From an early age I have felt more comfortable out of doors than in buildings. I was raised in a Christian family; my father was an Anglican Minister, and I was educated in an Anglican Convent boarding school. I accepted all I was taught without question, and did not really connect religion with Nature. But I was spiritually drawn to the natural world. Biology was my favourite subject, and I loved messing about in ponds in the holidays, bringing tadpoles and caterpillars home to watch as they developed into beautiful creatures. There were chrysalides hanging from the ceilings, and baby frogs were found in the basement, having migrated from the playroom. These days out of doors became my contemplative times, when I would work through problems I had with family and friends, and come to terms with the emotional ups and downs of puberty. It was then that I started to write a journal. Expressing myself on paper was always easier for me than the spoken word, and my innermost secrets and thoughts could be spilt out onto the page where nobody could see them unless I wished it.
It wasn’t until I was in my forties that my philosophies and spiritual inclinations started to conflict with my religious practice. I felt trapped by dogma, and was uncomfortable with the ritual. Then I heard a sermon that introduced me to a new way of thinking. The theme was the Commandment; “love your neighbour as yourself”. The message was that until we can learn to love ourselves, how are we able to love anyone else? I was shocked, having been brought up in self-denial and humility. But I was also excited. The butterfly was stirring in its cocoon.
It was during the darkest period of my life when in a bid for freedom I had rejected all that I had lived by: the security of familiar boundaries. I had broken all the rules, and was struggling with feelings of guilt and isolation, but all the time knowing that I had done the right thing. I started going to Yoga classes. This practice is a meditative technique, relaxing the body as well as the mind, using the breath to stretch all the muscles, making spaces in the joints, releasing emotional tension and blockages in the energy channels. At the end of each session there is a period of relaxation accompanied by guided visualisation and soft music. One evening I lay on my mat, covered in a blanket with my eyes closed, listening to the soft voice of the tutor. She was describing a dry, shrivelled bulb resting in the ground, and led us through the process of rain coming to swell the flesh; roots developing to delve deep down into the earth, drawing energy up into the bulb; the shoots being pushed upwards and outwards into the sunshine. At this point I felt tears streaming down my cheeks with relief. My recovery had begun. It didn’t solve the problems, but it gave me the energy to deal with them.
I became interested in subtle energies and energy centres; I learnt about the chakras and studied aromatherapy; I qualified as a reflexologist. My spiritual practice developed and I felt the benefits. I came across the GreenSpirit Book Service, and started reading. Then I joined GreenSpirit after the uplifting and enlightening experience of a weekend at the David Abram Conference: ‘Wildness’. Here was a group of people to whom I felt spiritually akin. Nowadays I practise Tai Chi: another meditative activity based on energy flows, the yin and the yang, which is relaxing and balancing. It is also governed by the breath.
The countryside is now my Church: my place of worship. I walk in the local woodland and downs every morning with the dog. There is something spiritual about putting on my thick socks and walking boots. They are my connection with Mother Earth. They take me away from the daily news bulletins, the tarmac and cars to fresh air, wind and rain, sunshine and frost; to birds singing in the trees, autumn leaves, spring buds and summer sunshine. The action of walking gives me pleasure. I can feel the life force flowing, connecting me with the natural world. Aches and pains disappear, cold fingers warm up, anxieties are put in their place, and my mind becomes clear of unwanted thoughts as I give thanks and rejoice. There is a loving presence in the woods and fields with which I communicate, through which I can send loving thoughts to the troubled planet, and receive reassurance and guidance.
I have inherited a love of gardening from my ancestors, who were yeoman farmers. My garden is a part of myself and I am at home in it and completely distracted from all that is going on around me. The feel and smell of the earth connects with my being, and I have an intimate connection with the plants and watch their annual cycle as lovingly as I watched my children. When the weather is suitable I sit in the garden after my walk to have my breakfast. This is the most important part of my day. Refreshed and energised by the walk, I compose my breakfast as a ritual: mindfully and precisely, being completely absorbed in the present moment. I experience the different textures of the cereal, the stickiness of the dates, the sound of the peeling of the banana, and the glug of the milk being poured. Eating it outside is a special treat; the sun on my face, birds around me and insects visiting the flowers whose scents mingle with the flavours of breakfast. I savour each mouthful and remember the people and the processes that have contributed to bringing me this feast for my nourishment.
In my living room I have a quiet corner where I sit in a comfy chair looking out at a special place in the garden, which catches the sun at all times of the year. There are winter iris, snowdrops, crocus, heather, and aubrietia flowering almost continuously. Daffodils overhang a small stone trough, which holds water for the birds. Indoors, around me in this corner are the books and magazines I read, some patchwork I am working on, my journal and some pots and vases with pens, pot pourri and flowers from the garden. On a little table by my side are a photograph of my mother in her later years, and some precious items, some of which I have collected on my walks; a smooth pebble, a flint with a hole in it, an old tree root formed into a circle and a stone with the imprint of an ammonite. This was our emblem at school in Whitby, and strangely it has followed me to GreenSpirit. Here I sit and contemplate. Sometimes I meditate, other times I watch the birds or read. This is where I write my journal, by hand, in pencil, as the process of writing in itself is to me spiritual. My patchwork is a creative activity in which I can lose myself in colours and textures, shapes and patterns; puzzle solving and precision; needlework and cutting with scissors; fabrics and of course recycling!
It was while sitting in this space, reading Matthew Fox’s ‘Original Blessing’, which helped me to develop my own philosophies and was a great help in healing some of the mental scar tissue left over from my early life, that I had a revealing experience. In the first chapter he describes God as creative energy, which cannot be stopped. It is the life force in everything, enabling the Universe to create itself, continuously, for ever. I stopped reading and contemplated these words. Then I wrote in my journal; “I have been unable to stop gazing at the new tulips with the sun behind them, shining at me. My heart overflows with love, excitement, awe, recognising the same spirit in me, we are one.”
Joan is a proud grandmother of four, living in Hampshire within countryside walks. She has recently written and self-published a series of four novels based on Maude Lucke, her paternal grandmother’s family history. If interested, email joanangus2(at)gmail.com