Cobwebs and clouds.

I’m enjoying coffee and cake after a short but quality walk up Ben Ledi, a mountain not far from Stirling. The new season of snow is becoming established on the mountains and making them shine against blue skies as I look out of the north-facing windows at the school where I work, stirring a feeling of confinement and determination to make changes that will allow me to return to spending more time outdoors.

I have been struggling to find focus and clarity in my mind to allow me to complete a painting I started nearly two months ago and to feel able to play, artistically.  The spiders of samsara have been busy spinning cobwebs of cluttered thoughts and feelings in my mind. Personal administration, preparing a training session series for some students starting their Duke of Edinburgh Award journey, making new contacts to explore future work options all demand time and mental energy.

Waves of desire for change, new meetings and companions, creativity, simpler living, stability and other things roll through my mind at various times during busy days and evenings preparing for the next day. Meditation helps stabilise and calm my mind for a while, enough to see that some of this activity is self-generated and that, on reexamination, I am willing to accept temporary turbulence if it is part of a course that I want to travel but what I needed today was to move my body through the landscape.


The simple act of driving away towards the mountains feels like a refreshing breeze, the beginning of the walk up a steep path, trodden to treacherous ice by many feet, cold fresh air making my nose tingle, legs pushing energetically upwards towards where rocks met clouds, blows the tangled woven webs aside like old grey threadbare curtains, revealing a simpler state of mind, clearer, more at ease.  Thoughts continue to arise but with a less persistent and “sticky” quality, the mind-spiders retreat into corners, leaving only fragile threads that are easier to examine and brush aside.

It has taken me a long time to find the realisation that I am happiest doing physical, practical and creative things, indoors and out, putting theory into practice, not exploring theory in an academic role nor being limited to organising and directing others to do the very things I want to be engaged in myself; I was never at ease driving a desk, nor, these days, a desktop. Perhaps one of the first times I encountered this clarity of view was during my Mountain Leader training, many years ago while struggling with the frustrations of my role as a junior Supply Officer in the Royal Navy, limited by my eyesight and maintaining a futile resentment at the administrative nature of my job. I sat on belay on a climbing crag in Glen Nevis, waiting for my partner to start climbing, when I noticed that I felt completely content in this situation and activity, it was exactly where I needed to be.  It was the glimpse of a clear mental sky that led me, a few years later, to work for the Outward Bound Trust and, thereafter for several years, in outdoor education.


Circumstances shifted and I explored alternative work that has taken me indoors and into a practical, technical support, role. Now, though, I am feeling again the longing to get out and share the experience with others.  My present role (mostly in a science lab) has come to feel like “just a job” and, while this is necessary and has enabled my move into Scotland, without that spark of inspiration that I feel with more creative and active work, it is not a satisfactory course to steer.  With the cobwebs blown aside, I can see this and the beginnings of paths that lead in the direction I want to go.


Sitting out of the wind on the summit, eating my lunch and watching the watchful ravens as they wait to see what food we might leave behind (it was busy up there), the clouds begin to break, revealing glimpses of the surrounding mountains, glens, forest and lochs. Strengthening sunlight illuminates strips of land, making undulating bright patches amid darker land forms in brown and grey.  Cloudscapes become landscape, layers of colours, rolling forms and bands of contrasting light and dark.  The view is complex and shifting, but it has a coherence unlike the earlier near-whiteout of my ascent here.  My mind state feels similar.  I descend the path, still early in the afternoon, wisely fitting crampons that allow me a safe and faster walk down, time to stop to chat with late ascenders.  I arrive at the car with daylight and time to spare, time to relax in Callander with that mug of good coffee and delicious cake.

The next day, I finished the painting, too.