Category Archives: Events

Play Time

On the Tenth Day of Christmas

“Make a list!” she says. It’s our nine-year-old teacher again, asking us to note what we love to do. Children seem connected to play in a way we adults forget. It’s the last day we will meet on the beach. Tomorrow is a rest day and on Sunday, we will complete The Omen Days together with a silent walk in the forest and a picnic. We discuss how to create a container for our practice. One which is connected to what we love to do. After all, if there is noy joy, what motivation will there be to meditate?

As work and life commitments gather pace, it’s easy for the ‘ordinary’ world to suck up all the attention. How can we make every day a ‘holy day’?

In October, I may need to reminded what it is I love to do, and how to integrate this into both my life and my meditation practice.

 

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Clear Sea on Sitges Beach

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

As we head towards the finish line, there can be a loss of concentration and we can lose the flow. Climbers are more likely to fall on the descent. Drivers more likely to have an accident near their destination. Creative practitioners make more mistakes as they reach the final stretch of a project. And today, we find our minds wandering off into the coming year, more planning than meditating. Along with some anxiety, tension creeps into my body and I have to concentrate harder to bring myself back to the resting place of presence.

There’s a chilly wind, though the sun is shining as it has been throughout The Omen Days. On the beach, we huddle together, a bigger group of us this morning, offering each other shelter from the harsher elements. Come August, will we be glad of the protection of community?

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New Year Dip

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

New year. Warm fire. Cold air. Cold sea. Warm sun. Elements balanced as we summit the midpoint of The Omen Days. It suddenly seems appropriate that New Year is the climax of the Twelve days of Christmas. That we begin on twenty-sixth of December and end on sixth of January. Today, this Celtic practice feels ancient.

Sustained practice brings results as insight emerges. The biologist experiencing oneness as he contemplates how the atoms and molecules of people and places are universally shared. How plant growth depends on both darkness and light – on soil and on sunshine.

Beetroot Seedlings
Beetroot Seedlings

Seeds planted now will likely be harvested in July, but we shouldn’t worry if they need a little more time. In my garden, I have chili peppers planted last January that are still fruiting!

Retreats are a wonderful time out of time, but daily meditation adds magic to ordinary life. Diving into wintry water, members of our community emerge joyful into bright sun. We are thankful for deep connection. To ourselves, to nature and to each other.

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Water Diviner

On the Fifth day of Christmas

“‘Ratty, please, I want to row, now!’ The Rat shook his head with a smile. ‘Not yet, my young friend,’ he said – ‘wait till you’ve had a few lessons. It’s not so easy as it looks.’ “

On the fifth day of Christmas, a nine-year old encourages our practice by reading from ‘The Wind in the Willows’, while a man in full wet suit and wearing headphones listens intently for sounds of treasure on the sea bed. Lessons come from anyone and anything, if I take time to hear them. There are so many ways to tune the attention.

Deepening into the retreat, dreams speak loudly and the world is alive with synchronicities, but also, the shadow self shows up in all her hurt and brokenness. Am I brave enough to draw close, so she can also be a teacher?

In May, I might need courage to stay open to learning from life in unexpected ways.

For more information about this thread, visit my post on The Omen Days.

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Sunlight Emerging

On the First Day of Christmas…

“Tongues in trees,
Books in running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
As you like it – William Shakespeare

Day breaks gray, swirling mist clambering icy over hills. The world is newly woken, still in confusion of half-sleep,  cloaked in beloved mystery. Invisible from this side of the house, jays announce themselves with loud screeching and moments later, in rushful flurry, a flock of starlings pass, swooping low and then high, silent except for flap of collective wing. These birds know where they are going, clear in the determination and confidence of group action. After a minute or two, the birds pass by again and I think of the way that sometimes, we get a second bite of the cherry. An opportunity we thought missed does come again, if only we can stay alert to the patterns of return.

At the beach, sun waits atop a bank of moulded cloud. Already one layer of clothing can be peeled away. Perhaps we will swim, after all. Our small group collects itself, minds tuning to the sound of waves, sensations of heat and cool on what skin shows. Appearing as those shielded from recognition, hoods protect from breeze but also from fierce sunshine. In former times, we would surely have burned for these activities!

Nature beheld, divining from forms appearing and disappearing is a lost art, but one we intend to practice. Paddleboarders with movements of ancient sea-goers. Digging dogs, sand sprayed wide under frantic paws mimics the fruitless pain of human over-activity. Or is it joyful abandon? We see ourselves reflected, fears and hopes writ large on our perceptions. The swim is less of a swim and more of a dipping, a dunking. No ducking stool, no outward agency, we act with free will, curiousity diving for unseen wisdom.

Later, after food and nap, light warms the mountains and treetops sing with companionship. Altogether, the day speaks of shrouded silence in solitude and retreat. Veiled mystery followed by gathering with intent. Hidden direction in early January may yet emerge in purposeful movement.

(See previous post for an explanation of the Celtic practice of The Omen Days)

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Solstice Cold Moon 2018

The Omen Days

A Full Cold Moon on Solstice Eve. Warm fires, friends and inspiration. A little too much mulled wine…hic! After the merriment, it’s nice to settle in, cat purring soft in my lap. Christmas Eve marks the beginning of a period of real rest.

Last year, I discovered the Celtic tradition of using the days between Christmas and January 6th for divining signs and portents for the year ahead and enjoyed it so much that we are doing it again, taking this time for retreat and renewal. Caitlin Matthews tells us how “the Twelve Days of Christmas, which mark the intercalary days of the year, are called ‘the Omen Days,’ and they have a special purpose. ‘Intercalary days’ are the days left over from reckoning up the solar year and, in calendars throughout the world and at different times, they are special because they are considered to be ‘the days out of time.’
Follow my upcoming Omen Days journey and let’s share our insights for 2019!

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Positive Stories for a Change

What stories are you telling yourself today? What are you reading, hearing, thinking about, and passing on? If you started your day with newspapers – whether print or online, it’s likely you were bombarded with bad things that have happened. For me, wildfire, murder and political chaos dominate my headlines today and while it’s possible that my social media feed offers some light-hearted relief, I might need to scroll past the shouting in order to find it. In this kind of environment, it’s no wonder our mental health is suffering. Hope is an emotion that lifts heart and mind, but in a world smothering in greed, hatred and mounting CO2, hope is fast disappearing.

Thriving Communities

So when I got a call to help edit a film for the Permaculture Association about a programme of theirs called Thriving Communities, I leapt at the chance to be part of a different story. The film brings together clips from projects around the UK using permaculture principles to address community needs. Though permaculture is often thought be only relevant for rural dwellers, many Thriving Community projects are urban- based, showing that the values of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share are relevant, practical and can make a difference just about anywhere.

Contrary to popular understanding, permaculture is much more than gardening, though growing food is a good place to start. Planting and nurturing seeds brings us into relationship with the earth and if we do it in a group, with other people as well. What’s more, it’s hard to miss the parallels between our own well-being and that of the plant, so growing food is educational as well as nutritional. Somehow, in addition to looking after soil and seedlings, we end up looking after ourselves, too.

Positive Stories

Living in the Future has always been about telling positive stories, but we need them more than ever now, as the clock counting down towards runaway climate change and species extinction ticks relentlessly towards ground zero. In the face of this, taking personal action can seem like an overwhelming task. Sorting the recycling, whilst important, seems too  small a response.

Given the enormity of the task we face, you may be drawn to take part in some way in the growing protest movement that is Extinction Rebellion. Organised on a grass roots level by activists calling time on government apathy and inaction, XR invites contributions in all sorts of ways, from engagement in non-violent direct action and associated support roles, to writing, artwork, and more contemplative practices. The question for us personally might be – how can I express my own response to this devastating global situation, in a way that feels both possible and sustainable? For instance, as I write this, my email is pinging notices from companies advertising Black Friday deals – is there a way we can make seasonal giving more earth and people-friendly? Can we show our love without buying more unwanted and unnecessary stuff?

Sand Circle by Marc Treanor http://www.sandcircles.co.uk/

As our leaders charge headlong and blindfolded towards who knows what, my own experience of grief, anxiety and disempowerment has led me deeper into my own spiritual practice. Gardening is undoubtedly a part of this. Movements like the Permaculture Association and the Transition Network have long recognised that as well as positive actions, the alignment of our outer/inner worlds is an important and crucial part of the work and storytelling can really help with this.  By bringing our expectations more in line with reality and suggesting new ways of dealing with challenges, stories help align our inner and outer worlds, helping us move more easefully through times of change.

So let me ask again, what stories are you telling yourself today?

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Walking through fields of wheat

Dharma Yatra – Walking in Silence

“Nowhere to go and two weeks to get there.” Meditation teacher Denis Robberechts smiles as he addresses a group of a hundred or so people, remembering the slogan on the side of the vans they used for transporting equipment for one of the first Dharma Yatras. This pilgrimage through French countryside is in its eighteenth year and the duration now 10 days, but the idea is the same. To walk with intention, but without destination.

On the penultimate day of the 2018 Dharma Yatra, I take time to talk to a few of the people I’ve met, asking them to tell me something of their experience. Around the kitchen table, a wooden bench structure under a large tarp walled by neatly labelled plastic containers, I meet up with Marÿke Hovenier, Anke Birkner and Trina Dillon. After a moment’s reluctance, they can’t really contain their enthusiasm for the yatra.

Nature and Silence
“I’ve been 5 times now.” says Marÿke. “I like to dive into nature and it gives me some entrance to meditation. For me it’s easy when I’m in nature like this to open up and to see some other things. In normal life, it’s difficult to really make that mix. It reminds me that nature really is that important for me, so it would be good for me to go in nature more…in my head I know, but I tend to forget. And it’s lovely to spend time in silence with other people. You can be on your own in silence but that’s a whole different thing.”

The Dharma Yatra fills up soon after bookings open each April and is popular with people of all ages. The youngest is a toddler of less than a year and amongst the eldest is one of the teachers, who is over seventy. What is its appeal?

Morning walk
Morning yatra

Community and Simplicity
Trina is part of the kitchen crew and as a British person amongst many particpiants from France, Germany and elsewhere, she’s been my go-to contact for the cups of hot tea we British seem to need more than most. She agrees about the nature and silence and adds that the simplicity of life on the yatra is a big aspect for her. “You have less need for things, because you’re more nourished inside by nature, by the teachings, by the community.”

Anke is one of the teaching team. She is nodding energetically “I agree! I also crave less things. At home I’m much more like “Oh I should buy some chocolate now, but here, it’s not available and I actually don’t think about it. Because I know ok, now this is the time to eat, this is the time to do this and the rest covers my other needs.” Trina adds “I think that helps with going inside as well, because you have less distractions and less things to think about practcally. So then you can just dive inwards, with more ease.”

Group Meditation
Group Meditation

If you’re used to traditional silent retreats, you may be surprised by the amount of conversation that happens on this retreat. It’s partly this way becuause there are many families – there are twenty-two children amongst the participants – but also because discussion and depth of inquiry is a key part of the Insight tradition of meditation of which the teachers are a part. Though there are group meditation sessions, walking is the main practice and takes place in silence. We walk in a long snaking line, slowest at the front to set the pace. “I just feel much more with myself.” says Anke. “And I see much more, absorbing what’s around and not so distracted. My presence increases because everbody else is really attentively present. There’s more energy in it. In the outside world, people go walking together but talking. It’s different. You don’t get to see anything. You are not really there. You spend hours in the dunes and then, “ah yeah. Actually where am I?”

Nature as teacher

Some discussion about “the outside world” takes place and it’s true that over these 10 days, it has felt as though we are in our own little bubble. Meals are prepared and served on site and all infrastucture such as toilets and showers are organised by the on site crew. The group walks up to 8 hours every day, but engages little with people outside of the group beyond a passing “bonjour”. The look on some of the faces of local residents and farmers as 100 or more people file past their property is precious! I wonder aloud how some of this, of all the things we’ve been talking about could be brought a little more into the outside world.
“When we went for the sunrise walk this morning,”” says Trina, I was thinking that you don’t need to do anything because nature is the teacher. All you have to do is bring people to that place. It’s such a simple thing, even just to take people out for a day or a few hours, and it’s so powerful. You feel like you are bigger than your small self. You are part of something bigger.”

Sunrise over mountains
Sunrise over mountains

Photoset from the walk available below. Participants please feel free to download.

For commercial use, please contact me regarding permissions. Thanks!

https://livinginthefuture.pixieset.com/dharmayatra/

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Off Grid Festival

Hand in Hand – The nature of reciprocity

“When times are easy and there’s plenty to go around, individual species can go it alone. But when conditions are harsh and life is tenuous, it takes a team sworn to reciprocity to keep life going forward. In a world of scarcity, interconnection and mutual aid become critical for survival. So say the lichens.” 

This is a quote from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautiful book Braiding Sweetgrass, a book so inspiring that  I used another excerpt to begin a recent article for The Ecologist. That article draws a parallel between the way sweetgrass is grown and the way wisdom is passed on “hand to earth to hand” and how, in places such as  Off Grid Festival, we can practice this reciprocity whilst learning tools and techiques to help bring about a more resilient world.

The Economist article discusses the permaculture principle of the edge effect, which is about all the juicy stuff that goes on at the edges and how the zones between systems and cultures tend to be creative, fertile, abundant places. Off Grid Festival is one such space, perched as it is on the edge of mainstream culture. Braiding Sweetgrass is an example of this too – a book exploring the intersection between modern science and traditional lore. A botanist who is also a member of the native Potawatomi people, the writer speaks from the margins – between two cultures each running counter to society’s established norms.

As a female scientist, Kimmerer faces the derision of male counterparts who consider her thinking irrelevant, insignificant or just plain wrong. Her Native American wisdom exists only thanks to the stubborn refusal of her ancestors to surrender their world view to those who thought they knew better. From these cultural edges, she creates a fusion which is a powerful testimony to motherhood, belonging and indigenous wisdom that manages to be both unique and universal.

Braiding Sweetgrass was recommended to me by Claire Dunn, an Australian writer and wilderness guide who has made it her mission to bring nature wisdom to urban dwellers. In this way she, too, creates meaning from the intersection of two cultures – three, if you count also the culture of the feminine. In addition to ancient and modern wisdoms, both Claire and Robin Wall Kimmerer offer a perspective that my Catalan friend and healer Esther Pallejá Lozeno might call mano izquierda.

“No tener mano izquierda” is an expression said to originate in the bull fighting ring, where the right hand – mano derecho – is the hand of action and force, and the left – mano izquierda – is the hand which is linked to intuition and skilful means. A person with mano izquierda has the ability to handle difficult situations with sensitivity, even using a ‘sixth sense’, whereas someone said to be lacking in this will appear tactless and undiplomatic. It’s not hard to see someone with mano izquierda is displaying qualities associated with the feminine.

In traditional medicine and yoga, the left side of the body is linked to the feminine, but as with many other left-handed associations, the expression in Spanish also has the sense of acting with cunning and trickery. In some cultures, left-handedness is said to be linked with the devil and children have been discouraged from writing with their left hand. It is painful, yet unsurprising that in a patriarchal world, this left-handed/ left sidedness, along with many other ‘feminine’ qualities, has been devalued.

Gently yet persuasively, Kimmerer asks us to re-evaluate. What if, along with honouring Mother Nature and Mother Earth, we could honour this more intuitive, feminine approach? Might it bring about a more gentle, respectful way of being in the world? A more attentive way of listening – to ourselves, to each other and to Nature herself? And in so doing, might we facilitate a more reciprocal kind of culture, the kind of culture about which indigenous people – both male and female – speak so wistfully?

“Science and traditonal knowledge may ask different questions and speak different languages, but they may converge when both truly listen to the plants.”

Reciprocity requires that we recognise the value of the other and enter into a mutual relationship. We see that masculine  energy allows us to act decisively and with strength, while the feminine brings a more feeling tone, concerning itself with the WAY that we do things – or sometimes, the way that we do NOT do things. A feminine way of being might ask that we wait longer, rest often, take more time to be. Between these two cultures – the culture of the masculine and the culture of the feminine, we can find harmony, balance and equality as well as reciprocity.

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Visca la Terra – Bless this Land

Whilst writing this post, I stumbled across the work of Geraint Rhys, a Welsh singer songwriter who has recorded a great anthem-like song, Visca la Terra.  He translates this phrase, often associated with radical independentistas, as “Bless this Land”. Whatever we feel about the politics, we of the smaller nations cannot help but see ourselves reflected in these struggles to be seen and heard.

So it is that I find myself a sunny beach, with the first chill of winter in the air, meditating in solidarity with those striking over the independence question in Catalunya. As foreigners in this land, we may not feel the pain of what is happening as deeply as those who call themselves Catalan, or those who consider themselves Spanish, or both. But what we can do is to listen without judgement. We can hear their stories and bear witness, as the sun and the sea bear witness to our meditation.

You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. John Kabat-Zin
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. John Kabat-Zin

It was my friend Joe who recently used the word witness. Just two weeks ago, we were in Germany on a Mindfulness Teacher Training Course and I was interviewing him about his work as an activist. He was bearing witness, he said. And now here I am on a beach in Spain, holding a meditation group for peace in Catalunya. The word comes up in my mind and sticks, like a flag or a badge I can wave or wear. If I can do little else, I can bear witness.
We sit listening to the sea lap on a sunny shore, aware that the traffic is backed up all the way to the city, that public transport is severely disrupted, that many shops and offices are closed as part of the strike. “People were on the streets this morning as I took my son to school” said one woman. “The company I work for has banned us from talking about it.” said another. The idea of witnessing seems important to me, but it is only later that I reflect that it feels  good for me to have found a role in this drama.

img_4951

Last week, Joe wrote to ask how it is on the ground here. I gave him a comprehensive picture of life in our small village, just one hour south of Barcelona. “To be honest,” I said, “on the ground here for us, nothing has changed. Summer is cooling into Autumn. The vineyards around are turning red and golden. Yesterday a huge electric storm shot forks of lightning into the hills around our home, the sky cracking as if the world was breaking part. Nature is far more threatening than the Guardia Civil!”
I was joking, but it was true all the same. And all the same, I wrote, “It’s hard to escape the awareness that our Catalan friends are suffering. It’s been a traumatic time and emotions are being pulled at. Those of us with less rooted connections feel empathy, but also see that folk are being manipulated on both sides.”
When the idea of being a witness pops up, the thread of thought is inextricably linked to Joe, to the Agents of Change course and to the practice of mindfulness. For what is mindfulness but kind awareness? And what use is kind awareness if we cannot find a way to bring it into the service of others? Into the service of wellbeing of humans, animals and the natural world? Into the service of peace?

 

 

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