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Glittering Shards: Awareness

Glittering Shards

Friday, June 24, 2005


At the May bank holiday weekend, Neil and I went to Emerson College ( in West Sussex for part of our year round 'Christmas presents'. It was a wonderful place - beautiful countryside, wonderful creativity and wholesome food.

Every morning, Neil went off for his clowning as I stepped into being a 'poet in nature' for the weekend. Some interesting threads came together.

The day before, I was reading a section of a book called 'Awareness' by Anthony de Mello that really struck me:

" Awareness means to watch, to observe what is going on within you and around you. "Going on" is pretty accurate: trees, grass, flowers, animals, rock...all of reality is moving. One observes it, one watches it. How essential it is for the human being not just to observe himself or herself but to watch all of reality. Are you imprisoned by your concepts? Do you want to break out of your prison? Then look; observe; spend hours observing. Watching what? Anything. The faces of people, the shapes of trees, a bird in flight, a pile of stones. Watch the grass grow. Get in touch with things, look at them. Hopefully, you will then break out of the rigid patterns we have all developed, out of what our thoughts and words have imposed on us. Hopefully we will see. What will we see? This thing that we choose to call reality, whatever is beyond words and concepts. This is a spiritual exercise - connected with spirituality - connected with breaking out of your cage, out of the imprisonment of concepts and words. How sad if we pass through life and never see it with the eyes of a child. That does not mean you should drop your concepts totally; they're very precious. Though we begin without them, concepts have a very positive function. Thanks to them we develop our intelligence. We're invited not to become children, but to become like children. When we start off in life, we look at reality with wonder, but it isn't the intelligent wonder of the mystics; its the formless wonder of the child. Then wonder dies and its replaced by boredom, as we develop language, words and concepts. Then hopefully, if we are lucky, we'll return to wonder again."

As my creative weekend at Emerson progressed, one of the key themes that emerged was the importance of not trying to 'think poetry' or write poetry - trying too hard to make it happen. Instead, we were encouraged to just go out into the nature around us and just be. To simply observe what we saw, connect the outside to the inside and observe what we felt and thought in response to what our senses were sensing. It was a journey of staying in the present moment and really taking it in, interacting with it and finding expression for this dance between your insides and the outside. With De Mello's words from the day before, it felt as though an important life-lesson was being underlined in highlighter pen!

The words that began to pour from the poetry group as we came back from each jaunt into nature were stunningly beautiful and extremely varied in style and colour. The key truly was this 'outward-inward' journey of being and observing. As soon as you started to try and be clever and write poems, the experience lost its play-like quality and became more about effort than discovery. See some of the poems from the weekend (including a group poem) in the writing section of the Glittering Shards website (

Interestingly, as Neil and I swapped notes at the end of each day, we discovered that the same principle of 'being-observing-responding' was at work in his clowning course. Far from being taught that clowning was about sillyness and prancing around (which I am assured he did enough of!) he learnt that clowning was about vulnerability. The clown takes the stage, not knowing what will happen. By closely observing and responding to what is around him and his own reaction to it, he then uses whatever is present in each moment as his 'material' and lets the clowning evolve through constant interaction between himself, people and objects.

When I came home I reflected on this lesson in relation to mosaics. I have often heard artists talk about the importance of interacting with their materials, feeling their work, letting it evolve rather than trying to design and fashion it too much. I can relate to that a little - most of my mosaics are to varying degrees different to the original sketches that I did and I love the colours, textures and feel of my mosaic materials. Playing around with them is like being a child again! However, I have never been brave enough to do a mosaic without any pre-conceived design. So I rose to the challenge and did a small piece - using only one colour at the suggestion of my mosaic tutor - and just let it evolve. It was great fun - playing around with shapes, curves, lines and not being constrained but a pre-conceived idea. It might not be the most stunning mosaic but I enjoyed making it! I've called it Flow and you can see it on the Glittering Shards site.

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