Sound The Retreat!

My reader will probably not be too surprised to learn that I have been on retreats a couple of times.

After all, someone who gripes about the rush and noise and pressures of the modern world, and who has anxiety issues, tends to spend quite a lot of time yearning for silence and solitude. Because there are, quite frankly, times when everything just gets too much to cope with.

Obviously there are many ways this might be achieved; perhaps I could commit a serious crime and then misbehave in gaol – that would probably lead to a good long spell in solitary, although I can think of several reasons why this might not be the ideal solution.

I could lock myself in a room and refuse to come out – from experience, though, that just leads to unpleasantness and tears. It worked tolerably well when I was a child, but as an adult I can see why it might not look so good.

Whenever I get the opportunity I go for a long walk. Unfortunately, if it is near my home I tend to be surrounded by dogs and dog walkers – not that’s there’s anything wrong with them, I hasten to add, but it’s hardly peaceful. There are several dog owners around here whose voices can not only be heard several counties away because of the sheer volume, but can also smash windows by pitch alone. And I soon get back to roads and so-called civilisation, no matter which route I take.

Then there are lots of other walkers bellowing into mobile phones: ‘Yes, it’s lovely and peaceful out here! Now, let me just yell a few personal and private details at you and anyone else within earshot! What? Yes, I’m still a complete tosser! Why do you ask?’

Going further afield takes more time, and that’s no good if I need a quick fix of silence, so generally I’m stuck with the dog walkers and the tossers.

So, retreats. Other than the meaning of legging it from a superior military force, a retreat is defined as withdrawing to a quiet / peaceful place. There is also the implication of it being a place to indulge in contemplation.

Yes, that’s exactly what I had in mind. Don’t mind if I do.

My first retreat was at an abbey not terribly far from where I live. Although I am not a Christian, I enjoyed a short week of taking quiet walks in the grounds of the abbey and the countryside beyond, reading, rising early and taking a silent breakfast with the monks, and even attending one of the services each day.

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Some of the time I spent painting watercolours which I have long lost. Since at least one was of foxgloves, here’s a photo of some just so you can imagine how incredibly good the paintings were!

The other retreat was in the North of England, and consisted of a week-long period of meditation with a Buddhist group. This was very hard work, but I did finish the week feeling refreshed.

Of course, it is perfectly possible to organise one’s own retreat by finding somewhere quiet and secluded and staying put for a week or however long one fancies (a year, perhaps?).

Perhaps I should do that soon.

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New Year’s Essay, 2018

I rarely, if ever, make New Year’s resolutions. I feel that if there is something in my life that needs changing, then it should be addressed straight away, rather than leaving it until an arbitrary date in the future. Of course, for many people it acts as a focus or some other incentive to change old habits, although witness the number of gym memberships that never get used beyond, say, the end of January, and it becomes obvious that what many people need to change most is their resolve.

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Possibly jumping the gun a little with this photo…

As an introvert, I am very curious to know whether much of my behaviour is conditioned by my being that, or whether it is my behaviour that causes my introversion in the first place. It’s probably a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, of course, with both applying equally. My introversion is surely driven by those elements of anxiety, my inferiority complex and the depression I’ve always lived with, and, in turn, those things will be reinforced by my chosen introverted lifestyle.

But we are complex creatures. Like Harry Haller in Hermann Hesse’s excellent novel Steppenwolf, each one of us consists of many different personalities. Our characters will be made up of a mixture of the cultivated soul, the wild, untamed soul (the ‘wolf of the steppes’ in Hesse’s book), the dancer, the monk, the shopaholic, the miser…all those elements will be there to a greater or lesser degree. And alongside the Introvert exists also the Extrovert, even if this personality is rather repressed in my case. It is all a matter of balance.

It seems much worse in the winter, too. I am certain I am affected by SAD; it seems entirely logical that I should feel low when the weather is cold and grey and bleak, and perk up when the sun comes out. Perhaps we all do.

Yesterday, the weather was the pits. Cold, grey, and bleak, with added showers of freezing cold rain and a wind that cut through me like a knife. I really felt like crap. But today, I walked out under a clear blue sky, a bright sun glinting off the puddles and the grass rippling in a mild, gentle breeze. These are the moments I need to seize; to wrestle my soul back from the darkness. The moments I need to shake off the black dog and point myself towards the little things I can do to lift myself.

I remind myself that I have a published book that people have been nice about, therefore not all my writing is meaningless drivel. I have sold many paintings, and a lot of people have enthused over them. I can paint, and I don’t need to destroy them all. Family and friends do matter, and they do care about me. There will be warm, sunny days and expeditions.  There will be walks and bottles of wine shared. There will be wonderful books to read and interesting places to visit.

And so, I resolve to fight that bastard black dog for another year.

Launch of ‘The Happy Bus’ by Louisa Campbell

Last night I was lucky enough to attend a great evening of performance poetry at The Java Bean cafe in Tunbridge Wells, for the launch of the new pamphlet by Louisa Campbell, a member of my local writing group.

Supported by published poets Ira Lightman and John McCullough, both of whom gave great performances, Louisa’s was easily the standout set for me.

A natural performer, she read a selection of poems from The Happy Bus, Published by Picaroon Poetry, which is a collection she describes as ‘charting the journey through anxiety and depression and on to peace and joy’.

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This is not to suggest that her poetry is all dark, for that is certainly not the case. Each one bristles with hope and determination, and frequently humour – for Louisa does humour very well – and had the audience frequently chortling (we chortle a lot in Tunbridge Wells. We also chunter about stuff, but there was none of that last night).

And, let’s face it, how often do you get to see a poet declaiming a couple of their poems in a wolf onesie?, or getting an audience in Tunbridge Wells to yell out a chorus of ‘Bugger!’?

Below, an extract from the pamphlet:

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To get your copy, click on either of the links below.

Amazon UK

Lulu

 

Time to dust down the parchment and take up my quill, again.

Oh, that was nice.

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I just had to get some time away – from the computer, from people, from work and noise and just about everything else that makes up my complicated twenty first century life.

I promised myself a few days away to work on my book, uninterrupted by anything else, and that then turned into a short holiday for the two of us, in a small quiet town in Shropshire, close to the Welsh Borders, in a small self-catering apartment. It was perfect. We went for a few walks together, and at other times I wrote and thought over parts of the book, whilst my wife went off and walked and mooched on her own.

From a writing point of view, it was a most successful trip; I developed a few of the main characters in a satisfactory way, I developed my primary and secondary plot lines, and I wrote a goodly amount of pieces to work together at various points in the book. The ideal, naturally, would have been a trip to the Indian Himalaya, since that is the location of the story, but failing that, then a hilly location with a lot of wooded parts and old houses and a feel of times past, is certainly the next best thing.

And it was a great break for us both. Just to have a break from day to day life, of course, is priceless, but in a quiet, peaceful small town is even better.

Naturally, back to normal life means dealing with stuff that wasn’t dealt with over the last week, amongst other things. So, online to sort out a bill payment, and…I notice by looking in my diary that I have passwords for forty seven separate sites. Is this unusual? Probably not. But, conventional wisdom says you should never write down passwords. So, who could possibly remember forty seven of the wretched things? And even I know that using the same password for different sites is foolishness beyond forgiveness.

More ruddy hassle. All of this is meant to make life easier, isn’t it? Yet my idea of making life easier is to make it simpler and less complicated. This just doesn’t seem to happen, though.

Ah, this is a bit of a diversion that I hadn’t planned for this post to take. It reminds me, though, that I must write a post on anxiety, at some time.

What I was intending to write, was that I now have plenty of material for the book, and so, as time permits, it’s Full Steam Ahead!

Now, then, back to these tasks…