New Pen

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I have a new pen.

It may seem strange but my sense of wellbeing is closely related to the state of whatever I’m writing and drawing with – if my current pen is free flowing and responsive and doesn’t clog up or leak or go scratchy and dry, I feel relaxed, confident, and ready to tackle anything (well, almost). If it’s not performing then I can’t either; I get irritable and can’t concentrate, and not just when I’m trying to use the pen – it’s been known to keep me awake at night.

This is a Lamy Safari Vista (what a nice name – it immediately makes me think of going places) and I bought it for drawing, but as always the first thing I do to test out a pen is to write as fast as possible without thinking and cover a whole page. It’s a good way to test drive a pen.

It’s a good way to test out my sense of wellbeing too, and see if I can make any adjustments – it’s amazing what a bit of fast I-don’t- know-what-I’m-writing-I’m-just-going-to-write-it can reveal.

There are things you can do to make a pen work better; you can change the ink, clean the nib and if all else fails, get a new pen.

There are things I can do to get myself more free-flowing and responsive too. Thankfully, change is always an option.

Weekly Photo Challenge

Skeletons In the Closet

Every once in a while, I come up against something that just won’t leave me alone and simply has to be dealt with. In the past there have been times when I would have turned away at the first whiff of something I’d rather not give my attention to – and often as not these will be things that I’ve long ago swept under the carpet or pushed to the back of a dark cupboard in my mind. Closed Doors

But they lurk there, like skeletons in the closet, and then from time to time some dark and nasty fear will come rising up from the depths until it reaches the surface.

We are not born afraid (or at least, with only the fear of falling and of loud noises, or so I understand). We learn to fear things, and the fear sticks. As a survival mechanism our human brains evolved in such a way that we pay far greater attention to fear, pain and anything unpleasant than to the things that bring delight and pleasure – so it’s remarkably easy to end up with the balance of our minds weighted towards fear. It came as a great relief to me when I learned that I’m not wholly responsible for my tendency to slip into a state of fright – and why over the years it had become so much of a habit. The fact that my brain, like everyone else’s, is wired this way was comforting to know – but it’s better still to know that the wiring doesn’t have to stay like this, and that repeated patterns of  loving thought can literally create new neural pathways and new natural spontaneous patterns of thought and response.

Dark Trees

I have never been afraid of the dark, of being alone, of walking on my own in the woods or even in the cemetery and even at night (due diligence observed, I’m not foolhardy). I’m not afraid of snakes, or mice, or many of the things that a lot of people fear. I was very fearful of spiders – and I probably learned this from my mother – but it seems that we have both outgrown our phobias and can co-habit with them when necessary, though neither of us would be able to pick one up in our bare hands. Fear is tremendously contagious, as anyone who has ever worked with horses or dogs will know – and can spread quickly and easily from person to person – but the opposite is true as well. A calm still mind and a heart full of love can produce amazing results.

I am afraid of illness, my own and other people’s, which is ironic considering I have a history of chronic illness; it’s taken me a long, long time to start to come to terms with that one. Thinking about how I came not to be so frightened of spiders, I realised that when faced with a large hairy long-legged specimen in the bath, or by the sight of one galloping along the edge of the living-room carpet I would begin by talking to it, not because I thought it would understand or even be able to hear me, but just to make both of us less afraid. I don’t know about the spider but it worked for me.

Not long ago a read a book called Living Well With Pain And Illness by Vidyamala Burch, which helped me to see that a lot of the things I fear are in fact imaginary, and that this fear is self-perpetuating. A lot of what we suffer comes from what we think or imagine about events, and not from the events themselves. It goes against instinct, but it’s actually less painful and less frightening to turn gently towards the pain, or fear, and explore it for what it really is, rather than to run away from it or to try desperately to distract yourself from it.

There are still things I am afraid of, and I am still afraid of fear, but now when I find myself face to face with a skeleton from the closet I don’t immediately turn tail and run, and I don’t always inwardly collapse. I can see that at the very least, it doesn’t have to be something to panic about. I’ll look at it, size it up, try to get to know it a bit better and see what it’s all about. Like talking to a spider, I can talk reassuringly and lovingly to the part of me that is afraid, and find myself calmer and more able to put things into context, knowing that fear like every other emotion is a fluid, changing thing like the seasons and like the weather, that changes like the rain and the wind and moves on.

A Different Point Of View

I like to look up.

I think this is something that runs in my family because it was my sister who first introduced me to taking photographs of trees by leaning on the trunk and looking straight up, making a picture from a squirrel’s point of view (or perhaps the viewpoint of a dog who has just chased the squirrel up the tree). NOVEMBER 2012 020

NOVEMBER 2012 022

It’s extraordinary how different something can be when looked at from another angle, how all your preconceptions can be knocked sideways. Size, scale, and your own relationship to where you are all suddenly seem very altered.

Then there’s the wide angle, or the macro close-up. You can take the long view, stand back and see how everything fits into the larger landscape, or you can get in close and immerse yourself in something so intimately that everything else fades into oblivion and is lost to sight and mind.

Copy of 2011 PICS OF THE YEAR (11)

Almost as a matter of course these days I look at my feelings from different perspectives, sometimes backing off and seeing how they fit into the larger scheme of things, and sometimes observing them, fondly and face-to-face, trying at the same time to be detached and not to pass judgement.

Sometimes I sit for a while, just watch the the flow of things, watch the ripples…..and sometimes I look deeper, and try to see beneath the surface.

IMG_5847

Love, and Never a Word Spoken

One afternoon not long ago I fell in love with an emu. It was at the annual fair, where the showground always has displays of animals – mostly horses and cattle – but sometimes some more exotic creatures.

In the centre of the animal enclosure was this enormous bird, corralled in a pen with no label or sign-board to say what it was or give any information about it whatsoever, and I gazed at it in wonder. Taking photographs simply wasn’t enough – I took out a notebook and started to draw, and became totally engrossed.

It was huge – a great feathery mound on massive, powerful legs which for most of the time were folded underneath it, supporting its extraordinary bulk like two perfectly positioned brackets, and the more I looked the more I found there was no part of it that didn’t fascinate me; the tail feathers were amazing, almost like fern fronds as they emerge from the growing plant, all crimped and crinkly, and its feet – I held my breath in awe when it finally rose to its full height and came over to inspect me, and I could see the huge scaly toes tipped with horny claws, and the soft squashy pads of the heel of the feet that looked as if they could run very fast over any terrain, and do horrible things if used as a means of defence.

The thing about drawing, rather than just looking at something or taking photographs is that after a while your awareness of everything else drops away; standing in that busy showground I could have been completely alone with that bird, in the middle of nowhere. And then something else happens; you’re drawing something, and you begin to feel that somehow the boundary between where you end and it begins is somehow blurred, and there’s no longer a profound distinction between the two of you. Which is when I realise I have fallen in love……

We live in a culture dominated by words, and learn and inform ourselves constantly by reading, talking, and thinking verbally – in fact so much so that we believe we can only understand something, or know something, or learn about it, by using words. This is so utterly untrue, that when you get used to the idea of letting go of verbal thought and instead start to understand in a non-verbal way, you realise how narrow and restricting it is to think all the time in words.

Of course drawing isn’t the only way to step aside from thought and immerse yourself totally in something so that you are in a different world of understanding. I know people who do it by gardening, and others who play an instrument, or listen to music, or walk in the woods, or play with their children. There must be hundreds of ways. Every day in the park, I watch people walking their dogs who are finding this kind of connection, and there have been cats, and dogs, and horses, and even guinea-pigs who have given me immediate entry into joyful, wordless love – there’s no other word for it. Thankfully I know that for me, drawing is always a reliable doorway into the non-verbal part of my mind, and I need this doorway – to get into this other way of thinking, of being in the moment.

Visitors

Some days I get more visitors than others. I’m not talking about the kind that knock on the door, or even those that fly in the window (yesterday a tortoiseshell butterfly) or make their way in through devious means (we are regularly visited by cats who take advantage of any opportunity, one of whom belongs to a neighbour but who long ago decided to take up permanent residence with us).

The visitors I am thinking of are those that arrive spontaneously and unbidden in my head, when I may be visited by anxiety, fear, despair, bewilderment, anger, dread and foreboding. I am happy to say that nowadays I find myself welcoming happier visitors such as delight, peace, calm, and joy on a regular basis, but this has not always been the case.

Our brains evolved to react with lightening speed to signs of danger and to register with careful attention signals of fear, anger and so on, as a survival mechanism. (Sabre-toothed tiger! Look out – run!) So much so, that feelings of pleasure, like (my, it feels good to sit here in the sun), – sensations that are important but of a less urgent nature in survival terms, are given less attention on the scale of what’s really important and tend not to register so memorably or with such powerful effect. They tend also to slip away, and don’t re-visit us as spontaneously or dramatically as the negative emotions do, which is why it’s important to redress the balance and give them more of the attention they deserve.

But I’ve also learnt to treat all these visitors for what they are – just that. They come, and they go. It’s no good trying to hang on to the nice ones any more than it’s helpful to stamp on the nasty ones. Far better to observe them; feel them –  there’s no point denying them whether you like them or not – but remember, they’re just passing through. As Rumi’s poem says, better to meet them at the door laughing. Besides, you never know what they’re trying to tell you….

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

– Jelaluddin Rumi (Sufi poet, 1207-1273)

Stopping

Stopping is something I do repeatedly when I’m out walking. I can’t avoid it, and don’t try to; in fact it’s become so habitual that I would be a very annoying walking partner (I almost always go for walks alone). Whenever I’m out, and wherever I am, now and again something will suddenly catch my attention and I’ll come to a standstill, then retrace my steps and have a closer look.

This means I can find myself looking at some strange objects, in unexpected places, and whenever I suddenly stumble upon a collection of interesting looking things, frequently time passes without my realising how long I’ve been wandering around and exploring.

The colours and textures of things like this are just irresistible. I often like them even more if I can’t identify them, because I’m not labelling them in any way, thinking, oh, what a fabulous old boat (these pictures were taken in a boatyard). If I’m thinking at all, it’s something more along the lines of Oh! Oh! and nothing more lucid than that.

I’ve come to realise that walking about and then stopping, physically, is a really good way to stop mentally as well. Stopping in front of something that I can gaze at in wonder is just the start. Then comes the part when everything else starts to slow down and stop, too, and I can find myself slipping into stillness, and silence, and being aware of nothing else except the peace of the present moment.

Blue Sky, Blossom and Bees

On days like this, when there’s hardly a cloud in the sky, I could take photographs just about anywhere and catch something beautiful. Quite often it does feel a bit like fishing, as the sunlight can be so strong that I can’t see much on the screen of my camera and I take what I can as a kind of lucky dip, hoping I’ll get a good catch.

The sun was so warm against this sheltered wall that all kinds of insects were buzzing about the flowers, and I got down on my knees to stalk them. I took lots of pictures and even as I snapped away I knew most of them would fail; you’d think that insects would be easier to photograph than most wild things are, but even though they don’t take fright like squirrels and birds they still move…..

Finally I was lucky. As I was taking this picture a couple of walkers passed by on the road and seeing me crouched down taking pictures one of them called out, “get them to smile!” I smiled back at them and said, “they always do”. As I said it I realised we were all smiling, and that doing things like this, on a day like this, makes you smile effortlessly.

Smiling is one of the most relaxing, healing, and pleasure giving things I know of. To smile inwardly to yourself is like feeling the sun come out inside and bathe you in light. To smile at another person is to give them the same gift.

The Rhythm of the Sea

Watching the waves break softly on the sand and then recede is like listening to your own breath, like feeling the air fill your lungs and then gently leave again as you breathe out. It’s the quietest, softest, simplest meditation.

I don’t live near the sea, so when I do get the chance to walk on the beach and watch the waves I take my time and soak it all in.

Time in the Garden

There now follows an intermission…

In the early days of television here in the UK, the BBC used to fill the gaps in transmission between programmes with short films called Interludes. (Some of these are fondly remembered by those of us who are old enough to recall the slow, quiet pace of broadcasting in those days. The most famous of these interlude films was called The Potter’s Wheel, which I’ve discovered you can find on youtube).

I think that, at the time, we thought the purpose of these films was to provide a time for viewers to relax, take a break from concentrating on the programme we’d been watching and wait for the next. Possibly we would make a cup of tea. (Remember this was before commercial television and ad-breaks).

Looking at the film again now, I found myself wishing that we all had more of this kind of pause built into our everyday experience, that perhaps internet service providers and social networking sites as well as television networks could do more in the way of offering us some moments of peace and quiet, a time to relax and do nothing for a few moments. It’s up to us ourselves to do this, and I know from reading a lot of blog posts how many people understand just how important it is to do!

In the coming weeks I have commitments that are going to mean I’ll have less time for writing posts, so I thought I’d post a series of Interludes; not films, but photographs with not much writing, and so this picture is the first – Time in the Garden – the photo that I cropped to make the header for this blog.