Sunday, 21 June 2009

Stepping Off. 1

This is to be the first in a short series of posts. I feel that I am at a kind of crossroads on a hill, able to look back along the road I have travelled, and also see down across the valley where the road I could take is visible in the distance. There are options.

Aside of the metaphor of possibilities and history seen as roads, there are also matters that I don’t understand, and blocks I come up against repeatedly. How to find the way round the blocks like water; no fight, no blame?

Today, I want to look back at some of the milestones along the road have travelled, and come up to this present crossroads place. Tomorrow to look at where I am now. The next day to consider what may lie ahead.

Writing a blog post on the world wide web is different of course from talking to a trusted friend or thinking things through alone. Sometimes people do post indiscreetly about their private relationships and histories: I shan’t do that, but it means that what I write here will be seriously incomplete, since private and personal experiences have contributed to heavily in forming the person I now am. But, hey.

It began in earnest when I was fifteen. Already I loved deeply the Earth, the creatures and the green and growing things, the soul of tree and hill and stone and sky and water and fire. Then, after giving my heart to the Lord Jesus, I encountered St Francis of Assisi, and his vision of holy poverty, complete simplicity and humility.

Then and now his asceticism does not resonate with my soul, but his humility and simplicity do, and his love for the earth and acknowledgement of the ensoulment of creation.

After St Francis and the Fioretti, the book about his life and early followers, a year or two later I read Herman Hesse’s book Siddhartha, and saw the film that was made from the book. This expanded and deepened my vision and understanding of how simplicity could be lived. At the same time I read Sister Felicity's book Barefoot Journey. When I was eighteen, I discovered the Tao, and also a book called Unsui, about the life of Zen monks.

I have been challenged and taught by other lives and stories – Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s Wanderers in the New Forest, Julia Butterfly Hill and The Legacy of Luna, Catherine de Hueck Doherty’s Poustinia; and some community expressions of simplicity – monastic communities, Stephen and Ina May Gaskin’s Caravan, and the Anabaptist world – Amish, Hutterite, Mennonite; and the primitive Quakers.

What came together in me was a definite and quite fierce small flame of longing burning for a barefoot life: simplicity, humility, quietness, frugality.

It crystallised in my imagination into a sense of living in a hut two-thirds of the way up a mountain. I think this image drew on my memory of an afternoon spent with a woman hermit in the woods above Ampleforth, and also was fed by the goat woman in the film of Cold Mountain.

I had been thinking that what I wanted was a life that would fit easy into a twelve-foot caravan, the space defining the limits of my possessions.

But I’ve also had a sense of wanting to step off – ‘step off’ what?

I want to step off the ground: to live in a dwelling that has no roots or foundations. A hut just placed on the ground, or a houseboat or a shepherd’s hut. And right up close to a mature tree. With no electrical cables or mains drainage or gas pipes or any other veins and arteries opening connections.

There I want to be able to think and contemplate: to feel along the silver threads that join things and people until I feel my way to truth.

I want my hut to be in nature: so that the birds and frogs, the insects and hedgehogs, the foxes and grass and clouds and rain and sun are my living room.

I want to walk lightly on the earth: not to wound or deplete or poison the earth. I want to be the earth’s faithful child; nurturing the earth as the earth has nurtured me. I want to be the earth’s friend.

I want to live less and less in the world of money, and sever the links with consumerism completely. To work with my hands and to work with my skills and use my wits to earn a living feel right.

Self-sufficiency is not my aim. I feel that things go better when we work together and we share: links of craft and trade are honourable – but I would prefer the links to be small and immediate: honey from the bee-man, bread from the baker, fruit from the garden and the hedgerow, candles from Peter Neumann, cutlery from Tod, socks that Alice has knitted. This is growing. It isn’t there yet. But the longing is present and intensifying.

Like a hunger and thirst, I want simplicity – to live with very few possessions; to walk humbly; to live unobtrusively, a hidden hedgerow life. Also in my relationships: honesty, integrity, freedom, respect, peace and kindness; no contention, no possessiveness, no domination.

I think I should also strive to want to love: because love is the mark of Christ’s disciple, and is the best way of all. But in my life now, after the many personal traumas of the last decade, love does not come easily. I try to ask nothing of others, and to meet them with the Namaste of my soul: reverencing and respecting the truth and light of their living being. I am hoping that may be a step on the way to love.

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