poetry fix – ‘To Know the Dark’ by Wendell Berry

Hello, readers. This blog has been a no-show for a while but all that is about to change. It is now going to be solely focused on writing and I have started a new blog that is about anxiety and mental health. It’s called Scaredy Cat and you can find it at www.scaredycat.home.blog. Head on over and follow if it appeals to you.

It’ll be a slow process moving my mental health content over to Scaredy Cat and transforming this blog into writing-only. I hope you can stick with me and find one or both of my sites an interesting read.

As well as flex my own writing muscles, I want this site to celebrate good writing created by others. My first weekly feature will be ‘Poem of the Week’ and today we’re starting with a short but weighty poem by Wendell Berry. His latest anthology was gifted to me at Christmas. It is called, ‘The Peace of Wild Things’ and I thoroughly recommend it to all but especially if you’re a city-dweller. Words have the power to transport you elsewhere, as I’m sure you know. When the peace of actual wild things eludes you, put some noise-cancelling headphones on and jump into a reality-retreat and read one or two of these poems.

Without further ado…

Handwritten by me, you can find it on p.37 in the anthology as a 4-line poem

This poem utilises great word economy yet provokes reflection more than any other poem I’ve read for a while. In that sense it reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s In This Short Life That Lasts Only An Hour.

It challenges me to not shy away from the darkness in the world, which can represent so many different things. We can be inclined to shine a light on everything. Like a child who is afraid to go upstairs by themselves and so hurriedly runs to every light switch.

Avoiding darkness can involve sweeping painful feelings under the carpet. Or turning away from injustice and the suffering of others. There is much to be learned from the realities that scare or repel us. Even beauty to be explored as we learn and change through our exposure to and interaction with darkness in its myriad forms.

In a very literal sense, we know that the natural world harbours a variety of creatures that consider darkness their friend. To never venture into the dark is to miss the twit-twoo of an owl, the sparkling night sky, the ominous yet poetic wolf’s howl.

In a metaphorical sense, I know that denying my own feelings of grief or struggle has led to more struggle rather than freedom. It can feel like you’re doing your lost loved one an injustice to not linger in the darkness of your pain. The process of sitting with the darkness, having a cry, and then getting on with the day helps you move through the process in a healthy way.

What does this poem make you reflect on? Any favourites you want to share?

new year, new word

Hello, readers. It’s been a while and this post is probably just about still relevant. I figure if I post it before February is over it’s still of interest (though I’m aware I’m currently wearing a vest top and enjoying such a warm, sunny day that the New Year feels distant).

I have a love-hate relationship with the New Year. We tend to have busy Christmas’s involving a fair amount of travel. When we get back home and all the Christmas festivities are officially over, I am overwhelmed with a desire to rid the house of the Christmas-clutter and get back to normality. A tidier, less-cluttered normality than we had before Christmas.

I think there should be a New-Year-clean rather than just saving it for the spring. Instead of feeling overweight and lethargic, I feel overweight and energised towards a fresh start. A new beginning. A clean slate.

Last year, I was inspired by Ali Edwards’ ‘one little word’ project. She chooses a word to inspire her for the year rather than a list of resolutions. This is the basis for a scrapbook that she will create that year to record memories. All somehow shaped and nuanced by her engagement with this word. What she creates is beautiful and if you are the scrapbooking type you should check out her website.

I’m not a scrapbook-er but having one word to focus on feels interesting, manageable and, let’s face it, who can actually remember their list of resolutions by pancake day?

This year I’ve decided to go with…

Last week, I found myself explaining to one of my children how I feel most happy when I am enabling them to be happy. That when you go after your own happiness all the time, it feels a bit like trying to catch a snow flake. But then that seems like twisting selflessness to ultimately be about your own happiness as well. Am I still just chasing happiness here? Brain ache ensues. We’re only human and happiness feels good. It’s not entirely lacking in nobility.

I’ve been using the Headspace meditation app, not every day I hasten to admit, but a major component of their approach is to encourage you to reflect on the benefits of your meditation on others. This is because being introspective is unhelpful for your mental health. Escaping your own head and not focusing on your current state of mind is one of the best things you can do.

What am I aiming for, then?

Well, when I find myself getting anxious or low, I will aim to refocus on those around me and how I can encourage and positively impact their lives. I won’t just pray about my own problems but will pray for others. I will seek to enhance the joy of others for THEIR sake.

Will let you know how it goes…

invest in your mental health and get creative

Are you content with how you spend your evenings? Are you stressed and overwhelmed? Struggling with your mental health?

I have a suggestion for you. It’s called, CREATE NIGHT.

I listened to a podcast about happiness a while back (BBC radio 4 I think) and one guest on the show talked about happiness being a less salient state. We tend not to notice it as much as we notice the unhappiness and stress. I believe this is true. Throw our digital world into the mix and before you’ve even blinked, your happiness at the beautiful sunrise you’ve just experience is thrown aside by the discontentment you now feel after seeing the breathtaking photo of the Northern Lights that someone has just posted on Instagram.

The show participants went on to discuss when they felt the most happy. This was when they were doing something that required their full attention. It was an activity that forced them to be fully engaged in the moment. This is one of the reasons gardening is good for you. It is one such task that fully absorbs you, mind and body. It presents little problems that aren’t world-crushing, but require your thoughtful attention to solve. You learn and achieve, which is uplifting. It can have its failures and frustrations but at the end of the day – it’s just a garden.

In our garden, I set aside this patch to plant vegetables and then planted some flower seeds in the adjacent bed. A purple, butterfly-attracting blend of flora and fauna. My husband observed to me the other day, once the plants were well and truly growing, “it’s interesting how you’ve planted butterfly-attracting flowers next to the vegetables seeing as how their offspring will destroy anything edible that grows there.”

Well, a little too late with the nature lesson, pal.

It was kind of funny. Whereas, when things go wrong in other contexts, it’s often not so funny because the implications can be significant.

what is CREATE NIGHT?

It is an evening when you set out to create something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to be for a purpose. In fact, it’s ideal if it’s not purposeful. If you end up giving it away or using it for something because it’s ended up being rather delightful, then bonus.

If you don’t believe you are creative, you’re wrong. Every human being is. We all just create different things. To create means to bring something into existence that wasn’t there before. It is a skill that can be practised and the more you create the more “creative” you become, which can benefit you in all areas of life including work.

what could you create?

Your CREATE NIGHT could involve the following skills/activities:

  • Drawing
  • Model building
  • Letter writing
  • Poetry
  • Scrap-booking
  • Photography
  • Sewing
  • Baking
  • Videography
  • Orienteering
  • Writing fiction
  • Writing non-fiction
  • Event planning
  • Recipe writing
  • Connection (not just any socialising but intentional, like phoning the Gran you don’t keep in touch with well)
  • Gardening
  • Interior design
  • Sculpting
  • Painting
  • Reviewing
  • Dancing
  • Playing an instrument
  • Beauty therapy
  • Design
  • Scheduling
  • Language-learning
  • Video game design
  • Computer programming

The idea is that you’re not doing one of these things to tick off an admin task or do something you needed to do anyway. It is simply to create.

why, though?

It is good for your mental health. This is because it absorbs you in the task and serves as a distraction, as already mentioned. It also serves as its own kind of therapy.

“Often creativity helps you to express parts of yourself that are being hidden,” says Dr Sheridan Linnell, who runs the Master of Art Therapy course at the University of Western Sydney. “Expression through art can be healing in itself, and it can also be a stepping stone for being able to make sense of yourself and express your story to others.”

From a Guardian article about Art Therapy

CREATE NIGHT is an antidote to perfectionism. No one ever makes the perfect result first time around. That can often be the agonising thing about being a professional artist – not knowing when to call a piece ‘finished’.

Perfectionism is a trigger for anxiety and the fear of getting it wrong when it really counts can be paralysing. To open ourselves up to mistakes and failure when it doesn’t count helps us build resilience.

The focus is on creating something and that is the achievement, not the standard of the created thing.

So, why don’t you join me? Any night of the week, whatever you fancy creating. Tweet me with a pic or just tell me what you created #createnight

some rules

No criticising what you create to others. It’s not the point. And if it’s amazing, no one likes false humility. 😉

No pressure. You don’t have to commit to doing it on the same night and every week. It’s not supposed to be something else you could fail at and feel guilt over.

Go wild! Imagine this, you could actually try the thing you’ve been wanting to try doing forever. Ssh! No one even has to know, it’s just for you. Why can’t you write a book? Why can’t you paint a picture having never picked up a paintbrush since you were nine, except to paint your lounge?

Share your create night with others but don’t let it limit you nor bring out your inner-critic. It’s vulnerable but that could be a good thing if you’re both/all willing to share in it.