A reading of Holding Lightly featured on Upload, BBC Radio Bristol, Evening, 23/6/20
I sip my morning tea and peer through the glazed garden door. A rat lies exposed on the top ridge of the lawn, its fur sleek, its body rigid, sodden from the rain. I take note to pop out and bury it in a bit, I can’t quite bring myself to head outside just yet. It’s the second one I have found in the garden in 3 weeks. I wonder if it’s the warmth of my compost that has attracted them, or whether Mo has been out hunting out of winter boredom.
I discovered the last one by surprise. The bright cadmium yellow leaves of the little acer had suddenly turned brown, and in the space of 3 days had all fallen to the ground. They formed a thick blanket over the earth, beneath the now acrobatic splay of branches. The tree looked like a naked mannequin with its arms held in the air, its flapper dress fluttered all the way to the floor.
I went out to clear the fall. The leaves were small, light and feathery and filled my hands softly as I scooped them up and dropped them into my wooden hoop-handled tray. As I worked my way around the tree, I spread my fingers wide and curled them under. I had managed to pick up a particularly large handful when I got a little shock: I had revealed an unexpected sight. Startled, I recoiled, froze, and then leant forward. I had exposed a foot, a narrow, angular, oriental-looking, miniature foot.
The body it was attached to was still shrouded beneath the cover of leaves, allowing the extremity to draw the attention quietly and offer itself up for admiration. The long toes rested closely together, neatly formed with tiny brown elongated claws, the diminutive bone structure evident and exquisite in its detail. I sat hunched on my haunches and observed it for a while in stillness, feeling the same wonder as when ladybirds landed on my hands as a child or when I spotted a stick insect in a tub full of branches. Tickles of pleasure coursed up from my toes when I peered into friends’ dolls' houses, or played with my model ponies and their tiny bridles and saddles, complete with minuscule buckles, that drew me in without the need for any story: observing the tiny, the detail, the refined craftsmanship was adventure in itself.
A sense of wonder seems to be part of my make-up, something I was born with. I feel lucky. To me, it is like travelling without needing to go anywhere. It is diving into a moment and being absorbed by the beauty of something, by delight and mystery, a sense of the extraordinary. I find it in the colourful markings of a bird’s plumage, the finesse of a flower’s petals, the taste of a ripe pear, the precision of a rat’s feet. It is in the constellation of the stars, the way a snowflake melts into water, the structure of lichen. In French the word for wonder is ‘émerveillement’, I love the sound of it, like a lighting up of the marvellous, widening my eyes, clearing my vision, filling my senses and raising me up.
Sometimes, busy to-do lists fog my vision, noisy conversation dilutes my taste buds, trains of thought cause static in my hearing and I seem to fall asleep, but then a moment comes along, I find a tiny foot attached to a small body hidden under feathery leaves, and I am fully awake again.
Sometimes people still ask me: what exactly is Reiki?
Reiki is healing.
It is a hands-on healing practice.
But Reiki means more than this to me.
Reiki is a best friend.
Reiki is first and foremost for me.
Reiki is something I can turn to any day, at any time.
It is somewhere I can go and be with myself again and find a parenthesis of peace and grounding.
Reiki is inspiration.
I am inspired by how the founder Dr Usui devoted his life to discovering and sharing Reiki, and by the dedication of his successors Dr Hayashi and Mrs Takata in developing the practice.
I am inspired by how Reiki has spread across the world, and is an international language of touch, energy and understanding.
Reiki is simplicity.
It reminds me to look after myself by simplifying and enjoying the simple things in life.
Reiki is trust.
Trust in the wisdom of healing, in the ability to heal.
Trust in our innate knowledge of wholeness and wellbeing.
Reiki is surrender.
To give and not to judge the outcome.
To be at one with the mystery of healing. It is the self that heals.
Reiki is effort.
It does not happen by thinking about it. The doing needs to be done.
Reiki demands action.
Reiki is challenge, a constant new year’s resolution.
The challenge to let go of worry, let go of anger, let go of resistance.
The challenge of emotions rising before they wash away on waves of coloured light.
The challenge to allow myself to feel good!
Reiki is a space for gratitude.
Reiki is a space for prayer.
Reiki is a path to the plump broad grin of the abundant Buddha.
When I practice Reiki, I stand in the company of Angels.
Reiki is honour. Reiki is humility.
I am the conduit and not the source of the life-force energy.
Reiki is to take time, to slow down, to give the body space, to listen.
In stillness we notice, we digest and process.
Reiki is a steadying hand through life, bringing me back to the breath, to the present moment, to balance.
Reiki is power, it means there is always something I can do.
Reiki is so versatile. It carries on the ether far and wide.
I love being able to send it to everything and anyone, person, animal, and circumstance.
Reiki is sharing, community, touch.
The softness of honouring all living things.
Reiki is awareness.
Reiki connects my mind, heart, body and soul.
Reiki brings me spiritual clarity.
Reiki is faithful and steadfast.
Reiki is a friend for life.
If you would like to learn Reiki for yourself, do get in touch for information on upcoming Spring and Summer workshops.
I went to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition at the M-Shed. I looked intently at all the pictures bar one. I read all the captions diligently. Bar one. Until I thought of writing this post. Then I sought it out.
There is a picture in the photojournalism section of a macaque with its hand on the painted, hatted mask over its head: the Sad Clown, taken by Joan de la Malla.
A macaque is a type of monkey. A chain runs from its neck to its owner's hand. Its sweatshirt attire clashes with its furry arms. Clown is written on the hat. It isn't in English. It doesn't need to be, the crude red-nosed wide-mouthed face paint design is enough. It looks like it is made of metal, but may be of another material. Perhaps it was only on the monkey's head for a few minutes, perhaps it was on its head for hours. All I know is the image was too painful for me to look at. A power in the call of the animal as it touches the mask, as it cannot reach its own face. A pathos, confusion, disconcerted humiliation. Without moving it, I feel my own hand coming up against the mask instead of my face.
I'm sad because I cannot take the mask off and free the monkey.
I cry because the boy has made a clown out of the monkey and I feel pain for the monkey.
It is my belief that we need to recognise to a far greater extent that animals not only are beings with feelings, but that they are psychological beings, very like us. With all the vagaries of species, they experience parental bonding, attachment, grief, delight, ... They suffer nervous breakdowns, depression, panic, separation anxiety, confusion, they know fear and it would seem they sometimes even seek suicide. Just as we take our own psychological needs more seriously, we have a duty to treat them with respect accordingly.
I feel pain when I see or hear of the pain of others, animal or human, physical, mental or emotional. I find it physically distressing, even if I can never know the depth of their pain. I know many of us do. You cry too.
I always remember learning from the Bible that Jesus said what we do unto others, we do unto Him. I have often thought this is meant to apply to all of us: what we do unto others, we do unto ourselves, what others do unto others is also done unto us, bringing pain or joy.
We are all intrinsically connected, entwined within one multi-dimensional nervous system. If we can acknowledge this, we can change our world by changing our behaviour through mutual respect and self-care, caring for our own well-being not individualistically, but in the context of a connected whole.
When I say all, I speak of human beings, animals, insects, plants, all living matter.
Human beings present themselves as intelligent with pride and arrogance, dividing themselves from the rest of livingness. Our intelligence is promoted in how it enables us to create buildings, financial systems, computers, effect surgery, speak multiple languages, etc but its ability to access wisdom is very under-valued.
My teacher and animal communicator James French has developed a practice called the Trust Technique, which he teaches is available to all. Check out James' website. I always drop into wonder when I see the connection he enables. It is a patient approach which achieves positive results in speedier times than could be envisaged using standard approaches. A brilliant example of the tortoise winning the race instead of the hare. Do watch his videos, and share!
There is speak of the consequences of climate change.
My friend Charlotte said something wonderful the other day: "We won't solve our environmental problems until we can hug a tree without being a hippy!"
for climate change, where it is affected by human activity, is a manifestation of a deeper circumstance
a belief in our separateness
a loss of honouring
a loss of sensitivity
a loss of taking time.
We need to slow down.
We need to slooww doowwn.
We need to slooww right dowwn.
We need to turn our heads and look at the rose,
notice ourselves seeing it,
taking that seeing right back inside us,
seeing the rose with its bundle of petals,
noticing the soft velvet coating of a petal
and the light shining from the drop of water on its fold.
Taking all that inside,
feeling ourselves digest that seeing
that it becomes a part of us,
made of the same material mass
stemming from the same energy source.
may we realise we are not separate.
What affects others affects us too
The planet, people, animals and all living things
vibrate to the same pulse.
When we dress a monkey in clown costume and parade him on a chain
we do not honour the monkey, and we do not honour ourselves.
I was speaking to a friend once about the various wise ways in which I was trying to work with my desires, aspirations, and resistances... He gave me a skewy eyebrow look and said frankly: why don't you just fuck it and do it?
Yes, well. Yes.
I've no idea what else I said.
It has been one of the easiest bits of advice to remember.
It is one of the simplest.
No easier than all the rest. Until you come to it.
Yeah, so, shall I just do it then?
And so I begin.
It is 4pm. I don't like the early nights of winter, but at times like these, as I sit still on my bed, the lights off, looking out at the lit windows of the neighbouring houses and the graphite coloured sky, I feel like I am snug under the soft belly of my black cat, who is curled in the crook of my crossed legs.
The quiet in the early dimness, the creaking and cracking and tapping of the central heating pipes, the gentle fuzz of the boiler, and a cosy, wrapped-up, hibernating, soft sleepiness enfolds me like a winter's coat, thick and protecting. And it is good to be home.
And yet it is mid-November, and I have only seen my breath on the night air once this autumn, and that was in Liverpool at the start of October.
I had found out on the Wednesday that the Giants were going to be in Liverpool that weekend. "There won't be anywhere left to stay" I was told. "Oh, yes, there's got to be!" I replied, and thought positively.
A google, a booking, a little bit of persuasion and 32 hours later, I bundled a bag, a friend and lunch in a tupperware box, into the car and started up the M5.
As we drove, I spotted a small plane and said: "Look, a glider!"
My friend replied: "That's not a glider. That's a single engine plane."
"Oh. Well, that's what I call really flying!"
"Yes...I used to want to learn to fly. I did a course in microgliding once."
"Gosh", I threw him a sideways glance, my hands on the wheel, "scary!..."
"Well", he gave a slight pause, "not for me".
I am stunned. He doesn't get scared by heights? Not at all? But then again, a thought like a mouse darting in and out of a hole distracts me. Is that actually what he means?
"You don't get scared jumping off the side of a hill into mid-air - at all?"
"Well", another pause, "I didn't actually do a full flight".
"You never did a full flight?"
"No... well, I did this course, but I didn't get to finish it, because I had to go start a new job..."
"I did a preparatory flight!"
"And how high was that?"
"Oh, about 20 feet?"
"So... about as high as that motorway bridge?" and I'm already laughing as he buoyantly says:
"Yes, about that." And he starts to laugh. And I laugh, and then I laugh and laugh more, and laugh so hard and bang my open hand down on the steering wheel in some primal attempt to both control and emphasise the rhythm, and then have to hold my tummy and breathe out because it hurts so much.
We arrived in Liverpool early afternoon. I had heard about the Giants last year and had watched videos of their performances in Canada with big, child eyes and a mouth that wouldn't close for saying 'wow' so many times.
The Giants are puppets, huge puppets made by a company called Royal de Luxe from Nantes, in France. The puppets move across their stage, the streets of a city.
When I was about 6, my family and I went to stay with friends of my parents and their children in Devon. They had a house with a double-height sitting-room with an upstairs balustrade running along a corridor. All of us children banded together and made a giant puppet that we hung over the balustrade and manipulated from above in a play we devised. I don't think there was much to the play, but I was alight inside with the fun and excitement, and my imagination rose and travelled with the giant and the idea of his story.
When I read about the Giants from Nantes, I really, really wanted to see them. As we ran around the streets of Liverpool looking for them, I caught this video as one of them emerged and rounded a corner. It's just smiles and exclamation marks for me! Take a look.
At one point the Giant got a little entangled with a tree, which caused for a pause. I love his hair, the movement of his head and eyes. And his chest moves up and down!
Artistic Director Jean-Luc Courcoult and his multi-disciplinary team of technicians, artists and innovators have travelled the world, sharing a wondrous dream, leaving a trail of magic and mystery, and the excitement that the extraordinary is possible. I came away from the weekend thinking people can be amazing, and how wonderful it was that someone had such a vision and put their energy into making it come true, and enchanting millions of us around the world. How wonderful it would be if more of the people who seek power used their energy instead in childlike imagination and inspiring creativity.
So now I'm planning a trip to Nantes to see all the other giants in their home town. There's a massive elephant, a little girl, a grandma, er a spider,...
Videos: J S Forrest, Photos: J S Forrest and Ian Usher