surfsensei

Reflections and observations on life in general.

Category: life and memory

Sunlight before dawn.

0450 – I have just woken up with a vivid feeling of immense warmth and light in my body and mind, most of all in my head and heart, the remembered faces of friends and family, and others, circling, all of us bathed in this feeling of warm light.

I’m sitting at a newly-made desk, rain falling outside in the dark early morning when I should really be sleeping, the experience from earlier still very faintly present, like the slow warmth of dull embers in last night’s fire.

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It was a feeling of a warm spring day, a morning when you feel refreshed, relaxed, safe, healthy and able to sit or lie in the sunshine, no need to do or be anything else right now. I could describe it as a little like a solar system of people, some individual animals too. Some were very clear and close by, within embracing distance, others further out, so to speak. Some were present or past friends, some family, a few had been much closer for a while.

To say “faces” is incomplete, your images were clear but there was a feeling of your reality too. It felt a bit like a hug or sharing warmth and light, a metaphorical embrace that brings those sunlight-bathed feelings yet allows complete freedom to move, not constraining, not posessing.

This feeling lasted a few minutes, spurred me to sit up in bed and decide to get up and write this down; it felt important enough to share, however trivial it may seem to you as you read this.

If you’re reading this, you may well be one of those people whose presence appeared, vividly or not, in that brief early-waking experience. If you’ve read this far without dismissing this as trivial or inarticulate waffle, thank you. In any case, thank you.

My alarm is sounding, time to get up and do the necessary things today. I wish you some warmth, safety and sunshine, today, real or imagined.

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False, and Real, Gold

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It’s the end of a busy week, less stressful than previous ones of late but wearisome with tasks I find uninspiring and the reality of working to live rather than living to work at present… a negative view I know but it’s what’s been arising of late, leading into more constructive rounds of reviewing my situation and aspirations.

Having a loose and non-functioning wisdom tooth removed probably didn’t help my energy levels either; the tooth now sits in a plastic tube, a sort of memento mori, a visible step in the eventual dissolution of my body, a useful “wake-up-now!” meditation.

Thus Friday evening is welcome, the weekend a time of recharging and opportunities to do some of the things I am really drawn to.  Last weekend it was a superb day on mountains I hadn’t previously climbed, some plein air sketching and painting too, achieving two objectives and enhanced by the company of a handsome Raven during my lunch, sitting on glittering crystalline snow.

I called by the railway station to collect my tickets, bought well in advance, for a Christmas visit to my sister, then into the nearby supermarket for a couple of things.

Music, loud and hammering in my weary brain, lots of people, slightly frantically searching, calling out, filling baskets, so much stuff, choices and more choices…. my mind felt numbed, I noticed I was wandering through the aisles, a feeling of nagging and unfulfillable un-satisfaction (not dissatisfaction)… I began to feel like a hungry ghost, mentally plucking goods from the shelves yet never losing the hunger.

Reaching the night air outside again felt surreal, a transition into a new phase of a dream.  Back to the car, home, through slow queues of traffic.  A welcome shower, food, recovery.

Now I feel simply tired, waiting for the washing to complete its spin cycle so I can hang it up to dry, a simple, useful, task that is surprisingly satisfying.

At the beginning of the week, I cycled to work on a bright, cold, crisp morning. The trees in Bannockburn heavy with bright autumnal leaves, beginning to fall around me.  I find these colours and the scent of the season  as rich and nourishing to my spirit as the best food and most subtle wine; that sweet beginning of decay and return to the soil, the hot colours in cold blue air and silvery frosts and mists.

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I’m reminded regularly by little things like these of a recurring question.. what is wealth, really?  What do I actually want to do with my energy and experience and time?  What is of enduring value to me?  What are the things I genuinely need and what am I holding onto through unhelpful attachment? How do I distinguish false Gold from real?

The rhythm of Pink Floyd’s song “Time” echoes in the back of my mind as I notice that the washing machine has stopped..

The washing’s done

The spin is over, 

Thought I’d something more to say… 

Goodnight, and I wish you a weekend rich in real Gold.

 

Walking in the Wind

We had planned to go further north and west, a friend and I, to climb bigger mountains in the Mamore range, near Ben Nevis.  The weather has been keeping just ahead of the forecasters and what appeared promising for today became a prospective struggle in arduous winds with likely snow and hail in that area; Plan B was formed, Ben Vorlich, the western one, by Loch Lomond, shorter, closer, still a quality mountain and, for me, a new one.

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The wind was strong, the air cool, I put on extra layers for the first time since March.  The walk in, from the car park near the hydro-electric power station south of Ardlui, revealed rugged peaks and advancing bands of rain and lower cloud.  My camera was going to have to be my  sketchbook today.

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We had a good ascent up a clear and well-used path, good conversation and challenging questions augmented by challenging squalls of wind and rain and good scenery.

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Despite the wind, perhaps 45 knots on the summit, we found calm shelter behind contorted rocks to eat lunch and greet other visitors, including a pair of ravens to whom we offered encouragement, but no lunch, in memory of an incident on another mountain.

There were many moments of dramatic and fast-changing light, mist, views, too fast to draw, even had I been alone; memory and the camera would have to capture what they could, for later reflection and inspiration.

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I love the drama of strong contrasts, the many greys of clouds, deep inky-black land-forms under murky masses of cloud while dazzled by a bright shaft of sunlight and slivers of silver light off wet rocks or a wedge of vivid green-yellow grass against deep blue- or brown-black mountain sides behind.  I feel the urge to paint these things, the motivation is building again to do this.

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Descent felt tiring, though not difficult, my feet chafing more than usual, my faithful boots feel like they are less a part of me than previously. Less conversation now, more concentration.  Reaching the road felt good, we had completed a “quality mountain day”, as the guidance notes for my logbook used to say.  We have had food for body, spirit and mind today; bon appetit!

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Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond

Voices of Geese

Friday evening, it has been a busy week at the school, filled with opportunities to practice patience, forbearance, compassion, assertive communication, active listening, constructive speech and working “smarter, not harder”…. it seems I have several undercover gurus who pose as colleagues in order to set me challenges and opportunities for personal development;

steps forward, slips back, work in progress, meditation is helping.

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Cycling home with a strong wind behind me, I pass fields of stubble where geese are gathering, mustering for their migration, there must be at least a thousand of them in one field.

Further down the road, I take a detour to visit a local curiosity, a partial “folly” build in the 1700s, now owned by the Scottish National Trust, a set of orchards and a building surmounted by a giant pineapple in carved sandstone.  I walk slowly around the garden, photographing and noticing the changing flower stalks, drying and brown now, and curling, dehydrating leaves that become shelters for small huddles of ladybirds and other small creatures.

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Autumn is beginning, the green becoming gold, brown, red, yellow.  Nutrients drawn back into stems, roots, fruits, for winter storage or reproduction.  Early smells of drying and decay are in the cool air.

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In the peaceful orchard, where time has slowed for a little while, I feel the quiet thrill of the turning of the wheel of seasons, towards the next stage of the cycle.

From a mile away, the voices of a thousand geese come on the wind,  announcing change and a new energy,

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Mist, clearing…

It’s been a pleasantly mild, damp, misty day… somewhat “dreich” but a welcome disincentive to prevaricate and go out on the bike or on foot and, instead, make some progress indoors at the keyboard on something I’m writing to try to persuade the local government to deal with some dangerous gaps in local cycling routes…

Still, I had to get outside for a short while and the Forth Estuary is only a few hundred metres away, over the dykes that keep the shore away from being almost a private, muddy, beach near the house I live in just now.

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Nobody else was around, though I could hear distant traffic on the Clackmannan Bridge, “normal” people were watching TV, gaming, Face-booking or whatever, not walking in wellies over squelching salt-marsh grasses with the warm scent of nearby mud and water and wet grass filling their senses.

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Perched on a yellow navigation marker, high above the low water, a small group of Cormorants sat making quiet noises and hanging out their wings in the damp air to dry.  Other birds circled and screeched but remained invisible to me, their pale plumage blending them into the low cloud above.  An occasional gull stood on the mud, looking at it with a pessimistic air, in my mind at least.  Water bubbled quietly in a few thin drainage channels while I made a sketch and took a few photographs.

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I returned over a tidy line of spring-tide flotsam, leftovers of many lives, up against the dyke, climbed up through wet vegetation and back, pausing to smell the intense scent of the remaining wild roses, a bumble bee frantically busy collecting nectar and pollen.  All activity felt remote and small-scale, as if the world were taking a Sunday rest.

The misty air was clearing, a bit, from the West and with it, my mind felt a little more active and ready… home, coffee, cookies, words.

On the buses..

From where I live now I have three realistic modes of transport to and from work: cycling, driving and a combination of bus and, in Stirling, one of the hire bikes. Last week I decided to take the third option, as I am a member of the hiring scheme and the first half-hour of rental is free. I could combine trying out the bikes with testing this route and, perhaps, enjoy a more relaxed commute at the end of the week.

Both journeys went smoothly, the hire bikes were free of serious faults and the buses on time. Stirling Council has put in place some pretty good cycling routes in the city that are useful for my journey and I could allow my mind to play a little, with the cares and demands of driving in the hands of our shared chauffeur.

I noticed in my stream of mental chatter the usual turbulence of ideas, observations, shifting awareness of bodily sensations, memories and plans, emotions and so on, all arising and fading like glittering fishes and assorted treasures and detritus emerging briefly from the muddy eddies before sinking back out of view into the depths.

Occasionally there were longer-lasting impressions and insights. This time it came as I noticed familiar patterns and prejudices appear almost as childlike crayon graphic overlays between my general awareness and the appearance of people around me on the bus.

It was a striking moment of clarity that was neither shocking nor surprising – I have become aware of this before – but it felt fresher and more vivid this time. A background chatter of judgement and opinions, of sorting and categorisation, like a suspicious and short-tempered receptionist trying to decide who gets in and whom to turn away, unaware that the boss is wise to his old employee’s tricks and is spending more time sitting in reception himself.

The terms “stereotype ” and “prejudice ” are heavy with negative associations these days, used as they are in mostly negative context; to admit to their presence in one’s mind is seen as an admission of a shameful guilt, of heretical thought-crime.

Yet this feature of our minds serves a purpose, not least to enable us to navigate the complex world of our experience quickly enough to keep up with events and, most of the time, avoid serious trouble. If everything appeared completely fresh and new in our minds, we would have long ago been eaten by lions or bears who simply saw us as “lunch”. We need to learn quickly to compare our perceptions with pre-formed models, stereotypes, simply in order to move around and sit down; “dog” not= “chair”.

“Life’s easy, seen from here…”

It’s a matter of awareness, keeping an eye on the mental processes that filter the flow of phenomena and noticing when they are useful, keeping us out of trouble and assisting rapid decision making, and when they are unhelpful or even harmful, triggering defensive and ill-considered reactions that, in the end, harm us all. This isn’t easy, especially in a culture that is itself ambiguous about self-awareness and restraint and that circulates prejudice and simplistic, stereotypical thinking at many levels; it does make life feel simpler, after all.

All I can do, for myself, is to keep observing, practice noticing when my mind is distracted and judgement clouded by the cartoon vision of that metaphorical old receptionist, the moments when the boss has retreated to the office and shut the door, leaving control to the subordinates. It takes an effort, repetition, acceptance of failures too; self-punishment is unhelpful and doesn’t foster the compassion needed to share with others.

The bus journey was uneventful, the other passengers chatted with each other, listening to the fragments of conversation helped me remind myself that every one was another story, another centre of the universe, a constellation of myriad untold tales.

Perhaps it’s this that draws me to sit in cafés, airports, buses, trains, listening, sketching, writing; human stargazing through the scudding clouds and distorting lenses of my own mental activities. Looking for a clearer view.

It’s time to go. The coffee and cake were good, time now to go home and plan for a few days of holiday. Happy travelling!

#SharingMySanctuary

#SharingMySanctuary
This is my bed.

Photo of a simple wooden bed.
I have been lucky enough to be able to sleep in it peacefully,
confident that I will be safe and warm enough,
free from fear of sudden assault,
by strangers with no reason to hurt me or,
worse,
somebody I thought I could trust.
Free, too, from fear of a night visit from
police or army, come to take me or my family away,
for “questioning”, or worse.
So far, at least;
let’s not get too complacent and believe that
“it couldn’t happen here”.
The trouble is, it does,
especially if you have lost your opportunities
to earn enough to keep paying the rent, or mortgage, or
if your mind just wouldn’t stay on track enough to get by
and handle all the stuff like bills and job and relationships, or
if you had to put whatever you could grab,
in the dark,
and the shock of approaching fire and explosions,
and the children hysterical and wetting themselves,
to run to the last taxi,
which only waited for you because the driver
is married to your cousin,
and leave everything,
EVERY
thing,
and get to the border, the children still unwashed and exhausted,
no papers, no ID,
you dropped it as you picked up the youngest,
and finally,
after a story you still cannot tell without shaking uncontrollably,
by a series of very small miracles,
arriving in the country where they say
“it couldn’t happen here”,
as they go to safe beds, while
you look for a bed, for room at the inn,
and find that the first thing somebody says to you,
it must be a customary welcome here,
is:
“why don’t you FUCK OFF back where you came from”.

This is my bed,

Photo of a simple wooden bed.
I am #SharingMySanctuary
in a very small way.
I want to see the people whose decisions can make it happen
understand this,
not just know about it,
understand this,
understand how great a sanctuary is
a safe place to sleep,
and make it happen for those who need sanctuary too,
which, really, is EVERY one of us.

I hope that you can be free from fear tonight, and have a safe, sound, refreshing sleep.

(Among others, these people are doing something about this.)

 

The Sainsbury’s Rainproof Hat

After a sunny morning, rain clouds have boiled up over Stirling and are releasing their excess water in grey, warm, curtains, accompanied by thundery grumbling like an old man relieving himself after a long, uncomfortable journey.

I have extended my shopping visit to the store to enjoy a relaxing coffee in the café, with outstanding views over the parked cars and trolleys and the misty forms of the Ochil hills. Good timing, as it turns out.

During the downpour, a man with a limp and a stick approaches the store entrance, a Sainsbury’s carrier bag turned unselfconsciously into an effective hat. I miss the photo opportunity but hold the image in my mind as I sketch quickly.

My recent café neighbours, a family with three lively children, wait under the eaves while one of the adults returns from the distant car with jackets. Mum gives hers immediately to the small boy, now a baggy animated raincoat with feet. Dad puts his on, pauses, looks at Mum, removes his jacket and, with less dexterity, drapes it over the smaller girl. The tallest girl is already wrapped up in an uncle’s coat. Ready for the elements, they venture forth, out of sight.

My coffee is soaking into my body and the rain is soaking into the ground. A woman with hair as bright red as a traffic light runs for her car from now nonexistent rain.

Time for home, to unload the bags of potting compost and pots I have bought so that I can grow things again after a gap of several years, lacking outdoor space.

And then, I think, a glass of the sparkling wine that the new landlord kindly left as a welcome gift.

May you also be blessed with ingenuity and kindness.

Now, where’s my rainproof hat?

Rolling, stepping..

Sitting in a Tesco cafe after a hearty, cheap, veggie breakfast.

Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street ” plays over the somewhat intrusive store musack system, a favourite and evocative song for me.

It’s my last day of tenancy in the flat I’ve occupied since moving up to Scotland to make a new start in a new job, in August last year. It’s been a good home and fresh beginning that I feel sustainably refreshed by.

To quote from a poem by Maya Angelou:

The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space

To place

New steps of change.

Step by step, I’m experiencing this.

At the same time, while feeling content with my current situation and happy with the new place I’ve moved to, today I feel like the rolling stone in the song, about to complete another step towards that horizon.

The causes of raspberries

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I’m due to move at the end of the week, so I’ve been dismantling shelving and re-packing the few things I unpacked on arrival up here in Scotland last year. This time it’s a shorter move, about 6 or 7 miles closer to work, which will take about 40min off my cycle commute (I’m not a fast cyclist), and to a more self contained cottage, a welcome change from living in flats for the last few years.

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I took some relaxing time out at the end of the afternoon, to walk through the birdsong-resonant Callendar Woods and down to the lochan by the house. It has been one of those overcast, warm, still days that mute the light and makes for a soporific , timeless feeling in the air. Leaves have sprung from nearly all the trees, blossoms are out, insects buzz around and a lot of birds have already begun to lay their eggs. I found empty blackbird eggshells and one duck egg that a crow or similar had evidently robbed and partly eaten, by the paths.

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Most people had gone home but there were still some families out as well as a couple of small groups of youths, sitting and muttering quietly to each other. A few younger children were out and running around, one adult, one of their parents, close by. The children were shouting at each other, only when I drew a bit closer did I hear more clearly them telling each other, in a playful tone of voice, to fuck off, repeatedly… the parent seemed unconcerned …. but then yesterday by the shopping mall in town I heard several parents swearing profusely at and in front of their young children…. the seeds of another abusive and angry generation are sown. Causes and effects, I see some of the fruits of this in school.

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Other causes and conditions are coming together to create new phenomena too, the flower buds are forming on the raspberry plants that grow profusely in the woods. I could buy raspberries now in the supermarkets if I wanted but, for several reasons, I resist this to wait for the local, wild, harvest. The wild ones taste better too, perhaps they arise from healthier causes and conditions, less stressed and pressurised, able to take their own time to become ready.

raspberry plants with buds