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

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.

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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

A thing of beauty….

I’ve just come across this absolutely beautiful picture of a Moonstone which I thought my readers might enjoy as we come up to the Full Moon this Sunday.

Wonderful Moonstone

Wonderful Moonstone

https://www.facebook.com/healingandcrystaltherapy

Favourite Quotes: ‘ the tree with lights’…. from Annie Dillard

This  post is dedicated to Denise at http://forphilip.com/. I was so struck by the extract below – from a recent post of hers – that I was inspired to write a reply. If you visit Denise’s blog, you will discover what moves her to write so beautifully, so profoundly. 

“….Four years I’d been living on that particular block, walking past one particular tree, and that morning I witnessed its transformation. The sun lit that tree and it shimmered red and gold; it was glass on fire, and if it could have  made a sound, it would’ve been celestial. This was shock and awe, I thought, as I stood staring up at it…..If I could live in that light, I thought, if I could just not move and stay right here, I will be all right and it will all have been worth it…..”

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My reply….

Dear Denise, this extract from your recent post, reproduced above, struck me as being powerfully similar to a wonderful description of the ‘tree with lights’ which Annie Dillard talked about in her Pulitzer Prize winning book “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”. I googled it, and have found the  ‘tree with lights’ passage  for you. I hope you find this passage as moving and inspiring as I did:

“…..Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it.  I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame.  I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.  It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.  The lights of the fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.  Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared.  I was still ringing.  I had my whole life been a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.  I have since only rarely seen the tree with the lights in it.  The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam…..”

–Annie Dillard, ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’ (1974).

I can still clearly recall the profound, uplifting impact many years ago of reading Annie Dillard’s account of what is, essentially, a mystical experience. She was only 27. ‘….I’m still spending the power….’ I know what she means. I was fortunate enough to have a mystical experience once, at the age of 24 – out of the blue, on a clear, starry night with Venus rising over the Perthshire hills in the Scottish Highlands. It has sustained me through many difficult experiences, and in Annie Dillard’s unforgettable words,‘…. I’m still spending the power….’

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

Treasure in the autumn sky….

No, I haven’t vanished from the blogosphere…. still resting my (much improved) tendonitis-afflicted wrist. However, I enjoy  emerging occasionally: this time, to share something which has lighted up my week.

I love the Northern Lights, those elusive magicians of the Northern dark. Here is a beautiful photograph sent to me last week which I have happily added to my collection. Enjoy!

Northern Lights

Northern Lights over Treshnish Isles, Scotland

(click on the image to enlarge)

….and...if you’d like to read some of my reflections on the joy and awe evoked by the Northern Lights, as well as watching a video of the most stunning Northern Lights sequence EVER, click below:

 https://anne-whitaker.com/2013/04/21/watch-this-clip-feed-your-soul/

Do treat your soul to an uplift by watching this clip. Forget the Measurers and the reductionists for a few minutes. Whatever they may do their best to tell us, there are and always will be sublimely mysterious dimensions to life for which materialist science with all its brilliance can provide only one dimension of the answer…..

200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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The sacred Isle of Iona: magical by full moon light

Last week we had a wonderfully restorative trip to the magical, mystical Isle of Iona, off the West Coast of Scotland, a place of pilgrimage for seekers from all over the world.

On the night of the full moon, I went out for a twilight stroll by the sea, from which rose an evening haar, creating a hazy filter through which the full moon glowed. I took some very atmospheric photos.Here is a moonlit image one of the spectacular High Crosses to be found on the island:

Iona Cross, Full Moon, August 21 2013

Iona Cross, Full Moon, August 21 2013

photo: Anne Whitaker

Today this ‘thin place’ offers the rare chance of escaping from nearly all of the unwelcome trappings of the twenty first century. To a great many people it is the desert island of dreams come true. Whether or not one is religious there is a spiritual peace to be found here, perhaps best reflected in the words of the composer Mendelssohn, after his visit to Iona in 1829:

“…when in some future time I shall sit in a madly crowded assembly with music and dancing round me, and the wish arises to retire into the loneliest loneliness, I shall think of Iona…”

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200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Excitement in Glasgow’s Children’s Wood at the end of June….

“Wild spaces are invaluable to children, especially those growing up in
towns. They stimulate the imagination and nurture the spirit. Places
like the Children’s Wood within North Kelvin Meadow (Glasgow) are hard to come
by in urban settings and so should be preserved at all costs.”

Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo and recent U.K Children’s Laureate

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This is not just a local issue. This issue is one of the major challenges of our time right across the world.

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Our local campaign has gained great momentum and attracted world-wide attention in the last year: come down to the The Children’ Wood and support the latest event!

Scotland’s greatest living artist and writer Alasdair Gray will read, for the first time ever, to an audience of children on the 30th June, 2013. He has chosen to read from the well loved Just So Stories and some Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales.

There will be many activities for all ages to enjoy during the afternoon: food, crafts, lucky dips, second hand children’s items, window boxes, home baking, face painting, plus lots more….

Alasdair Gray at The Children's Wood

Alasdair Gray at The Children’s Wood

Do come along and support the campaign. If you can’t do that, then how about Liking the Children’s Wood Facebook page?

 

The Children’s Wood West-End Festival Gala programme

Our local Glasgow, Scotland UK campaign continues with some summer fun for young and old. Do come along and support us!

The Children's Wood and North Kelvin Meadow

The Children's Wood West-End Festival Gala programme

We’ve got a fantastic line up of activities and stalls for our Gala this SUnday (2nd June). There will be something for everyone. We hope to see you there. Join the conversation on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/TheChildrensWood

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