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.

Initiating Rest Sequence 

The following is an extract from the unwritten self-help manual ‘Regulation and Maintenance of Wellbeing’ 

Rest Mode 
To acheive Rest Mode, the Rest Sequence should be employed. This must be initiated after a period of sustained physical or mental effort, and/or whenever tiredness is noticeable by evidence of irritability, confusion, inability to focus, and the persistent tendency to perform current tasks faster, despite resulting in increasing fatigue, lack of efficiency and rapid decline in wellbeing. Whenever the need for the sequence is recognised the protocol is obligatory and should be observed without delay or inner discussion.

To initiate the Rest Sequence:
1. Notice what’s going on, how you feel and what your body’s telling you about it. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening, because it is. Don’t think things will just get better in a minute.

2. Stop whatever you’re doing and if possible lie down. A bed is good. So is a sun-warmed patch of grass, or a soft carpet.

3. Lie with your hands on your stomach and feel the up and down motion of your breathing. Count backwards slowly from fifty to one.

4. Feel the pull of gravity and sink softly into the ground or the bed beneath you. Quietly resist the thought that there are things that need doing; this is the only thing that needs to be done for the next few minutes.

5. Go on doing this for a few minutes more. 

5. If you’re not already smiling a little, smile. And notice what happens. 

6. Gently stir yourself a bit at a time, and then get up slowly. 

7. Return to whatever it was you were doing and do it with care, noticing everything. 

Repeat the Rest Sequence at least once daily or often as needed. 

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

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.

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. 

Beginnings

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Some days when there’s too much to do it’s hard to know where to begin; I’ve known whole weeks like that, or even whole months. The long lists of things to be done, the thought of situations or problems that need to be faced and then tackled. But the only place to start is at the beginning.

As I watched the sun break over the horizon this morning and wash the skyline with a flood of pale gold, for a few minutes I was nowhere else but there, at the start of the day, just where I needed to be.

2014 started with a rush of things to do, not helped by the loss of computer files and folders not all backed up (food for thought as new year’s resolutions go). Last night I dreamt I was in a house that was under attack by rifle fire; at an upstairs window I was preparing for the next assault and trying to decide whether I should hide behind the net curtains or tear them down so I could see better to shoot. This is not the sort of thing I often dream about. I woke up confused.

I have a lovely app on my phone called the Mindfulness Bell. First thing in the morning, before I’ve had time even to look at the sunrise, I summon up the app, collect myself for a moment and then tap the screen to listen to the sound of it while gazing at the image of the golden Buddhist singing bowl. Because you tap the screen to wake the bell it feels a little more like the real thing, and as the sound of it reverberates through me and out into the room it brings me stillness, the sort of stillness from where I know I can make a good start. Everything starts at the beginning.

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Time Out

I’m in heaven. Actually I’m in Bradford, in Waterstones bookshop in the old Wool Exchange, possibly one of the most beautiful bookshops in the country – and I’m upstairs in the gallery café, looking down into the well of the shop with its illuminated shelves of books, and up into the wonder that is the vaulted ceiling, carved and panelled and painted and letting in the last of the afternoon light through leaded windows in the roof. And I am drinking an enormous mug of hot tea and eating the best dark chocolate chip cookie I have ever tasted.

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As soon as I placed the tea tray on a table next to the railing at the edge of the gallery and settled myself down, I could smell the intoxicating smell of chocolate wafting up towards me, and I let out a long involuntary sigh of pure pleasure. I knew this was going to be a time to remember, and I wasn’t wrong because this happened three days ago and I’m still happily reliving every moment.

Let me explain. I do not often go out, alone, in a town. My almost daily walks with a camera are near to home and mostly in the park two minutes from my house, and a day without a walk like this feels a bit like living in a room without windows; I go outside to stretch my eyes and still my thoughts and relax with the rythymn of my footsteps, and to breathe and feel the air. It’s enough to recharge me, to realign me, and helps me come home to myself. But reading Andrea Badgley’s recent post on her blog Butterfly Mind I was struck by the idea of an Artist’s Day Out, and I couldn’t stop thinking that it was something I really, really wanted to do.

I began to think about how long it had been since I gave myself the opportunity to go out somewhere and explore, to wander, to nourish myself by doing something simple but out of the ordinary and I realised it’s been not weeks or even months, but years. There are many reasons why it’s been so long; chronic fatigue being the main one, but if I’m honest this is sometimes more of an excuse than a reason. It’s easy to put the idea of taking time out at the bottom of my list of priorities, so much so that I would feel very uncomfortable with the thought of carving out a whole afternoon to do nothing more than enjoy myself in an unstructured, random sort of a way.

When I recognise that I want very much to do something and at the same time am resisting it vigorously, I know it’s time to take action because experience tells me it’s something I badly need. So when I found myself presented with the chance to spend several hours doing anything I felt like doing, in the centre of Bradford, I jumped at the chance to do just that.

I wandered about. I watched people in the street. I listened to street musicians and I ambled around Centenary Square and admired the architecture of City Hall. I got tired and found refuge in the Impressions Gallery and sat for a long while in the studio there, (they have sofas!) gazing out of the plate glass windows, watching people in the square feeding pigeons, meeting friends, hurrying past with shopping bags. Then I spent a leisurely half hour taking in the photographs in the current exhibition.

Because by now I had settled down enough to be responsive in an unfamiliar place, I found myself wanting to take photos. The gallery reception has cerise coloured walls and is all clean post-modernism with exposed ducting in the ceiling, silver and shiny and unbelievably clean. (Does someone climb up there once a week with a feather duster?) I took pictures that looked like the inside of an immaculate designer spaceship, and then sat some more on the pink sofa and wrote in my notebook.

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I made my way slowly back into the centre of town past City Hall now glowing the colour of caramel in the setting sun, feeling hungry and thinking of tea, but I drifted past Starbucks hoping for something better and when I found myself standing in front of the Wool Exchange and realised what I’d stumbled upon somehow I wasn’t surprised. By now I would have expected nothing less.

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I couldn’t have wished for a better day out. It did more for me than I ever expected, and I won’t leave it too long before doing it again. I can hardly wait…

Walking On Grass

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Sometimes I have to walk on grass.
Footpaths are good,
and pavements, in the rain;
but there are times my feet
need to remember
the springiness of short-cropped turf
nibbled by sheep,
or tussocks of couch grass
long-bladed, tousled,
catching the wind in waves
in an ungrazed field.
Grass mixed with clover,
buttercups and dock;
or a lawn freshly mown
with the cuttings still damp,
strewn, smelling of childhood,
of cricket fields,
of home.

Sometimes I need to lie
on my back in the grass
like I did today,
under a tree,
feeling the earth beneath me,
watching the sky,
thinking of nothing at all.

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At My Feet

Some of the things that are most familiar to me – right in front of my very eyes or at my feet – really deserve more of my attention.

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I sit on this carpet. I walk over it too, but carefully, in slippers or bare feet. I kneel on it, lie on it, do some of my best resting on it and I think of it as a friend.

Afternoon Carpet
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It’s been a haven for me to come home to, a place to settle down. A place to think, or better still, to stop thinking and let go of everything.

I’m sitting here right now, and it’s time to stop writing, time to just sit, do nothing, and watch as the afternoon sun lifts the colours and bathes us in pale gold.