In late October’s stormy darkness, my family and I carved out a few days in Cornwall, travelling there the day after ‘the big storm’ rampaged across the UK, flattening trees and causing havoc and yet there was also, for me, a sense of a giant energy broom sweeping through and a freshness in the air, like when windows are first flung wide open in the spring. We started the long drive after lunch, to allow roads to normalise, and so it was already dusk by the time we entered England’s southernmost county to then wendle along narrow lanes, overhung by the Cornwall’s characteristically wind blasted trees, and reach our cottage by nightfall.
When were reached the tiny hamlet of half a dozen cottages nestled between hills close to the sea, and for all its layout around a ford was familiar to us, we were hardly prepared for the deep flowing tirade of water that this had become during the storm; high enough that we hesitated before taking the car through, hoping wryly that our cottage, just feet away, was not prone to flooding. This challenge behind us, the car unpacked and a casserole slipped in the oven, we set off for a much needed leg stretch before the cosiness and warmth of our fireside had a chance to seduce us to do otherwise.
By now, it was pitch black outside; there were no streetlights and the steep banks of a hill just feet away from our door only made the darkness appear denser; this was ‘proper’ dark, the kind you forget all about in a town. The very act of stepping outside the cottage was like diving into a pool of ink and, though we took a couple of small torches, mostly casting them at our feet to avoid stepping off the track, there was an enjoyment to be had from succumbing to the darkness like a thick blanket wrapped all around. Refinding our bearings from previous visits, we set off up the hill to the left of our doorway and just kept walking, up up and up the lane beneath overhanging trees until we reached a point where it was possible to discern a faint outline of open fields and the headland beyond.
As overhanging branches thinned, a diamond studded sky began to emerge in the spaces in between and then join together into larger sections, like alternating swathes and then cut-out pattern shapes of a seed-pearl embroidered fabric spread out on the dressmaker’s table. I found myself mesmerised by the sheer volume of stars in the sky and became child-like excited to glean a sense of the perspective between them – some relatively near and others so obviously very far away, with milky patterns of something like space dust swirling in between. I was also struck by the profound sense of multi-dimensionality that a starry vista like this somehow manages to convey in a way that is flattened-out of the town version of night sky; a sense of almost witnessing different time-space events simultaneously, devoid of the restrictive linearity of our physical world.
Like everything in our light-flooded, over stimulated world, the very subtly that connects us with our own universality is so often drowned-out by all the hubbub going on around us and the relatively rare act of reconnecting our gaze with the fullness of an unpolluted night sky can feel like the moment when ‘home’ appears on the horizon, causing a momentarily skipped heartbeat and quick-spreading glow through the veins; a very physical response to a connection that goes far beyond the physical yet is so obviously ‘real’ and heart-felt if our typical reaction is anything to go by. To think, most of us would have been able to feast our eyes like this almost every time we stepped out of our door, just a hundred or so years ago, and I found myself marvelling at how much we had carelessly thrown away in the name of progress (perhaps, from broader perspective, so we could all-the-better rediscover a longing to reconnect with it…) whilst, for my own part, vowing to subject myself to as many densely starry skies as I can, and with ever more regularity, across all the years ahead.
I say this every time…
This special nook in a Cornish valley, a short walk from a perfect cove, had imprinted itself on my heart four years earlier when we found it by accident after the cottage we had arranged to rent in another county was damaged by flooding…and so it was, in fact, extreme weather and flood water that had first ‘swept’ us here, to a place that we might have otherwise missed.
Now on our third visit, across three contrasting seasons, the earliest memory to leave an indelible mark was of a scramble to the cliff top to watch the sunset one unforgettable summer’s evening. We had timed it just right to climb the steep path to the flat ridge at the top and, with our dog of those years flopped down by our side, settled down just in time for the ‘show’. Even as the frequent watcher of sunsets that I am, this one had turned out to be special in ways beyond the tangible; a great fireball of red lowered into gently animated waters below, its undulations barely visible from this height, casting a perfectly smooth path of light to the base of the cliff that we were perched upon and, all around us, every blade of furzy grass, our complexions, our hair and the very canvas of the sky turned to blush and gold…
It felt like my world altered oh-so subtly yet (looking back) quite perceptibly after that summer-that sunset; my health certainly did, my paintings became light-filled, everything began to ‘look up’…the very light quota of my world seemed to increase somehow. Years later, those events seem strongly connected in my mind’s eye for all I would struggle to explain it unless to say that, somehow, that sunset switched back on my own light through the very recognition that what I was experiencing was a version of what is also inside of me; the light that is inside all of us. How could any other light display, even (perhaps especially) in that place, live up to that?
When you’ve hooked a special experience to a place, it can make it both very easy to want to go back there yet somehow all the harder to do so, the barely audible plea of ‘more like that, please’ hovering just inside your mind, as longed for as it is being underarticulated and the very act of wanting it so much somehow pushing it away. On our very next trip to Cornwall, we planned to watch another such a sunset…and ended up with the timings not quite right, a much longer walk, a field full of bulls, family arguments; it just wasn’t the same. Perhaps this is why some wonderful places are best left alone after the very first visit, the potential gone out of them; not because the place offers any less potential but because a human propensity to build up for a big event, to expect and almost demand a certain outcome, but (in equal proportion) to fear and so create disappointment, can often trip-wire the whole process.
Or perhaps we just need to recognise that self-created trip wire in ourselves and get over it; to stop planning and expecting very particular outcomes and, instead, seek our joy in ‘what is’…
For my own part, I was conscious very early on in our week in Cornwall that wanting such a sunset and making it my ‘all’ would very likely not deliver and, instead, opened myself to the possibility of something else occurring along a similar theme. In short, I stopped investing so heavily in a particular outcome and sent out the open-ended intention of a wonderful experience coming my way, so opening up to the possibility of being surprised and delighted by whatever form it would take.
A big part of this process was remembering to have fun, to laugh at myself, to stop taking it all so seriously, just knowing our week would be littered with gifts whatever the weather happened to deliver; and it really was, amongst them a ‘cream tea’ eaten outside in pouring rain complete with a rainbow over the sea; sheltering beneath paintbox-coloured cliffs next to a waterfall cascading down onto rocks and a cliff-top picnic in the kind of rainstorm that saturates you down to the skin yet in a landscape where the lushest green earth meets sky and sea with such perfection that it could be the very film-set of ‘Lord of the Rings’. These dark, wet and windy weather conditions became part of the experience, enhancing the rich tonality and texture of the landscape and serving to emphasise and intensify brief moments of light in between.
Our days certainly contained some spectacular nuggets of light and yet the overall weather was dramatic, changeable, with these brief and intense bursts of light interspersed with equally intense darkness that was only exaggerated by the ever-shortening days and the proximity of hills that seemed to press against our very window ledges on the east side of the cottage so that, excepting the couple of hours that the sun would cut through the valley and flood into kitchen window as we enjoyed another late breakfast after the first leg stretch outside, the house itself remained largely in shadow. The orchard visible from our rear windows was very often sun-filled and walks around the hamlet were quite glorious with sunshine and radiance. Those same windows even pointed due west towards the cove with our cliff and could well have presented us with a fiery sunset moment from the cosiness of our kitchen table and yet, being weather dependent – and as heavy cloud seemed to congregate towards the end of every afternoon – it appeared that there would be no ‘big spectacular’ light-display this trip.
What I suddenly began to notice, after a day or two of acclimatising to the intense rhythms of light and dark that were playing out all around us, was that ‘my big light event’ was already well underway, had in fact been happening all the time under my very nose, from even before we arrived at the cottage. Instead of being some great light explosion – BOOM – a veritable super-nova of light that fills the whole sky, arrests life, remains somehow separate from it and is idolised forever afterwards as the most unforgettable of events, it was unfolding in the form of many individualised moments – almost dots – of light and in so many diverse and yet equally noticeable versions of radiance, all of them fully integrated into the most ‘ordinary’ moments of life.
In short, it appeared that the ‘show’ was being delivered, this time, by the chorus line rather than by the grand dame of the stage as she, with much practiced theatrical aplomb and all golden-resplendent in her evening gown, performed her great swooning finale into the sea. Instead, it came in the form of many scattered pinpricks of light that danced like a carnival of radiance across the whole of our week…
The carnival had begun with the multiple bursts of intense radiance through heavy black storm clouds that I kept pointing out on our journey, continued as our densely diamond-studded sky on arrival and then, with a swift scene change just as morning’s curtain was lifted, continued in the form of a flotilla of light-carrying clouds that seemed to be ‘sailing’ in from the sea to greet us and with an undeniable air of purpose as we reached our cove after breakfast. We stood there in awe, held up by winds strong enough to, just as easily, tip us over and by the fact we were transfixed by the impression that the very seams of these great heavy cloud-galleons were bursting open and so releasing cascades of sparkling light, whilst reflecting themselves to double quota in the spaces between equally relentless waves rolling in towards us. The impression was of witnessing a veritable Normandy Landing of light – simultaneously occurring both in the air and on the sea – and with something of the same energy of “nothing can stop this, it simply cannot fail”. It felt as though “light is coming, light is coming” was some sort of morse-code message on loop tapping through my veins as I witnessed this extraordinary performance of many scattered lights transfiguring a grey and granite-hard winter coastline into a spectacle that will stay with me just as long as any sunset.
As the week unfolded, it continued to deliver light in dapples and pinpoints, beads and sparkles and by means of the negative spaces in between…the parts where shade drew attention to the beauty and meaning that is held and made possible by contrast. Acutely angled winter sun traced foliage against the white walls of the cottage each morning like some sort of daily reminder of the reflective nature of our world; the way that everything that we experience is just a projection of who and what we are, made possible by the very light that we also are – the light that is only made knowable by the shadow which must mean that both are working together, to the same end, originating from the same source. So, if even shadow and darkness come from light, there is nothing and no one to be feared, right? It’s all just playing a part in the same pattern, the projection show, of our world and there would be nothing whatever to ‘see’ without those darker bits. Like the endless drawing sessions with my life study group, many years ago, when we practiced drawing live figures by sketching out the negative space around them, the acute winter light picked out the finer details of this golden valley and turned the darker spaces into a filigree of delight.
My week in Cornwall set in motion the unraveling of a very long and seemingly continuous thread of light-moments which has served as a way through all the equally long, often challenging weeks of winter whilst noticing how the season itself has become so much lighter to bear, so much more enjoyable than before. I now know why its taken all these many months to share my Cornish blog in this space; any earlier would have been too soon, would have been to put it into words before it had finished doing all of its unraveling, its revealing of themes that have coloured the much broader landscape of my perception.
Above all, I have really started to grasp how we are all lights, the very many individualised, common-or-garden lights of our world yet profoundly significant all the same. I began to see, beyond the theoretical, how there is no ‘one big event’ scheduled any time soon, no cosmic avatar heading the bill and come here to act out the grand scene of our salvation, no externally organised rescue operation coming in like a speeding life-boat over humanity’s horizon to save us from ourselves…we are IT and that’s absolutely perfect, the way it was always meant to be; we get to be our very own saviours, this time around. Yes, things can seem to be in a mess but we are already seeing our way out of it, doing it, in a zillion tiny ways as more and more of us discern the light patterns in our ordinary experience and start to recognise them as reflections of us creating our own experience, making our own choices, shining our own mini-light – only not so mini in the grand scheme of things, as it turns out. We are living out the ultimate dot-to-dot puzzle of individuals finding each other across an increasingly interconnected world and recognising the light of each other, multiplying as we go, spreading the light and generating more of it.
Even, or perhaps especially, when surrounded by gloom or darkness, it is possible to get to a ‘place’ where we start to see the light in each and every situation that presents itself – and that such moments seem to thread together upon a common theme – until we recognize that, for that to be possible, we must BE that light, that theme, which is the thread of ourselves, held steady regardless of whatever circumstances happen to be are playing-out in the drama-fueled world that continues on around us. And this pinprick of light guides us back to self-love – the very concept of which was once guiltily tucked away or even forbidden as somehow ‘wrong’ but now recognised to be quite literally the pivot-point of everything; news that is spreading like a light-wave as people wake up to it, allow and embrace it, knowing it to be the very starting point of every journey back to wholeness.
The more we connect with others of this viewpoint, the more these pinpricks of light, of joy and optimism, seem to join force and multiply and suddenly its as though everything just got a whole lot lighter, like those very first days of spring when we can just tell, without seeing too much evidence of it, that its already on its way. I reach this observation in perfect synch with noticing how the days are starting to become lighter, so much brighter this first week of February; so subtly its hard to put your finger on what’s changed and yet the days are certainly longer, the light intensity stronger, the birds are singing a different tune and a carpet of snowdrops and primroses tells me Nature is already onto all of this and we soon will be too. When light gathers together, when it joins forces and multiplies, this is the magic of how it feels; its so subtle and yet everything lifts somehow, there’s a whole new creative energy at play and its something like pausing to take in a very long slow breath of fresh air after windows are thrown open whilst feeling excited, anticipatory and quite ridiculously energised for no apparent reason…
On the crest of this vibe, each moment that presents itself becomes part of a game of spotting the tiny shard of light, the dancing pattern, the hole in the cloud, the plus point, the up-side; of interacting with its hide-and-seek playfulness, embracing the unexpectedness and the tease-factor and then recognising that same playfulness in ourselves. Then, as we start to discern more and more of these tiny scattered lights in our everyday world, they help us to identify what is really important to us, to recognise where our own particular brand of joy lies, helping us to make the choice of ourselves in each moment, aiming to be at least lighter than we might have been, more optimistic than we were, more loving towards ourselves and others; above all, to consciously make that choice rather than perpetuating the unconscious decisions made for us by our culture, our upbringing or an inbuilt fear of going against ‘the way things have always been done‘.
What are these moments of light that I keep referring to so abstractly, how do we recognise them? Yes, they may be associated with the sunrise, the sunset, the sun coming out after the rain and yet what I refer to has more to do with how light suddenly ignites the scrappy edges of foliage in the hedgerow, reflects off ditch water gathered in a muddy field or turns the grime smears on a dirty window into iridescent pearls, the way damp pot-holey winter road surfaces shine like molten gold…Its seeing moments of light in spite of the apparent imperfections of the setting, and its not really the moments themselves that I speak of but the openness to witnessing them, the state of consciousness that its necessary to be in for you to receive them, to be so in the moment of what is unfolding that they even present themselves to you through the very ‘noise’ of life; because so much of the subtly of life’s experience is passed by when our mind is caught up in preoccupations of past or the future (that is, fear).
The sheer fluidity of how and when these experiences occur is an outward projection of ‘flow’ and so teaches us how to gauge our own connection with that flow, becoming a sort of trail of crumbs towards it in much the same way that perceiving patterns of synchronicity across life serves as further indication that we are on that track, following sign posts back to our most intrinsic version of ‘self’. We get the feel for the fact that the more open-hearted and playfully alert we are, the more we get to experience these delicious way-markers and so this becomes a way of being that is entirely self-rewarding. Life shakes out of its oh-so serious and often pessimistic groove and becomes more of a merry dance of creating more and more of what we love and so choose to focus upon, instead of the old way of generating more and more of that which we don’t want through our fear-based fixation upon it. As we start to get the feel for this (recognising when we are on track because we are enjoying ourselves so much), we receive daily practical experience of what it is to be a master creator, sensing that all of this light is there for us, created by us and, frankly, IS us calling out ‘hey, come over here’ and ‘lets make more of this because it feels so good’. These every-day life experiences of synchronicity and light urge us to go beyond just witnessing these moment and to step into that flow, to be part of it and feel into the process of directing of it from within ourselves.
The way I used to react to the winter months, they used to feel so very very arduous and dragged-out, not to mention challenging, with very little to brighten the view but this year has felt markedly different. No longer fixated upon grand events to cut through the dark, although winter sunrises and sunsets have been quite spectacular this year, I find that I’ve been following a trail of much smaller pinpricks of lights with my camera, my actions and my thoughts. Even ‘typical Christmas’ felt like all too much focus on the one big make-or-break light show for me this time and I was happy to duck out of much of its cultural definition, to breeze through it as a series of wintry walks and some scattered moments of family celebration and then put it all back in its box.
Another continuation since Cornwall has been the watery theme, with many of the places I call ‘mine’ turned into lakes demarked by rows of submerged trees; those that haven’t succumbed to the critical loosening of roots or the blowing of gales…and so everything has been in flux, nothing quite the same and a somewhat unnerving feeling of playing witness to some grand reinvention of all that was once familiar. Yet, even as floodwater has submerged most of the fields I like to walk in, and much of the West Country landscape of our October break (and with heart going out to those more seriously affected), I’ve been noticing how the more floodwater there is, the more the light ‘comes down’ and starts to multiply in its effect so that even the vaguest hint of wintery light is doubled-up and grounded into the heavy clods of the earth. At some level, it feels like all this wateriness and ‘flow’ is mirroring an energetic occurrance, like some sort of precursor of a new possibility and an invitation to bring some of the very same flow into our thinking and our reactions; to throw over the need to micro-control, to mitigate, to fend off and so allow something new to meet us where we are and, together, to explore a reinvention of the much broader landscape of our earthly experience. Its as though we are being conditioned to being more fluid than we have been before; to thinking in a more flux and openly creative way, drawing on aspects of experience that weave in and out of the hard edges of physicality and dip – for inspiration – back into something of our more intrinsic, most expansive selves. There’s no two ways about it, the sheer extremety of this year’s weather cannot be ignored, is calling for some sort of modification to the way we interact with the earth, with each other and with ourselves and so, within this, is the potential for complete reinvention of all that we are, on so many levels.
This light magnification through reflection feels like a process that is going on far beyond the metaphor – as though the very paratroopers of light are now dropping down onto the earth in droves and joining forces with all the other light that’s been rolling, raining and scattering in…joining their dots, looking at things through new eyes together. When my daughter tripped over words and used the phrase ‘rain-shine’ to describe the weather this week, I found myself continuing the muddle-up with ‘sun-shower’ and these new descriptions felt somehow apt, like the new vernacular of a jumbled-up weather system and a whole mixed up and newly flux way of being that we are discovering (and co creating) through our very attitudes and intentions as they are released from old fear-driven and limiting ways that no longer serve.
And isn’t it time we took the gloomy perspective out of weather forecasting anyway; sunshine always ‘good’, rain somehow ‘unfortunate’…unless there’s drought and then we change our tune. Why not a more balanced, inclusive perspective from the outset instead of wanting a particular outcome so vehemently that we pitch ourselves for endless disappointment or sheer panic. Extreme weather can be alarming, destructive…yes…but perhaps (as with anything in life), if we engage less in the ‘good v bad’ drama of weather for the majority of the time, we might perceive the sparkle, the beauty in it more often. Like all of life’s drama, there is always the potential to feed it thus making more if it, or to glide on through, gathering what is most important from the experience before arriving so much more quickly at the other side. Modern mindset seems to be, so definitively, to fear the weather so how did we get to that; in what ways, and why, has it been encouraged…? Perhaps the more to make us feel helpless and at its beck and call, in need of scientists and politicians to ‘save’ us from it. We are the creators of our own experience so much more than most people accept or want to consider; something that always surprises me for being especially true of those who most admit to being the control freaks of their material lives. Perhaps, in this day-and-age of uber-controlling everything we possibly can about our modern existence, our weather is trying to teach us just that, in one almighty crash course – that is, not that we aren’t in control but that we ARE, but not in a way that most people assume, using science, legislation or bricks, but by reconnecting with intuition and doing the inner work on the attitudes that determine our outer experience.
Light has a way of guiding us back to that all-important inner space in a way that, quite literally, catches the eye and then flashes the remembrance of those aspects of ourselves that have been forgotten so that we ‘see’ . In fact, the darker winter’s days have become this year, the more robust this profound sense of ‘light arriving’ (inside and out) seems to have become: in dapples here, pinpricks there, rainbows and cloudbursts, even tiny motes of light dancing in the room as I sit painting – everything feels light tinged, every opportunity for light to magnify seems to have been taken and its timely juxtaposition against completely contrasting circumstances (even as I write this, shortly after blackest sky, followed by vivid rainbow, then storm clouds with ice-crystal shower, followed by sunburst and finally blue sky) seeming, for all the world, as though Nature is suddenly employing the expertise of a theatrical lighting technician and a stage director in the grandest production of our times.
To anyone still deeply immersed in all the over-stimulus, the control mentality and panic culture and even cynicism of our modern world, I can see how things can feel out of that control or even ‘lost’ and, individually, out of our hands. However, a little like seeing the night-sky from the top of a dark Cornish hill, my perspective has been tucked well away from over-stimulation for some time now and this is what I see; what’s more, I see it clearly…more clearly every day. And the more I see it this way, the more comfortable I find I become with all the vast diversity of human experience, the dark bits as well as the light, the tragedy as well as the joy…seeing it all as a pattern, as a choice of all possible experience presented, an invitation for me to fix my gaze wherever it chooses to go and so create more of that, more of that, more of that…
You can view my video of random moments of winter light here
and for a visual experience that captures so beautifully, without words, the very process I’ve been trying to describe, the sheer creativity and the playfulness that is at our very fingertips, try this