Life Lessons from … a Tick

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A close friend of mine used to work for a major publishing company. She left a couple of years ago, after 20 years, a conscious decision  to explore what life had to offer her beyond the success she’d achieved as a publisher. She said to me recently she was  noticing that there are many more ups and downs in life now she isn’t in the safe financial cocoon of a large corporation. It was an observation she’d made that had no regret attached to it, indeed more the opposite – that life is the richer for it.DSC_6916 DSC_6917

I think like me she had somehow expected to be richly rewarded for her brave decision to quit a mightily well paid job, and for the next creative steps to fall into place quickly. But it doesn’t work like that, I know because it took me almost 10 years to bring the retreat space to fruition, there were so many twists and turns, stops and starts along the way. Even now when the path seems clearer and life more settled, some new little bug has burrowed into my blood stream.

I knew as I was driving back from Scotland that I was bringing back with me the desire to build on the profound numinous experiences I’d had during the 30 day retreat. Unbeknownst to me I also brought back a tick bite that held the beginnings of Lyme disease.

This past month, despite enjoying all the people who came to stay, I felt unusually tired. A chance news item about a new tick disease, mentioned that the symptoms of Lyme disease are “flu like”. “That’s me” I said.  I went to see a  GP and we agreed it’s likely, given the symptoms I’m presenting, that I have Lyme’s disease. I’ve been wondering for the past two days, why this , why now, as I’ve had to cancel commitments for the next couple of weeks.DSC_6952

What I’ve come up with so far is this. We are always being called to go beyond our comfort zone, being drawn to a “larger life” – and there is joy and richness to be found there.  At the same time there is also a parallel call to letting go of attachment to whatever new names we’ve devised for ourselves (retreat giver, group facilitator, contemplative…..). Otherwise we get stuck in  the latest identity of our “imaginary selves”.

I came across these words from Richard Rohr in one of my clearing out moments this week:

“We, like Jesus himself, have to let go of who we think we are, and who we think we need to be. “Dying at 30? I am just getting started!” he must have thought. We have to let go of the passing names by which we have tried to name ourselves and become the “naked self before the naked God”. That will always feel like dying, because we are so attached to our passing names and identities. Your bare, undecorated self is already and forever the beloved child of God. When you can rest there, you will begin to share in the universal Christ consciousness, the very “mind of Christ”.

At the risk of finding another name for myself, I think the next few weeks of enforced quiet and rest may support the deepening in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Ah well, here we go.DSC_6951

 

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The Sea Urchin

This past month has been enriched beyond measure with  the second half of my 30 day retreat. I went to Scotland without a camera, which was a strange feeling. I would like to have included in this blog images of red kites, red-squirrels and red-breasted mergansers, but it wasn’t to be.  Just before I left, I went up to Hembury Woods, a favourite place for swimming and walking.  As I swam back downstream I noticed the current was stronger and looking across to the bank, I realised Selkie had moved to a higher level. Then to my horror I saw my bag with camera and binoculars in it floating in water. I decided afterwards that it must have been a flash flood that caused the water levels to rise so quickly. Fortunately I reached the bank ok, my clothes were still dry, but the camera damage was terminal.

But as is so often the case, there was a thread that ran much deeper than anything I could have photographed. It was symbolised by the one image I took with my phone – a sea urchin.

This part of the retreat followed through Jesus’ last days and after.  It was an intense time and I struggled occasionally as I pondered well known passages. But when it came one day to reflecting on Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, I had a strong sense of the importance of this encounter. Twice he said to Mary “Woman” and I felt strong resonance with that word.

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The Sea Urchin – as I found it

Around this time there was a stunning full moon and an unusually low tide to go with it. So that same morning, I walked down to the shore early wanting to explore the expanded shore line. It was for the most part a mix of mud, broken shells, stones, the odd jelly fish and seaweed. Then suddenly my eye caught sight of a different colour, stranded amongst all the grey, the pinkish hue of a sea urchin.

I can still feel the spine-tingling moment when I saw it. For on a long retreat 10 years ago in Northumberland, at a time of great transition I found a sea-urchin on the sea-shore there, and it came to symbolise for me the feminine. And when I cleared my mum’s house after her death, I found a sea-urchin shell that I’d given her many years before.

Initially I left the sea urchin, not sure whether it was still alive, and ran back for morning meditation. I sat down – and wept, copiously, that sort of nose running, chest heaving sobbing tears that rack your whole body. I had difficulty keeping quiet, and found meditation impossible. What was that all about Joyce asked me afterwards?

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Close up of the sea urchin on the shore

As the day went on and I reflected further on Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene, I pieced together a story from my life that had puzzled me for many years. One of those childhood memories that we know have affected our behaviour and choices in life, began to make sense in a way it hadn’t done before. I realised that I was reconnecting with a part of my womanhood that had been shall we say discarded at an early age, and lost to me ever since. The tears were the cathartic release of re-connection.

Concurrently with this during the second part of the retreat a phrase that kept coming into my mind during a labyrinth walk, and in reflection times, was

“This is my daughter, whom I love.”

I wrote previously about the first part of the retreat and that numinous  encounter at the baptism of Jesus. It was only towards the end of this retreat that I made the two-fold connection with these words creating a deeper connection to the One who loved me before my birth as a beloved daughter. Finally by the end of the retreat I was able to fully celebrate those words.

On my final day I walked down to the shore at low tide again, and the sea urchin was still in the same place. I knew it couldn’t be alive by then, so I carefully picked it up brought it home with me.

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The sea urchin shell, my symbol of the feminine

 

When I wrote about embarking on this 30 day retreat, I mentioned that people I knew who had done it said it was “life changing”. At the time I said I didn’t want my life to change. But deep change has come, at a profound inner level This will inexorably lead to outer change, in order for the inner and outer to become more aligned.

In the full immersion of a retreat these deeper connections can be made and we can experience those “aha” moments that bring us into a greater freedom to follow the call of the Beloved.

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Kingfishers and the Meaning of Life


I have finally taken a photo of a kingfisher, and I decided to write about it, not knowing that it was the start of something way more meaningful than a simple photograph. Yet as a photo it still has pride of place in this post.   _DSC5146-002

Most mornings for the past 6 weeks I’ve swum in the river. And most mornings kingfishers have been my constant companions- a  kaleidoscope of colour streaking up and down the river with their familiar call, occasionally espied perched  on a branch, or swooping down to catch a fish. Occasionally I see more than one, sometimes chasing one another, and once a whole battle going on as (probably) the adults were chasing the fledged young off their territory.

As I write, I wonder why I haven’t been doing this all my life. I learnt to swim in Coniston Water, in the Lake District, an auspicious start, and then spent my teens pounding up and down the swimming baths, garnering house points.  But it was reading Roger Deakin’s  Wildwood, and then Waterlog, that gave me the desire for swimming in nature. And what a happy indirect consequence of moving to Devon and to this particular place that I can take a 5 minute walk and swim in the river with kingfishers.

The photo came about out of frustration really. About a week ago I was walking with Selkie over Staverton bridge, and stood watching a kingfisher dive off a branch, catch a fish, and swoop onto a rock. It sat there, maybe in a post-prandial way for what seemed like ages, and I was simply annoyed with  myself for not having a camera with me. So a few days later I set out with my camera, and with deliberation and hope on the same route. I saw a kingfisher from the bridge, but couldn’t get my camera out fast enough before it darted off. Losing hope but carrying on I walked on into North Woods, part of the Dartington Estate, where for a while I walked quite close to the river. And there it was, sitting on a branch, surrounded by dappled light shining through the leaves.  I’ve never seen a kingfisher in that spot before, and I only managed one shot before it flew off. But that was good enough for me.

Then something quite profound happened as I was writing about this. I’ve been reading a trilogy of books by a Franciscan nun, Ilia Delio. Not easy reading, she writes about scientific developments over the past century such as understanding matter as energy, and the interconnectedness of all life. She writes eloquently and hopefully about the possibility of living the way of Christ integrated with this new knowledge. Towards the end of the book I had noticed she quotes a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins that I know and resonate deeply with. The poem speaks to me of living out of our deepest Self, something I desire but seems to be a life-time’s struggle to achieve. But what I had forgotten completely, and what moved me to tears and left me with a profound sense of awe, when I re-read it, is how the poem starts.  Here is the poem:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring;

like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came. 

 

I say more: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: that keeps all his going graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –

Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces

 

 

 

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Rain Stops Play

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The beautifully scented sweet pea arbour (built by Stephen)

For the past 2 weeks I have been quietly going about chores at home, some of them a bit dull, like servicing the car, and even cleaning it. Some of my chores have been a bit unexpected, like clearing a flea infestation brought about by warm weather and my tardiness in treating the lovely Selkie. You’ll be pleased to know she is now touring the house killing them off as she goes. And don’t worry if you’re considering making a booking, the retreat rooms are quite separate from the main house!

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Rose “A Shropshire Lad” by the front door

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South facing sitting space and flower border

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The wildlife pond, also “built” by Stephen, looking a bit, well wild

Catching up in the garden is never a chore, well perhaps dead-heading might count as that, but I usually love whatever I do in the garden. But as I write I am in fact happy to report it’s raining hard, that amazing fulsome wet rain that will feed the garden, the river, and the landscape for miles around. I’ve swum every morning in the river this month bar two – one on the day I had tickets for Wimbledon (a fine excuse), and today. Although rain doesn’t in theory prevent swimming,  it was a bit too wet first this morning for me to be tempted.

These welcome quieter weeks follow a rather hectic 6 weeks, starting early June with a day here on “The Wisdom of Centering Prayer”.  A  sunny day with a lovely group of people in which we looked at the practice of Centering Prayer meditation, and its’ links to both Jesus’ teaching on kenosis, or “inner letting go”,  and the way it can support  the challenges of daily life, through for example the “Welcoming Prayer”. It was a very full day, see below for an expansion on that comment!

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Holy Isle – oystercatcher chick to the right of the adult

June also brought a trip to the Holy Isle off the coast of Arran, for a second “wisdom school” with Cynthia Bourgeault. It will take some time to digest her profound and unique teaching on “the divine exchange”. I hope to write more about it, and to incorporate what I learnt into future events.

Shortly after that I gave a speech to 200+ people at an event in London. Flattered to be invited by an old  friend to be his “principal guest”, it involved giving the speech of thanks and preparing it was  a huge learning experience. 5-7 minutes James said, and whilst I struggled initially to find the right content, the real struggle was in  ensuring I kept within the time. What emerged, I’m proud to say, was a mistress-piece of oratory!

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Bees on the lavender by the garden room

But before I take a tumble, the real learning from the experience was this – when I offer a day event I usually have way too much material than can be delivered and more importantly, consumed and digested in the space of a few hours. So I am resolved to offer less for more on day events! And that dovetails nicely into a  decision I made after the June day. This is to offer a series of 6 day events over a year, to allow a small group to delve more deeply together into this wonderful wisdom teaching that is emerging to challenge and enrich us.

If you’re on the mailing list you will automatically receive details, otherwise keep an eye on the events diary.

 

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Gratitude

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Grey wagtail at Hembury Woods

Looking back to the first post I wrote in August 2012, I sounded like a real river swimming virgin. In Sept 2012, I wrote “I don’t know this adventurous part of me that is up for early morning river swims too well, there’s usually a sensible, “got to get on with things” part that takes over. But now I have this unique opportunity right on my doorstep  “I shall” as often as I can!” How times have changed. Now going for a swim is the first thing I do every morning, so long as the river isn’t flooded and it’s not too cold. This morning, wondering if there would be enough hot water for a shower afterwards, I couldn’t NOT do it!

I wrote in that first post about the dream I had, now 11 years ago, about moving to Devon. A key part of the decision came after waking up one morning “hearing” the words “Locked from the inside”.  It was as if someone had spoken them to me. It took me a while to unravel it, but I knew there  was a strong inner resistance to change. So I took myself off on a retreat, where I struggled to even find the key, never mind unlock the door. But these words from Revelation in the Bible came at the right moment and touched me deeply, “See I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut”. Such is the profound nature of a good retreat, I came home with a willingness for change, inner and outer, where previously I felt resistance and fear.

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The blackbird eggs have hatched

 

The word that I’ve been holding for some days is gratitude, and reflecting back through posts on this stunning, almost summer’s day, it has only grown as the temperature has risen. Today I swam twice, once early at Still Pool and then later up at Hembury Woods, about a 10 minute drive from here. It is a time when I connect profoundly with nature. Immersed (literally) in the natural world, alert to the sounds and sights around, I am often surprised and delighted by what I see: a kingfisher close by on a branch, a mandarin duck “family” gathered together (male, female and 3 ducklings), the ubiquitous dippers bobbing up and down, and tiny grey wagtails skitting about.

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A froglet escapes the robin

And it occurs to me that there are people to whom I’m particularly grateful on this side of the open door. Sam Wernham first suggested the idea of moving to Devon, and I will always be  grateful to her for that. You can read about her latest venture, River Dart Wild Church on www.riverdartwildchurch.com; Joyce Ferne accompanied me through key moments on retreat (including the one mentioned above). She co-runs another Coach House www.coachhousekilmuir.org  a retreat house  in the most stunning setting by the Moray Firth; and beloved Stephen gave me the richest of gifts, opening my eyes to the exquisite detail of the natural world around us, in the garden, by the river and in the wider world of the West Country. But the greatest thanks have to go to the unseen Creative Spirit, who  is always gently nudging us along to a bigger and richer life. For all this I am truly grateful.

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The robin, the froglet, and the blackbird’s eggs

What has struck me most about May is the explosion of growth around us – a huge array of colourful spring flowers in abundance in the hedgerows, the extravagantly scented white blossom of hawthorn, the  gorgeous cherry and apple blossom and the magnificent candle-like chestnut flowers. And we are surrounded in every nook and cranny by that beautiful vibrant green that heralds the new spring growth. Everywhere is fulsome, burgeoning, generous.

May has also been catch up time in the garden after my amazing retreat on the Black Isle in April. I’ve been filling the garden pots, planting out veg. seedlings  and cosmos plants in the celtic  spiral. We’ve also been adding to the planting around the pond, Stephen bringing back flag irises and sedge from his wanderings. The pond came into being because he gifted me (in his original and inimitable way) with some frog spawn. “I’m going to make a pond” he said immediately afterwards, and so he generously did. It is providing us with much delight, but some trauma too.

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The robin with froglet in its mouth

There were many tadpoles, which we kept from cannibalising each other, by giving them tinned dog food. Newts also appeared, and more recently a wierd creature  I caught eating a tadpole, which we assume has found its way from the river. Froglets started to appear, much to our delight. But in equal measure a pretty robin morphed into a mass murderer before our eyes. Perched on the cherry blossom tree, strategically planted close to the pond, we watched in dismay as it pounced relentlessly on froglets as they emerged onto the lawn.

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Three beautiful blackbird’s eggs

On the other hand, to our delight, we found a blackbird’s nest close to the Coach Room window, containing 3 perfectly formed beautiful blue eggs. And we have regularly seen goslings  on the river below Totnes on outings downstream in Snow Feather.  Upstream at Hembury I watched a female goosander diving for food, and missed a rare “photo-op” moment as I saw it dive under water and emerge with a fish in its mouth. Nature is “red in tooth and claw” indeed. Whether any frogs will survive the robin’s extermination game remains to be seen.

I was wondering whether there were any other connections to be made about these natural wonders of May – Stephen asked me “what else will you say about the photo of the robin catching the froglet?”, so I looked up the source of the quote above. It is from a poem by Tennyson in which he mourns the loss of a friend. The content of the poem was influenced by the ideas of evolution which were emerging at the time and which were causing huge controversy about the theological implications of impersonal nature (as it was seen then), functioning without direct divine intervention. This marked the beginning of a huge split between science and religion, which is only just finding common ground again.

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Goslings on the river bank

That then reminded me of a book I’ve been reading by Ilia Delio, a Franciscan nun, entitled “Christ in Evolution”. It’s hard going, but worth the effort. Her thesis, which she develops through looking at a number of important contemplatives and writers, is that a new understanding of Christ is needed in what she calls the second axial age (the current age where humanity and the cosmos is  more interrelated).  One key writer is Teilhard de Chardin, misunderstood by the Church of his time, but who was a visionary scientist and priest. He writes “If we are to remain faithful to the gospel, we have to adjust its spiritual code to the new shape of the universe. It has ceased to be the formal garden from which we are temporarily banished by a whim of the creator. It has become the great work in process of completion which we have to save by saving ourselves.”

She suggests that it is not solely through intellectual study that we come to this new understanding, but rather through our own personal contemplative journey. She quotes Raimon Panikaar, “If the mystery of Christ is not our very own it might as well be a museum piece”.

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Goosander feeding in the river

She writes “We are not called to relate to a God without a world. To love God we must also love what God loves. We are called to love this created world as God loves it. … the human person is called to be a “co-creator” – a co-operator with God in the transformation of the universe “from seed to fruit, potency to act, imperfection to perfection. Therefore it does matter what the human person does, for only through his or her action can one encounter God””.

And finally she quotes Bede Griffiths, from “The Return to the Centre”, ( a book I rediscovered on my retreat)  “the reflective consciousness can always turn back. Instead of concentrating on man and nature and centering on the ego, it can turn back to their source and find the Self. This is conversion, metanoia – the discovery of the real Self, of eternal life. Of course to know the Self is to know man and nature but it is to know them not dispersed in space and time and cut off from reality, but in their integrity and unity as an organic whole, every part related to every other, every point reflecting the whole.

He goes on “But what about all the conflict in nature, one animal preying upon another, the immeasurable suffering in human life? Conflict and suffering are part of the pattern of things evolving in space and time. They belong to the world of becoming of change and decay.” Thus the robin, the froglet and the blackbird’s eggs are all tiny parts of this “pattern of things”.

Our part is summed up by this quote I read this morning “Your own Self Realisation is the greatest service you can render to the world”.

 

 

 

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As gentle as the touch of a feather

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Curious young lambs

I’ve just returned from a retreat – 2 weeks of sunshine on the Black Isle in Scotland, doing the first half of the classic Ignatian 30 day retreat. During that time lambs were being born in the field next door.

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A songthrush which sang every day close to the house

I got off to a rocky start, having forgotten that it would be a fairly heavy immersion in reflective readings from the bible. That’s simply because I’m used to following my own lead on retreats these days. I’ve long wanted to make the full 30 day retreat, as people have told me how life-changing it can be. Not that I was looking for my life to be changed, but I was looking for a deepening of my spiritual life. The Exercises were devised by Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, in the 16th Century, a soldier turned Christian seeker. The language is dated, militaristic, heavy at times. But for some reason it has stood the test of time, and I can vouch for its efficacity (there are two updated versions of the exercises to use alongside the original).

One thing that struck me from the outset, as I contemplated my “blessed history” (times in which I felt a deep sense of the numinous), was the pivotal time in my late teens, when I left the family home and embarked on an independent life.  Through a close and still dear friend, I learned about being “saved by grace”. I prayed for the experience, and in the end pretended it had happened, so keen was I to join the ranks, to keep the military theme going. Despite being drawn somehow to have a deeper Christian experience, the medium didn’t for me match the message.  I spent a long time saying my faith was theocentric rather than christocentric (focused on a god who I could at least relate to albeit at a distance, rather than Jesus who seemed far removed from my experience).

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Lamb playschool

It’s a long story in the intervening years, enjoying exploring all faiths and none, and holding Christianity lightly from my 30s onwards. But the search never stopped, and in my 50s after quitting publishing, I was introduced to the writings of Cynthia Bourgeault and others, (including Marcus Borg). Her description of Jesus as a wisdom teacher, her insistence on the importance of spiritual practices such as (centering prayer)  meditation and other “surrender” practices, in order to fully grasp his teachings, and the way in which she draws widely from other traditions and teachings (Gurdjieff for example), was a breath of fresh air for me.

Someone told me around that time, that to really grow spiritually we need to stick with one tradition and go deep within it. It rang a bell with me, simultaneously with my reading of new ways of understanding the Christian tradition. And so I came full circle.

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Oystercatcher on the Moray Firth

My struggles with the Spiritual Exercises paid off, and I was rewarded in a lovely way. I found my own way to understand the subject of the first week – sin. It was  a humbling experience, in the true (not Uriah Heep) sense of the word: discovering  some fundamental ways in which I allow myself to be separated from God, the Source, the Centre, the Mystery of Life. Finding an image for it helped – a closed clam shell which I found on the beach.

The second week took me through the early years of Jesus’ life, up until his baptism. Again I had times of resisting some of the readings – invited to work with them in an imaginative way, I sometimes couldn’t get beyond my limited mind  – can I really give myself a part in the nativity story, so clichéd has it become. But I didn’t give up, I knew that this was the path I had chosen, and I was blessed to have a wonderful location in which to make short and longer walks along the shore, up the hills into the woodland, and around the labyrinth in the garden.

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A lamb being born

My reward was simply the gentlest of a close encounter with Jesus in an imaginative exercise on his baptism. The previous day I’d had a sense of part of me being like a frightened animal; this went back to the first non-encounter. At the time I had just emerged from what for me was a very restrictive family “cocoon”, and having moved out of the family home and embarked on an independent life, I felt the way Christianity was presented to me was similar  – a long list of do’s and don’ts, none of which I found very appealing.

I wrote in my journal last week “It occurred to me that what happened (when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism) was a tearing or rending of the veil between two worlds, the physical and the spiritual, and the invitation from Jesus was simply to step across the threshold between those two worlds and join him. It was as gentle and tender as the touch of a feather.  A moment of pure recognition.

I no longer believe in individual salvation, I never really did. But I do believe that if we truly want to enter into a deeper relationship with God – the Creative Source, the Mystery of Life, the invitation is always there to join in that great Cosmic Dance, however tentative, afraid or shy we might be.

I’m excited about where this is taking me. I have wanted to go deeper, explore further without fear. The resistance to an invitation that was badly presented 40 years ago, found a resonance in me as it came in the gentlest of ways – hardly a whisper of movement, the gentlest of beckoning, as I step quietly and softly over the threshold.

A final note of humour. As this imaginative journey went on, I said “I must be the first disciple then?” (since my encounter with Jesus immediately followed his baptism). “Er, well there are others too”, came the reply, with a smile on his face.

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A brief snowfall on the blossom tree

 

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Mad March and Otter Joy

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Dipper on the river close to the leat bridge

I’m sneaking in a blog for March. The month has been too busy really, but despite that I have a nature scoop!

Two groups gathered here at Retreat by the Dart  – my regular “Thomas girls” who meet fortnightly to “chew over”* one of the sayings in the gospel of Thomas. It’s a group that is “cooking” well, to continue the food analogy, as we’ve been garnering wisdom for some time now.

The other occasional group, has met every Friday lunchtime during Lent. We’ve been re-acquainting ourselves with Centering Prayer meditation – how the method works, and its’ links to both the wisdom path of Jesus and to our own personal life challenges. As if that wasn’t enough, I facilitated and taught two day events on Centering Prayer.

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Dipper under the leat bridge with nest material

I’m not quite sure how I managed to organise this rather overfull schedule. I learnt a lot though, in the sense of “not knowing more, but more of me knowing” (to paraphrase Cynthia Bourgeault) – about myself and about Centering Prayer meditation, which has been an important “tie-rod” in my resurgent exploration into Christian spirituality in recent years.

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The faithful mandarin ducks

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The goosander pair, not quite nesting yet

Throughout all this busyness, around sunrise each morning  I continued to walk down to the river with Selkie. Regularly I would see dippers around the leat bridge (where there’s a nest), bobbing up and down on rocks in the river, dipping down into the water for food, and once, one with some nest building material in its mouth. Another regular sighting has been a pair of goosanders and a pair of mandarin ducks. Now more often than not the male goosander is on its own. Spotting it one morning  I thought the sight not interesting enough to photograph, and the next minute I watched as it emerged up through the water after diving for food. Never underestimate what might happen on and under the river!

Which leads me neatly to my scoop, I can still hardly believe it happened! One morning walking towards the mill from the weir, I noticed movement in the river, sufficient to draw my attention, as there were no ducks around. I almost knew what was about to happen,  because I had seen similar activity on the Moray Firth in November – otter heads appeared above the water. I watched them as they arched and dived continually downstream towards the weir.  I couldn’t tell how many there were and was so entranced I forgot my camera altogether. At the last minute I picked up my binoculars and watched as 2 otters climb up out of the river at the weir, onto the disappear. I will never forget that moment, it’s imprinted in my memory.

I’ve never seen otters here, although Stephen had a startlingly close encounter with one swimming in the river last year.  Utter (!) joy, beautiful creatures, alive and well in the river Dart.

*slang for the practice of “lectio divina” !

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The spiral of life

I’ve always loved walking a labyrinth as a spiritual tool.  The process of walking slowly and silently into the centre, standing or sitting for a while, and returning slowly outwards is the most profound experience. Usually I’ve done it on a retreat and more often than not, a word or phrase comes to me clearly in the centre. A couple of weeks ago I went to a very well-attended local “prayer labyrinth” walk. It seems to be one of those silent spiritual practices which appeals to a wide group of spiritual seekers.

Tulips in the Celtic spiral Spring 2014

Tulips in the Celtic spiral Spring 2014

I was reminded that  I’d originally hoped to create a labyrinth at Retreat by the Dart. After the renovation works were under way,  what had been the garden was a mud bath after taking out overgrown trees, unwanted tree stumps, and generally tramping around with diggers and the like. The garden designer was sympathetic to my idea, but more  keen on creating planting spaces. The compromise was a “celtic triple spiral” made out of Japanese box hedging. I’ve successfully grown tulip bulbs and cosmos each year in them, and the displays have been stunning. But now the original desire to offer a meditative tool to people who come to stay has been reignited.

 

I called Helen who ran the indoor labyrinth event and she came over for tea and to look at the space.  I’d assumed with a slightly heavy heart that we’d have to dig everything up and start again. But she was immediately excited by the idea of creating something from what is there, and was inspirational in her enthusiasm to see how it might work.

Bird's eye view of the Celtic Spiral Feb 2015

Bird’s eye view of the Celtic Spiral Feb 2015

A Celtic spiral (also called a “triskele” meaning “three-legged”),  ideally created in one continuous line,  consists of three interlocking spirals. Images have been found in both pre-Christian (Newgrange, Ireland) and Christian (illuminated manuscripts) places.  No-one knows what it meant to the pagans who built Newgrange, but it took on new meaning in Ireland as Christianity came to the forefront, as a symbol of the Trinity, and as a symbol of eternity. In more recent Celtic pagan lore, it has come to represent the “three realms” : land, sea and sky aswell as the “triple goddess” – maiden, mother, crone.  The Celts believed that the most important things in life came in threes and so other connotations include: life-death-rebirth, spirit-mind-body, mother-father-child, past-present-future, creation-preservation-destruction, power-intellect-love, father-son-holy spirit.

The Celtic spiral is one of the most popular spiritual symbols and can be used   with any of the connotations ascribed to it to reach understanding and personal insight. it’s going to be an interesting process.

 

 

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New Year’s Resolutions

I guess it’s not surprising that a retreat might feature on a New Year’s Resolution list (note the capitals). That’s considering the flurry of enquiries I had on New Year’s Day and shortly afterwards. Completely unprepared this year, we were going away for a couple of days, so I had to turn down the one serious enquiry. And like most resolutions made at this time, the other enquiries fizzled out. But still, I might try and be a bit more prepared next year.
We saw the New Year in downstream from Totnes. Took little Snow Feather out for a night-time motor down to Ham Point, where we lit a fire, cooked bacon and ate it with champagne fried bread. A new recipe, devised carefully by Stephen not knowing the bottle was already open, so that the contents spilled onto the bread and soaked in nicely by the time we arrived. To counter the damage he fried the bread, and it was really rather tasty. The glorious moment was listening to tawny owls calling to one another in the trees so close it seemed we should see them. The moon, almost full helped us on our way.
Yesterday (Jan 14th) I swam in the river on a bright sunny morning. The current, pre last night’s storm, was manageable, and I was able to swim further upstream. As I floated back down, watching the sunlight on the water, and enjoying the moment, I made a sort of resolution, more of a desire really, to simply tread a bit lighter on the earth, so precious these moments of natural beauty are.

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