Embracing the Unknown

Musical accompaniment if you so desire! Noah and the Whale’s L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fbGUEelmzxo

So here we are in Guatemala, deep in cacao country. I’ve just finished a week’s introduction to Permaculture, a wonderfully practical path to creating a sustainable future for humanity. Our vision for the next chapter of our lives when we return home is taking shape, thanks to the inspiring people, philosophies and elements around us. I will share more about this in time but for now I want to contextualise this adventure. It seems strange to go back in time for my second post. But to go forwards, on this occasion, requires going back to the beginning…

It was a massive struggle to leave the security of my life in Bristol behind. It’s one thing to go travelling when you’re 18, or 27, quite another when you’re 37! in the run up to leaving fears about our future plagued me and doubts danced ever closer, so much so that I seriously considered cancelling the trip a month or so before we left. I wrote the following the night I left home and arrived in Mexico City, sitting in the blue, sleepless glow of the tablet screen, having leapt but not yet landed:

11.02.2015
In the course of the last month I have willingly undergone the task of dismantling the apparatus and infrastructure of my life. As designs for living go, it was a pretty good one- newly married, living in a city of beauty, generosity, alternative edge, abundant creativity, and grit, with a great quality of life, a balance of meaningful self-employed and charitable work, and a gaggle of kind and incorrigible friends. Why would I, as my mother so aptly put it, “do this to myself?”

Bristol Butterfly Grafitti
Bristol Butterfly Grafitti

I’ve had plenty of opportunity to think about that as I’ve been ploughing through the boxes in my attic, the bank accounts, the bills, mobile phone contracts (I find a special brand of rage is reserved within myself for “service” providers insisting on locking you into 24 month long contracts that require 24 hour phone calls to harvest the slightest scrap of information from, let alone make any actual changes to), drawing to an end with my valued clients, tearing myself away from my role and riotously enjoyable colleagues at the Southmead project, packing up our beloved preposterously pink house in Montpelier, and saying goodbye to all our friends in the city that has been my happy home for the last 4.5 years. What a wonderful time it’s been!

Of course I left too many of the logistics to the last minute and nearly caused myself a heart-attack. But chaotic disorganisation notwithstanding, change is hard. Because doing so requires effort – ample effort of the practical sort and, as it also turns out, of the mind.

I thought it would get easier as I got older to tolerate the uncertainties of change. But I suppose that as responsibilities increase – for a property, for a professional role, for a relationship, and the future possibility of a family – it is only to be expected that I should be looking more than ever for security. I have wondered whether this choice to travel is in fact worse than self-indulgent; perhaps it is positively irresponsible? Why would I throw away such a wonderful situation in Bristol for a job-prospect-less Devon-filled fantasy to return to? Yes, we’ll have fun. We might even grow a bit and have some funky ideas! But what then? If we’re to try to start a family surely this is the time for maximising security both in terms of work prospects and savings – which will of course be long-gone by the time we get back!

So, what really, given the stakes, are we doing this for? In honesty I underestimated, more than anything, the emotional challenge of this choice to uproot and cast ourselves to the wind. There have been periods of, frankly, terror, as well as lashings of self-recrimination for not planning and executing that which needed to be done more effectively. (One serious oversight was not organising a postal vote – we’re disenfranchised and unwittingly joining Russell Brand’s revolution! I admire his overall perspective but not his (lack of) methodology!)

Oddly enough it was only a few weeks ago that I really admitted to myself how precarious our position in quitting work, going travelling and relocating at the same time had made us. Only then could I properly engage with the pressing doubts and dark possibilities that were clamouring in my heart. Facing them, as is so often the case, has enabled me to see them for what they are and begin to sort the wheat of genuine insight from the chaff of fear-based conditioning that says “Life is about material security and conventional, linear progress alone…”

It is now two months since I wrote that. But I am so relieved that I did not allow “good sense” to prevail (I genuinely considered cancelling the trip, the move, everything! Luckily it was too late.) I don’t know how I’ll feel when I get back but I’m pretty sure that the experiences, insights and relationships that I’ve been blessed with, even up to this point, will go with me – cradled – to my grave. Because what is of ultimate importance in this precious life of ours cannot be measured in numbers, or security in material possessions or prospects alone.

In my experience there is a magic that, when given the opportunity, begins to weave itself through the fabric of our lives, aligning supply with demand, need with opportunity and, if we’re actively open, dreams with reality. I’ve experienced this humbling generosity before – when I asked for psychological help and received phenomenal support, when I moved to Australia and had a two year blast, when I moved back and opportunities just opened up, when I risked leaving London and a solid career path behind and struck out across the open countryside to Land’s End.

As the saying goes, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” In finding the courage to create one I’m experiencing that life loves an opening. It’s a simple principle that doesn’t compute in our heavy-handed, force-fuelled industrial growth society, but which can be observed occurring all around us in nature, nonetheless. Chop a tree down and the forest floor comes alive. Leave an empty parking lot alone and weeds wind their way up. Soon enough something edible will appear, at least for other life forms. The abundance that is the natural order of things is astonishing. Money doesn’t grow on trees. But, when you think about it, all the raw materials that generate “wealth” and sustain our crazy economy arise from the natural world.

It is my contention that this abundance is available to us human animals as well. We have just received five weeks of it on the shores of lake Atitlan – friends, hummingbirds, chocolate, beauty in spades! Very sadly our time here is almost done. But where better to continue this instruction in abundance than the land of Freedom itself? A-merica here we come!

BLOG 1: Who Are You Not To Be?

Your esteemed author!
Your esteemed author!

So here it is, my first blog post. In the name of chronic-21st-century-information-overload, why? A case of severe “affluenza”? Mmmmm-hmm. I’m sitting here on my “sabbatical” (read marginally-required 5 month break from work / late honeymoon opportunity before relocating from Bristol, England to Devon, Narnia) on the edge of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala’s insanely mystical water well, ringed by mist-shrouded volcanic peaks, and I don’t, rightly, have anything else to do.

Why am I here again? Oh, yes, that’s right: Helena, my beautiful, alien wife (sometimes I seriously think we are a different species) wanted to schedule (that’s actually plan and enshrine, folks!) 5 whole weeks of our precious trip time around the “Americas” to go to one single location, without planning ANYTHING. To just “be”…. Deep breath. Focus on “respecting difference”. Focus on containing the rationalistic, achievement-oriented PANIC that is exploding in your mind, disguised as the ambitions and desires of a reasonable human being. Focus on doing anything that will not negate the deeply held and treasured wishes of the woman you purport to love…

You see it was ok for me to request for us to go on a ten day silent meditation retreat. That has a PURPOSE. It gets a big tick next to it on the spiritual to-do-list. It was ok for me to insist on going via New Mexico to visit the geographically hazy point on the high plains of the Pueblo-dwelling Native Americans where my uncle met his tragic and untimely death in 1973, thus altering the course of my father’s life forever. Not to mention my cousin’s. Or, subtly, those of my siblings and I. But for Helena to want to go to Guatemala to do NOTHING for a WHOLE MONTH…. Well, apart from anything it wasn’t my idea so how could such a preposterous suggestion have genuine value anyway?!! (We’ve been having couples therapy for a year now – it’s really helped me to expand my thinking to understand compromise, honestly..).

So, I just about managed to contain the mental zoo-break that was going off within, and here we are. In Guatemala. Doing nothing. It’s been a bumpy landing. But now… it’s truly glorious.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala from my window!

So back to the blog rationale. Seriously, WTF? I never read anyone else’s blog. I mean, who has time to read blogs anyway?! I could be studying, I could be learning Spanish, I could be volunteering, I could be “improving my mind” with fine literature, learning to cook properly. I could be doing ANYTHING. And I’m choosing to spend my time writing. “Sharing” my thoughts with the world. What for?

The answer is, in fact, simple. For myself.

Everything in me screams out “That’s selfish!” (Some strong cultural conditioning there – we Brits don’t descend to the level of self-expression!). Then, “Who’d want to read what you’ve got to say anyway?”. (Playing the self-denigrating, externally validating card there… An old favourite, but I’m onto it because what does it matter, really, if no one is interested?). And finally, “what if what you say hurts or alienates someone you love?” (Now that’s a big one and a very painful thought, which reveals both my sensitivity to, consideration of and dependence on the perceptions of others).

Like so many of us I feel scared to express that which may not be accepted. Sometimes that’s useful. Occasionally its essential – evolutionary-programming for societal survival in action! But so often I reject my own knowing in order to avoid creating imagined ripples, waves, or even wrecks! Ironically, that way, treasures that could blossom are lost, lying buried and unclaimed on the ocean floor of my unacknowledged being. I want to share my treasure, whatever that is. I am deeply grateful to anyone who’s willing to witness it. I suppose this is the curse of having my sun and moon in Leo – a great need to be “seen”! But perhaps there can be a positive outcome also, beyond my own selfish needs, to transcending the fear of authentically expressing oneself?

The words of Marianne Williamson are ringing reassuringly in my ears:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

That’s what I’m going for… If you want to, come along for the ride!

“Express Yourself” – Charles Watts & 103rd Street Rhythm Band

Editorial Issue 2: Summer

I’d like to honour Aubrey Ford, the father of a good friend of mine, who recently died. He had been a soldier, a geologist, a writer and an artist. The last decade of his life was spent developing his thesis on how humanity could achieve peace. How wonderful to be applying himself to such a question at that time in his life! Art had become his inspiration and, in its effect of refining his sensitivity and drawing out his care for the world, he saw the opportunity it holds for our species at large.

It brings me great pleasure, then, to include an interview with the artist David Cass. His work is in many ways a restoration of the soul as well as the objects he encounters. Conversing with him has clarified my own thoughts on the therapeutic value of artistic expression, but also illustrated to me the effort required to suceed and bring one’s ideas to completion. As such he embodies the prevalent theme of this issue: the spirit of summer.

In exploring the science, symbolism and sacred meanings of this season (which are noted in the Seasonal Guide) I have been struck most by the emphasis placed upon industry. I’m apt, when thinking of summer, to go straight to the good stuff. Images of easy abundance overflow: fat lazy flies loaf on grass that swings and sags under its own swollen weight.

But what has become clear to me is the almighty effort that Nature makes to bring about this period of plenty: the sun’s ceaseless fire warming vast bodies of water and powering the plants; the leaves’ chemical conversion of light to vegetable life; the insects’ endless invisible endeavours. These represent a fraction of the activity that brings this most glorious of seasons into being.

As is discussed in the summer guide, to reap a bountiful harvest in our own lives requires no less application than that which occurs in the natural world. This is as true for our emotional, mental and spiritual lives as our physical, and has always come to me as a somewhat unwelcome surprise! Even becoming more content, for example, requires the development of disciplines that cultivate contentment, such as marshalling negative thoughts, consciously creating psychic space, resisting compulsive doing (and working through the resultant guilt), savouring the moment.

This is where meditation comes in. We explore this accessible, transormative and free skill, along with its interactive extension – Non-violent Communication (NVC) – in the new Systems of Change section. My hope for this series is to provide a worthy introduction to the most relevant of humanitairan tools available for internal and external change today. All the articles are availabe to view at our website www.alignment.org.uk.

Although meditation may seem a far cry from the fiery zeal of action, almost the apotheosis of this seasonal toil, it is in fact an active engagement of the mind with the moment, and far from lazy. Buddhist teacher Thitch Nhat Hanh upended our culturally-embedded pressure to perform with his delightful injunction: “Don’t just do something: sit there!”  But the humour in his invitation belies the effort that can be required. It can be extremely uncomfortable to be with ourselves without distraction, but amply rewarding.

Whether you have any interest in Eastern traditions or not you may well be engaged in your own forms of meditation. Within what can loosely be described as the English pastoral movement there is a celebrated reverence for the natural world and the benefits of bringing presence of mind to that which is around us. I will leave you now with a slice of quintissentially English “zen” poetry to illustrate, and encourage contentment along with action.

 

Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,

And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

 

W. H. Davies

Meditation: A minute to learn, a lifetime to master

by Thomas Buckley-Houston

The benefits of meditation have been known by the wise of the East for millennia, but recently, within the last decade or so, traditionally conservative Western institutions such as the NHS have begun taking note. There are many academic papers asserting the scientific efficacy of ‘Mindfulness’, a perspective on the world of meditation complete in every aspect but its religious trappings. Research cites such evidence-based facts as its ability to significantly reduce depressive relapse and diminish certain kinds of anxiety.

So how do we do it?

When I was a child there was an advert for a board game called Othello, that made the claim “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master”. Its intriguingly paradoxical sentiment has always stayed with me. How can something be so simple to understand in its essence, yet take many years to perfect?

I think meditation is exactly like that. All we’re trying to do is sincerely open up to the immediacy of our experience, but my goodness is it challenging to sustain for any significant length of time! I’ve long suspected that it’s actually convenient for our minds to think that meditation is somehow more complicated and esoteric than it actually is. After all, if we can convince ourselves that it’s an advanced practice that we don’t quite understand yet, then that justifies our excuses for not doing it.

Taking five minutes to sit quietly and direct our undivided attention onto our felt experience may seem innocent enough, but it can often mean having to face some rather difficult home truths. When I’m not feeling very good about myself the last thing I want to do is rub that even further into my face. I want to distract myself with the plethora of  possibilities available to modern man. Or, if I’ve accepted that meditation will help me, I want my fantasy ideal of a perfect meditation technique right now please! I want to be able to apply the advanced teachings of the Tibetan yogis and dispel my suffering! Yet because I am a mere, unenlightened mortal I can’t. I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect of course, but this kind of thinking can happen sometimes.

How can I carefully and kindly open up to the pinches in my heart? How can I humbly hold the raw emotion of being a lost and confused human that struggles with the enormity of this thing we call life? It’s not easy. Meditation isn’t asking us to overcome these things, or to somehow become bulletproof against their piercing shots. Instead it’s quietly encouraging us to simply meet ourselves as we are. To ask, as if for the very first time,  “what is it actually like to be me right now?” And sometimes the answer will be, “it feels like I don’t want to be me right now”.

And so we come full circle to another paradox; the meditation master is the one who can wholeheartedly admit and embrace, without justification or excuses, their poignant resistance to meeting the immediacy of their experience.

Remarkably, in this state of self-acceptance, a new possibility arises. What has felt intolerable in our active avoidance of discomfort, becomes bearable after all. Troubling thoughts and feelings have room to move and more often than not they move on. With practice and application even old enemies less easily opened to – sadnesses that have been lurking in neglected corners, injustices that smart with the heat of their sting, fears that control us like invisible puppet-masters – these can become respected visitors eventually revealing their long-hidden gifts.

Recommended meditation resources:

It’s always best to learn in person if possible:

* Triratna, formerly Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, have accesible and friendly centres throughout the UK with good dogma-free instruction. See: www.thebuddhistcentre.com

However, if not, there is *Jack Kornfield’s Meditation for Beginners – Book & CD. These are safe hands to put yourself into if exploring meditation for the first time.

Having guided audio meditation helps and you can find plenty free material here: *www.freebuddhistaudio.com

If you want to take the plunge for a weekend (or longer!) try *Gaia House – you won’t be expected to sit in the lotus position for hours but you will be surrounded by supportive respectful people and excellent instruction in the beautiful South Devon countryside. www.gaiahouse.co.uk

Nonviolent Communication: from personal development to social change

by Shantigarbha, CEO of SeedofPeace.org

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) provides a foundation for engaging with our world powerfully, clearly, compassionately, and authentically. It builds capacity for personal and organizational development, social change, community peace-building and conflict transformation.

NVC offers an understanding and awareness, a set of skills, and a way of communicating that are rooted in the idea that all people have the same human needs, and that our actions are attempts at meeting those needs. We focus on building connection – within our own families and communities, between differing groups and in conflict situations – on that level of shared humanity.

NVC is a powerful tool for reaching win-win solutions, resolving and mediating personal, organizational and community conflicts and for transforming conflicts between groups and societies.

I spent New Year’s Eve 2011 in the desert on the West Bank. I was one of a team of NVC trainers who’d gone to share NVC for nine days with a group of around 100 Israelis and Palestinians. We thought that if NVC could work here, it could work anywhere.

On the first morning I read Rumi’s poem: “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” As Rumi was from the Middle East, it seemed the perfect introduction to the training. That evening there was laughter, enthusiastic Kabbalat Shabbat music, Muslim prayer, Dubke dancing, tears, deep listening. We’d started forging connections between Arabs and Jews.

As the days continued, we participated in a pretend Palestinian wedding, Jewish songs, a fire ceremony, deep empathy, mourning and celebration. I loved the opportunity to learn, connect and contribute. Towards the end I facilitated a ‘Restorative Circle’ on the topic of the wall which now divides Israel from the West Bank. The conversation touched depths of pain and fear on both sides. I noticed that when people were in deep pain, it was deeply difficult for them to hear the other’s pain. Then it was really important for the team and I to just keep on listening.

Immediately after the end, the training team went into a spontaneous huddle. We held onto each other in shock and overwhelm. We all wanted to acknowledge that we’d been scared at times. We couldn’t believe that we’d created something that was much bigger than ourselves. I can’t remember how many people said that their hearts had opened through the process, and that they felt more hope where before they had felt despair. And I can’t remember how many heart-to-heart hugs I had with people who thanked me for coming to Israel/Palestine and wished to see me again. Did NVC come through? I think so.

 

Shantigarbha is based in Bristol and certified with the Centre for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC.org). He leads workshops worldwide and offers coaching / counselling for individuals and couples. He’s author of the forthcoming book ‘Empathy: the art of compassionate presence’.

Visit Shantigarbha’s website at SeedofPeace.org

Forthcoming Bristol trainings:

* Sept 8-9th, NVC Foundation Training

* Sept 11th onwards, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course (Eight Tues eves.)

* Sept 27th onwards, Mindful Communication Course (Six Thurs eves.)

* December 8-9th, Deepening + Conflict (intermediate NVC Training)

Artist Interview: David Cass

‘Untitled Seascape (Coffee Grinder Drawer)’

 

by Freddy Weaver

 

David Cass is the lauded 24 year old winner of this year’s Royal Watercolour Society Award. Alerted to his work by my sister’s keen aesthetic eye, I was astonished to come across an artist whose intuitive depiction of the natural world mirrored my own journey across the Lammermuirs in the Borders of Scotland. Once, when in need of solace, I walked from the southern edge of the Firth of Forth, across East Lothian, up and over the desolate beauty of the Lammermuirs, down Lauderdale, across the Tweed, and along St Cuthbert’s Way, over the crown of the Cheviots, and out across the pilgrim sands to Lindisfarne. Solace I received.

When looking at David’s “Lauder Moor V”, which featured in his Scottish Gallery exhibition “Unearthed”, I was back there. Tactile, layered goache is applied directly to the wooden plank of a stamped printer’s tray. The bottom half is painted, the top bare, enabling the wood’s grain to bring its own story to the scene. A knot above the moor’s crest sits like the eye of a storm, staring back at the viewer. The whole piece is more than a moor painting – it is alive.

And so David’s art is – an elegant, organic fusion of found objects and his own artistic application. A matchbox, which when opened sports a miniature painting. Flea-market found ageing postcards – snippts of lives lost – artfully arranged and incorporated into an understated, emotionally authoritative setting. And seascapes. Great glorious seascapes adorning desktops, tabletops, doors..

‘Matchbox Seascape’

 

We meet in David’s studio on the Lammermuirs. David is tall, with quick green eyes. Kind, active, engaging. There’s an earthy colour to his clothes, as there is to his paintings, and a tireless urgency in himself. I get the sense of a man driven to create. His humour is apparent, not least in a recent series of oil paintings of bonfires. They depict an “imagined ritual” in which he burns his own acclaimed seascapes in the flames of a roaring fire.

FW: How did you get into making art?

DC: I’ve always been interested in art. I didn’t think it would ever be realistic to do it as a career but I knew I wanted to go to art school. I’ve always drawn and painted since I was a kid. While I was at art school I played with film, photography, drawing, writing. I was in a band as well – two bands – but eventually I had to leave that because I was doing so much art – it was coming up to degree show time.

I got into this found objects project with a series of sculptures of wooden construction to go alongside some large-scale abstract oil paintings and I was left with all these wood offcuts. I wondered what to do with them. I took a piece of wood, followed the grain and it became a seascape. The seascapes have been the pause – the interlude – in between big bodies of art. But now they prove to be the most recognized of the works I’ve done so far. If you half-close your eyes a moorland can become like a seascape – they’re very similar. The heather can flow like the waves. I am conscious that I do a lot of these seascapes. I can’t just keep doing them, I have to refresh myself even if it’s just mentally. This series has been going on for a couple of years now. I want to push it further and mix geometric 3D wood sculptures with the waves.

FW: It’s been a year and ten months since you gradated. What’s it been like receiving attention from your early success?

DC: A lot of folks have said that, but to me I spend most of my time here alone in this studio – I feel like I need more attention! (laughs).. I’m really pleased with the things that have happened so far. But I think a lot of people don’t realize that I’ve had to do a lot of things behind the scenes to get awards.

FW: What draws you to use found objects?

DC: Initially it was simply that I loved the old matchboxes – I could never buy a few – I had to buy a batch! I scoured fleamarkets in Brussels. I painted them, but that wasn’t enough. I began to paint on and in them. Sometimes I find an object and I just want to do something with it. It’s like giving it a second life, I suppose. Taking an object that has reached the end of its life and rescuing it from that fate and turning it into something new. Take an unpleasant object – like a dirty old box folk just want to chuck out – and turn it into something quite beautiful. I like the fact you can take something from a skip or a bin and turn it into something poetic.

FW: You work in such an individual way, collaborating with the materials around you. What enabled you to trust your artistic instinct?

DC: I don’t know if I did in the beginning. I didn’t think any of these pieces would be commercially viable but I liked the materials myself, and that’s always a good place to start. I didn’t trust but I knew I had to do it to be honest with myself – that was the main thing for me. It came from a place inside – a sort of visual expression of who I am through the materials I picked and still pick.

FW: What purpose does the creative act fulfill? What would happen, for example, if you didn’t create?!

DC: I have no idea. I’m someone who is very anxious and stressed all the time. The only time that I’m calm is when I’m in my studio. This grounds me. By painting, by working with these materials, by constructing work the way I do, I’m getting to grips with myself – I’m understanding myself. And then the satisfaction you get when you finish a piece.. It’s incomparable. You have so many failures on a daily basis when you’re creating work. When you finally do create a piece you’re thoroughly pleased with – it just clicks with you. If someone else likes it – although you don’t think that at the time – but afterwards, if they like it, it’s a big deal. Of course it’s about recognition, it’s about being seen, but also it’s about doing something that makes you click within yourself.

The next show I’m in, which is in Glasgow, comes from the idea of being witnessed, or listened to. It’s called The Listener and uses the full moon as the witness to all these artworks.

I have a big show coming up in the Scottish Gallery 2013, presenting 100 -150 pieces, which will feature the style that I’ve been cultivating, including many seascapes. The imagined ritual of burning the seascapes in a huge bonfire enables me to continue in a fresh way.

FW: Is the tension between exploring new expression and being a successful artist important to negotiate?

DC: Yes, but sometimes that tension can be good –maybe you can be angry with your current predicament and that can fuel you to bash out a whole new body of works. But, yes, I’ve seen artists find success and think “this is how I work” and then not refresh themselves. That’s a fear of mine, I think. If I ended up like that I’d be furious with myself (laughs)!

FW: How does the natural world inspire you?

DC: Lauder Moor is where I return to for inspiration every time I come home. So in my work it symbolises home, whether it’s in painting, film or photography. In my head it’s much more of a vista, visually it could be anywhere.. Like the Texan desert or something! It’s like an infinite horizon, similar to looking out on the edge of the ocean. I loved the aesthetic of widescreen analogue film, and that’s what first attracted to me to it. I don’t think I really paint close up – I like something that stretches out into the distance.

FW: What do you hope your art gives to others?

DC: With the seascapes I hope that they offer the viewer the same moment of calm, self-reflection that I have when I look at the sea. I hope they’re almost therapeutic.

“Gathered Seconds II

I hope that people are equally as interested in the objects as I am. When I pick something up I want to find it’s full potential. You know that sense of intrigue when you’re in a flea market and you’re rummaging to find the exact right thing? I try to bring that into my shows. I never have just a deadpan painting, painting, painting, painting. I always have tables or desks, stacks of things, so in the Scottish Gallery show, which is a more formal environment, I had a desk, so people could rummage around the drawers – and they did!

FW: So you give an interactive quality to your shows.. How does this sit with the largely passive, consumerist attitude our society now seems to have towards entertainment, born of mass production etc?

DC: Well, this is the opposite of that! There is nothing new here – no glass, no plastic, no clean white frame – its an aesthetic but it’s more than that too. Some pieces I had to frame though it upset me to frame them, but I built the wood frames myself. Nothing in here, my studio, is new apart from my laptop or phone and that’s how it has to stay. I’m quite green – I eat organic and don’t use heavy chemicals – but I don’t necessarily know why I need to work in this way. As a person who’s chemically and environmentally sensitive it’s important to me to have nothing damaging or offensive in here.

                                                                      

 

This care that David has for his immediate, and broader, environment is encapsulated in his art. Although it is not his explicit intention, a profound sensitivity towards the world around him is conveyed, and it is perhaps this, above all else, that gives his work such an unmistakably restorative quality. As he says himself: “I’ve taken somebody’s leftovers and given them new life.” In so doing he takes and renews forgotten and folorn aspects within each one of us.

www.davidcass.co.uk

 

Events – Summer

  • Events

Sunrise Celebration (21st-24th June): In the rolling Somerset hills rises our favourite festival festival – cosmic, authentic,  alternative, green, riotous! www.sunrisecelebration.com

Buddhafield Festival (11th-15th July): A genuinely “conscious” non-denominational gathering (alcohol & drug free) filled with interesting folk, Lost Horizons and Small World Stage musical delights, ecstatic dance, workshops galore and – if you want it – excellent meditation instruction. Situated in the Black Hills of West Somerset.

Port Eliot Festival (9th-22nd July): A sublime setting, a refined but unpretentious crowd, there’s plenty to be said for this garden of literary, gastronomical and natural delights. St Germans, Cornwall.

Wilderness Festival (10th-12th August): Set in oak-studded parkland, with a three-tiered lake in which you can swim, punt and spa, this is a highly civilized affair with an excellent musical line up.

Resources: Summer

  • TED Talks

The source of informed, entertaining and inspiring 18 minute talks on subjects that matter by leaders in their fields – with a dash of celebrity!  Symposiums that happen globally are recorded: free to watch or download from…

www.ted.com

 

  • Adventure Yogi

Offering the best of both worlds – great yogic instruction and elegant, restful comfort – take a break and feel both virtuous and pampered all at the same time! With a choice of English manor house weekend settings or Alpine and even African adventures it’s hard to resist the complementary fusion of skiing or surfing holidays with yoga and great vegetarian food.

www.adventureyogi.com

 

  • Authentic Happiness

Positive Psychology website devoted to helping us understand and expand positive emotion. Register for free, test and record your happiness, optimism, strengths, resilience, & relational  (attachment) capacity!

www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu

 

  • The Welsh Coastal Path

On the 5th May 2012 five years work to create a continuous path that spans all 870 miles of the Welsh coastline came to completion. Equal to the Cornish cliffs in rugged beauty and windswept charm it forms a dazzling challenge for those uninitiated to the South West Coastal Path, and a delicious invitation for old “feet”. Pembrokeshire and Anglesey vie with the Gower Peninsula for pole position. Combine it with walking Offa’s Dyke and circumnavigate Wales!

Yoga Column: Salute the Sun

by Ben Parkes

Ben Parkes is a trained and certified traditional hatha yoga teacher based in Bradford on Avon. He teaches classes and workshops in Wiltshire and Somerset. Visit www.yogaben.co.uk

Best practiced in the morning while facing the benign rays of the sun, the surya namskara is probably the most well known sequence of yoga postures in western society. This vinyasa, also known as sun salutations, is a series of 12 dynamic postures described in contemporary manuals of hatha yoga.

The Sanskrit word namaskar originates from namas, which means to bow or to adore, and each round of sun salutation begins and ends with the palms together over the heart.

The symbolism of this beautiful sequence of movements is rich in honouring both the heart and the sun as centres of loving energy which when tapped and released can catalyse sweeping changes in our relationship with one another. In the summertime our skin is warmed by the sun and our shoulders begin to sink down as the heat penetrates our muscles. Warm feelings of companionship and kinship towards our loved ones and friends can start to emanate from our heart. The social gatherings on summer evenings, lovers lying in dappled shade beneath trees and family frolics at the seaside beneath a glorious sun illustrate the altered state of energy that occurs when the heart and sun align.

The sun salutation sequence is a truly magnificent way to honour the sunrise and open up your heart’s radiance at the beginning of the day. Shining light on awareness is a keystone of yoga philosophy, both in terms of the energy giving sun and the energetic centre of the body, the heart.

Patanjali, the great codifier of yoga practice, who first set down the practical methods of reaching enlightenment or Samadhi, through yoga, examined this light in his yoga sutras. He said: “Through practice of the limbs of yoga impurity is destroyed and light of knowledge arises which develops into an awareness which functions in the light of wisdom.”

Just as the rising sun burns off the mist obscuring the fields, so the heart shines light on the fog which obscures the joy of connection with the people around us, wildlife, and the earth.

This light of awareness is necessary in order to continue the practice of yoga in all its forms. As Patanjali says: “Yoga is that state of being in which the movement of the mind is suspended.” The philosophy being that in order to reach the sun or enlightenment we must first transcend the constantly fluctuating and shifting mind self with all its ideas about what we should be doing and instead connect to the atman, the pure conscious self at the centre of our being.

Whilst this ideology might seem distant from our everyday life it is actually quite a simple process to undertake. The pure consciousness of the atman, or the watcher behind the thoughts, is always available to us.

Try it now. Become aware that you are thinking, let go of your thoughts which project you into the future, cast off the mind muddle of things remembered in the past and just concentrate on what is going on right now in your own body and in the word around you. There is only one moment, the one you are in right now, and when you become present to this moment the beauty of the people and things around you begins to shine. “Then the awareness is established in its own reality,” Patanjali says.

There is something profoundly joyful about coming to this realisation with the sun on your face and an open heart. It can also be achieved in times of great pain and sorrow when the heart is carved open but why not enter into it through the door lit up by light rather than the one that opens into darkness?

Aligning with your centre in this way can be easier if you have a practice, like yoga, to guide you. Patanjali’s method was eightfold and included ethical behaviour, personal qualities, postures, control of the breath, attention withdrawal, focus, awareness and finally Samadhi, the state of awareness in which there is no other.

It is the postures that most of us come into contact with when we step into a yoga class and they are a very simple way of accessing the consciousness within. The gentle stretch of a tight muscle can consume the mind and body with its intensity and the so the state of awareness begins to narrow and focus in towards the inner consciousness.

Sun salutations combine 12 of these yoga postures into one flowing movement. Woven into a full yoga practice with a warm up to ready the body and a relaxation to settle the mind the sun salutes are a wonderful way of bringing the light of heart and sun together, particularly if you can practise them under the sun’s rays.

Open your heart to light and discover pure consciousness and alignment with your world starting with this beautiful vinyasa which you will be able to practice with any good hatha yoga teacher who has been trained well. A professional yoga teacher will welcome a student’s request to display the sun salutation sequence. Just ask in your next class and enjoy the transformative effects of light on awareness.

Alignment Seasonal Guide to Summer

  • THE BODY:

Nutrition Mission:

The summer season is finally upon us, which brings us a wonderful variety of fresh healthy food choices.

Take your dark green leafy vegetables: rocket, watercress and spinach for example.  These are packed with antioxidants and B vitamins which support your energy levels, your metabolism and the health of your nervous system. If you add a diced chicken breast (or vegetarian alternative), a handful of baby tomatoes, 1/2 a chopped avocado and top it with lemon and mustard dressing below, you’ve got yourself a fabulously healthy and satisfying lunch option. Lemon and Mustard Dressing: Place 4 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, half a teaspoon of runny honey, and a tablespoon of wholegrain mustard in a jar and shake vigorously until combined.

Tomatoes are another great source of antioxidants which help to protect the health of our tissues and systems.  The main element of interest is called lycopene, and it’s found in its highest quantities when the tomatoes are cooked. – Fiona Campbell, Nutritionist.

Hormones, hedgerows and the Divine:

Wander down any stretch of hedgerow at this time of year and you’ll undoubtedly be doing yourself a world of good in myriad different ways – here are just 3 of them

1) Simply being outside exposed to 20-30 minutes of sunshine per day manufactures enough vitamin D to keep you healthy without any need for dietary supplements. 2) Combine that with the serotonin released in sniffing the variety of heady smells and doing a bit of gentle exercise and you’re already well on the way to well-being central. 3) All that together with longer daylight hours down-regulating the circulating levels of melatonin and you’ve got a recipe for increased libido, higher energy levels and an increased appetite for LIFE!

So what better way to connect with all that than to take a stroll with friends to gather whatever the hedgerows have to offer: early Summer will give you sack-fulls of elderflower to turn into the elixir that is elderflower cordial. Midsummer brings wild cherries  (high in antioxidants!) and a wealth of green edibles. Late summer brings a whole host of other soft fruits. Being aware of the natural world changing alongside us has the obvious advantage of having delicious bits ‘n’ bobs to taste at the drop of a hat, but once you start engaging in this way, it feels as if this is but the smallest part of it. On a much deeper level it can feel like a kind of communion with Nature.  Picking these hedgerow gifts feels like nature offering itself to us, willingly making a sacrifice of the food in the original sense of the word (‘making sacred’).’ Not only can these gifts be truly delicious and delight us in their simplicity, they also offer us a taste of the Divine. – Duncan Still – Foraging Enthusiast and Medic

 

  • THE INNER WORLD:

Tending to the inner world can be a mysterious process but it is here that the seeds of success or failure, persistence or sabotage are sown. So, harnessing the season’s symbolic and psychological rhythms can help us ensure a fruitful harvest! To this end we have put together some information, questions and suggestions for Summer. I hope they are helpful.

As the Solstice arrives on 21st June the sun asserts its dominance over the land. Even if the sun seems a distant memory(!) life is springing forth and spilling over, aided and abetted by this solar energy. The time of growth and manifestation is here. Just as the conditions are ripe for nature to bear fruit, so the mood is energised and we often have a greater capacity to face and forgo our fears.

The Celtic calendar celebrates the warrior aspect at this time of year, which also coincides with the Jungian archetypes (deeply embedded patterns and symbols that operate inside us all) and links this with the element of Fire. The wildness that becomes ever more apparent in the natural world is “fired” by the sun. Our own wildness, the part that abandons the strict, repressive path and beats its way into a new clearing, a new potentiality, provides the energy to overcome the forces within us that prevent us from pursuing our visions, and from changing those old outmoded behaviours and attitudes. Q: Am I able to take action towards my goals? If not what gets in my way?

Shame, or lack of confidence, may whisper spells of impotence and ineffectuality. We can unknowingly surrender to its illusions, act accordingly and thus confirm its messages as reality. It can be helpful to notice and write down these messages we tell ourselves about what we can and can’t do, what we do or don’t deserve…

Once we’ve done this we can call upon the warrior aspect within to help us confront our fears and assess realistically whether they are accurate.

Although the natural energy is swelling at this time of year with an upsurge of activity, which can be harnessed to our benefit, there remains a need for reflectivity and balance. Many of our myths (Eden, Snow White) speak of the risks of grasping for forbidden fruit – which can represent instincts or desires that overreach their purpose and bring us suffering if we fall prey to their illusory appearance. Q – how can you create space for yourself in the hurly-burly of this most active season? Are your goals and current efforts aligned with your intuition of what will bring you most contentment?

 

  • THE OUTER WORLD:

Life is blossoming out side our very windows. Even in the relative insulation of the city nature’s bawdy celebration is apparent in the groaning gardens and the blossoming trees. The sap has risen and its time to capitalise on the abundance of life-force. As such, if there is anything you want to address or develop in your life now is a good time. Here is an invitation to consider our relationship to each of these following areas of living and see if there’s anything we want to direct this wonderful energy towards..

Relationship: how is your capacity to assert yourself in relationship to those around you and indeed yourself? It may differ depending on the nature of the relationship, but see if there are any patterns that emerge when you consider this. For example, do you find it difficult to ask for what you need? If so, what might be stopping you? Becoming aware of your fears can help you assess them and create a sense of choice over whether to believe them or not.

Community: With the warmer weather the world and his wife come out to play. How comfortable do you feel engaging with your neighbours, your workmates and passers by? Do you feel a part of or a little distant? How would you go about getting your needs met in your local community and if you see something missing what could you do to put that right? Take advantage of the summer energy to forge connections with those around you.

Creativity: If you have ideas for projects or art pieces, science or business, how are you at manifesting them? Do they tend to get half way then peter out? Do they stay safely on the drawing board? Do they come within a hair’s breadth of success only to be sabotaged at the last minute? The energy of summer is really helpful to challenge patterns of incompletion and take things further than we normally feel able to do.

Resources: How are you at generating the resources (money, time, help etc) you want? How effectively do you manage that which you do attract? In this season of abundance, with the first fruit harvest coming in August, perhaps it could be fruitful to explore whether there are ways you block yourself from receiving what you want in your life? And also whether what you are striving for is what will in fact bring you most happiness?

Environment: With nature providing us with both so much material and symbolic nourishment, perhaps we can ask what do we need to do to honour her generosity? What can we do to really recognise and savour the extraordinary playground and provider we are all granted entirely for free?

Reviews: Issue 2 – Summer

  • Books

The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master (Translated by Daniel Ladinsky)

Hafiz charts the spiritual adventures of a man utterly abandoning himself to God. A 13th century Sufi mystic devoted to removing the inner veil, he celebrates, subverts and cajoles his linguistic way to the Source, taking us with him. So intense, so rapturous is his ecstasy and his ensuing sense of separation, so commanding his insight, and so refreshingly irreverent his ideology, that few seekers fail to find him a welcome companion on the lonely road to truth. Have a look here.

  • Music

Alabama Shakes – Hold On

Old-school sepia roots rock with a flaming Joplinesque front woman backed by the country-tinged stylings of The Band. Simple, heartfelt, effective. Brittany Howard is singing from her soul, imploring us to find hope and in the meantime converting the masses. Thrilling live performance on Later with Jools Holland.

 

Reviews: Issue 1 – Winter

Books

The Bear That Wasn’t (1946) – Frank Tashlin

A bear, who lives in the woods, awakes after a happy hibernation to find a factory built around him. He’s packed off into the factory to join the production line. When he objects that he’s a bear and shouldn’t be working he’s told “You’re not a bear you’re a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat!” This children’s story is a delightfully humorous depiction of society’s tendency to homogenize in the march towards “progress” and the havoc this wreaks on the individual who fails to listen to the truth inside himself.

Music

Nebraska (1982) – Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen’s status as a critically acclaimed, as well as chart-topping, rock legend was always a source of mystery to me. Why would a man who wrote such stars-n’-stripes-totin’ drivel as Born In The USA be given the slightest recognition as a serious musician? A cursory listen to the lyrics would have told me – a heart-shredding, hope-infusing juxtaposition of desperation, denigration and triumph set to power chords! But the beauty of this bare, home-recorded album is that Springsteen’s songwriting and singing emerge like etched line-drawings in the skeletal sparsity of production. It’s Springsteen Unplugged the year MTV was invented. Atlantic City is of course the standout track that, with unerring simplicity, transcends the dispiriting grit of blue collar Nebraskan existence: “Maybe everything that dies one day comes back..” Like the best of Bruce’s songs it is a meditation on impermanence that embraces grief and human limitation, finding hope nonetheless.

Film

Of Gods And Men (2010) – Xavier Beauvois (director)

As the title might suggest, this stunning picture deals with weighty material. Set in Algeria, 1996, it tells the true tale of nine French Trappist monks living in harmony with an impoverished community who become the targets of local militant fundamentalism. Beauvious responds with a tour de force of widescreen cinematography and spacious screenwriting. Leaving the macro of political, religious and colonial implications aside, the film focuses on the monks’ individual battles to make the remarkable choice to stay put in the face of death. It is a study of faith, purpose and meaning, providing compelling, heart-breaking and enriching viewing. We are mesmerizingly immersed into monastic life and the moral conundrum that each has to wrestle. The last scene, a long hard trudge into the snowy unknown, is a humbling expression of the courage that can be required to hold true to one’s path even in the depths of winter.