Survival Lessons

Nine years ago, almost to the day, I spent dawn until dusk outside in the land at The Lint Mill undertaking a ‘solo’, a practice I had learned as part of my work with an organisation called Natural Change. This time alone, outside of my usual routine, yielded some insights that have returned to me anew in this moment when we are all self isolating due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I thought it might be a good moment to share this here and to note our gratitude for all the creatures we share our lives with and what they are able to teach us about ‘being present’. 

Becoming Animal…

…An April Solo at The Lint Mill 2011

‘…if we wish to renew our solidarity with the sensuous earth, then we shall have to learn to speak in some new ways. We will have to learn how to speak more in accordance with our animal senses.’ David Abram

In the half-light of dawn, I watch you feed the sheep, clear the horse field of dung and fill the water trough. Later, two cars pass, the drivers perhaps on their way to work. Later still, the neighbouring farmer circumnavigates the next field on a quad checking his stock. I am reminded that this is a working landscape and it feels gentle and domestic.

I think about our Moorit Shetland ewe who delivered twin lambs yesterday in the warm April evening sun. I cannot see her from where I am sitting. I can see the horses and the donkey. The sheep come in and out of view. I count them, each time adding one for the Moorit who is out of view. I think about being a horse. They graze, they stand, they groom each other, occasionally they drink and even more occasionally they play but mainly they graze. I wonder what it would be like to wake up as my horse, Otto. In my day there never seem to be enough hours to accomplish my endless ‘to-do’ lists. I don’t expect Otto wakes and wonders, ‘How am I going to fill my long horse day?’ or ‘How will I fit all my grazing in today?’ I wonder how it must feel to live fully in the present, like an animal.

 I see our ducks marching purposefully towards the river in a little line, Monty, the drake, in the lead. They will spend their day dabbling by the river. I wonder about their duck day.

It is windy and April lives up to its name by providing plentiful showers. I am worried about the twin lambs. Distracted by my anxiety, I walk to find the Moorit ewe. She is tucked into a hollow by the fence with her lambs. They are warm and dry, she has kept them well sheltered and I marvel at her skilful mothering.

All our animals, the domesticated creatures that we have chosen to spend our lives with, feel very instructive today. They reconnect me with a sense of presence. They remind me of their hierarchy of needs; shelter, warmth, food, play. I reflect on the needlessness of my many ‘needs’.

I recall a recent student performance work and how I had been asked to imagine what it would be like to be a plant; to stay in one place, to have my food come directly to me; and to photosynthesize. I sit on a chair in the basement of The Arches in Glasgow, imagining what it is like to be a plant while Leo feeds me basil leaves.

Today, I sit in one place imagining what it is like to be my horse, to be Monty the drake, to be the mother of twin lambs. I wonder what this tells me about being me. I let myself think about this for a very long time.

The sheep bleat loudly as daylight recedes. There is a brooding raincloud on the horizon. The setting sun illuminates sheets of distant rain.

Basso said ‘wisdom sits in places’. Today I asked what wisdom sits in this place, my home, my landscape? I listened for a very long time. The answer will creep into my consciousness like warmth into my bones…I can wait…there is time.

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