe, is to be rooted in the way a tree is: standing in its own circle yet part of the greater forest, canopy interwoven, all limbs fluid to the wind, nourished by sun and rain impartially.

I like the tree image. But in Buddhism, the image of a mountain also symbolises this holding still; as Reb Anderson puts it below (from Tricycle Daily Dharma: The Buddhist Review):
'Living in harmony with all beings is flexibility. It is a kind of cosmic democracy. Each of us has a role in the situation and gets one vote. You cast your vote by being here like a great unmoving mountain. Please cast your vote completely: that is your job. Then listen to all other beings, especially foreigners, especially strangers, and especially enemies.'

~ Reb Anderson, “In It Together”

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

soul cages

Here the land is wrapped in misty drizzle, and visibility is down to the milky edges of the pastures and copses, and the nearer trees are necklaced in shining droplets. The rivers are flooded again, and the roads run orange with the sandstone-belt topsoil.

In this run up to the festive season it's hard to continue to be calm and mindful, not caught up in the Western world's affluent consumption. We can feel trapped by the need to give and get, rushed by the things we really need to get bought and get done; whether or not we've managed to send Christmas cards and whether we've remembered everyone. Tempers can run high, and we can move so fast we leave our souls behind.

I've been thinking about the notion of soul cages. There's a big blog to write about this; and an even bigger one to write about the prevalence of 'soul loss' in our culture, but this is not either of these.

Just right now I'm thinking about something we all do, every day, to ourselves.

My father, a volatile Celt given to making emphatic and often very wise statements in between more wide-ranging monologues on the state of the world, used to say that beneath every negative emotion could be found fear. When I first heard him say that I was too young to really relate to the concept, or know whether I agreed with him or not. Over the last couple of decades I have realised how very insightful that was.

Circumstances from childhood on can build our cages. Later, it's largely up to us, though, whether we open the door or not. When we don't, it's usually down to fear – and not always fear of failure or inadequacy, but fear of spaciousness, of our own power, of our ability to act and create, and what that might require of us. There are so many stories of released prisoners heading straight back in again; of caged or confined animals choosing not to go free.

These fears particularly arise, of course, when we're on the verge of a breakthrough into a new way of being. Challenging our own patterns, the ones that keep us stuck, can be terrifying – partly because of the unfamiliarity of the terrain we enter and the fact that we have no maps; partly, perhaps, because of the reactions of those around us who want to keep us where they know they can find us, as we were. It's hard not to resist the comfort of old patterns, even dysfunctional ones.

I'm talking about keeping ourselves small. The worst jailer, perhaps – and writers will know this well – is one's own inner critic, only too ready to shame/blame us at any opportunity.

Robert Bly speaks of shame as being a hugely disempowering aspect of a man's psyche. Of course it's an aspect of a woman's psyche, too, but I suspect that women tend more readily to guilt, that variant of shame. (Having been raised a Catholic, I know all about guilt.)

The truth is few of us are free from the voices in our heads that berate us frequently, or even constantly: 'Loser!' 'Idiot!' 'Stupid bitch!' 'You so screwed up there!' 'You never get it right.' 'No, of course you won't be able to do that...' 'You're not good enough/clever enough/beautiful enough...' 'That was all your fault.' 'You're a terrible person for saying/thinking/doing what you just did!' 'What on earth makes you think you deserve this job/lover/happiness/success?' 'Who do you think you are?' 'You're so unloveable.' Need I go on?

I have found this small, simple tool to be powerful. Yes, it will take a little time out of a very busy period, but it may bring to the surface the habitual unhelpful ways in which you treat yourself, some of which may have been there running you unconsciously for decades (and as introjected injunctions from powerful Others when we were small, may actually belong to a parent, teacher, boss, or authority figure, not to you at all).

From now, yes right now, up until Christmas Day (or if you think that's not manageable, at least for the next 24 hours), take with you wherever you go a small notebook. Each time you get frantic or stressed, commit to noticing what you are silently saying to yourself or thinking about yourself and your behaviour (these blaming critical 'voices' may be so much part of your inner furniture you barely notice them). As soon as you can, close your eyes for a moment and check where the tension has landed in your body. Then take a minute or two to simply note down the harsh words you were saying to yourself about yourself, the negative thoughts; plus the circumstances.

You may be shocked at how often you think negative thoughts about yourself. Noticing and countering them is a way of being gentle with yourself; and a way of being kinder to your loved ones, too. 

At the end of the day, take five minutes to read back through, and see if it is always the same one or two negative perceptions of yourself, or whether you have any number of personal criticisms.

The next time you catch yourself running that self-blame tape, find a kinder counter-statement, eg: 'Considering how stressed I was I handled that situation with grace.' 'I did pretty well given that I only had two hours sleep last night.' 'OK that wasn't perfect but it was good enough.' 'I'll handle that even better next time.'

Open the door.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

split the Yule kindling; spell midwinter

Once upon a time my daughter and I lived in a magical little wooden green thatched hillside cottage* (rented) with a big wild garden surrounded on three sides by woodland, and facing south over  Dartmoor. (For three years we shared it with the Significant Man I mentioned in the last post, but that's another story.)

I was going to continue by offering you a politically right-on image; but as I write this (should it be 'curse' when using a cursor rather than 'write'??) I remember a prose poem I wrote about that house, and I'm going to paste that in instead. (I'll save the worthy thing for another time.) This piece was published in Bardo that came out last year (see link over to the right).


From the road you can barely see it, there in the trees, its green wood walls and ancient thatch true as winter wheat in moorland soil, a waymarker for walkers, fox and woodpecker, the lane narrow and rocky, steep and curved.

Descend the steps to the green door and open it
onto light, as if you could walk right through to those southern hills. Place your foot over the threshold and – go on – lift the great key to the grandfather clock and start it. Jolt its heart.

Then take the chopper and that dry log and split the Yule kindling. Spell midwinter. The ring on the hearthstone will waken the house. Begin it. Call your name to the corners, to all the directions. Waken the ones who lived here before. Shout it out.

Open windows and doors for the smoke and put a match to the wood. Then press your ear to the inner skin of the timber walls. Can you hear it, that thrum, distant hum, like the sea in a shell? The swarm that blessed the house?

Are they still here, then, those bees with their promise of summer, and honey, and the drowsing of flowers, and love, bare-skinned and languid in the garden, beneath the thatched eaves, under trees? The promise of summer, and love?

© Roselle Angwin, in Bardo (Shearsman 2011)

* SIX adjectives! A little excessive, don't you think? – Ed.


Monday, 17 December 2012

the (un)quiet heart

'Our own life has to be our message.' ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

It has long seemed to me that a spiritual practice is as good as its results in the world. In other words, if it doesn't change, even if only slowly and almost imperceptibly, the way we actually live on a daily basis, then something is perhaps adrift with either the practice we've chosen, or our understanding of it. (That 'something' might of course simply be the all-too-human habits of laziness, greed, selfishness etc, from which none of us is ever truly free while living in material form, I imagine.)

I wrote nearly 20 years ago now in Riding the Dragon of the wisdom of finding a core 'seat', that of the 'Wise Observer', at the hub of the whirling wheel so that we are not tempted to be spun around so easily by our emotions, our thoughts and opinions, our hungers, our false gods; and, more significantly, so that we do not make the mistake of identifying ourselves with our emotions, our thoughts, etc. We need to let them spin around on the periphery while we sit at the hub of the wheel, noticing and not buying into the temptation to indulge them.*

Another challenge is to receive the world and others in it, human or non-, with an open heart, while retaining our own internal stillness; giving without giving ourselves away, and for motivations that are not self-centred. To move beyond the petty demands of ego, we have to be prepared to confront ourselves, to learn over and over our habits of delusions, of greed, of self-protectiveness, of projection onto others of our own qualities and issues, positive or 'negative', to reclaim the baggage that is rightfully our own.

Oh so easy to write about these things, to believe them, to know the best way forward – in theory.

I suppose, for me, a measure of the depth of my spiritual practice is how easily I can retain a core of stillness despite outer events; and if I lose it, how swiftly I can return.

A profound shift for me at midlife has been an awareness that I no longer so readily identify happiness with excitement, passion, stimulus and adventure, but with a quiet heart. I don't quite so easily see the fieriness of an exchange as automatically a 'positive' stimulation (though something in me does respond to the words of – was it John of The Cross? – 'Oh good – another obstacle!'. And this is not necessarily just a dysfunctional masochism or the confusion of emotionally-fused relationships where any kind of engagement is sometimes preferable to none; but an awareness that we have to tackle the grit in the oyster consciously in order to grow. The issue is how we relate to it all.)

I've known for a long time, too, that it is no one else's 'job' to make me happy – especially not my loved ones'. (Doesn't stop me blaming them when they don't, though, subtly if not overtly.)

A couple of days ago three people in three completely different arenas of my life pressed my buttons. Each of them, in three very different ways, was 'invading' my core, I felt, and each of them with varying degrees of anger: from so subtle it was almost more an intuition on my part, to out loud and shouty, with a rude and patronising arrogance in between.

I noticed in myself the arising of the fight/flight impulse. I noticed how I often so much prefer the flight pole, and immediately my old well-embedded fantasies of living alone in a tiny cabin by water in a wood, with only animals and birds for company, presented themselves. I so needed relief from humans and all their emotional demands; I felt suffocated and overwhelmed by what I experienced as their insistence on their needs, subtle or otherwise, at a time of personal exhaustion.

I resisted my own impulse to flee, mostly; at least in literal terms; and my own impulse, mostly, to hit back, metaphorically speaking. I agreed with myself that I also needed to look at my part in the exchanges – as of course these dynamics, at least in 'normal' daily circumstances, never belong only to one person and not the other. (Clearly, it's one thing to know that; quite another to actually do it when one is smouldering with righteous indignation!)

But I couldn't resist my own anxiety, and for twenty-four hours I knew myself to be 'beside myself'. This is so apposite an image: when strong emotions take us out of our core, the hub, something in us, a personal demon from the unconscious, walks alongside us and we identify with it. Our rational mind goes out of the picture, and any sense of balance, too.

Worse, we close down our hearts.

A significant lover in my life in my 20s pointed out to me that all we did, he and I, was react to each other rather than respond. At the time, that really brought me up short as a major insight – which of course it is: how many of us can keep a hold of ourselves in any situation where there is a conflict of egoic interests (which generally sits at the heart of any conflict) long enough as to truly respond from the better part of ourselves, appropriately?

But relationship, after all, is where we have the opportunity to really see ourselves enough as to notice what we need to move beyond in order to grow into our heart-nature. I have long believed that the path of conscious relationship is a 'fast-track' spiritual practice. In relationship all our demons and vulnerabilities are triggered, over and over; our job is not to suppress those waves – we can't – but to learn to surf them, wisely.

So this time, lying there anxiously awake all one night, still wanting to flee humankind, I felt some despair at how I had been gripped by an emotive state that closed down my generous and loving responses. Had I learned nothing in all these long years of meditation and mindfulness practice, from my habit of rigorous self-examination?

The next day, though, equilibrium returned; and I realised how very long it is since I was last gripped by an emotional reactivity that lasted that long. Sometimes, just sometimes, these days I can hold onto myself long enough as to respond rather than react, and I notice that. We have choices. All is not lost.

* Addendum: writing this sentence ('We need to let them spin around on the periphery while we sit at the hub of the wheel, noticing and not buying into the temptation to indulge them') I felt I wasn't saying quite what I intended to say. What I meant was more something along the lines of 'giving ourselves a choice as to whether to respond to them, or not'. This is important, I think; emotions do flag up stuff that might need addressing. As Linda Kohanov says: '...emotion itself [is] a resonant, multidimensional force that connect[s] all sentient beings'. I wasn't meaning that one should ignore an emotional impulse, but that sitting at the hub of the wheel allows us to respond appropriately rather than simply react on impulse.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

the dark of the year

I'm a little preoccupied doing a last readthrough and edit of my next novel, due at the publishers' next week. I wrote this in 2001, and haven't looked at the manuscript in years, and what I have written is not what I'd write now, but it's still, I think, a 'good book'. Nonetheless, it can be a bit cringe-making looking back at one's old creative output. I'm pleased, though, with the strength of the foot and mouth scenes on Dartmoor at the heart of it (if 'pleased' is the right verb for such a painful subject). It's also good to be concentrating on my own creative work a little. 

Here's the brief synopsis (the working title is The Burning Season):

'Take two brothers. One secret. A woman. Two lovers. Add in two deaths, and the trauma of foot and mouth on a small Dartmoor hill farm. Under such pressure other older secrets emerge, with devastating consequences.' (Published by IDP, 2013.)

And talking of my own creative work, I'm utterly delighted that an essay of mine on our relationship with the natural world has been longlisted for the inaugural EarthLines essay prize. (I'm equally delighted that there are a couple of better-known names on the list too.)


It seems to become darker earlier in the day than I can ever remember this far south. The hard hard ice – on which last week I skidded halfway across a dangerous junction, even though I was travelling slowly and the ice wasn't visible – has given way to floods of rain again, and the telltale green stain from our borehole water that coloured my hair a few weeks ago is back on the basin. We're still waiting for water test results from the lab.

Seems to have been a year of waiting for test results. After my op for a suspected carcinoma at the base of my throat we waited to hear; it turned out, it seems, to be benign, despite the pronouncements of two GPs and two specialists. That means the op was unnecessary – I would kind of have preferred not to have a 9cm scar so visible, but then it's been good for my vanity to have to let that one go. Then there was my heart and the results of the ECG – inconclusive, but at least the consultant backed me in my desire not to go on warfarin. And mostly I'm doing fine. Now the dog has two rows of stitches – maybe 5cm on her head and more like 15cm on her back. And those lumps, too, it seems were benign. The poor thing, though, is still getting appallingly severe facial spasms from the neurological disorder she had last year; sometimes they shake her whole body. And there's nothing I can do except hold her head until they pass.

And our petty little individual lives – how we identify with the 'me' who suffers, the 'me' who doesn't like this, the 'me' who craves that; and how we forget to look at the stars, the sunrise, the rest of the world.

And still the new flowers on the japonica, the new catkins in the lane, the early-flowering cherry I saw the other day – how can they offset the atrocities and tragedies that happen over and over at our hand? How can they compensate for those small children lost to a violent desperate man yesterday in America, the innocents wiped out in a drone attack* or rocket fire, the lab animals cut open, the de-finned sharks chucked back into the sea alive, the massacre of Taiji dolphins? And now the British government has not only given the go-ahead for fracking (extracting gas from surface shale, with the associated risks and environmental costs), it's also offering tax-breaks to the multinational companies involved. And yet – and yet – try as we might we haven't quite destroyed the natural world, and the sun continues to rise without our help and despite our interference. 

* see George Monbiot

So the daily small miracles have to compensate, in order for us not to lose hope, not to give up. We have to remember the beauty, the goodness, the small acts of kindness. We have to remember we can be different; we don't have to be run by our reptile brain; nor our mammalian brain alone. 

As we move towards the shortest darkest day here in the northern hemisphere, and our own inwardness (it's the 'cave bear' time), we have to hold, too, the reality that soon, soon, we will be turning back towards the light. 

And maybe, even, maybe, humanity too is moving towards whatever the critical mass is to where we can act more from the heart, and less from the spleen or the solar plexus. Maybe. And it may be a long haul, of course. But perhaps our time is that of 'nekyia', the descent to the underworld – doing the 'night sea journey', in Jungian thought; a necessary precursor to the collective breakthrough into light.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

two wild gods

Today I have two very fine poems for you by others. Both of these make me shiver, take my breath. I hope that they'll bring something of soul and wild into your day, as they do mine every time I read them.

Coyopa (Tom Hirons) is a Dartmoor-based cyber-friend and fellow wildster, contributing amongst other things to the Dark Mountain network, as I do too. He's an inspiring and imaginative walker-between-the-worlds.

Rowan Williams will need no introduction to those of you who live in GB; to others, I would simply say that as he has now left the post of Archbishop his active and principled presence will be much missed.

Sometimes a Wild God

Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine.

When the wild god arrives at the door,
You will probably fear him.
He reminds you of something dark
That you might have dreamt,
Or the secret you do not wish to be shared.

He will not ring the doorbell;
Instead he scrapes with his fingers
Leaving blood on the paintwork,
Though primroses grow
In circles round his feet.

You do not want to let him in.
You are very busy.
It is late, or early, and besides…
You cannot look at him straight
Because he makes you want to cry.

The dog barks.
The wild god smiles,
Holds out his hand.
The dog licks his wounds
And leads him inside.

The wild god stands in your kitchen.
Ivy is taking over your sideboard;
Mistletoe has moved into the lampshades
And wrens have begun to sing
An old song in the mouth of your kettle.

‘I haven’t much,’ you say
And give him the worst of your food.
He sits at the table, bleeding.
He coughs up foxes.
There are otters in his eyes.

When your wife calls down,
You close the door and
Tell her it’s fine.
You will not let her see
The strange guest at your table.

The wild god asks for whiskey
And you pour a glass for him,
Then a glass for yourself.
Three snakes are beginning to nest
In your voicebox. You cough.

Oh, limitless space.
Oh, eternal mystery.  
Oh, endless cycles of death and birth.  
Oh, miracle of life.  
Oh, the wondrous dance of it all.

You cough again,
Expectorate the snakes and
Water down the whiskey,
Wondering how you got so old
And where your passion went.

The wild god reaches into a bag
Made of moles and nightingale-skin.
He pulls out a two-reeded pipe,
Raises an eyebrow
And all the birds begin to sing.

The fox leaps into your eyes.
Otters rush from the darkness.
The snakes pour through your body.
Your dog howls and upstairs
Your wife both exhalts and weeps at once.

The wild god dances with your dog.
You dance with the sparrows.
A white stag pulls up a stool
And bellows hymns to enchantments.
A pelican leaps from chair to chair.

In the distance, warriors pour from their tombs.
Ancient gold grows like grass in the fields.
Everyone dreams the words to long-forgotten songs.
The hills echo and the grey stones ring
With laughter and madness and pain.

In the middle of the dance,
The house takes off from the ground.
Clouds climb through the windows;
Lightning pounds its fists on the table.
The moon leans in through the window.

The wild god points to your side.
You are bleeding heavily.
You have been bleeding for a long time,
Possibly since you were born.
There is a bear in the wound.

‘Why did you leave me to die?’
Asks the wild god and you say:
‘I was busy surviving.
The shops were all closed;
I didn’t know how. I’m sorry.’

Listen to them:

The fox in your neck and
The snakes in your arms and
The wren and the sparrow and the deer…
The great un-nameable beasts
In your liver and your kidneys and your heart…

There is a symphony of howling.
A cacophony of dissent.
The wild god nods his head and
You wake on the floor holding a knife,
A bottle and a handful of black fur.

Your dog is asleep on the table.
Your wife is stirring, far above.
Your cheeks are wet with tears;
Your mouth aches from laughter or shouting.
A black bear is sitting by the fire.

Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine
And brings the dead to life.

© Tom Hirons 

 see lightning in the blood;

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

© Rowan Williams

The poem 'Advent Calendar' by Archbishop Rowan Williams was published in his first poetry collection, After Silent Centuries (Oxford, 1994), and is now available in 'The Poems of Rowan Williams' (Oxford, 2002 and Grand Rapids MI, 2004).

Monday, 10 December 2012


again the dance
in this shaft of winter sun
her hair a candle flame

Saturday, 8 December 2012

724 days on...

I've been writing this blog for nearly two years, now.  I've just revisited my first blog in December 2010 (no doubt you can count as well as I can!) and am reflecting, briefly, on what made me start blogging – other than the (metaphorical) sound of my own voice, that is.

My first post was pretty well unthought-through – unfortunately, like much of my life, I also blog by the seat of my pants. When I started, I hadn't decided on a specific direction for my posts; they were to reflect what was going on for me as a person, a writer and a course and retreat leader working in the fields of creativity, psychology and ecopsychology, and spirituality.

After two years, glancing back at the first blog, it does set a certain tone.

The most enduring 'tone' is a keynote of wildlife observation. Someone said to me the other day that she noticed I was most closely 'myself' when out in, or writing or speaking of, the natural world. This is a continual thread for me in my life: it is immersion in the natural world that undoubtedly saves my sanity, especially at times when I feel a level of despair and distress at how we live, and the suffering the human species inflicts on the rest of the world, human and otherwise.

Right now, today, in this amazing gift of a clear sunny winter's day, the (illegal) hunt is in the valley, and I fear for the young foxes who have an earth in the top copse in our field and sit out in the next door field sunning themselves in their bright columns of air. Since the local harriers also draw the field next door, I also fear for the very small colony of hares we have nearby – one of which, happily, I spotted the other day, having not seen any of them for some months.

Speaking of these animals, one of my very favourite artists is Catherine Hyde, who paints beautiful mythic landscapes graced by hares, foxes, owls; see her range of paintings, prints and cards at I'm not sure if it's OK to display some of her card images here, but I'll try it. Look at these! I'm saving up for a print or painting! (Catherine, if you visit and want me to remove them, do say.)

Catherine Hyde:

For me, how I live, and what I write about, even when it's poetry, usually has a 'political', sometimes polemical, content to one extent or the other. In that first post I was also protesting at the wars that have so far dogged this new century (millennium). Of course, nothing has changed there, really; there's Syria, there's Palestine, there's the USA's and Israel's continued muttered threats of military action in relation to Iran's nuclear facilities, there's Egypt... Our militaristic attitude has its roots in notions of 'power over', acquisition, dominance and conquest – fear, really. My comments on this, in one way or another, have underpinned some of my posts.

My current political activity is to do with amassing and putting out as much info as I can on badgers and their reputed (but disputable) connection with bovine TB. The Government appears now to have handed responsibility for badger control in England to the farmers' union, the NFU; this makes a cull, and a cull sooner rather than later, even more likely. The badger is an iconic species, and the case against it has been distorted by knee-jerk reactivity and misinformation. If we take the route of the cull, at least 70% of the badger population will need to be killed. I have a great deal to say on this, and will do so soon. Along with Ama Menec, who has started a badger vaccination action group in Totnes (TBVAC) I spoke on local radio yesterday, making the case for badger vaccination as an alternative to the cull. (Ama is a local sculptor, focusing on British wildlife with mythic overtones to her work, too; if you live nearby, she'll be showing at Birdwood House in Totnes from Sunday December 16th, with her partner's beautiful ceramics. and

I'll be posting much more about all this, but here's an uplifting little clip (you'll need to paste this into your browser as I've failed to upload the link): 
(look for Taking badgers on a walk)
The owner of a conservation centre for badgers takes her charges for a walk before feeding time. Taken from the show 'Lost Badger' available at FirstScience...

While I'm on the natural world, and if you haven't yet found all your Christmas presents, I want to add to the ones above an inspiring present for someone who is committed to the wild and enjoys excellent writing in relation to it: what about a subscription to EarthLines magazine? This is brilliantly edited by my friend Sharon Blackie, who with her husband David crofts in the Hebrides and publishes this journal and books under their Two Ravens Press. I don't know another journal like EarthLines: eclectic, erudite, committed and sometimes cutting-edge journalism (and poems and story). Sharon says: 'EarthLines is more than a magazine —it's an active and passionate project to help transform the relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world.'

That last says all I need to say, really, along with their subtitle: 'the culture of nature'.

So, yes, notes on wildlife, and questioning policy have been threads I've continued to spin here. I've posted poetry and prose poems; articles and essays; and I frequently comment (often at perhaps mind-numbing length!) on psychology, spirituality and philosophical issues, particularly in relation to Wild, to how we might live, and to relationship. My commitment to Zen has underpinned my posts, and the pagan shamanic druid in me, normally private, puts her head above the parapet now and then, I see.

I also see that some of my earlier posts were more upbeat. We've had a number of family bereavements since I began, and I haven't been too well this year either. (Hopefully I shall retrieve my sense of humour soon from under whichever bush I dropped it...)

So why did I start this? I'm not sure, now. I think it was partly because I had just completed a number of creative projects (three books came out for me between spring 2011 and May this year), and I knew that a commitment to writing a blog would be a way to ensure writing something, at least several times a week.

I guess the big thing, now I'm approaching later adulthood*, is something to do with adding my voice to the 'song of the earth' – wanting to remember, and to speak of, how we might live in a soulcentric way, being aware of our place and time in relation to right here, right now in the microcosm of our individual life. Maturing necessitates being aware too of our place in a deeply interwoven infinite universe, the anima mundi, which we share with all other beings as a collective of matter and energy flowing together, of which this beautiful planet is a fragile and resilient manifestation. We can choose the directions that take us towards nurturing, or towards destruction. If we choose to remember this, and our interconnectedness, it becomes harder to violate ourselves and others, so the push is always towards being more mindful, kinder, aware (this is the theory, anyway!) .

(*Actually, I've been having a midlife crisis since I was 17, so really I think by rights I'm now entering late adolescence.)

On a more pragmatic level, the blog was also to be a kind of online journal, to share with anyone who could be bothered to read it. And a place to share ideas, too.

And there's something too of course about having a presence on the web, as a writer; it's somewhere for the readers I have, or people who've attended my courses, to come when they need the boot up the bum which I'm told I'm good at giving in a workshop context! And I'm delighted to say that at a time when it's a struggle making ends meet (it always is, but in a recession it's easy to think of books, and creativity, as being luxuries rather than the essentials I believe them to be, for a culture and for the soul) that it has also brought me new readers and course participants. (As of just now, you can buy my books easily via the Paypal link to the right. Note that the dropdown menu also brings up the current offer of two books for £12 inc p&p.)

The blog has linked me in to a web in the true sense – a felt experience of sharing community with others who have similar visions and dreams. I visit many of your websites and blogs frequently – thank you for your presence.

Best of all, and I couldn't have envisaged this, is that it has brought lovely new people into my life. Some of you email me; many of you are doing your own inspiring thing out there. I love being part of this network of people who believe in change, and in the power of the human spirit. Once again, thank you, all of you; you've touched my life and my heart and it means something to me.

And, as always, thanks from the heart to B, who is making this possible in more ways than she knows.

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