These three words have been with me for some time now…what is it to ‘be’? Where is ‘here’ and when is ‘now’? Time is something that concerns me. So many of us are always trying to beat the clock, and in doing so it would appear to me that we are in fact speeding up time. How many of us have noticed that the more we try to pack in to our lives, the faster our lives seem to pass? So I have in recent years been experimenting with slowness. I have used the word ‘savour’ more times. I have stopped trying to fill up my time and instead have been emptying it. In stillness, time appears to slow down. By noticing it, there is more of it. I have become better at using small opportunities of time instead of fretting that it’s only a small amount which I then waste in indecision about which of the dozen things I would like to do in what I am perceiving as a limited period. I am more focussed and calm, able to make clearer decisions and less anxious. Rather than attempting to pin waves to the sand, I feel I am simply enjoying watching them coming in, going out, like breaths. So if we want time to slow down, it would appear that WE need to slow down. In order to enjoy life MORE, we need to do LESS. BE HERE NOW.
I am astonished by all the tiny structures that exist in nature but I am also astonished by the mahoosiveness of nature! Why do these two extremes exist? It is possible to go through our whole lives without noticing much of this. The way we live in much of our 21st century culture has made it possible for many human beings not even to know the difference between two types of tree. Yet, when we give ourselves time and space to think and notice, something happens to us. I wonder if it is something to do with the sense of scale…we can perhaps get a sense of where we fit in somewhere between the micro and the macro. We are in a privileged position which means we can look in both directions. If we were the smallest organism in existence we would only ever see things that are bigger than us, perhaps this would make us feel insignificant and overpowered. Being the largest in existence may seem overwhelmingly daunting, to have so much responsibility towards everything else, or may give us a false sense of our importance. Being able to see in both directions somehow seems like balance to me. We can stand and take in the placing of our selves as both responsible and unburdened. Able to look after and nurture but also to receive care and relief from responsibility too. Sometimes we are called to rise to a challenge and then others we need to recognise our limitations and take comfort in the fact that this is time for us to rest. Maybe occasionally we are just looking in the wrong direction. We can become so focussed on the detail that we can’t see what really needs to be done. We just need to pull back, take a breath and look up at the big sky for a while; acknowledge our size and feel the safety of being part of the bigger picture.
So I’m looking up at this telegraph pole and hoping it stays upright in spite of gusty Doris, who’s strength pushed against me this morning as I tried to pull closed the door of my van. I battled but in the end had to get out and use all my strength to push it shut then climb in through the passenger door instead.
It’s a cliche I know but I think I learnt something about staying calm this morning, in spite of the relentless force blowing everything around outside. I know there’s a huge movement in favour of meditative practices emerging at the moment and it’s probably because the metaphorical storm is intensifying – pressure, politics, busyness. Meditation, prayer, mindfulness and so on, are not new but somehow more and more of us are becoming aware of the need to stop, think, reflect, be still, be aware. Earlier on today I was able to make myself a decent cup of coffee and sit still for twenty minutes and literally just drink that coffee. I savoured each mouthful and it tasted divine. It was like partaking in a holy act. I stared out of the window and watched the trees and telegraph wires being taken to their limits and the howling and whooshing trying to do everything it could to disturb. But as I sat, immersed in my one and only chosen ritual, I felt unruffled, calm and separate from the external forces. I remembered a story I’ve read a few times about a guy who falls asleep during a storm whilst out in a boat with his friends. His friends are panicking, thinking they are all going to die, frustrated with their friend who doesn’t seem to care and carries on sleeping. They wake him up and he reassures them that everything’s going to be ok, perhaps a little surprised that they are in such a frenzy. Then it’s as if the calm in him is so powerful that it makes the external storm cease. Wow. What if we were able to be so calm in spite of the mayhem and madness around us, that we could actually change the atmosphere of our time. What if peace is contagious.
After my coffee, I had to drive against these high winds and 50 mile an hour gusts – I could feel the van being rocked as I sat at the traffic lights. Trees and branches were down everywhere but I didn’t flinch.
Clouds in the sky of different formations; the sun on my arms and in my eyes. The chair outside that looks as if it is balancing on one leg with the others in the air. Umbellifer seed heads are visible above the horizon line and silhouetted against the sky. A robin perches on one. Geese trumpet their way somewhere to my left – I only hear them. Clear patches of ciel blue make me think of the coast. What looks like a long slow comet streaks across one of the patches – it’s a vapour trail and the plane looks like a needle and thread trying to pierce its way through the blue silk.
The sun is starting to sink lower in the sky, lighting up the more varied shaped clouds. Wisps and feathers appear higher up. I notice the telegraph pole poking up from within the straggly damson tree and brambles; thick ivy probably keeping it upright. Now the sun has disappeared behind the clouds and only the glow of its light shows through the thin gaps where they overlap. Some of the larger clouds have turned smoky grey and scud across the sky like a large shadowy UFO. There’s the robin again.
Oh wow! A curved white trail with a hint of pink is way up, the light catching the metal so it looks like a silver star, blazing a trail…and it’s gone. Here comes another and now two! They’re heading towards each other, the space between narrowing but now one has forged ahead. Slate blue clouds are invading from the left, like a shoal of jellyfish swimming together. A lovely splash of white behind them looks as if someone spilt some chalk dust or white pigment and then blew it away. Another plane glistens, from another direction this time and four birds get there quicker. The jellyfish have grown and now their shoal almost covers the higher part of the sky.
The last of the jellyfish are drifting off now and the pale blue is graphite smudged. The light is fading and the green field loses its emerald glimmer. The first star appears. The smudges turn to blurred watercolour bleeds and four tiny birds find a roost for the night. Dusk.
I’m wondering how many people have walked this path ahead of me…how many will walk behind, leaving temporary evidence that we are here, squeezing imprints of our chosen footwear into the sodden earth. We walk for different reasons…to get somewhere (though this seems to be a dying practice) to walk our dogs, for meditation or exercise. I wonder what it would look like if we could see the lines of our movements drawn onto the surface of the earth. How far and where would we have been? It’s interesting that we talk about our ‘carbon footprint’ yet this refers to anything but walking. If we walked more our carbon footprint would diminish in favour of our muddy ones. Our bodies are designed to walk…it’s one of those natural instincts and on the whole, we have the physical equipment built in. But we have created a world where our connections are a long way away. We work way beyond walking distance from our homes or we work from home so we only have to walk down the stairs to get there. We forget to leave time to allow for walking and it’s too expensive for people to live in places close to all the amenities they need. The artist Richard Long made art from his walks; he sensed something profound in the meditative activity of walking http://www.richardlong.org/index.html . It can give us time to think and prepare, time to notice things along the way. Whether we are artists or not, walking can add so much to our lives…it’s such a simple thing.
My Mother’s old alarm clock radio…as I took photographs of this as a record of its original state before painting over it in order to transform it into a different sort of object, the process took on a life of its own. At certain angles it reflected the trees and sky outside my studio leading me to think about the different approaches we’ve had to marking time. The sun reflecting on it reminded me of sundials and stonehenge. It reminded me that my Mum no longer has a use for a clock. I imagine time is no longer a limitation or measure for her, as wherever she is, I’m pretty certain she is free from the constraints of time. Us humans have created measures for ourselves as a way to organise our lives, originally in harmony with nature – night and day, as measured by the length of time it takes for the earth to travel around the sun. But we can become slaves to it as well. We watch the minutes tick by, the hours, weeks and years. We are painfully aware of the passing of time and the inevitable journey towards death. How can we learn to perceive time differently? Can we live contently within its limitations. We set alarms, fill our calendars, make plans, talk about living life to the full, carpe diem, try to live in the moment. We reminisce about the past and take plenty of photos to ‘capture’ a moment and preserve a memory.
In the west, we work all hours and appear to be in a constant panic that there is never enough time and we are not masters of our own. We scurry about, trying to find a purpose for the unknown measure we have been given. Why are we so frightened to stop still? What are we afraid of facing? I sometimes wonder why we’re always either planning ahead or reflecting upon the past and rarely noticing where we are right NOW. It strikes me that the passing of time is inevitable. The world keeps on gently rotating. It’s also true that the faster we live our lives, the faster we perceive time to be passing. We can carry on cramming as much as we can into the time we have, or we can stop and take ourselves away from the human constructs of measured time and into the more gentle natural rhythms of physical time. Has anyone ever done that thing where you stand against a wall and line up a star with the corner of the wall then watch how slowly it moves away from that corner? It gives us a much calmer impression of the slowness of time. The earth isn’t spinning like a gyroscope, although sometimes we act as if we are clinging on for dear life, afraid that if we let go we’ll be flung out into space and forgotten forever!
There is a better way. We can step out of the human constructs of time where numbers dictate our days and into the realms of natural time where the sun rises and light appears to flood the day without us even noticing how it happens. We can listen to the gentle inhalation of breath into our lungs and become aware that we are indeed alive! When we stop thinking so hard, we can start living. Nature has created her own rhythms and they are much slower than the ones we’ve overridden them with.
When we allow ourselves to stop and open our senses we too can be flooded with the light that the sun brings in the morning. Life fills our lungs and our hearts beat, pumping warmth to the very ends of our fingers and toes. Our eyes slowly open, we wake up and see things more clearly. As the ache of disconnection disappears, colour fills our vision: a sense of gratefulness and joy comes as we realise we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. Peace follows. It is. I am. We are. Now.
I love these winter skies…for some reason I get butterflies in my stomach when I see skies like this…and when I think about winter. Perhaps it is because of its gentle drama and melancholy. The response to winter seems to be in the depths of my gut. There is often a deep quietness in these days which comes as a relief from the fruitful productivity of summer. The slate grey clouds and the cold, pale-yellow sun provide a backdrop for the closing scenes of another year in nature’s cyclical play. Who wrote the script for this compelling drama? Who designed the set? It surpasses any I have ever seen. I know I have a part to play in this beautiful and terrible story and I want to do it well.
A couple of Sundays ago, I happened to read this…”Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” It was from a book I sometimes open and read when I need a shot of spiritual wisdom. My lovely husband and me (not using ‘I’ because it sounds so formal), had already made plans to go out for the day to a favourite tree filled place. In my head I held these words “ancient paths” and wondered what the day would reveal. These photos go some way towards representing what was for us, a day of restoration and calm. A day off. Had we been following literal ‘ancient paths’? Am I talking about ley lines or old Roman roads? My understanding of it takes me even further back. Perhaps even to the origins and purpose of our being. Is there an ancient path created for us to follow which is revealed when we connect with the rhythms of nature? Are we not included in nature’s rhythm of growth and rest; activity and stillness? I am utterly convinced that there is an opportunity for us all to live within the flow of work, rest and play; to make choices to follow the ancient paths and find rest for our souls. The ‘crossroads’ implies that there are other ways we can choose to go and that we need to stop, look and listen before making our choice. If we don’t, there’s a high chance of a nasty collision.
So, as far as I understand, trees shed their leaves in the autumn as a way of protecting themselves from the harshness of the cold winter temperatures. If they kept their leaves they would leave themselves vulnerable to damage and disease. Their growth slows down and they rest a while. This means they have a strong chance of surviving and growing stronger the following spring. They are looking after themselves. The leaves are not left as waste…they fall to the ground and nourish the earth, nutrients seeping in and forming a good mulch around the roots of the tree. I wondered the other day as I walked out and smelled the soft earthy dampness of autumn, if we could learn a thing or two. I walk around, holding all these worries and stresses as if holding on to them will somehow give me control of them but instead the opposite is true. Letting go of them will give me more control of myself and my wellbeing. This is better…this is what will give me a better chance of surviving the bitter winds of winter. This makes me stronger and gives me a chance of growing ever taller, providing more shelter and home for those who need it. Giving oxygen to a world desperate for fresh air and hope. Grace to trees. Thank you for them all.
Why do I take photographs? What am I trying to capture? I’m always more interested in the effects of light on a subject…it can transform and highlight an otherwise ordinary view of something. Things otherwise overlooked can be brought to our attention. It is as if the light is saying “hey, look at this…isn’t it amazing? I thought I’d show that to you today…”