A Unified Cloud

Evening walks are one of the joys of this time of the year. The days are long enough so we can get all the routine jobs done that a large garden demands during the day, but there is still time to take a relaxing meditative walk in the evening. There is no pressure to rush back and get something done before dark, we can linger and watch the birds or marvel at the energy of young lambs chasing round the fields.

A few days ago we were sitting on one of our favourite benches where there’s a view across the salt marshes to the distant hills on the other side of the Solway coast. There are a few blackthorn and hawthorn trees, each in turn producing beautiful blossom that dresses branches in bridal white.

By June the blossom has gone, soon the sloes will appear on the blackthorn and the hawthorn trees will be covered with the ruby jewels of haws. But just now it’s too early to see the fruits appear, it’s the starlings who draw our attention.

We watch as they circle the saltmarsh or merse as it’s more commonly referred to here and in a synchronised mumruration, clouds of unified grace, they move around the evening sky. The following poem should be laid out differently, but I couldn’t replicate that format on the blog – You’ll have to imagine the text sweeping and swirling rather than being in a stiff column! Maybe I’ll take a photo and try to post that one day …

Murmuration over the Merse

I envy those starlings

they swoop though the air

circle a distant hawthorn tree

then skirt around a second

land briefly on the third

before rising

all together like a cape

thrown up into the air

they move on again

rise like  twisting

plumes of smoke

as one amoeba-like

shadow above the merse

patterning the dusk

together        they fly

perfect harmony

in unison      

no outcasts

We could learn a lot from these avian souls.


Autumn Soup Meditation

I’ve been asked why I don’t just use my Kenwood to chop up vegetables for soups. It’s quicker – yes but noisier and not as calming as working steadily through the pile of carrots or whatever with a good kitchen knife.

It’s maybe not as common as doing a walking meditation but after all, if people have been taught that they can meditate when washing dishes, then focussing on the job in hand,  slowly, purposefully and not aggressively using a knife to prepare vegetables is not a bad idea.

A soup that has been prepared in this way has more than the goodness of the vegetables One of my favourite DH Lawrence poems – We Are Transmitters, includes the following lines

‘Even if it is a woman making an apple dumpling, or a man a stool,

if life goes into the pudding, good is the pudding good is the stool…’

Finding that Elusive Solitude

Creating something whether it’s a painting, a sculpture, a magnus opus or a short poem, we need to find that elusive thing called solitude. It is possible to create when in a busy place surrounded by others and with constant interruptions but Mary Oliver knew how much easier it is if we can rely on having the luxury of a quiet time to ourselves. In her book of essays Upstream Selected Essays, she wrote –

Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.
But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist.

As she noted, it’s not always others that interrupt our train of thought. We need to somehow keep our minds focussed on the job in hand and not let our minds wander, drift off along another path which leads to a dead end. This is so much easier said than done.

When learning to meditate many years ago, I was told to acknowledge thoughts that come into my head, then put them to one side and return to the stillness. Occasionally, one of these uninvited invaders might actually be bringing a useful insight – in which case we accept it gratefully!

Sadly, I have only recently come across the work of Mary Oliver but better late …

Remember the Power of Now

I’ve just been reading Dan Pederson’s piece The Chase where he writes –Life can’t always be about getting somewhere. At some point it has to be about now. At some point now has to be okay. Otherwise it never will be. We’ll just keep chasing a fantasy, an ideal version of life, an imaginary place in the future where everything is the way we want it to be.

Sometimes we need reminding of the importance of ‘now’. It’s all too easy to get tied up in worrying about the future, regretting things that happened or didn’t happen in the past. If we do this then we can’t be making the most of the ‘now’.  We can’t know what the future holds for us or how many more ‘now’ moments we’ll have.

Eckhart Tolle wrote a bestselling book The Power of Now and also A New Earth. It’s always worth finding time among the busyness of life to read. These I read some years ago.

Just now I’m discovering the wisdom in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass – watch this space …

But we do need to take time out to just ‘be’ in the moment. Sometimes a beautiful sky can make us stop, empty our minds of ‘to do’ lists and drift …


Mindfulness – not always easy

If we could all find a quiet secluded spot like this and find time to just sit quietly every day, our lives would be enriched.


Finding time to sit, to just ‘be’ isn’t always easy. It isn’t always easy to be ‘mindful’ either.

Mindfulness has become a buzz word over the last few years. Becoming trendy and the ‘in thing’ for businesses and groups to develop.

A while back I wrote a flash fiction piece with this in mind –

Friday Afternoon

How much should we accept our ‘fate’? He wondered. It’s all very well hearing that we should learn to accept and that includes any suffering, any bad times and any adverse situations at all. But that’s not so easy is it? Surely we’ve got to fight against the bad times not just give into them?

Mindfulness – that’s another thing we’re supposed to be working towards. Think of where you are ‘be’ in the present. When you are reading a memo, know you are reading a memo – think of the words, think of the person who sent it. When you are writing the reply, think with compassion; think carefully about your words. Listen to your breath, be aware.

What else did they tell us, he thought. Ah yes – breathe deeply and slowly before you get angry. I can feel myself getting angry now or at least indignant. How is all this supposed to help the workplace be more productive – I reckon it’s all American gobbledegook.

The new manager was going through the department with not just a new broom; he was clearing stuff out like a house clearance company run by an eastern guru.

Jim took a Satsuma out of his bag. The voice came back to him. ‘When you are eating savour each mouthful, feel the juice of an orange slide down your throat, chew one section slowly before you reach for the next. Think of what you are eating, savour each mouthful, don’t just gulp your food quickly before rushing off to the next meeting. Bring mindfulness to every part of your day.’

Hell! Jim thought, I can’t even eat without those guys getting into my head.

Jim buried his head in his hands. What is this?

When he went home that night, Jim’s wife noticed he seemed even more stressed out than usual.

She didn’t think it was a good idea to make the usual ‘Had a good day?’ remark. She looked at him quietly as he sat staring at the plate in front of him. ‘Take your time eating that’, she said, ‘you’ll get an ulcer if you eat too quickly.’ Jim picked it up and threw it on the floor.


Time for Reflecting

As the year draws to an end it’s usually a time for reflection as well as planning for the future. Some time ago a friend reminded me of a quotation by Kierkegaard – ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’ Looking back over the past year and things that have happened, we might begin to understand why certain things had to happen although at the time it didn’t seem obvious. There are certainly times when we feel that we don’t have complete control over our lives and wonder more than once how we came to do something or go somewhwere.

A wise old friend once told me that we should accept the hard times when life doesn’t seem to be going smoothly because those are the times when we grow, when we learn and develop. That comes back to Nietzsche and ‘amor fati‘ – that I referred to in an earlier post.

I was reading Steven Gambardella’s blog   Lessons from History earlier today and he wrote -Nietzsche compels us to find the courage to listen. If we can find the strength to find a “why” to live, we can bear almost any “how”.

In spite of the colder weather, now is a good time to get out into the hills, forests or down by the coast to look around and let our minds soak up the beauty and get things in perspective.


A Sense of Being

A sense of oneness,

after a search for meaning.

A sense of fullness,

when the mind is empty.

A sense of being,

when time stands still.


Finding Solitude

Sometimes we need to escape from the noise and demands of C21st life and find a way to recharge our batteries. Living near the sea in a quiet corner of Scotland certainly helps.



I sit on the rocks alone.

Evening sun casts a soft light over

shimmering sand and sea.

Footprints of others

are gently washed away

by the incoming tide.

A choir of keening oystercatchers

has left the shore.

All is quiet.

Discordant thoughts  – expand

tumble into the silence

shatter the peace.

Gradually, the rhythmic sound of

waves washing the shore performs

a therapeutic mental massage.


Peace drifts in with the tide.





Finding Stillness

If I’m to improve as a writer, I need to have time to think and time to just ‘be’.

How much does the life of any writer influence his/her writing? Is it only possible to write well about happiness when my life is happy, sadness when I’m sad and so on? If I am in the depths of despair, am I better able to create something profoundly moving?

What is it that inspires – is it our own lives more than the lives of others? Can we learn more by reliving the past through the lives of others? Developing this thought, is it possible for great works of fiction to influence the lives of others as much as works of philosophy? Can we see ourselves in the great dramas of this age and the past – surely the answer is yes and, if that is the case, then dramatic works and fiction can lead to a greater understanding of ourselves and others.

Can a diet of TV dramas, soaps and reality shows affect people’s aspirations and lead to unrealistic attitudes towards real life? Will young people be misled into thinking what their lives could be, should be like?

Does illness always focus the mind of writers and composers? Does the thought of imminent death or serious illness provoke the creative urge and desire to produce something for posterity. Without that there is always the thought that there’s ‘plenty of time to do that and I’ll get round to it one day’, but it’s no good relying on a terminal illness to prompt the inspiration for a masterpiece of literature. We need to be  aware of time passing and make the most of each day.

So many questions and only by living, wondering, observing and being consciously aware can we attempt to come near to answers. Finding those moments of stillness to think is essential.