The Grace of Fall

Events can conspire to restrict you, or so it may seem. Having your arm in a cast is hardly conducive to breaking new horizons, one might think. Yet nature shows us its beauty in all its seasons, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s autumn when I start writing. When the trees, a beautiful haze of gold, orange, yellow, red, green and copper, are yet to release their beautiful leaves to the ground.

Theo and Tana facing

Photo by Simon Groves

A suspected broken wrist and a new puppy have drawn me to embrace and appreciate this season like never before. Every day Ember and I head out to play. We start in the garden where I have to lift her over the paving stones onto the lawn because she doesn’t like the cold feel of stone on her feet. She makes dens in the passionflower, in blossom now and bearing fruit. She buries her nose in the sedum’s purple florets, and shakes up our bamboo. We rest a lot in the den too, her tiny body warming my tummy as she sleeps whilst I chill out, watching films, listening to music and allowing a more contemplative, reflective vibe to seep into me. My right arm is in a cast, three fingers stuck in a claw so I’m unable to do much of my usual household chores or train for my new role as a Pilates teacher.

I’m still high on the love from my spiritual teacher’s latest seminar a few weeks back, and I feel so full to the brim that I know I need to release. So I write. It’s slow going at first, my clawed fingers sensitive to the pressure of a keyboard. But a particular story has been brewing in my mind for some time: Last winter, I learned to use imagery to ski a black diamond run more gracefully, and this helped me meet the challenges in my life. The tale pours out of me, a natural feeling, like it was always meant to be. A while back a friend of mine, Lesley, who shares the same spiritual teacher and whose writing I admire, had offered free advice on writing. This feels like the perfect moment to take her up on this opportunity.

My adventures with Ember progress to walks on the street. At first she is tentative, just sitting on the front doorstop, gazing at her surroundings and sniffing in the new scents. So we sit together enjoying the warmth of late summer. The next day she makes it to the end of the street, inspecting all the plants along the front gardens of our terraced street as she goes. As the days unfold her confidence grows and we become more adventurous together. True to the spirit of her name, Ember seems to ignite a warm glow in most people we see. She greets everyone and everything with her tail wagging and a gentle curiosity, and I find my world expanding too. Before long we’re making connections with dogs and their owners, parents and children. Well, to be honest, anyone and everyone around the neighbourhood, so indiscriminate is Ember in giving out her love.

“I think you may have found your calling,” Lesley writes over Facebook having read my second essay. Buoyed by her encouragement, I find myself waking earlier and earlier so I can write after my spiritual exercises. I reach deep inside myself and write the story of how tuning in to the loving vibe of my spiritual teachings has helped me through challenges in the past. Not just small challenges but huge, undignified challenges where, without the hand of grace at my side, I may well have crumpled in a ball of shame or fear. It’s like I’m being emptied, the words pouring from my fingers as I type.

Theo, my six-year-old son, is entranced by this new preoccupation of mine and so enthused that he wants to join me. Soon he’s tapping away on the iPad beside me as I write. This is fun, but not so conducive to my own writing.

“Mummy, how do you spell treasure?” he asks, eager anticipation in his expectant face, his tiny fingers poised for action. I dutifully spell out each letter for him.

“Mumma, how do you spell surprisingly?” he pipes, a mere one second later

I gently suggest he may be able to store up his questions and ask me every five minutes, but he’s simply unable to restrain himself.

“How about every minute?” I relent, smiling, impressed by his enthusiasm.

But still his questions, whilst writing his Indiana Jones-inspired tale, come thick and fast. We’re so absorbed, the two of us, that it’s all of a sudden a rush to help Theo to breakfast and prepare him for his school day, Ember chewing at my heels all the while.

A month later, during half-term, we take Ember into Richmond Park for the first time, Theo and I. Theo makes a tree into a hotel, and Ember and I check in as guests, burrowing ourselves into the rabbit holes and indentations in the ground, our designated rooms. We order room service, and Ember enjoys inspecting the leaves and stones we’re given as our evening meal. It’s enormous fun, and it’s hard to tear us all away. The weather glorious, warm sunshine on our backs, all three of us revel in the play. The Park is magnificent; acres of long meadow grass sway in the breeze, while majestic trees drip with the richness of autumn leaves in all their glory.

I send my husband, Tim, one of my essays, a story about a health challenge we faced together the year before. “It made me cry” he texts, on his commute back from work. “I’ve got a few comments to add.” And so we frolic in the field of creation, all of us. Playing make-believe with Ember and Theo, and juggling words with Lesley, my husband and my son, I wonder if this is what it feels like to jam in a band. A wonderful co-creation of love flowing through my veins.

Like autumn leaves fluttering to the ground, I see our pieces of writing as love notes released into the wind. Still feeling lit from the love of the seminar and the ensuing weeks, I wonder what it would feel like to have released all these revelations that have been building up inside of me. Would I feel like a tree in winter, bare branches exposed to the elements? A feeling of lightness pervades my body as I imagine myself as a tree, having shed my beautiful leaves of the year. Light and free, roots digging further into the ground for winter, I reach inside for a deeper connection to the great aquifer of love I feel rising within me.

And where do these love notes go? Who are they for? Should I send them out into the world, hoping for attention and reward? No, that doesn’t resonate. It is not me that is the protagonist here. Love is the hero of this tale, rising up against all odds and triumphing over other passions as they raise their ugly heads. I wonder where LOVE would like these love notes to land? Would Love encourage a gentle breeze to flutter them onto fertile ground? Perhaps, but Love wouldn’t have any expectation as to the result of this, and I see then that nor can I.

P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this essay. My intention is that this blog becomes an interactive experience. Thank you!

The Thrill of a Mogul Field

The biting wind burns my cheeks, butterflies dance in my tummy and adrenaline courses through my veins as I dig in my edges to stop and catch my breath. I’ve just made my way down the beginning of Le Grand Couloir, one of the most notorious black runs in the heart of The Three Valleys in France; the largest ski area in the world. I’ve attempted to snow plough down the initial stretch, a narrow ridge flanked by two equally hair raising drops on either side. My legs ache from maintaining the huge pizza slice shape of a wide snow plough. My upper body is twisted upwards to face the mountain in an effort to waylay the descent, and ensure that the ensuing fall is more likely to be up than down.

grand-couloir

Le Grand Couloir is a piste that strikes fear into the heart of many skiers and boarders, and I am no exception. The clue is in the name as to the nature of this slope: Having completed the approach, a narrow, steep and ungroomed corridor of moguls stretches out before me. The only way is down. I take a deep breath and, clutching my poles, horizontally traverse the slope as far as I can. Being ungroomed, the moguls are the size of small minivans and I end up clumsily side slipping over them to avoid turning. When I finally steel myself for the inevitable turn I find myself lurching clumsily from one mogul to the next, my legs aching from trying desperately to regain control before beginning the whole fiasco again.

I used to prefer the smoother blue, green and red runs, where I could cruise along the crisp white snow, taking in the stunning alpine vistas and enjoying the clean mountain air. Or I’d glide down pretty alpine paths, surrounded by snow-clad pine trees and the hush of deep winter – or simply enjoy the adrenaline rush of speed. Black runs are hard work, a challenge to overcome the fear and an affront to my technique.

I take a break where I join the red run Combe Saulire and look back to admire the steep, seemingly indominatable narrow couloir of moguls I have finally descended.  My legs shake like jelly from the exertion. I know I will feel the aches in my body later. But I am elated that I’ve actually made it. This elation ignites in me a passion for skiing Le Grand Couloir and its like, but also a desire to descend these challenging runs with more elegance and grace. I recognise I need a teacher to help me improve my technique and ski moguls with more aplomb.

The next time this fiendishly difficult black run stretches out before me I’m apprehensive but full of hope that my instructor will impart some insights to help my descent become slightly more elegant. He suggests that I look at the mogul field and follow the way that water would go. I survey the piste in front of me and see the first few turns in my mind’s eye that the water would take. I proceed to take my turns as I imagined, my skis now pointing downhill, my turns closer together. I only do a couple of turns before coming to a halt but soon realise that it’s easier to keep the flow going, no matter how slow. I find myself enjoying the challenge of following the flow of water and begin to approach my turns with joyful anticipation rather than apprehension.

The imagery of this technique is enormously useful to me; not only for skiing, but also in life. Instead of water, I think of love. What way would love choose? Of course I recognise that ‘I’ don’t know what way love would choose. That is a ridiculous suggestion, for ‘I’ am not love.  I acknowledge that I am a jumble of emotional, mental, physical and soul bodies, all vying for attention.

But I do aspire to be love.

I am so graced to feel this divine presence inside me which is love, and when I ask my inner Beloved the way, well, the way often becomes clear. Or at least less hazy. I make it sound easy, but I don’t find it so. I have a terrible tendency to forget to ask, and then my mind attempts to choose the ‘right’ way and I find myself in a pickle of indecision. But I so love it when I do remember and the ‘true’ way becomes more apparent. Much like taking a smoother turn on a black run, it’s an easier ride.

Often when I ask, an obvious way doesn’t appear. This can be frustrating. I’m coming to learn that, much like snow melt blocked by a rock may have to wait for a greater volume of water to join it before bursting over the top or having the force to go round; I need to reach in to my Beloved and connect with more love for the way to appear.

A tingle of excitement shivers through my body as I survey the corridor of moguls that is Le Grand Couloir. I breathe deeply and ask my inner Beloved to help me see and feel the flow as I descend. Seeing the first turn ahead of me in my mind’s eye I glide slowly towards my chosen mogul and complete my turn as smoothly as possible. I have an idea of where my second turn will be but I recognise that this may change as I try to keep the flow. I’m loving the sense of fluidity, the feeling of being fully present to the needs of the current movement, yet primed for the next. My heart bursts with gratitude for being gifted the opportunity to feel this awesome sensation.

Now, I’m not deluded. My technique has vast room for improvement and I’m still far from being a pro. I aspire to ski with so much more grace and flow. However I do feel my style is becoming more fluid, my movements a touch more graceful and that using this imagery, I continue to improve.

As the pull of gravity lures water down that black mogul field, into rivulets, streams and rivers towards the sea, my Beloved is also luring me. I am beginning to find that when I partake in this game of catching the love and following the flow, this black mogul field called life, becomes so much more fun.

P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this essay. My intention is that this blog becomes an interactive experience. I look forward to hearing your feedback. Thank you!