And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath.
And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,
hostel or hovel – find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.
A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson
As I write this slightly late in the day and JUST in time for tonight’s full moon, the weather has been dreary to say the least. I’m still recovering from yesterday’s walk along the South West Coastal Path, with driving rain and a wetness that permeated all of our layers of clothing. Otto and I ended up using picnic blankets to warm ourselves up on the car journey home and the chill stayed with us long into the evening. Still, it was great to get out and at least imagine the views out to sea. And having read ‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn, I was more than aware of the fact that we had a home to return to and money to buy warming fish and chips at the end of the walk.
This month I would like to focus on the idea of being quiet. I like to be quiet and in fact I really need it to be able to cope. I have happened upon various pieces of writing recently that have really been exploring the quieter side of life so this month I thought I would share them with you.
In ‘Silence in the Age of Noise’, the explorer Erling Kagge takes us through his opinions around the power of silence. He walked alone to the South Pole and although he had been forced to take a radio with him on the journey, he threw away the batteries on the plane there. He therefore experienced total isolation and was able to fully notice his surroundings. I would never be so brave but I can completely appreciate why he wanted to do the journey and really boil things down to himself and his environment. The book is a short read and wanders through his experiences during exploration, what it is to grow up in a very noisy and technology led world, the scientific evidence around concentration and silence, how artists embrace silence in their work. These meanderings converge with him trying to pin down how best to find space and peace and quiet in our lives, whilst still being engaged in the world.
“I find myself thinking about how silence can be experienced without the use of techniques. The threshold for finding silence and balance can in fact be lowered. You don’t need a course in silence or relaxation to simply be able to pause. Silence can be anywhere, anytime- it’s just in front of your nose.
I create it for myself as I walk up the stairs, prepare food or merely focus on my breathing. Sure, we are all part of the same continent, but the potential wealth of being an island for yourself is something you carry around with you all the time.“
A wonderful book that I must share with you is ‘Leonard and Hungry Paul’ by Ronan Hession. Published in 2019 by Bluemoose books it is a beautiful read. If you like fast moving plot-based literature you probably won’t go a bundle for this book, but I loved it! It’s about the quiet, gentle people in life. Not the movers and the shakers but people who go about living in a considerate way, really noticing their surroundings, and as a result, effect positive change on the world. We get to know two friends, who have a love of board games and quiet evenings. Things are changing for both of them and they have to navigate their relationships with family, friends and the world, whilst not giving up their integrity. I loved the humour in this book, which manifests in the small details. Nothing particularly exciting happens in the book but I can’t help feeling that Leonard and Hungry Paul make the world a better place.
In this excerpt, Hungry Paul has gone with his mother do do some voluntary hospital visiting.
“He pulled the chair aside and sat down, feeling rusty and sore. His mother and Barbara provided a pattering background noise that was easy to zone out from, but otherwise the wards were quiet………..He sat there calmly, simply sharing the moment with the woman. Her chart showed that her name was Mrs Hawthorn. Mrs Olivia Hawthorn. Hungry Paul was good at this: just sitting, not fidgeting, not thinking particularly and simply listening to the room. He never minded time. It neither dragged or slipped away from him. He always felt in time. Just here, just being around. There was a gentle breeze blowing through the room and a faint smell of today’s dinner, which was gravy-like and indeterminate. He just sat there without small talk or prompts; nothing to get the relationship going, but no bum notes either.
After about twenty minutes, Mrs. Hawthorn reached over and, without altering her straight ahead gaze, took his hand. She gave it a barely perceptible squeeze. He accepted her hand gently, without trying to catch her eye or check her motive. Her skin was soft and thin. They held hands like that for the remaining forty minutes: silently and in comfort. When time was up and Helen came over, Mrs Hawthorn was fast asleep, still holding Hungry Paul’s hand in restful silence.“
Such powerful writing on the power of silence and human touch. Although obviously written pre Covid-19!
I have been making various things over the past weeks and you can catch up on photos of my making on Instagram @anestofgentlemakers. Last weekend I had found my own version of a portable paradise whilst staying in a Premier Inn hotel and attending a weaving course. It was such a lovely solo break away. Days spent weaving and evenings spent knitting and listening to podcasts, or simply sitting in the quiet. Of course I missed my family but I relished the opportunity to be creative and recharge my energies.
The weaver I was learning from was Sally Hampson. Find her at www.sallyhampson.com. We were learning four shaft weaving which for me is a precursor to getting started on my new ENORMOUS weaving loom. More on that in future newsletters. Needless to say it was fabulous and great to be able to learn from a talented artist, amongst a small group of creative people. Really interesting was that during the course, Sally would pull us back from our general chit chat and ask for quiet. She explained that chatting detracted from our concentration and that concentration was really important to become fully immersed in our weaving. I really appreciated Sally’s mindful position on this and she was entirely right. Chatting is important but to get the most from the creative situation and to achieve ‘flow’ silence was needed.
And so to our yogi Kate’s contribution to this newsletter. I am so grateful to Kate for all that she does for ANOGM. If you want to get in touch with Kate you can find her on Instagram @gingertonicyoga or email her at Kate@gingertonic.co.uk.
There is a space between the inhale and exhale, and between the exhale and inhale. A space where you are neither inhaling or exhaling and the world just stops for a moment. A space of pure ‘being’. In yoga we call this ‘kumbhaka’, and it’s one of my favourite places to be.
Being a swimmer when I was younger, I was always pretty good at being able to hold my breath. I used to love the feeling of the silence when my head was under the water, I was neither inhaling or exhaling, and it was peaceful. These days I don’t swim so much, but I find this place of peace by practicing Kumbhaka.
To experience Kumbhaka profoundly and intensely I would definitely recommend working with a teacher, but you can experience it for yourself very simply and easily by following these instructions:
1) Sit comfortably on a yoga mat or a chair, or in bed
2) Take about 5 full diaphragmatic breaths (breaths where you can feel the diaphragm moving up and down, and the abdomen expanding and contracting with your inhale and exhale) – make sure your inhale and exhale are about the same length and that you exhale completely
3) On your next breath, ‘hold’ the breath after your exhale. This is not a fierce holding, it is a gentle suspension of breath. Close your eyes and take your sense of sight and hearing within your body. Wait for the body to tell you to breathe again, and when it does, breath normally
4) Repeat steps 2 and 3
Breathing practices which involve an intense Kumbhaka have been known to have extraordinary health benefits. If you haven’t heard of Wim Hoff, and you’re keen to delve more into this subject, I suggest taking a look at his website https://www.wimhofmethod.com/breathing-exercises. He’s on the more extreme side but I am a huge fan. A word of warning though, please don’t experiment with these breathing techniques whilst driving or swimming.
Do let me know how you get on, and of course if you’d like to delve deeper
And so that wraps up our November Full Moon Musings. I hope that reading this newsletter helps you to feel grounded and present in our current turbulent times. I hope that you all stay safe and well and that you find time to do the things that make you happy and to be still whenever it feels right. Please email at anestofgentlemakers@btinternet to share such things with me, or anything topics that you would like to be explore in future newsletters. I’ll leave you with some more words from Leonard and Hungry Paul:
“Without thinking, they both looked up at the inky universe they had just been talking about, as the big torchlight moon shone down on the snails criss-crossing the driveway. Leonard stepped over them and made his way home, carrying with him the things he had said over the course of the evening, things he hardly knew he knew.”