The Edge of Change

I attend a weekly Qigong class.  Qigong has become seamlessly interwoven into my other practices of Buddhist meditation and Amerta movement to enable me to continue to bring myself into a deeper connection with my body.  Together they help me open and receive what is around me, as well as reflect on my human experience in this complex, wondrous world.  This week we had a visiting Chinese teacher, Yan Cui.  During the hour spent with her, I touched a mysterious sense of edge.

A great deal of what happens in Qigong is around opening and closing, inner and outer.  There is the vast outer universe and a corresponding vast inner universe in each of us.  Sensing this while doing Qigong, or Amerta movement, or during meditation, is a mysterious opening in itself.  Qigong practice uses both body and mind to energetically move between the two of these, bringing them together into a harmonious sense of one.  It is very beautiful, as well as enhancing both physical and mental health.

Yan Cui offered just two practices in the hour she spent with us.  One was to stand facing the large window in the studio that looks out onto a lush garden with flowers, trees, and clouds.  We opened our hands and arms (and our inner being) to the beautiful natural world we saw, and then, with our arms and hands, brought all that back into our inner being .  We just silently did this for many minutes.  The second practice was also simple.  Standing, we bent over, spiraled our hands to “collect” qi, then lifted it up and, using our hands, slowly brought the qi all the way down through our body, scanning as we went for any sense of not-quite-right in the body, lingering in those places to allow the qi to work there.  We did this, too, over and over, for many minutes.  It felt powerfully rejuvenating.

Then she talked to us.  She wanted to tell us what it is that’s actually important in Qigong.  It’s not the movements of opening or closing, up or down, inner or outer.  This is important practice for realising what it is that is really important – which is the transition from one to the other.  That edge of change, she said, is the secret of Qigong.  It was like hearing something I already knew, yet hadn’t quite put into a thought for myself.  I suddenly say to Yan Cui, “This is not a place.”  She smiles.

I once tried to think of this as a place, and found I could not.  I think now about the Wood Pigeons that make such a curfuffle around here.  They flap about in the tops of trees and seem clumsy and awkward, yet they are skillful and beautiful in flight.  They first soar up, and then suddenly dip down in a beautiful curve.  Perhaps they have the secret of Qigong.

Thistle Heart

At the edge of the path,

rising up from cracked, dry ground,

a musk thistle is calling.

As is my habit, I stop for a chat.

“What would you like, my lovely?”

It nods at me as I listen carefully.

“See me, love me, and leave me be.”

I look closely –

tenderly touch the soft heart

of an open seed head,

and move on.

From a distant treetop, a green finch calls:


Leave me…

to be me…!”


It has been a long time since I last posted on Going Deeper.  In mid-January, I fell ill with the Covid-19 virus. I may, or may not, write about this experience another time.  It most certainly took me deeper than I have ever been before.  But I am engaged in emerging.  I don’t really respond to the idea of recovering.  The word, itself, doesn’t resonate for me in terms of my experience.  The prefix “re” apparently carries the meaning of something going back to its original state – and I can’t do that.  The experience of Covid-19 altered me, and in that process I entered more deeply into the underworld than ever before.  It was, and was not, an imaginal journey.  To have descended any further feels like my body might not have been able to emerge again.  I experienced the impossibility of separating body, mind and soul.  In descent, it all goes together.

Emergence has been slow, with constant evaluating of what my state is at any one time.  My energy was extremely unreliable at first.  I described it to a friend as being like antique lace, fragile and full of holes.  Now, I rely on my body to tell me when I need to stop.  There is a place, just above my heart and below my collar bones, that alerts me to the approach of energy collapse – a sense of pressure there, telling me I need to stop and rest.

It was a full month before I could get myself outside again and up the lane to the trees, birds and multitudes of life forms that I love – slowly, slowly.  Last Sunday I finally got to do what I longed for – to go into a field on my own and lie down in the grass and just listen.

A Wren shouts and rattles in the bramble thicket.  A Woodpecker laughs in the oak above, then shoots itself over the field, torpedo-like.  A Bumble Bee is searching behind me among the dead branches of the old felled oak.  I can hear a Collared Dove in the valley below.  Woodpecker drumming.  Crow cawing – one flies overhead – so fast with seeming so little effort.  As I settle, more sounds become apparent.  A flutter of wings behind me.  Each sound is an individual.  Great Tit squeaking. Robin piping his varied tunes.  Blackbird chipping briefly.  A Blue Tit has arrived to feed on the willow twigs.  There is a kind of embodied urgency to each sound.  Each must be an important communication, or they wouldn’t use their precious energy or make their position known to possible predators.  Two joggers pass on the path below, chatting as they go – no urgency in this sound.  Have we forgotten how urgent simply being alive is?

Hopes and Fears 2020-2021

I have spent more time and effort than ever in this last year on attempting to understand what is happening to life on this planet and what we all need to be doing to protect and support it.  Trying to make decisions about who/what to give my support to in this.  Trying to understand what I can offer.  I am limited in my understanding – not really able to take in the immensity it all, but not wanting to break it down and reduce it to simply problems to solve.  This is some of what I have learned:

I am not separate.  I am, and I am not, an individual.  All beings, animate and inanimate, on the planet are totally unique and totally interconnected.  The whole universe is totally interconnected.  The wise have been telling us this since always.  Humans are not really able to separate themselves from the rest of nature on this rich and wonderful planet.  It is not our right or even a genuine possibility to dominate the natural world.  This is a dangerous illusion we have been living with too long.  Our efforts to do this have brought us to this point.

Power and control need to be replaced by responsibility and agency. Everything we do has some kind of effect.  We each have some agency and need to take on board our responsibility.  This is an immense shift in view – but possible.  It requires us to do without much of what we have taken for granted as our entitlement.  We must let go of power and control – of any thought of dominance.

It would be dangerous to think that technology can solve things – or economics – or politics.  All of these have hugely contributed and are continuing to contribute to the processes of environmental destruction that are now well underway.  Technology, economics and politics can be helpful, but only if the current views and approaches within them are radically re-visioned.  What is needed is a fundamental shift in how we view ourselves, others and our environment.

People tend to want certainty and simplicity – but will have to embrace uncertainty and complexity.  We will also have to embrace each other – all of us need to embrace all of us – human and non-human.  If this does not happen, then fear will take hold everywhere and I fear a frightening and violent future – global holocaust.   Them-and-us and nationalism need to be replaced by equality and community.  And as the eloquent voices in the Black Lives Matter movement have made it clear, for things to become more equal, those of us who have more will need to make do with far less – less privilege, less convenience, less comfort and even less food.

Nature can recover.  If given the space and able to take the lead, life can proliferate again.  But we will need to take less, make less and discard less.  We will have less of what we have strenuously created and accumulated in the last 400 years or so.  Less will feel like loss – but it will bring more.  Are we prepared to live with less?  Can we manage to open our hearts and minds to embrace what needs to be embraced?

There is a gift there


This is on a blanket that my mother used to wrap around herself – and I still use when I am wanting warmth and comfort.  The heart stone comes from my friend, Julia, who died a few years ago and who used to collect heart stones – and the rose petals are from roses in ex-husband’s garden, that my daughter now cares for.  She brought them to me after my mini-stroke last year.

What is the gift?

On the 11th May, 2019 – a year ago today – I had a bad fall which precipitated a mini-stroke, leaving me helpless and housebound for almost a month.  It then took me several months more to slowly regain my energy.  A stroke nurse was amazed and fascinated when I told her it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  It opened me up in a way that I have been preparing for, and desiring, for a very long time.  Hallelujah!

A year later – and the whole world is changing through the pandemic experience of COVID19 coronovirus.  I have had to close down in the sense of staying at home – but my practice is still to keep opening.  Opening to death and loss is the theme at the moment.  Two people who have deeply influenced my life in recent years, including this enquiry into desire, have died recently – neither from the virus.  Javanese movement artist and teacher, Suprapto Suryodarmo died in December of heart failure – and Rob Burbea, Buddhist meditation teacher, died last week of cancer after an extended and brave effort to keep living.  Loss is heavy in my heart.  In his last recorded talk, Rob talked about death and dying and said it is not all about loss.  “There is a gift there.”

A gift came my way from my step-son last week.  He is writing an information leaflet on mental health to help inform mental health support workers who have little experience or training and he wanted me to have a look at the draft and comment on it.  In it he wrote that depression was a misnomer – that really it is a “depressive response”.   This slight shift in the way of looking has quite a strong effect – no longer seeing it as some “thing” that arrives and blankets my life, but as a way my psyche is responding.  The “thing” that needs to be understood is more whatever it is that I am responding to than the response.  This is such an empowering difference.  I have suffered depression on and off since my late teens.  There have been times when it has gone on for months and months – feeling like a whole mental landscape, a kind of empty desolation I am marooned in.  There is no desire felt in this place – although, from a distance, I can see a desire coming from the depths of my soul to change and to grow.  In time I began to figure out that my depressions related to having to fundamentally change in some way – and eventually I saw it more positively as some kind of initiatory experience.

In the last ten years, despite the losses and changes, I have not experienced depression in any long term way.  Yes, I can go down low and very quiet for a few days or even weeks, but I don’t seem to get stuck there anymore.  One of the main reasons I gave for my retreating out to Dartmoor for three months in the spring of 2010, after retiring from teaching, was to see if this could alter my usual depressive response to big changes – and it did.  I was proactive in my withdrawal from daily life, opening eagerly to the retreat if not without trepidation, and it was a transformative, beautiful time.  I gave myself a gift.

I have already written in this blog about the gift I received from my mini-stroke experience (Going deeper to be loved).  Now I am waiting, practicing opening, wondering what the gift might be from the recent death and loss.  I know I have already received it and just don’t yet see what it is.  My response, true to my nature, is a depressive response.  What is the gift?



COVID-19 Lockdown

Perception of time becomes clear.

Everything known is past, except

what is here right now.

The future does not exist.


Desire, too, sharpens into focus.

The lessons of Epictetus

never felt more relevant.

“Well, should I not desire health, then?”

No – nor for that matter, anything

outside the limits of your authority;

and whatever you cannot produce

or preserve at will

lies outside your range.

Don’t let your hands go near it,

much less your desire.*


I want to unfurl like a flower –

body, heart, soul –

every time I whisper the word,



*Discourses, Book IV (Penguin Classics)