Words by Mark Sparrow
We stand at the beginning of May, the traditional Celtic festival of Beltane, marking the midway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Beltane celebrates the rich fecundity of nature – the power of the life force to flourish: our hedgerows are bursting with hawthorn, or may blossom, traditionally gathered into garlands at this time to renew the bonds between people and the land; the trees on and around the farm have almost all come into leaf; birds are nesting and raising their first broods and the grass is growing apace.
Beltane was the traditional time of year to turn cattle out into fresh summer pasture, making the most of all that new growth. On the farm we turned the cows out a few days before Beltane this year because of the early warmth and they are relishing the sweet plenty of fresh green after their months inside the barn.
We can all take the energy of Beltane and use it to reflect on where we are in the yearly cycle of nature:
What has been growing and is now ready to burst?
What is flourishing?
What desires have been harboured that are now ready to become reality?
This is the perfect time to take the next step in creating the life we want to see for ourselves. If we allow the abundance of Beltane to support us, we can all take bold steps in this moment of rampant growth.
The beginning of May also marks the peak of the dawn chorus.
Birds begin singing in March but now their song is at its height as the daylight lengthens and the need to secure a territory and find a mate strengthens. This morning I was woken at 5.15am by the most glorious blackbird song just outside the house and, tuning into it, I’ve continued to hear blackbirds all day.
I have been struck by two articles about birdsong this week. The first described the change that may come about in our cities if the needed switch to electric vehicles takes place: among their many benefits to the environment, electric vehicles are much quieter and so the likelihood is that we will begin to hear birdsong much more clearly in our urban streets again. The second article described the significant benefit to mental health that listening to birdsong has – listening to 5 minutes of birdsong a day can lower blood pressure, instil a sense of calm and improve mood for up to four hours.
These two articles confirm once again that by looking after our environment, we are also looking after ourselves – imagine that quiet city filled with birdsong and those calm commuters serenaded by a blackbird’s bubbling song!
Maybe we could all take five minutes today to listen to the song of a bird?
Whether you are in city or countryside be ready to hear a bird sing. Stop, close your eyes if you can and allow your attention to focus fully on the sound: we don’t have to be experts in birdsong to enjoy this moment; no need to work out where the bird is or think about what species it might be, just allow ourselves to hear the song as it emerges. Notice the phrases, the notes, the pauses. Notice the responses of other birds. And notice how we respond:
Does the breathing change?
The body relaxed or tighten?
What emotions are there?
Now return to the birdsong and enjoy its melodiousness before opening the eyes and continuing as we were.
Such Singing in the Wild Branches – Mary Oliver
It was spring
and I finally heard him
among the first leaves -
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness -
and that's when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree -
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward
like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing -
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfect blue sky - all of them
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last
For more than a few moments.
It's one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you've been there,
you're there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then - open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.
Want to retreat to the beautiful organic farm and campsite that inspired this article?
Join Mark Sparrow, Tom Mettyear and Jasmine Pradhan for “Yoga in Nature: A retreat for mind and body”
June 28th-30th 2019
Haddon Copse Farm
Reset, rejuvenate and re-energise your body, mind and soul at this stunning weekend retreat.
Designed for people who could do with a break immersed in nature, but don’t have the time to commit to a week-long trip to a far-flung destination During the weekend we’ll do all of the following:
Twice daily Al fresco yoga in the Magic Circle grove of trees
Nature based contemplations
Nourish ourselves with fresh, delicious, home grown and home cooked food
Learn to blend natural essential oils into a luxurious skincare product to keep
Sit round open fires, witness beautiful sunsets, enjoy dark skies and bright stars
Relax and camp out in our gorgeous and comfortable bell tents
Identify wild herbs and flowers and learn about the natural principles of the land in a relaxed and inspiring way
And much more!
Prices from £265. To find out more about the retreat - including how to book - please visit https://www.stretchandthecity.co.uk/yoga-in-nature-retreat/
Mark Sparrow is a trained counsellor, Ecopsychologist and passionate advocate of life in harmony in Nature. You can find out more about him and his practice over at https://www.marksparrowcounselling.co.uk/.
Mark also runs Angel Cottage Organics at the beautiful Haddon Copse Farm in Dorset with his partner Tom. Find out more about the farm, including a number of courses that make the most of the stunning natural landscape by going to www.angelcottageorganics.co.uk
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