Life is a beach

A lot of my time on “not very silent retreat” (I did cheat) was spent either sitting on a wet rock wave watching, taking photos of waves and getting wet sodden trousers chasing waves and beachcombing.

Here’s some of the evidence.  It’s a beautiful exciting beach – storm lashed, truly hidden at high tide, lots of coloured twine, hunks of wood, cuttlefish bones, buzzard feathers – plastic tat and the odd shoe all turn up to be looked at, photographed, squirelled in sodden jacket pockets.

Love it there.  Got to wait til April to go back.  I have finally found some ways to cut down being hyperactive, I am finally learning how to meditate on scripture because I have found a way to be still.  It’s working so far, going through Mark’s gospel slowly on a weekend….mostly/sometimes.



Chocolate flake jenga

Hyperactive, mind in overdrive, too much asthma drug corticosteroid racing in my system: it’s not a promising start to a silent week! Bimbling around Arlington court deliberately paying attention: water soaked, overblown nasturtians, rush and deep voiced tumble of waters in the “wilderness”, brown, rust, bronze, orange stained and turning leaves,existing and falling.  I want to “hear” God; adjust my expectations to appreciate his creation: he shows up, I find, in the ordinary, everyday, when I pay enough attention. Actually I’m grumpy – I feel critical of the National Trust whose parking meters hit non members- like me. Remind myself, crossly, that I have enough…..

Evening is a cattle market: 27 guests on “retreat”, 7 directors, we wait to be allocated.  It’s after supper, we meet 8.45pm for a quick “who are you, what do you want out of this”  Faith is believing I’m known well enough, loved enough to have someone I can relate to. Mine looks thoughtful, she’s a vicar, very Anglican! Hmmmm.

I’m impressed: gentleness – I’m kicked outside all week to walk, to notice, to delight in and with God over his creation.  It’s enough apparently, to come here – Be still, know God.  Silence begins.

Silence turns up the volume on your senses.  Sharp shower needles on my collarbones, mint tang sweet scent showergel.  I wonder at the bubblegum icecream blue of the “travel toothpaste” – I always thought bubblegum was pink..does every other person think such random thoughts. The wonder that is sweet chestnut spiky casing and the three little chestnuts, curled inside, wind in my ears and the rain mist drifting over the wood and valley.  I attempt to draw the colours of nuts, stones, shells: frustrating, intimidating, so many colours, so much artistry.

My director and I agree scripture can feel like “all you can eat chinese buffet” we agree I am best with a few passages to savour.  It’s like having a song on repeat – I should know – I find I have brought the gym mix on the ipod – how very not suitable!!! (actually it’s fun and feels subversive)

Afternoons are a beach or a bask on a rock with cloud watching.  Time – lots of it – is a precious thing that I can waste here without too much guilt. I draw a “fire breathing dragon” as the kitchen staff seem to have turned up the spice. Poor stomach! To say I draw is a big step for me, a new thing, creativity is drawn out of me in little threads that I don’t notice.  It takes me 24 hours to muster the courage to trace beachcombing’s buzzard wing feather.  Awe and respect at it’s sweep and solid power. God and I have a field day with “feather” type bible verses!!

Cows it seems not only have ginger eyelashes, they have furry fringed ginger ears.  And owls love to hunt at 3am – each side of the valley.  Haunting .  I take a moonlit early morning walk and watch sun come up, tinting clouds with salmon, peach, rose, apricot, pink feathers and blowy banks of cloud.

Rebel is in my wiring.  Icecream chocolate flakes turn up for tea.  Stacked in blocks.  My neighbour whispers “Jenga” and prods one out.  I corpse. Not good, I exit the dining room feeling like a naughty schoolchild!! Far too serious for me. I think it is a highlight of a week of not being sure I like silent dinners…I hope the retreat police aren’t too active…..

I finish the week, with Jennie the directors’s blessing – sneaking off for an end of holiday “chocolate cream tea”: chocolate chip scone, nutella and clotted cream.  Artery busting, rather too sweet but an experience this risk taker can’t resist. Keeping the week deliberately light worked for me.  Enough work has been done on my “dark side of the force” – it’s definitely a time to play and delight.






Travelling light

Packing cases for family holidays used to bring out the worst in my poor mum.  1970s hard top cases complete with metal latch style fasteners and usually a journey by good old BR train – grubby electric blue diesel – three people, two cases.  So my job was to sit on the case and squash it so it would shut.  Maybe it just gave me something fun and useful to do? I’ve always liked packing – the association of going on holiday somewhere outside and different to normal life is like the scent of sawdust and sandalwood for me – two favourite smells (in case the metaphor is a tad stretchy)

I used to be a cram it in all in the case packer myself, but I read a really interesting post on the benefits of travelling really light.  I’m not that extreme, but just taking what I can fit in my walking rucksack (and a bag for books and lunch: two non luxury food needs there) strikes me as a good discipline.  A friend of mine proudly boasts “I wore all my clothes” meaning she didn’t take any excess with her.  I figure a spare set in case of getting muddy and soaked is the cautious persons option.

Learning to drive took a little edge off the fun of travel for me.  I have a bit of nostalgia for trains that weren’t rammed and blasting hot or freezing because the air con has malfunctioned again.  I don’t have rose tinted glasses – old BR trains were stuffy, usually late and catering was mum’s corn beef sarnies and a flask of tea.  I guess that’s why I am such an armchair adventure traveller – I would rather write, read and think and am quite happy with a beach or mountain/country walk in the UK that doesn’t involve an airport.  If there’s a pool and generous breakfast involved, you have my own personal customised heaven!




Going Ape

It’s a interesting thing to do – team building! Today we have corporate “Go Ape” for the customer service department – about 25 people including technical staff and managers.  We are paid to have fun on a rainy-sunny day in the woods, “finding our inner chimpanzee”  I am afraid I am not an ape.  Indiana Jones has a lot to answer for, I think as I cross a rope bridge, high in the tree tops, crawl through a rattan tunnel swinging in the breeze and bottle out of the high level tarzan swing after trying the easy one.

The instructor looks at my paramo jacket and says “I can tell you like being outside” probably becuase it’s old and pretty faded.

Actually I am glad I have nice strong shoulders – it’s quite a climb up the rope ladders onto the platforms.  I cross the logs, wires and step bridges, looking down at lovely green leaves turning autumnal shades – I don’t have any fear of heights it seems.

But I have a massive fear of falling and trust issues.  And no one is clipping my karabiners onto the wire of the zip line- I have to do it myself and trust myself that they will hold my weight.  And I can’t do it.  I’m standing on a platform with colleagues I have met a mere week ago shouting encouragement at me.  Apparently I look truly terrified.  I have to step off.  It takes me what seems like 5 minutes.  I realise no one can get me down so I step off, find it almost fun as I career along with tree branches whizzing by and land on my back in a pile of bark chippings.  I spend the rest of the day taking bark chips out my socks!  I have 3 more of these beautifully terrifying moments – by zip wire four I am almost enjoying myself and can get myself off the platform without hesitation.

we seem to be a fun team; there’s a lot of loud yelling and swearing and we raid the pastries afterwards.  Everyone is hyped on adrenaline and the thought of a couple of hours of corporate speak afterwards makes me want to take a nap.. hard day at the office I feel.