these quiet times…

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when I was a child, about 10-12 years old
there were times when I would be in the midst of an uninhabited space
and feelings of peace, and of relief would wash over me

I felt able to open up and breathe

I felt I was being shown
a different way to understand my place in the world
in the face of open expanses of land and sea and sky
I felt small and insignificant
and it was a comfort

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I would lie on the ground and imagine
that I could be unmade
all my many parts become small enough that I could be carried on the wind
disperse across the land
to disappear from the human world and fall into the earth
to take root like so many tiny seeds
and this was not a sad thing
I almost longed for it
this communion with the land

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I accepted this alternative perspective
as a child

and I still do

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in this time of quiet
I look out my window
looking onto trees
and all I hear is the wind and calls of birds
and I’m aware that this wild natural world doesn’t need me
I’m not important to it
I could leave now and it would go on
and I’m back where I was as a child
wanting to disintegrate and be subsumed
to be embraced by the rich dark earth
to be transformed
to come back as a leaf or a song or an iridescent feather

 

With the gift of hind-sight I recognize there was an element of escapism in my childhood feelings.
The future was all uncertainty and this desire for disintegration meant I wouldn’t need to confront the unknown country of my teenage years or an incomprehensible adulthood.

And what I realise now, is that this youthful desire, which I sensed then as a desire to disintegrate, to become disembodied, to fly apart into myriad specks of star dust, was really a desire to be integrated into something bigger than myself, something dependable and strong. I wanted to be held safe.

I imagine it now as a desire to become embodied, through re-integration with the land.

It seems that very little has changed.

During this time of isolation, of nationwide lockdown in order to overcome the threat of the corona virus, I’ve had days when this feeling has returned.

There’s something about the quietness, the stillness of current times, that is reminding me to reconnect on a deeper level with the pulse of the land.

I’ve wished I could just walk out into the hills and be absorbed into the ground.

And more than that, I’ve had the sense of how little I matter, and that if humanity stepped aside, the natural world would find its balance again without the stress of our presence.

It’s not that I don’t think my life has purpose or value. It has as much purpose as a seedling pushing its way up through the earth. It has as much value as the shimmer on the back of a bird, the purr of a cat.

It’s just that there are days when I can’t bear the suffering we impose on the land and every other creature that walks or swims or flies.

I walk barefoot every chance I get.

It’s my way of staying connected.

(written all the way back on 12 April
– near the start of the lockdown in NZ)

©griffin2020

 

hearing silence

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During the week of 16 – 20 March 2020, we were just getting used to the announcement the previous weekend that anyone entering the country would be required to self-isolate for 14 days. It seemed to have the immediate effect of reducing the amount of traffic on the roads, as if everyone had started to keep their heads down, hoping this virus would pass them by.

On Wednesday 18 March, I was talking with a dear friend, and confessed I’d been feeling very strange.

“It’s so silent… it’s as if I can hear it… it’s not just that there’s so little traffic… it’s something more than that. It’s as if I can hear silence…”

And I discovered, she felt the same.

We both felt there wasn’t just less background noise from the lack of traffic, but that even the birds were quiet. As if they’d moved further away. And there was more than this.

“I can hear the silence… as if it’s a presence, a being in its own right. It’s like a psychic, spiritual silence, something we’re not usually aware of.”

It was as if the silence was something we could feel, a weight we could sense. As we attempted to explain what we were feeling, we decided it felt eerie, almost foreboding, as if something else was coming. We talked of it as a psychic silence. That it felt like something beyond this material world, something spiritual. We struggled to find the right word to describe what we were feeling. Perhaps there isn’t one.

Then while talking about this with two other close friends shared that they had noticed strange things involving animals – frogs falling silent, cows clustering together.

It was all starting to feel very unsettling.

Perhaps we had just started to pay attention.
We were noticing the absence of sound.
We were hearing silence.

And perhaps what we were sensing was the sheer enormity and power of the natural world, which our society has managed to separate us from for so long. As if we had suddenly stepped off a structured path and into a forest, and were struck by the changes in sound and smell, of temperature.

I’d felt that I was sensing silence as if it was a weight, something heavy and ominous.

Perhaps the screen of the modern world had lifted, and revealed the ripe, rich, wild world just beyond the doorstep. Not preparing to take over, and not waiting for me to me to cross over, but purely alive and present.

Perhaps what I sensed was the deep, slow heartbeat of the land.

 

The following Monday, it was announced that Aotearoa/New Zealand would go into lockdown at 11.59pm 25 March for four weeks. I discovered that although nervous, I felt relieved.

And now that we’re a few days in, I’m finding this period of isolation is giving me the opportunity to slow my own rhythms, to synchronize my blood and breathing with the earth.

The silence?

It was the lack of traffic I was noticing. Fewer cars, hardly any planes.

And the birds?

I hear them. They were always there, in the trees around my house.
It was my listening, my attention that was struggling to adjust to absence.

I have the chance now to fill my ears with every other sound around me.

bird-call, rain, wind
the soft tread of the cat as he crosses the room
the tremor of a leaf
the expectance between heartbeats
the promise of a held breath
the weight of silence
anticipation, abundance, potential

 

©griffin2020

understanding a painting – summer abstract 2020

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Shifting through Time

when you find yourself in front of a painting you don’t understand
stay there
stand still
wait
and look…

look for a shape you recognise
look for a colour you’ve worn
look for a line that could be part of your own name

search, imagine

if you scraped back a layer
what might lie beneath?

can you find the first time you fell in love?
can you find the first time you were afraid?
can you find the first layer of paint laid down when you were still in the womb?
your first word
your first step
your first act of defiance

search, imagine

when you find yourself standing in front of a painting you don’t understand
stay there
stand still
wait
and look

you are watching your own life unfold

 

This started out as a much different painting –
an attempt to convey a family separation that happened in my early years.
I wasn’t happy with the painting, it felt too contrived and stiff.
When I decided to paint it out and start again –
suddenly – with those two sweeps of white – it was as if I’d overwritten the past
and shifted into the present.
Strange how things work out …

The poem was written in April 2019 – some sort of foretelling going on there.

clairegriffin©2020

 

Inspiration Map

My first attempt at an “Inspiration Map”.

I first saw one of these created by @shewhois on instagram and thought it was a great idea 🙂

From top left:

  • creative souls, David Bowie
  • the wild green world
  • strong women, Frida Kahlo
  • myths/archetypes, Jean Shinoda Bolen
  • colour
  • memories, dreams
  • symbolism, fauvism, Marc Chagall
  • spiritual thinkers, John O’Donohue, Anam Cara
  • details and patterns.

And just today I learned of the sad loss of Marion Woodman – she belongs in more than one of my nine squares.

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This little face !!

Eyes squinting into the sun, so easily misinterpreted as “grumpy-face” if not balanced by the smile. This smile right here.

I had glimpses of her over the years, but she was often lost. In these early photos here I am, staring straight down the line to the camera, smiling with a quiet confidence like I know who I am, like I know how I’ll be living my life.

The circle is drawing back round to the beginning and I am so happy to have found this little being again and been able to release her into the world before the circle closes.

Finding your own truth, your purpose, your voice – what is life otherwise?

This is me – someone just needs to untie my hair and I’d be complete.

becoming my own myth

I dig into the dirt to plant seedlings, sweet peas
imagining them winding their tendrils round stakes
pulling themselves up to the sun before bursting into flower
my fingers hold the earth aside, then press it down to secure a fragile stem
as I start to make another hollow
I push my hands deep into the earth
and …

I am searching for the way back into my past
I am searching for some evidence of belonging
something that will connect me
I pull my hands from the dirt
and all I can see is longing

this land is rich in story
every mountain, tree and bird has name and meaning and myth
but do the stories of this land belong to me?
my ancestors were far, far away when first these tales were told
and now, do the voices of this land speak to me?
and if they do, can I claim them as my own?

born here, four generations or more, but far from the source
disconnected by time and distance, origins lost
those who chose to leave their homes to start again so far away
some thrived, some were broken
I’ve had to learn the names of my family and my birthplace
instead of breathing them in as a babe
the stories of my people didn’t come to me first hand
I’ve never heard them spoken
I can only read the sleeping words
and imagine them rising from the page

there seems no other choice than that I must become my own myth
send my roots down deep into this rich soil
until I feel connected

I would become green-fingered from the feet up
to become a root-knower, stem-lifter, seed-gatherer
I would understand the alchemy of gold to green

but for now

I am become
the memory of the fair-haired child, lost and fearful,
except when barefoot, running wild in her imagination
I am become the troubled woman, seeking security, trying to refuse the easy road
the intentional woman, trusting instincts, curious and creative
who discovered she needed to birth herself
time-shifting to lift and shelter the memory-child,
who tells herself stories,
writes herself into the past and leaves the door open to the future

I listen to birds
and watch the dance of trees
I learn the language of dreams
I have no myths but the ones I tell myself

I dig into the dirt
to plant new life in the soil
I pull my hands from the earth
and now all I can see are stars and flowers

©clairegriffin2017

It’s taken a month to write this – one of those pieces that demanded to be finished before I could move on to something new.
I’d been thinking about those whose forebears moved to another country, and their descendants. There can be feelings of disconnection from the ancestral country, questions which aren’t answered by knowledge of the place of birth. This is the case for me.
I’m aware of some of the Māori history and myth of Aotearoa New Zealand, but not being Māori, I wonder if those stories can also be mine.
And yet, I was born here, I have no-where else. My people came from Scotland, Ireland, and England, and while some of the myths and histories of these places resonate with me, I can’t quite own them. I don’t belong there – my southern Pacific upbringing in this nation has shaped me into a very different creature. I’m not British, I’m not European (although I understand this is used to define origins/ethnicity), and I can’t quite claim the stories of those countries as my own, not in any living, contemporary sense.
I have the added difficulty of a disrupted family history. So this all starts to sound like a question of identity. The stories our ancestors tell help to form our sense of self and belonging. As a Pākehā New Zealander, what are my stories, my mythic tales to explain my place in the world? I want myths that belong to me, that are born of this land.
The late Michael King wrote about Pākehā identity and culture, and this could be the time for me to read his work on this. Strange that I’ve never explored it before now.

 

 

I never knew

I am lost in your hunger

I have bowls full of honey and figs
salted caramel, dark chocolate, and cherries
but I don’t know what to offer you

its no good showing me your hands
or your bright blue eyes
or the curl at the corners of your mouth
they don’t tell me what you need

your hands are soft, your fingers long
skillful, gentle, strong
they don’t show me what you need to touch
that you want to roughen your skin
with dirt and wood and stone
these hands caress, they gift forgiveness
I never knew
they wanted to be held

your eyes are blue
deep set, astute
they are restless and curious
scanning for beauty and the next new thing
they don’t show me that you want to see
the familiar, and the new, grown old
these eyes can cross a room
they share your soul
but I never knew you wanted me
to see them closed

and I can’t trust your mouth
to tell me what you need
all fullness and laughter and easy smile
you speak of honesty and truth
you’d rather your words hurt me, than lie
you appear to question fearlessly
I never knew you trembled before each answer
I never knew you needed more than promises
kissed into your hair
I never knew you needed to bite through
the skin of devotion
that you needed me to bite back

hold out your hands
that I might take them in mine

close your eyes
that I might watch you sleep

show me your teeth
that I might know what to feed you

 

©clairegriffin2017