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.

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.

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. 

Letters to myself (3)

Extraordinary clouds, lit by the sun

Adventurous

Every now and again, something stirs me to remember the feeling at the beginning of a holiday. Setting off on a journey at sunrise or even earlier, or the very first glimpse of the sea….. 

Now that I don’t go far from home, a sense of adventure is something I need to cultivate. The remarkable thing is that seemingly boring or irritating tasks become quite different when you see them as adventures. Unpacking and re-packing a carton of cardboard boxes with my husband this morning became an exploration of skills (or lack thereof) and an exercise in letting go of my desire to do everything my way and investigate his approach instead. As an adventure it was hardly bold or colourful, but it was fun.    I’m nowhere near as adventurous as I’d like to be. 

Drawing of Will Geer as Bear Claw/Chris Lapp, in the film Jeremiah Johnson
I often sketch while watching films on TV. This is the actor Will Geer as Chris Lapp the trapper, or ‘Bear Claw’ – in the film Jeremiah Johnson, a story full of adventures if ever there was one. That’s also him on the badly drawn horse that looks as if it’s got one leg shorter than the other and no hind legs at all. Drawing can also be an adventure.

(Part 1 of this series of posts started here if you haven’t read it already.) 

Letters to myself: (2) 

Glass of clear water with bubbles

Clarity   

Too often, I find myself reacting without seeing something for what it really is. 

It only takes a moment to pause and look at what it is I may really be facing. It may not be what I imagine it to be, at all.

*
(This is the second in a series of letters to myself – the first is here.) 

Letters for the twelve months to come

Small white feather fallen on dry leaves


Softness

Standing at the doorway of a new year and just about to put a foot forwards, I realise there are certain words that I wish for myself during the journey through the next twelve months. Pausing and reflecting (a good time to do this, today, with a pale grey light in the window and the sound of rain on the glass) I know there are things I want to embrace and other things that I want to let go. These are not resolutions exactly, nor even intentions – they’re more in the way of senses, feelings, perhaps ways of being, and to write about them or try to explain them in anything more than a whisper would be to bring them under a harsh spotlight that will not help me remember them any better.

I don’t set goals. But I like the idea of way-markers, or torches to light a gloomy bit of path, or firesides to come home to. 

So here for the next few days I’ll share a handful of these – whatever you like to call them. They’re like one-word letters addressed to myself, to carry with me on the next bit of the journey, and at the end of the year I’ll be able to spread them out and look at them, and gaze at the way I’ve come, and ponder…. 

Escapee with a Sketchbook

Last Saturday was a day like any other for the people of Saltaire, and anyone noticing me waiting on the station platform or joining the rest of the group of Urban Sketchers meeting up at Salts Mill for a day of drawing would have thought nothing of it. It was a day of clear skies and cold air, but if you stood in the sunshine you could feel the warmth of it and the light was wonderful. I’ve been trying to go along to one of these sketch-crawls ever since I joined the group almost two years ago and I’d never made it – until last week.

I’ve written before about my expeditions into the world where I try to push the boundaries of my life a little, forays into parts of my locality that are small adventures, but I rarely manage anything as satisfying as this. I couldn’t manage the whole day – that would have been asking too much – but a whole morning of drawing and meeting the people that I’ve got to know through posting online in this community of like-minded sketchers was enough to make me feel light-headed with the excitement of it all.

And that’s a problem in itself. I kept having to say to myself Whoa! Slow down, get quiet. Take a breath. Because the excitement that I want so much to give way to is also part of the way I get overloaded and exhausted, and I can’t afford to crash…….

I need to do days, or mornings like this more regularly. I really need the practice because not getting out and doing ordinary things like travelling on a train, or wandering around a bookshop or a gallery or having coffee and chatting with friends means that when I do get to do it, it feels weird and surreal. Meandering happily around Salts Mill and afterwards through the streets of Saltaire I felt a bit like an escapee; at times like this I’m suddenly surrounded by so much – so many sights and sounds and different possibilities that it’s quite hard to make simple decisions like what to look at next. Whether to stand still or carry on walking. Whether to turn this way or that. Having a sketchbook with me is what keeps me on some sort of track; I can stop at any moment and let my eyes do the thinking, and tell me why I’m there and what I need to do. Everything else just disappears.

I know I’m not alone in this experience – anyone who is a stay-at-home carer for example, who needs to be constantly in attendance on another; anyone with a long-term chronic illness or anyone who is elderly and no longer able to get out much will recognise what this feels like. I’m lucky; I have enough strength and the occasional opportunity to go out and explore and have micro-adventures. I just need to grab the chance whenever I can and do more, and celebrate and enjoy every minute of these expeditions into the wider world.

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.

Between One Moment And The Next

image
Every evening at the same time, the sun reaches a point where it touches the top of the wall and if I’m lucky, like today, I’m there to see it. I stand there watching, taking it in, doing nothing. There’s no wind, and no sound except the noise of an occasional swallow cutting through the air above me.

The moment that has passed is gone, over, and the moment yet to come is still not here – not quite, because this is now. Not the past, not the future, but the present.

“There’s a profound and miraculous mystery right under our noses: this instant of now has no duration at all, yet somehow it contains all the causes from the past that are creating the future. Everything arising to become this moment vanishes beneath our feet as the next moment wells up. Since it’s always now, now is eternal.”
 
Rick Hanson; Just One Thing

But this stillness, this business of staying in the present – it’s not easy. If I try to hang on to what’s happening, to cling to it in any way in order to remember it, I’m no longer there. I’m already remembering the past, or imagining how I’ll remember it in the future.

This is why I try not to think, when I’m taking photographs, that it’s a way of capturing something – I don’t want to capture. I just want to experience – and sometimes (not always) I can do that better with a camera than without one. It makes me watch, and look, and helps me not to think. And thinking – the kind of thinking I really do not want to do, the kind that is mostly imagining things that haven’t happened (yet) and worrying about them – this is what starts to spin round and round in my mind the very first chance I give it. First thing in the morning as soon as I’ve woken up is the worst, when the first few seconds of peaceful blankness have given way to my freshly booted-up conscious brain and the worrying can start. And I remind myself for the thousandth time that this is not real – these are, in fact, just thoughts. I don’t have to believe them. What’s real is now. And now doesn’t have to be worried about.

WPC: Between