X is for cross-stitch

During 2001-2002 Rhiannon and I were both very ill with ME/CFS, easily tired by any physical activity (eg fetching a drink from the kitchen, getting dressed), prone to frequent infections, often in pain. Life was very boring and it would have been easy to be very miserable. We needed some very light activities to distract us.


Cross-stitch became one of our favourites. In particular we made greetings cards, many featuring butterflies. Our Quaker meeting was raising funds for a refurbishment and extension of our building. In addition to applying for grants and organising fund-raising events, we had a ‘bring and buy’ trolley on Sunday mornings. People contributed vegetables they had grown, cakes they had baked, other things they had made. It didn’t bring in vast sums of money, but it helped, and, very importantly, it gave everyone a chance to be involved.

So we sat at home and, as and when we were able, we drew designs on graph paper with coloured pencils, stitched them, mounted them in cards, wrapped and presented the cards neatly for sale. It kept us very gently occupied. Importantly it also kept us feeling that we were contributing to the community effort.


With many thanks to Luanne for the creative interpretation of ‘x’.

W is for Woodbrooke and learning about Buddhism

‘Being Peace’ at Woodbrooke 18-20 December 2009

I wrote this account some time ago, very soon after the retreat. This weekend was significant to me on my Quaker Buddhist journey, so it seems appropriate to share this in this blog.


Impressions from a Zen Buddhist retreat:


the sound of snow crunching under my feet as we walked mindfully around the snowy garden in the sunshine


the taste of the vegetables as we ate lunch mindfully together


the sight of twenty plus adults snuggled under their blankets on the quiet room floor


the feel of that floor under my knees, palms, forehead as we ‘touched the earth’


the smell of the tea in the tea ceremony


deep relaxation aided by ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’


sharing readings and songs together: from the Heart Sutra to ‘Just William’, from ‘Nam myoho renge kyo’ to ‘Ubi Caritas’, from Plum village to a gospel choir


waiting at table to meditate together before eating together – reminiscent of the ‘old days’ at Woodbrooke, when we served at table


hugging mindfully


the quality of listening to one another in the ‘insight sharing’ group


the sense of connection to one another and to the world beyond as we ended our early meditation by bowing to the Buddha within one another and to the new day


happily babbling baby during meeting for worship


And what did I learn:


how to sit on the floor


that everything we do can be a ‘practise’


that the real practise begins when the meditation ends


where the next step on my journey lies


to be grateful for stairs


the deep joy of being totally present in the moment


This retreat was based on the teachings of Thich Naht Hanh and led by Murray Corke of the Community of Interbeing and Tim Peat Ashworth of Woodbrooke. My thanks to them and to all the participants.




W is for White Feathers

On the 100th anniversary of the beginning of world war I (4/8/14) about 2000 Quakers and others associated with them were already gathered in Bath for Yearly Meeting Gathering. One way in which we commemorated the day was an all age worship session in the big top.

On each seat as we came in was a cut out paper white feather. White feathers were used during WWI to humiliate conscientious objectors and their families. The idea was that in our semi-programmed worship we would reclaim the symbol.

As we sat in silent worship, it was suggested that on one side of the feather we write or draw our response to the question ‘what can you do to make the world a happy and peaceful place?’

I wrote ‘Smile. Love. Greet my difficult neighbour. Listen. Share.’

Then we were invited to turn the feather over and respond to the question ‘what does it means to be a peacemaker?’

I wrote ‘Listening and hearing both/all sides. Seek courage to speak out.’

At the end, we were invited to place our feathers in large buckets provided for the purpose (I hastily copied my responses into my notebook/journal before handing my feather in).

Some wonderful, behind the scenes, people, then displayed all the feathers in a huge white dove on the wall of the big top, where it stayed as a reminder for the rest of the week.

It was a powerful exercise, yet accessible to all (some of the children were glad of the ‘wiggle room’ where they drew and coloured on their feathers while free to move around on the floor).

I think my response ‘seek courage to speak out’ fed into the transformation that I wrote about recently.

V is for Vision

On 8 July 2010, towards the end of a course at Woodbrooke facilitated by Thomas Swain considering our Spiritual Gifts, we were asked to identify our dream, our vision. Blue sky thinking ,Thomas encouraged us, this is a safe space, be bold!


I restricted myself to Watford (didn’t think I could change the whole world) and draw Watford as I saw it then, with lots of groups working to make it a better place, but often with little contact between them. I’ve noted ‘Watford is in many ways blessed – but it could be even more so’. Then I draw the Watford of my vision with all the groups working together and wrote ‘groups with a concern to let God’s love (whatever they call it) work in our town, being open to and accepting of internal and external diversity, so that Watford is a better place to be (the Kingdom of God here and now). An example to other places’. Groups I identified include WIFA, CAW and Celebration (those being ones I was involved in, but I’m aware that there are many others). I noted that this would require ‘healing, listening, understanding at all levels’ and that my role may be, in some small way, enabling this. I identified my gifts, skills and experience (and this was a key part of the exercise) as being in facilitating sharing and deep listening (and behind the scenes organisation). I also identified the need to be in groups where I am somewhat uncomfortable (often because they use language differently to me) although my role may be to do and/or say nothing boldly.

Sacred Space

While I shared this with the friendly, supportive, safe group at Woodbrooke, it has taken a long time to speak of this vision elsewhere. However, it has stayed with me, and I have been ‘working’ on it. By that I mean that I keep returning to it, rethinking how I can express it, refining my understanding of it.

One way to describe it is as a realising eschatology – a belief that the ‘Kingdom of God’ is imminent, is in some senses here, but also needs a lot of work on the ground to make it a reality. In a mystic sense I am aware that it is already here, if only we can accept and perceive that. Yet quite clearly it is not here – the world is still full of hunger, thirst, war, cruelty, inequality and suffering of all kinds. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh ‘the Kingdom of God is Here and Now’ and ‘happiness is here and now’ – if (or perhaps I mean IFF) we ‘realise that we already have all the necessary conditions for happiness’. I stick with the phrase ‘the Kingdom of God’ despite people offering alternatives such as the ‘Divine Republic’. I still perceive that God (a loving, creative force or presence rather than a being) is ‘in charge’, is ‘ruling’, because people living in this ‘Kingdom’ (a state not a physical place) have freely aligned themselves with this power. I could go with the word ‘Heaven’ though.

I was given pause for thought when I heard Thay say that ‘the Kingdom of God is Here and Now, Here and Now is the Kingdom of God’. But the more I live with that, the more I see truth in it. When we dwell in the here and now, we dwell in the kingdom. So I breathe and let my thoughts go and come back to the here and now. Then I try that again. But I also do what I can to make the kingdom a physical reality, starting in Watford, because that’s where I am. So I smile to the Buddha in the next person I meet, and (hopefully) the next person after that. As with all spiritual practises it is necessary to forgive one’s failings and just start again.