This year the snowdrops along the river bank have been stunning, as unlike last year, we’ve got through the month without any major flooding. And there has been a noticeable change in activity on the river, with pairs of mallards and goosanders very evident, and dippers dashing up and down. I saw a couple of them “dancing” on the river – not sure if it was a courtship or territorial ritual, either way it was a delight to watch. On the home front I’ve been delighted to discover masses of frog spawn in the garden pond. Yesterday, there was even more excitement as I saw a little “wriggle” in the water. Two years ago, I wrote about a murderous robin who dive bombed the froglets and ate the lot. So let’s hope it finds another source of food this year…..
And to cap it all, I’ve been blessed with some stunning sightings of kingfishers. They have been evident along the river on morning walks, hearing their distinctive call, and occasionally seeing them whizz along the river in a flash of vibrant colour – all the more exciting in this still dull tree colour time. One day I watched a kingfisher sit on a high branch for some while up at Hembury Woods. Then last week walking at Dartington, I managed to capture an image, admittedly not quite in focus, but you can at least see what it is! I watched it sit and then dive into the river and emerge with a small fish, and then repeat the activity on the opposite river bank. Pure delight.
You might think I do nothing but go walking with Selkie, but the fact is that this past month has been rather busy. Retreat bookings have been the best ever for February, with new and repeat bookings, guided and personal retreats. Alongside that a porch is being built off the main house, and some long awaited decoration is going on in my bedroom. And I’ve ordered a “swing seat” for the garden: it’s a lovely gentle swing, and will have pride of place at the top of the garden near the rose bushes, the scent in summer I’m told wafts its way to where the seat will be.
I continue with my weekly retreat days, getting a sense of what it’s like to be on retreat here! I was reading back on February’s days and they vary a lot, and sometimes don’t feel to be “going anywhere”, but there are golden threads of learning weaving their way through.
I try to start each day with a slow walk to the river and last week I “found” a stone which looked for all the world like a skull. It was so striking, that I brought it home. The gospel reading for that Sunday was Jesus’ well known words “Therefore I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns…” I always struggle with this, attached as I am to love of clothes, of colour and beauty around me, and reflecting on it got me nowhere. By contrast the “skull” stone reminded me of a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, in which he offers a meditation on death. Not your average Sunday afternoon activity, but I was drawn to give it a try.
I found that imagining my death I was very concerned that there wouldn’t be anyone there who knew me. Duh! And I laughed out loud when I envisaged myself in a coffin, as I found myself saying “Let me out!” Clearly there’s unfinished business! Thich Nhat Hanh says of this exercise, “When we can envision and accept our own death, we are able to let go of many ambitions, worries, and sufferings. In short, we are able to let go of all the things which keep us so unnecessarily busy.”
It’s this last sentence that made sense to me. As I recover and find more energy within myself, I’m presented with a problem of a different nature: being too busy with “stuff”. Maybe because I’ve had many days and months of being alone, being quiet, not “doing” much, I am all the more conscious of discomfort when I feel too busy. It feels very familiar, but not quite right somehow.
Mahmud Shabistari, a Sufi mystic wrote a little gem of a book called “The Secret Rose Garden”, and reading it on a recent retreat day, the following words “spoke” to me : “All your life you have sought name and fame; this self-seeking of yours is an illusion, keeping you back from me. To glance at my face for an instant is worth a thousand years of devotion.”
Busyness is another way of “self-seeking”, seeing my own “needs” – for recognition, for material comfort, for love, as the priority. This is not a hair shirt moment, a giving up of everything for the cloister, but simply a reminder of what is the “one essential thing”.
The journey goes on……