In September 2019 I took four trains from Brora to Cambridgeshire, a distance of nearly 600 miles and – with one duff engine and missed connections – a journey taking over thirteen hours. The Beloved was waiting patiently at Peterborough to take me the last few miles south by campervan.
It was worth traveling thus far, even before the end of my northern season, as I had been invited to share some of my poetry at Cambridge Buddhist Centre (CBC).
As part of the Catalyst Arts series of events, we members of the CBC ‘Writing Your Way’ group (who meet in our Eyrie, an upper room, on the third Saturday of the month) were showcasing some of our scribblings. Our leader Amaya had billed this as an
opportunity to showcase what we have produced whether inside or outside the group and give you a flavour of where writing as a spiritual practice can take you. It is neither stuffy or preachy but alive, sometimes humorous, sometimes touching.
To reach a wider audience, and to share for the first time online the poems I read that night, below is an edited version of my half-hour of the sharing.
Some of them are raw and difficult, one is funny (funny-peculiar at least, although it raised a laugh), and all are heart-felt.
Amaya selected me to start the evening, and introduced me as a poet who had sometimes led the group in his stead, an activity that had since morphed into my own shared practice of ‘ Writing Our Way Whole’.
My first item was a “funny” doggerel poem, written as reflection on my second ‘Writing
Your Our Way’ session when Amaya was away. It’s called:
Wolf-mittening for Amaya’s writing group
“I found it really easy”
said Lisa, and I was glad
she found it easy-peasy
to write, and wasn’t sad.
And gentle Nene read hers out
(quite private, quite sublime)
and she read it so completely
and for just a single time.
And Giulietta time-kept
at my invite so to do,
which kept her grounded through the task
(and that was skilful, too)
and Sam was Sam was wonderful
and watchful, skilled and kind,
And wrote of dressage, poignantly –
Her best yet, to my mind –
“Now you go home and chill!” she said,
So I took out the chillies
And made a thick lasagne
With dhal, apricots – and green beans, and yoghourt…
© Kathy McVittie 21 August 2016
That’s doggerel. Now the next is really raw, even shocking. It’ll get better after this.
I have struggled to find balance in my mental wellbeing since I was a child. Here’s a poem from late 2018, when I was again spiralling down.
I had in mind a particularly haunting image of a shell-shocked World War I soldier, which two local artists, Marian Savill and Richard Savage, had presented in their exhibition commemorating 100 years since the Armistice.
New year’s grieve
Holding on to the pencil
like the ape that I am)
I strive to record
minute by minute particle
the petitgrain of my life;
struggle to channel
the stream of conscience
into worthy grooves
of habit; habituate myself meanwhile
to grief, to loss, to shame
and all the floods of desolation.
Letting the practice go
might be the hardest thing,
and the name for the practice too,
so dearly won, and late as usual.
She is a late developer they said
her tread is tentative on the stage
yet once there she has poise;
she grows in grace, and in her face
the smile of angels.
Yet with what fear
she draws near with faith. She closes down,
and the crown slips and rolls into the mud.
And in the broken, ordinary places
besmirched with her own shit
she needs to sit awhile, letting go of it.
© Kathy McVittie 30 December 2018
Over the last couple of years my primary meditation teacher has been Bodhipaksa of Wild Mind. In 2019 I followed an online course of his on ‘Change and impermanence’ – one of the verities of which the Buddha reminds us . Then more recently I found this poem which I had written in May 2018, not long after I had moved to Scotland. It references also a mindfulness retreat at Taraloka in Shropshire, that I’d joined in March 2016
life in soft focus
To see at last the way ahead
as if lit by one blade at a time, one leaf;
to see the way and not to fear to stumble
nor to seek out obstacles, nor doubt this very path.
To see the cherry blossom fall, then bud, spread,
flourish yet again – then tumble to the wind.
Two springs have I, eastern, and far north,
and sixty-five at that.
Magnolia stellata (oh, stars again!)
fell on the slabs at Taraloka.
“Impermanence” breathed Jen
who’d lost her dear-held man.
May she, may we be well
out there where the hearts of all
seek solace through connection.
May all beings find the peace they need
to thrive, survive, and be alive
enhanced by the soft quality of the light,
gentle, kind, and strong
guiding us where we Belong.
© Kathy McVittie 25 May 2018
In 2016 I booked on a retreat ‘Writing the Dharma’ at Adhisthana. It didn’t run, through low numbers, so I asked if I could go anyway, to this Herefordshire Retreat Centre.
And so I had five days there by myself, staying in (and using) what is now known as the Sangharakshita Library.
Here’s a poem I wrote there incorporating two phrases: “going for refuge” (a key practice in the Triratna Movement within Buddhism) and “It is I” (a phrase used by Jesus Christ in reassurance when he appeared to his disciples.
Re : integration
I go for refuge to the dark, soft earth
I go for refuge to the moving sky
I go for refuge to the kindly birth
of breath-by-breath, and “It is I.”
I take my refuge in the grief
resolved, and where the dapples lie
beneath the oaks, within the leaf,
yes, breath by breath, and “It is I.”
There is a refuge at the Shrine;
there is another, where I lie
and sense within this body mine
this breath-by-breath, this “It is I.”
This morning, silver archways wait
in sun’s soft treading of the sky,
and as I reach the garden gate
of breath-by-breath, oh: “It is I.”
© Kathy McVittie 15 October 2016
In March 2014 I became a Mitra (formerly ‘Friend of the Western Buddhist Order’) at Cambridge Buddhist Centre. I had already started writing the following poem, which I included in my poetry compilation ’the route to grace’ the following winter.
It has subsequently been included in another anthology, Seeds and Threads, assembled by a Christian friend in January 2018. [Citation needed]
The threads that draw me
Still remain the threads that draw me
gently, gently, to the Buddha –
only thus, with ease and kindness
might I, barefoot, make the journey
breathing deeply, dancing freely,
knowing here the fruitful practice,
joy alive, both now and yonder…
Holy are the threads that draw me
to the shrine and to the altar –
there to lay me down and shelter,
there to tend the hurt, the raw me,
there to reach beyond the aching,
there to find the threads that draw me.
© Kathy McVittie 26 October 2014
This web post is dedicated to members of the Sangha (community) at Cambridge Buddhist Centre and beyond. Especially those who since 2012 have supported me on my Way, with smiles, hugs, and compassionate witness.