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The spaces in between

The train to Manchester was busy.

Next to me, leaning against the window and not making eye contact, a young man with a backpack. He kept his backpack on all the way, and his coat. He hunched uncomfortably on the seat, moving constantly; cracking his knuckles, jiggling his legs, sighing, yawning.

The train took its time, and I distracted myself with my phone. Both of us would rather be anywhere but here, squashed into a train with strangers.

The kind of train journey that doesn’t have space, physically or mentally.

This one does. This train, from Manchester to Norwich, is blissfully empty. Hours of countryside pass by; tunnels, rivers, mountains, woods. I barricade myself into my seat, coat on the chair next to me, bag in front, daring anyone to sit next to me. My own little cocoon.

Then the journey works it’s magic.

The rocking of the train, eyes relaxing over the long views, grey skies giving way to silver, then blue, then back to grey.

The train sings nothing to do, nothing to do, nothing to do.

Space

To think

To relax

To breathe

To dream.

Ideas appear, then drop behind. Contentment spreads.

Ideas reappear, then blossom. The future appears more fluid, more malleable.

And all I have to do is sit here and be transported.

How rare it is to find this space, the space between. Between departing and arriving, between dreaming and becoming, between beginning and end.

The space where possibilies expand with the horizon, where new futures can be envisioned and old bonds can drop away.

My most audacious goals seem possible

And yet isn’t all life lived in this space, really?

How good we are at distracting ourselves from it, filling our lives up with busyness.

As the land flattens out and the towns get closer together, I start to weave my dreams into reality, mapping out actions for the coming months. Dreaming into doing, breathing thoughts into life.

The train arrives. I depart into the cold night air.

_

I would like to find ways of inhabiting this in between space more often, instead of leaving it to chance.

How do you find the time and space to reconnect with your dreams and to plan for your future?

Gone canoeing

It’s the August bank holiday here in England. This is a note I left in the kitchen on Saturday.

Going canoeing reminded me of a poem I wrote on May Day bank holiday 2018. Reposting it here:


A click of the shutter

I don’t have a waterproof camera

and my phone is wrapped in plastic, safe in a drybag,

for emergencies only.

And so I have no photos to share

to say I was here,

to try to convey the meaning of a moment.

But how often does a photograph really do that?

After all, there are other senses than sight.

So.

Bank holiday monday,

Coniston Water

the end of a scorching weekend.

Paddling south (first time in my canoe this year)

away from the crowds,

my arms remember how good it feels,

burn of working muscle

taking me further from the voices and barbecue smoke.

Past open water swimmers towing orange floats

who stop for a chat in the middle of the lake

unfazed by the deeps,

complaining of the cold water.

Past moored boats, and pine tree promentaries,

shingle beaches overhung with oaks,

until, at the south end of the lake

as yellow reeds narrow to reveal the start of a river,

I turn around to head back north and see

spread before me the calm lake

bordered by woods in the first flush of spring green,

low bracken-covered hills glowing

in the early evening sunshine,

the Coniston fells beyond, blue and slightly misty.

That is the moment I would have pressed the shutter.

But could that photograph record

the pleasant ache of shoulders and arms,

the gentle forward motion of the canoe,

the sound of water lapping,

a mind quietened to contentment?

One moment, containing

a sense of returning, of welcome,

a glimpse of childhood,

a farewell to winter,

and the seed of all the summers to come.

Walking in summer rain

I walk on,

aware of grey storm clouds

gathering,

darkening,

first few spots of rain.

The estuary beckons.

I walk on.

The clouds open,

rain pounding on my

waterproof jacket,

pouring streams down

my legs, drenching

my cotton trousers,

filling my shoes.

I walk on,

the estuary misty

shades of silver.

For the raindrops

bouncing off my head,

running down my legs,

I am simply a detour

between the clouds

and the sea.

I walk home,

feet surprisingly warm

as my body heats

the rain in my shoes.

This is what it is

to be

alive.

The cricket

The distant sound

of cricket on the radio

drifts hypnotically through

the open window.

Sitting at my desk

I struggle to stay awake,

work seems irrelevant,

not made for summer days.

Even the sound of someone

scoring something,

the cheers of the crowd,

the raised voices

of the commentators,

fail to rouse me

from this mid-afternoon torpor.

This moment

At the end of the garden

sipping beer,

the bench in early evening sun

still warm.

I read a new book,

Chinese mountain poetry,

a subject about which

I know little.

Centuries apart,

it seems we write

about the same things.

Then a sparrow chirps

in the hedge,

pulls me fully

into the present moment.

Always, and only,

this moment.

Boredom

Boredom sits heavy.

Don’t resist,

don’t drive it away

with endless scrolling

or unnecessary busyness.

Let it be.

Mooch around.

Feel a little fed up.

Just when you think

you can’t take any more,

you will notice something.

Within the boredom,

a little seed of creativity

is growing.

Give it space.

Wait, then watch it blossom

into ideas,

into action.


An empty holiday cottage on the Dorset coast. Everyone else has gone out. At first, the peace is bliss, then I get bored.

Then eventually the boredom transforms into the wish to draw. But all my sketchbooks, pencils and paints are at home.

My eyes fall on my nephews’ drawing book and gel pens.

My fingers itch to draw.

I have an idea.

I go and find their favourite toys, scattered around the house.

I draw each one, 2 monkeys and 2 cats, on random pages.

Tomorrow we all go home.

Sometime in the future, when my nephews look for a clean sheet of drawing paper, they will find my drawings.

And when I get home I will get my paints out. And maybe add some gel pens to my ever expanding range of art materials.

Thank you boredom!

Fighting reality

The moment I accept

the reality of what is,

is the moment

I relax.


Saturday morning, 4.30am. Jet lag kicks in and I’m not sleeping. I should sleep. I need to be refreshed. I’ve crossed an ocean for the annual tai chi workshop and I want to be rested, relaxed. So I worry about not sleeping.

Oh, the irony.

Every year that I attend this workshop I arrive with a suitcase of worries. Will it be too hot? Am I good enough at tai chi to be here? What if the travel plans go wrong? Did I do everything I needed to do before I left work, before I left home? What if I don’t feel well and miss some of the workshop? What if, what if.

And every year, I love it. I have the most amazing time. I learn, I reconnect with friends, I make new friends. I relax, deeply. I gain insights in my practice. Yes, sometimes it’s too hot, occasionally I’ve felt a bit under the weather, but I still have a great time.

4.30 am, Saturday morning. I must go back to sleep. I am anxiously awake.

Then a thought pops into my head. Should I really be asleep? Really? Is that true? No. I am awake. That is the reality.

What would happen if I just accepted that I’m awake? That it’s OK to be awake at 4.30 in the morning and it won’t ruin my whole week?

So I did. And suddenly I’m just lying awake, relaxed, in a comfortable bed. I just enjoy lying there in the darkness, listening to the first tentative notes of the foreign dawn chorus.

And all the other things I am worrying about just dissolve in the dawn.

There is such ease to be found in living life this way, accepting what is instead of fighting reality.

This is my new practise.