Wonderful year

30 12 2013

It’s been a wonderful year. Looking back over images of the past twelve months I see how new themes have emerged in my work and become threaded into all that I do. Just before Easter, I moved my horses to a new field and I see just how inspirational the Devon landscape has been to me. Living closely with the rhythms of nature has helped me to appreciate simple unfolding beauty, such as the unfurling of new oak leaves, or the appearance of the first bluebells, the changing colours of the fields and the sky.

I’ve shared warm and thoughtful times with friends both in the landscape and in the classroom and learned from every encounter. In the summer, I made new friends with the launch of Thinking Through Philosophy in my home town of Teignmouth and was heartened and encouraged by the generous and open-minded response of all those who came to the seminars. It has helped me to see that philosophy is most relevant and life affirming when it is grounded in every-day living.

Being grounded in what is real has made my year wonderful. As with every year, there have been challenges and sorrows and disappointments; it hasn’t always been easy. Looking back, though, the disappointments have already faded and I see that there have been many more new opportunities and experiences than I anticipated at the start of the year when I was still limping and depressed from a severe knee injury.

Twelve months on and due to regular walks and rides I feel fitter than I have ever been.  I feel joy each time I connect with my horses. They have helped me to be patient and to focus on one step at a time by doing only what I felt physically capable of.  Halfway through the year, I still needed someone to come out with me as I felt too insecure to ride alone. Now when I look back I see how far I’ve come. I can remember the first time I lay on the ground and the feeling of being connected to the earth and knowing that my body was going to get stronger as long as I didn’t push it. Of all the lessons of 2013, the most significant for me is taking note of when I need to rest.

It’s been a year of recovery and recuperation and reflection. Nonetheless, it’s been an active and productive year.  Ideas that I have long wanted to put out into the world are now beginning to take shape. In the autumn I was privileged to help with the training of untouched ponies on Dartmoor through my association with the community interest company the Dartmoor Pony Training Centre. In handling these highly sensitive and reactive feral ponies, I learned to listen even more closely to the signals from my own body language and came away deeply moved by the experience. Those days of silent communication in a light-filled cold barn were thrilling and transcendent. 

In January I am launching Thinking Through Horsemanship, a long-nurtured project that brings together my twin passions for philosophy and for horses and develops ideas I have been thinking about for over a decade. The pilot will launch with a group of young people at Sirona Therapeutic Horsemanship.

Choosing images from the year was difficult, but I was guided by the theme of wonder, one of the key preoccupations of philosophy. To do philosophy is to adopt an attitude of wonder. Here are some wonder moments from the past twelve months.

I wish all my readers a warm and wonderful start to 2014.


New oak leaves


Bluebells in the wood



Cattle though the hedge


Lisa with Dragonfly


Marian with Sheranni


Philosophy in action: Gordon with Naomi


Jet on Dartmoor



Pippa with Stanley on Dartmoor 



July sky




Some ways of looking at light

13 03 2013


Learning photography has made me pay more attention to light. As soon as the cloud lifts, I find my eyes drawn to my camera which has been sat in darkness for the past month. My photography teacher is uninspired and so am I. We’ve agreed to put lessons on hold for a while until the light improves. There was a bit of sparkle in the sea today and I felt my spirits lift. The season is turning, and spring is pushing up from the ground. A woman in Turn of the Tide, one of my favourite local shops, noted that the birds are sounding sweeter.  

I bought an emerald green scarf, jewel bright, soft. It’s still too cold to wear it, but I imagine lighter days will be here soon. People seem more open as spring approaches. March feels like it’s the true beginning of the year, the time when light grows stronger.

 I’m noticing lightness in people, too. The young woman in the co-op was only too happy to thinly slice ham for me even though she had never used the machine before. She took five minutes or so to get the slicer going and apologised all the way through the procedure: you must think it’s like being served by a clown. At one point the manager arrived to see how she was getting on. Clearly slicing ham was not part of her job description, but she was happy to have a go and make a hash of it, which was why I didn’t begrudge her the five minutes she needed. Her light-heartedness inspired me to be generous.

It’s only when people are light with each other that true generosity is possible. It’s only when people give up holding on to what makes them heavily important that they become people who inspire. As part of my professional life, I watch many presentations and have developed an aversion to the laboured point, the overly spelled out, the heavy emphasis, the worthy yet dull. I expect to endure presentations rather than enjoy them.

An inspired presentation by a professor from the University of Washington has got me thinking about the nature of shared ideas in scholarship. Too many academic presentations deliver theory like a hard brick of knowledge, built on the foundations of previously cited identical bricks; it is rare to encounter theory that lets in the light and air in the form of an invitation to comment and connect with pieces that may not precisely fit.

Perhaps I’m stretching the metaphor here, but a dry stone wall composed of irregular stones is a much stronger structure than a brick wall, and can last for centuries. Facts and data can always be quickly manufactured and will always feel flimsy. Knowledge built from ideas that have had time to ripen and season can feel like the beginning of a work of art.

Injury time

9 12 2012


In sport, more play time is given at the end of some games to compensate for time lost to injury. In life, there is no such luxury. Injury time is part of the ordinary run of time, and there are no bonus hours of living to make up for time lost in the playing. Injury time is headless of plans and projects and must be accommodated on its own terms.

Being injured is something I’ve forgotten. It is nearly eight years since my knee injury and I thought I had cured it with regular walking and exercise. After a couple of minor falls on slippery mud and on ice, my knee has given way again, and this time I know that it is more serious than the first time. This time I know that it will be months before I can return to the level of activity I was taking for granted less than a week ago.

In less than a week my world has both shrunk and grotesquely enlarged. When I look at ordinary spaces transformed into parkland for giants, I feel like Alice in Wonderland. On the first day, I couldn’t cross the kitchen. Today at the hospital, a car park stretched like an expanse of grey English Chanel. My car, on the other hand, feels like an old wellington boot: a perfect fit.

Like many people who use their minds for a living, I reside mostly in a non-physical space and regard my body as the other part of me, the bit that accompanies my head. I keep fit, eat my greens and generally look after my body, but my sense of ‘me’ is not my hands, chest, shoulders, hips, thighs, knees or feet. I am not my flesh and blood. If I were a horse, I would be located in my loins, or my heart, or my powerful lungs. If I were a dog, I would be my sense of smell or my hearing. If I were a cat, I would be my balance and my timing. If I were a mouse, I would be my nerve endings. A falcon? I would be my eyes.

Because I am human, I am my thoughts. There seems no escaping from this and it is why people wish to be birds and why a friend once said that that the reason we admire and love animals so much is because we envy them.

Being injured returns us to the body. I have become disproportionately right-kneed. I wake thinking about my knee and spend all day making adjustments for it so that the rest of me can come through. I feel subdued, muffled by my lack of vivacity and also bemused because I now have a stick, a particularly fetching aluminium standard NHS issue elbow crutch. It is useful. It is my rudder. Because straightforward walking is not easy, I’ve been dreaming of movement in other dimensions. I want to recapture fluidity. I want to dance, to run, to climb, to leap, to move unequivocally.

But in order to do so again I have to give injury time its proper due. So far, this has meant reading and eating a lot of chocolate. It has also meant this morning a visit to the mother of all magnets, the giant doughnut of the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. I was given yellow foam earplugs, but these still did not dampen the soundtrack that opened with clanging church bells and ran through a range of other frequencies including power drills, garage music, metal grinders and ships’ anchors being slowly winched ashore, and all of this was just action on my water molecules.

MRI scans work by rearranging the protons at the centre of each hydrogen atom, making them stand to attention all in one direction, like a magnetized cadet force. Protons pulled out of normal position emit radio signals and these can be mapped to create an image of the body. After the scan – it takes a surprisingly long 40 minutes – I asked the radiologist if I could see the pictures. He showed me one of the anterior ligaments still clinging to the bone and a blurred section inside the knee. ‘That all looks pretty mushy.’

Pretty mushy is accurate. My knee has the consistency of pond sludge. There is not much I can do to get things flowing again. Injury time will not be coerced; it will not be hurried. I must concede to it.

But still I can’t help wondering what I would do with the time if I were given say a fortnight at the end of my life to play out for free. Where would I go? What would I see? What would I stop doing immediately?

I’m going to have a think about this and report back next time

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