Today Zen and the Art of Tightropewalking is a year old. I had hoped to write something witty and entertaining but I’m only just home from a frustrating and tiring day at work and still need to try and chill out and unwind.

So a big thank you to everyone who visits, and to everyone who comments, and to the lovely friends I have made through the blogging world, and here’s to the next year!



One of the lessons I do with pre-intermediate students is on opposites.

What is the opposite of light?

Well, I suspect most of you would have said Dark, but I’d have accepted Heavy too. Many words have multiple opposites: right  can be the opposite of wrong but also of left.

Most concepts have their opposites too. Good versus evil, Light versus Dark, introvert/extrovert.

I was thinking last night about how our very world shapes our perceptions of things. For instance, mathematics is based largely on the fact that for some reason we have two hands(binary) and ten fingers(digital). I think also the way we interact conceptually is based on having two hands. Everything is either/or or simply both. We can hold things in each hand. When you add things to the equation, it becomes complex and we seek to simplify by putting things into categories. We like to pigeonhole everything. We like things to be symmetrical and even.

And because our planet spins round the sun, we are aware from our earliest days of the contrast between dark and light, between day and night, and this is something I feel has strongly influenced how we perceive the moral and ethical world too. The seasons too have a power to change how we classify the way the world works.

Often when I have covered opposites, I move onto synonyms. People often forget that due to English being a composite language made up of hundreds of influences we often have words that mean almost but not quite the same thing. Is valiant the same as courageous? Not quite. Is intelligent the same thing as clever? No. There are shades and nuances in language that make it so hard for even native speakers to fully get to grips with it.

It’s the same with life. Absolute good and absolute evil are not things we normally encounter. I do believe they exist. I believe in God and I believe also in Not-god. I don’t like the terms that exist for this, because they carry a medieval taint. For most things though, there are infinite shades of in-between good and evil.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s built into the laws of physics. For every hero there is a villain. Our world is built around opposites.

So why do New Agers find it so hard to accept that Light and Dark are as much a part of our world and every person here, that the oppsite of light is not evil? Daytime and nighttime are built into the biology of life. You can’t have life without both. Dark is not evil. Dark is just…dark.

Raindrops on Roses

…and whiskers on kittens…

Relax, I am not about to burst into song and I’ve never actually seen the Sound of Music. The songs have a way of creeping into consciousness though.

This post was prompted by an exchange of comments at (John)Poettraveler’s blog (see blogroll), so blame him!

One of my favourite lessons with my students involves my bag of delights, which is a bag of unusual things, unpacked for them onto an exotic pashmina and they are invited to examine them and choose one that inspires them to write. They can write anything they want to, from a description to a poem. I’ve had songs written and stories, and even a dialogue. They usually watch me unpack with some trepidation and with ever widening eyes and the words, “Mary Poppins!” are hissed under breaths. Yet another film I have never seen.

The following is a list of the items commonly or sometimes in my bag. I do vary it for an assortment of reasons; my Tribble had to be retired because I became concerned for her health….There IS such a thing as too much love!

1) two Egyptian gauze scarves, one black, one red, edged in beads, from Cairo, 2) a black velvet cat mask , 3) a duckbilled platypus finger puppet,  4) a Sol Invictus fridge magnet from Bath,  5) a carved wooden Welsh lovespoon, 6) a wooden rattle, 7) small set of panpipes, 8) lemur soft toy, 9) small rainstick, 10) two plastic water squirting goldfish,  11) a clove orange,   12) a Tibetan singing bowl and beater, 13) a gauze bag of resin incense, smelling of frankincense, fennel and lemongrass, 14) a string of agate beggars’ beads from India,  15) brass wire and bead mandala,  16) sandalwood bead necklace carved with elephants,  17) wooden bookmark with a lion on,  18) parrot soft toy from McD’s,  19) Tibetan prayer wheel,  20) clear resin contact juggling ball- this looks like a crystal ball but isn’t,  21) beaded medicine bag, with design of a leaping hare,  22) carved wooden rhino from Kenya,  23) pewter velociraptor,  24) single horn from a highland cow,  25) jingle bells Christmas decoration,  26) polished geode from mineral shop,  27) naturally occuring geode found on beach at The Witterings in Sussex (by my daughter), 28) Rowan Williams (archbish of Canterbury) figure for the Christmas tree,  29) Tibetan tingshags,  30) two sea shell fossils, found on a beach,  31)  Norweigian easter egg(made of cardboard to be filled with chocs),  32) Egyptian glass perfume vial,  33) a box containing 3 scarabs, one a genuine antiquity, one a reproduction one I bought at the British museum when I was 17 for 10p and one bought last year at the same location,  34) Chinese health balls in a velvet covered box,  35) driftwood shaped like the head of a surprised emu,  36) Stiff Nick, two inch high bronze fertility god figure with errrmm…appendage,  37)  Celtic knotwork brooch, obtained by playing swapsies in the ladies’ loo at IKEA Gateshead  about 15 years ago, 38) Chinese holed coins on a ribbon,  39)  lump of raw amber from Southwold,  40) palm stone of Mookaite,  41) rocks from Everest,  42) lump of native copper,  43) bottle of gold,  44) lump of fool’s gold,  45) reproduction Roman penanular brooch,  46) reproduction Viking cloak brooch with a two headed dragon ship design,  47) polished piece of clear quartz,  48) small pewter angel statue,  49) quartz pyramid,  50) Chinese carving of a dragon on a turtle; it’s made of a nut of sorts but don’t remember what. 

I’ve yet to be disappointed in what a class as a whole produces, though a few individuals have struggled to find their imaginations. Some are still writing at lunchtime, and beg to be allowed to hand it in after lunch. That evening I have the delight of reading them all and marking them, and the next day, they get to read theirs out and I give out rewards. Everyone gets a sweet, for trying and there are a few bigger prizes for thise who truly excelled. I’d give more but it is out of my own pocket, and you have to draw a line. First prize is often a scarab, of which I have a small store of reproduction ones, but it depends on the class and on the gender of the winner. Sometimes it’s a pen or something like that, or more often than that, a chocolate bar.

Usually I save this lesson for when I know a class well enough to know they won’t abuse my collection, but it has worked well for every level and every age I teach and the opportunities for discussion and exploration are boundless.

So, that was a few of my favourite things and my favourite lesson! Did any inspire you?

Imbolc/Candlemas Meditation

Chapter Seven

Seasonal Meditations:


 Snowdrop Meditation


For many people the snowdrop is the bringer of spring, the first of the true flowers of springtime. Blooming often when the snow is still on the ground, being blasted by gales, frozen by frosts and battered by rain, it is a witness to the unconquerable strength of nature. The tiny flowers hang like little white bells, their petals so fragile and yet they endure everything that the tail end of winter can throw at them. Few people ever kneel down to inhale their sweet, lily-like scent and so it remains a secret known only to a few. The scent of the snowdrop is subtle and not easy to catch; outdoors the scent may rise on a still day in February, but days when the wind doesn’t blow are few in that cold month.

For this meditation I suggest planning ahead and buying or planting some snowdrop bulbs in pot, or if you have them growing in your garden, pick a handful and place them in a small vase with water and watch for them beginning to open their flowers properly. The scent will not emerge from unopened buds and so this is a seasonal meditation where you may have only a few short days or hours where it is possible to do it. If you are lucky and have the unusual combination of a sunny and still day, a location with plentiful snowdrops and sufficient privacy to meditate, then the meditation may be done outdoors. There is no essential oil of snowdrop, to my knowledge, and they do now retain much, if any scent when dried.

The arrival of the snowdrops is for me the turning point of the winter, when however much bad weather arrives after that, I have seen the spring starting. If you suffer from Seasonally Affective Disorder (SAD), the return of the light is very important both physically and psychologically. There is a flower essence available that may help with this, and may be useful taken before this meditation, if you find that Energy Medicine is helpful to you.

Follow the usual grounding and relaxing processes and then place your pot or vase of snowdrops close to your chosen seat, and for a few moments gaze at the flowers. Lift the flowers close to your face; feel the petals brush your skin as if the breeze were shaking them and inhale slowly and deeply. The fragrance will rise softly as the flowers warm; it comes in waves, sometimes barely there, other times quite strong. Wait until you have smelled the fragrance a few times and then begin.


The pale yellow sun of earliest spring is pouring through the bare twigs and branches of ancient woodland. You are standing on the edge of a clearing; hazel and birch trees surround you and beyond them larger and older trees stand as sentinels. The clearing is filled with snowdrops among the rough clumps of grass, and they are at the very peak of their blooming. There is hardly any breeze, but every so often a tiny hint of wind shakes the tiny flower heads like a thousand miniature bells; you might almost hear them ring with a faint silvery tone. Their scent rises to greet you in waves, a little like that of lilies but not cloying and very fresh and exhilarating, like the spring breeze that shakes the flowers from time to time.

Watch the flowers quiver and dance when the wind gusts through the clearing; see how their petals gleam brilliantly white in the new sunshine. There is still frost on the ground here and there; some of the grasses are dusted with crystals of ice, but as you watch, these are melting and the bright drops of moisture glitter in the light.

Walk further into the clearing and you will see that the trees make and almost perfect circle around you. Somewhere in the bushes a wren is singing her spring song; a blackbird tunes up and then breaks into song too. You can hear the chuckle of running water too, but right now you can’t see where it is coming from. Stand for a moment in the middle of the clearing and very slowly turn round and look at what surrounds you. The trees are still bare of leaves but even from this distance you can see the swelling of the buds. It will be a while yet before the buds break and burst forth into full leaf, but the signs are there. Birds move from branch to branch, and you can hear them squabble as well as sing. Some even seem to be carrying nesting materials, though this seems far too early and far too cold to be egg- laying time yet.

 At the edge of the clearing, you catch a glimpse of something that interests you. A low wall of ancient lichen-covered stones surrounds a small pool, from which emerges a narrow channel. The water flows from the pool and into the channel and then becomes a little stream, the bottom lined with shining pebbles. The snowdrops are so densely packed near this pool that it is hard to walk among them without stepping on them. When you get to the pool you can see that it is a spring, and the water is as pure and clear as you could wish for. Taste some; it is icy cold but very good. Around the low wall around the spring, someone has laid snowdrops, making a pattern of them. Look closely and see what the pattern seems to tell you. I will leave you here for a while to enjoy the scent of the flowers, the sunlight and the song of the spring.

* A shadow seems to pass across the face of the sun; a wisp of cloud has been blown across it, bringing you back to the here and now. The wind is gathering strength, and there is moisture in the air as if rain is on its way, and it feels colder suddenly, reminding you that spring is still barely here. You feel it is time to go home.

Inhale the scent of the snowdrops and feel them fill you with the energy to endure the rest of the time before the year turns more steadily to the sun. The quiet laughter of the spring beside you fills your heart with joy and as you pass from the flower filled glade and back into the room where you began, keep with you the feelings and thoughts the snowdrops gave you and keep them safe in your heart as the year warms. You are now back.

Spring water


The following picture I took last weekend. It WAS as cold as it looks. Any standing water was frozen solid. There were flurries of snow, and massing banks of snow clouds were flocking in from off the North Sea.

But this water was special. Just a little way up from the shingles and the crashing waves, the dunes are filled with tiny freshwater springs that often cut little paths through the sand and the marram grass and peter out before they go anywhere. A  few, like this one, form a shallow pond that then runs down in streamlets through the dunes and gives much needed water to wildlife. Herons fish in these ponds and even in the subzero temperatures, the moving waters remain free of ice.

Springs are truly mysterious and undoubtedly sacred places. Over my life I have been drawn to such places and find them an endless source of beauty and peace. That such places exist anywhere, and exist in unexpected places, is a source of great comfort to me. The healing waters of springs are an ancient concept, found the world over and with good cause; there are miracles that are recorded in these special places, things that defy normal explanations.

I’ll end with a quote from the book of Proverbs, chapter 4, verse 23:

“More than all else, keep watch over your heart since here are the wellsprings of life.”

Blast from the Past

Jesper mentioned last night he’d found another interesting website when he googled my name and I had a look and nearly fell of my chair.

I wrote the poem getting on for four years ago, come June time and it feels like an absolute lifetime ago. In the weeks that followed writing it, and having it published in the diocesan magazine, our whole world imploded. All our certainties became doubts; our way of life collapsed and we realised we had to flow with the changes or go mad. So we flowed. We flowed all the way from the landlocked Midlands to the east coast, to new jobs, a new home and new friends. Everything changed. Almost all our external realities changed and I found it desperately hard to adjust. I had to adjust to a smaller house, in an area where I knew no one, and then to working for someone else when I’d worked for myself, and to a job that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I’d never find my way back.

A little over three years later, when this life feels like home again, this poem, this reminder of what we left behind pops up and last night I found it harder than usual to sleep. A week or two back my husband saw our bishop. It’s the first time he’s made any movement in regards to his ministry since we left the Midlands. The time had felt right and the meeting went extremely well.

But for me, this poem is a reminder of a life I left behind and one I mourned for, for far longer than I’d care to admit. I was glad to leave it, true, but there were things that had been good and right about it.

I’m unsettled, I admit. But then, actor or not, Jesus did tend to unsettle people and shake up lives.

Dreaming about detritus

Early this morning I found myself in a dream that is a variation of a dream I have had in several forms for many years. In this dream, I was investigating the inners of a large floor cushion. The cushion had a zip so you could removed the cover for washing but instead of there being an inner cushion I discovered that the stuffing was made of old quilts and clothes, the way sometimes things made in the Third World or China used to be. Initially I was quite pleased as the towels that were inside it were unused and pristine, but as I rummaged deeper, it became clear that not merely clothes and so on had been used. Small soft toys began to emerge, clearly what one might call pre-loved: the nap worn off, the colours faded and slightly dirty. I got the impression that these were toys that had been valued by a child even after they lost the shop smell.

I rooted deeper and other things began to appear, like harder toys and ornaments and it became strangely obvious that the person to whom these things had belonged was dead. I inwardly recoiled but I carried on reaching deeper into this immense cushion that had become as big as a room inside and held all sorts. Christmas presents like a girls’ box of pretend jewels for dressing up as a princess emerged. This had had the cellophane removed but the fake jewels still were affixed to the inner box as if they had never been moved. I began to feel immensely sad.

Other things were found, like boxes for DVDs but empty. A jewelery box without jewels, treasure chests without treasures. All useless. I didn’t even know any of the film titles of the DVDs; and I didn’t make a mental note to try and remember them.

It was like the remains of a life, stuffed away and then forgotten and sold as nothing.

I woke feeling very puzzled and rather sad. I also woke with a raging chest infection, finding it hard to breathe and hard to talk without coughing hard; this seems to have come on in the night, as last night all I noticed was a slightly tight feeling in my chest. I’m going to the doctor’s this morning; I wouldn’t bother except it’s only ten days till I go away, and a week before I am back at work.

What is this detritus of a life I find? I’ve found it in other dreams too, many times, sometimes digging in the earth. Why does it make me so sad?