Mum 1980s

This dark-fringed little woman is my mum. I’m celebrating from afar in Greece; unbelievably she turned 80 yesterday. She hasn’t changed much really! Gray hairs crept in a few years ago, as did Molly our dog’s muzzle before she died a ripe old age. I love this photo, it seems to say something about where she comes from, what her values are. That ruddy glow (like the boots) that comes from we think Swedish roots somewhere. We’ve had our battles for sure, but somehow as my own skin matures the conflicts are absolved by a much deeper knowing. A respect for her journey and a magnificence borne from an understated, often lost, being there for others. That kind of beauty. Anyway posting this poem that grew out of my mother reflections today, it’s such a good thing to do, whatever your relationship with your mum, I’d recommend having a try 🙂

Shell, soil and saline make chemistry,
As waves lap on the lobes of sand;
As pen births these little patterns, arches,
Scratched in open sounds on the page.

So you, like a colour seeping into canvas,
Soak under my skin, over the years;
A shimmer here, the laughing breeze,
And there a loss, the trembling leaves.

It is as though your rose-flushed face,
Waiting, on the shoreline salt of the earth,
Appears, washed by expectant tears,
Then hides again in moss and shadow.

It is in this hiding that I see you now,
A woman who has run into the world
With, practically, too much kindness.
Your vanguard; a stove-side panting dog,
Your red shoes; a pair of garden boots.

And I see your arching spine now,
Bending over in the vegetable patch.
I feel it, bird-like, mixing seeds in a bowl,
Making a cake, patting it in your hands.

You who have turned, in light and dark,
To me, afraid but unflinching in heart,
So I might root the life you gave me.
So we might run free with the wolves.


“One of the most important and difficult tasks in the individuation process is to bridge the distance between people… Every relationship has its optimal distance, which of course has to be found by trial and error.” CG Jung

vanessa yoga retreat anilio may 2017

This past week our retreat Journey Through the Landscapes of the Body has traversed many themes through yoga and silence, dance and dialogue, various poets and philosophers, and creating our own writing and images. In our physical and interior being, journey is the word; in the body’s perpetual flux there is no fixed point of balance or belonging. Ida Rolf who developed the structural integration practice of Rolfing says, “our security comes only from gravity and relationship.” She says this recognising that gravity is found only through movement and, like the body, relationship is insecure, “as uncertain as a water-bed”, cannot be fixed or solidified like a wall. In other words relationship is what mirrors our felt-sense patterning of having a physical body.

Jung goes on to describe the pain we can feel when that ‘optimal distance’ with another cannot, for some reason, be achieved: “There is always the danger that the distance will be broken down by one party only, and this will invariably give rise to a feeling of violation followed by resentment.” Whilst we might fear the uncertainty, it’s only by risking ourselves to this relational space that we can truly be alive and available to what calls us.

So in this ever-moving landscape of the Pelion, it’s nature and community, we’ve been experiencing what it might mean to “get secure in an art where there is no security” and “recognise the security of insecurity”… To start to trust it, this state of change. Our constantly shifting sense of gravity then becomes the place where we find that place in our (Achilles) heels; rather than searching for a perfectly-shaped happiness or fulfilment, we allow ourselves the spaciousness of embodiment; to come close and see through the lens of our own and others imperfection. We discover our wound, our threshold of falling, from which our only secure ground is to establish truthful and open connection, that ‘optimal distance’ where we know, in the midst of our longings and confusions, we were born to be free to respond to love.

“I would describe myself
like a landscape I’ve studied
at length, in detail;
like a word I’m coming to understand;
like a pitcher I pour from at mealtime;
like my mother’s face;
like a ship that carried me
when the waters raged.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

And here a further piece on this theme…/yoga-and-embodiment-the-integ…/amp/

me anilio workcamp may 2017

Work camp ending at Anilio before our Yoga, Writing & Art begins today. And glad to have a zen shot of me painting this wall! It’s the characteristic lime-wash you see all over Greece, and also has been quite a meditation that got me thinking how a clear boundary, like what comes uncontaminated from deep in the heart, allows an opening to what is growing boundless and free. And so many of our sufferings come down to the walls we build being made of old material we no longer need, but we keep maintaining them because the views they block out at some point have made us safe or important or whatever. So the same with our politics. With no clear transparent values, how can we have a perspective on the real needs of the planet? And without an open clear view from the outside, from another person or culture, what’s to stop us just white washing these old walls we’ve labelled ‘good’ to keep out the ‘bad’ and history repeating itself again?

Jung believed the only way forward is to meet the nature of our own wall or conflict. This quote has travelled with me for some time now and it’s beginning to make some sense!

“The goal of human striving in the individuation process is the recognition of the Self, the regulating centre of the psyche. That recognition relativizes the ego in the psychic structure, and initiates a dialogue between conscious and unconscious. ‘The only way the Self can manifest is through conflict,’ writes Marie Louise Von Franz. ‘To meet one’s eternal and insoluble conflict is to meet God, which would be the end of the ego with all its blather.’

“If the ego rejects that conflict, then the soul is contaminated by the ego’s desire for more and more power or wealth or happiness. The result is ego inflation. According to Jung:

‘An inflated ego is always ego-centric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It us incapable of learning from the past, incapable of learning from contemporary events, and incapable if drawing right conclusions about the future. It us hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead.’

“Paradoxically enough, inflation is a regression of consciousness into unconsciousness. This always happens when consciousness takes on too many unconscious contents upon itself and loses the faculty of discrimination, the sine qua non of all consciousness.”

A beautifully crafted reflection here on the empowerment of loss and change, how it reconnects us with life… the link to the ancient Greek word ‘psyche’ I find fascinating.

me with horse child photo

“Sometimes an old photograph, an old friend, an old letter will remind you that you are not who you once were, for the person who dwelt among them, valued this, chose that, wrote thus, no longer exists. Without noticing it you have traversed a great distance; the strange has become familiar and the familiar if not strange at least awkward or uncomfortable, an outgrown garment. And some people travel far more than others. There are those who receive as birthright an adequate or at least unquestioned sense of self and those who set out to reinvent themselves, for survival or for satisfaction, and travel far. Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch, even as a psychological metamorphosis. As a cultural metamorphosis is far more dramatic.

“The people thrown into other cultures go through something of the anguish of the butterfly, whose body must disintegrate and reform more than once in its life cycle. In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who ‘knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists entirely of decay.’ But the butterfly is so fit an emblem of the human soul that its name in Greek is ‘psyche’, the word (in English) for soul. We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawl, this era of ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of the metamorphosis, which is often spoken of as though it were as graceful as a flower blooming.

“There are rituals marking such splits, graduations, indoctrinations, ceremonies of change, though most changes proceed without such clear and encouraging recognition. ‘Instar’ implies something both celestial and ingrown, something heavenly and disastrous, and perhaps change is commonly like that, a buried star, oscillating between near and far.”

Rebecca Solnit:
A Field Guide to Getting Lost

me and ducklings as child

This poem grew step-by-step treading of the ancient path through West France, one of many that eventually converge to join the coastal and mountain routes across the Pyrenees to Santiago. William Blake’s universe in a grain of sand is embedded in there somewhere, along with the longing for the soul friend; Rumi refers to the divine as The Friend and pilgrimage somehow made clear for me the sense that this is found in friendship, the shared path and the eye of the physical world, humanity immersed through the senses in nature.

me child rucksac

The fruit of a lifetime
Falls to the earth.
It is broken open in the falling
As it hits the ground.
In the split there is a seed,
And in the seed there is a space.
Within the space there lies a path
And on the path is a person.
The person is praying,
‘Let me bear fruit for the world.’
There is no peace in the person,
But they hunger for peace.
There is no wholeness either,
And this is why they walk.
The other prayer is ‘Send me help lord’,
For their burden they cannot carry alone.
Deep inside they are missing,
A place, a friend, a meaning.
In this missing they become ‘pilgrim’,
And their heart’s longing leads them on.
Inside this longing is a space,
Self-emptying space of potential.
And also what cannot be hidden,
The waste of so many lifetimes.
With each step this space
Is falling and breaking on the path.
As left and right, so inside and out,
The heart is broken in the separation.
Sacred spaces cluttered with symbols,
And the vacuous suburbs of the towns.
In the smothering domestication,
Shadow of the abandoned mother.
And the collapsing communities
Where man and woman flee each other.
Laden down the pilgrim bears witness,
The ache, the split, the wound.
Within this awkward embrace
There lives such a beautiful seed.
The seed is human flesh beating
To be known for itself in love.
Within this deepest love
There sounds a word.
A word appearing as form,
Within the silence.
The pilgrim waits in peace
And in the waiting says ‘yes’.
From the horizon walks the Friend
And in this meeting is the whole.
Earth sings in response,
The fruit of a lifetime.

on the path camino may 17

labyrinth poitiers

In ten days Sue-Claire Morris and I completed a pied (with a bit of hitch hiking!) the Chemin / Camino Jacque de Compostella from Poitiers to the beautiful city of Saintes. Yesterday we began our return, with four lifts along various sections of the route to the medieval town of Lusignan, finally with a man who took us for tea at his extended family farm and whose brother happened to be driving to our exact destination. And then on to visit the Abbaye de Bonnevaux near Colombiere, where a community and centre for contemplation, action and peace will be opening this summer.

The labyrinth of this pilgrimage has revealed the incredible benevolence of the universe, not from finding a magic key, or because we’ve done something special to deserve it; pilgrimage seems to remind us we are not in control, we are not the centres of our worlds. I have found it is when one surrenders to the path with a simple intention to greet life with grace, gravity, generosity, not grasping the light or hiding from the shadows; that surrender invites the path to rise up to meet you in love. It has also been a test of trust on every level. Carrying tent, camping gear and all we needed on our backs has challenged, strengthened and restored us. Setting out into the unknown, we eventually became known as ‘les pelerins anglaise’, doing it our own way without credentials until at St John Angelou the official pilgrimage office recognised our journey and gave us the certification. So many people, animals, gifts of nature, their strength, resilience and abundance, helped us it’s hard to think of this as just the journey of two people seeking peace. Let it send ripples into the world 🙂 (Below is an account of the longer story).

sue claire bonnevaux

One gift of this pilgrimage is a restored hope in humanity. At every turn and especially in difficulty, getting lost and survival of the elements our path has been intercepted by the most kind, open-hearted and inspiring people, often sharing with us with their own story of suffering and renewal.


One day after losing the path several times, we managed to hitch a ride with some Parisian men travelling to the city of Saintes for the last few kilometres of our route to Brioux-sur-Boutonne. They were pretty surprised when we said we wanted to be dropped ‘a la camping’ but warmly understood our motives with a respectful ‘vous avez le courage’. We arrived at the municipal campsite to find it completely empty, but encouraged by a toilet block with abundant hot water we refused their offer of a further lift on to St Jean Angelou and began to set up our tiny red tent. In the middle of this expanse of green it looked like one crimson berry in a flurry of foliage. The rapidly dropping temperatures with bouts of stormy rain we’d braved all day now started to feel more threatening. But warmed by all the activity and thought of finding an auberge for a drink and hot meal, we set out to explore.

Nothing could have prepared us for the deserted strangeness of that town. Not only had the entire road through the centre been dug up for reconstruction, but every single house, shop, restaurant stood shut like huge sleeping faces, doors and shutters firmly closed in hostile silence. We circumnavigated this desolation for at least an hour in hope of finding something open, or at least a person. Nothing! The odd car passed us, tyres splashing in the wet road, eyes staring at our displaced figures swaddled in all the clothes we could manage to carry on our backs. Wet, cold and hungry we conceded to turn back to eat the remains of our picnic in the only dry place open and big enough for two of us, a disabled toilet, and to hunker down to sleep in the tent.

At that moment we were crossing a bridge and a lonely figure was walking towards us. It was a homeless man, laden down with bags, shuffling through the hopeless rain and fading light, face hidden behind a matted beard. It had felt like being in a play by Samuel Beckett, and now I thought, this must be Godot. As he passed us however, we were ejected from our existential angst when he gestured a kind of recognition to us as fellow pilgrims, putting his hand over his heart. By this time we’d reached the middle of the bridge, and it was as though the waters of our pilgrimage broke at that moment, tears of emotion and realization mixing with the rain and the river gushing beneath our feet. In that moment we stood in the place of the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the displaced and forsaken populous, experienced the discomfort of their shoes and the aggravation of a mind bent only on survival.

I’m not sure what led us to walk the crumpled road back through the centre of the town, but we did and it was there that Sue Claire spotted a door through an old archway, scattered chairs outside and some hint of a lived-in home. Driven by the kind of heart-mind that comes to the fore when you meet your edge, we decided to knock on the door. The man who became known to us as Saint Patrick soon stood in the doorway along with a waft of warm air. He was immediately moved by our situation and as soon as he knew we were pilgrims needed no further explanation. We were led into his small kitchen which displayed a simplicity and poverty rare to find, but we were invited to sit at his table and eat. A little banquet of tea, bread, cheese, fish, salad. Food had never tasted so good and also to learn that he worked for homeless people in this town and drove people on coach tours to Lourdes, serving food to thousands of pilgrims there, this was music to our ears. Like the whole story of our evening had turned full circle. Patrick sent us out into the night with a spare blanket from his own bed and invitation for hot tea the next morning.

sue claire and st patrick may 17

We spent probably one of the most uncomfortable nights of our life in the pouring rain and cold. But meanwhile our hearts were warming to a new way of seeing the world, a new compassion, an invitation to walk as pilgrims with eyes washed by tears. As St Francis said, the gateway to the kingdom is the way of poverty and humility, of letting go and seeing what gifts then flood in from the most unexpected places.

hitchhiking joy may 2017 france

Frome 2Yesterday was one of those days when life seems to turn a full circle; back with the first taste I had of Frome from Innox Hill five years ago; that very motherly sense when time is bending down, picking you up and setting you back on the road with a fresh view. So comes forth Poem of Frome, another attempt to track a journey 🙂

Poem of Frome

River-like, life moves
Not in lines but folds,
Waves, slowly backing
Then fair, fine, brisk flow
Forward, reaching spring
From freeze to melt and quench.

Frome’s full cycle
I have ridden and walked,
Her web of inward-circling
Old roads, and found fresh
New feet, fellow pilgrims
From dip to crest and wash.

By sound of watery weir
Rushing its changing way,
Quarry train rumbles
A belly of grit undone,
And we swallow the hard
From lock to tongue and sea.

Leaping from tawny wall
To river’s mud and stick,
Red breast colours and leaves
Our winters, just as blue tit
Blends our summers soft
From myth to real and song.

Then there’s the dance,
The never-forgotten circle
Where we moved and seen,
Were held and heard, tipping
To foot’s fall, arm’s reach,
From skin to view and free.

*The name Frome comes from the Brythonic word *frāmā (Modern Welsh ffraw)[7] meaning fair, fine or brisk and describing the flow of the river.


Frome 3

Frome 5

Etty Hillesum

On women’s day I’ve been thinking, apart from all the wonderful women I’m fortunate to know, which women have inspired me. Then, perhaps because of the tipping-shifting state of the world, I thought of Etty. The author of An Interrupted Life, Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew, a meditator and peace activist who had her spiritual awakening whilst imprisoned (after which she was eventually gassed) in the Westerbork concentration camp in 1943. It was her amazing and strange affair with Julius Spier (who taught her palmistry and how to wrestle) that gave Etty the emotional toll and language that began her journey into mysticism. The book is a collection of her profound diaries, which only exist because she threw them out of the train window en route to the gas chamber. I just found out today she was hugely inspired by the poetry of Rilke. As well as Dostoevsky and Jung. Here some quotes from her letters:

“I now listen all day long to what is within me, and am able to draw strength from the most deeply hidden sources in myself. I keep following my own inner voice even in the madhouse…I know what may lie in wait for us… I know about everything and am no longer appalled by the latest reports. In one way or another I know it all. And yet I find life beautiful and meaningful… It still all comes down to the same thing: life is beautiful. And I believe in God. And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call ‘horror’ and still be able to say: life is beautiful.”

“Ought we not, from time to time, open ourselves up to cosmic sadness? … Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears his grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate. But if you do not clear a decent shelter for your sorrow, and instead reserve most of the space inside you for hatred and thoughts of revenge-from which new sorrows will be born for others-then sorrow will never cease in this world and will multiply.”

“Slowly but surely I have been soaking Rilke up these last few months: the man, his work and his life. And that is probably the only right way with literature, with study, with people or with anything else: to let it all soak in, to let it all mature slowly inside you until it has become a part of yourself. That, too, is a growing process. Everything is a growing process. And in between, emotions and sensations that strike you like lightning. But still the most important thing is the organic process of growing.”…

Unlike Me

April 11, 2017

A kind of poem, memoir and statement of an evolving feminism and poetic activism rolled into one. And today… there are some unseen peacemakers in the world who, like the artist or the healer, drink the poison (the shadow, the unlike, the toxic waste) of a place, country or culture to hopefully open our eyes, wake us up to play our part; this is for them too.

It is
I sees
I am
Of women
And Ye men
Who will
Be (I do)
By an
(Like me
Tho I do
Too) newer


It is the bigger broader all-seeing eye of the vast landscape of the world that likes us each in it so truthfully and sees You too just as you are greatly singled out and Me as small as the two-cells-meeting seed I began as yet as wide and free as the life I am ready to birth where we all stand to see each other just as we are held by love and with the banner of

And hope
For a
Waving in
Our hand
At last













Poem of La Gomera

February 3, 2017

man-la-gomeraMy poem of this trip in January 2017 ended up as solid rock-like verses, attempts to convey the feeling of meeting this volcanic frontier, in the landscape and in me. From the meaning of Islas Canarias (island of the dogs), there are little echoes of poets that spirited the experience of finding my own ‘black dog’ met by the vast movement, silence, intimacy and music of nature: Manley-Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, TS Eliot, Rilke & Jung. Interestingly 8-line poems are called Octaves; resonant of order but also scale, reach and expanse. And find today the late David Bowie wrote a song called Eight Line Poem too… For audio version, see here


mountain-la-gomeraPoem of La Gomera

First the rock, then the dog,
Then the sweetened bird of gold.
An evolving face of pressed ascent;
Lava and ash, song and bark,
Light on dark and wave on crag,
Frowning forehead of memory,
Copper, black; dark then pink,
Bisected skin of haunch and wing.

me-in-truck-la-gomeraI wouldn’t say my dog is mine,
Not half as fully as my tongue,
It’s looted from my tribal chest;
It’s teeth and weight against my rib,
Was passed to me one day in time,
When milky blind spot opened up
It’s retinal cave, just long enough,
For black hound to run through.


boat-la-gomeraOur boat is now a shrunken raft
Before the La Gomerian shore,
This small wild Islas Canarias;
Hardened jaw of trodden fire,
Stroked by the wind, lit by the sun,
Lapped by the constant broken wave,
Whispering, sucking, salted purge,
Birds eye tears melt our approach.

i-want-to-see-you-la-gomeraIt said lie down, animal and you,
Bow before my towering growl,
I want to see you, and your pride,
Lift you to rock that’s higher than ‘I’,
Engulf you in gliding mantle blue,
Vast moving mirror at my feet;
Who is this on the other side of you?
Lift your eye, see it fluttering free.

art-la-gomeraNature, enraptured by this dance,
That carries on ‘tween shore and sea,
Meets her own lover every time
We bring our burden, our black dog,
Our unachievable task of praise,
To her heel, and humbled thus,
Our heartache can bear fruit for us,
And pour translucent light through us.


black-dog-la-gomeraThus so the beast will meet the bird,
Sweet music scaled by the deep,
And ah! Bright wings from bristling fur,
Will rise with freshness from the earth.