Julia’s Writing Retreat

I have been reading a book called Ordinary Magic: Everyday Life as Spiritual Path.  I quote from a passage in this book:

“The key to everyday life as spiritual practice lies in bringing a full, rich quality of being and presence into whatever we do. ……To find the spiritual path in our daily life, we need to bring being and doing together. This is precisely what happens in creativity, where the beauty that we love can become what we do.”

In June I am going on a ‘ conscious writing’ retreat with Julia McCutcheon. I am often asked what ‘conscious writing’  means. Depending on who I am talking to, I find it difficult to explain.  I will let Julia’s words speak for me. This is a holistic retreat to ‘discover your true voice and writing from your heart with the voice of your soul.’  I went last year and found it a wonderful experience.

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We stayed at the Abbey House in Glastonbury, a lovely retreat centre which abuts on to the Abbey ruins.  From a bedroom window you could see over the garden to the ruins, and you could walk right through to the ruins from the bottom of the garden.

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Not only is Glastonbury home to the music festival, but it has a very ancient spiritual history going back many centuries to the time of Jesus.

This created a wonderful atmosphere in which to explore our writing. Julia led us very lightly through a series of holistic exercises and guided visualisation into a space from where we were able to dive deeply into our authentic nature to find our own voice in our writing.

I found myself in a very stimulating group of bright, loving and compassionate women and one man, and was able to gain much insight and wisdom for the writing of my own Life Story. So that is why I am going again this year.

Following on the retreat, I decided to create this website. Another suggestion which was made to me was to read extracts from my book in a podcast. A year later I have finally managed to do it.  Here it is. It is my first attempt, so I hope to improve it with practice!

 

The Sufi poet Rumi wrote:

‘Let the beauty that we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.’

 

 

 

SOUND AND FORM

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When I was on my retreat I spent a long time looking at this tree, when these words came into my mind:  ‘In the form is the music and in the music the dancing.’  I did not know if these were remembered words, or whether they were my own.  In any event, it felt like a fresh discovery.

I remembered many years back when I was living in Brussels, my mother was still with me, and I had been going for a few years to the School of Philosophy.  This was the school of esoteric spirituality which had transformed my life. I had been initiated into meditation, which I now did regularly, morning and evening.

It was a Sunday morning, my mother was still in bed, the radio was on and I was listening to a piece of modern music, I think it was Enesco. I was not really in to modern music, but on that particular morning my mind must have been very quiet and I heard every note very clearly. It was beautiful, had I ever really heard sound before?

Still in that frame of mind I went to buy some milk at the local corner shop. The Belgians have a very lilting way of speaking, their voices go up at the end, rather like the Welsh. I bought my milk, and in the formal way they have, she said “Merci madame, au revoir madame.”

As she spoke I had an instant realisation that the words coming out of her mouth were  creating  her form.  The form was in the sound. The two were one.  I saw it so clearly. It was like a revelation. I have never had that experience again and when I tried to explain it to Gilles Petit, my singing teacher, he did not seem interested.

I wonder if anyone else has experienced this? I would love to know. Was this what Keats experienced when he heard the nightingale?

RETREAT

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I have just been on a retreat at Michaelgarth, which is a guest house in the grounds of Ty Mawr, an Anglican convent in a remote little corner of Wales, so remote you can easily miss the narrow lane leading down to it.  This is a photo looking down from Michaelgarth to the convent, which is hidden in the trees.

Every year I come here on a silent retreat with the Bede Griffiths Sangha, this year it will be for seven days.  Our leader always chooses a theme for us, and this year she has chosen a line from a poem by TS Eliot: ‘in the stillness, the dancing.’ Eliot talks about waiting, waiting without hope, without love, without faith, and yet all three are contained in the waiting.  And that is exactly what it felt like, just waiting. Waiting for what, I asked myself.

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This is the shrine we set up in the room where we meet and hold our services.  As one of us remarked, as soon as it is in place the whole feel of the room is changed and it becomes a sacred space.  Here we meet three times a day to meditate, sing bhajans and share readings from the different scriptures, chosen by us all. These services are loosely built around those held at Shantivanam and which were led by Bede Griffiths.

We share the communal tasks of preparing and serving meals and washing up, and the rest of the time we are free to do as we please.  A sense of community slowly builds up in the silence, not without a few laughs. I always feel I get to know people at a much deeper level.

At first I experienced a great sense of emptiness, of dryness, where was I going with all this?  And somehow the answers began to emerge, as the days went by:  through the silence, the countryside, the birds singing, the walking, seeing the lambs in the fields, the horses galloping:  through the chanting, the readings, the good company, joining the nuns in their Sunday service.  It all began to build up into something very precious and beautiful, so that the stillness became the dance and there was tremendous clarity.

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This is the lily pond in the walled garden.  It was here that I experienced a sense  of the unity of all things, with everything and with everybody.

 

OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI

HAPPINESS

I have been surprised sometimes, when looking at an old photo, to experience an extraordinary sense of happiness arising from it, even though I was not feeling happy at the time. Pondering over this, I decided that there must always be a ground of being which exists in us, even though it may be overlaid by our worries, thoughts, desires. This ground of being is a sense of our own existence,  a fact to which many people do not pay much attention. It is this ground of being which comes over to us in those photos, when past worries and thoughts have long been forgotten.

These two photos show me with my mother, the first one when I was seven and my mother had just removed me from the convent and we had moved to Jersey.  We certainly were happy there. The second one shows us in Brussels in our garden, my mother now in her eighties and I am in my forties. There seems to be a nimbus around my mother. She has an ethereal look about her. I did not know it then, but in under a year she was going to die. So much had happened to us in those intervening years.  I know that I was not a happy person at the time and yet, looking at it now, I cherish it.

We hear so much these days about the simple words I AM, the Invictus Games highlight it and at another level the spiritual teachings tell us about it.  Our true happiness lies in the realisation of those words, the invincible knowledge that we exist, that we have a right to exist and the right to develop to our full potential. But more than this, to recognise that ground of being as our source,  to acknowledge it, and to reverence it in whatever way is appropriate to us.

I think I buried that knowledge deliberately for many years. That is what my book is about and how I came to unpack that knowledge, bit by bit. I also want to honour my mother, her courage and her unfailing love.

Joyful January and other things

 

My thanks to Susan Netzger for the photo

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I have just taken part in a very enjoyable event called Joyful January.  The aim was to find something every day which gave you joy and write about it:  a description, a poem, add a photo, whatever.  This practice made me really focus on my days throughout this rather gloomy, rainy month interspersed with brief spells of sunshine.  By the end of the month I really did feel much happier and – self congratulatory, I have to say.

One of my practices is meditation, and I know some of you are interested in this.  Meditations vary, some are good, some not so good and one has to take the rough with the smooth. This morning, the first day of February, was a particularly good one.  I went into a very deep space, no thought, body calm and balanced, it felt totally peaceful and as though I were at one with everything. There was no emotion, no feeling, no bliss. Reflecting on it, it felt as though every cell in my body was in alignment with the whole earth. I wondered if this was how the animals are, without thought apart from their physical needs. All I can say is:  it felt good.  In these states I feel I can go on meditating for ever.  Though I don’t!

I know how a good meditation can affect my whole day. We are told that meditation can also affect everything around us, creating ripples that extend far beyond, so I like to think that my meditation practice is not only good for me but for my environment as well.

As the purpose of my writing this blog is to create interest in the book I am writing about my life, I am including here the synopsis of my story which I read to to my writing group. Although I say that there will be a sequel to the book, I may decide to put the whole story into one book.  More on that later!

SYNOPSIS

I was born in the south of France, my mother was unmarried and I never knew my father. In 1932 when I was four, my mother lost all her money in the Depression and we became penniless. Whilst my mother found work, I lived with Catholic nuns for three years, which profoundly influenced me.

We moved to Jersey, then England. Here I received my education in several different schools, ending up at University with a degree in languages. I had become extremely shy and nervous.

Too late, we discovered that I was stateless, my birth never having been registered. I was classified as an ‘alien’ and given an Aliens Certificate, which enabled me to travel.

I had a chequered work career until I applied for a job with NATO in Paris. Fortunately, through the auspices of NATO, I was able to become a naturalised British citizen at the age of thirty one. I stayed with NATO for thirty years.

As a result of the tensions in my life and an unfortunate relationship I had a nervous breakdown when I was 36 and suffered bouts of depression after that.

I had a difficult relationship with my mother, but she lived with me all her life. It took me a long time to realise how my development had been affected by not having a father.

In 1970, we were now in Brussels, I found a spiritual path after many years of searching. I had given up belief in a god when I was fourteen.

In 1976 my mother died, which brings the first part of my story to an end.

These are the bare bones of my story. They cover my relationship with my mother, my search for an identity and my search for a spiritual identity. What followed after my mother died will be told in the second half of this book.

——————

 

Five days to Christmas

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On Sunday I met up with my singing friends, Elizabeth, Ann and Frank.    We meet once a month to sing classical Indian raga, sounds very esoteric I know, and, apart from one, we don’t do it very well but we have lots of fun.

As it was Christmas we decided to bring carols instead.  We sang Away in a Manger in Sa Re Ga (the Sanskrit version of the octave), the Coventry Carol, and a carol which I made up to the love theme from the film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.  I fell in love with this song when I heard it recently.  Here is my carol.         Blank  — Blank

I was hoping to bring it up here, but technology has defeated me.  Never mind.  I will try and reproduce it elsewhere!

I just wanted to get something out before Christmas.

We had a lovely Christmas meal:  a toast with Prosecco first, then a starter of Tuna Waldorf salad, followed by a tagine with chicken and apricots, ending with a delicious Stollen cake made by Frank, and finally home made chocolate fudge and coffee.

Full up with good food and good cheer Frank gave us his rendition of “Albert and the Lion.”

It was a wonderful prelude to Christmas.

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pitching my book

I recently took part in a workshop for pitching one’s book in front of an agent.  It had to be done in 90 seconds!  This seemed like a tall order. I wrote it and rewrote it till I was finally satisfied.  This is what I came up with.

“This book is a memoir. It is about two people, my Canadian mother and myself. It is a story of exile and alienation, of different cultures, a story of courage and resilience, a psychological study and a spiritual exploration.

I was born in France in 1928, my mother was unmarried and I never knew my father. When I was four my mother had to find work, having lost all her money in the Depression. I lived with Catholic nuns for three years until my mother took me away. We came to England when I was nine. Too late, we found that I was stateless, my birth never having been registered.

“But I’m alive, I exist!”

I have just spoken these word to the Personnel Officer in NATO. I am 31 years old and the year is 1959. I have been offered a job by NATO. I have come to Paris with all my belongings, including my mother. But now it seems that without a passport I cannot live and work in Paris.

Read this book to find out what brought Daphne to this point, and what happened to her afterwards.

I did eventually work for NATO and my mother lived with me till she died. Now retired, I live in Bath and pursue a creative life, painting, singing and writing. I have done writing courses in Bath and online with Julia McCutcheon.”

I felt terribly nervous before reading this out to a group of people whom I did not know, never having talked about my story before, but I need not have worried.  It got a very good reception and I had some helpful and constructive advice from the agent.

I felt as though I had crashed through an invisible barrier and landed safely on the other side.

I hope in my next piece to publish a podcast of the beginning of my book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retreat

tymawr-convent-grounds-garden05 imagesTy Mawr Convent is tucked away in the beautiful border country between England and Wales in Monmouthshire above the Wye valley.  It is easy to miss the narrow lane which leads down to it, and once there you will see no other habitation for miles around.  Rising up across the field is the guesthouse, Michaelgarth.  From here there is a magnificent view of the distant hills, covered in forest.

There is no access to mobile phones here.  Instead, the air is filled with birdsong from dozens of birds we rarely see or hear nowadays.  I even heard the cuckoo’s call here last year in May.  There are horses and sheep grazing in the fields from the nearby farm. You might meet a wild stag when walking.

The silence and the peace are palpable.

I have been coming here for several years on a silent retreat.  We call ourselves Hermits in Company. We are part of the Bede Griffiths Sangha.  Bede Griffiths was a Benedictine monk who felt called to go to India to discover, as he put it, the other half of his soul.  He died in 1993.

Many of us have visited his ashram, Shantivanam, in southern India.  Here in Wales we meet to meditate three times a day, we sing bhajans and we listen to readings drawn from many spiritual disciplines.

A wonderful sense of community grows up between us as, in silence, we carry out the routine tasks of the day, read, reflect, walk or simply sit and contemplate.  We come to know each other at a very deep level.

I have just returned from one of these retreats, feeling emptied, cleansed,  and restored.

This is a poem which I wrote last year.

Song of a hermit

                                            We walked, we chanted, we sat, we ate.

We danced through the days,

Lightly,

We each knew our place in the dance.

The sun shone,

The rain fell,

There was mist in the valley.

The stillness within

Reflected the stillness without.

We listened, we heard, we looked, we saw.

Time stood still.

Silence.

Night came.

At daybreak we sang

And all the hills, the trees, the valley

And the birds sang with us.

Autumn day

It is early in September and one of those beautiful autumn days when the sun is shining all day.

I have been to church, we have been invited to make a donation to help the refugees who are fleeing from destruction and war.  I am pleased to see that the bowl is piled high with notes and I add my contribution.  It is the least we can do.

I sit outside on the patio and have my lunch, salad with avocado and egg, blackcurrant ice with crumbled meringue and cream.

The sun is really hot.  I decide to lie in the sun on the lawn, the neighbours are away and it is really peaceful.  I lie in my relaxing chair with my feet up.  I am thinking of Isabel who used to come to my art class.  She has recently died and two days ago I went to her funeral.  She feels very close to me, I have been thinking about her so much.  She was a very bubbly, vivacious woman, always smiling.

She was a remarkable woman, very involved in meditation practices.  She had been married to Maxwell Cade, a doctor and psychologist who was a pioneer in the study of biofeedback and altered states of consciousness and she helped him with his work.  She had given me his book The Awakened Mind and now, for the first time, I have decided to read it.

I open the book on an autogenic relaxation exercise.  I follow the instructions and begin to relax, tensing and releasing my muscles, relaxing every single part of my body, feeling the warmth of the sun on my body.  My thoughts are turned inwards, I am at ease, I feel secure, serene, still.  I am cocooned in the warmth of the sun.  After a while I take a deep breath and slowly open my eyes, stretching all the muscles in my body.

I see the deep blue of the sky above me, the trees, the flowers, the green grass, I see everything with startling clarity. I feel it is a gift from Isabel.  I am full of gratitude.