Last updated on 6th February 2024
The last morning of the group. I wake a bit "troubled". This is the ebb and flow of the group. Feelings tend to be more intense here. As the "group river" flows its four day course, I know that I'm likely to move through a series of different emotional states. I lie in bed for a bit sensing what I'm feeling. What's it about. The overall "smell/flavour" of my mood seems contributed to by a mix of things. One factor is that I feel, what seems to me, a low key grumbling unease going on between me and one of the other people in the group. A second factor is a discomfort I have about how another person expressed themselves for a while in the group yesterday. A third is a concern I'm feeling about another person seeming to get too "isolated" in the group. And there's something too about the group ending - both saying goodbye to the people and saying goodbye to this four day, magical, oasis in my life. There are precious, good memories from yesterday too. Loving connections. Singing round a bonfire yesterday evening. Toasted marshmallows, hot tea and whisky. Cohen songs, old Beatles and Dylan, protest and folk songs, voices merging and twining with the fire sparks in the night air. Fun. It's so physical, singing. And a memory too of the tea break between small and big groups yesterday. A little after 11.00 in the morning. Putting "The Action", a great Little Village track, on the CD player because I really felt like dancing again after the night before. And others coming into the room and joining in, until we were dancing wildly again, crazily, such amazing fun - pretty much the whole group - and collapsing at the end in heaps. Beautiful.
And, for me, most precious of all yesterday was a walk, two hours, remembering my mother who died about seven weeks ago. A couple of people, who have experience doing this, set up a kind of "Vision quest" for the group. A ceremony that we could use to mark something that was significant for each of us in our lives. Maybe a new project, maybe something important that had emerged for us in the group, maybe a transition in our lives, maybe marking an event, whatever we chose. Maybe none of these things, and the ceremony could be more just an opportunity to be out in the countryside experiencing "what is". I chose the intention to spend the two hours walking, being in nature, honouring, being present with the loss of my mother. One of the facilitators suggested walking - taking a step - as a metaphor for the whole two hour "quest". The process of lifting one's foot up off the ground, parting, leaving something behind. And the process of moving the foot, the in-between, the waiting. And the process of putting the foot down again, reconnecting, coming back, bringing back. So we were each asked to consider what particular focus, what particular question or intention we wanted to bring to the walk. It was suggested that we make something of a ceremonial beginning, leaving between the two facilitators who were standing either side of a path leading off away from the Mill House into the country. It was suggested too that we mostly stay silent and alone over the next couple of hours, before coming back to share whatever it was that we'd experienced.
I found it so helpful. I tend to live my life very task-directed. Taking time just to "be" is fairly unusual for me nowadays apart from, to an extent, during meditation practice. I'm reminded again of the beautiful Mary Oliver poem, "The summer day" with it's final lines:
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
And that, in a way, is how it was. I'm moved now remembering it. The old sheep with it's wild eyes and two new lambs coming up to me in a field. The swallows by the stream, fluttering in the wind of the valley like butterflies, like bats. Finding shelter on a bank by the water. Sunshine. Falling asleep. Talking aloud to my mother. Walking and watching as a crow soared and dropped, repeatedly attacking a buzzard twice it's size until the predator flew off away from, what I guess, was the crow's nesting site. Curlews, lapwings, calls in the spring air. Sitting again by the stream, back against an old stone wall. Such a good feeling. Everything "perfect". A sense that my mother would be so happy with how things are, how I'm doing, the work, the relationships. Crying repeatedly as I walked. Such a sense of the generations. My mother's mother's mother, and my grandmother, my mother herself, my dear wife, my step-daughter and her daughters. Generations of good women. Loving them as well as I can. Heart open. So happy. Singing and the sheep seemed at ease with that. Not frightened by that. And in a meadow covered in cowslips I picked flowers to put around the rim of my woollen hat. And then walking on down through the fields, in the distance, nestled against a dry stone wall sitting in the sunshine was Catero, my wife. She was holding a bouquet of cowslips and wind flowers. I sat beside her, kissed. And she put one of the windflowers in my hat to join the crown of cowslips. And back, holding hands, to the Mill. Sharing what we'd experienced. Healing. Honouring my dear mother. Another way of being with her death.
And what about my niggles? Well, we meet in a final small group after breakfast and I can raise a couple of the issues there. I know it's very likely that my heart will lift over the next hour or so anyway. Meditating, plunging in the stream, having breakfast with dear friends. But I don't want my heart to lift too much just yet! These frictions, heart troublings, are also opportunities. I come here to learn with others, not just to celebrate. Like the pebble grinder that slowly produces smoothed out stones, so these bumps I experience occasionally in groups - these knocks when my sharpnesses or tender areas rub against other people's - these can often be some of the most useful things that happen in the group if I work with them and learn from them. Time to meditate ...
And for the last post in this sequence, click here.