Monday Meditation ~ Bluebell for inner strength in hard times

Bluebell Meditation

Bluebells are one of the most quintessentially English of wild-flowers. The sight of a woodland floor carpeted in bluebells as far as the eye can see is a delightful and uplifting one. Curiously, the flower known as bluebell in England is not known by the same name in Scotland, where it is referred to as the wild hyacinth, echoing the French name, jacinth sauvage. This gives clues to the flower’s family connections and also to it’s glorious perfume.

This year, the bluebells have been almost a month late flowering and are now at their peak. I cut a small number from the garden to put in vases round the house so we might enjoy their colour and fragrance indoors since the weather has been cold and rainy.

Meditation:

If you have access to garden bluebells, cut a few stems to place in water; native English bluebells, like all wild-flowers, should not be picked or dug up. You may also use hyacinths for this meditation or essential oil of hyacinth (which is expensive but heady and almost hypnotic) Find somewhere to sit where you will be undisturbed and calm and centre yourself. If you have a recording of woodland birdsong for an English spring, that may also aid the deepening of the meditative experience.

If you have some bluebells with you, gaze at them for a few moments, drinking in their colour, form and scent. Then, when you have fixed them in your mind, close your eyes and begin to relax.

You are standing at a woodland edge. It’s spring, early in the morning but well past dawn. The birds have finished their hymn to the new day and everything is settling into its daily pattern. The sun is out, and it’s occasionally lost behind fluffy white clouds that meander slowly across a sky that is a beautiful shade of blue. There’s a freshness to the air that tells you that spring has a long way to go before it becomes summer. The trees at the woodland edge are tall old oaks, and their new leaves are still small, not fully opened, and a pale luminous green that is transparent and moist. The path into the wood is no more than a thread of beaten earth, made by passing feet and followed also by deer and rabbits and other creatures. Here and there, in patches of mud you can see their tracks where a single fleeting hoof has splashed through a shallow puddle.

As you enter the woodland, the light changes and so too does the sound. Both become muted by the canopy of trees. You can see the blueness of the sky above through gaps in the canopy, and the newly opened leaves are still allowing light to shine through them. The air seems to shimmer with this light green light and you find this very soothing as you stroll along the path as it winds among the trees. There are some giant old oaks here, some struck by lightning and others just huge shells with tufts of new leaves. It feels safe and friendly here so you continue onwards.

The path becomes less muddy, and you can see that it’s streaked with pale sand now where the rain has drawn particles to the surface. It weaves through the trees, as the woodland rolls gently up and down. Sometimes the path seems to take a steeper route and you sense you are being led higher, though the way seems to wind and double back on itself. It feels leisurely and you are not in a hurry so are content to follow the path. Here and there birds sing as you pass, but there is no sign of other people around. It’s supremely peaceful here and you feel happy and at ease with yourself.

As the path leads steeply upwards you feel a sense of excitement building, and as the slope becomes sharper and your breath comes in gasps, you feel sure this is leading to something amazing. After a few minutes of hard climbing, you reach the top quite suddenly and you stop in your tracks in wonder.

The top of the hill is flat, covered in a grove of the most lovely trees, but the earth is lost beneath an expanse of the most heavenly of blues. Bluebells in great profusion cover the forest floor. The scent that washes off them in the gentle breeze almost overwhelms your senses and you take a deep breath, drawing the fragrant air far down into your lungs, holding it there so you can almost taste the bluebells.

You stand at the edge of the grove, wanting to go further in but afraid to trample on this profusion of beauty, till you see that the path continues to wind on, just wide enough for you to walk on it. The shining leaves of the bluebells caress your ankles as you walk, and the scent rises, smoky and sweet, at every step. The path takes you to the middle of the grove where a single young oak tree waits. No more than perhaps thirty of forty years old, this tree is still small compared with the giants around but it has a special look to it, and when you get to it, you see that beneath it is a large flat boulder, with has a kind of basin in it. The basin is filled with water and a single floret of bluebell. Around the boulder is soft white sand, and so you sit down on it. Looking upwards the new green leaves of the trees make a pattern of great loveliness with the blue sky beyond them. All around the deep blue of the flowers, the glossy dark green of their leaves, and the verdant oak leaves fill you with the powerful peace that can be found in woodlands.

Touch the water. See the ripples and the changing reflections shatter and reform. Touch the flower head. It feels fleshy and cool, and for something so ephemeral and fleeting it feels stronger than you would expect. This is the power of bluebells. Each year they bloom for a few short weeks, then disappear back under the earth. Yet even while they are invisible, they are growing, spreading and colonising new lands. Left alone, they will return year after year to raise their heads to the blue sky above.

Gaze at the bluebells. Feel the calmness their colour and scent bring to any troubles you may have. Stay as long as you wish. This is a safe, nurturing environment and you will know when it is time to leave.

bluebell and oak

*

The sun has risen high in the sky now and you feel the warmth reaching you here on the forest floor. The duties and joys of the day ahead await you. You can retrace your path to the woodland edge or you can follow the path onward. Once it dips over the other side of the grove, it takes a shorter route back to your world. It’s up to you which you take. If you want a longer walk to think about what you have experienced, take the original path back. If you are ready now to return, take the quicker path back.

Once you reach the woodland’s edge, stop for a moment and look back at the trees and remember how good it felt to be at peace in such a wood. Now let the forest melt away and let yourself return fully to your normal world.

Take a few minutes to record your experiences and also make sure you have a drink of water to help you ground fully. 

Is escapism harmless?

Is escapism harmless?

Can you can tell when times have got tougher by the kind of books and entertainment people choose?

I’d love to see a proper study done with graphs and spreadsheets and percentages. Ones that show the rise of the feel-good-factor musicals proportionate to the plummeting of pay packets, or the popularity of happy-ever-after romances to the surge in divorces.

I have a theory. One of those that is completely unsubstantiated and without any evidence but my own musings. But as I said, I don’t think anyone has done a definitive study yet.

My theory is that when life becomes tougher for us here in the West, we turn more to entertainment that is pure escapism. People seek something that will block out their reality for a few hours, and leave them with a lingering glow of hopefulness. Books that transport you to another life, or even another world, and make you forget about your own issues.

On this level, virtually all literature aims to be escapist in some fashion, to lift you out of your life and into that of the text. It’s the sign of success for a novelist if you make people miss buses, be late for things or stay up half the night to finish.

That’s only half the story, though. Like a good holiday, a good book or film also returns you to your reality better able and prepared to cope with new challenges. This, to me, is the problem with escapism. You don’t want to go back, you remain with half of your self still locked in that world. I’m not talking about a book or film that haunts you but rather something more visceral. Something that gets deep inside and makes you constantly hanker back, wishing you were ‘there’, wishing that your life was as romantic or exciting and never doing more than wishing and hankering. Romantic novels rarely give a blueprint for reproducing better relationships. High-octane musicals seldom offer any realistic view of working towards goals: for every Billy Eliot who makes it, there are a thousand who never do. None of us want to imagine ourselves as the ones who didn’t make the grade. Yet we are encouraged to ‘believe in ourselves’, to believe that we are the ones, the magic ones, who are the stars of the show.

Coming back to ordinary life after this sort of experience is inevitably going to be a downer. So. What do you do? Do you sit down, analyse what you need to do to achieve any of the things you’d like in your life, swallow hard at how long, hard and tough the road will be and then get on with it? In all probability, no. You’re going to reach for another sweetie in the form of whatever it was gave you the buzz in the first place. It’s human nature. It’s the pleasure principle; we do again and again the things that gave us our jollies. And that’s fine if all you want to do is dream.

But while I enjoy the odd moment of escapism (bear in mind I’m working my way through various DVD box-sets at present including the X Files) I’ve never liked either romantic fiction or musicals. In fact, with a few exceptions (notably Fiddler on the Roof and a couple of others) I’d rather sit in a bath of cold custard than watch a musical I haven’t got the option to stop when I find my ability to suspend disbelief has vanished. There are lots of reasons why I loathe romance (and those are for another post, perhaps) but I seem to be in a very small minority in my dislike. Most people love it. There are conventions used when writing romance. A HEA is in most cases considered obligatory (happy ever after) or at the least a Happy For Now, because (note italics) this is what people want to read. They don’t want to read about relationships that remotely resemble the ones they experience in real life because this is not why they are reading.

There’s a saying (used extensively as a kind of catchphrase in several novels of Susan Howatch): when the going gets tough, the tough get going. It speaks for itself. The world will not fix itself. If we all retreat into escapism where one distraction from suffering merges seamlessly into another, there will be no change, either in our own lives or in that of the world. Escapism is only harmless when it is a holiday from ordinary reality, a time out for refreshing and recovering and not somewhere where in essence we start living because it’s so much nicer in Cloud Cuckoo Land than it is right here. 

A mothy guest post…

Yesterday I was guest at Marc Nash’s blog http://sulcicollective.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/guest-post-vivienne-tuffnell.html

Do check it out. I detail some of the inspirations behind The Moth’s Kiss, my new collection of short stories. https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-moths-kiss-goes-live/

Oases and Sanctuaries ~ finding peaceful places

Oases and Sanctuaries ~ finding peaceful places

I’ve been struggling with my health recently. I realised a few days ago that what I’d been feeling for months was a sort of numb nothingness that spilled over into unwarranted sadness over the strangest things. My inability to crack on with tasks that are simple and easy was meaning that I was procrastinating about lots of things I ought to have been expediting. I needed to make an appointment to see a rheumatologist, and it took me longer than it ought to pick up the phone and set things in motion. But the blank lack of much real feeling became evident a few days ago when someone asked me, “You must be excited about the new book coming out?” and it came to me that I felt almost nothing. I thought lots of things, but there was a big question mark over how I was feeling.

I’m living a different life to the one I lived a year ago. I’m at home far more. I am still trying to find my feet in a new place, having been unable to get out and explore as much due to the persistently cold, damp and miserable weather. I’m getting to know a new garden, and I’m finding it hard. Every bit of gardening I do causes me to hurt in unprecedented ways. It’s frustrating. I want to garden but I lack the physical strength to do much.

We bought a bench the other week. A nice, slightly ornamental bench that sits now under a natural arbour of a tree I suspect may be a cherry plum, between two trellises of roses and jasmine and honeysuckle. I’ve put up a single line of solar powered fairy lights, and hung out some glass tea light holders so when the nights are pleasant enough we can sit out and enjoy the evenings. I’ve planted seeds for night-scented stocks and other plants who release scents after dark. It looks lovely, and I’ve been sitting there to meditate most days. We bought goldfish for our pond too, and combined with our bees, the garden is beginning to feel like an oasis away from the world beyond the fence. I even dug up an ancient key when I was preparing the vegetable patch, reminding me of The Secret Garden.

When I go places, for work or not, I’ve begun to collect a mental map of peaceful places in each of the locations I visit. Some are well known parks and gardens. Some are cafés and tea rooms with hidden gardens. Yesterday I went to one of my special places in Norwich. At the end of Elm Hill, a medieval cobbled street preserved from destruction by a forward thinking council in the 1920s, there is the Briton’s Arms. It was used as the inn The Slaughtered Prince in the film Stardust (which was filmed partly in Norwich) and is a lovely building, all half timbered and quirky. They also have a secret garden, tucked away at the back. Great pots of ferns and of palms and many tubs and baskets create the feeling of a clearing in a jungle. One wall is composed of ancient gravestones propped up at the far end of the churchyard beyond. (Norwich has the most medieval churches of any city in western Europe; there are, I think 33 within the city walls). It’s a little oasis of peace and tranquility that does wonderful home-made cakes too. I sat and read out there for forty five minutes, enjoying my tea and cake. I read Margaret Coles The Greening, a novel which is set partly in Norwich and explores the story of Julian of Norwich, one of my heroines, as well as the story of two other women who became fascinated by Julian. It’s an enjoyable if slightly flawed novel but it felt perfect to be reading the first half there.

When we released the goldfish into their new pond, I realised I was that tiny bit closer to achieving some long standing dreams of creating a place of great peace, hidden away from the world, private and refreshing. I first began this dream 22 years ago, when we visited Taizé and I spent time at the Chapel of the Wellspring there. On two occasions since then, we have looked at places we might have gone to live that had healing wellsprings, both quite famous in their ways, and we’ve said no to both. Later we have discovered that there had been rifts in those communities concerning the springs and the churches and it has confirmed our instincts that however much we both wanted to be near those springs, it wasn’t right.

I’ve never given up hope that one day I may be guardian to a wellspring but I’ve begun to understand that the definition of what a wellspring is may be subject to quite different forces than those of a dictionary.

The Moth’s Kiss goes live!

The Moth’s Kiss goes live

Yesterday, with my usual trepidation and anxiety, I pressed ‘publish’ for my new collection of short stories, The Moth’s Kiss. Some of the stories have appeared here, but with over 700 posts to wander through, they’re not easy to find. Some are completely new, unseen to all human eyes (except for a few kind friends who have read them for me to make sure they come up to snuff).

As a collection, the stories are united in being creepy, scary, ghostly or paranormal in theme, but a deeper theme runs through most if not all: consequences. Nothing we do is without ramifications, no choice we make is locked in a vacuum. Karma, if you like. Things come back to bite us on the bum.

The stories delve into some of my own deepest fears, and I suspect they may make most readers shiver a little at least. Some may not want to read them alone in the house at night…

The collection is available from Amazon, here for the UK and here for the US.  . (There’s a party over at Facebook this evening too if you fancy dropping by for a few virtual drinks https://www.facebook.com/events/265724816897530/ so pop over, say hi and nibble some snacks)

Moth's Kiss cover

Stationery P*rn ~ or the lure of perpetual possibilities

Stationery p*rn ~ or the lure of perpetual possibilities.

(Do note the careful expurgating of a certain word in the title. If I have a post go viral I’d rather it did it for the right reasons.)

In the last few days I have seen a good deal about my fellow creatives love of stationery. Pens, paper, art materials, pencils and notebooks. Mmmm notebooks…

Time to come out of the (stationery)closet and admit my adoration for notebooks, pens and the like. I buy notebooks compulsively. I own many. Most of them are empty. I buy more when I still have shelves full of them. From the simply ring bound hard back notebooks to novelty ones made with banana paper or even rhino poo, I just love ’em. I specially love those which have beautiful mysterious meaningful covers. A year or two back my husband gave me one at Christmas that has a delightful Renoir painting on the cover. I have them in every colour, and size. And yes, most of them remain empty. I use Moleskine notebooks as my travelling notebook of choice and for good reason. The sheer quality of the paper, the design, the functionality (ink does not bleed through so you can use both sides of each sheet) and the pocket at the back for extra documents, plus the fact that the pages open out properly so you can write rapidly with ease, and not have to hold the notebook down forcibly. I carry one in my handbag at all times, with a smaller one that is not ruled so I can draw if I want to. Moleskine carry a much bigger range than you usually see in the few shops that stock them but I usually buy packs of three in the cahier range (plain cardboard covers, ruled paper) in whatever sizes are available. Yes, they are expensive if you are not a stationery afficionado, but they are a pleasure to use and they are worth it to me because I actually do USE them. That’s where my ideas get jotted down when out and about; where short stories can get roughed out when I’m travelling, or poems or musings.

But the ones that don’t get used, they are a powerful symbol for something that cuts to the soul.

Does anyone here remember Syd Barrett, one of the original members of Pink Floyd (when they were THE Pink Floyd)? Syd had a breakdown and left the band but continued to write music up until his untimely death a few years ago. I heard a story about him that resonated. It wasn’t unusual for Syd not to get up at all, for days on end; apparently he had a belief that each day contained endless, shining possibilities and that once you left bed to start the day, those possibilities became whittled down to very few or just one. He worried that he’d be making the wrong choices if he got up, that the day would go on but it would become fixed and all those myriad other days would cease to be possible.

That’s why many of my notebooks don’t get used. While they are blank empty vessels waiting to be filled with literally ANYTHING, they are portals to other dimensions, other lives. The moment I set pen to them, they become fixed for one purpose only. I have the most lovely red leather covered notebook with an embossed pattern of Mayan hands. I bought it deciding I would only write in it the good things in life than happened to me. I do write in it but not often because being a novelist I feel the need to provide narrative cohesion even for my own scribblings so I need to recap, explain and contextualise events I chose to write in it. I have a suede notebook that is just my complainings, day to day mundane, get-it-out-of-my-head journalling that I hope no one ever reads. I can’t now take that suede book and write anything different in it. I can’t use my red leather one to write down stories in.

Remember that one with the Renoir on it? I have plans for that. One day, I will learn calligraphy and I will write up all my own poems in that as a gift for my husband. He reads this blog but perhaps he’ll not read this post…

I was given a delightful Gratitude notebook that remains blank because it’s simply too nice for me to use (self esteem issues here) in case I spoil it. There’s another that has a picture of powders that may be spices or paint or dyes, that seems to be waiting to become perhaps a recipe book… There’s one with hand-made paper that looks like it needs to be filled with magical recipes for incenses and potions…There’s one covered with Indian rough silk I think may make a dream journal…

I could go on. Every blank notebook carries with it the possible books that might be written within it. Once you start writing, that book is fixed, and there’s no going back. So I will buy notebooks and some will be used, some will remain empty, and some will be only half filled.

Because one of the nicest things about being a grown-up is being able to start a new exercise book without having to show teacher you have finished the last one. We can be lavish, expansive and creative and we can hold a world of possible books in a row of empty notebooks, and have the choice of where to go.

And don’t get me started about pens…

Fairies at the bottom of your garden?

You all know I believe in fairies and I’m not the only one, but it seems that one believer wanted to see how much remains on fairy folklore in the UK today. Even though the whole thing was later admitted as a hoax, the creator of this had interesting reasons for doing so and ones that made me smile.

Do check out the hoax reveal story, for his reasons and pictures of his fake dead fairy.

http://www.snopes.com/photos/supernatural/deadfairy.asp

and then if you haven’t already, perhaps have a look at the blurb on my novel Away With The Fairies also available in the US

 

Even though this was a hoax to me it does cheer me that there are still a great deal of people who want to believe in fairies.