Alpujarras

They have softened now into blue,

And with clouds falling like a wedding veil,

They repose with mountainous thoughts of ther own.

A man, straining to impress, told me their names,

But they don’t know them.

They have endured, nameless for billions of years,

And I have crawled up them, skittering down like a stone,

And have waded in their waters,

And knelt among their flowers,

And felt the rain upon my face.

Hear, O Israelites, the Name you cannot speak,

All nature resounds with it.

Nearer my God to Thee,

Nearer my God to me.

 

Kaleidoscope

You become one with me in a timeless mirada,

A  look of love, and you meet me completely.

‘What is this?’ I ask holding a tiny metal tube.

‘A kaleidoscope. It gives you a different view of reality.’

And you knows I need one. 

I want to fall at your feet, feel your hands on my head.

‘Bless me Mother.’

And looking up through the tube,

The sky shatters into a thousand possibilities.

 

Orgiva Market Day

The market wakes slowly like a dawn chorus building to a performance of sound and colour. I buy dos ajos y cinco tomates and the juiciest apricots I have ever tasted, not like the dusty ones we get in England. From a small table a woman is selling precious oils. I buy the Patchouli, a heavy and earthy scent. In broken English the woman tells me to open it this way, tick-tack, she says. I am accosted by a skinny asparagus seller who, for 3 euros provides my needs for a week. I can’t say no to anyone today. I meet Gide the darkly beautiful and heartbroken hostel owner who I stayed with in January. “Te quiero.” (I love you), she says and pays for my coffee. On the church steps I am beckoned by a man sitting with a pile of pamphlets and a pipe. “Buy my poems!” He calls in a Yorkshire accent. (I can never resist a poet.) Glancing through his home made book I marvel at how we who love to write, cast our souls upon the world with all the careless abandon of an autumn tree. 

Returning home I hitch up a handful of skirt and wade across the river, and I suddenly realise why I love coming here. There is a wild energy that is less constrained by social programming. I guess it is possible to come here and not notice it. You can tell those ones by their pristine lycra shorts, smart rucksacks and clean boots. But for others it is an emergency that calls them to free their caged spirits. We wash up here like flotsam from every part of the world in order to reach back to a wilder, untamed self. 

I get home clutching a book of poems, juice dripping down my chest and no apricots left for the fridge.

 

Greener View

 
Hope and patience are difficult to hold on to when you are suffering from Green Fatigue, that state experienced by people who are actively involved or concerned about environmental issues but who are suffering from distress and tension to the degree that it creates a secondary traumatic stress for them. I suggest that if you are against depleting and exhausting the world, yet feel depleted and exhausted yourself, it may be time to rethink your priorities.
 
A peaceful world has to start at home, in your own heart. Modernity plunged us into a world of beyond, beyond nature, culture and religion. It spawned the American Dream where more money, more fame, more glory and success are mandatory for happy endings. It seems that what we now need is a new dream of limits. Limiting our impact on the Earth’s resources and particularly limiting our own consumption as individuals. But how to live more simply in a complex and competitive world that is hardly fit for humans any more? 
 
Here in Cambridge many people are doing jobs they hate for far too many hours in order to provide goods and services that other people don’t really need, but hardly anyone questions this psychotic paradigm. 
 
Religion in many circles is considered anathema and you would be very likely to lose credibility if you admitted that you are in anyway religious. However it is interesting to ponder that Religion is the most powerful cultural force oriented around not doing things, and limiting excess. Don’t work one day a week. Rest!
 
Perhaps we don’t have to wait for this new paradigm but we could begin to examine why we feel the need to be so busy, so exhausted, stressed and weary. When was the last time you asked someone how they were and they said, “Fine, I’m not busy.” Let’s maybe find time to do nothing.
 
Don’t eat and drink more than you need, if you have two coats give one away, don’t covet things that other people have. Not to suggest we should retreat into the past but it would be good to have a vision for a new spirituality of restraint to be part of the evolving consciousness of the human race. 
 
Do we really need to buy more stuff or replace things that simply need repairing? Cambridge is leading the Repair Cafe movement – there are cafes springing up in our city and outlying villages.
 

The Little Voice of God

 
Apparently God used to talk to Moses in the mountains. In fact God seemed to talk quite a lot back then, often to the Israelites who he rebuked for fooling around with other gods in sacred groves. Moses must have been up the mountain some considerable time, months I am surmising because while he was away, the Israelites made a golden calf and began to worship it. I have never made one myself but it I imagine it would take some skill and some organisation, to say nothing of all the gold you would need.
 
When Moses finally came down from mountain, he was glowing. The Israelites clearly found this somewhat upsetting because not only did they ask him to cover his face but they also decided that they did not want to go anywhere near God themselves. You speak to him they said, we don’t want to. We never do, which is why we hate silence and why we run from bed time to bed time. We are running from God and if we did speak to him we would die. Which is in fact the point. Dying, letting go, giving in, being born again, are all poor indicators of coming face to face with God, or god or whatever divine thing you acknowledge.
 
Most of us are running too from what we have become. We have mined, chopped, excavated and built over all the sacred spaces until we are very hard pressed to find one. We have drained and poisoned sacred rivers and flung so much rubbish out to sea that the beautiful albatrosses are being found dead with their bellies full of plastic. It’s not so much that there are no sacred places, it’s just that there are ever more desecrated ones, both in the land and in ourselves. It is very hard to desecrate a place and then have a change of heart. For those who are changing their heart, it’s like carrying a tealight on a windy night in the hope of illuminating the darkness of a city. But if a tea light is all you have then it must be lit and carried; my burden is light.
 
The holy bushes are still burning, but now they are consumed by a generation of consumers. The holy mountains speak but you have to be there on your own for many hours, and you have to forget all you think you know about speech. The voice you are waiting for is very still and very small and we usually miss it because we prefer the drama of an earthquake or a mighty wind, or a raging fire. When have we ever heard the BBC report a still small voice? And in other news….there was a small voice crying in the City today but no one heard it because they were too busy recording their emptiness.
 
 

Coming Home and Telling Stories

Linton, February 2018
 
I came home and whatever had driven me out to Spain was peaceful, at least for a while. It was snowing at Trumpington park and ride when the National Express coach dropped me off at midnight, and I was very pleased to see Paul walking through the freezing black car park.  We were shoved along by a brunt wind, and then as we huddled in the car we babbled to each other.  How are you? How’s your Mum? Did you eat?  Thank you Paul Richardson – you are the best friend I have ever had.
 
 Sinking onto our bed when I got home was an exquisite pleasure after the hard, single bed of the freezing hostel.  The silk, the cotton, the feathers, the warmth – I savoured it deliciously while knowing I could live without it. A hot water bottle and a cup of tea, a soft pillow and unconsciousness, and when I woke in the morning I had no idea where I was, what time of day it was and why there was someone in the bed with me. There were several long lurching moments before I gained reliable consciousness.
 
What have I learned? That I have a lot more to learn. That journeys, both inward and outward are essential. That mountains are great teachers. Robert Macfarlane says, “The mountains that we climb are not made only of rock and ice, but also of dreams and desire.” And yes, also vision. We inhabit a darksome world where we are stretched between godly and demonic – how can we relate to ourselves and each other when so many people hate themselves and lose themselves because they try so hard, and fail at being someone else? A world that feasts on our hunger because we construct our lives on the things that we own, forgetting that we are so much more, that we are divine.
 
I had not been prepared for the splendour of the mountains, for the silence in which they dwell in perfect dignity. Description emerges very slowly within the one walking among these giants, the one like an ant clinging and crawling slowly up the flanks and along the ancient ledges. Waters sparkle and bubble on their joyful way down to the valley, rivers ripple and sing, foaming  far below.  The rocks all around are tortured in many thousands of ways, as are the mountains themselves, until they crack open into clefts and fissures. Rock of ages….let me hide myself in thee. Words do not reach easily into mountains like these, upon which light falls, travels and moves on. They emerge from a great silence and the only language you can speak is the language of prayer, and love, and you can leave them your tears. I found myself deeply and hopelessly in love.
 
The silence of rock, snow and water brought my heart to stillness and filled me with an inner peace that had been missing for so long. The wild energy and expansion that had prised me apart on my previous visit in October was transformed from an unbearable animal howl into a radiant energy that brought me skipping and running down the mountains. The pain that brought me here leaked out and dissolved into the rocks, the scree and the sky where it caused no harm. I had known that I had to return, it was already late enough, and I am so glad that I finally trusted the instinct had been insistently jabbing at my heart.
 
Thank you lovely friends and family for reading my stories, this is the last one from Spain. You are now part of my journey and I am part of yours. I hope my stories have amused, informed and inspired you a little bit, but more than all of that I hope my stories have given you courage to make journeys and stories of your own.  A final word and perfect poem from Mary Oliver:
  
The Journey
Mary Oliver
 
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Madly Singing in the Mountains

Orgiva  4th February 2018
 
Snowy Pilgrimage to Green Tara
 
 
On the last Sunday of my retreat I had the priviledge of having an official walking guide called Santiago, take me on a little known walk to the Buddhist Centre that is hidden away, high in the Alpujarras. The Dalai Lama and the Alpujarras have a surprisingly strong connection…more about that another time. The forecast was for snow and rain, and right up until that morning there had been doubt about whether it would be possible to walk in these poor conditions. However, I was hopeful, and put all my layers on with a waterproof over the top. I had developed such bad blisters from my boots that I couldn’t wear them any longer, and when Santiago picked me up, he was both amused and horrified that I was wearing sandals. As we drove to the start of the walk, sandals looked even more inappropriate because it began to snow and cover the ground the higher we climbed. 
 
 
When we got out of the van at about 1600 metres up, it was bitterly cold with fine snow swirling in the bracing mountain air. In spite of all my layers the icy wind penetrated right through to my bones so I was pleased that Santiago set off at the kind of pace which would keep us warm. The views at this height were breath taking and as we climbed higher and higher I grew more overwhelmed to the point of tears by the tremendous power, size and natural beauty of these mountains. Up here we were in the National Park and it was full of trees and animals. We followed the tracks of a fox for a while along the edge of an acequia, one of the ancient irrigation channels that create a network across these Alpujarra mountains, taking melting snow down into the valleys all year and throughout the parched summer. We also saw the tracks of a stoat or weasel and evidence of wild boars rummaging and foraging. 
 
 
After an hour or two our way began to descend and we watched the clouds swirl and ebb like sea foam mounding up in the valleys. The cloud eventually reached us, plunging us into a white world of mist where the leafless trees loomed like ghosts. I was very glad to have someone with experience up here as it became increasingly difficult to keep some orientation. Our way took us past a mirador, a viewpoint which would have been spectacular had we been able to see more than 4 or 5 metres ahead.  We continued on, not following any footpath now but descending on an open field and down towards the Buddhist community.  Out of the swirling mist I began to discern a structure ahead of us. This was the shrine of the Green Tara, one of Buddhisms Bhoddisatvas. She was startlingly large, perhaps 2.5 metres, with full round breasts, beautiful hands, one held in a mudra (a ritual hand gesture) and the other facing upwards in a welcoming gesture.
 
 
She was raised on a plinth in the middle of a large man made pond and she was beautiful. I learned that she was the Bodhisattva of compassion and action who comes to help us in our physical, emotional and spiritual suffering and we must circumnavigate the pond three times whilst singing her mantra to gain the benefit of her blessing. Without hesitation Santiago took my hand and began to walk and sing. After a moment of self consciousness, I began to sing too; Om tare, tuttare, ture, soha… Then something strange and mysterious happened. The fog began to swirl around the pond, and overhead it began to get brighter. We continued walking and singing as the light whitened the air around us. My eyes which had grown used to the fog began to water in the brightness, and soon we were standing in sunlight, holding hands and looking at each other in delighted surprise. As we left, the fog swept back in behind us and Green Tara disappeared from view. If you live in a world of dead things this will be a coincidence of precipitation. If you come and live in my world, you will learn that the inner world is not separate from the outer world. It all occurs together in time and place and if we have the eyes to see it, we are surrounded by seemingly magical events that are really only natural phenomena brought about by consciousness and loving intention. William Blake says, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite.
 
We spent some silent and prayerful time at the Buddhist retreat centre looking at the beautiful shrines that were scattered at intervals down the chilly hillside. The slower pace meant I began to feel very cold and when I mentioned this to Santiago his response was to resume our walk at a running pace.  For the last twenty minutes we bounded over the rocks and up and down ridges and scree until we arrived back at the van, panting, hot and feeling very blessed and happy.

Madly Singing in the Mountains

Orgiva 29th January 2018

Danger and revelation
 
 
The custom of hitch hiking is common in Orgiva, so I tried my luck at cadging a lift high up to the mountain village of Capiliera, the furthest of three “Poqueira” villages. I didn’t have to wait long but the lift only went to the first of the three villages, Pampaniera.  This meant that I had to walk up through all the villages before I even started the walk I wanted to do which was out beyond Capiliera to an abandoned village. When I finally go there I saw a very strange thing. I had no idea crouching on the ground with my camera just centimetres from this astonishing sight, that I was in real danger. 
 
 
These are Processional Caterpillars and when I showed someone a photograph of them days later, he was horrified that I had got so near to them. If this caterpillar is threatened it ejects harpoon like hairs that penetrate the skin and inject a powerful irritant. They are particularly dangerous to dogs who lick the hairs and transfer the irritant to their tongues which then swell and choke the animal. These caterpillars are real killers.
 
Setting off into the mountains or into the woods alone is often something done as an initiation event where you have to face your deepest fears and where dreams are realised and actualised. These experiences are told again and again in stories, myths, legends and fairy tales and they follow a three fold pattern;
 
– An acknowledgement that you need to nourish yourself. This is why we retreat from the world.
 
– A need to trust and follow the urging of your heart, no matter what the danger, or no matter how many people want to stop you.
 
– A revelation of who you truly are, a need to know yourself.
 
In the stories, the hero or heroine sets out on a quest, often stealing away in the night or running from a wicked step mother. They see that something has to change, a wrong must be put right or something has to be freed. They make their epic journey and return as the revealed true Prince or Queen. In all these legends, one’s true nature is revealed: the frog or the beast are revealed to be a true heirs, the scullery maid or the sleeping girl return to take up their places as rulers of kingdoms. We tell these stories to our small children, little knowing we are planting a seed in them that could take root and flourish at times in their lives when they need to know a way forward in a difficult situation. Even if we don’t fully acknowledge the steps we are taking, we often follow this self determining, mythic pattern of releasing ourselves from difficult situations in relationships, jobs and events in our lives.
 
As I write this, the Christian season of Lent has begun. We hear how Jesus went to the desert on a kind of vision quest, a time of finding his path, knowing himself through testing, and coming back into the world with a purpose. Lent is often kept by a rather shallow decision to stop eating chocolate or something like that, but at heart, if we take the Lent call seriously, whether we are religious or not, setting that time apart to examine our lives and learn more about ourselves could be a deeply enriching experience, not just for ourselves but for our families and communities. It is, of course a perfect opportunity to begin meditating. (You can join me any time!)
 
I have been experiencing times of transition and change, times of great peace and prayer, times of sadness and turbulence. We all have these times in our lives and they are opportunities to shine a light into who we are becoming. They are times of challenge to stop trying to be someone else, to look for answers outside of ourselves, or idols to emulate.  We must evolve into the unique people we were created to be. We must find our own purpose, the thing we are uniquely called to do whether that is being kind to small furry things or steering nations. Whatever our purpose is, we need to do it with all our heart, dream it into existence and contribute to bringing life back into this dark, troubled world. The more single minded we are in our purpose, the better we fit into this world. 
 
Visiting my Spiritual Guide she said, when I die and go to heaven (or whatever your idea of that is), God won’t say to me, “Why weren’t you more like the Virgin Mary? The question will be, why weren’t you more like Linda Richardson?”

Madly Singing in the Mountains

Orgiva 3rd February 2018
 
No Clothes, No Make-up, No Shame
 
I don’t know if this catches your imagination or not, but it is a fact that we see more images in one day than our medieval ancestors would see in a lifetime.  Go on, imagine that! I took a couple of selfies while I was in Spain. I wanted to see myself there, there in the mountains and walking the paths because I knew when I came back I would need to remember that I was there. It would be necessary to call on that woman who walked in those mountains and ask, “what would she do in this situation?”
 
 
We think of selfies as a new invention but it turns out that the Pharoahs had them in their tombs, and our ancestors left hand prints in caves deep underground. Here is evidence or our lives. We existed! All things can get out of hand as is recorded in mythology when Narcissus, so in love with his own reflection that he couldn’t love anyone else, wasted away beside a pool of water where his beautiful reflection gazed up at him.  The Gods had mercy on him and turned him into a flower.
 
But there came one night when, for a mad moment I thought about taking a naked selfie and posting on on Facebook entitled, “no clothes, no make-up, no shame!” Thankfully this impulse was quenched by the thought of my sons coming to terms with a naked image of their Mother on Facebook. However, behind the impulse was the furious outrage that our culture considers older women no longer good to look at. And I thought of those riven faced men who sport scars on their faces and bodies.  They have conquered, they have killed and overcome and we value their chiselled looks!  Women on the other hand, we have brought life into the world and the marks on our bodies are from carrying and bearing new life. We are bearers of the future, of generations, we nourish and sustain a tiny seed, then in anguish, sweat and blood, labour to bring this life through our own bodies and into the world.  The marks we carry as mothers and elders, are considered ugly by a society obsessed by youth, and brainwashed by images mediated by interests other than nourishing human well-being. We must inhabit our bodies, no matter what shape we are in, and give thanks that we are, that we exist and for some of us, that we have given life and it has left its beautiful, beautiful mark upon us.