Yesterday I went for a walk, out into the autumn sunshine among the browning bracken and the gold and copper-coloured trees. We left home in low cloud and drizzle, but on leaving our slate valley (which attracts moisture like a sponge!) we drove out onto sunshine.
The path we took follows the River Glaslyn from Craflwyn to Llyn Dinas, passing the ancient hill fort of Dinas Emrys on the way. Legend tells how it was here, aged little more than a boy, that Merlin first flexed his magical powers by identifying the battling red and white dragons which lived beneath the pool on top of the hill.
Llyn Dinas also has its legends and stories – one in which the local community would build a raft at the time of Beltane (beginning of May) and using it to transport their chosen May king and queen across the water to the opposite bank where an ox would be slaughtered and great feasting and celebration take place.
It all looks so placid and tranquil now. Yesterday I was content to sit upon the rocks and simply ‘be’… to absorb the heat of the sunshine, the warmth of the soft breezes, the beauty, space, silence and peace of the place. That is, until a walking party began to approach down the hillside. Loudly talking all the way I could hear them from quite a distance. Unfortunately for me, they decided to make brief temporary camp at the end of the lake where I was, still loudly talking all the while.
I suspect that they were missing a vital part of their experience by taking their human busy-ness and gregarious sociability with them as they walked. What greater wonders might they have experienced if they had quietened and simply stood or sat for even just five minutes to allow themselves to absorb their surroundings via all their senses on every level? The fact that by the time they reached me I was standing stock still in an inch of lake water, eyes tight shut, with my hands raised to the sky perhaps might have given them a clue.
I recently read in the newspaper that English Heritage have launched an initiative this autumn whereby visitors are encouraged to spend the final hour of opening in silence – switching off their phones and other devices, finishing conversations and deeply entering into the peace of their surroundings in a more contemplative day. What a marvellous idea! After all, what has initially prompted these people to visit such venues in the first place? A different backdrop from which to send their texts, emails and play games from? Surely not.
The problem is that folk tend to immediately jump to the conclusion that if they are asked to be contemplative they must dive into some deep, difficult, mystical form of meditation which they don’t know how to ‘do’. All it needs is a little stillness and silence; to take the time to look about one and absorb one’s surroundings as best one can… look, watch, smell, feel and taste where you are with appreciation and gratitude… and so we begin to more deeply connect with our wonderful world and our own unique life.
I once suggested a little exercise to my Earthwalking students whereby they were to stop every hour – just for a minute or two – and look about them. (I also advised them to set an alarm to prompt them not to miss the hour.) It didn’t matter where they were or what they were doing – on the bus, in the middle of shopping, eating a meal, at work, bathing the kids, hanging out the washing, (not driving, of course, unless they chose to pull over and stop). I asked them to then take that minute or two to look about them and really see where they were; touch, smell, listen to their surroundings, and be thankful for them…
By the end of one day doing this every hour, most of them felt much calmer and far more engaged with their ordinary mundane surroundings – some even began to see how lovely they were and feel joy and thankfulness for them. Try it and see for yourself. You don’t have to go and sit besides a gorgeous lake in the mountains, anywhere and everywhere is magically beautiful. It just depends on how you choose to see it.