Monday, June 29, 2015

Mindfulness mountain (1)

I've just spent a weekend at the beautiful Mana Retreat on the Coromandel Peninsula, where I led a winter solstice ritual for the community and helpers who had gathered for a big working bee. On Sunday I had time for replenishment. At Mana, there are many choices. On this day I felt fit, and as the mist cleared, I decided to walk up the mountain.
 In the still rhythm of walking, I could hear the mountain guiding me.
 'Take a staff,' it said. 'This will steady you.'
I had forgotten to pick one up from the big basket as I left, so I needed to search amongst the trees. The mountain had a staff ready and waiting (not one of the soft punga trunks in this photo, but a tough kanuka pole),
 and it was true, the staff gave me steadiness as the path ascended steeply and at times it was hard to find a foothold.
 'Pause to notice what's here', said the mountain. Native flowers are quiet, not flamboyant. They are mostly white, because of being pollinated by moths at night. I paused, and discovered rangiora about to burst into flower.
'You will be supported,' said the mountain, and so I was, with a sign just as I was feeling lost, or a foothold cut into a steep part, when I was faltering.
'And when you think you have reached the top, know that it is not really the top. 
Take some breaths and gather more energy.'
'Now is the time to stop and rest.'
'Lifted high above dwellings and roads,  bushes and tree tops, up in the realm of bird song, pause to drink in a new perspective.'
To descend from such a height is sometimes more challenging than to ascend. In my next post, I will tell you how the mountain guided me, and what I found. But for now, dear reader, we have climbed enough. Take a rest with me, and enjoy the view.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thyme for solstice

Just before I picked up my pen to write to you for winter solstice, I opened an envelope that had just arrived through the mail. Neatly folded inside the letter, I discovered two little sprigs of wild thyme.

Lost on the limestone
I inhaled the tangy scent and was suddenly tumbled back to the late sixties, when I was living in Paris. It was Easter, I was three months pregnant and we'd taken a train to the south of France for a holiday. Now we were wandering on a high limestone plateau known as the Calanques, searching for the Youth Hostel that would be our haven for the night.

Darkness was falling rapidly, the moon sailed high, and we were lost. I sat down on a rock to relieve the weight of the back-pack and rest my weary legs. That's when I was surprised by an unusual fragrance, penetrating the air: wild thyme, more pungent than anything my kitchen had known. It was everywhere, growing out of every crevice.

An injection of courage
Have you ever found that the smallest, most unexpected thing can charge you with courage when you are floundering? That's what the wild thyme did for me.

My friend is having medical treatment that requires her to draw on courage every day. Her gift reminded me of how connecting with my senses, beauty and wonder allowed me to refresh my brain, make sense of the map, agree on a route with my partner and find the way to the welcoming lights of the hostel.

Finding life in the dead of winter
At winter solstice on June 22 the sun's light will return. But how can you feel it when the days grow more chilly from now on? In winter, sensory awareness tends to contract. Autumn brings glorious richness and spring sweet fragrance, but winter sometimes seems like a bundle of dry sticks or soggy dead leaves.

Dear blog readers, you've seen less of me here because I've been busy writing my Seasons Newsletter, which I now post on my website as a blog. Today I had the bright idea of copying the newsletter into my seasonal inspiration blog, hoping that you will enjoy it too. 

You can read and post on my website blogs by clicking this link. (Scroll down to see earlier posts)

I'm also teaching online courses now, and this is keeping me busy. Below is a sample of what I'm doing: 

The 'Winter Attunement' on June 23 is an opportunity for you to tune in — not just to the depths of winter, but to your own self. In the online meditation you will be guided to connect with the source of nourishment and wonder within. Following this there will be the time for drawing or writing so that you can express what you discovered. 

My friend did the first winter attunement in 2014. She told me that the image she drew sustained her for months afterwards. Others reported feeling 'very relaxed, centred and nourished', and having something 'shift and ease inside'.

I'm hoping to keep this blog going as well. I value the connections we have built with one another, and enjoy posting more personal material here. I just need to find a way of juggling the balls! Meanwhile, happy winter solstice to my friends in the south, and summer solstice to my friends in the north. 

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

—Albert Camus

Friday, June 5, 2015

Against the dark

 It is human nature to rebel against the encroachment of winter. At the Steiner School in the late afternoon, the rain cleared, and Darkness stepped coolly towards us.
 The air was alive with chirping children's voices. 'I know where he's gone,' said a young boy. 'He's gone to the bamboo forest.' Pranks were played, naughtiness frolicked amongst the trees, and all the time the lanterns began to appear. As Darkness threw her cloak over the end of day, more and more lights twinkled from the trees.
 Then circles formed in the classrooms as the children were called inside. Their bellies were full and warm with tai chicken curry, dahl on rice, and hot tomato or buttercup soup. Our little one is in Class One, and we waited outside in the dark, wondering what would come next.
 And then they began to emerge, little processions from each room.
 Each one had its own style of lantern, depending on the age of the children and what they could manage.
 Gradually they formed their lines, until all the classes were gathered. Silence. Waiting. Then the bagpipes began to play. A violin followed.
After an invocation to Matariki (the Pleiades), which is soon to return and mark the Maori new year, the children began to sing - Maori, Scottish, English songs and rounds, ringing out beautifully in the shivering air. Music drifting over the cloak of Darkness, while lanterns blinked and winked—and my cheeks softened, wet with tears.
 Time collapsed and rolled into a ball, in which centuries past and this very day here and now all folded around one another, and by the time the hooded senior pupils came on with their flaming torches to banish the darkness, I no longer knew which era I was born into.
 Asserting 'enough!' Turning the sun around. Banishing the dark of the dark. I tumble and roll back forty years or so, remembering these words of Thomas Hardy in 'The Return of the Native' as he described bonfires being lit on the hilltops of Wessex:

'. . . to light a fire is the instructive and resistant act of man [sic] when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout Nature.'
'It indicates a spontaneous Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this current season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death.
Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say, Let there be light.'
Time rolls around again, and I am a young child, returning to drink up a sense of wonder and ceremony that I didn't have at school. It is never too late to receive what was missing. And to rejoice that my granddaughter is having it all now.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Unearthing in autumn

 We've done this before, you and I. It's that time of year again, when the shadows are lengthening, the nights are growing cooler and it's time for us to venture to the other side of the hill.
 At first we seem to be making straight for the sea, but the secret place we are heading for means a bit of a climb
 as we take the winding path up the side of the hill. Our back pack is heavy, with drink and a container of rice salad, along with camera and warm clothing for later in the day.
 The climb never matters when there's a view like this at the other end, before the descent to the hidden garden.
 Repetition is unavoidable in a blog about the seasons. The wheel turns and we are back where we were last autumn,
 ready to join in the communal kumara dig. It starts with the tearing up of the vines. What lies beneath, says our host, is a mystery.
 There might be nothing at all this year. It will take patience as our fingers work into the sandy earth.
 Implements are forbidden. They might cut into the kumara, or into little fingers. The trick is to make a 'cliff' and then tunnel into it from the side. Not easy this year as rain has fallen and the earth is quite solid under the first loose layer of the mounds.
Our host was right. This little cluster was all I found,
 and compared with last year, the crop was not huge. When things repeat, the differences stand out.
 After a barbecue, and chats on the grass with friends new and old, it was time to wander back along the beach before the full tide made the river crossing difficult.
As I inhaled the fresh tang of the surf, I thought of the comfort of the seasonal cycle. Harvest time comes round each year. Through abundance and scarcity, friends gather, food is shared. Yet repetition also throws into relief what has changed; the friend who is now a widow, another who is in a wheelchair, the absences, the uncertainties of climate, the endings, and some unwelcome beginnings.

I returned to the comfort of the turning wheel of the year, and remembered an old rhyme:

The earth, the water, the fire and the air.
Returns, returns
Returns, returns.

May it continue to be so.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Autumn treasure

 The shadows are lengthening and the days are growing cooler. Salad days have come to an end, and it's time for hot soup and toast.
At Easter I laid a trail for the young one (now 6 1/2 years old).
'To do this treasure hunt, you need to be very observant,' I told her.
'What does observant mean?'
'It means you notice things.'
I knew very well how she notices every detail in nature. And so the clues consisted of plant samples in tiny plastic bags. Hard to photograph these, but you may be able to detect the lobelia flowers, which she found after finding the peace lily, whose leaf I placed into her hand.
 And there she discovered a lemon yellow flower head.
 She knew immediately to go to the snap dragon. It's a flower that has fascinated her since she was very small. But what are these stamens?
She had to think for a while. It's a pohutukawa, but they only flower in summer. Then 'I know!' as she ran up to the gate where a small Tahitian pohutukawa grows. These plants flower through autumn and winter.
 The geranium was easy.
 And then the clivia.
 It took a bit of hunting for this one as it hides in shady places.
 Then to the hibiscus and the jade plant - that's another easy one.
And finally to the treasure. We don't do sugary things, but she loves bliss balls, the little butterfly notebook, and a nice edition of 'The Secret Garden', which we immediately read from cover to cover.
What a delight to have our own 'secret garden' where the plants are alive and well, and fun grows freely.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Time for pilgrimage

 You have walked this walk with me before, dear readers, and it's time for us to return. Here in Auckland, In the week before Easter, St Matthew In The City creates a labyrinth (based on a medieval design) out of river stones, and lights the way with many candles.
 What is your question? What will you hold in your heart as you slowly walk the labyrinth, attending to the three movements?

First, WALKING IN: letting go of distractions and releasing unwanted thoughts. As you walk in, let them all drop away and your mind become clear. Step by step, release and clear. Step by step. Take your time. There is no hurry at all.

 The Centre is not straight ahead. You will appear to be walking away from it, often. You will find yourself on the periphery, as far away as you can be. Your path will twist and turn.

'Enjoy the turns,' you are advised. 'The turns can help you to accept change in your life.'
Whatever feelings arise, you are advised to trust and keep walking, knowing you are being led to where you need to go.
In THE CENTRE, stay awhile. You have arrived.
Open to receiving.
Maybe your question will be answered in a surprising way, and maybe it will unravel a little more.
Be still.
Be present.
From the centre the labyrinth looks different, and you may see new beauty and order that was not apparent before.

And now it is time for the RETURNING. You leave by the way in which you came. You return to the world, bearing the gift of the labyrinth.
It is yours to share.
I found many insights, and saw my question from different angles. It became a sculpture of a question, each view showing me something new. Sometimes a question is best not answered too soon. Sometimes it has to grow bigger inside, to gain dimension and presence. That is what the labyrinth gave me, and that is what I offer back to you.

I wish you all peace at Easter, and space to make your own pilgrimage into the heart, wherever you may be.