Thursday, 16 May 2019

Day 16 of the Plant Spirit Ally Challenge ~ Write a Story, Poem, or Prayer

Sitting over words very late, I have heard a kind of whispered sighing…
~ W.S.Merwin

Here I am with my second sharing as one of the co-hosts for Hagstone Publishing's Plant Spirit Ally Challenge, which takes place through the whole of May. If you would like to know more about it do go and have a read of my previous post on shrine making and visit HagstonePublishing’s website. There is all sorts of yummy stuff there.

And so to today; writing about writing with written words about writing. It feels a bit overwhelming, but I will have a go. When I thought about today the main thing that I wanted to say was please don’t worry, and I think that I will expand on that a little before we begin. If you are thinking of engaging in today’s prompt and feel nervous, just remember that this need only be a playful & happy experience. The words you write don't need to make sense to anyone but you, or even to you! Sometimes, as with journeying, the meaning unfolds later, or remains as a beautiful mystery that pulls at the unconscious ~ a shining thread to connect us to the Otherworld where understanding is woven in a way that we can scarcely imagine. Many of us have been put off writing, traumatised even, by our time at school, when we are taught to use words ‘properly’. Let me just say that there is no ‘properly’ here. In fact, the more improper you feel like being the better as far as I’m concerned!

Author Paul Kingsnorth, who writes a great deal on the importance of words, in quite a different context than this one but which feels relevant here nonetheless, has suggested that one of the things that we might usefully do to support the wild is to create nature refuges. He is very careful to explain that it is no longer enough to talk about, or even to create, nature ‘reserves’. We must do more than ‘reserve’ space for nature. We must make her our centre and our priority, our first thought in all that we do. Words matter. Creating a refuge feels so much more urgent than setting aside a reserve. And so perhaps in taking part in day 16 of the Plant Spirit Ally Challenge we can create a refuge for words and for language, freed from the need to say something important, to rock the world on its axis, or even to make sense. Perhaps we can just give them space, set them free a little in the spirit of playfulness and curiosity, and see what magic they make.

In her book, ‘Writing to Wake the Soul’, Karen Hering quotes poet Heid. E. Erdrich, who tells us in the final line of her, ‘Origin of Poem’, “it might simply be a matter of finding and feeling our connection to what is deep and alive, well below the surface of things. In either case, it can require a lot of casting and long, patient waiting.

We fish our own waters
green and layered
weedy and warm -
Nothing rises,
no ripples, but we wait.
All we want is the tug -
something deep, alive, on the line”
~ Heid. E. Erdrich

I have a few little ideas and techniques to help us create a wild refuge for our words but I will firstly mention something that once helped me. A long time ago I was introduced to the idea that words and language are a sense; just like touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight. They are a way in which we can explore the world, sending them out so that we can see what bounces back. They don’t need to be ‘right’, if there even is such a thing. They just need to be allowed to fly. And that is all we are doing here; sending out our words to explore the space between ourselves and our plant spirit ally and, if we choose to share, between ourselves and other people. Our words can be, and are, an offering to our plant ally, both the words themselves, but also the attention given to the connection and the time offered to the task. And, for any amongst us who are afraid to offer the written word, our courage in doing so is the most powerful and beautiful of offerings to this prayer of connection we are weaving. Be brave, be wild, be willing.

And we might consider too that the words we use aren’t ultimately the important thing. In the image and metaphor of words we are seeking an older tongue even than language; a universal understanding beyond the words themselves, a sort of dream language perhaps. We are seeking to share beyond the boundaries of surface understanding and diving into the wild seas of poetry, parable, and prayer. Who knows what might return to us on the tide?

In the Bible is the story of the Tower of Babel. We are told that, following the Great Flood, a united humanity spoke only one language. Migrating westwards, they came to Mesopotamia and decided that they would build a city and in it a great tower tall enough to reach heaven. In order to stop them God created many languages so that the people could no longer understand one another well enough to cooperate and scattered us across the planet. This story has been compared with that of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. There are so many ways of interpreting both those stories but they both warn us that transgression leads to separation, from the Earth and from one another. Or we might say that separation leads to transgression, however we might understand both those terms. How easily we seek to blame the Divine in her many forms for our loss of paradise. It's we who separated earth from sky. I notice too that the actual wording in Genesis 11: 1 tells us that, “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” It wasn’t only humanity that shared one language. It was the whole Earth, and we all understood one another. 

How might we find our way back to the garden, mending the scattered pieces and reaching heaven at last? Again we are told that at Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit appeared as ‘tongues of fire’, filling those present. From then on, they were able to communicate in the language of whoever they met and to be understood. If we can put our differences aside, we will know that, whatever our religious or spiritual tradition, in connection with Spirit we are able to understand one another and share in community. Language, words, and writing, come from this desire to share experience, to connect and communicate. If we have words, if we can speak, then we can write. The voice is a prayer written on the sky, writing a prayer recorded on a page. They belong to us and there is no need to be afraid. We have all been gifted with tongues of fire.

Writing is in itself a solitary, private, and intimate activity. It is between us and our pen and paper. Or, of course, between our keyboard and screen, but I would encourage everyone who is able to to make some marks on paper for this task. I like writing on a laptop myself. Typing helps me to keep up with the speed of my thoughts and to move things around, and I find crossing things out on paper physically painful such a perfectionist am I, but there is something about sitting with a blank page and then making the first mark. And, like the making of any relationship, what that mark means or will become is only for us and the words to say. Let there be freedom in that.

And so, here are just a few ways in which we might begin to make our beautiful marks.  

One way that really helps me when I feel stuck is ‘free-flow’, or automatic, writing, which I was taught about by woman of deep-heart, Tegwyn Hyndman. For this all we need is a stack of paper (always have more paper than you think you will need) and a pen. Begin by relaxing and moving into a ‘daydreamy’ state in whichever way you find easiest. We might spend some time slowing our breathing, we might meditate, or drum. It would be lovely to begin with Michelle of Hagstone Publishing’s ‘You Breathe Out, She Breathes In’ plant meditation from day 2, which you can find here. Having your plant spirit ally nearby would be a blessing, perhaps drinking some tea made from her flowers or leaves if your plant isn’t toxic in any way. I chose to have bath into which I added lilacs, my plant spirit ally for this challenge, and held a single lilac flower under my tongue. I also refreshed my lilac altar by adding new flowers and lighting a candle. It all just helped me to feel woven in, in touch.

For the free-flow writing you will need to create a sentence to lead you in. For my writing with the Lilac being I chose, “In the house of the Lilac being I find…..” but it could be anything that opens up the space. Perhaps, “Lilac wants to share that...”, or simply, “Lilac says that...” Write that sentence at the top of a fresh piece of paper, making sure that your stack of paper is nearby, set a timer if that feels right (it helps me not to feel agitated or tempted to keep looking at the clock), I suggest for ten minutes. I know that that feels like ages, but it really isn’t, and then just start writing. And don’t stop. Write whatever comes into your head or heart, without censorship or worrying about repetition or spelling mistakes or punctuation. Just keep writing and see what comes. Sometimes there is a flash of brilliance like a shooting star, and sometimes is enough. If you get stuck, just keep writing anyway. You might write, “I am stuck. I am stuck. I am stuck. I can’t think of any words. I wish that I had never started this...” and, when/if you can, bring your attention back to your plant. She may be waiting to tell you something. At the end of the ten minutes stop and read what you have written, without judgement if you can, and holding the words lightly.

Here is my free-flow with Lilac, uncensored but maybe with a comma added here and there, for ease of shared understanding; mine and yours.

"In the house of the Lilac being I find…

A prayer of petals, intoxicating, heat and heady scent. I seek the centre, push aside flower on flower to find the spell of her heart centre, but she has secret spells that elude my seeking sense. She calls me to deeper depths like light on water enticing me to dive. She ripples, is gossamer thread turned to gold, a blush of passion rising on the skin, graces afternoon tea with hidden lust for sweetness. She says more; more flowers, more sky, more honey on the tongue, more song, more breeze to turn petals to light, more depth, more pushing aside to find the heart, more hum of bees, more poems in the bark, more root, more space, more light. More, she says, and still more. And I am enough in this scattering of flowers and chaos of stems, in this snaking of roots. She says that I am more than I know and that I am enough. I can be close and grow and I can journey far. This mountain prayer, this song of shore, this salt-sea tide, this movement and this edge is all. This wave of love. This passion scent and sent in lust for life, for more, for more than this, and for this to be made of light. The this, the more, the prayer, the song, the serpent at the root, the poem, and the petal wild with light and love.

Isn’t she exciting!!

Another practice, which I often choose when I would like to write a poem but feel under pressure, is to write a haiku. This is a simple Japanese poetry form made up of three non-rhyming lines of seventeen syllables in a 5-7-5 pattern; five in the first and third lines, seven in the second. To write a haiku is relatively easy, to write an enchanting one is harder, but that’s what makes them interesting. Here is mine for Lilac;

Sound the hollow bone.
Raise a petal to your lips.
In bliss, Lilac sings.

My haiku comes from Lilac’s genus name, ‘Syringa’, which comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘shrinx’, meaning ‘tube’ or ‘pipe’, and referring to the lilac’s hollow stems, which make me think of flutes or the bones of birds. I love that image.

Finally, if we are feeling really stuck or are just seeking a place to start, we might sink into the depth and beauty of simple description. What more beautiful prayer to relationship than to truly SEE the other?

So we might describe her colour, her taste (if it is safe to taste her), her smell, her texture and her temperature, her sound.

For Lilac ~

"In my nearby garden, she is white. Her flower spikes, growing on the end of long stems in gatherings of three and four, are a mass of single flowers, each one on a tiny green stalk that disappears in a froth of petals. Somehow she makes sense and shape of it. In morning light she is almost transparent with no colour at all. At sunset I have seen her turn to buttery gold. Her bark is pale, her trunk twists. She smells sweet, her flowers bitter on my tongue. She is all contradictions. The wilder faraway lilac is purple. Her flowers change from deepest pink to palest lavender with age. She is so wild with leaves and flowers that I can’t see her bark but I can hear the wind rustling through her, have heard the tap of rain on her surface. She smells deeper, headier. I seek out the perfectly opened flowers for the strongest smell. I bow before the petals that are turning brown and wish them well as they wane. And she is cool like ice on summer’s day and hot like heat haze. I am in awe of the life in her, of the whip-crack of her stems. I wonder whether I could ever be so scattered, so seemingly chaotic, and so surely myself."

I am sure that I have only scratched the surface of describing her and I found it almost impossible to only describe, rather than slipping into metaphor or simile. And that is alright too, because even in the struggle to draw her in to what I had decided I wanted her to be, and in failing, I have learned something of the Lilac being. It is all touching another. It is all the making of relationship.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
~ Jalal Al-Din Rumi

And so, enjoy today’s delicious task, both you and your chosen plant ally. I will so much look forward to reading your words, if you do choose to share.


Hagstone Publishing ~

'Writing to Wake the Soul: Opening the Sacred Conversation Within' by Karen Hering, Atria/Beyond Words, 2013.

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