Category Archives: Healing – the power of Nature (article archive)

Holy Dharma with Heron…

I love herons. Their elegance: long, lean, streamlined curves over water, poised, waiting. Their focus: totally in the moment, poised, waiting….to strike sharp and swift. I love their languid flight: long wings lazily beating, slow concentrated strength and grace.

We live in Glasgow, Scotland – UK city with the most green space. Our flat overlooks the river Kelvin which flows through the West End’s Botanic Gardens. On the riverbank, throughout the Gardens, all kinds of wildlife abound: amongst the over-fed pigeons and importunate grey squirrels the occasional kingfisher, an otter once seen on Boxing Day, sometimes a cormorant or two – and several herons taking up favourite positions along the river bank. The fish ladder by the weir is a choice spot of theirs. Another pitch is partly concealed by vegetation, right below the Humpbacked Bridge leading to steep steps rising to the upper, more cultivated part of the Botanic Gardens.

Most days, I take a well-travelled route down from our house – crossing the Humpbacked Bridge, up the steps, through the Botanics past the Kibble Palace. This splendid circular, domed Victorian glass house hosts fine sculptures, elegant glass panels, a well-stocked pond – with some very old fishy friends adept at dodging the coins and wishes raining down on them on a regular basis – and a wonderfully displayed selection of plants and flowers from many parts of the world. It is a local jewel.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Strolling around those familiar, well-loved landmarks, I always enjoy occasional sightings of the heron. We can never decide how many herons there are of the same age and appearance. Maybe we are seeing the same one, over and over? Conversations like this weave together a very disparate, loose group of park regulars of all ages with a variety of views and opinions about the Botanic Gardens’ wild creatures. But the heron is a favourite; we always report sightings to one another.

We are inured to plentiful rain and bad weather as the default position for our local climate; stepping out into a pleasant, crisp, sunny morning  is therefore an immediate delight, especially with the Botanics in full autumn colours, carpets of leaves everywhere – if you get out early enough, before the park attendants with their noisy leaf-blowing machines get going!

Whilst appreciating this beautiful autumnal morning, my head was also full of the usual thought traffic as I contemplated the day ahead. The Buddhists speak the truth: we are only ever partly here. In each waking moment of our short, precious lives, we are usually distracted by something or other from being fully present. Thus we rarely savour fully the Holy Dharma of this very moment which will never come again.

Suddenly, my attention was totally focused on a sight I had never seen before. The heron was perched in full view, half way along the left-hand side of the Humpbacked Bridge!

I  stopped dead. Most unusually at half past nine on a weekday morning, there was no-one in sight.  “Should I stay watching right here, or try to creep closer?” I wondered, full of excitement and apprehension. Deciding on the latter option, I tiptoed very very slowly onto the eight-foot wide bridge, veering to the right in order to edge along the opposite side of the bridge to the heron.

The wild creature seemed absorbed in his own surveillance operation, long elegant neck moving slowly from side to side, eyes glinting in the morning light reflected off the quietly flowing river. Whether he had spotted me or not, he was paying me no attention. Barely able to believe my luck, I inched along  extremely quietly until – to my great amazement – I was level. We were only a bridge width apart. Never in my life before had I been so close to such a large wild bird.

The morning was still. The heron, briefly, was still. I was still. The Holy Dharma moved with the air currents across the bridge, the heron and me. All was One.

Japanese Heron Painting

Japanese Heron Painting

Hours might have passed. It was probably less than a minute. I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my left eye. A slender young man dressed all in black, carrying a rucksack, i-pods in his ears, was rapidly approaching the bridge. Stealthily, I crept forward a couple of feet, heading off the bridge toward the steps, still hugging the side opposite the heron. He still didn’t budge. For a fleeting moment I thought “Anne, that wild creature is tuned to you. He can feel your goodwill….” Then the rationalist dismissed such a thought. Still….

The young man was about to step through the gate onto the bridge. I held my finger to my lips, indicating silence; with my other hand palm up,  I signalled to stop, waving him over to my side of the bridge – hoping this unknown young man might share a rare experience. But he ignored me. As he marched past us the heron took off, winging his lazy languid way downriver. Waving goodbye, I stood for a moment – partly watching the heron, partly watching the young man’s back as he tramped up the stairs.

In that moment I truly felt the force of life’s duality: on the one hand, such gratitude and joy that the heron and I had shared a pure, holy moment of Oneness. On the other, deep sadness that the young man, shut in with his technology, had missed it. Carl Jung’s comment, which comes to me often, came to me then: “Our task in this life is to reconcile the opposites”…..

….and a ps to this story….a couple of weeks later, I was strolling home through the Botanics by the river Kelvin on my way home, having spent the afternoon at my office writing the first draft of this article which was in my bag.There on the riverbank, in  places where I had never seen them before, were – to my amazement and delight – two herons….

1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

New Moon on the Winter Solstice

 “The rising of the Sun on the Winter Solstice, out of the darkest day of the year, echoes the birth of the light from the dark void on the first day of creation.”

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice 2014 carries a layer of enigma: it occurs at 23.04 on 21st December 2014, just before the New Moon at 0 degrees 06 minutes of Capricorn on 22nd December at 01.37. (UK time)

This year’s Solstice thus takes place at the very end of  Moondark, the hidden 2-3 day period each month when the fragile, waning crescent Moon dies into the darkness from which the next New Moon is born.

Moondark in ancient times was a time of retreat, of reflection. People avoided travel at those times since there was no light to guide their footsteps, making the nighttime world even more dangerous than usual.

This seems to be appropriate to the atmosphere world-wide as a particularly grim year comes to an end amid a welter of extremist violence, with especial reference to the ‘massacre of the innocents’ which took place in Peshawar, Pakistan only this week.

Perhaps this Moondark New Moon in the solemn sign of Capricorn symbolises a world-wide invitation to contemplation and retreat as the year turns: to reflect on where we are as a human community, and how we can find ways, somehow, to live more peacefully with one another regardless of race, culture or creed…

In the meantime, we humans in the Northern Hemisphere, beset by darkness and cold, need light and celebration to lift our spirits, no matter how much bleak world affairs or the pains of everyday life hold us down. At last year’s Winter Solstice, I published a wonderful poem by Susan Cooper which depicts the history and expression of this need with vivid beauty. Many of my readers have requested me to publish it again this year.

Enjoy the Solstice!

THE SHORTEST DAY BY SUSAN COOPER

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Susan Cooper 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Chilling out with Moondark ( ‘what’s that?!’)

Chill out time....

Chill out time….

As I sit writing this, tucked away quietly in our Quiet Room with some soothing Japanese incense burning, it is approaching the end of Moondark. ‘What on earth is that?’ I hear you say.

Moondark is the last three days of the 29.5 day Sun/Moon cycle. At Moondark, the  Moon disappears. Full Moon is the high energy point of the cycle, fourteen days after the New Moon. A few month’s notetaking is sufficient to realise that life is more pressured and charged up at that time. Moondark is the low energy point. It is a time for rest and retreat, not a time to initiate new projects or demand great feats of one’s vitality.

“When I retire, I’m going to burn forty years of work diaries and run my life by the phases of the Moon!”

Yes, I said that, in a period of extreme work stress about twenty years ago. Friends laughed; but now in the post-career phase of my life, I’m working at just that. I find it comforting, helpful and useful to tune into the Moon’s cycle as far as possible in plotting the ebb and flow of my energies these days.

My long 2001-8 retreat  taught me that regular and adequate periods of rest are essential. The bill for rest deprivation cannot be evaded by anyone.We cannot abandon technology which has brought our world community so many advantages, but can – if we choose – begin slowly to step aside from the destructive 24/7 ism which it fosters. People need to stop going to the supermarket at midnight and sending emails at 3 am if they want to have a proper life!

I find now that up to an hour’s retreat time daily, and careful planning to avoid taking on anything very demanding at Moondark, (not always possible!) has provided a rhythm of alternating activity and rest which is stabilising and supportive of well-being. But it is important to be patient, realistic and gradual in any attempts to introduce lifestyle changes. It would be silly to suggest otherwise.

I hardly think the bosses of the land would take kindly to staff’s announcing that all work from now on was going to be run by the phases of the Moon!

You don’t need special tables to work out when Moondark is. Most diaries indicate by a small black circle next to the day and date, when the New Moon falls.

For example, you will find this year (2014)  that  Monday 25 August indicates the day of the New Moon. I am writing this in the last couple of hours of Moondark. Wednesday 24 September is the next New Moon, and so on … Thus Moondark this month is 23,24 and part of 25 August. Next month, it is 21, 22 & 23 September.

It is easy, as I do at the start of a new year and a new diary, to go through the year putting a red line through the days when Moondark falls.

A pattern of  daily rest and retreat time, and observing Moondark as much as I can each month, has given me a sound support structure from which I have now returned to a reconnected life. Observing Moondark is a regular reminder, also, that we belong to Mother Nature.

New Moon

The New Moon in Virgo – in the UK time zone – begins at 15.14 today.Virgo is an earth sign, its energies strongly service oriented, practical, and good at managing detail. It is also extremely hard working, and analytical.So – the Virgo new moon would be an ideal time to start that blitz on your admin system which you’ve been putting off all year, or for putting special effort into re-organising and cleaning up the garden.

I’ve noticed that people with a strong emphasis on Virgo in their horoscopes or birth charts seem to be very fond of stationery shops, and of acquiring stationery. So, why not use this new moon to acquire next year’s diary, go through it and mark off Moondark each month? Or set your smartphone to send you a reminder of when Moondark begins?

Why don’t you try working with this lunar rhythm for a while, trying to chill out and wind down a little at  Moondark ? Don’t forget to let me know how you get on!

700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

The woods are lovely, dark and deep…

We’ve been on a week’s holiday up in the far North-West of Scotland this week. I’ve been getting my old boots on again, feeling the deep joy of walking the land which birthed most of my ancestors.

There’s nothing I love better than being in the middle of nowhere, preferably amongst old trees, with a river nearby, and a track leading up the hillside to reveal magnificent sea views at the top. Wind, rain sometimes (this is Scotland, after all!), hawks, fleeting deer. Absence of people. Presence of silence, broken only by sounds of wind and water.

How I love tramping through woods! Woods especially which have largely been left to Nature’s not so tender mercies…woods which have a slightly scary undertone. Woods where you would not feel entirely safe to be alone, with day’s light fading. Woods where it’s not hard to imagine nymphs and dryads peering out from behind the trees, waiting for humans – who might not believe in them – to go home.

photo 1

Walking with family members and then with husband Ian, I’ve been fortunate to encounter some beautiful old woods in two different areas. I took quite a few photographs, and would like to share them with my readers.

Do you have favourite wood? Do tell…!

 

photo 1

 

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200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Places of Healing – returning to the Orkney Isles

The Orkney Isles

The Orkney Isles

(http://mappery.com/Orkney-Islands-Map)

As some of you will have gathered from Facebook posts and pictures in June this year, Ian and I returned again recently to what has become one of our favourite places. I’ve been asked by a number of people to re-publish this post, to remind them of Orkney’s beguiling qualities. I’d also like new Followers of the blog to know about Orkney. So – here it is. Enjoy, and let me know what you think. Better still, go there! (No, I don’t have a retainer from the tourist board…)

History

“ Scratch Orkney, and it bleeds archaeology!”

This vivid phrase – from an energetic, silver-haired Orcadian tourist guide on an enchanting early evening visit to the tiny island of Eynhallow off the Orkney mainland many years ago – has always remained in my mind as summing up a defining feature of the Orkney Isles.

This scattering of 67 lush, fertile green islands lying off the north coast of Caithness in Scotland has a remarkable history whose early traces continue to surface. The world-famous Neolithic Ring of Brodgar, an impressive stone circle, dominates a narrow stretch of land between Stenness and Harray lochs, attracting many thousands of tourists every year.

We found on our recent visit that yet another archaeological dig was in progress – very close to the Ring. This time, it is so extensive that it may yield the most significant evidence of ancient occupation since the stone settlement of Scara Brae was uncovered by a severe storm many years ago.

About fifteen years ago, Ian and I took an evening drive down to the Ring. It was a clear night, the full moon reflecting burnished silver off Harray Loch. We were alone. We have often walked around the Ring: it is one of my personal pilgrimages on the many visits Ian and I have made to Orkney over the years. This time it felt different, a little eerie.

Suddenly we became aware of what I can only describe as an electrical charge, running clockwise round the ancient stones. We heard intermittent crackling, saw little flashes of sporadic light. The atmosphere raised the hairs on the back of our necks. Knowing we had had a definite experience, but not one which could be explained logically, we said nothing to anyone. But the sense of ancient power invoked in that experience remains with us.

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar

(http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/brodgar/)

Sea

I love the sea, as does Ian. Growing up in the Outer Hebrides meant that water, either pouring from the heavens, lapping gently against the ever-visible shorelines, or battering the landscape in fierce winter storms, dominated my early years. Being by the sea never fails to soothe my spirit, remind me that we are always held in the Eternal, whether aware of it or not. The sea around Orkney entrances me, literally.

On this visit I walked out from Kirkwall harbour on another of my pilgrimages: the morning walk I used to take of about a mile round the line of coast as far as Craigiefield House, wonderful sea views all the way. The low land in Orkney means high, wide skyscapes whose textures, colours and shapes shift and change like a magician’s palette, reflecting always the moods and shifts of the sea. Today it is misty. I sit on a bench and gaze out.

Then, I would reflect on what my day’s writing might bring, as Ian’s busy working day unfolded through many contacts with Orcadians who had grown to trust his professional expertise over many years. Today, we are on holiday here, visiting old friends, familiar places. I just sit, with no plan, letting the sea’s magic enfold me.

Church

In Kirkwall, Orkney’s main town, St Magnus Cathedral – known as the ‘Light in the North’ – was founded in 1137 by the Viking, Earl Rognvald. It is a wonderful building, nowadays owned by the people of Orkney themselves, lovingly and proudly cared for – still very much an active Church. On early visits I used to marvel to myself that such an impressive building was going up here, at the same time as the great cathedral builders of Europe were embarking on a massive series of projects which would take centuries to complete.

Only later did I find out to my surprise and amazement that the European cathedral builders had actually visited these remote, small islands – to advise the Orcadian stonemasons.

On this visit there was a highlight – a new experience. We joined a tour which took us to the upper reaches of the cathedral, via some vertiginously narrow and twisty stairways opening out onto two levels as we gained height, finally gaining access to the very top of the cathedral and fantastic views over town, sea, and much of the Orcadian landscape. I was glad successfully to have challenged my vertigo!

Of many impressive details which the well-informed and enthusiastic guide offered, my personal highlight probably reveals more about me than I should be prepared to admit….on the first level, lying along the floorboards within the stout cathedral walls, was an unusual ladder. This was used at public executions which were very much a feature of  life in mediaeval times and later. It is a double ladder, with thirteen rungs. Two people, the executioner and the condemned person ascended it. Only one came down. Chilling.

St Magnus Cathedral window

St Magnus Cathedral window

(photo: Anne Whitaker)

There is wonderful stained glass from different eras throughout the cathedral. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to take a photograph from on high of my    personal favourite: a glorious jewel-coloured modern window depicting key scenes from the spiritual and temporal life of Orcadians down the ages.

I could have stood on bare boards, high up in St Magnus Cathedral, gazing over the stone parapet at this magnificent window for the rest of the afternoon, had that been possible. However, I have created an acceptable substitute. That glorious window you see here as a photograph is now my computer screen saver: I can admire my version of it, every day!

People

I had two motivations in going to Orkney for one week in February and July each year for nearly two decades. One was to act as a brake on Ian’s tendency to work all day and evening, as he attempted to cram a huge workload into a short visit. In this I was only partially successful….The other was to get away from my own busy people-focused career, giving my reclusive side time to retreat, be by the sea, and allow the writer in me five days of glorious indulgence.

Because of the latter, I was disinclined to be sociable when in Orkney. My ideal lunch was sitting in Trenabie’s cafe (now Bistro!) in Kirkwall, munching one of their excellent toasties with my nose in a book.

However, despite this I still made a few friends, all through Ian. It was heartwarming to receive the welcome we were given on this visit, with Ian being left in no doubt by his former clients and colleagues of the quality of his contribution and how much that had been missed when he left.

One friend we could not have left without seeing is the irrepressible, redoubtable Gifford Leslie, known to all as “Giffie”. Dear Giffie has never quite recovered from having me as one of his guests when we stayed in the characterful Kirkwall Hotel during his tenure as manager there.

Spurning the coffee on offer at breakfast, I would turn up with a tiny jar of my favourite quality instant, and ask for a pot of hot water, much to Giffie’s exasperation and my husband’s embarrassment. Then there was the incident when I managed somehow to splash ink from my fountain pen rather visibly onto the “very expensive!” wallpaper in the Kirkwall Hotel’s Writing Room. Giffie was not pleased, and did not hesitate to tell me so.

On this visit, we found him co-managing the newly refurbished, attractive  West End Hotel with his usual style and panache. Needless to say, I was reminded over a pot of tea (on the house) of my former misdemeanors. Giffie and I concluded as we bade one another a fond farewell, that time had not improved either of us. Ian agreed!

We returned home to our city life, feeling rested and warmed in spirit by our trip, the first for several years. I do hope that this pictorial and verbal tribute conveys at least some of the flavour of the special nature of the Orkney Isles, one of my – and our –  personal healing places. We will be back.

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1450 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Glasgow – towards a Green city: Greener Together Awards 2014

In my previous post on this blog, I wrote:
“Even in the city, in the increasingly hurried pattern of 21st century life, it is possible to maintain a connection to the cycles of the seasons and the rhythms of nature. It’s increasingly recognised that regular contact of this kind is an important component in establishing and maintaining the kind of inner balance and peace that promotes happiness….”

Children's Wood Protest 1

Children’s Wood Protest 1

This has been amply demonstrated in our local community in Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland UK in the last year or so. What a wonderful example The Children’s Wood /North Kelvin Meadow campaign has offered of what can be done to get parents and children out enjoying the Great Outdoors. They truly deserve this award.

Readers – you can do your bit, too, wherever you live across the world. Share this post on your networks, folks! Inspire a community (or several) to get outdoors !!

The Children's Wood and North Kelvin Meadow

We are delighted to be one of the winners of the Greener Together Awards 2014.  The Children’s Wood volunteers have been working to help our community to live a greener and more sustainable life.  We’ve been encouraging families and the community to get outdoors onto North Kelvin Meadow and The Children’s Wood (in Maryhill/North Kelvin area of Glasgow) all year round!

North Kelvin Meadow and The Children’s Wood is a piece of land (roughly 3 acres) in one of the most unequal areas of the UK. The land was previously playing fields and tennis courts and is now a meadow and wood, with over 480 trees. It is a wild space – children can play freely and different groups coexist. Nothing else like it exists in our area.

Image

The project

We have no paid members of staff. The project was initiated by a group of parents wanting to save North…

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‘The Daffodil Run’: my Spring Ritual

I  have a ritual which I’ve repeated for a long time now. From late February each year, I go into the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow  via the Kirklee gate entrance, stroll up the path, and have a close look at the earth border to the left. Green shoots are just appearing. I check them every week, as the stems grow taller and sturdier, and the buds fatter. There is a magic moment  in mid to late March when, at last, I see the first daffodil of Spring.

Quite often, I punch the air and go “Yes!!” That moment provides a rush of pleasure which remains with me the whole day.  I call my ritual The Daffodil Run. You think I’m daft? I know it’s an important part of  what keeps me sane.

There are very few clear evening skies in Glasgow, Scotland, UK. If you’re rushing up Byres Road on the way home on one of those rare nights, especially when you cross the Queen Margaret Drive bridge, look out for a small woman standing still, gazing at the sky. That’ll be me, admiring the wonderful, fragile beauty of a new crescent  moon.

 Even in the city, in the increasingly hurried pattern of 21st century life, it is possible to maintain a connection to the cycles of the seasons and the rhythms of nature. It’s increasingly recognised that regular contact of this kind is an important component in establishing and maintaining the kind of inner balance and peace that promotes happiness.

One of the many advantages of living in a small country like Scotland is that access to the great outdoors is not difficult – half an hour out of Glasgow, for example, it is possible to disappear into lovely countryside and forget the existence of the city very quickly. Try it !

It doesn’t matter how stressed you are, how much angst you are carrying. A couple of hours of  tramping across the hills, often in rain and wind, focusing on nothing more complex than  where you put every footstep in order to avoid disappearing up to your waist in a bog, is guaranteed to purge out at least some of it.

Over many years of  walking, I have offered the hills both my joys and my sorrows, and  have found validation for the former and solace for the latter. In homeopathic medicine, broadly speaking, you treat an ailment with a very dilute form of the toxin which caused it. I have found the homeopathic principle works very well with bleakness of the soul or spirit. That condition can be effectively treated by choosing weather and landscape to match your mood, and immersing yourself in it for a few hours. Meeting bleakness with bleakness has a powerfully cleansing effect.

Complementary to this is the powerfully life-affirming effect that natural beauty can have.

"I am the Soul of Nature...."

“I am the Soul of Nature….”

Standing on top of a favourite hill on a sunlit day, looking at stunning panoramic views, listening to the joyous song of a skylark, feeling at one with the wind and the landscape, has on numerous occasions made me feel so glad to be alive that I have wept for joy.

These experiences may fade in the face of the rigours of an average life. But if you repeat them often enough, you develop a sense of being part of the great round of nature, where joy and sorrow, youth, maturity, decline, death and rebirth all have their part. You also learn, slowly, the importance to being a happy person of being able to ” grasp the joy as it flies”, celebrate the moment, “seize the day.”

( First published in “Self & Society”(The Journal of Humanistic Psychology) (UK)Vol 27 No 5, November 1999, then http://www.innerself.com : Innerself Magazine (USA), and most recently – March 09 –  in ‘ The Drumlin’, the Newsletter of Glasgow Botanic Gardens. )

Comments on this article are welcome

700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page