When I look at the last time I wrote a Piece of Blogg, as Adelina insists on calling it, I see it was back in February. Now here I am making an appearance again, a very much belated blogger, wondering what to say and how to say it. It’s tempting to start with a catalogue of failures: my poetry collection wasn’t accepted by the first publisher I tried; my personal life hasn’t gone the way I hoped it would; I haven’t written much lately other than ruminations in my private journal; my garden has been seriously neglected. But it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. I’ve submitted my collection to another publisher, I’m slowly getting the garden back into shape, and blogging here is a step back into ‘writing’ as well as writing. As for the personal life – well, I’m doing my best to keep an open mind and an open heart, for other people, for myself, for the world at large.
I’ve recently been on a week’s retreat at lovely Gaia House, which isn’t far from where I live. During that week I had plenty of opportunity to reflect on what’s been happening for me and by the end I’d arrived at a place of much greater acceptance and equanimity. A lot of people don’t like the word ‘equanimity’ as to them it means not feeling anything, but in Buddhist terms it’s a beautiful quality of spaciousness and openness, a deep saying ‘Yes’ to life that can embrace everything. It doesn’t make the pain go away or ignore the world’s suffering, but it does mean that what I am – what this being and all beings are – is bigger than this. And of course on retreat, and in everyday life too, there are times when there is more space and equanimity and times when there’s less, just as there are times when there’s love and compassion for myself and the world and times when I want to tell it all to fuck off. The practice is learning to have compassion for the unkind and uncompassionate bits too, and it has its rewards. As the mind softens and slows what comes is a renewed sense of love and beauty and connection, and sometimes the kind of ‘Aha!’ moments that come – and often go again – when the tight sense of ‘me’ begins to loosen and the perspective widens.
It’s often hard to keep the practice going in ordinary life, but over the years I’ve come to value my meditation times more and more and feel that more percolates down from them into the rest of my life. I’m fortunate in that I work as a psychotherapist, which means helping other people to find that space in themselves and sometimes getting to hang out in it with them. I also Focus and teach Focusing, a wonderful way of being with whatever is there inside me at any given time. And despite all the above I still often fall into self-criticism and judgement of others and still have plenty of moments when I’d rather not know about any of it, thank you very much, and prefer to watch another detective drama on TV or do a crossword puzzle – though the attraction of those has worn rather thin lately.
It probably isn’t obvious why sitting still for an hour and simply paying attention to sensations – the rise and fall of the breath, a tight neck, the tingle of feet on the floor, the ache of sadness in the heart, the sound of birds or cars or someone’s mower, the faint smell of incense – can sometimes feel so joyful, but it can be as though you’re discovering them for the first time, and discovering that the ‘I’ who perceives them doesn’t in fact exist separately from what it’s perceiving and so is changing at every moment. I won’t go further into Buddhist understanding here, but there is plenty of material available for anyone who is interested. Some Buddhist traditions use the metaphor of the ‘sky-like mind’ to describe the way that thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions all pass in and out of awareness like clouds in the sky and are not separate from it. I spent a good deal of time on this last retreat looking at the sky and watching how clouds slowly move and change, form and dissolve as the light appears and disappears behind them. A friend of mine who used to be a glider pilot would know exactly what the clouds’ different shapes, positions and densities mean in terms of weather, but that wasn’t what I was interested in. I was simply taking them in and letting my heart and mind and body open to sky and space.
…And yes – ah yes – to come back to writing. I started off by saying I hadn’t been doing much ‘proper’ writing lately. Any writing I did on the retreat was definitely of the journal variety: chuntering on about emotional stuff, noting what I’d dreamt last night or had for lunch, reflecting in a rudimentary kind of way on my meditation practice. Somehow it’s been hard to come back to writing-as-writing, much as I want to. Some painful experiences seem to generate poetry and others to stifle it, and what I’ve been going through has been of the latter kind. Tentatively, though, I’m reaching back into writing again: a poem or two in a workshop and little tiny bits of the novel that I started some time ago and left when I started writing more poetry. I’m not sure why fiction appeals at the moment, but it does. What I write doesn’t really matter; the important thing is that the desire to do it and the belief that I can are starting to come alive again. A week or two ago I cut up some potatoes that had sprouted and planted them, not thinking they would grow. But already I’ve found little curled huddles of dark green leaves pushing up determinedly through the heavy soil. Plants do grow, given the right conditions, and so – amazingly – does writing.