2018 is, I hope, the year of TWO retreats. I spent the last week in January at Dhanakosa, marking my tenth annual retreat, enjoying snow, writing poems, and collecting footage for this filmpoem inspired by our discussions on environmental activism.
If you’re considering a retreat and would like to learn more about meditation or Buddhism, I really recommend Dhanakosa. They have wonderful week-long retreats throughout the year for beginners, and the meditation is always partnered with a sympathetic activity like yoga, writing, painting, photography or even hillwalking. Prices are also on a dana basis – you pay what you can. Go; you won’t regret it.
Speak up, larches.
Now the wind has gone
you have stopped your roaring song.
Instead, you watch the buzzard
trace gentle circles in the air.
And now you hold your arms out
to catch the chaffinches, and the rain.
Recently I’ve been reading Asteronymes by Claire Trevien, a collection of poems that has repeatedly and deservedly been called ‘playful’. Lots of the poems muck about with wordplay, redaction, and poetic form. There’s a form in there that Claire has invented, where she splits four-letter words down the middle and uses them to start the first word of a line, and end the last word. This is most evident in the poem ‘Goatfell’, whose first two lines read thusly (emphasis my own)
GOthic scrabble of rocks, we chAT
FEy and murder: how this chap feLL
I rather like this game, so I had a go at it myself. I found it tricky but interesting, as it forced out a strange little poem quite unlike what I would usually write. The inspiration for the subject matter was a conversation I had with Husband as we sauntered through a churchyard. Husband says he’d like to be buried with a video camera in the coffin, so people could watch some kind of live stream decomposition. Grim, but funny, and potentially a spiritual act – it reminded me of a set of Buddhist watercolours I saw in the touring ‘Flesh’ exhibition, which portray stages of decomposition as an aid to meditation on impermanence.
What I really wanted to do was create a version of the poem where lines would fade, or decompose. I’ve seen similar things online, and had hoped it would be something I could do via Twine – but alas, no, it needs properly coding and I am ignorant of this arcane magic. So instead I have rendered it as a Powerpoint presentation with slides that fade into each other! Neat! If you’d like to read it, please click on the link below to download it.
Underground, his face and body disintegrate
Any repeated action has the potential to become a form of meditation. ‘Form’ not only meaning ‘type’, but also ‘form’ in the sense of ‘a shape that we can follow’. The shape of the repeated action endures, is a constant; the breath, a tai chi sequence, the schedule of a day, the structure of a retreat. We repeat the form not in order to ‘get it right’ or ‘be good at it’, but because by placing ourselves into the constancy of its shape we can more clearly observe ourselves. We provide the ever-changing contrast.
So this retreat was both the same as others, and at the same time completely different. Dhanakosa retains its form, breathing us and and breathing us out, but the dynamic of the people changes. We are here as a chance sangha, temporary and at the mercy of random association. We make the best of the situation that we can, through our external actions and relationships, and through our private contemplations.
The bells calling us from sleep to waking, from silence to community, from leisure to attention – these are like the changing postures of the tai chi form, guiding us to act and move to the same purpose, in the same direction at the same time. In this way our individual energies are brought into synchronicity, and are amplified, until the sangha emerges as a single energetic organism of which we are the cells.
The repetition of the days, our willingness to immerse ourselves in the joint endeavours of meditation, cooking, eating, silence and writing – these are the things that polish the retreat until it becomes a smooth, heavy gem. Then it is able to drop deeply, taking our joint and several practises to more profound levels.