There was a stillness on the beach this morning that I’d never noticed before: no breeze, no chill, no threat of rain. Usually my daily- dog- walk head is crammed with endless ‘to-do’ lists, mental post-its and meaningless chatter, so to stand on the beach and focus on this absence was a real pleasure. The day holding its breath, waiting to unfold.
So for today’s post- my thoughts on walking and silence and creativity. Inevitably, this is going to bring us back to monks…
Last week, I mentioned Balmerino Abbey, which first held the lands at Barry in the early Middle Ages. I’m fascinated by the suggestion that the original mill may have existed as far back as 1240. The unmade road which snakes its way past the mill cottages and over the old stone bridge was once part of the original road from Dundee to Arbroath. I can just imagine the slow, silent progress of the monks, perhaps with mules and wagons, as they journeyed from Balmerino to Arbroath Abbey.
The monks were part of the Cistercian Order, which undertook to live in a ‘spirit of apartness’ from all worldliness. They lived (and indeed still do) a life of contemplation, in solitude and silence.
In her book The Scottish Country Miller, Enid Gauldie explains that the ancient mills of monastic origin were carefully sited so that the lie of the land and the natural force of the water could be incorporated into the milling operation without too much human interference. This willingness to work in harmony with the natural world underpins the ethos of the Cistercians.
The monks can certainly teach us about what we now term ‘mindfulness’, a bit of a buzz word these days, but a valuable tool in the quest for a calm and creative mind. In writing workshops, there tends to be a lot of discussion about ideas, images and perspectives, but I’m keen to discover how silence and contemplation can impact on the creative process.
In his 2007 Walking and Art Residency in the Canadian Rockies, artist Andrew Stuck began to explore the connectivity between art and meditative walking. He went on to found the Museum of Walking, which facilitates poetry walks and other events in the urban landscape.
For me, the slow rhythms and steady heartbeat of the mill have done much to highlight the negative impact of our current frantic pace. Our minds have not been designed to cope with an endless bombardment of ringtones, bleeps and social media updates.
Maybe it’s time to switch off, and tune in…