North, south, east west
Is that how it feels for you right now?
Try the compass of compassion in free-flowing with these starting points: being as honest, rapid, uncensored, bold, and outrageous as you dare.
Right now I am feeling …
Right now I am sensing …
Right now I am aware of …
Now let’s come back to the body and shake it all about, particularly your hands, if that is comfortable and safe for you to do. And look about your room, with a gentle, soft gaze. You are the centre of your room-compass.
Checking in to our orientation: Sit, stand or lie in the centre of the room, and visualise your outstretched writing-hand-and-arm (left or right, you choose) as a compass needle. See if you can work out north, east, south, and west, relative to objects in the room or outside the window. Or use a compass on your phone?
Help at hand
From what you know, where you are now, of how the sun tracks across the sky, work out approximately where south is (the sun is in the south at noon in the UK, apart from April to October when – because the clocks go forward to British Summer Time – the sun is highest, and due south, at 1 pm). If you face south, then north is directly behind you!
If we are standing outside at noon/1 pm on a sunny day, we can use the body as a compass needle. Our shadow at this time, cast by the sun in the south, points due north.
Brain dump: complete, in your own words, the following phrases:
“if I could travel north from here I would see…”
“if I could travel east from here I would see…”
“if I could travel south from here I would see…”
“if I could travel west from here I would see…”
The scale, distance, mode of transport, travel companion is up to you. So is how much you write; why; and how. It’s for your eyes only so you can be as wild as you want, as untidy, as mis-spelt, as outrageous.
Just one rule: keep the hand moving.
Try writing for ten minutes, ten minutes per compass direction. Or for the whole exercise, which you can always repeat. If you are stuck, below are some golden threads to orientate your writing – see where they take you. Or skip to the poems at the end.
... trudged ever north with the wolves... ... in western lands beneath the sun... (J.R.R.Tolkein) ... south of Watford, she... ... Eastgate in Chester was ... ... melting through the bedroom wall ... ... "do I have to ride behind you on this ruddy tandem?" ... "blow the wind southerly" ... she sang ... some roses do well on a north-facing wall..
Travelling in May 2018 towards my writing retreat, my summer sanctuary Dhruvaloka, we saw signs off the A9 to a village called Logie Easter. In the 1980s we often came north to Scotland (to its rural South-West) to visit my spouse’s parents at Easter. So the signpost to Logie Easter was easy to associate with the Christian feast in March-April, rather than in its truer sense of “more easterly” Logie (as distinct from Logie Wester).
Wester Ross and Easter Ross, administrative regions to the south of my north-home in Sutherland, are named similarly.
Today – at home – we’ll ramble around the English words for the four compass points, maybe and not necessarily touching on the imminent celebration of Easter and its earlier pagan manifests.
As in these sessions all through early spring, we are using:
- writing tools of your choice (colours are good, especially for allocating a different one to each compass point – you choose);
- your ThoughtBook (with page big enough, or double-spread big enough, to draw the four main (“cardinal”) points of the compass onto a circle – you could use a plate template)
Here’s one I did earlier
In primary school at morning assembly we used to sing the hymn: Hills of the north, rejoice! and were led through the stereotypes of oppression in the east, southern seas rich in coral caves, and native peoples of the West waiting to be liberated. (This was the 1950s and many countries on the world map were still coloured in Commonwealth pink.)
What colours do you associate the cardinal points of north, east, south and west? Why not take a page of your Thoughtbook to label the hot-cross-bun pattern of a compass (in colour if you like),
And at each point, scribble down words that rhyme with the label, for example test, rest in the west. Just mutter these rhymes under your breath… let them seep into your song-brain and lodge there. Then you may be able to retrieve them if you choose to write a compass poem later this weekend, month or year.
Orientating ourselves verbally
The word “orientate” means “to turn towards, or face, the East”, such as a worshipper might do . Christian churches have traditionally been built with the High Altar towards the East, and praying facing east was in accord to the direction of the second coming of Christ. The direction of prayer in Islam is strictly towards Mecca: from Europe that can vary.
In the Buddhist mandala of the five Buddha archetypes, traditionally Akshobya (Blue Buddha) is in the East, Ratnasambhava (Golden) in the South, Amitabha (Red) in the West, and Amogasiddhi (Green) is associated with the North. The White Buddha Vairocana represents integration and is at the centre of the mandala.
Perhaps today you feel moved to speculate on these and other orientation practices and colour associations, and add any explanations to “Comments”?
Just now we can take the letters of the word
= a e g i i n n o r t t
and find words that consist of some or all of these letters only. This isn’t a competition, merely a muse-loosener, an aid to verbal and linguistic flow.
Then I invite you to use any, some, all or none of these words in a piece of free flow writing about compass directions, Easter, the new life of spring, or any-else that your creativity has been tickled by today. It can be prose, a poem, a limerick, a matter-of-fact essay, a scribbled flow-chart – whatever. (If you get stuck, I have put a selection of orientating words at the end.)
Feel free to go back to what you’ve already written in the earlier exercises. In fact now, or tomorrow, or next Easter, might be a good time to review your offerings from today, to see them from a different direction, a new perpective.
So don’t forget to date – and maybe sign – all today’s entries, essays, and Golden-threadworked Easter Eggs – in your ThoughtBook.
And finally, here is a way to reflect over your recent experiences and recall things that have gifted you with a sense of contentment:
Today I am grateful for:
~ ~ ~
Here’s half-remembered song that I heard children perform at a local infant school in the 1980s:
“The wind, the wind, the wind blows west/ it blows the holes in old my string vest… / oh, dear, what a pity /I’ve lost the key to the golden city,/ let’s join hands and sing this ditty/ sing the song together…”
It always seemed a strange song for infant school, very mournful, and I wondered then whether it was sung to comfort the quite elderly Head Teacher, mourning the loss of his own childhood?
I’ve tried to track it down and the nearest I could get is a very un-infant -school song, about the exploits of young Scottish (or North Country) girls out for a good time. Any clues from any of you?
Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973)
In the second stanza (verse) of ‘Funeral Blues‘ (”Stop all the clocks”) the poet W. H. Auden points to the whole compass of his feelings for his lover – and also references the similarity between a compass dial and a clock face:
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk. my song
…– Wystan Hugh. Auden (1907-1973)
Charles Edward Oakley (1832-1865)
Hills of the North, rejoice;Charles Edward Oakley (1832-1865)
River and mountain spring,
Hark to the advent voice;
Valley and lowland, sing;
Though absent long, your Lord is nigh;
He judgement brings and victory.
Isles of the southern seas,
Deep in your coral caves
Pent be each warring breeze,
Lulled by your restless waves:
He comes to reign with boundless sway,
And makes your waves His great highway.
Lands of the East, awake,
Soon shall your sons be free;
The sleep of ages break,
And rise to liberty.
On your far hills, long cold and gray,
Has dawned the everlasting day.
Shores of the utmost West,
Ye that have waited long,
Break forth to swelling song;
High raise the note, that Jesus died,
Yet lives and reigns, the Crucified.
Shout, while ye journey home;
Songs be in every mouth;
Lo, from the North we come,
From East, and West, and South.
City of God, the bond are free,
We come to live and reign in thee!
These are just a few of the words from the letters of ‘orientating’:
See you again in a week’s time, and may you feel rested over this weekend, wherever your heart and vision are orientated.