by Anne McDonnel
‘To see a world in a grain of sand. And heaven in a wild flower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand. And eternity in an hour.’ From Augaries of Innocence, William Blake.
I have just returned from a week in the Isles of Scilly. This is a special place for Mark and I as we have returned to it repeatedly over the years finding it’s natural beauty a constant source of inspiration.
It was a special challenge to go on this occasion accompanied by the disease in my body. I knew that some of the things I most value would not be available in the same way. I would certainly not be able to walk long distances or climb steep sections of the coast line. Part of me felt apprehensive as we started off on our accustomed nine hour journey from Norwich to Penzance. Would I feel sad, would we both find memories of happy times too nostalgic?
One thing about my meditation practice is that it lands me gently but persistently into the present moment. Here I discover that any loss I experience leaves behind a space where new things may be found. But this can only happen if I do not cling unhelpfully to ‘what was’. Bearing in mind my limited mobility we meandered to a nearby beach hidden along a grassy track littered with old lobster pots. At high tide it was cut off providing spacious periods of solitude and quiet. We began to notice things. Blackbirds and starlings competed for insects at the water’s edge pecking through seaweed washed up by the tide. Trailing them obsessively were many large ‘babies’, beaks open to receive juicy morsels from their fanatically diligent parents. To our far right a cuckoo called while to the left a muffled bell from the Spanish Ledge buoy served as a recalling mantra during our times of meditation.
And then we hired a golf buggy! This brought instant transport to customary places we thought would now be inaccessible. Juliet’s Garden at the top of a steep hill provides homemade cakes and quality coffee but also leads to a coastal path where fern lined tracks wind through wide expanses of grass and wild flowers. Within ten minutes a protected hollow revealed natural cushions of soft turf and sea thrift . From this elevated seat we were witness to a free theatrical display from the gulls who swirled and dipped about us providing an ever changing display of mobile shadows on the hillside screen below.
Another gift was meeting up with the WCCM meditation group on St. Mary’s. The group gathers upstairs in ‘The Star of the Sea’ a picturesque Catholic church opposite the harbour. It was good to become reacquainted with Sarah and Jill who have led the group throughout the winter since Rev Peter Walker who instituted it has retired. As the tourist season progresses the group is open to surprise holiday meditators who may ‘drop in’ to join them at any time.
We continued to know the wonder of Scilly through a myriad of small sights, sounds and meetings: a single magenta ‘Whistling Jack’ upright against an azure sky; a bold sparrow pecking crumbs from my hand; a voice out of the blue ‘Weren’t you at the meditation group last night?’; the slap of sea against a rock or the more gentle contact of water rippling across the sand on a fast incoming tide; a morose looking seal regarding me steadily from his rocky perch; an open weather beaten gate inviting entry to a colour filled field of wild garlic, bluebells and red campion. Pictures and their accompanying sounds move through my mind as I close my eyes.
And now we are home resuming the anxious run of unpredictable blood results and the embedded knowledge that this illness is with me for all time. This evening I return to my own meditation group and in preparing it today. I selected a CD where Fr Laurence unknowingly affirms my recent experience with this reminder that all true gift remains an ongoing source of life...and is immeasurable, never ending;
“We need to lay aside desire in order to be open to receive the gift. The gift is of an infinite and eternal nature. It is boundless, the gift of God’s own nature to us.”
* Anne is the WCCM regional co-ordinator for East Anglia and runs 'Noggs Barn', a building in her garden used for meditation and retreat days.