The Sighthill Stone Circle is a most unusual site in that it resides in the heart of Glasgow. Created by Duncan Lunan 34 years ago, this wonderful astronomically aligned circle is now threatened with demolition by Glasgow City Council due to redevelopment plans that sadly have not included the circle's survival. It is a short sighted vision because the circle is a marvellous asset to the city, a small haven for wildlife and people alike.
February 7, 2013 at 7:10 pm (Uncategorized)
December 21, 2012 at 1:48 pm (Uncategorized)
The end of the world came and went in a predictably unspectacular fashion. The Winter Solstice is once more upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere and we ponder on how in the darkest of times, the spark of light burns brightly still; nature reminding us that hope and renewal are always a possibility, no matter how harsh the winter, or how testing our life’s challenges might be.
Of course, for those in the Southern Hemisphere it is the height of summer. The thought that at our coldest, darkest point, somewhere in the world is at its lightest and warmest, feels very apt. For isn’t this just how life is for us all? The wheel of the seasons continually turns, just as the wheel of our own lives revolves; never allowing us to stand still for too long, bringing us experiences that contrast and contradict. It illustrates both the comforting and unnerving reality that everything passes and nothing stays the same.
In a roomful of strangers we would discover a whole gamut of human emotion and experience in process: some would be going through periods of sadness and loss; others, happiness and growth. For others still, we would find all manner of situations and emotions being played out between the polar points of contraction and expansion; the pendulum that swings between these furthest points is the mechanism that fuels and perpetuates life.
I find it comforting that even when I am experiencing loss, somewhere, probably very close to me, someone is experiencing the joy of gain. This tells me that there will be a time, once more, when the hurt will heal. Likewise, when others are grieving and I am experiencing great happiness, I am reminded to never take such blessings for granted, to make the most of – and give thanks for – those blissful moments. Paradoxically, we can encounter both sad and joyful circumstance in life –we all know that feeling when one aspect of our life is flourishing whilst another is in decline, for instance our relationship might be going from strength to strength as our career goes through the doldrums. Life is filled with contrast and we learn to balance, contain and hold this paradox, feeling the cycles move through our lives in a series of undulating waves.
So at this time of both greatest darkness and greatest light, let us honour the blessing of movement and change; let’s choose not to be afraid of the gifts and challenges that accompany these but embrace them, opening to where it is we find ourselves on the wheel with good grace. Let us also recognise with gratitude, just how much we all help and educate each other by the example of our own unique experiences. As personal to us as these events might feel – at their core – they are actually shared by us all, eventually. The wisdom that we gain as people by this sharing, is passed on to others and down through generations in a never ending thread; it is the perpetual unfolding of the human story.
There is nothing new under the Solstice Sun! Life moves through us and we are an expression of its unfathomable and magical nature. On this most special, hopeful day, such a thought is worth celebrating!
December 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm (Uncategorized)
Insecurities: I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t wrestle, at some point, with one or two (quite possibly a whole heap!) of these. We feel them rise; seeping and sometimes crashing through our fragile surface, seeking out the point of least resistance, spilling forth to expose our raw vulnerability.
Fear fuels our insecurities – the fear that we are not good enough; not lovable enough; attractive, desirable or clever enough; the fear that we are not safe in the world, that our needs will not be met; that we will be left bereft and alone. The roots of our fears are manifold and unique to us, and yet whatever the cause, the impact can be immensely painful and often leads us into self-defeating behaviour. Our insecurities can take our feet right out from beneath us just at the place where the ground is hardest; they leak out and leave tell-tale stains all over our lives and relationships. At best, those that we love and that love us will be tender with our struggles, but left to rampage, our insecurities can lead us to destroy the very things we cherish and need the most.
Situations that rock our faith and trust, or undermine self-esteem, leave a tar of self-doubt; it is viscous and deadly, clogging our responses and impeding the free and spontaneous flow of our joy. Self-doubt strengthens and nourishes our insecurities until they becomes psychological cuckoos; overpowering and dominating our thoughts, distorting our actions and edging out the positive forms of validation that we each receive, but so often ignore, in favour of the negative voices heard both within and outside of us.
Insecurities have a direct line through to our past hurts – all those times when life genuinely winded us. Laying the past to rest can go a long way in helping to understand and heal insecurities but we first need to recognise that they often mask our pasts; they can masquerade as present day people, issues and actions; ones that appear to impact on us from without but are in fact projections of something within us. Such projections have the potential to both obscures or reflect our historical response to a situation that once damaged us. If our insecurities seek to obsessively but ineffectually defend against our past, we can find ourselves living there far too much for our own health and sabotaging our present to boot. And yet when we dig through the layers – the emotional strata that settle like ash over a place of devastation – we touch on not only a sore and tender spot but a site of potential; of understanding and healing. It’s that eureka moment when we are no longer merely caught up in the emotional current of reactions but can actually see where the water surfaces: we can see the source.
I guess it all depends on how we treat our emotional scar tissue. The skin is a marvellous organ. Actual scar tissue, if massaged with nourishing oils starts – over time – to become more flexible and the scarring less visible. Our wounds cannot be undone but they can be gently and tenderly worked upon, until we find that their appearance has changed. There is always initial discomfort; we can become tight and inflexible around the old entry site of a wound and this is as true psychologically as it is physically. We might learn to treat our emotional scars as we do the cuts upon our skin: when we focus lovingly and patiently on them – if we honour and acknowledge the events that brought us them, without allowing ourselves to be consumed by them – then we might begin to uncover the root of the sometimes unfathomable behaviour that our insecurities draw from us. In doing so, we are given the opportunity to break a destructive pattern and let the past go.
December 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm (Uncategorized)
Do we choose words or do words choose us? Each solitary utterance coming together like the individual cells of a slime mould – existing in their own right, yet merging and forming into all manner of shapes – urged on by the need to form sentences that speak of us and to us, of the world and our relationship to it.
The words that we choose, or that choose us, can liberate or imprison; words have the power to shape our lives for good or ill: the verbs dictate what we do; the adjectives give colour, tone and texture to our actions and thoughts. By the time each of us reaches adulthood, it is hard to comprehend the nature of living outside of language; the narratives we construct about ourselves and the events we encounter establish meaning through the complex and intricate weaving together of one word to the next. And it’s not just our own words but those of others that can have extraordinary impact, even change the course of our lives, our lexicons radically altered by a book, a speech or conversation.
In my early twenties, during a time of poverty and unemployment, I discovered the liberating power of books. There was a charity shop a short walk from my home. In the front section of the shop were clothes and bric-a-brac but walking out through a door towards the back of the building, the curious could discover a large room filled with numerous bookcases crammed and enticing. The books were mainly old editions of Everyman publications, with subjects ranging from Greek Philosophy to poetry and classic novels; the muted colours of their hardbacks opened to reveal beautifully illustrated inside covers. There were many Penguin books too, the early orange and white distinctive and easily recognisable designs of novels; purple and white for non-fiction essays. It was a place of pure delight. The books were never more than a few pennies, so with my limited funds I was able to enter a world of ideas and words that, despite the narrow restrictions of my external world, helped my inner life to grow and flourish.
If my life had felt stultifying and dead-ended, then books and the words that inhabited their pages, loosened the binds and instilled in me the distinct sense that there was something more out there, expansive and limitless. I have no doubt that the compulsive and obsessive reading of that period of my life led me to eventually go back to study for a degree as a mature student. Reading alone in my desperate little flat was a training ground for things to come. Reading transformed my life; it taught me to write and ultimately enabled me to experience and achieve things that I had once thought impossible. It has been strange that something so vital to my sense of myself – reading and writing – have been so hard to do of late.
My life has gone through some extraordinary changes over these last eighteen months: I have left my 27 year marriage, started a new relationship, and moved home three times (the last of these to a different country, leaving behind all and everyone that I have known!). Writing these as a list of events could not even begin to hint at the emotional impact of such major changes, let along the odd and heady mixture of carnage and joy that potentially surrounds any one of these singular happenings. Grouped together, it has been quite a ride! Ordinarily, writing would have been the means by which I muddled through and made sense and yet it seems that even this has been too much for my psyche. The words just haven’t found me…
And so, I am left to ponder the link between inspiration and hard graft. It is tempting to think that any creative effort is based solely in that blissful flow and rush of inspiration. However, most creative folks – be they musicians, writers, artists – will confess that it is far less glamorous a process. Rolling up one’s sleeves and getting on with it, no matter what, is actually the method that produces results. Inspiration is undoubtedly an important factor but without the action – the doing of the thing – nothing materialises. This has been a lesson well-learned of late. The lacking of that spark has left me dry. And the ‘doing’ has felt almost impossible.
Something within suspects that the enormity of the change that has swept through my life has left me stunned. It has been such a paradigm shift that much of me has yet to catch up. I have gradually started reading again and am forcing my fingers to tap at the keys in the hope that the ignition catches at some point.
Part of me also suspects that sometimes we have to go beyond language, forgoing the attempt to rationalise or arrange into neat narratives, in order that we might engage with raw feeling; emotions that cannot be restrained or civilised by a sentence but that need to be felt. Perhaps when we, in the words of the author Jeanette Winterson, ‘throw ourselves off the roof of our own house’ – that is when we shed all that we were and had, launching out into the vast unknown – we are in some way reborn. We become a baby again, the language to express the immensity of what we are feeling as yet unformed but experienced nonetheless. And we wait, and learn, and listen…and one day the words move across our tongues and spill out across our lips…and one day, later still, we turn the first page and the words fill us until we overflow. There is a moment when we are each that single, solitary utterance waiting for the sentence to take its shape.
November 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm (Uncategorized)
We have a habit of being woken by the radio alarm in the morning. I am generally roused from drowsiness by discussions about political topics and stories that will dominate the headlines for the day. This morning I awoke to a man speaking about the vital need for our educational system to be radically revamped that we might produce a more efficient, confident and ambitious work force that could economically compete with China.
In the discussion, it was suggested that teachers up their game and that league tables and the focus on passing exams at the expense of vocational training should be questioned. Children should be trained for the demands of the workplace.
Teachers are consistently in the firing line it seems; they have become the easiest of scapegoats in a political environment obsessed with surface and image. Successive governments have been guilty of introducing ever more draconian and self-referencing measurements of success into our schools. League tables are notoriously unreliable methods to judge educational success or failure and the mind-numbing levels of bureaucracy adopted to judge teaching performance and student development are frankly Kafkaesque; it is absurd to assume that we can assess education – or anything else for that matter – with endless tick boxes, collated and analysed by a self-perpetuating layer of management who have come to speak their own Orwellian language of quality control.
The syllabus has become a straightjacket, with teachers given no room for individual approaches because they are required to follow rigidly laid out lesson plans, each with a dubious series of ‘educational outcomes’ to fulfil, tick and collate. It is a worsening situation that has sent many talented and dedicated teachers running for the hills and, by the accounts of teachers on the frontline, is failing our students.
I welcomed the interviewee’s suggestion that the focus on league tables is disproportionate but I felt disheartened as I listened to his vision for our educational system. This vision came alarmingly close to suggesting that the function of schools were as nurseries to produce ‘pods’ for the demands of industry. Is education really that? A place designed to shape us for work alone? Whatever happened to learning for learning’s sake? I appreciate the need to inform children of the world that awaits them after school, college or university but there is something a little sinister in judging it by its ability to produce industry fodder. Do we not want to teach our children to think independently, to be creative and questioning? Do we not want to expose them to the beauty of knowledge or must it always be tethered, channelled and censored by vocation – and a limited one at that?
The interview was followed by another with a spokesman for Jaguar, a company that has closed its production plants here in the UK – the design teams being the only parts of the company to remain, whilst actual production takes place in India and China. We are a country of service industries; our manufacturing base has been dismantled as big companies seek cheaper workforces in the East. We are repeatedly told that we need to remain competitive in a global economy but many of us find ourselves in low paid, unskilled labour. This all begs the question what exactly will our vocational education be training us for?
I am unashamedly an idealist when it comes to education. I believe in the noble tradition of an education that seeks to enlighten, inspire and expand our minds and imaginations; one that teaches us to think and challenge, regardless of what work we might eventually find ourselves in.
I came from a working class background and was the first in my family to be lucky enough to go to University. My degree was not vocational but traditional. It gave me the opportunity to explore life and my relationship to it without the distraction of vocation. I despair when I hear kids at Uni speaking of their degree as merely a stepping stone to be endured on their way to a well-paying job, which incidentally, for a large percentage of them, will not be available when they leave.
If we judge the wealth and growth of our society in fiscal terms alone then we risk becoming impoverished in other vital ways: we work longer hours and spend less time with our families, less time on the intangibles, all those things that nourish our spirits and speak of life as something more. Surely the true gift of learning is the discovery and flowering of our creative selves? Something more precious than corporate conformity or our ability to fit in to whatever economic framework is in fashion? We all have to survive and the blueprint by which we live often demands that we compromise the expression of who we really are to make an honest buck. That is tragedy enough. How much more so, if our educations are defined by that model too?
My thoughts turn to a quote from Thoreau:
The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it
June 6, 2012 at 11:56 am (Uncategorized)
March 13, 2012 at 10:11 pm (Uncategorized)
When I lived on the Isle of Wight, I wrote much upon my own Blog about the island’s beauty and the yearning for rural spaces. Pagan spirituality is often associated with wild, natural places, Pagans seeking to experience the Divine at its heart. There is a strong thread of Romanticism that runs through the Pagan worldview. The Romantic movement grew out of the increasing rise of industrialism and the expansion of urban environments that were perceived as dirty, overcrowded and soulless; a place where God was absent -Blake wrote of ‘those dark satanic mills’. The polarisation between the natural world and the man-made urban space could well be seen as a reflection of Monotheism’s own internal split between God and Satan; God and his natural order pitted against Satan’s creation of – through the hubris of man – a world of smog that mocked nature and brought about the destruction of the rural idyll.
Of course, the rural idyll is a myth in itself. Most of our natural, wild places (in the UK at least) are not wild or natural at all. Britain’s truly wild landscapes are few, most places sculpted by farming or mining; humans shaping the landscape, and nature adapting to those changes.
Having recently moved back to a densely populated city, the notions of perceived beauty in both natural and urban worlds have been apparent to me. Living in Portsmouth for twenty-three years before I moved to the Island, I had always seen myself as a rural lass trapped in an urban landscape, yearning for the green open spaces of my childhood woodland and downland home. In fact, yearning for even wilder, lonelier places to dwell. I harboured a dream to live on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, believing myself to be ideally suited to the isolation and peace, a great part of me feeling kinship with those starkly beautiful coastal places. The opportunity to move to the Isle of Wight – although a softer, less bleak environment – thrilled me.
I can’t deny that the natural beauty of the Island is magical. However, the isolation of island life had its impact and I quickly learnt that my Lewis dream was an illusion; beautiful surroundings are not enough if one’s internal landscape is a psychological wasteland and one’s soul tribe is scattered.
What has surprised me is the beauty of the urban environment I am currently reacquainting myself with. Having left and now returned, I am seeing the city through fresh eyes. The film of weary familiarity has been swiped clean – I have been falling in love with its shapes and colours, the composition of tightly occupied vistas, its business, its full-on surge of human life and activity. What once had appeared dirty, overcrowded and ugly has now taken on a strangely magical aura. There is ugliness here but it dwells tooth by jowl with unexpected loveliness, the ugly possessing its own peculiar beauty when we look at it with neutral and open eyes.
The view from my partner’s flat shows lines of terraced housing, their gardens back to back; roofs in various shapes and shades of tile, warm browns, muddier greys; slate and brick and coloured rendering lashed together with washing lines stretching from house to garden shed, a scene that Stanley Spencer would have painted perfectly. These uneven structures possess their own emotional texture: friendly, warm, known, each a home containing countless lives and stories.
And then there are the moments when the drizzle at rush hour catches the neon, revealing the fine droplets carried in eddies and swirls; the wetness of the roads reflecting the headlights, the fine spray diffusing the light, softening the glare – the energy and movement of the busy streets contrasting and dissolving in the mizzle; hardness blurring at the edges.
Time and again, this surprising shift of perception shows me yet another angle by which to view this place that I have known so well but have barely ‘seen’ until now.
The truth is that the Divine lives in every landscape; those heightened moments when the Awen floods in and fires our senses and our souls, can be felt wherever we find ourselves.
I will finish with a useful quote from Arthur Schopenhauer which says much about the freedoms and restrictions of our ways of seeing:
Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world…
March 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm (Uncategorized)
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you; it will be enough.
It can be so easy to lose touch with gratitude when we feel challenged by life. We can become distracted by the everyday minor irritations that we each deal with or – at those moments when major changes overwhelm us – we can feel in some way exiled from life’s sweetness, from the many blessings that we are touched by. When we look a little deeper, even at the most painful times, we can find that we are surrounded by a million unspoken kindnesses; within touching distance of beauty and joy; never far from a gift – be it a word, an act, a sight, that has the potential to enrich us.
I don’t do it nearly enough but I think a regular practice of consciously giving thanks is a simple but powerfully effective spiritual practice that anyone can do, regardless of religious belief or lack of, and it would seem, regardless of where we might find ourselves.
I have a lot of love and laughter in my life at the moment – despite the sadness of endings that are an inevitable part of this transitional time – and although I am not immune to that sadness, the depth of that love and laughter is something I am truly thankful for. It is something that enfolds me, comforts me, inspires and uplifts me.
I am also very grateful for my beautiful little flat. Steve and I regularly talk to a homeless man in our local shopping area. Steve has bought him food and cigarettes on occasion and we give money when we can, chat and say hello. I cannot imagine how tough it must be not to have a roof or a place of safety and comfort that you can relax in. This man has no family and spends much of his time alone. A hard life indeed. It reminds me that what I have is a palace and a blessing – ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ is a saying that none of us should ever forget.
Perception is everything – how we choose to see and interpret our lives is ultimately the deciding factor in how our lives are shaped. We might not draw the outline – plenty of external stuff impacts on us too – but we select the colours that fill those lines; the tone and the texture are ours to create. The wonderful thing about gratitude is that it transforms the world into a magical place, full of meaning and depth. And so, say thank you. The more you do, the more you will discover to be thankful for.
March 1, 2012 at 11:38 am (Uncategorized)
This Blog has been woefully neglected over the last few months. The demands of adjusting to my new life – putting in place all those things necessary to survive such as supporting a home and working at a new job – have taken more energy than has felt available. Times of transition can be exhausting; they bring both pain and joy. The excitement of newly discovered potential being given the chance to unfold and flourish is something to be treasured but there has been a good deal of shedding and sadness that has accompanied this leap of faith so recently made. I am as tired as I have ever been.
Being single again after such a long married life has meant engaging with some tricky logistics regarding finances. Separation leaves many people in reduced circumstances; money is undoubtedly tight but I am learning to support myself. This brings a sense of achievement but hovering on the poverty line also brings some strain and worry too. My current job scores low on satisfaction and pay, high on boredom, repetition and compromise. This is an extra drain and has the double whammy of not even paying enough to truly compensate for the time and energy it takes. Despite this, I have to remind myself that it is serving a purpose – a short-term strategy; one necessary step on the route to better things.
It has all rather felt like I have been balancing upon a plank set on top of a ball, shifting my weight constantly to keep upright, always in motion, never still. I have longed to step off for a bit, feel some solid ground beneath me, but for now that is not an option. My partner reminds me to be patient, be proud of the positive achievements I have made so far; it is sound advice but then patience was never my strong point, and once you have walked off a cliff, there is a longing to fly. I am a clumsy fledgling, my wings in need of strengthening. Time and practice are everything when we are learning new skills and this is no less when it comes to the skills we need for living. These change as our lives change and so we are required to keep learning.
This place of beginnings is a curiously vulnerable one. I feel as if all my known ways of responding and coping have become oddly redundant and I am forced to acknowledge that I have become a novice overnight. This is an uncomfortable feeling at the age of forty five. Shouldn’t I have cracked this living thing by now? Shouldn’t I be comfortably well off? Well established in a career? Apparently not. Life has an uncanny knack of mutating just at the moment that we assume we have it licked – not that I ever felt entirely convinced that I did.
All this reminds me of those feelings of cluelessness as a child, believing that every adult knew just about all there was to know and I was at the start of a long journey of discovering some arcane knowledge; in a dim, distant future I would finally be initiated and all would become startlingly clear. Of course, that never really happens. As an adult, I realise that the old cliché about the longer you live, the less you know, has a good deal of mileage left in it. I am still clueless! Perhaps we all walk round with a certain amount of puzzlement and uncertainty, even if we are particularly good at bluffing. Perhaps a good few of us pretend that we know the rules, the requirements, the solutions and the point, convincing others and even ourselves?
What seems certain is that we will always come to that edge when the urge to fly stirs, when we sense that it is time to become a little more of what we were meant to be but find that we can only flap and stumble. Life can then act like a firm but knowing mummy bird pushing us from our nest. We might never feel ready, and left to our own devices would remain in the place that offers the most comfort and the least challenge. Doing that, of course, has a higher price than we might initially suspect because without taking those plunges, we never truly live.
And so (not for the first or last time in my life) I am a fledgling once again: stuttering and ungainly, my plumage dishevelled and faintly ridiculous, being prodded relentlessly by some unseen existential beak. It can be very tough on one’s self-esteem to be in that place of cluelessness but I have lived long enough to know that along with feeling foolish and untutored, along with all the risks and pitfalls that surround it, comes the opportunity to accomplish something wonderful. These things take time but the key moment is the first trembling step – full of danger and anticipation, fear and doubt. That faltering step launches us off the edge into our true element.
I have already begun…
November 19, 2011 at 4:22 pm (Uncategorized)
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. – Rumi