mountain shadows

the gift of attention

mountain shadows

Gently
Cloud shadows stroke the earth
The solar spotlight pans
Across slope and dell
Highlighting individuals
Celebrating communities
Drawing attention to
The taken-for-granted ones

 Flowers too
Emphasise otherwise overlooked
Individuals
In the grey-green bush
But flowering is attention sought
The true gift comes unwarranted
The kindly light
Of a loving gaze

mountain flowers

 

 

Kirstenbosch

the sacred garden

The year 2013 is ending – the 100th anniversary year of Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town. Ever since my dad first brought the family here when we arrived in South Africa in 1970, I have loved this Garden. And this year, it has been the place I have visited most when looking for somewhere to spend solo time in nature each week. Kirstenbosch feels to me like holy ground – a place of inspiration, wisdom and healing.

 

Kirstenbosch

In the fertile lap
Of towering buttresses
Beneath the watchful Castle Rock
Lies the sacred garden.

 For one hundred years
Nature and human hands
Have conspired to conjure magic
From the material.

Through the mysterious
Rite of soul engaging soil
Generations of gardeners
Have sanctified this space.

 Awed by magnificence
Touched by simplicity
The blessing of Kirstenbosch
Is to open our hearts.

 Care evokes beauty
The spirit of the place
She enters through our senses
Inspires us with her grace.

new growth

a tribute of hope

Today Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was laid to rest in the rural village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where he spent much of his childhood. Since he passed away on 5 December, the world has been united in paying tribute to this great soul. His life expressed the finest human qualities. We shall miss his physical presence, but give thanks that he has shown us how to live with grace and goodness.

As we mourn the passing of Madiba …

butterspoon

You who loved this dear land
Will no more walk among us,
Now one with the earth,
Great son of the soil.

Here in the forest
I seek consolation.
Surrounded by stillness
I ask for a sign.

The rooi-els branch ends
In a soft butter-spoon
Prayerfully protecting
Developing buds.

A new season springs,
Soft, supple and vibrant,
Out of dark emerald leaves
Toughened by time.

May the tree of our nation
Grow through these same cycles
With each generation
Preparing the next.

And may we who would follow
In the steps of Mandela
Honour his memory
Sharing stories of hope.

new growth

beach scene 1

beach pilgrimage

Sometimes solo time in nature means looking for a place where you can be physically on your own in a natural setting, without any other human beings present. That is a special experience. Sometimes solo time in nature means going quietly within your own soul, while all around you other human beings relate in their own ways to the natural setting in which all of you are present. That too is a special experience. And it was my experience this week when my solo time took me to Muizenberg Beach, already brimming with fun, as sand, sea and sun satisfied the particular longings of each ‘beach pilgrim’.

beach scene 1

Beach pilgrimage

Searching for solitude
On a holiday beach
I’m surrounded by pilgrims
Each on their own quest

One lone photographer
Captures the moment
While young voluntourists
Redeem children through play

Comfortable grannies
Overflowing their deckchairs
Shelter blanketed babes
In their soft ample laps

Wide-thighed young women
Squeal in the shallows
Gathering their skirts
As waves run up their legs

A proud young Adonis
Struts, rippling and dripping,
Smugly aware of their
Sly, sideways looks

Fearless young surfers
Lie in wait for a ride
In tune with each nuance
Of wind, swell and tide

A small boy’s commitment
To hours of play
Prepares him for life
In the most natural way

 Moments of wonder,
Abandon, reflection
Beach-going pilgrims
Find a sacredness here

beach scene 2

gratitude

Contentment and the end of Empire

Image

Thanksgiving month mobile …

Yesterday I nearly overdosed on internet videos. It all started when I received an e-newsletter with a link to The End of Suburbia[1], a documentary on peak oil that I’d wanted to watch for some time. Falling down the YouTube rabbit hole, I then watched What a Way to Go: Life at the end of Empire[2] and finally an interview with Derrick Jensen about his book Endgame[3]. These are all stories about the end of the myth of Empire, a way of living on Earth that has culminated in the perfect storm of peak oil, climate change, species extinction and population overshoot.

The culture of Empire is characterised by dissatisfaction – a belief that nothing is good enough yet. We are not yet healthy, wealthy, successful or comfortable enough. We certainly don’t have enough stuff yet, and worse still, as soon as we manage to obtain what we think we need, it will be out of date and the neighbours will have the upgrade already. We’ll need to replace what still works perfectly well with a newer, faster, better designed version … in this year’s fashion colours. Dissatisfaction creates a world of continual striving – a voracious culture, monstrously wasteful.

Derrick Jensen’s life has been profoundly influenced by living in the American Pacific North West. He notes how a mere 180 years of ‘civilisation’ has destroyed the forests and the salmon rivers that sustained indigenous people for 12,500 years. In response he works to undo the civilisation that has caused such devastation. He defines civilisation as a way of life characterised by the growth of cities; and in turn defines the city as a collection of people living in numbers large enough to require the importation of resources. So, by definition, the local land base is unable to support the city. The inescapable conclusion is that civilisation as we know it (and remember that more than half of us now live in cities) can never be sustainable. And Derrick asserts that civilisation won’t become sustainable by tinkering with the existing model – our society needs a whole new set of assumptions to live by.

One good night’s sleep after my apocalyptic immersion, I awoke to the realisation that, somewhere in my dreams I had glimpsed an aspect of life beyond the myth of Empire. And it felt possible to begin living that way right now. The feeling into which I awoke this morning was contentment – a state of deep gratitude for what is. This is not just gratitude for what I have – it is contentment with the way in which my life is unfolding, and the knowledge that I am enough … already. This morning I felt a deep sense of relief when I realised that I didn’t need to acquire or achieve anything in order to be content.

I believe that two regular practices are enabling contentment to take root in my life.

At the beginning of November I made a commitment that every day during Thanksgiving month I would record something for which I was grateful. Today I looked back over that list. I realised that the things I recorded are the things I really value … and the practice of having noticed, focused on, and given thanks for each of them was a reason for my contentment.

Most entries in my gratitude journal describe qualities of love and friendship – in particular I recorded experiences of wisdom, courage, optimism, thoughtfulness, kindness, appreciation, recognition, encouragement, inspiration, connection, conversation, and the sharing of values and passions. Whether the friendship was with an intimate partner, old friend, member of a community group, or an e-mail correspondent, savouring these qualities gave me a rich sense of contentment and connection.

Another opportunity to experience contentment this past month was spending time in nature. I love my regular walks with my husband and friends; but it was spending solo time in nature each week that opened my senses and my heart to nature’s wisdom. The forest, streams and ocean have been patiently teaching me how to live according to the way of nature. A recurring lesson this month has been to sink into what is – to fully accept the stage in the life cycle where I find myself, and to know the gifts it offers.

The practice of gratitude, and the close observation of nature, have allowed me to glimpse what it might be like to live in a state of contentment. At the same time these practices have provided an escape from  dissatisfaction and compulsion. They have shown me that what is most precious to me is not stuff or success, but rather being able to savour the qualities of connectedness. And even more importantly, contemplating nature and the qualities of friendship has helped me to see that I am enough – just as I am.

I believe that contentment – the deep knowledge that we are already enough – is one of the keys that will enable us to evolve beyond Empire and its excesses.


[1] http://www.greenmedtv.com/the-end-of-suburbia/

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=h2em1x2j9-o

[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=o9os1GFuWJ0