Showcase Sunday: Reconnecting Spirit with Nature

raj808
Scuba Scribe @raj808a month ago · 22 min read · #mindfullife

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Today is Sunday... which means the Showcase Sunday challenge. Showcase Sunday is a chance to resurrect undervalued work, and perhaps get some new eyes on those posts that took hours/days to make. This initiative was created by @nonameslefttouse, who seems to have disappeared from steem in the last month. I hope you are OK dude?

There is nothing wrong with a digital detox!

This week I would like to share some of my past articles and poetry that were inspired by my spiritual side. This steem-o-verse we all inhabit is an entirely synthetic place. Sure the interactions are real, the content you create adds value to many peoples lives, and some of the projects effect the 'real' world in an actionable way... but for the most part we are all playing a game of illusions on steem.

It is important to find ways to peer through the illusions we all surround ourselves with once in a while, and for me this is achieved through meditation. When my mind becomes cluttered I find that clarity and meditation through observing nature. For some reason it is difficult for me to reach the same level of quiet mind in the city. I feel the same way about the internet if I'm honest, which is why I feel it is so important to step back occasionally in digital detox, to let the smoke clear and glimpse what hides beyond the veil.

The two posts I would like to share are from more than a year ago. Both describe hikes I went on where I immerse myself in the environment and surrounding nature to effect a walking meditation. One of the posts includes a poem I wrote which actually won me first place and a bit of spare change in a local poetry slam here in Liverpool.

For me, grounding myself in the root of being means escaping to the wilderness to reconnect with nature. It is all about reflection. When we look into the face of nature we see our reflection uncluttered by the synthetic creations of the modern world.

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Aber Falls – Finding the Peak of Summer's promise 🍀



The Journey – in the Shadow of the Hills

This is where my journey begins. At 5 am on a warm summer morning I packed my car ready for the day’s adventure ahead. Nuts, raisins and some sandwiches were hastily stuffed in my backpack, along with my mini-binoculars and some waterproof trousers, just the essentials. It may have been high summer but this is Wales in the UK after all!

I love to start early on day-trips. When the birds are lazily twittering, newly awoken, there is a brief hiatus of action even in the city, a stillness and surreal emptiness in the abandoned pavements. The roads are open, empty and it is a pleasure to speed down the motorway, windows open riding the crest of the rush hour wave. My friends all think I am mad for going so early, but when you arrive at a wild place at 7 or 8 in the morning there is a tranquility that leads to a clarity of thought that can’t be grasped at any other time. When it is just you and the weary wind whispering up the valley, heavy silence opening out in the salient vista. This is the time I feel most alive! Every noise becomes a point of focus, you notice everything more keenly, times transience flows and the sharp cry of a buzzard rising on thermal currents in the air evokes a shiver down the spine.



A Path Less Trodden – Finding Contentment

I arrived at Aber Falls nature reserve at 7.30am, parked my car and was on my way up to the falls by 8 o’clock. The soft lull of the early morning, mingled with the warm sunlight on my face washing away all trace of the sleep from my eyes as I walked briskly towards the falls and the fells some 4.5 miles distant.

Aber nature reserve is known for its wild horses which roam the woods and hillside fens. I was somewhat reticent about meeting these equine nomads, as I have had a bad experience with a horse as a young man when a gelding kicked me in the leg and head. The reserve is also home to weasels, polecat, stoat, badger and even otter have been spotted in the reserve's main river which winds down from the falls. Smaller mammals including bank vole and wood mouse and the woods are alive with birds such as the Treecreeper, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Redstart (summer visitor) and Siskin. If you look up the valley towards Aber Falls, you will see the granite bones of these hills, hollows and green hummocks that litter the slopes. This is where buzzard and sparrowhawk can be seen preying on both the woodland birds and smaller mammals.

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I walked slowly and carefully along the trail, keeping to the grass verges to muffle my footfalls and was soon rewarded with a glimpse of what I think was a stoat. This whiskered marauder of nests was quick and lithe, darting into the undergrowth before I could even think of snapping it with my phone camera. The sheep were less camera shy and seemed to be a little nonplussed with this early morning wanderer, I got really close before they darted away, baaing dismay at me disturbing their dawn grazing.

As I walked on the sun rose in the sky burning away the early morning mist and the meadows opened out in sun-born bliss. This is where I find my quiet place, out in nature. Summertime in Wales is a brief explosion of viridity. The once rain-soaked fells come alive with insects and birds. The Hobbiton-esque landscape speaks of lazy days, meandering through the woods; recalls that special childhood wonder of exploring stream beds for dappled stones and playing hide’n’seek among the trunks of trees. It’s this sort of nostalgic mussing which keeps me returning to wild places as well as city parks, for me it’s a way to escape for a while from that adult mental chatter that I suffer from, to quiet the inner critic and just be! Although, I have to admit I do not regress into the exuberant wonder of a child playing hide’n’seek, it is the essence of that freedom that lingers in my thoughts at times like that. These echoes are why I find such spiritual nourishment exploring wild places.


The Lifeblood of the Hills

As I approached the falls I noticed the ruins of an iron age roundhouse just off the path. Aber Falls Nature reserve is famous for its iron age archaeological sites, which include both longhouses and roundhouses as well as an iron age hill fort. The site is little more than a ring of stones with a larger stone standing where the doorway would have been. There is an undoubted timelessness about Coedydd Aber, as a lifelong fan of fantasy fiction, this place evokes in me feelings of adventure. You could envisage the woods filled with spying eyes, wolves howling in the hills and lonely giants lurking in caves on the slopes beside the waterfall.

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As I approached Rhaeadr Fawr (Welsh for Great Falls) I could hear the rumble of the crashing water and I felt the thrill of visiting a new place and drinking it in. I quickened my pace and as I had been walking for about 2 hours I was looking forward to dipping my head in the falls and feeling the icy blast of the welsh water. The walk from the parking area to the falls is about 4.5 miles or 7.5 km, I was planning to scale the hill today, to stop for lunch above the falls looking out at the valley and the Menai Straits.

I stopped at the base of the falls and ate one of my sandwiches listening to the rhythms of the water on the rocks. As I ate this sound blended with the background bleats of sheep and the soft whistle of the breeze to create a kind of pulsing heartbeat. I remember thinking that it was like the pulse of the hills, measured in the weight of the water, their lifeblood. This is how my meditation at the foot of the falls felt and I sat for a good while drinking in these thoughts as I nibbled my sandwich and drank chilled peppermint tea. The sun was not yet high enough in the sky to crest the peaks of the hills and finally, the chill nudged me from my soporific state and I hoisted my backpack to continue on to the path and the climb.

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Ascension

Now, this is where the adventure really began! All I had for navigation was a picture of the map, on my phone. As I skirted the hillside heading south I couldn’t see a path to the summit or any indication on the map where it might be. I had read online the day before that there were various paths to take but after an hour of steady hiking I could not see a clear path. As I approached a bridge which seemed to lead back down the valley I saw a stile to my left. The slope on the other side looked pathless but I decided to strike out. Bad decision! Being a little unfit, this was one of the longest slogs I have experienced in a long while as there was no path and I had to walk sideways up the slope using the well rooted in heather as support.

The ground was very wet and boggy and the heather was the only thing that made the ascent possible. I zig-zagged my way from patch to patch judging the solid ground by the proliferation of heather and mosses. Various streams wound their way down the side of the hill, veins of the hills crisscrossing the slopes in a chattering melody. I stopped to listen to their music at one point but by now I was pretty focused on cresting the ridge and finding an easier way. Perseverance finally paid off, and as my legs were screaming at me that enough was enough, I saw a way up along a ridge of rock. I clambered up, calves burning and stumbled onto a path.

I looked up then down and realised that the path led to the base of the next valley and if I had just carried on over the bridge and along the path for 20 minutes more I would have found it. I laughed at the sheer madness of it all and struck out along the small animal track along the side of the slope.


Alone in the Sky

It was around 11am now and I hadn’t seen another human in my trails and I was happy. This is part of the wonder of taking these hikes so early in the morning, you can reach the heights, scale hills in quiet thought far away from the tumults of human noise. I love the lonely song of the wind, calling through the valleys fringe to find peace alone in the sky. The path wound on, my day-dreams mingling with the calls of a lone buzzard circling high in the morning sun. I watched it for a time through my rather shoddy binoculars, catching a lift in the currents of my mussing, soaring on the wings of its song. The following quote by Jack Kerouac exemplifies how I feel about scaling the high places of the world. How the hills and mountains speak to me and nourish my souls.

To me a mountain is a buddha. think of the patience, hundreds of thousands of years just sittin there bein perfectly perfectly silent and like praying for all living creatures in that silence and just waitin for us to stop all our frettin and foolin.
– Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Although I am not a practicing Buddhist I am definitely a practitioner of walking meditation. Or, to put it better, a practitioner of moving meditation, movement through nature. The journey is what’s important, getting away from man-made noise. All of these elements are what make up truly successful meditation for me, a quieting, allowing space to breathe, an exhalation!

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The Peak of Summers Promise

The broken up path gained in gradient and it started to resemble a scramble at times, but my final destination was in sight. I could see the crest of the top of the hill jagged against the sky. As often happens at this point on a hike, I found my second wind and picked up the pace, my legs like pistons. As I reached the top I gazed out into the sun-bleached haze, the glaze of the midday heat shimmer made the valley dance in my sight and I sat down as I got that peculiar optical illusion which comes on when looking out from a high place after staring at the slope in front of your feet for so long.

I sat on a rock and watched the distances receding into itself as I let my eyes catch up with my brains depth perception. This unreality blended with my endorphins, and the sudden cool breeze from the upland moors, to create an exultant state of mind. I rested for a while breathing in the view and gazing out to sea and the horizons blue tint. I drank more peppermint tea and noticed a flock of mountain sheep a good distance away, eyeing me nervously near to the edge of the cliff. I decided this was to be my destination, the perfect place for lunch out on a rock at the edge of oblivion.

I wound my way down to the cliff edge, along sheep worn paths barely a foot wide. I made certain to approach the sheep from a direction which would herd them away from the edge and once I was certain they had fled to the nearby dell I walked straight to the edge. The drop was intimidating and as I settled to unpack my sandwiches I suffered a brief moment of vertigo.

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I chewed on my now squashed sandwiches, snacking on nuts and raisins for the fuel that I would need for the return journey. I stared out and down as I ate, breathing in the immensity of the hills, their comparative permanency solid in my settling thoughts. I always feel this way when reaching the peak, the achievement lends a flighty uncaring speed to my thoughts and I try not to spend too long near the edge as it’s in these states of mind that I experience what the French call L’appel du vide. It’s a kind of fascination to jump, an instinctual longing to know what it’s like to plummet. There is no word for it in English and it has nothing to do with wanting to die, it’s more a yearning for unfettered freedom, the same feeling that an eagle must get just before it dives from its eerie. I longed for that unfettered freedom and in essence, the journey to that island in the sky was my human equivalent.

© Rowan Joyce, all rights reserved.

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One man practicing kindness in the wilderness is worth all the temples this world pulls.
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

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West Kirby & Hilbre Island - Where Sky Meets Sea

West Kirby is a small town located at the corner of the Wirral peninsular on the river Dee. Just off shore there are two small islands, which you can see on the right of the panoramic above, called Little Hilbre and Hilbre Island. In the far distance, the hills of Wales line the hazy horizon, hugged by brooding clouds, heavy with the threat of rain. Hilbre Island is an awesome place to visit if you are a nature lover. The reserve boasts a bevy of wading birds from Oystercatchers and Curlew to the rarer Purple Sandpiper which winter on the island. Also, nesting birds such as skylarks and meadow pipits can be seen swooping in and around the bracken on the main island. A colony of grey seals bask on the sandbanks when the tide is out and can often be seen swimming in the waters surrounding the island.

Hilbre island is only accessible when the tide is out, which is when the sky meets the sea as the river Dee is transformed into a flat desert of sand. There is a set path you must follow to avoid quicksand, although I have seen West Kirby locals completely ignoring the recommended crossing. It is advised to cross from West Kirby beech to a small rock called 'the eye' just before Little Hilbre and then follow the line from Little to the main Hilbre island. Although at first glance the estuary looks like a desert, life bubbles under the surface. Small piles of what look like string litter the surface of the sand, trails left by feeding sand worms that have retreated with the receding tide.


The journey across the estuary, is a peaceful walk of around three miles and you will see few people apart from the ever present RNLI lifeguards who work tirelessly marking areas of shifting sand. I find the flat almost lunar landscape very settling. I love to practice walking meditation here, focusing my mind on the feel of the sand crunching underfoot,
drifting off into the present moment with the distant murmur of the sea. Small rivulets of water create bands of silver in the sand-scape, while smears of emerald seaweed trail lazy tails from the lee of the isles. It is an easy place to let your worries slip away in a moment of mindful clarity. Each stage of the journey to Hilbre has a different energy to it, the thirty minute walk to the first island is a time of silent contemplation, when you finally arrive at the islands the sounds of wildlife wakes you up to the world.

Walking the Bed of a River - Creativity in Natures Song

I find immense creativity in nature and wilderness places. Away from the city, it is almost like a muffler is removed and the cadence of calling birds mingling with the murmuring wind imprints a profound music on my soul. As I approached Hilbre island I noticed this feeling growing in me, along with the far off hoots of seals on the sandbanks across the water. I decided to stop and sit with my eyes closed and listen to the sounds of this building chorus. The seals hoots, refracted by distance wailed with the wind while water trickled through nascent veins of sand and rock formed in the tides retreat. I took notes on my phone which quickly started to form a poem (previously unpublished) which I have included a reading of at the end of this article.

I think that places of nature like this are essential for nurturing a balanced outlook in life. I am by no means blind to the cruel indifference of nature in the predator/prey dynamic and this is evident in a verse in the poem, but I feel that humans have disconnected with the instinctual to a large extent through over-development of ego or the thinking self. The profound beauty that I find up-welling in me when I go out into nature is born of this re-connection with the instinctual and the clarity that comes with this way of being. It is not a case of switching off your thoughts but rather quieting that part of you that wants to define everything you see based on what you think you know. This clarity allows for a pure sensory observing which is very important in good creative writing. Good poetry expresses story or place in the most refined format as the writer attempts to pin-point the nucleus of an image or idea. This is why there is less use of conjunctive words and more metaphor, it's literally an exercise in saying more in less words.

The feeling of creativity stayed with me as I continued my journey to the main island. I have written about how to use perspective in photography to help with mental health issues before and I continued this practice as I wandered on. This exercise is kind of like a visual game which shifts the focus to quiet observance in a similar way to what I described above. I'm not a photographer really, or at least I don't have the equipment to be called one lol. But I try to be inventive with textures and perspectives. Check out the pictures below, all taken on my smart phone.

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Hilbre Island - A Hidden History

As I approached the island the distant seals wails serenaded my arrival. This was not my first visit, as I have been coming here since I was a child. I was determined to find out more of the history of the buildings on the island, as all I knew was that the lifeboat crew were once stationed here. I was mindful of the time, as you have a 3-4 hour window to make the crossing and back unless you want to be stuck on the island due to the rising tides. I won't go into the procedure of how to read the tide tables but if your ever in Merseyside and want to make the trip you can find out all the info you need here.

I noticed a couple of rangers surveying and photographing the seal colony through a very powerful camera, they looked busy so I didn't approach them to ask if I could take a picture but as I walked past one of the buildings I saw an elderly man unpacking some gear from a Range Rover. After asking him if he was the head ranger he laughed, explaining that he was far too old for that. I asked him his name and we struck up a conversation. Over the course of the next 30 minutes I learned more history about the island than I thought possible. Charlie was a walking fount of knowledge, he kept stopping and closing his eyes as he explained the history of the buildings to me, explaining that when you reach the age of 71 you need a little time to get the neurons firing. He confirmed that the slipway and building at the far (east) end of the island was indeed an old lifeboat station from before the world wars but that they were never inhabited long term. Apparently the buildings were added later as holiday residences for important employees of the Liverpool docks.

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According to Charlie, the island was also used during the second world war as a control centre for a network of beacons that were set up in strategic locations to fool incoming bombers, confusing them as to the location of Liverpool's docks. The docks were a strategic supply point and the beacons would be lit in certain patterns to mimic the lights of different towns in the area fooling the German planes into dropping their bombs on farm land. I have since conducted some internet research on the island and discovered that it was inhabited on and off since the Stone Age but as Charlie warned me, I found no records of this military history. Apparently, the location and operation was a closely guarded secret, to the extent that only local historians know about it to this day. He said I could verify all of this at Liverpool central library but that he could show me the evidence in the landscape. He then led me to the (now overgrown and bricked-up) site of a bunker which the signal-men would have lived in during that time of great struggle (check out the pics below).

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The Final Adagio of Siren's Song

Charlie was such an interesting guy, but as time was ticking for the incoming tide, I thanked him and continued on to the far end of the island where there was a chance of spotting seals languishing at the shore in the gentle sway of slack water between the tides. As I walked along the southern coast I took advantage of a rather rickety wooden view point to see what I could see. Almost straight away I could see dots of bobbing heads loosely scattered along the coastal waters. I got a little overexcited as I love seals and having had the privilege of scuba diving with seals in the past, kept wondering about the possibility of bringing my fins and mask next time to attempt some free-diving. Note: do not try this without boat cover, as the waters around Hilbre are very tidal and strong currents make it very dangerous for swimmers. As I approached the slipway and the far end of the island I told a group of walkers that I had spotted seals in the water. They smiled and replied that I should continue on to the end of the island as I'd be happy with what I'd find.

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The sea was alive with bobbing seals, I counted 18 at one point and I slowly wound myself down the rocks of the slip way to sit right at the shoreline. I stayed low and moved slow so as not to freak out my furry friends but honestly, they did not seem at all bothered. They watched me as I watched them and at one point a curious seal was about 10-15 feet away looking me right in the eye. I can't tell you how much interactions with wildlife like this mean to me, I will let the short video clip and poetry reading below describe how I felt.

If you have made it all the way to the end of this travel epic, bravo 😉 and many thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the trip to Hilbre Island 😎


The music used in this poetry reading is called "The Nymphaeum part III" Exzel Music Publishing freemusicpublicdomain.comLicensed under Creative Commons

© Rowan Joyce, all rights reserved.

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All pictures/video used in this post are my own work unless specified below the image. If you have enjoyed this travel/meditation articles, please do check out my other work on my homepage @raj808. Thanks for reading.

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Topics: MINDFULLIFENATURALMEDICINESHOWCASE-SUNDAYPOETRYNATURESPIRITUALITYMEDITATION

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