Living Alone

Starling naiads dipping

I don’t live alone, the house is often full. So time in the early hours, before the little one awakes, is often spent with a poetry book. Good poems bring me into conversation with myself (and the poem) and remind me that at root I do live alone. In this space it is possible to trace ‘childhood’s song’.

Here is Denise Levertov:


Living Alone (I)

In this silvery now of living alone

doesn’t it seem, I ponder,

anything can happen?

On the flat roof of a factory

at eye level from my window,

starling naiads dip in tremulous rainpools

where the sky floats, and is no smaller

than long ago.

Any strange staircase, as if I were twenty-one-

any hand drawing me up it,

could lead me to my life.

Some days.


And if I coast, down toward home, spring evenings, silently,

a kind of song rising in me to encompass

Davis Square and the all-night

cafeteria and the pool hall,

it is childhood’s song, surely no note is changed,

sung in Valentines Park or on steep streets in the map of my mind

in the hush of suppertime, everyone gone indoors.

Solitude within multitude seduced me early.

Denise Levertov


This year has seen the closure of many libraries, withdrawal of funds and the selling off of books. In dark times we need poetry more than ever. Why not give a volume of poetry this Christmas and help keep the flame burning?

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Simon on Solitude

Simon Parke’s new book – ‘Solitude – Recovering the Power of Alone’ is out in time for Christmas.

Or join Simon with Breathing Space in the yurt on Thursday 15th December and Thursday 22d December – 7.30 – 9.30.

Alone together.

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They loiter in my study, intrinsically antisocial. Some gang together on the window-sill; others, in exile, are jammed in crevices around real books. The real books travel, they have beginnings, middles and endings; they are catalogued. But these are my journals and they are going nowhere.

Superficially diverse; leaf patterns, feathers, birds, spiraled flowers, batiks, reds, greens, blues, khadi, cotton, linen, vellum, A5, A6, A4. Inwardly, all scraps of match-flare scribblings, all written by tea-light during wasted hours and wakeful nights.

They span at least a decade and a half and I guess in a court of law they might be used as evidence of a distracted, unfocussed life. Unfinished paragraphs, unfinished sentences, thoughts that trail out, notes from books half read, fragments of poetry and blank pages. But they contain forgotten beacons and they will continue to litter my life as long as I continue to need to absorb their truths.

For example, whilst de-cluttering my study this week I came across an attractive and solitary Paperblanks  journal I bought in 2005 (whose cover is entitled ‘Clouds’ and depicts exhuberant 1970’s paintings from the Tibetan Buddhist Lamayura monastery) half full of foraged morsels gathered over several years. Here I have jotted down extracts from Paul Tillichs ‘The Boundaries of Our Being’ (1973). They are food for me today as they were then:

Only those who have an impenetrable centre in themselves are free. Only s/he who is alone can claim to be human….

And here’s something that flies in the face of Facebook:

Today, more intensely than in preceding periods, (wo)man is so lonely that s/he cannot bear solitude….. And s/he tries desperately to become a part of the crowd. Everything in our world supports her/him. It is a symptom of our disease that teachers and parents and the managers of public communication do everything possible to deprive us of the external conditions for solitude, the simplest aids to privacy. Even our houses, instead of protecting the solitude of each member of the family or group, are constructed to exclude privacy almost completely. The same holds true of the forms of communal life, the school, college, office and factory. An unceasing pressure attempts to destroy even our desire for solitude.

But this next bit is the bit I’ve surrounded with lots of stars and frenetic underlinings:

There may be some among you who long to become creative in some realm of life. But you cannot become or remain creative without solitude. One hour of conscious solitude will enrich your creativity far more than hours of trying to learn the creative process……. In the poverty of solitude all riches are present.

It is still the beacon I need to heed and a core value of Breathing Space.

So here on this blog, and hopefully not altogether in solitude, I will post more fragments from these borderless books.

Meanwhile, there’s  more on solitude in the next blog in this letter and invitation from Simon Parke (see ) feel free to post, tweet, facebook or even whisper the message on.

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In the Name of Blood Red

I have been busy preparing for The Red Shoes Retreat that will take place here in the Breathing Space Yurt this coming weekend . Inspired by an exploration of the colour red in the Thesaurus, I have written a few lines by way of welcome to the wonderfully courageous women that have booked in to come.

Image by Anya Miles

In the name of blood red -

bittersweet, bloodshot, blooming-blush-brick,
burgundy, cardinal, carmine, cerise,
cherry-chestnut, claret, copper and coral
crimson, dahlia, flaming and florid,
flushed -fuchsia- garnet,
geranium, glowing,
healthy, inflamed, magenta and flowing.

Moonlit maroon, pink-puce, rose and ruby
rufescent, rust-ruddy, a screamer and scarlet,
gold-gash vermilion, wild woman, a harlot.
A call-girl, a fallen, a hooker a floozy,
good-woman, good-wife, fair-lady, hen-hussy.
A dowager, a coquette, a molly a coddle
shrew, scold, sow-doe-roe, a she-goat, a doddle.

In the name of the fair sex, the dame and the mistress
donna-dowager, goody-gammer, the sapphic, the bitches.
Coquettes and nymphs, betty’s and wenches -
red clad feet, a circle of strangers.

In the name of beauty and broken and keep on going
we look to discover our own way of knowing.

Amanda Miles

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Bugging Bunny

Yesterday, Iona and I took a trip to the farm where we watched two velvet coated baby Rex rabbits share a length of cabbage. It was an entrancing ‘Lady and the Tramp’ moment with a little twitchy nose collision at the end, then onto the next green shred. Iona, who is nearly two, peered over the small wooden fence transfixed.

Suddenly a man with a three year old son armed with a giant carrot grenade vaulted over the fence and insisted his son fed the rabbit the carrot. The little boy tentatively offered the carrot chunk to the disinterested rabbits who were lost in cabbage heaven. The man seemed irritated that the rabbits were not playing the game or that his son was not a particularly good dominator of rabbits and showed his little one how to tear the food out of the rabbits mouth in an attempt to force feed the vegetable of choice onto the quiet creature. He did not succeed. Rex just wasn’t having carrot.

Man and boy left in disgruntled fashion making their way hastily toward the tractor pit.

I wonder why the man felt that he had a right to bug these bunnies, to enforce his will upon small creatures? Perhaps he felt he’d bought it with the entrance fee.

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar* – Chrysalis and Butterfly.

I have three daughters. The eldest is 19, the now middle 16 and the youngest approaching her second birthday. So whilst my youngest has voraciously eaten her way through one strawberry and most of the way through two pears, my eldest is shedding the chrysalis.

We were chatting in the car, aware that there are only a few weeks left before she leaves home for university. As she was pondering the changes ahead, she turned to her toddler sibling and said “I’m really going to miss you”. Half suspecting that I might be included in this affectionate display and fishing for more, I butted in with some kind of “What about me, I’ve been around for longer?” comment. Quick as a flash she quipped “No, I’ve outgrown you”.  Although my vanity was pricked at the curt delivery of this pearl of wisdom – I am delighted.

Later, out on a run in the beautifully undulating Trent Park, I found myself thinking about my own parents and some of the unhelpful guilt feelings I am still prone to – but as I released myself into the downhill, I found myself saying “Yes, I’ve outgrown you”.

(*The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a children’s book by Eric Carle)


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To say or not to say?

From 'Pina'

From 'Pina'

I have a dilemma. Iʼve been to see three wonderful films recently all of which attempt to release us from the predominance of words. The first was ʻPinaʼ, a tribute by the film-maker Wim Wenders to the radical contemporary choreographer Pina Bausch ( The second, Le Quattro Volte, which holds in its contemplative gaze the circle of life in a village in Cantabria, southern Italy ( And all praise to ʻThe Phoenixʼ East Finchley, last night I saw Malikʼs ʻThe Tree of Lifeʼ. For me this was cinema as prayer. Malik seems less concerned with providing us with a clear narrative and more interested in how we make and remake our inner narrative. But I am not a film critic and Peter Bradshaw is, and I think he puts it brilliantly here So, my dilemma lies in my compulsion to attempt to express what has profoundly moved me, alongside an awareness of the deluge of words out here in blogland. I seek resolution in Haiku which gives me 17 syllables in which to have my say. Here goes, in the order in which I viewed them.

Pina moves soul. Sees
life full, dance full, young and old;
hold, turn, soar, flick, fall.

Le Quattro Volte,
no words. Coughing and bleating;
all life connected.

Who are we to you -
mother, father, brother, me?
A child lost and found.


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Testing Times

The exam season is upon us; this prompted me to write the following few lines:

Five ways to crush a leaf – an education

Remove it from the sunlight to constrict its breath.
Confine it to a room where it is not allowed to flutter, ripple or whisper with other leaves.
Scrutinise it and expose it to test after test; measure and dissect it.
Constantly compare it to other leaves and find it lacking.
Cut it off from its roots and complain when it withers.

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Contemplating Contemplate

In his delightful  book Word-catcher – An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words, Phil Cousineau gives a quirky and  multi-layered back story to the word ‘Contemplate’:

The act of thinking deeply, observing attentively. The ancients described it as the urge to consider “the signature of all things”. The word comes down to us from the 13th century Latin contemplationem, the act of looking at, and contemplari, to observe.  From con, with, and templum, an open space, originally an open space reserved for observation of augurs.  Figuratively speaking, whenever we are thoughtful, deeply considering life’s perennial questions, we have stepped inside a temple, where we consider the signs within the sacred precinct.  Traditionally, this was marked off with a line drawn in the ground by the augur, and was later demarcated with stones, gates and doors.  The earliest temples were where augurs read the signs; temple later entered English at the site for religious activities or musings of priests, ministers and rabbis.  In this holy place, from Old English haelan, to heal, and PIE kailo, whole, uninjured, the pilgrim believes he or she is closer to the gods.  The Latin profanum-pro, before, fanum, the temple – provides an image of the profane person hovering outside the threshold or even being banished from the House of Holies.  Closely related is fanatic, Latin fanaticus, one who is inspired by the gods to the point of frenzy, transported with “temple madness”.  Of course, this has devolved to fan, one who has an obsessive, near-religious relationship with a celebrity or team.  Taken too far, the affection can be sacrilegious, Latin for “picking up and carrying off sacred things”.  Of such matters, we can say of ecologist Rachel Carson that she believed it was sacrilegious not to ponder the sacred wonders of nature. ”It is a wholesome and necessary thing”, she wrote, “for us to turn again to the earth and in contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility”.

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Contemplative Practice

Breathing Space events hope to uncover a spacious stillness at the heart of activity and to nurture a way of being in the world that respects our natural rhythms and those woven throughout creation; patterns of activity and rest, of fallow and fruit, of ebbing and flowing, of night and day, the inner and the outer, the light and the dark. We celebrate the different seasons in all their rich complexity.

Time spent in contact with the natural world, in solitude and silence in prayer and meditation are ways which help to nurture a contemplative life. To practice contemplation is to find ways to resist the pressure to conform and perform, to be driven and forever producing, and to take steps in favour of a more deeply embodied, integrated life.



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