14.06.2013 - 02.07.2013
By the time it gets to midsummer it is cold, wet and miserable again.
Midsummer in the Northern hemisphere; the summer solstice, the time of the longest days and shortest nights, for ancient peoples, a time when the sun is at its most potent. Midsummer has always felt quite magical to me, a really special time, and here I was living the dream, on an island for god sake, an island in the Inner Hebrides. So it was rather ironic that in this very special place, I found myself unable to get in the groove in any way, shape or form. It was as if my yearly quota for magic had been used up by the euphoria of the previous weeks. And so, as we struggled to light the solstice bonfire in the lashing rain I was grumpy, uninspired and totally lacking in enthusiasm. I stayed for twenty minutes and escaped back to my house for what had become a nightly wine tasting event.
To be honest, the bad weather was a bit of a relief. When it is glorious from dawn to dusk and beyond, it somehow seems wrong to be in the house; idling, faffing about, having a snooze. I certainly felt propelled to be out and about, exploring, striding round the island, taking in another sunset. Cold and wet meant also meant the stove was lit from breakfast time again. It meant sitting by the stove supping copious amounts of tea with choccy biscuits and doing nothing much. A different type of heaven.
I had moved to House Number 1 in the second week. I was initially a bit put out; it was nowhere near as warm as number 3 and as the house's long term resident was away, meaning I had lone responsibility for keeping the stove going. Me and my responsibility issues again. But is was a really lovely house, with an assortment of old pictures and knick knacks that made it both more homely and refined that house number 3. I was very proud to live there. I had a big bedroom too; a double bed and lots of space which in fact, only created more potential for me to be cold. When I moved in I receive a donation of a very fetching men's polo neck golfing jumper, wool, size extra large. This jumper was worn every night, on top of winter pyjamas and accompanied by two hot water bottles, one for my feet and one to hug. As I have said many times in this blog, I am a bit of a cold fish.
I shared the house with John, another ex engineer, but with no obvious 'systems'. John had been in the Navy since he was 17 and in the previous year, at the ripe old age of 50, had retired from service. When his partner decided to quit her stressed city life and give Erraid a try, he thought he might as well join her, give it a go for a year and see what happened. I had never shared a house with a straight man before (and only one gay man. He was extremely short and effeminate, so testosterone wise, that doesn't count) so I must admit I was a tad nervous. As I'm sure was John , it's not every day that a very tall, opinionated Irish woman moves in for two months. Our trepidation showed itself in our efforts to keep the kitchen clean and tidy (we were both messy people), but it soon mellowed into ease. John was a really normal, chirpy, confident chap. We spent many hours sitting on either side of the stove, like two aul grannies with our knitting, swapping stories and shooting the breeze. I don't know anyone from an army or navy background, so was fascinated in hearing all his stories. Some of the funniest were about his time in the Falklands War, capers that wouldn't seem out of place in an episode of Dad's Army. I remain very fond of John.
Like many other of the longer term residents on the island( ten-ish in all), John was just a normal guy who had decided to change track for a bit. He didn't come with any spiritual background or credentials, or any master plan about what island life would be like, just a desire to give it a go, for a bit. One person had been there for over four years, a couple with two young kids had been around about two and a half. Most others had arrived in the previous 18 months. Most had a desire to live a simpler life, a life less removed from nature and the elements and a life where they worked for the good of a community, rather than just their own needs. So I'm afraid I will have to disappoint those of you who may have hoped/feared the following. One, I had entered a cult. Two, engaged in mass orgies every Friday evening. Three, used a divining rod to decide which community member would be sacrificed every Wednesday morning. Etc etc etc.
The only 'formal' spiritual practice was a daily meditation space of thirty minutes. It was optional and unleaded, sorry I meant to say un led, so you could count sheep if that is what you wished to do. It was held in the a little building called the sanctuary. Built of wood (now rotting away) and glass it had phenomenal views over Mull and Iona which never failed to thrill me and served to reinforce my sense there is a central creation force at work. I have tried to have a regular meditation practice for at least the last fifteen years and have failed at having a regular meditation practice for at least fourteen years and ten months. I had thought that being in such an inspiring place, being in such a good space myself, being with other people who practice regularly, that everything would fall into place with my meditation, that I would crack it, at long bleeding last. I couldn't have been more wrong. Each evening after a days toll in the garden I would arrive in the sanctuary, tired but happy. I would take in the view, marvel at the landscape, then slowly move inwards, focus on my breath..... Shit I forgot to top up the stove, will my washing be dry? What is the forecast for tomorrow? Back to the breath Nora, breathe......I hope Jim isn't on cooking duty tonight, do you think their will be any dessert? Yip, still work to be done.
I guess what i am trying to say that is this; it is how you live your life in the community, rather that formal spiritual practices that makes Erraid and FIndhorn a 'spiritual community', as opposed to just a collection of people living on an island. Let me describe the weekly 'log run'. (For the sake of brevity I will omit the huge logistics involved in ensuring there is wood on the island). Once a week the community's ancient tractor, laden with wood cut over the previous week, labours up the hill from the boat shed. A team of about five people are required. The tractor stops outside each cottage and a human chain passes the logs from tractor to the log shed, cutely positioned between every two cottages. The chain then moves indoors to ensure a nice pile of logs behind the stove. And then it moves to the next cottage, and the next. In forty minutes the entire community has a full supply of wood for its heating and hot water needs for the following week. And it is done, where possible, holding the intention of love and respect.
But I was ready to move on. My head was filled with thoughts of not wearing welly boots every day (although I had grown very fond of my welly boots), posh coffee, lipstick and blusher, an inside loo, the freedom of getting in my car and going somewhere. Oh how the wide open road beckoned, oh how I love my freedom. My two months on Erraid had been phenomenal, one of the most amazing experiences of my life thus far. I still can't believe that I did it. I was very very sad to leave, but I was also very very happy. Perfect.