Grounded

I’ve been rushing again. Not covering much ground, because most of my rushing is done at home and much of it doesn’t even require movement – it’s as much as anything a helter-skelter of the mind. Slowing down has become a much overdue necessity.

I’ve been unexpectedly helped in this by a companion of many years to whom I’ve given too little attention lately. He’s been with me since I was around the age of two, and apart from a lengthy leave of absence some years back when he went on extended loan to my mother as a teaching assistant, he’s never been too far from my side.

Treacle, my bear, outside the glasshouses

Treacle is taking part in a photographic project I’ve initiated that involves going out on location, and because he is a bear of diminutive stature this means that I find myself as often as not crouching down or even sitting on the ground.

There’s something about doing this – connecting with the ground more closely than I normally do when standing up – that is immediately calming. It’s also true that working with Treacle is always a reassuring and balancing thing to do, partly because he’s an old and trusted friend but also because of his expression which is subtle but encouraging. As my sister observed, it’s not always easy to tell what he’s thinking – but certainly he looks out at the world with a mixture of curiosity, interest and wonder, and an unfailing sense of optimism.

Treacle discovers a pair of antique binoculars bigger than himself

These pictures were taken in the Glasshouses at Cliffe Castle. Outside when it’s not frosty it’s muddy, but there are still places where we can find stone or other dry surfaces to sit on, or clamber over.

Treacle sitting on the rock he's climbed, admiring the fountain

And when the ground is frozen, there’s nothing better than getting down close among the leaves…….

Frosted leaves on the ground, sprinkling of snow

Postscript
It turns out that this is the two hundredth post I’ve published on this blog. I’d not been counting, but WordPress tells you these sort of things, and I can’t think of a nicer way to celebrate than with my small and constant friend.

A big thank you to all of you who’ve been with me along the way, and the wonderful people I’ve met and feel I know as friends in the blogging world of WordPress.

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Finding Christmas

It doesn’t matter how many times I see the words Merry Christmas, or how many cards I receive or send, or how many lights I see on trees or strung across streets or over buildings – Christmas doesn’t exist for me until it happens in my heart.

And because of this, the whole season has assumed a kind of hallucinatory quality; the other day I saw a bus come barrelling down the Skipton Road towards me with the words Happy Christmas lit up in front where the number and destination ought to be. For a moment I thought perhaps it was a Christmas special but just before it passed me the signboard flashed and changed to its normal display – in time for people at the bus stop to know what it was and where it was going. I wondered how I should be feeling, and whether this should make me feel festive, but all I had was a strange sense of dislocation.

This is the same bus company that a few days ago had a staff member dressed up as Santa Claus giving out mince-pies and gifts to passengers boarding at the bus station, and I’m warmed, really I am, by every gesture that spreads a smile and a bit of happiness and goodwill. But somehow it’s as if there are two Christmases – the one that happens outside, and the one that happens on the inside, and that’s the one has to be lit, ignited, felt.

This asks for a search, something individual and subtle, something special and magical. It has to be a journey of the imagination….

Want to give it a try?

It could start anywhere, but let’s say the journey starts in a crowded Christmas market. I don’t have to describe it – just picture it for yourself. All the sounds, the smells, all the lights and the twinkly stuff. And there in the middle of all this, largely unnoticed by everyone, is a sign saying Christmas Journey, and what looks like the entrance to a sideshow or a tent – but with nothing more than two undecorated Christmas trees blocking the way in. There’s no-one to take your money or try to give you a ticket. It looks – well, puzzling. But different. So you push aside the branches and gently work your way through into the darkness inside…..

Now, what happens next is the part that only you can see. I can’t describe it, because everyone’s journey is different, but as soon as you arrive inside you are on a path – all you have to do is to walk it, and walk slowly, seeing and smelling, feeling and listening. I don’t know exactly what you will see or who or what you may meet……

I can say that there may be snow. For me, there often is – I frequently find myself walking in a pine forest with snow covering the trees and the path ahead, and all I can hear for a while is the sound of my footsteps muffled but audible, that soft creaking sound that footsteps make in snow. And the feel of cold air in my nostrils, and the warmth of my breath. I walk for some time through this forest, with a dark sky overhead and light only from the stars.

Then sometimes the forest gives way to a cold desert hillside, rocky and hard, and the sky overhead opens up into an immense dome of stars, and one of these is brighter than all the rest.

I’ve met creatures of all kinds when I make this journey – rabbits, sheep, camels, once a bear, several times reindeer. I’ve seen and watched other travellers. The road is always different but the destination is always the same.

A rough shed, or outbuilding of some sort – a stable.

There’s a carol called The Children’s Song Of The Nativity that starts by asking ‘How far is it to Bethlehem?’ and the answer – ‘Not very far’. Bethlehem is of course several thousands of miles from where I am in Yorkshire, but it’s also only a very short distance away – as near or as far as my imagination makes it. And this is where I arrive:

How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room
Lit by a star?

Can we see the little Child?
Is He within?
If we lift the wooden latch
May we go in?

May we stroke the creatures there
Ox, ass, or sheep?
May we peep like them and see
Jesus asleep?

If we touch His tiny hand
Will He awake?
Will He know we’ve come so far
Just for His sake?

Peace, and love of the deepest, most extraordinary kind, the kind that comes out of silence and stillness, love that came from the beginning of time and lasts forever.

I sit down in the straw, and know, and feel in the deepest part of my heart, that this is Christmas.

Gone, Leaves

Overnight they left, flown
like a flock of bright birds
leaving bare twigs
dark trunks
against the autumn sky.

Now pavements strewn
with drifts of leaves
copper, yellow and brown
and every colour inbetween
bring memories as crisp
as every step;
snowdrifts are fun, but
oh! I remember
falling
into piles of leaves,
laughing.

Every Leaf Tells A Story

Leaves fall in their thousands,
possibly their millions;
a landscape lit from below
like golden snow.

And as I stand and gaze, slowly
breathing golden air,
enter (stage left), a man
with dog.

‘Autumn leaves!’ he says
and ‘wonderful’ I reply,
watching the dog
nose down, pulling at the leash.

‘Ah, wonderful, except’ –
(and here he smiles)
‘he has to sniff
every
single
leaf‘.

It’s been a while since I posted here and it feels good to be back. I’ve been drawing and writing and posting on my other blog but I’ve slipped out of the habit of slowing down and being more reflective, so I hope to put this right.

It’s not that I haven’t been noticing things – but more perhaps that I haven’t been giving them enough space. And having a place to put thoughts like this is like having a quiet garden set aside, to sit in and not to think, and just to let things grow. It’s a good season for change.

I Am That Horse

Watercolour drawing; close-up of a horse's eye

From time to time I think about the title of this blog. Ever wondered why it’s called Invisible Horse? I thought I knew, and I’ve talked about it before, even if sometimes I was explaining it to myself in the way I have to when something does make absolute sense but I’m not quite sure why.

One explanation is that horses have always run deep through my life as a constant thread, as far as I know from the day I was born because I don’t remember a time when this wasn’t so, even though there were no visible horses or ponies in my life until about the age of six when I finally started to ride and spend time with ponies (from which time on I thought of little else until the age of about sixteen). But even then this thread was never broken. They’re always there, the feel and the smell and the sense of them, and I only have to catch sight of a real live horse and I sort of melt and everything else drops away.

Thankfully I know there are other people like me, and this isn’t a kind of madness (although on the other hand perhaps it is). Some of them explain all this much better than I can – like Anna Blake, in her blog Relaxed and Forward – she knows how this feels, and how it always has…. ‘Maybe a better question is what is it about horses that hook us so deeply? I’m not being rhetorical; since the beginning of time, when horses first started trying to domesticate us, we’ve painted them on cave walls, burst into tears watching them run, and for some of us, took the blame when we fell short.’

But not too long ago I stumbled upon Andrea Datz’s blog Integrative Horsemanship,and now I know exactly why this title of mine has always been so right. The Invisible Horse is me.

Watercolour drawing of trotting horse

Earlier this year I wrote a series of posts called Letters To Myself, trying to be more self-sensitive, aware and compassionate, trying to plant signposts that were supposed to say, stop! Look! Here’s the way, and actually you know it……! But I’m not too good at these conversations, or rather I don’t listen or take the advice. I carry on in the wrong direction. When I notice (for the twentieth time in an hour, often) that my jaw is tight, my shoulders are hunched, my stomach’s in a knot, I’m liable to snap irritably and tell myself oh, for goodness sake, get a grip, stop doing this! And it’s not effective. It’s not even polite. It’s certainly not respectful. And the thing is, what I now realise is that although it seems I don’t know how to behave towards myself, I do know a bit about how to behave with a horse.

It’s been a long time since I worked with horses but it’s there, inside, as clearly as if it were yesterday – all the sensations intact – and the feeling is strong. I need to talk with myself as I’d talk to a horse.

Andrea speaks horse. She’s learned to slow down, to pay attention, to wait and to observe. She’s learned to let horses be horses, to speak in their own way through body language and resonance, teaching her to understand what they’re saying. And how she accomplished this is important – because as she describes it was largely by paying close attention to herself – to her own emotions, her nervous system, her reactions and responses – all the things humans ignore and repress.

The language of horse is subtle and easily missed or overlooked. So is the equally expressive body-language of humans (something else we don’t pay enough attention to). The language of my inner horse – my Invisible Horse – is subtle too, but easy enough to understand when I give it the chance and let it speak, and the best thing is that I immediately want to take up the conversation because I recognise it, and I’m happy to listen and respond.

There’s an African greeting, Sawubona, that means ‘I see you’. The response, Ngikhona means ‘I am here’. The sense in this Zulu greeting is that in a way, until you saw me, I didn’t exist. *

Sawubona, Invisible Horse. Ngikhona.

Notes on the sources:

Thanks to Bridget Edwards for the definition of Sawubona and Ngikhona.

I sketched both these watercolours using photos from Andrea Datz’s blog as a source. They were both painted directly in watercolour with no initial drawing in pencil or pen, partly as an exercise in Marc Taro Holmes’ current #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 challenge for the month of June. But there was another reason for me to paint like this, which I only understood while doing it, and that was to work more instinctively and responsively than I would if I’d drawn first and then painted. Another kind of communication, I suppose. I know enough about horses to see all the errors I’ve made in the drawing, but I’ll let that go. The painting was what mattered.

Dive In

Yellow, orange..... what?

As deep as you can,
dive in.
Breathe,
and forget
children’s voices
even the robin, singing.
Be astonished,
the shock
of yellow,
spotted with fire
like a fallen sun.

Photo, close-up, of yellow tulip

Spell To Dispel Fears

Take it lightly, lightly,
weightless as a cloud, drifting
apricot white in a pale blue sky.
Say these words. Speak them out loud.

Soothe the old lizard darkly crouching.
Let her bask in the warmth of the sun.
These are old fears, not new ones
come to haunt you, to trick you.

Listen. Listen; outside,
a fluttering of wings
and a blackbird, singing.

Wait

Empty bench, afternoon sun, January, Cliffe Castle Park

Wait.
In a few moments
the shadows will be longer.
Perhaps
someone will walk by,
or not;
perhaps a robin
a flash of tawny feathers
a splash of russet red
will loop suddenly
into the picture,
and perch. Perhaps,
perhaps not.
In a minute or two
warmed by the sun
maybe my shoulders won’t ache,
and my mind will be clear.
But my nose may be cold,
and my fingers, and
I’ll remember there’s tea
and chocolate cake,
and all my thoughts
in the space of a moment
changed, changed.