Overnight they left, flown
like a flock of bright birds
leaving bare twigs
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
into piles of leaves,
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.
This morning’s sky
a lesson in boldness
makes me want to fling open
windows, doors, thoughts,
and be astonished, suddenly.
The following is an extract from the unwritten self-help manual ‘Regulation and Maintenance of Wellbeing’
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.
When I go for a walk I prefer to go alone, not because I don’t like company but because I can’t concentrate on noticing things. It requires letting go of thought, and it sounds like an odd contradiction that what we call mindfulness needs to be acheived by thoughtlessness – but it requires stepping off the endless loop of jibber-jabber that goes on and on inside my head all the time. Like leaving a room full of manic conversation and closing the door for a while.
Paying attention means noticing. Animals do it all the time, constantly. But as a species we humans have become monumentally forgetful of the way it feels to just look, and listen, and sniff, and feel – and notice. I can’t believe how often I forget to do this myself, and I need frequent reminders to bring me back to it, again and again and again.
It’s easier to do it in the presence of animals, or birds, or even insects. Words fall away. What they do, by paying attention, simply can’t be done with words.
This is the fifth post in a series of letters to myself at the beginning of the year – the first one is here. I’d thought I would post one a day until 12th Night, and I’ve reached that point – but now I find I still have more to say to myself by way of nudges and pointers and so I think there may be more to come – just not quite so frequently.
Last year I posted here only once in a while (being rather occupied with writing posts on my sketching blog) – but this space is special for me, and I’ve felt the lack of it. Writing and posting here again feels like coming home. It’s good to be back.
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….
I’ve collected threads and fabrics for as long as I can remember. All of them were bought with the intention of using them in one way or another and most of them were, so that only off-cuts and scraps and half-used spools remain but they have such a beauty of their own I can’t bring myself to throw them out. (I even have lengths of silk bought 40 years ago when I worked for a while in Liberty’s, in the fabric department, that I never cut; instead every so often I get these yards of sheer delight out of their tissue paper wrappings and unfold them just for the simple pleasure of holding them in my hands.)
But these Indian rayon threads and sari fabrics I did use for embroidery 30 years ago, and bits of them still lie lovingly tucked away in a drawer and assail me with a sudden burst of colour and a rush of memories whenever I’m rummaging for something and unearth them unexpectedly.
Somehow I know that I’ll never be able to part with them. They’re too beautiful, too vibrant and still full of unrealised possibilities – they still have a quiet life of their own. I enjoy meeting up with them whenever we encounter each other – and surely this is a good enough reason to let them stay?
Time to wrap them up and put them carefully away in their drawer……
We’ve had storms that have names. We’ve been lashed and battered first by Abigail who left a trail of broken branches and flooded fields, and now by Barney who will continue to fill rivers that have already burst their banks and flooded cities like York.
I’d stayed in for days, but this afternoon I defied all common sense and went out to walk in the wet streets, hoping the break in the clouds that looked so inviting would mean the rain would hold off for an hour. I dressed up in my most waterproof clothing, headed for the park and got half way up the dark avenue of lime trees when the wind whipped up and sheets of grey rain came down the field fast, in waves. I tied my hood down more firmly and walked more quickly but I only got halfway up the path to the playground when the rain turned to hail and came down so hard that I was afraid to go on, so I looked around for shelter. I was under trees (which is not always a good idea in a storm) but Abigail had ripped the last of the leaves from the horse chestnuts, and it was no drier there than out in the open. I huddled in the lee of a big lime tree but had no protection from the hailstones, so I scrambled a few feet off the path and crept inside the canopy of a holly tree. Holly is wonderfully waterproof. The branches of this one come right down to the ground and make a dark tented space around the trunk, and crouching in there amongst dry leaves I suddenly remembered what it felt like to be ten years old, playing in the woods and making secret dens under the rhododendrons.
The tarmac path was now a torrent of water that cascaded downhill, cutting furious and dramatic channels through piles of fallen leaves as it went hurtling downwards, piling up branches and twigs and then leaping over them as it powered through rearranging everything in its path.
The hail turned back to rain and eased a little, and I left my holly tree and headed home. My storm-proof jacket is not, it seems, designed for storms like this one. I made my way slowly and cautiously along paths that were now streams, and across a road under inches of water. I was soaked through in places and damp in others, but the rain had stopped, the wind was blowing hard and wasn’t cold. It felt good.
Back home I stripped off wet clothing and in my trouser pocket found my phone damp and its case soaking wet, which was alarming but fortunately not fatal for the phone (which taught me a lesson). I’d wrapped my sketchbook in a plastic bag, which on reflection must show my sense of priorities.
This kind of weather is fun, when you’re only a few hundred yards from the warmth and comfort of home.
Not everyone is so lucky.
Every day a little more colour.
Every moment, change – clouds part suddenly and then close in again; the afternoon draws in. The hour before dusk is a slow gathering of shadows and a ripening of glowing colour.
I soak it all in. I stand about under the trees and look up, head back, gazing up through the canopy and the next moment I’m crouching down, with leaves rustling like paper bags and the smell of damp earth under me.
Closer and closer. To get lost in it all, to forget everything else and sink into this colour, this hour, this moment that will never come again.