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.