Spiritual pursuits

sickle and rakeWe worked in the gardens in the morning. After lunch we had free time, until five, when we had group work.

Mark refused to “share”, not wishing, now, to bare his soul to near-strangers. D found Sacha’s Russian accent difficult, and his phrase “journey in” opaque: when I used the synonym “spiritual journey” he did not deny it, but did not use any other words himself to explain what he meant. How does your outward journey reflect your “journey Een”?

I did not particularly want to share, either. Here am I on a Spiritual Path, of self-acceptance, greater perception of reality, emotional maturity, etc, but I still feel that this Growth should result in some activity, and am ashamed of my inactivity, now. So the evidence is ambiguous: growth, or stagnation? I hope it is a phase I am going through.

I suggested we mill and hug. People participated in this readily enough, but when I started hugging again on the last evening no-one joined in. Mark thanked me for proposing it, people seemed to enjoy it. R had done it before, in her “encounter groups”.Hug over river

I met two men who live here. One is- “working class”, Scots- oh, I do not want to describe him, for I was projecting furiously on him. He will judge me. He will see how affected and inauthentic I am, and will despise me. I can never have an honest conversation with him. My feeling of my own inadequacy overwhelmed me, and I have no reason to believe that related to any actual judgment he held, nor real understanding of why I might project on him. I felt he could not see me as a proper man or woman, as the middle classes pretend to. He expressed no dislike. I got confused.

Four of us walked in the sun by narrow paths to Bamford, and when we crossed the river by the weir it was beautiful. I felt light and playful. Theresa separately invited three of us to her community on the Greek island of Lemnos- she said I could work four hours a day in the vineyard, for my keep, and suggested to others she wanted a financial contribution. I heard her try to persuade N of her living relationship with Jesus Christ, who is partly evidenced by the eyewitness accounts of the Gospels, and would like to be assured of my ability to get away before I went to Lemnos.

Every morning the community has meeting for worship, from 8-8.30. Every evening we had epilogue, from 9-9.15, after which most people went to bed. The evening we had a bonfire planned, it rained; once, we performed for each other. I gave The Story of my Breast”. I really need it videoed, or criticised: I felt I gabbled, but have no idea. I got a few laughs from Jasmine, but the others were silent.


M and barrowI have been gardening. I used a scythe and a sickle, shovelled dung to mulch a patch, and turned a compost heap. I barrowed logs from a woodpile into a shed for the winter. I wanted to see the Quaker community at Bamford, what they do and how.

It is a large rambling building, just outside a wee village in the Peak District National Park. Some of the Community members have jobs outside, some give full time to the Community. They hold retreats, and work the eleven acres, and restore the house. I was there for a week’s “Working retreat” with the theme of Pilgrimage.

gardenMost of the grounds are woodland. Three patches have been cleared, one for an orchard, one will have a polytunnel, one has veg. There is also the “meadow”. We had courgettes every day: steamed, in a pasta sauce, a courgette cake, even a little in a trifle. The Community has been going for decades, though three years ago everyone but one left. Some time ago a couple sought to make a living out of it as a market garden, but now they just grow for themselves, rather than selling: they are not self-sufficient. Out the back there is a shed with a potter’s wheel and kiln: it would be a good place for an artist to work, like that, but he has now left. In the grounds there is the art space, a shed with a large window, where we were invited to go to paint, but it is overgrown. They have done some work on the paths, laying down wood chips or logs, cutting back the encroaching vegetation, but it takes more work than they have time for.

Nine of us spent two days clearing the “Meadow”, apart from the wasps’ nest, which we left alone. The scythes made the grass lie down, rather than cutting it: we do not have the practice. M said his friend could mow a bowling green with a scythe. I thought a strimmer could cut it all down in a day, and M, who wants to move here from London, said that would damage “the other communities” in the meadow. G, who stays here, and was organising our work, had other reasons: you have to keep adjusting a strimmer, pulling the wire out; we would still have had to rake and barrow the cut weeds; it covers you with green goo. I was not clear whether M had misunderstood her reasons, or whether G thought what she had told M would not persuade me.

Someone else had accused G of “micromanaging”, so she agreed my suggestion of spending time sharing how things were going. We did this at the start of one morning session, in the Meeting room: apart from me, everyone said how it was going really well and how much they were enjoying it. It seemed to me that they were being Polite and Constructive rather than sharing feelings. As V said, in community we do thoughtful, respectful, loving, truthful but we don’t do Polite. Over time, Politeness covers a huge pile of smouldering resentment, which must explode eventually; but for a week together, I suppose it is OK.

I had moments when I felt Present, and overwhelmed by the beauty of the plants- wet leaves, trees, whatever- and I wanted that feeling in my labour. However, while I worked, my inner voices worked too. Am I doing it right? That is Weak. Could this be done better- that is a useful question, and I was thinking of how to do any particular move, all the time. Pushing a heavy barrow up a short but steep incline felt Wonderful.

Red telephone box

Rose's picture 2After coffee, I skived off, and walked up the path. I found myself in Ladybower, wigless, in wellies and jeans with a detectable odour of manure. The road, single track on a steep hill, curved round between large detached houses. To my left when I left the path I see a red telephone box. Does it work?

It is quite unlike the phone box outside my flat, of the replacement design. There, children have taken care to smash all the glass and remove the handset. There is a groove in the metal as if someone has taken a hacksaw to it, but that was too much trouble. This has all its glass intact, and a working phone within.

phone boxThere is a notice dated 2009 saying that as people object so strongly to the removal of this Great British Heritage object, BT leave them, but cease to maintain them. Locals may sponsor the phone box. It is filled with cobwebs, and its coin slot has been blocked: one may use a credit card.

I walked up a hill, on a straight path through woods. At one point I could see Bamford to my right, at another there were blackberries- and it is the phone box I choose to tell you about. Filled with cobwebs? Well, two or three cobwebs were covered with thick dust. Either someone could have cleaned it, rather than organised a “Save our Phonebox” campaign, or no-one cared about this one.

I’ve been at the Proust again. I don’t quite get it, but it is something about the feeling rather than the surface mattering.

Outside Sheffield station is a huge water feature, water flowing over metal. I sat in the sun drinking coffee, with fifty minutes to wait for my train to Bamford, and a smelly drunk approached me. He started by saying he needed the train fare to Doncaster, but then tried a different track. Ten years ago he was a company director. He had a few problems. Look at that car-park? He could build it far better than that, by himself. He has great building skills. So he would start a company, I would own 51% of it, and if I put up £100,000 to buy land and materials he would double that in four months, building a house on it.

Another man came over a couple of times, to use his lighter, then hung about a few yards away.

I did not mind hearing the story. At the end I did not explain that I did not have even £1000, but I did say I did not have that sort of money. Not did I have any spare change for a cup of tea.

Back at Swanston, I lugged my case from the station to the supermarket, where there was a choir singing on the grass, or screeching, rather, with a rock-band recorded accompaniment. It is the weight of the case I was lugging, made me- angry, I suppose, for the energy or determination that would give me to carry it. That affected the way I heard the choir. On the bus I chatted to a woman who had endured six buses with her dog Razzle. The dog was now fed up and uncooperative. She would have driven him to the vet for his arthritis injection, but she had broken her foot. Now sitting, all the carrying at an end, I could listen and sympathise.

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I need to trust

bee 2The exercise was to draw, with a stick in ink, and to “follow a line”; then to write about ones spiritual journey. One possible method was to make an acrostic from the word “Pilgrimage”. Not happy with my place, now, I wrote about it disjointedly, then made my Pilgrimage picture. Microsoft Paint followed its program, and I did not fully understand the commands I was giving it.

Then we were to worship-share about the experience. Oh god do we have to? I had shrunk my picture, having thought I was simply shrinking the view of it, and I grew it again, making it pixellated. I noticed the colours down the sides of the letters, when I expanded it again.

So I spoke. I need to trust- myself and the world. I showed off my picture. I need to hate: I have imagined myself growing, spiritually, for fourteen years, and what I wanted from that was not to feel uncomfortable emotions. And- there are no bad emotions. I need to hate, I need to feel and express my anger. I need to Hate.

I spoke, and Mark caught my eye. His- is it expressionlessness?- I took as a slight smile. After, we talked.

Robin 1-Could you explain that again?
-I- found love and respect for- I would have said “forgave” but that implies something to forgive- my mother, after descending into my anger with her, my sense of betrayal and cruelty, my hatred. She did her best under difficult circumstances. She did not understand. I want to move from that lesson, to hate the World- so that I might Accept, rather than merely tolerate it.

-I’m not sure I understand.
-Then I don’t think I can explain it.

That’s new. I have wanted to explain, because if I can make sense to someone else, then what I think might have some value- but at that moment it made sense to me, and that was enough.

robin 2-I thought you had understood. You caught my eye.
-Oh, I did that to everyone after they spoke.

-I know so little about you! I could project anything onto you, and imagine it was you I was seeing, rather than myself. Oh, we make pictures. But, rather than having three disjointed pieces of the jigsaw and imagining the whole picture from them, I want to see those pieces, and not be too attached to how they fit into the larger picture. Yet we give so much value to first impressions.

-Who do you mean by we?
-The human race.

-We are clinging less to our preconceptions. We are getting lighter, said F. She meant the human race, too. I agree, but S does not. He does not like people speaking for him. F left, perhaps discomfited.

Over dinner, L passed me the cheese board, then when I put my hand out withdrew. As I told her, yes, it did hurt- but that is part of the ordinary frictions of human coexistence.