Poems & paintings presented by Coach House retreatants

8th August, 2023
by Katie | 10 Min Read
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Retreatant Painting

Coach House retreatants have been especially inspired this summer to express themselves and their affection for Sharpham through art.

Below are some inspirations created and selected by people who have stayed in our Coach House retreat venue

The sound of silence

Here we sit in silence.
But what is silence, really?
A cough over there,
A bodily readjustment here,
A car door slamming in the distance.
But yet, we say it is silence.
Here we walk in silence.
But how? And by what means?
The birds are chirping,
Our feet crunch the leaves below,
A tractor roars to life.
And yet, we call this silence.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines silence as
“the absence of sound”
But such a thing cannot exist.
To reflect on the word ‘silence’ thus defined
Is to discover arrogance itself.
How self-important must we be
That such a word exists in our language,
While the very laws of the universe
Dictate that all energy makes a sound.
Even black holes make noise.
It’s true - we have the recordings.
Even in a sensory deprivation tank
People speak about how their heartbeat is deafening.
Everything on earth makes noise
Even when we aren’t paying attention.
So it seems that, perhaps,
It is time for a new definition of silence.
A definition that does not presume
To describe a way of being.
(Since such a thing cannot exist.)
But, instead, a way of doing.
A quality.
An intention.
Silence as an act.

Silence, in its purest form,
Is a choice.
A choice to not actively
Or consciously
Create more sound than is necessary.
A choice to absorb the noises that we often overlook.
The wind.
The hum of the refrigerator.
Our own heartbeat.
Silence is noticing the sounds we do make
Even without trying.
The crunch of the leaves beneath our feet.
The light ‘thud’ as we sit in the grass.
The rustle of our clothes as we get comfortable.
Silence is the choice to smile our ‘Thank Yous’
Instead of speaking them.
Silence is the gentle hand on a shoulder
Instead of words of comfort.
Silence is the knowing look at your friend across the room
When no other words need to be said.
Silence is the sound of the meditation bowl
When you think it has stopped reverberating
But you aren’t quite sure
Because it continues to reverberate in your mind.
Silence is the pregnant pause
As you wait for someone to speak.
Silence is anticipation
Of whatever comes next.
So, let us not be silent.
Instead, let us intentionally make silence
The most beautiful sound we can make.

by Christina Williams, July 2023 - @smallstepsnewfutures

The Coach House

The Coach House

We arrive as strangers. A rag-tag group with varied expectations. Arriving is always awkward, no one being quite sure of what to say. A brief “hello,” a sharing of names, and then silence. Small talk seems inappropriate in such a setting, and we aren’t sure what else to talk about. At this moment, silence is easy.

The week begins on a reflective note - or so we think. The ‘Tree Walk,’ which turns out to be more of an introspective exercise than anyone anticipated, sets a mellow tone which continues through lunch. But then, without warning, we are thrown headlong into ‘the rewilding area,’ bushwhacking our way through tall grasses and brambles as Julian expounds upon the complexity of “doing the right thing.” It all almost feels too much, but then we are reborn into childlike wonder as we wander through the reed beds. By the time we return for our 5 o’clock meeting, the reed beds are all anyone can talk about.

Before we realise it, we are journeying together as a crew. The week continues with mindful movements and morning meditations; nourishing lunches and extravagant puddings; we go into silence and we break the silence - and sometimes the silence is unceremoniously broken for us by a piece of burnt toast.

There are foraging adventures with Lisa and moth adventures with Barry. We squint in the half-darkness searching for bats and end up witnessing quite a show as a curious horseshoe dances around the archway. And who could forget the bird guy! Half of us can’t remember his name, but I’m
sure we won’t soon forget his face full of childlike wonder as we listen to the morning chorus.

And all throughout, the rain, the rain, the rain.

By mid-week, time no longer makes sense. It seems to expand and to shrink all at the same time. We can’t be sure if we’ve been here for three days or a month. This morning feels like yesterday, tomorrow feels like an eternity away, and wait, have we just eaten lunch or supper? If anything, this simply proves that time is not linear, and we should all throw our watches out the window.

Day 3 is silent day, and now, silence is no longer easy. Lunchtime passes to a soundtrack of cutlery clinking on plates and eyes downcast to avoid awkwardness or, worse, giggles. Everyone scatters in the afternoon, off doing their own thing to avoid the frustration of not-talking.

At 5pm, we gratefully gather to break our silence. The rain makes a valiant attempt to bring a sense of melancholy, but it does not succeed. The chatter of our joyous voices at dinner will not allow the moodiness of the weather to ruin our good time.

As the week draws to a close, it’s important to remember why we’ve come here. Most of us didn’t come here in order to be together, although that is certainly something we will remember. But we all came for different reasons. Whether we were composting old memories, or resolving to turn over a new leaf, or re-birthing childhood dreams, or unearthing new passions - we will leave this place changed.

Throughout this week, we’ve each contributed our individual threads and together we’ve woven a beautiful tapestry. And what I will most remember is how each one of us, individually, came alive in this space.

Esther shared beautiful words about how the silence opened her awareness to the more-than-human world. Joo-Young rediscovered her inner 12-year-old by drawing and painting. Paul practised mindful eating at every single meal, a newfound pleasure he never knew before. Richard gifted us with a stunning, Jurassic-sized dragonfly, turning our meditation room into the Natural Gallery of Art. And Elizabeth, dear Elizabeth, reliably forgot about being silent every single morning as she cheerily said, “good morning” to the first person she saw.

As we begin to feel the tug of ‘real life’ pulling us back, let us remember the beautiful space we built together this week. Let us remember to be kind to ourselves and show ourselves the compassion that we have shown one another. Let us remember that it isn’t about perfection, but it is about practice, and about opening ourselves to new ways of being.

So no, most of us didn’t come here in order to be together. But we did come here to be ourselves, together. It is in the togetherness that each of us finds ourselves, and it is in the parting that we take our newfound gifts home.

by Christina Williams, July 2023 - @smallstepsnewfutures

Earth Cries

Earth Cries

Words for the day.
Denial. Justice. Right
To protest. And Earth cries.
O when will we wake up?
Gulf Stream dying.
Day’s end approaching.
Climate migrants. Oil spills.
Global boiling. Carbon
Emissions. Net zero.
Fossil fuel nightmare.
Wandering rage of the world,
Trying to find a home.

Who will give this crisis
Hanging over us a voice
That can open the hearts
And minds of the people?
Disasters coming. No amount
Of hiding can hide it.
The young crave truth.
Only truth will save us.

Have to wake up before night comes.
Shadows are rushing towards us.
Earth is shaking. Insects are perishing.
Flowers are mourning. When will truth
Come? When will we have the courage
To give this hour in history its true name?
How many of us must perish before
The governments make this climate crisis
A priority? We’re the not so slow
Suicide of the world. We are the not so
Fast saviours of the world. O what I would give
To have one person wake up to the truth
Of our world for every microsecond that they
Poison the air, the sea and the forests.

If we rise up as one in peace and truth
And beauty will they listen? Must
We scream to be heard? Must the Earth
Bleed to be nurtured? Has the world
Not bled enough? How do you get
The ears of the world to listen
Without fear? And to listen with
Courage? We need a new language
That howls and caresses at the same time,
A new language that frightens and
Gives hope simultaneously, that
Tells the truth and transcends the truth
In the same breath. For the human being
Is a frail vessel that cannot take the light
And yet cannot face the darkness.
Must we become a new species?
Must the human being be remade anew
To face the tough truths of the times?

There’s no time for this renewal.
We have to become new right now.
For time will not wait for us in all the
Evils and poisons we have spewed
Into the belly and soul of nature.
Time will not wait for us to grow
Up and see what can be done
When we have had a long think about it.
Because of what we human beings
Have done we have to accelerate our
Own transformation now,
In the teeth of the crisis we
Have inflicted upon ourselves.

No gods will get us out of this.
We are the gods that must do it.
We are the gods that must step up
To the biggest crisis in the history
Of human consciousness as we know it.
We are the gods that must turn this
Story around. I’m not sure the bees
Or the trees or the fishes or the air
Or the future generations care
Very much how we do it. All they will
Care about is that somehow, with
Intelligence, with passion, with sacrifice,
With our voices, our votes, our gifts,
Our rage, our love, our wounds,
With our disabilities, our courage,
Our certainties, our doubts, our fears,
Our loneliness, our solidarity, our style
Or lack of style, our clumsiness,
Our youth, our age, our deaths and our births,
That we get it done, that we reverse the climate
Disaster waiting in the wings of this sixth act
Of the human comedy or tragedy.
All they will care about is that
We make a now, a past, a dream,
A hope, a life, a future possible again
For the species of this magical Earth.
That is what we are called to do.
That’s our destiny in these times.

A poem written by Ben Okri and selected by Coach House retreatant Sue, who said: "It feels in the spirit of our retreat. Thanks everyone".

Illustrated with paintings by Coach House retreatant Jennifer, who said: "Just as a reminder of the exquisite beauty of Nature I’m sharing my responses in watercolour to a few favourite scenes. I still feel deeply attached to our week together and all the wisdom and teachings".

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