I needed my Wednesday retreat today like I need bread. My sense of craving the time caught me a bit by surprise. I'm just back from three weeks away - one week at the gathering of Australasian Courage & Renewal facilitators in New Zealand, and then two weeks on a South Pacific cruise to celebrate Neil's Mum's 80th birthday. So at one level, I've just had a long holiday. But I realise it hasn't come with much time alone - which for me is always necessary for mental and spiritual health - so I fell into today's time with relief and almost urgency.
The Botanic Gardens beckoned and I walked up to the back of the gardens near the boundary with Black Mountain. I came across a stand of Hakea petiolaris, commonly known as the sea-urchin hakea.
You can see why.
It's a shrub or small tree, endemic to the south-west of Western Australia. Apparently, in May in the Botanic Gardens it flowers prolifically.
When I walked past, I became aware of an enormous amount of rustling and ferreting going on among the leaves and flowers. The bushes were stiff with Eastern rosellas and red-wattle birds, feasting on nectar. I settled on a strategically placed bench, and listened to the life around me.
On the news last night, I heard that suicide rates in some Australian electorates are double the road toll - once again, a national emergency is being declared. As I began to feel restored myself, sitting quietly, in solitude, slowly sinking into the ground of my being, I wondered if part of the 'epidemic' of depression and anxiety in our society is to do with people not knowing how to do this. Not knowing that the world offers itself to us all the time and is a means of reconnecting us to ourselves and to a bigger sense of belonging. Not knowing that we can be comforted by the 'is-ness' of things, and the independent life of plants and birds and insects.
The words of Iris Murdoch also came to me about the difficulty of truly paying attention. She said that the trick is not to have your thoughts circle back to the self with surreptitious and consoling fantasies. We are renewed and enlivened by being able to be present to what is not us.
When I feel a bit discombobulated, as I did today, it's tempting to keep taking my pulse (as it were), to keep checking in with how I'm feeling. In other words, to have my thoughts be about myself. The capacity for truly other-centred attention is one we must practice to develop - it's a discipline I am still learning, slowly, intermittently, gratefully.