‘May I dance in that freedom of change…’

 

That’s a line from the dedication prayer I conclude my meditation with each morning – the line that stands out to me just now.

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So my second month down here has come and gone, and at a slightly disgruntled moment earlier today I was thinking ‘yes and not much to show for it’. Which led to an interesting reflection – as I was grumpily stomping along in a sandstorm on Marazion Beach, salt and sand in every orifice – about why I feel I need to have something to show for myself and my time here; and what exactly, and to who? Maybe I was mostly talking to myself – to the part of me sort of trying to recreate my London life of roughly three days a week paid therapeutic work, to pay the bills … but over this past week I’ve allowed myself to start thinking: well, what if that’s just not going to happen down here; and do I even really want to recreate my London life here – wasn’t the whole point of coming down here to do something completely different, to hang more loose from that kind of regular, conventional pattern of life? To take more of a risk towards really putting my spiritual practice at the centre of my life, and to see what happens when I genuinely do that? To trust that it will turn out alright, that something new and as yet unknown will arise from that?

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So yes, this was a rockier and grittier month than the first, with me keeping on painfully bumping against my fears and limitations in all areas. But it all feels fruitful and necessary; something I have to go through and can’t bypass, no shortcuts…so even during my most challenging moments I feel simultaneously quite exhilarated that I’ve really done it, that I’ve had the courage to take myself to the edge of this land, to something brand-new and as yet unknown and unformed. I’m realising that my scrambling and rushing to sort out my working week, as well as being related to my neurotic worry about money, is at least partly also to do with wanting a more solid context, to feel I belong somewhere specific and am contributing something of value. With wanting to be less of a lone drifter in this overwhelmingly wild and beautiful landscape. Walking along the coastal path I feel alternately or even sometimes simultaneously joyfully free and painfully lonely – the feelings as huge as the landscape and moving with it and spilling over like the waves, ebbing and flooding with the tides, waxing and waning like the moon. I’ve planted a winter garden, wanting to put down roots, to stay put. Thinking of my grandmother, so firmly rooted, especially in her vegetable garden. The two horses in the field next door have firmly attached themselves to me and I love them. They remind me of my grandfather who still ploughed the field with two horses I also loved and was a bit scared of, as a child. I’ve ended up in a landscape of vineyards and cabbage fields here interestingly, very similar to that of southern Germany, except for that vast sea so close by and astonishing. 

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I bought a fire pit and want to host a full moon puja here next month, for the local buddhists. I’ve been humbled and impressed by the depth and commitment to spiritual practice I’ve encountered here so far in several buddhists from other sanghas, some of which I had never heard of before. I am also becoming aware of a hunger for clear and coherent spiritual guidance of many others. The classes I’ve visited so far were all heartfelt and moving, but didn’t offer much of a guiding map to a newcomer. So maybe that’s where we can contribute something with our specific, systematic approach to begin with, and see where it leads? We have started a morning meditation drop in class at a local alternative gallery, so let’s see what emerges there. It feels good to start to contribute something, and to host a meaningful event later this month.

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So alongside my physical and spiritual wanderings and my search for work, I’ve started learning about the significance of the stones and waters, air and light round here, and their effects on local art and culture. The hard and resilient quality of granite, the veins of metals and minerals in it from the earth’s core, and the softer, beautiful serpentine and soapstone prevalent on the Lizard Peninsula. White China clay quarries inland, standing stones, holy wells…so much to learn, a big winter project, to read about as well as visit specific places, inland as well as around the coast; to connect with the elemental energies and old stories, and relate them to my practice. Mining and underground passages seem to have particularly captured my imagination right now, the extraction of precious metals from stone. Granite cracking and molten lava from the earth’s core filling the cracks – the as yet untapped potential of the minerals needed for our digital phones and gadgets now possibly being mined by the chinese who have reopened South Crofty surface mine, near the deprived town of Camborne. Stones to build a house with, the earth, grounding – maybe that’s the solid, sheltering element to start with, as we move into winter. But I also want to go sea kayaking, learn to ride a horse, make photo collages, assemble stones and found objects and combine them with words. I don’t yet quite know where to start; too many impressions and ideas and possibilities, all in a restless jumble – ‘may I dance in that freedom of change’.

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‘Where can it be found again, an elsewhere world, beyond maps and atlases, where all is woven into and of itself, like a nest of crosshatched grass blades?’ (Seamus Heaney)

 

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‘The Poetics of Space’ revisited

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‘One must live to build one’s house, and not build one’s house to live in’

During this last month of restless moving and gradually beginning to settle into my new life space here, I’ve been re-reading this wondrous french phenomology book, exploring the nature and qualities of different spaces. I find the style a bit ponderous and opinionated in places, but completely respect what I think the author Gaston Bachelard was trying to draw our attention to, way back in 1969 when his book was first published: the importance of dreaming, of allowing images to arise in the mind and reveal their layers of meaning naturally, without the rational mind interfering with its analytic dissecting – which has its place but can also be reductive and undermining of a deeper, more embodied, poetic and mythical experiencing of life and the world.

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‘We are sensitive inhabitants of the forests of ourselves.’

The feel of sand and sea water on bare feet, the smell and sound of the sea when walking along the beach, the wide and bright horizon, children shrieking with joy as they leap into the waves, or entirely absorbed in building sandcastles – on my walks I can feel all this expanding my whole being, allowing my mind to slowly unfold from its cramped and  shuttered city confinement, and recall that childlike simple communing with the elements, which makes the skin tingle and the heart open and resonate. ‘Whatever else there is, there’s this as well’, as a poet friend of mine memorably put it.

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‘Space is inside a tree like honey in a hive’

Bachelard talks about immensity experienced through a contemplative attitude – inner immensity which might be in paradoxical relation to external space – a monk or nun can feel this immensity in their small cave or monastic cell, for example; inner space expanding in meditation. He thinks our human fascination with large things emerging from small ones might be related to the vastness of our thoughts and dreams, apparently emerging from the small, vulnerable form of our bodies. He talks of houses as warm, inhabited, lived in intimacy; of the body as a house, and the breath as an even more subtle house to live inside. Of lights in windows like eyes shining out, waiting and longing.

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He talks of shells as the most ancient ‘houses’ of their maximum simplicity, of their protective hardness and shape built up from the inside by a soft being moving around; of the mystery of such a thing being possible. He notes the peace and calm of roundness, which is the shape of the universe and its orbits, and of a nesting bird, ‘almost completely spherical’, life guarded on every side, enclosed in a live ball, life being round. Curves inviting us to stay and find our place within them. While corners offer a place to either hide or meet in; of the magic rhythm of concealing and revealing, opening and closing. A Buddhist friend who built a forest garden in neighbouring Devon talked about this same theme when describing his design – how winding paths concealing and then revealing new and unexpected spaces make a place feel much bigger than it actually is in terms of measurement.

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And most importantly, towards the end of the book Bachelard argues that we give value to something by paying it attention, by caring about it – that attention is a magnifying glass, enlarging the value of what is being paid attention to – I love that. All of the above makes so much sense enveloped in this vast, breathtakingly beautiful landscape right on the edge between the land and sea, so fragile yet so powerful in its impact on my whole being when sitting, standing, walking or indeed swimming in it.  The impact is not always comfortable at all – I find myself alternately held and overwhelmed by the outer immensity of the land and sea and its dramatic weathers here, mirroring my inner changeable weather: deep joy and connectedness alternating with bouts of intense existential fear and loneliness. More fully exposed to the elements in all their aspects, rather than cocooned by the comforting city lights. Which is what I wanted – be careful what you wish for.

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‘Deserts: mountains in shreds’

So my main practice right now is to pay full attention to all of this awe and wonder, and learn to value it more and more, and find ways of sharing this practice in whichever way I can think of. Because we want to protect and preserve and where necessary repair what we truly value – and we so urgently need to do just that, as much as we can. Not having much money to spend will help with that I think – with rediscovering what I overheard a local call ‘the simple pleasures’ the other day – of simply being still or moving about – slowly and on foot as much as possible – in all this freely given natural splendour.

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*All quotes from ‘The Poetics of Space’ by Gaston Bachelard*

 

 

 

 

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‘Sustained by perplexity’ – some snippets from the first 12 days out west

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Friday 3rd August

That’s one of the lines in the text we are going to contemplate on our Buddhist weekend later this month, and feels very apt for today! I picked up my little sea-blue Chevrolet this morning, and am now in the middle of learning the ropes of the life of a car driver. Did a large Sainsbury’s shop, picked up a SATNAV in Argos, filled up the tank and headed where I thought was the top of Penzance town and my chosen car park for the afternoon, but took a wrong turning and ended up on a tiny B-road to St. Ives instead. As it’s past lunchtime and I’m quite hungry, I stopped at the nearest tea shop where I’m sitting now, the ‘Green Pig’ which also rents out one tiny holiday cottage, and has a garden with beautiful views over St. Michael’s Mount. So just as well I haven’t as yet managed to set up that SATNAV and am instead naturally sustained by the perplexity of getting a bit lost. Sad phonecall with my father from there to wish him happy birthday, but of course he’s not happy, but as ever entirely trapped in misery with my mother, with no prospect of that changing, or anything anyone can do to help, at this stage … such a harsh reality to accept; and uncomfortable to feel the contrast of the relative freedom and spontaneity of my life here, the absence of family chains, out of choice – hopefully not entirely selfish choice; wanting to share any fruits freely.

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Sunday 5th August

I’ve been here a whole week now, and gradually the sheer excitement and edge of anxiety about finally having arrived and left London behind is wearing off, and making way for a quieter joy – a sense of this landing place feeling entirely right at this particular point in time. Even though the handy free WiFi connection from next door has just failed, and mine isn’t being installed until much later this month – maybe that too is as it should be – digital detox. Living alone for the first time in 15 years feels very strange; and I worry about making ends meet of course, as I’m spending relatively large sums of my savings on a car and necessary household items like chairs to sit on … but I’m fairly optimistic that it will all work out fine. It felt difficult to focus, but also quite satisfying and reassuring to draft a professional journal article over these past two days – I haven’t burnt all my bridges but am just trying to find a new vantage point. It’s disconcerting but also interesting not to know yet what I’m doing, where everything is and how anything works down here, without ‘irritable reaching for answers’; living in the questions for a while, allowing things to unfold in their own time.

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Wednesday 8th August

A bit dozy today after my first long car journey over the last two days, to visit two Buddhist friends in the neighbouring county of Devon. One of them lives with her partner in a static caravan on a communal farm, and we picked salad leaves together and shared their vision for a couple of days – very stimulating for me, as I’m trying to head in a similar direction…and now I’m preparing for my first overnight visitor, another very good and longstanding buddhist friend.

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Friday 10th August

It was lovely to spend a whole evening and day with my friend and host her here – it made the stone tent feel even more like home, and felt quite easy and spacious, which bodes well for future visitors (: After breakfast we zoomed about down tiny lanes in the sea-blue car, looking at ancient stone circles, burial chambers and the remains of an Iron Age village, as well as walking down to Lamorna Cove for an invigorating swim. I’m gradually getting my bearings in the car now, and it felt very grounding to begin to connect with the ancient roots of human habitation of this land, through the standing stones, magnificent granite stone beings. I’m about to set off on my second even longer drive this morning, up to a week-long meditation retreat in Herefordshire. The timing for this feels just right; really looking forward to a week’s turning inwards, allowing the turbulence of the move and change to subside.

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Bigger on the inside

‘To become of a place is to trade endless possibility for something specific’ (Martin Shaw)

There is a beautiful and profound calligraphy practice in Zen Buddhism, of breathing in, and then on the out-breath drawing an enso – a circle which stands for life, for the moon, for the fullness of emptiness, for infinite space. Sometimes the practitioner puts a dot in the middle standing for the fluid self, the unique small person emerging out of and finding their unique place and stance in that vast space for a little while, before flowing back into the elements. And often the circle has a small gap, it’s open, not closed. Everything we need to know is contained in that image, and practice. The drop in the ocean, and the ocean in the drop.

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On a vision quest we find your power place, create a large circle out of stones and stay in it for three days and four nights, communing with the land and its living beings in that particular place; receptive to what may emerge from that. Animals, birds and insects can sense the circumference of our circle, hesitate and seem to make a decision whether or not to enter. If we are fully engaged and immersed in the ritual, a magical conversation unfolds, where the edges between inside and outside blur and mingle. We viscerally experience life living through us, like a flowing river. All we need to do is keep the flow clear of obstacles – to loosen our self-centred grip.

David Fleming observed that small is beautiful because the smaller the circle, the longer is the circumference in relation to the area enclosed – and it’s along the edges and on the margins of things that creativity truly happens, and flows into the centre.

 I’m about to move from a large city to a small, marginal town at the edge of the sea with a wide horizon; for all the reasons above. Roots in the sky.

I was born by a large celtic lake, I rode an imaginary horse for years, and my first conscious childhood home place was what I thought of as ‘my grandmother’s forest’. She talked to the deer there, and took my brother and me deep into the woods with our skin and hair carefully covered as protection from the wild bees, to gather wild berries. She made the most delicious honey from the growing tips of pine trees each Spring, until she stopped one year because of the acid rain, explaining that the trees needed to be left in peace now, to heal. I only fully realised the depth of her simple wisdom and compassion as an adult, and now as I too grow older, I’m proudly following in her footsteps. I feel deeply grateful for her exemplification, for my rootedness in that forest, and in my wild child imagination. 

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I wandered restlessly for many years as a young adult and then again later; frequently getting lost in blind alleys, looking for my tribe. I learnt many valuable lessons along the way. I eventually found a multicultural home in London, an emotional home in Psychoanalysis, then a spiritual home in Buddhism. Proud of and grateful to my ancient human ancestors for revealing such intricate, magnificent methods and paths. Grandfathers joining my grandmother in a wondrous journey to the interior which will continue, possibly over several lifetimes. My work with children connecting me to future generations.

Now the time has come to join a tiny band of likeminded friends, and share the fruits of what I have learnt so far in this one lifetime in a slower, deeper, less fragmented, more coherent way, and in more direct connection with beyond-human wild nature and the elements. Whatever that will look like; allowing the details to emerge organically – to offer what I can and do what is needed, in the specific new place and situation I will find myself in. Emulating my grandmother, quietly exemplifying everyday wisdom and compassion as fully as I can, however imperfectly.

I’m about to move from a large city to a small, marginal town at the edge of the sea with a wide horizon; for all the reasons above. Watch this space.

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One more year in the city 12: July

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I’m writing this on the train back from Penzance, where I have just picked up the keys to the little stone tent and spent one preliminary night in my new home for these next six months. All was as beautiful and even magical as I remembered, in a soft misty summer rain interspersed with hot flashes of sun. I started making friends with my immediate neighbour, the small white horse in the field to my right – I think we’re going to get along just fine, especially if I save plenty of apples for it  – and a little black cat looked like it might want to join the menagerie. 

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My human neighbours on the other hand turn out to be on the very private end of the spectrum, with my Landlords definitely not wanting any direct interaction (as yet, anyway), which feels slightly odd for these parts where the norm seems so much the opposite: yesterday evening I got hopelessly lost trying to walk to my new abode from town, and ended up being offered a lift to my new doorstep by a passing Tesco Delivery driver who ‘had nothing else to do for the next half hour anyway’, and then refused to accept any money for his trouble.

So yes, I picked up my keys, had an informal, connecting pre-meeting with my new buddhist chapter of 3 in my friend’s courtyard garden at the top of Penzance Town, got lost on the way ‘home’ from there, and then spent quite a fretful evening alternately excited and really anxious, as I measured and inspected everything in detail. The little horse really helped, it kept coming up to the fence to check how it was all going, and seemed most curious about my activities out there on the sundeck. I rebuilt the stone bench and had dinner out there – thoughtfully provided home- made by one of my chapter friends, so I didn’t even have to buy a Take Away! I didn’t sleep much but heard the rain and saw stars through all the windows and felt just right there, in my tiny little house. This morning I found wild strawberries in the garden to garnish my porridge with, and later got chatting with the local village shopkeeper. Alas, there was no fresh produce on offer at all, and the shopkeeper admitted with disarming honesty that ‘everything in here is unhealthy’. She pointed me in the direction of the nearest Co-op and Lidl down by the seashore instead; a 20 minute stroll down ‘Love Lane’, past the boating pond (at the shores of which a little tent village of homeless people seemed to be forming, interestingly).

The setting of these two uninspiring but no doubt occasionally useful supermarkets in ‘Wherry Town’ proved most spectacular. As I lay on the pebbly beach there in the sun for a while, watching a heron fishing off a rock, I witnessed several long chats on the nearby bench between locals and passing tourists, about the beauty and delights of that exact spot and the surrounding area. It looked to me as if the lovely little town of Newlyn with its Modern Art Gallery and Mousehole beyond it were only another stroll away. So here is interesting local walk No 1 to take future visitors on; it doesn’t even require a car, as there’s the option of the bus back almost to my doorstep, in case of weariness (:

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So now back for just eleven more days of packing, cleaning, gardening and goodbyes.  There may just be one more post from London before I go (: With the keys in my pocket it feels completely real now, and just right, exactly as it is unfolding, this gradual experiment of turning more explicitly towards ‘elegant simplicity’, and wild nature.

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One more year in the city 11: June

3DEE7C70-F99D-4A7B-986F-47B6AE633EF6So this month I’m delighted to tell you that this little quirky stone tent on top of Rosehill just outside Penzance Town will be my first landing place, at the end of next month. I’m really happy, as everything about it inside and out feels just right, for at least my first six months there – then we shall see where things stand at the end of the calendar year, in terms of an emerging new rhythm of dharma, work and play in this next phase of my life, out on this island’s southwesterly edge. I am so ready to go now, and must admit that I have been finding it hard at times this month to still stay fully internally engaged with my city contexts to be completed.

E1108BF8-938B-4308-BE55-1FC6641C0051Having said that, everything has been going realtively smoothly, especially in my work contexts, with many moving encounters with the young people I’ve been working with, and their parents. I’m fortunate enough to be able to pass those who need more help on to trusted colleagues – and most young people have felt able to accept an ending or transfer and work through their mixed and complex feelings around it with impressive courage and honesty, which has been a privilege to witness. It also looks as if I will not be short of work in my new local area, judging from some initial enquiries already coming in, through a very good therapeutic organisation I have joined. It has also been interesting to create a website trying to bring the varied aspect of my life and skills together in one digital home, so to speak – thanks to a friend who also happens to be a website designer – see what you think, any feedback very welcome: http://www.akashadevi.co.uk 

ABA4EB8F-2C77-4A4D-97B5-B423E6DF4F80Emotionally I’ve been feeling quite heavy, sad and exhausted some of the time, very much realising how much I will be leaving behind in terms of good, deep friendships and working relationships which have taken a long time to build up – and aware also  that it feels easier  to be the one leaving than to be left behind. It has brought back some old feelings of guilt around hurting and upsetting people by leaving them, based on past painful experiences of leaving as well as being left. All fruitful albeit uncomfortable grist for the mill of practice. My continuing lack of patience in regard to all that has been humbling to notice – just wanting to close my eyes and get on with it, wanting to bypass this most challenging part of the process, the saying goodbye and acknowledging the loss involved. But like the young people I work with, I’m sticking with it, which feels good. And throughout the process it basically feels right – that sometimes something new and creative can only emerge by letting go ever so often of safe patterns and old securities. My Buddhist teaching has really kept me grounded this month, and I’m looking forward to my last West London stint next week, talking about the significance of the wrathful figures in the buddhist mandala – figures very much related to freeing ourselves from what has become limiting, constraining and unhelpful, to take the risk of venturing into the unknown.

It’s a full moon tonight, and exactly one more month to go. A month of shedding, clearing, packing – and proper goodbyes.

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One more year in the city 10: May

56B54269-9830-4373-92DA-2F2AB3F0166FThis month culminated in my spending the long Bank Holiday Weekend down in Penzance with my two Buddhist friends, to look for my first landing place down here. It was a really interesting and valuable process – what became clear through viewing the rooms – all perfectly beautiful, with very interesting and friendly landladies – was that I’m definitely at a stage in my life where I would feel a bit restricted in that kind of scenario, however nice the owner, gorgeous the garden or view out of the window. This realisation happened in tandem with my completely falling in love with a kind of stone tent annexe to a large house on the outskirts of town, with a roof terrace and garden, and overlooking a field with a horse in it, and tall trees in the distance. It’s completely quirky and unique, tiny inside, but perfectly formed. After viewing it on Friday, walking to it from the town centre on Saturday (20 minutes beautiful slight climb) and pondering it on Sunday, I went straight to the estate agent to apply for it this morning, and am now sitting by the sea before taking the train back ‘upcountry’ as they say round here, feeling nervous and trying not to get too attached to the idea of this particular landing-place just yet … I was the first applicant, out of many people having viewed it, and I made a good connection with the estate agent, who was interested in my being a buddhist, and told me he was just reading Eckhart Tolle’s ‘Power of Now’. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed now, and put it to the back of my mind, allowing the process to take its course – watch this space. I do have an exceptionally fortunate fallback landing place option of a whole little house in the ex-tin-mining town of Pendeen, which definitely helps keep down the stress levels!

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The weekend also included a private view with exhilarating Linton Kwesi Johnson Poetry Reading at the Kurt Jackson Foundation in St. Just, and a Wesak meditation, shared lunch and silent coastal walk with a very interesting, eclectic group of local Buddhists who meet weekly in a nearby zendo-barn. In fact there was so much going on here culturally this weekend, we couldn’t begin to fit it all in! Most of all, it felt lovely to spend some time with both my friends down there, gradually beginning to get to know each other more closely. I could quite happily stay right now…but quite a few finishing touches still await attention in my various ‘up-country’- contexts first – so on to the last, two month London round of completing things well.

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