It was six o’clock in the morning. I could hear the wind whistling outside and rattling against the windows. I got out of bed and pulled back the curtains. There was the moon, but it was the moonlight dancing on the waves of Lee Bay that drew me like a magnet.
It shook me. I was filled with wonder. I was enchanted. I opened the window and felt the cold wind on my face. I heard the wild owl call. It was a gift. Something inside me stretched and woke up. I felt drunk with the glory of it. The part of me not domesticated by double glazing, street lights and central heating thrilled with the wonder of the transcendent trail of light. I walked on the water with my eyes.
I was on a retreat at Lee Abbey in Devon leading on the Mindful Christian retreat. The Lee Abbey estate is set within Exmoor National Park, designated a Dark Sky Reserve. The only light I could see was the light of the moon, and that light was dancing in the dark.
I was delighted the next day to see what looked like Lee Abbey’s star-gazing bench…
Mindfulness is a natural capacity we have, a capacity to be fully aware, to completely dwell within our senses, our experiential self. It is there, very often, that we find rapture as we consider the night sky above. It can also help us access the transcendent and spiritual. Lee Abbey is a ‘thin place’ to the transcendent.
Take one minute out of clock time. Focus your attention on the poppy. Let it bring you to your senses. Let the colour fill your vision in open awareness. See the movement of the petals in the wind. Let the sounds come to you and the silence of the flower.
See the concrete encroaching, is that like your life? Feel the red blood singing in your veins, and the scarlet bleed of pain. Notice the first thought and if your mind wanders into a negative ruminating story, bring it back to the flower.
Is your breath, slowing, deepening in the moment? Did you hear the birds?
Even one minute out of clock time can re-orientate you, allow you to accept things as they are at the moment…let them go.
Come back to the task in hand. Perhaps with a goal for later. To go for a noticing walk…listen to some music…sing along…
Take three minutes out of clock time. Perhaps you are stuck indoors behind a desk. This is a three minute video of the sea, waves gently lapping at the beach.
Come to your senses. Let the waves and the sounds come to you. Notice your breathing, is it rhythmic like the waves? Is it fast and shallow or slow and deep like the waves?
Let the colours come to you. Notice when the clouds come over, or when the sun comes breaking through. Can you hear quieter sounds in the background.
If your mind wanders, notice what it wanders too and bring it back to the waves.
Feel the sand beneath your feet and the coolness of the water. Salt drying on your face and the cool wind and warm sun…
Notice any longings to walk on the beach barefoot, to paddle in the sea. To gaze out at the horizon in open awareness, breathing in freedom. Is there a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving for the gift of your senses…
Did you notice the light flooding in at the end? May it be a picture of wellbeing flooding into you.
Let go of whatever is troubling you. Come back to the task in hand refreshed. As the paddle boarder appears at the end, so it is time for you to journey on to your next task.
Folks have been asking if I am running a retreat at Worth Abbey again next year, and yes I am! The details will be on their website soon but if you want to book in advance then you can email the Open Cloister bookings secretary, Alison Schillinger via TOC@worthabbey.net.
It is the weekend of 9-11 January 2015 and is called ‘Watching with our Transforming Lord.’
This is what they said about it last year:
How do we follow the footsteps of Jesus into our homes, works, and relationships in a way that transforms our lives? In Mark’s gospel, Jesus shows us the way through watchfulness, a lost aspect of the gospel which is cultivated through contemplative practices like Lectio Divina, silence and the Jesus Prayer. The retreat will look at how these practices help us deal with time and work stress. This is an opportunity at the start of a New Year to take time out to take a fresh look at our lives.
Mirabai Bush talks about contemplative seeing, ‘the mindful study of painting and sculpture as ‘beholding” (which involves appreciation, care, the involvement of our senses). We are able in beholding to ‘hold’ something in our attention until something emerges into our awareness.
I called this painting ‘what the mountain was feeling..’ it came out of beholding this particular mountain range. What then came out was ‘the silent mountain was passionate.’ Of course, contemplative seeing is not limited to painting and sculpture, for me it began with the contemplative seeing of the mountain.
Taking time to behold means that time can open up and we can have a moment of clear seeing, an epiphany.
It is easy skiing in the mountains to focus all your attention on the sport itself. But what I am inspired to do by the beauty around is to open my awareness to the landscape in which I am skiing.
Skiing itself requires open awareness, as well as focused attention. How you have to feel the snow and shape of the slope with the soles of your feet when you can’t see because of poor visibility.
The sound of the ski on ice alerts you, the sound of the ski crunching through fresh snow thrills you. It is not just resonating with the panoramic views on a clear day, it is noticing the small things. How silence enfolds you like a blanket as the snow starts to fall.
And when you return home, it is not to despise the different landscape, but to see with new eyes the beauty of the apparently ordinary. Perhaps if you lived in the mountains all the time you would stop seeing them, returning to living in our heads and not our bodies.
I like the requirement in the reading rooms of the British Library to write only in pencil, in order to protect the precious books. Ink marks the books and is indelible. It stains and cannot be removed.
When we speak to each other we should speak in pencil, kindly, compassionately and gently, as one learner might talk to another, as one beggar might share bread with another.
We should not talk to each other in indelible ink, as know-it-all’s speak to know-nothings, as angry, and self-righteous – believing there is only one perspective, ours and that it is right.
Speaking in pencils we don’t leave angry marks on other people, who are more precious than books, but mark as easily.
As a child I learnt to see a lion’s ear, in the spear grass. I saw the leopard draped across the dappled tree. Attenborough’s Africa took me back to the place I was born.
Tsavo,Serengeti, Samburu, Nandi, Naivasha, Mombasa, Masai Mara,Malindi,Amboseli…the names are all there in my heart.
I wonder if my children will see the animals Africa shows us, in Africa, or only at Longleat? Will they see the subtle patterned coat of the reticulated giraffe, or the remarkable painted stripes of the Grevy’s zebra?
One day there will be a last wild lion waiting in the grass, so hard to spot, so at one with its surroundings. One day all the animals will have been taken out of Africa.
The Prior of the Taize Community which is in deep connection with young people from Africa and around the world, has said recently that believers need to talk together about faith, but also with agnostics and atheists.
One area that we need to talk with all others about, and form alliances and networks, is about the environment, the natural world, the living planet. The word Kalahari means ‘the great thirst’ – an apt name for a desert.
We are people consumed with a great thirst for the wrong things. We will make the world a desert. We are like the Cuckoo, there is only room in the earthnest for us.
Saving the earthnest will require a pilgrimage of trust in each other, those who believe in the quest.
We need hope. As one of Emily Dickinson’s poems (no. 623):
It was too late for Man-
But early, yet, for God-
‘The wild otter I saw would no doubt be out of the water and making tracks to its own musky holt, to curl belly upward, in a home of roots, peat and rocks. I imagine him enfolded in his fur, dreaming of water; a tight sleep-knot, enjoying the deep sleep of one who exists totally in the moment.’ ( Miriam Darlington, Otter Country, pp.40-41)
‘Up and down the banks are the complex root systems of ash trees, which otters particularly love to use as holts as they provide hidden shelter and easy access to water.’ (Otter Country, p.175)
As I read these words I imagined the roots of the ash tree making a coracle, floating the otter to sleep in its hidden shelter. So I drew this as a coracle sleep-knot.
The ash tree root
for the otter
of the wild
not going meek and mild.