A Walking Meditation

I was lucky enough to have most of a day to myself in the middle of the school holidays, which I chose to spend doing a very mini-vision quest in the form of a walking meditation. We were staying in my childhood home for a few days, so the country park that I went to was one that I knew well as a child, but had scarcely visited since. After a drop-off at the top of the hill (saving me about a mile of road walking), I started out on the most familiar track, one I cycled along almost every day for seven years of secondary school. Familiar puddles, roots, obstacles. It was raining hard, the sandy ground was as slippery as ever.

As the hedges opened out onto the ‘plain’, an area of open grassland where the trees were kept back to stop highwaymen from attacking travelers on the old coaching road, I left my old cycling route and revisited the woodland areas I had explored and played in when very young. Almost unrecognisable after a gap of 30 years, yet the feelings of the place were the same. Happy, and full of potential. I then walked parallel to the plain staying within the woodland. Pleasant, even while being dripped on, though unexpectedly mostly young-ish growth with one veteran tree decaying sadly behind a fence.

I came to a large oak tree I didn’t recognise, at a junction in the paths. It’s roots called me to sit down, so I spent some time there, working out exactly what my questions were. After some thought, I realised I needed to understand where I was right now and which path to take forwards.

I had thought everything would change a year ago when my daughter started school, so I made all sorts of plans – and then had them systematically unraveled by being unable to do much of anything thanks to my hip injury. Eventually I got the message to stop worrying about the things I couldn’t do, and found peace within. A peace that has stayed with me, and allows me to be at one with the world. But maybe I am impatient or awkward, as it rarely feels like I am doing enough – even if that is what all the messages I receive tell me! It felt like time to ask again, as the new school year approached, and see what, if anything, had changed.

Coming out of the woodland as I reached the far side of the plain, I found a familiar view from a bench where there had always been one.

This was a step back into a different past – a memory of a disastrous day at school and daring to come here in my lunch break, to escape. I had failed an exam I really expected to pass, and was suddenly faced with reality being different to how I had imagined things were going. I had followed teacher’s advice, taken what I thought was the ‘easy’ route, and a subject I had always been good at, instead of following my heart. Looking back, so much might have been different that year had I stuck to my original plan. I have failed worse things since then, but I don’t think ever made quite such a wrong choice again.

Two friendly oak trees.

Having put my past in its proper place, it was time to follow a new path into my future. One that I had never walked before; small, quiet, pretty. I walked through many new areas, and eventually circled round to return via some more oaks and Scots pines. I sat in an oak, and asked what message it had for my future. The answer was not something new however, but ‘Thoroughly’. In other words, follow the advice from the ‘Certainty’ tree I had met recently, and do whatever I do thoroughly. Reach for the sky. Find the joy in it. Don’t be just liking what I do, but love it. Value it. Spend more time doing the things I love rather than simply like – and find ways to love more. Remember what I always said as a child: that it doesn’t matter why we’re here, it matters that we enjoy it. Be happy, and spread happiness. That’s all. I looked up and in front of me saw two lovely oaks, happy together.

The rain had gradually eased, so I looked for a place to eat my lunch. I walked past larches and through a grove of silver birch trees. Then two oak trees lying down by a stream, covered in soft moss, inviting me to sit down. Squirrels played, some holly protected me and a hazel stood nearby.

A perfect place for a picnic


A perfect end to a perfect morning. I had another hour or so there, then walked home, picking blackberries in the sunshine.

Butterflies

I have always loved butterflies, and as a child had a chart on my wall to learn the most common ones. I can remember using Swallowtails as an art subject at least twice, being to me the most fascinating of all the native species, not least the fact that they were quite rare; I have still never seen one in the wild. (Being in the right part of the country at the right time of year would help!) When it came to a subject for a test lino cut it was an obvious choice, although followed closely by the Comma which I am glad to say I see quite often, and even once designed for stained glass.

Swallowtail Butterfly linoprint

Swallowtail Butterfly linoprint


So having said a few months ago that I wanted to learn how to do lino printing, what you have here is the beginnings of me learning a new craft.

Each stage presented its own challenges – marking out the design, cutting the lino, and then the actual printing which even with modern, environmental friendly inks that can be cleaned with soap and water, was still a messy business. Keeping M’s hands from touching was also challenging! If I was doing this same design again there are things I would change – such as making the ‘shaded’ areas a little less black, and giving more attention to the background, as well as learning about how much ink to put on and how hard to press or burnish each print. I’m sure a good teacher would help me get there quicker, but given I do not have the freedom to take lessons right now; to do it at all I regard as a success. And hopefully I will improve with practice and experience. It won’t be long before M is doing her own designs alongside mine…

I love the fact that linoleum (as it is properly called) is made from just wood dust, pine resin, limestone and linseed oil with a jute backing, so about as environmentally-friendly and sustainable a product as possible. Non-allergenic, non-toxic, non-smelly, biodegradable… Since I also want to make some prints of trees, it seems a very appropriate material to use, and better than either modern plasticy alternatives or imported Asian plywood which seem to be recommended for relief printing. However I have some more exploring to do regarding the paper I use – the trees not being in favour of me encouraging their destruction in any way!

Butterflies sometimes show up when I am journeying, flitting about the place reminding me to enjoy the here and now. They can often signify change coming – after all it is a creature of huge personal transformation – but the change is always graceful and gentle. Perfectly within my capabilities. Using their cycles can be helpful, seeing whether I am at the caterpillar stage of eating voraciously, devouring all the knowledge I can find; the cocoon stage where I take time to digest the new ideas; transformation when the whole DNA changes from a caterpillar to that of a butterfly, and the new ideas take on a life of their own; the emergence into beauty and light of a new form taking to the air, or in this case the ether of the internet; and finally laying the new eggs that will start the cycle again.

Spiritually the change butterfly brings is one of personal growth, transforming into our true selves in all our glory. It dances with joy, with lightness and colour. This butterfly pictured above is at the start of a process. It is black and white, half formed, but ready to lay the eggs for what will follow. I look forward to seeing where it will take me.