Festive Focus 

There’s something about a string of coloured lights. They seem to do so much more than you’d expect, as if there really is alchemy in the glow of colour in the long hours of winter darkness. This year my family has made the discovery of battery operated LED lights and the fun and the wonder of being able instantly to light up any dark corner or decorate some quiet forgotten object. (Not that this rat that sits looking out of the bedroom window is forgotten – he may be quiet but he is never ignored.) 

I’ve rediscovered the extraordinary peace that comes from silently gazing at coloured lights. In fact silent gazing is something I’ve not done enough of for a long time and I’ve been consciously doing more if it whenever I can; I take long slow moments to look at the hillside across the valley, shrouded in mist; at the sun rising behind a cloud bank washing the sky with pink and turquoise and coral; at my neighbour’s Christmas tree put up hastily outside her door on Christmas Eve once the storm had passed and decorated with a flourish of warm white flashing lights. 

And then I read Susan McCulley’s latest post and understood why I’m doing all of this gazing, and why I need to do so much more, and regularly. What I gaze at, I focus on. Everything else falls away. This is the festive season, but it’s also the season of peace. 

 

A contribution to the WordPress prompt festive

The Dreary Days of Winter, Brightened 

As I headed down the road towards Cliffe Castle this afternoon I met a friend coming in the opposite direction. ‘It’s very dreary in the park today’ she said. (She takes inspiringly beautiful photographs of local landscape and even on drab winter days usually seems to find something wonderful to shoot, so I thought her comment surprisingly downbeat.) 

So perhaps because of this I was more open than ever to let something extraordinary catch my eye……. 

Well, the ordinary can be extraordinary after all. Just depends on how you look at it. 

Facial Recognition

Google Street View has recently been in the news for blurring out the face of a cow, grazing by the river Cam in Cambridge. The facial recognition software is attracted, it seems, to anything that has eyes and looks like it might be a face. How long before its attention is drawn to other things that (to me at any rate) seem to have recognisable features?

I’m not one for seeing faces in clouds, or in odd rock formations or even on the mottled golden brown of a fried pancake; other people exclaim about these phenomena and I still just see what’s there in front of me – usually. But there is a certain tree, at the corner of a path I take nearly every day, that just – well, looks at me as I approach. I’ve tried to see it just as a tree, interesting, beautiful, unique – but, I’m sorry, it’s all these things too but as well as that, I have to admit that it has a face. I have to admit, too, that I often smile or give it a greeting of some sort as I walk past. It really is odd, but we humans are so programmed to respond to anything that seems to have eyes, a nose and a mouth that we just zoom in on it, and connect. Silly. Foolish. But then again, what does it matter? It’s another small thing that makes me smile….

Small Things And Quiet 

The snails in my garden are very, very fond of the white rose that I love. Every morning after I’ve done a bit of tai chi, I examine the damage done during the night and pick off the flowers that are past saving. I do sigh a bit and wish they’d leave the rose alone, but it’s irresistible to them and obviously delicious. So I put the nibbled, mangled petals on the ground, and let them get on with it.

It seems only natural then to stop and watch for a few moments, and watching very small creatures slows everything down. You can stop the whole world for a short time. I watched the snail eat a good portion of petal while its tiny insect companion climbed up the precipitous edge of the rose, waving thin, delicate feelers.

And then…the world started again.

I went indoors and made breakfast.

Summer’s Sweet Dream

Even at quieter times of the year when life shouldn’t be frantic, it seems I can still become frazzled and overwrought. It sometimes feels like I’m caught in an endless repeating cycle, but at least if nothing else it serves as a reminder that feeling stressed is less to do with circumstances and more to do with how we meet them. This is not the first time that I’ve written about this and I’m certain it won’t be the last.

Feeling like an over-wound alarm clock about to go off is a pretty good signal to pause and take stock. I know I’m not as wise or considerate towards myself as I should be, and I also know that somewhere inside me there’s a wiser and kinder person who’d like to help if only I’d let her. On this occasion I realised it was time to go for a walk.

Wandering around with a camera and not thinking, at all, of anything, is a pretty reliable way for me to unwind. It’s a bit like just floating about, and looking, and blinking – and suddenly you have a photograph (such is the extraordinary wonder of a phone camera that doesn’t even feel like a camera) and I can relax into doing this for long minutes at a time, until I’m just happily bumbling about in a sort of visual dream.

I haven’t done nearly enough of this lately and it’s like taking a long drink of cool water when you’re hot and tired and desperately thirsty….

I have a suspicion that all this aimless wandering around gazing at things with an empty mind is probably far more valuable and powerful than it would seem. It’s hard to quantify or describe, but it’s far more than just a way to relax. And long after I’m home again, not just hours or days later but months, even years afterwards, at times a part of me is still out there in the woods, under the trees. Sometimes when I catch myself whirling into wound-up alarm clock mode I remember to pause and grope for stillness and a way back. And occasionally memory will float to the surface in the form of words, which then turn into pictures, which then become once again a kind of dream…..

Raspberries, strawberries,
peaches and cream,
sunlight and shadows
are summer’s sweet dream.

Wandering slowly,
unhurried, through trees;
picking up words as they
fall through the leaves.

Picking up words
and writing this song;
meeting each moment
as it comes along.

Raspberries, strawberries,
peaches and cream,
sunlight and shadows
are summer’s sweet dream.

Thinking Through A Lens

There are times that I take a photograph when I don’t understand what I’m thinking until later, when I’m looking at the shot. It’s only then that I catch hold of what’s going on, and even then I often can’t put into words what it is I’m thinking – although I know the thought is there, sometimes deeply layered and full of nuances, laced with sensation. It is a thought. 

Or is it?

When it all happens too quickly, and isn’t in the form of words, is this thinking or is it something else?

Sometimes it feels more like dreaming…

Just as there are dreams that you don’t want to describe in words, because the telling of them would diminish their meaning, there are images that should speak without words.

Or so I think….

Coming Up For Air

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It’s almost two months since I wrote anything here. After two months of hard work and exhaustion, when at the end of every day I could hardly think, let alone read, let alone write, I’d wanted my first post on returning to be full of gladness. But at the end of those two months, just as I was beginning to feel I might be about to surface again, we here in Britain have plunged over a cliff and are are falling into the unknown.

It seems impossible in the face of this to write what I’d hoped to write. I’m not going to try to put into words how dismayed I am at this decision, a choice that was always far too complex and much, much too important to have been made in this way.

I’m not one to shrink from reality, so I’m not going to bury my head in the sand. We are all going to have to ride this out, like white water rafting, and trust that we won’t perish in the rapids. And after too many metaphors in just two sentences, I’m left with this; the certainty that what will carry us through is attention to small things, the things that frame and form the bigger ones. Listening to each other. Stopping to look. Stopping to make tea. Greeting each other with a smile.

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No one can say where all this is going to lead, or even who will lead us, but we can still make choices. We can turn to each other with love, and listen; we can do all the little things that will begin to help us heal.

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Snatched Moments

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My life has been a bit of a blur for the last two weeks. The words hurry and rush and busy don’t go a long way to describe how things have been and it’s going to be like this for the next few weeks. Life can get like that – and some days I’ve had a hard time snatching more than a moment here and a minute there to stop and take a breath and just look at what’s around me. Sometimes the important things have got pushed right to the edges of my awareness and all I’ve been seeing is the list of things I have to do.

This afternoon I went for a walk and cleared my head looking at the early evening sky, clouds clearing and a glimpse of light from the setting sun. I slowed down and felt the dust of the day settle, and as I walked slowly on I passed someone else who had slowed down to a complete standstill, and heard him listening to the call to prayer on his mobile phone. Prayer at sunset. Time to pause and remember the important things.

It will be a while before I’ll be back to posting regularly here, or even to reading all that I usually follow. I’m grateful for this evening’s moment of peace, and for all the other snatched minutes that have come my way when I’ve remembered to slow down. In the meantime I wish you all the peace and calm of a brightening sky at sunset, and many more moments like this.