Lammas at the Cave

Lammas at the Cave

Lammas at the Cave

The morning birdsong is over by the time I leave the cave; I have not had the energy to rise at dawn to see the sun rise as I should. I have slept in, lying on top of my bed-roll most of the night, for though the cave is cool, the nights have been humid, sticky and oppressive. It has been difficult to get anything done, for movement other than the most languid kind leaves me exhausted and sweating.

Cooler air greets me, laden with the scents rising from the forest below, redolent of the soft rain that fell last night, and of green growth and flowers and a hint of ripeness. I do not farm up here, so there are no grain crops to gather in, but other things are coming to the point of harvest. A willow basket is hooked over my arm as I head slowly down the path that leads steeply down from the ledge where I live. I do not know what I am going to gather, but it seems to me that I should take a basket just in case. For what seems like the longest time, I have lost interest in my home and my life; though I know the forest to be coloured with the most vivid of shades and hues, all I have been able to see has been an endless mass of greys.

Under the canopy of trees, the path is dark and were it not for the white rocks placed at the edges here and there, I might easily wander. That’s dangerous, for on my mountain there are precipitous drops that you can’t see till you are almost falling over them. It’s not a place for careless meanderings, yet again today I let my feet guide me, not my mind, and I find myself at the stream that tumbles down the side of the mountain. The path follows this, and the air is heavy with the cool moisture and the song of the stream.

I have to tread carefully for the path is narrow and hard on the feet, sometimes becoming slippery and I wish I had not come this way; I consider turning back. But I trudge on, shouldering the empty basket, tripping sometimes, which leaves me breathless with shock and fear. Eventually, the ground levels out, and I find myself somewhere I have no memory of having been before. A great basin of rock, wide and deep, opens out for many yards and the stream fills it before leaving at the far end, the water draining away in a series of beautiful little waterfalls no more than five or six feet in height. The noise of falling water is deafening, yet I do not move onwards. I put the basket down and find somewhere to sit, cushioned by lush moss, and dangle my sore feet into the water.

It’s icy and refreshing, and I realise I am sweating with the effort and with the heat, for the sun is now high overhead. I had not felt how time was passing, and passing so swiftly, that my morning is gone. The water is inviting, so I strip off my clothes and slide in, gasping with the shock of the cold. The pool is deep enough to swim in, though if I put my feet down, I touch the rock. I swim for a little while before dressing again, and sit back on my mossy seat, damp and chilled and panting. I do not want to leave here, either to go back or to go onwards. Despite the noise of the water, it’s a very peaceful place.

A dash of brightness catches my eye, flashing past and dipping into the water, a brief vision of intense, shining blue that reappears on the far side of the pool, its beak full of a silver wriggling fish that disappears down its gullet with little difficulty. I search my memory for a name: kingfisher. I watch it dive for another, and another, and the fierce, brilliant colours are like lightning in the night of my mind. Then, full of fish, it flashes away downstream, out of sight and I am left alone.

When I come to pick up my basket, to my surprise it is full of fish. Much larger than the ones the kingfisher was catching, these are salmon and trout, and they remind me that if I do not grow grain here, I must still eat in winter, and I lug the basket back to the cave where they can be prepared for drying and smoking.

As the sun sets, I sit out at my fire, and eat freshly roasted salmon, burning my fingers a little as I pick pink flesh off the bones, and feel the blessing of the fisher of kings.


Autumn Equinox ~ beauty from the Cave

Equinox ~ beauty from the Cave

There is a soft, damp quality to the air as I emerge from the cave, and wisps of mist obscure the whole area in front of my home. Closer to the edge of the wide, shallow bowl that is this mountain ledge, I see that the forests below are almost invisible because of the mist that lies more thickly further down the mountain. Only the tips of the tallest pines are visible. Lower down, I know that the broad leaf trees are changing their coats but I cannot see them.

The fire has been set ready the night before, and I use flint and steel to make sparks to kindle a handful of dry leaves and resinous pine needles and twigs I have brought from the store deep in the cave. Long practice means it takes only half a dozen strikes before a cascade of white-hot sparkling dots falls into the mass of kindling. Flowers of fire spring up and before long, the bonfire is crackling.

Along with the smell of the smoke, the air is filled with the rich, spicy scents of autumn. Dying leaves, ripe fruit, the peppery aroma of edible fungi, and the comforting smell of resin from my woodpile, all the fragrances I love and associate with the time of preparation.

I sit down, on one of the low benches I have fashioned from logs, and warm my hands at the rising flames. I eat an apple, slowly and thoughtfully. Its perfect skin is unblemished and the flesh is tart yet sweet. Birdsong fills the air, and the sound also of the mountain spring that supplies my water, bubbling up and falling away into a streamlet that rushes down the mountainside, gathering momentum and rainfall as it goes. Somewhere deep in the forest it becomes a river, swelling and growing and wearing a path through rock and earth alike.

The sun has risen and is hanging like a golden globe above the white mass of fog, its face veiled still as if the finest of silks had been draped over its radiant visage. The mist will burn off soon; indeed, I can see the forms of the taller broad-leaves emerging now from the swirling whiteness. Their colours are poised between the green of summer and the buffs, golds and crimsons of autumn. Before too long even those brilliant colours will be swept away by the winds of winter. For winter is coming, make no mistake. This day is a day of inventory, of assessing my stores and perhaps deciding I have more time to gather in more food for thought as well as food for my body. Fuel of varying kinds have been stacked up, from the elaborately constructed pyramids of fire wood to the rendered fats for lamps and tapers, and the precious beeswax, scented with honey and propolis, and the pages of a hundred books, stored close to the fire for dryness, to fuel my mind during the days and nights of raging blizzards. Winter is a time to nurture the deep thought that comes with the immobility that ice and cold and snow and wildness bring me.

The sun has revealed the forest now, so I stand and go to the edge of my little domain, and look down upon it. A thousand shades of green are giving way to other shades now, but for the moment they are about equal, as are day and night. Soon night will overcome and long dark days will follow.

Yet I know that however long the winter may be, spring always comes, sooner or later, and I throw my apple core as far as I can, with a silent prayer that its pips may become more apple trees to feed and beautify the denizens of this forest I love so much.

Monday Meditation: the Sacred Pool

Sacred Pool meditation

You are on a woodland path beneath a canopy of trees in full but fresh leaf. The path is soft and sandy but every two feet or so, there is a large flat stone that lies set into the soil like a stepping stone in a river. Like a river, the path winds in a leisurely fashion and takes you forward without rushing. There is birdsong all around and the breeze is pleasantly warm yet refreshing. Above the canopy, the sky is a deep, restful blue, with a few pure white clouds that move like slow ships across the ocean of sky.

The trees ahead form a tighter tunnel that then opens into a green archway and beyond it there is a clearing. At the centre of the clearing is a wide pool of water, the margins of which are marked by more of the large flat stones. Unlike the ones within the wood, these are speckled with lichen and mosses and ferns grow between them. At the far side of the pool the water spills over into a fast-moving stream, suggesting that the pool is fed by a spring.

Walk closer to the water and find somewhere to sit. The ground near the pool is soft and comfortable, plump with moss and deep, thick grass. Once you are seated, try and look into the water. Let your eyes sink into the cool green depths, and see that amid the water-weeds, little fishes dart hither and thither. Some are bright silver and others are golden. Their movements are like flickering flames at the bed of the pool. What else can you see down here?

Bubbles rise from time to time, strings of minute silvery beads that burst as they reach the surface. Now and again, a larger fish rises, breaches the surface with a soft ‘pop’ and dives back down. Dragonflies hover, jewel-like, above the water. A few water lilies bloom, and on the margins other wild plants flower. There is a scent of mint from the water-mint that seems to grow everywhere.

The air is filled with the small sounds of nature, from bees to birds and behind it all, the song of the stream as it rushes over its pebbled bed. Though there are no man-made symbols, you know without a doubt that this is a sacred, beautiful place and you are blessed by being here. Sit awhile to let the blessing sink in, gazing on the reflection of the sky and the trees in the mirror-like water.

When you are filled with the peace of this place, dip your hands into the water and bathe your face with it. Cool, but not cold, it wipes away any weariness of soul and refreshes you for your return to the world beyond the sacred pool.

Equinox at the Cave

Equinox at the Cave

There are cobwebs everywhere when I move through from the long dark tunnel and into the subdued light of the cave.

At first I think this is simply because it’s been so long since I’ve been here but as I look around, I realise that the place is different from when I was last here. The light streaming into the cave has a mellow, golden tone to it, and the air smells not of sap and spring flowers but of wood-smoke and that spicy, musky odour of fallen leaves. When I get to the entrance, I see there are things waiting for me; this is always the way: I arrive and I find that something has been prepared for me.

In the brisk wind, I see Reindeer waiting at the fire-pit, the breeze ruffling dense fur. I bow my greeting before burying my face in that soft warm fur. It has been too long and I am ashamed of my absence. I had felt unworthy to come here, laden and burdened with anger and a desire to hurt those who had hurt me, so my visits stopped. I did not wish to pollute this sacred space with my pain, though surely I should have known it would heal me to be here. I am a fool.

I feel a touch and I look up; the great soft muzzle has nudged me to alertness and with one unmistakable gesture I am directed to investigate the things left at the entrance. I get to my feet but as I move, I sense Reindeer getting up and moving away. The pile of objects left for me are puzzling and delightful. The first is a heap of pebbles, white quartzite polished to a sheen, each so large I cannot close my fingers around it. They are heaped upon a folded blanket of crimson and other colours. There is a design woven into it but I cannot interpret the figure in the middle. The wool is dense and soft and will be very warm. The final item is a long plush feather, barred in beige and white; by the feel I think it may be from an owl.

I am alone. My guardian spirit is close by and I know I am safe as the sun dips below the horizon, far off beyond the endless forest that stretches out below my ledge. I set to and light the fire, feeding it with the pine cones that litter the pure white sand around me. One by one, as the sky turns darker, the stars emerge, pinpoints of brilliant white light in a velvet canopy. The night is cool, and is becoming colder, so I fetch the blanket and wrap myself in it and I sit close to the fire.

My head nods and I have to stop myself falling into a dream state. Perhaps I have for as I gaze into the fire, I see eyes gazing back at me from the other side of the fire-pit. At first I think my guardian has returned but then I see that there are not two eyes but eight that watch me, without blinking. In the dancing shadows I see that my new companion is a being that baffles all comprehension.

As the light flickers, she too flickers, changing from one form to another. At one moment she is a an elderly woman, her face stern and wise and webbed by lines of experience that make her visage more beautiful than a smooth young face could be. At another moment I see a vast Spider, lovely but alien and strange. Perhaps I should be afraid but I am not; instead I am simply overwhelmed with the honour of this visitor.

Greetings, Grandmother,” I say, bowing, even though I sit cross-legged and swathed in my blanket.

She bows back and we sit, facing each other through the fire, companionable but silent. I do not know what to say and I wait for her to speak. As my Elder, she must have come with a message, but for a long while she sits, her hands moving but her voice stilled. Gradually I see that she is weaving, or perhaps knitting, and her clever fingers are creating something out of yarn.

The night draws on and I am glad of the fire. My legs grow stiff, and reluctantly I get to my feet to stretch them.

Bring the stones.”

Her voice is melodic and sweet, but it makes me jump because I had begun to think she would not speak at all.

Bringing a few at a time, I carry all the pebbles to the fire side and when I offer to bring them to her, she shakes her head. She had settled on form and much of me is relieved that she has chosen to remain as Grandmother, leaving her Spider form. I settle down again and look at her, quizzically.

Build me a tower with the stones,” she asks.

The stones are too rounded, surely, but I obey and time and time again, I manage to balance one pebble on another, and sometimes even a third, yet always, the fourth one’s placing causes the tower to tumble. She laughs, as a mother might at a child’s folly.

I drop the stones and lower my head, feeling my cheeks redden and I struggle to force the anger down again.

I can’t,” I say. “I can’t.”

I can,” she says, and when I glare at her, my eyes filled with skepticism and anger, she laughs again.

Show me,” I ask, ruder than I ought to be to this Being.

She comes to my side of the fire and I see that she has been weaving a long, thin net. She picks each stone very carefully slides it into the net until it is full and all the stones are contained within it. She holds the end of the net, and the stones jostle for a moment before settling.

But that’s cheating,” I say, outraged. “It’s not standing by itself, even.”

She laughs and very slowly removes her grip on the net. To my astonishment, the structure remains upright and intact. For about ten seconds, it stands before toppling to one side. Some of the stones spill out.

I am chastened. I do not ask her why she asked me to build an impossible tower, but instead I gather the stones and the net back together and I hold two of the pebbles, one in each hand. They are of the same weight and size and the cool surface of each is a pleasure to touch.

Not everything must last forever,” she says. “I bound those stones together for a short time. Now those stones are free to be something else.”

I do not understand but I do not really need to; this is something to ponder in the long nights to come. The stars have shifted since I first began my vigil and I sense that we have come to that still point, where for a short time, day and night are of equal length before inexorably, night becomes longer and the days brief and cold. I take the two stones, and I manage to balance one upon the other, and I leave them by the side of the fire-pit. The Being on the other side stands up, her body filled with grace and strength that bely her ancient nature.

You may bind things together and they may stay bound for a time,” she says. “But having once been bound, they will always remember the binding. It is the remembering that is important. That is my gift.”

She raises a hand and in my mind, I also see her raise palps and she slips away down the trail that begins at the edge of the sand. I sit back down and wait for the dawn. I slip into sleep, and I wake to find Reindeer next to me, my head resting on warm flanks. All around the cave, all over the bushes at the edge of the ledge, are a million webs shining with jewels of dew. The blanket slides off my shoulders as I rise to my feet to stretch, and as I pick it up off the sand to fold it, I see clearly for the first time the design woven into the wool.

A stylised spider sits at the centre of a web whose threads make the words: Grandmother Spider Wove The World.

As I walk back into the cave, I find the feather. I had forgotten this gift and as I lift it to the morning light, I see that the end of the feather is shaped; the hard keratin end has been fashioned into a nib.

I have no ink,” I say aloud, but Reindeer is asleep and there is no one to answer me.

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.


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. 

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.

When the song falls silent ~ disconnection and disorientation

When the song falls silent ~ disconnection and disorientation

I was chatting with Madison Woods on Facebook the other day, and discussing a post she’d written about the three kinds of music. And the fourth kind.


This is what she says:

Instrumental music is the music most people will think of when the word ‘music’ is used. It’s the kind you hear with your ears and tap your foot or sing along with. Music of the spheres is the sound emitted by celestial bodies as they move through space. I have heard of this and even listened to recordings made from outer space, but it wasn’t something I’d connected with when I first heard about it. Music of humans is the musical harmony between the souls of humans. It is this one that struck the chord with me when I heard about it for the first time this morning.

This music between souls of humans explains a lot about why some people just don’t get along from the get-go, and why some click and resonate so well from the very first time they meet. It adds to the explanation of the phenomenon of soul-mates. Until I met Rob, I didn’t believe in soul-mates, by the way, so I’m a relatively newly converted believer.

And now I remember how this had to do with the marketing. It is from this place of harmonic resonance that the connections between people arise to make the kind of marketing Lynn talks about in her book possible. It’s about forming communities and tribes (a well-used, maybe over-used, buzz word in the online social marketing arena) of others who share your world-views. Its not necessarily about forming mono-cultures of those who are pursuing the same goals as us (i.e. writers grouping with writers… satisfying on a personal level, but perhaps not a good marketing strategy). In a village full of bakers, who’s going to shoe the horses or till the ground?

The thing I haven’t mentioned yet that excites me most of all about this whole music business is a fourth kind of music – one she didn’t mention, and I haven’t seen referenced anywhere, but I have heard. It is the between music. I know some of you hear it and just don’t know what it is. I feel it between myself and the earth, and I actually hear the earth humming at night sometimes. I sense between music while walking in the woods beneath the trees. Certain plants, certain animals, particular rocks and certain seasons all resonate with me in ways that can be explained by this kind of music I can’t define except as between.”

I confess it brought up some powerful thoughts in me, because I knew exactly what she was talking about. It’s almost impossible to describe in ordinary terms and for those who are sceptics, then I suspect you have plenty of explanations for what I have felt and heard. The best way to illustrate it is via my own fiction; the following are two excerpts from The Bet, where the main character is trying to understand a number of things about his life and is sent on a long walk on the North York moors to try and get his thoughts straight.

So he walked, obediently, and found himself getting higher and higher into the hills and this breathtaking silence and crystalline air. When he’d gone as far as he dared and still be able to get back before dark, he stopped. He was on open moorland, scarcely a tree in sight save low scrubby birch and rowan. There was snow on the ground up here, frozen hard and untouched by the bright winter sun, and the sky was like an immense dome of icy blue glass. He felt as though he could almost touch the sky; it seemed so close and solid. Tufts of heather showed black through the snow here and there, and large grey boulders, lichen-stained and worn by weather littered the ground. His breath hung around him in white clouds, and he could feel the sweat from the steep climb drying and cooling on his skin. There was a curlew calling somewhere, but he couldn’t see it however hard he tried. He cleared a rock of snow and sat down cautiously and let his breathing slow and quieten till all he could hear was this great empty moorland. There were lots of small sounds, once he was himself quiet enough to hear them. A thrush was breaking open a snail, halfway down the valley it must have been but the sound of shell on stone reached him so clearly it could have been only a few feet away, such was the clarity of sound. A grouse clattered somewhere behind him; its call of “go back go back”, reminding him he would need to turn round and go back soon. After he had sat for some time, he fancied he could hear something beyond the small noises of animal and bird life, or the occasional aeroplane, or distant car, or even the soft soughing of the wind among the heather and stones; a kind of gigantic pulse, soft and deep and very slow. He was aware he had got very cold, that his bum had become numb with sitting on the cold unyielding rock, but still he listened, entranced.

A fox called harshly somewhere in the distance, making him glance up. The sky was still light but the sun was gone.”

Later he is attempting to explain his experiences:

““It felt as though something very large was alive up there, that was what it seemed like,” Ashurst went on. “So large I couldn’t see it. Am I making any sense?”

Perfect sense. I go up on the moor quite often; it’s a very clear place. No illusions up there.”

So I wasn’t imagining it, then?”

Good God, no. I feel as if I can see into forever from up there.”

Yes, but it was something else too.”

Go on. Don’t be afraid to say whatever you felt.”

Ashurst hesitated, trying desperately to arrange words, which wouldn’t stay where he put them. Finally, he said, simply,

I felt as if the whole world were actually alive and I could feel its in-breath and its out-breath.”

The old man smiled and poured more tea.”

During much of my life, I have been able to still myself and feel that giant in-breath and out-breath, that deep, silent pulse of life, often up on mountainsides or by the ocean at twilight. I’ve been able to feel it in a busy London park, hearing the sublime, silent songs of the beds of flowers and the towering plane trees. I’ve been able to hold a wild mouse in the palm of my hand, meet the minute eyes and hear the song of that little creature. Many times I have pressed by ear to the trunk of a spring-time silver birch and beneath the river of rushing sap I have heard the voice of the tree itself. I’ve sat in Quaker Meeting and felt and heard the collective song of the community, humming softly beneath the sound of ticking clocks, rasping breath and gurgling stomachs.

But lately I feel as if I have gone profoundly deaf. Worse, as if the song never existed and that I have been deluded to think it did. Yet reading Madison’s post reminded me that if I am deluded, then not only is she also deluded but vast numbers of people have also been, and I feel a measure of comfort.

I have no answers to this yet, beyond the knowledge that the disconnection and disorientation I feel may be just a part of the journey, a passage through silence and perhaps into a deeper faith and a deeper relationship with the mystery that is life.

Feeling what I feel, knowing what I feel ~ giving myself permission to experience my own emotions

Feeling what I feel, knowing what I feel ~ giving myself permission to experience my own emotions

Sounds odd, doesn’t it? There’s surely nothing more personal than one’s own feelings. But sometimes it gets too hard to even allow them to rise to the surface long enough to be identified.

A great cauldron of seething emotions bubbling away, a gumbo of pain, with things bobbing to the surface briefly in a haze of steam, I stir frantically to make those weird shaped blobs vanish, homogenise the broth, make it acceptable, make it like every other soup poured from a can. Make it what people expect and want from soup. Whenever something surfaces, I don’t want to look them squarely in the eye, because it hurts. That vat of soup is me, and what went into it is me, and what bobs up, unappetising and decidedly gruesome is me. Those ugly lumps are me. I don’t like it. Pop it in the blender, whizzle it up and serve it with a splash of cream and a twist of black pepper. Can’t serve peasant stew at a dinner table, people might choke on the bits. They might chew on the gristle and leave it shamingly on their side plate. They might even question the integrity of the chef.

A large dark shape erupts from the simmering, shimmering surface of the broth: FEAR. It’s dark and ill-defined. I can’t see the edges properly, or what it’s made of but I can see a thousand wild, dead eyes gazing blankly at me, and teeth. It looks like a teratoma , a monster from the medical text books. Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. It’s part of me, but you could never dress this up with baby bonnets and shawls. I stir, my spoon a weapon and I thrust the mass of strangeness down and hope no one saw it. If they know that’s what’s in my soup, no one will ever want to taste it.

The steam clears again and another shape rises to the surface, glistening with oil but fiery red. ANGER. It looks like the world’s hottest chilli pepper, lethal with heat and ready to burn your tongue and whole digestive tract. No, no, no. I don’t want people to know this is an ingredient. It’s vicious. It burns everything it touches. Down it goes, holding it down with the spoon hoping the heat of the cooking with destroy it. How did I ever think to let such a thing in?

A sad blob like a dead octopus washed up on a winter beach heaves into view: LONELINESS. Stringy and slimy, with tentacles that sucker onto anything even if the damn thing is dead, this is far from tasty fare and hideous to look at. Down it goes; I hit it with the spoon and feel the rubbery surface more resilient than I thought. It won’t break up even when I bash at it, so I stir rapidly to keep it submerged.

In the centre of the soup, all my stirring has created a whirlpool and I can see a great empty void where the ingredients swirl way. It’s SADNESS and it’s creating a horrible vacuum that pulls everything into it. I stop stirring and watch with relief as the surface settles to a rolling boil.

I stand and I watch, letting the spoon fall from my hands and I salt the stew with my own tears, letting each acid drop fall into the mix.

I wish I could say it worked magic. But it does season the brew. It might taste good if you ever had the courage to try it. Just don’t look at what it’s made of. You’d never be able to swallow if you did.

(just for reference, I’ve been using a meditation cd from for emotional healing. Jackie has a wonderful voice that makes me feel calm and safe. Check her out.)

Monday Meditation ~ Vanilla, for innocent sensuality


Vanilla ~ for innocent sensuality


Did you know that true vanilla is the second most expensive spice, the most expensive being saffron? Obtained from the cured and processed seed pod of a tropical orchid, true vanilla is one of the most widely used and well loved of flavourings.

It’s also well used in aromatherapy because of its varied and powerful benefits:

It’s a powerful antidepressant, has anti-oxidant effects and is used to promote relaxation, better sleep and is also said to be an aphrodisiac.

Vanilla gets a bad press, really, and despite being a popular flavouring is often regarded as bland and boring. It’s also used (somewhat ironically given its anecdotal evidence as an aphrodisiac) as a synonym for unadventurous sexual activity.

Perhaps it is because of the ubiquitous nature of vanilla products that we have lost our true appreciation of this wonderful spice. Most of us grew up with vanilla essence being used in home baking, but sadly most vanilla essence bought in supermarkets does not come from the vanilla orchid. Artificial vanilla is made from vanillin, a by-product of the paper industry, and while the signature sweet ice cream scent is present, vanillin is only one of the 171 separate aromatic compounds present in true vanilla. There is no substitute for the rich, complex aroma of true vanilla so for this meditation I strongly suggest you use either a fresh vanilla pod, a high quality extract or essential oil. The essential oil is not too expensive when bought pre-diluted in jojoba oil.

For this meditation you may also like to use a recording of waves on the seashore for background and to add to the ambience. You can use the oil on a smelling strip, or if it is diluted, on pulse points. If you have an extract, you can add a few drops to hot water, or to the reservoir of an oil burner. You can even put a drop or two onto a cold light bulb and then turn it on; as the bulb warms the scent will fill the room. Once you have arranged how you diffuse the fragrance, take a few slow deep breaths, and settle into your chair. Let the scent fill you and feel its calming arms holding you.




You are standing on a quiet beach, with a warm wind flowing off the sea ruffling your hair and caressing your skin. The sky is blue, and almost cloudless, except for a few fluffy white cotton puffs high above. Look at your feet, buried slightly in the softest pale golden sand imaginable. Move your feet a little, as if treading a deep pile carpet and enjoy the sensation of the sand massaging your soles. The sound of the sea is soothing, and you can see the little waves breaking on the shore, so go closer. The water sparkles as if there are diamonds in it, and beneath the foam you can see the sand beneath shining golden, studded here and there with smooth pebbles that look like jewels with their brilliant colours. Take a few steps into the water. It’s cool but not cold and it feels intensely refreshing and exhilarating. Feel the waves touching your ankles as they break on the shoreline, and start walking slowly. The rounded pebbles embedded in the wet sand give the most wonderful massaging effect as you walk upon them; there are no sharp or rough ones. The sun on the sea lights up the water, making it a pure crystalline shade of turquoise, through which you can see to the sea floor. Strands of seaweed float with little fishes and other small creatures darting among them. Above you, seagulls soar high and let out the occasional cry.

Enjoy walking in the waves for as long as you want. When you start to feel tired, leave the water and walk a little inland. The beach is bordered by dunes of marram grass and wild-flowers, and where the grasses start to grow there is a little hollow that shelters you from the wind. You will see there is a brightly coloured beach towel laid out, and a huge beach umbrella in rainbow colours. Go and lie down on the beach towel. It’s very soft and feels brand new and plush. The velvety fabric is lovely to touch and there’s even a little pillow to rest your head on.

It’s warm in this hollow, and the sun on your skin is like a blessing, but don’t worry about burning. Here you cannot get sunburned, but if you feel too warm, move into the shade cast by the beach umbrella. Feel the delightful warmth of the day ease any aches and pains and let the tensions of being an adult seep away into the sand.

Near you in a brightly coloured heap are beach toys: buckets and spades, in lots of shapes and sizes, and moulds for making shapes, and little flags. There’s even a bucket filled with shells and stones of every size and colour that someone has collected specially for you. There’s a big bottle of sea water to wet the sand if you wish.

It may be many years since you last made a sandcastle, or this may be the very first time you have ever had the chance, but the sand and the toys draw you to start playing. It feels strange at first but after a few minutes it feels like second nature to scoop up bucketfuls of the sand, pack it tight and turn out castles. Enjoy decorating your castles with the shells and stones and flags. Let yourself be a child again.

Just as you are putting the finishing touches to your castles, you sense someone is approaching and you look up. Coming up the beach is someone you love very much and they are carrying something. Go to meet them. Whoever your visitor is, here they are very welcome and they are bringing you a small gift.

Your visitor holds out to you an ice cream cone filled with the best vanilla ice cream in the world. You can smell the aroma from a few feet away and you accept their gift with joy. A few drops of ice cream are already spilling down the side of the cone; in this sunshine, it will melt fast so do not delay your enjoyment of this sweet treat. Walk with your visitor along the seashore as you both eat your ice creams. You can talk if you like but if you prefer to, you can enjoy the beach and the ice cream in silence.

When you crunch the last of the cone, it’s time to say goodbye to the beach and to your visitor. You can come back any time you choose but for now it is time to go back to your normal reality.

Let the beach fade away as you return, but let the relaxation remain with you, and any insights you may have gained. You are back.

Be sure to eat and drink something before resuming normal activity and also make some notes of what you saw and experiences.



Monday Meditation: Honeysuckle for deepening the connection with nature

Honeysuckle Meditation

(written as part of the Meditating with Aromatics project)


For this meditation you will need either a sprig of flowering honeysuckle (Lonicera caprifolium) or a few drops of the essential oil. The flowers that give the best scent are those of the wild honeysuckle that grows extensively in woodlands, but many garden varieties are beautifully fragrant too. The essential oil is expensive, and usually only available pre-diluted in either coconut or jojoba oil. I have a bottle of the diluted absolute that I use as a perfume, especially during the winter when the quintessentially summery aroma can lift the spirits when summer seems an age away. If you use the oil, dab a little on wrists and other pulse points and let the fragrance fill your personal space. If you are using the flowers, this meditation is best done at dusk or after as most of the scent is released at night to attract the pollinating moths. You will find that your room fills with the scent especially if it is warm.

Settle into a chair, keeping your back comfortably straight and take a few slow deep breaths to ground yourself. Close your eyes if you wish to.


You are standing at the start of a path that enters ancient woodland. It’s beginning to get dark and the light has become that shimmering blend of the final rays of sunlight and the softer, silvery light of a rising full moon. The trees are like vast pillars with fissured bark and leaves that quiver in the evening breeze. You touch the ones on either side of the path and their bark feels nicely warm from a day of sun. The path is chalky white and dry, and it gleams invitingly so you begin to follow it. The air is still full of the day’s heat and also the scent of a million green leaves and moss and fallen wood, but as you walk you catch another smell.

It’s quite different to the verdant rich smell of the forest and it comes and goes. One moment it is there, a bright and enticing perfume, then it is gone. It seems exotic and familiar as childhood all at the same time. As you follow the shining path, the scent becomes stronger and more focused and intense.

The path ends rather abruptly with a clearing in the forest. A meadow of rough grass surely only ever cropped by deer and rabbits stands before you. The change is dramatic as you step into the open and look around. The moon has just crept above the tree-line and its light turns the meadow into a sea of silver grass waving in the light wind. The clearing is entirely surrounded by oaks and other tall trees, all gnarled and ancient, and climbing up most of them are the vines of honeysuckle and you know now where the heavenly perfume was coming from.

At the centre of the clearing is a fallen tree, slowly decaying into the grass. It must have been a true giant when it lived because the fallen trunk must be more than six feet high as it lies amid the meadow plants. Honeysuckle has grown up around this too, embracing the branches and twining lovingly round the upturned root ball. A gale must have felled this tree years ago, but as you approach the tree you do not feel sad at its death. It must have seen centuries of life and as you climb carefully onto the trunk, you can see in the crevices the movement of small creatures, insects and wood-mice who have made this their home.

Sit now on the trunk; it’s wide enough to sit quite comfortably. Tendrils of honeysuckle flowers wave softly in the breeze, their pink and gold petals catch the last rays of the sunset, while the white ones become luminous with moonlight. At the sun finally sets, the flowers become bleached of colour but the white becomes almost fluorescent. They glow with an unearthly brilliance. As they bob, their scent fills your mind almost to overflowing. It’s a deep perfume, with many layers, but it makes you feel extraordinarily happy and relaxed.

All around you, you can sense movement in the forest beyond, and in the sea of grass, and you feel a sense of excited anticipation. From the eaves of the forest, you see the shining of many eyes and it makes you take a deep breath almost of fear, but not quite. As you watch, from the trees there emerges first one deer, then many. They’re all females with fawns, and they step warily into the open. They stay close together but as they relax, the group spreads out and begins to graze.

You can see also many other creatures here and there, from rabbits to voles, all going about their nightly business. They’re aware of you but unconcerned. They know you are no threat. Closer to you, a moth is exploring the funnel-shaped flowers with long, elegant proboscis, tasting and enjoying the sweet nectar.

As you sit surrounded by nature, you feel more a part of the natural world than you have ever done before. You feel warmth and love towards all the animals and the plants that are around you and you sense that they extend a cautious welcome to you. While you enjoy this feeling, ask yourself what you can do to serve the natural world better. Without nature, humans would starve, so how can you make a difference to your slice of the world?

Let the thoughts not conflict with this growing feeling of oneness with nature, but rather let the two complement each other.

After a time, the deer seem to melt seamlessly into the forest again and it is time for you to go. Whenever you see or smell honeysuckle again, this experience will return to your mind and both comfort and motivate you anew. Walk back to the path and follow the way it leads back to the edge of the forest and back to your day to day world.

When you are back, be sure to make some notes of what you experienced and felt, and also eat and drink something to fully return to your normal reality.

(Diluted honeysuckle oil is available from here: )