Snow was falling, the woods were calling and the urge to stand with my feet in fresh snow and breathe the scent of pine was overwhelming. So eager was I to get my wellies on that I almost fell, crashing into the clothes maiden and banging my elbow on the door handle.
Laughing, I fastened the dog’s coat and pulled on my gloves, stepping into the soft whiteness on the courtyard flags.
On the lane, the cars were driving slowly, carefully, as the gritters had not come; but there were no other villagers to be seen. The snow was falling in big soft flakes, landing on my gloves, on my coat, on the dog and there was that hush that comes with snow that sticks. I couldn’t wait to make new footsteps on the field and head up the hill to the woods.
The snow was really coming down now, thick and fast. I could only see one field ahead; Boulsworth was lost and most of the village below me. Just me, the sheep and the dog, perfect. I stuck out my tongue like a 6 year old and tasted the falling snow.
Across three fields, climbing all the time and onto the top lane by Moss Top Farm, where white snow topped black branches like icing and a robin regarded me but did not fly. Wellies crunching, I strode on to the woods, leaving my footprints behind.
Over the old stile and into the stillness of the woods, peace settling over me as the snow settled on holly, ash, spruce and yew. Even the dog stood tail-tip still in homage to the perfection.
In Spring, I walk in these same woods and watch daffodils dance, in Summer I lean in and smell pale pink wild roses, in Autumn, I tread on mulching leaves and release their musky fragrance, but today I smell only sharp clean newness. I inhale deeply and feel a sense of cool renewal. We press on, the dog and I, along the path at the edge of the woods towards a blank expanse of moorland, blurred by dancing snow flakes.
At the edge of the woods, we turn. I’m not dressed for the moor and haven’t brought my poles; plus my phone has died, so it would be foolish to go further today. Instead, we retrace our steps, stopping to pull downwards on a fir branch and watch the snow spray as the branch bounces back. As we leave the woods, I turn and watch the snow filling my footsteps, covering any evidence that I stood amongst the trees, breathing with them, through them.
Back on the field I lie back on a blanket of soft new snow and scrape my arms up and down, up and down, hoping to make the outline of an angel. Then I just lie there, letting the snow fall onto my face for the longest time. Eventually, I notice the cold on my back and heave myself up, my knee protesting as it does these days. And as dog and I trot down the field to the village, I feel refreshed; cleansed by the ice-cold air, soothed by the swirling snow and reminded yet again of the power of nature to get things into perspective.
It’s the 2nd January 2021, a lot of things are uncertain: but I’m here, I’m relatively healthy and I’m loved. What a brilliant start to the year.
We’ve had some glorious sunsets in my part of the world over the last few days; orange, mauve and indigo streaking above sparkling white fields, a huge red moon shining through charcoal woods and a canopy of bright stars above.
I was hoping that today, the last evening of the year, would follow suit, having planned to walk up onto the moor around 11.30pm and welcome the New Year in sitting on my favourite big old boulder, with my hands wrapped around some mulled wine and my husband’s arms wrapped around me. Under the starlit sky, we would be able to see for miles and watch the fireworks above the villages and towns below. Oh, so romantic!
But today, as the light from the last day of 2020 fades, all I can see through the window above my desk is freezing mist, which hovers above the fields and somewhere joins an oppressive grey sky and I begrudgingly admit that my walk is probably off.
I go downstairs to make a cup of tea, past a twinkling Christmas tree and whilst I’m waiting for the kettle to boil I tune in to the TV.
“It makes me so angry.” A masked doctor in a hospital is saying. “Don’t they realise this is not a joke? My colleagues and I are watching people die in here every day. It’s a mask, all people have to do is wear a mask. We had a delivery guy turned up here yesterday, to deliver PPE equipment for our intensive care teams and in he strides with no mask on and proceeds to get shirty when I asked him to wear a mask.”
And he went on. “The problem is (that) people don’t seem to want to listen to the real news, the quality news, the news that informs them about what is really happening here. They get stuck in a loop of social media telling them the same thing over and over, instead of taking the time to read or listen to quality in- depth information. They get fed what they want to see and hear. We can’t show them what’s going on in here, we can’t show them what this horrendous disease does to lungs, liver, skin, brain, we can’t let the cameras in or even relatives in anymore, and so people walk along the London streets, or Birmingham or wherever, past the hospitals, without knowing what’s going on inside.”
“Thank-you Professor Mongomery”, said the presenter and the interview ends.
I make my tea and come upstairs to write my journal, but instead find myself looking for the whole interview on Google and listening to it from the beginning. His message is clear; if you decide to have a last fling this year, it may well be your last fling. Or you may be one of the 50% who doesn’t know they’ve got the virus and pass it on to someone who, in a week or so, arrives at a hospital where doctors like Hugh have to decide, literally decide, if this person, this life, this father, mother, wife, son has a fighting chance of making it; because only then, is there an intensive care bed with their name on it.
I’m sharing Hugh’s interview and asking you to share it too, in the hope that it may persuade someone to change their plans tonight and not go to their friend’s house tonight. Yes, it’s New Years Eve and many of us want to share a drink, or some music or some conversation or a even a boulder with loved ones, but what else will you be sharing?
We don’t know what Brexit is going to mean, or how the loss of schooling might affect our kids, or when each of us will get a vaccine, it’s all unclear, but what is clear is that, as we live through the final hours of 2020, the way we live them can potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives.
You come to me asking for treasure.
I take you to a wide field and hand you a spade.
“Dig” I say, “for I assure you there is treasure in this field.”
Do you dig?
And if so, for how long?
Half an hour?
“What’s the treasure?” you might ask. “Is it worth digging for?”
“Oh yes,” I say, “it’s the most valuable thing in the world.”
And so you dig.
After half an hour you discover an ancient coin you think may be very valuable. “Is this it?” you ask.
“Oh no,” I say, “for although money is valued by many, it is not the most valuable thing in the world.”
You carry on digging.
After a day, your back and shoulders ache and you can’t help thinking ‘this is crazy’, but you carry on and discover an underground spring.
“Is this it?” you ask.
“Oh no” I say, “for although all living things need water, it is not the most valuable thing in the world.”
So you move to another part of the field and carry on digging.
As the week goes on, you start to notice little birds hopping about as you dig, pecking at the worms you are uncovering. You start feeling stronger and enjoy the sun on your back. Your body aches less and the blisters on your hands heal.
The wind sings in the long grass and bees buzz around the meadow flowers.
Every day you dig somewhere new and every day you notice something new. Ants scurrying, a horse whinnying, the cooling rain, the rich soil.
On the 7th day you stand with your foot on the spade and look towards the hills feeling at peace with yourself and the world.
Just at that moment, I pass by and it takes you a while to notice me.
When you do, you say “I’ve been digging all week and I still haven’t found anything.”
“I think you have.” I say.
As I ease my way back into the real world this morning, I am reflecting on my weekend, spent with a group of busy people who were, for various reasons, compelled to join Barbara Reid (Linked in link) and reflect on the Courage needed to Care.
Deep in the countryside of the Welsh Borders, we came together from all walks of life and geographies with one shared wish; to slow down and give some serious time and thought to care, where it sits in the ecosystems that surround and enfold us and how we can, as individuals, give and receive more care.
Barbara’s retreat this weekend, was based on the thought-provoking work of Parker J Palmer, who has taught me much over the past two years through his words, which speak to me daily from the pages of his many books and also from his softly-spoken v-logs http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker/
Care is not something that I feel can be rushed, even in the talking of it, and the linking of courage to care really intrigued me, so I prepared myself by spending a day walking in the rolling countryside around Knighton, to ensure I was relaxed, ready to join with others and learn from Barbara.
It was very different for me to be on the receiving end of a weekend such as this, instead of organizing and leading one and I did find myself ‘organising’, especially at mealtimes, but as the weekend progressed, I began to let myself be led and cared for and it felt wonderful.
This ‘letting yourself be cared for’ was a topic many of us reflected upon over the weekend and for myself, it was a difficult reflection, as I had to admit that allowing myself to be cared for feels uncomfortable. Accepting care involves taking a risk, extending trust and giving up some measure of control, difficult for someone who likes to be in charge.
The weekend was beautifully constructed and orchestrated by a wise hand; the layers of learning were woven together with thought-provoking pieces of poetry and quotations. The speed was gentle, the silences as important as the conversations and the way Barbara enabled the magic of individual reflection within a group context was wonderful to behold. A circle of trust was created between 14 individuals who didn’t need to know anything more about the person next to them other than that they were here as a willing participant to learn more about caring.
During the weekend, we walked, talked, shared if we felt we wanted to, painted each others stories and created with glue, coloured paper, crayons and leaves, it was wonderful to bring thoughts and reflections to life using craft and for many of us, it was the first time since school that we had expressed ourselves in this way.
The culmination of the learning was taking part in a Clearness Committee, the roots of which are based in the Quaker faith, although the process in this context is in no way religious. (However it is of note that Quakers do not have a clerical hierarchy and they therefore ‘invented’ this process to draw upon both inner and communal reserves to solve personal problems, which in some other religions, may have been discussed with a clerical leader.) A committee sounds somewhat formal, but simply put, this is a confidential and safe space in which an individual, with the help of gentle and open questions, can reflect deeply on an issue.
The function of a Clearness Committee is not to try to ‘fix’ people but to help them discover their own wisdom, from the inside out. This was deeply interesting to me because of my own practice of mindfulness, which has led to the discovery of my own inner teacher, (which I still don’t listen to enough!)
The Clearness Committee was a profound and humbling experience and I can honestly say that in all my years of mentoring and coaching, I have not experienced any other situation where such a deep connection was made in such as short space of time. After the ninety minute session we all said that it felt as though our circle was one being, sharing a profound flow of compassion and respect with just one aim, to cherish and hold the issue and gently allow the truth of the inner voice to rise within the silence.
Yes it was amazing but before you all rush off and try it, please don’t. The experience needed to facilitate a Clearness Committee is extensive. Barbara is a member of the Courage Collaboration, a global network of facilitators who have enhanced their years of life experience by undergoing a two- year programme of learning and mentoring, in order to share the work of Parker J Palmer and the principles and practices of his Circle of Trust ™ approach. Facilitators then use this learning to establish this approach in their own communities or ecosystems.
Which takes me back to the beginning of this piece.
Why do we need courage to care? Because caring involves integrity, respect, listening and acceptance. Whether that care is being given or received.
If we are able to give care, we must first find the space and silence to listen to our inner guide and accept that in some situations, we need care. Then, we must be courageous enough to ask for that care, from loved ones, friends, colleagues or others.
In this crazy fast paced world of instant connection, information overload, goal setting and material measurements of success, being the one to say “STOP”, this problem is too important to rush at, let’s really listen, let’s really engage, let’s really trust, is courageous indeed and bringing this level of care to both work and personal relationships can be profound, as I discovered this weekend when I learnt from a brilliant teacher about the courage to care.
I will certainly take forwards with me some very valuable learning from my weekend and will be ‘exploring’ with Barbara again, hopefully within some of our future Role retreats.
On November 19th, we delivered our first Oysters and Pearls event at Blackburn College. We’d like to say a massive thank you to all the wonderful people who were involved, from those who helped promote the event to the 35 Lancashire ladies who came on the day and mentored the students. The day was inspiring, humbling and emotional and the feedback from the college, both teachers and students, has been incredible. During a follow-up focus group, students told us that “they didn’t want the day to end” and Pastoral support officer Amy Miller said “ barriers were broken down.”
We hold group coaching sessions with the students before and after the event and watching the girls grow in confidence and be able to talk to their mentors using expression and animation is amazing. The Oysters and Pearls event is facilitated by actress Amy Strange who uses techniques learned at The Guildhall School of Acting to teach the students about communication and self belief. The students’ response to Amy is always magical and what is even more magical for me is that this talented young woman is my daughter!
We’ll be back at the college in the Spring to work with 16 year-old-boys on our Centre Forward programme and also next October for another Oysters and Pearls.
If you enjoy my blogs, you can read more of my work in my book available here www.amazon.co.uk/Words-Walks-Wisdom-Wendy-Bowers/dp/1671172353