Tuesday, 20 October 2020

The Wild Nun: Foundations

I am starting slowly, from a low-to-the-ground place.


The future grows from the ground of the past —

The past is mother to the future, to possibility, while it holds us steadily, solidly, in the present —

It is the foundation that cannot be denied —

Only honoured and shown gratitude for the many lessons that push us onwards towards ourselves.

Tree, Merrion Square Park, Dublin, July 2005


If it is the journey and not the destination, then it is the longing and not the attainment.

I must tend to my longings, feed them, encourage them to grow from the ground of my being, so in turn they nourish me.


It’s not easy being a late-bloomer, often a complete non-bloomer, and occasionally dying right back down to the roots to spend time hidden and safe in the underworld, to get some good old composting done before the next furtive emergence.

The world is not always understanding of such changeability, of an adherence to inner seasons that cannot be tamed and forced into production on demand.

It’s not easy but I can’t be rushed. I have to take my own sweet time dancing with the invisible.

Words and images from my Instagram project @the_wild_nun

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Sacred Mountain

I’ve been playing with this idea for the past month, and being constantly frustrated in my attempts to bring it into being. I wanted to get it right, to have it be what it cannot help but be, and avoid starting paintings I couldn’t bring to fruition. My energy is limited, thus I wanted to get from beginning to end with as little twists in the road as possible.

I tried drawing slightly different designs, adding or subtracting details, and pondering colours or a lack of them. Yet nothing seemed right, the image thwarting my efforts to define it once and for all.

The lack of progress* (a word I hate, but I’ll leave it there) was causing me to fall into an all too familiar mindset: 

The why bother? perspective. 

The my work is not so important point of view. 

The it’s all too hard stance.

It’s a good thing I’m stubborn, and that feelings do change. I decided that enough was enough and just got started, simplifying the image to its bare essentials, and reducing the size. 

It’s not entirely as I wished it to be, but I feel the elements I left out are not yet ready to manifest themselves, and I respect that. They will feed future work.

And I need to remember to be brave, to just play and explore. That I can, and must, silence the perfectionist voice and be content with whatever emerges.

The main inspiration came from this quote:

… Silbury Hill in Wiltshire is an immense conical mound, dating from Stone Age times, that resembles a birth-cone. Sacred mountains in general are of this form, with the tip missing, which is supposed to be the place where the earthly meets the other world. This can have a literal meaning is one takes the ‘other world’ to be the place where everyone was grown through the stages of gestation, up from the single cell through the animal series to the human baby. Everyone is then born through the birth-cone, or ‘axis of the universe’. In the emblems the sacred mountain is accompanied by a world tree haunted by serpents, and a spring of water. The shaman may climb such a tree to meet the gods … (Penelope Shuttle & Peter Redgrove, The Wise Wound: Menstruation & Everywoman, 1978/1986, p. 180)

This image, I hope, contains both mountain and world tree; a spine-like fissure as the axis of the universe; and the marriage of earth with water/rain.

*A better alternative would be process.

Sacred Mountain, ink and felt tip pen (2020)

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Let There Be Darkness!

In gleaning words from old notebooks recently I came across an intriguing little tale I wrote at writers’ group way back in June 2017, using the prompt: In the sky there were no stars.

Seeing as the need for more generative darkness to counteract the distinct unenlightenment of our light-addicted culture has been an idea close to my heart for some time (see Endarkenment), I thought I would, after some extensive editing, share this story as one of possibility.

I preface it with this thought from a book I highly recommend:

Let there be darkness. 

The last truly revolutionary act left to human beings in the twenty-first century is to turn out the lights. Other acts are possible—acts we may call revolutionary—but they do not meet the criteria of the word as it must necessarily be interpreted today. Nothing short of turning out the lights will lead to an overturning of the endgame global system that now has us in its thrall. 

~ Clark Strand, Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age, 2015, pp. 50–51


In The Sky There Are No Stars

In the sky there are no stars. Even the moon is dimmed to invisibility by the ubiquitous light which forces its way up and down and sideways into every alleyway, every crevice, every potential shadow. 

My grandmother told me about the stars. She said they were like tiny pinpricks of light shining through a dark blanket, but I struggled to imagine them, for I knew only light and could not picture dark. 

Darkness is banished. Darkness almost never was. Everything is white, bright, glaring. Even at night, light intrudes, piercing through the window, so that we are never free of it. When we sleep it passes through our eyelids and enters our dreams. We have no peace.

I say we, but wonder sometimes if others think as I do, or if it is only me. 

Everyone is told, from the moment we begin to understand words, that it is the light that sustains us, that all that matters is its radiance. We are told to shun shadows, and never—but never!—to leave the safe confines of the constantly floodlit city, barricaded by a high white wall. We are told that on the other side there is nothing, and with light blinding our eyes we cannot see beyond at all. 

Though how is it possible that the world ends on the other side of a wall? And has anyone seen past it?

Such thoughts are dangerous, and I’ve been clipped round the ears more than once for staring into space, for imagining, for daring to contradict what I have been taught. Why should I even think of what is beyond the light? And why should such a word as escape come to mind? What do I need to escape from? Don’t we have all we need here in the City of Light?

It’s hard to explain these blasphemous thoughts. I want to call them dark, but since I don’t know what dark is, I can’t be sure of that word’s accuracy. Still, they remain in my mind, unknown ideas, impossible speculations, and I can’t shift them. 

I decided I had to try to find the darkness, for I believe what my grandmother told me about the stars: that they are still there, always there, behind the light.

Though in an eternally lit place where eyes can always see, it is not so easy to keep secrets, to do things undetected, but I made what preparations I could. I clothed myself in white, camouflaged myself with the only world I knew. I crept soundlessly and unseen to the foot of the wall, and began to climb the rough whitewashed stones. Perhaps they never expected anyone to try it, perhaps it had always been this easy. I pulled myself to the top, and over, and jumped down to the strange, unlighted earth on the other side. 

Now I was finally beyond all sight, free to discover the dark, to find and uncover the shrouded stars.

An illustration by Will Lytle, from Waking Up to The Dark
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