To-day Fiona Robyn is visiting Jade Mountains on her blog tour. Welcome. Fiona’s new book ‘small stones: a year of moments’ has not reached my hands because we are on different continents however I have visited her blog, a small stone. Before we talk here are a couple of pictures with text to give you an idea of what the stones look like.
The bush’s branches are clotted with red berries. From inside the house three ginger cats eye me as I walk past.
the fur stroked out
of her silver coat
rests on her back
downy dandelion seeds
waiting to be blown away
on a -puff- of breeze
to take root in
the earth, to grow
I’d intended to do a back and forth instant messaging conversation with Fiona but the time difference and prior commitments had me writing down questions instead. They stir dim memories of exam papers, not something I’d want to inflict on anybody. But needs must…
Do you go about your day getting on with things and then at some point sit down and see what comes to mind in terms of a ‘stone’ to post. Or do you find yourself deliberately taking a mental snapshot of something in particular and then translate that into words when you sit down to write?
A mixture – but I think the best small stones come from the latter, when I see or touch or hear something and think ‘ah!’ and make a mental (or physical) note to write it up later. The alternative is trawling back through my day for something that struck me, and I find it quite difficult to capture a kind of ‘freshness’ when I haven’t made a mental note at the time.
Would you say to a certain extent you are looking out for ‘stones’, something to post about?
I do occasionally look for small stones in a conscious way, especially when I’m travelling – being in a car or a train seems to help me to open my eyes. But the ideal would be to live my whole life as if I was noticing a small stone. It doesn’t matter too much if I write them down or not, because the act of noticing them is the whole point. It helps me to engage with the world – to get in close.
The closest I get to what you do is the photographs I seem to be taking currently. I say ‘seem to’ because I can honestly say I’m not looking for anything or to convey anything through them either. Would that be where you are with writing or are you purposefully trying to say something?
Hmm – I’m definitely not thinking about what I want to convey with individual small stones, e.g. ‘ah, a homeless person, I’ll write about him to highlight the issue of homelessness’. In a way I’m trying to say the same thing over and over with every small stone – pay attention! Look at things properly! Wake up!
I know you have an interest in Buddhism. Have you anything you would like to say about that? For example from where you sit now what impact does it, the theory and/or the practice have on you in you day?
I didn’t really know anything about Buddhism when I started writing my small stones. I discovered Pema Chodron first, after finding her quotes scattered across the internet and buying one of her books, and this led me to Suzuki Shunryu, Charlotte Joko Beck, Jakusho Kwong and Natalie Goldberg. Soto Zen as a tradition probably appeals to me the most. I like the idea of non-clinging, as a way of engaging more fully with what is there, and I like the discipline of ‘just sitting’ (I have a modest practice and sit for 20 minutes in the morning). I like the idea of ‘big mind’ and of interconnection. It has become very important to me as something I continue to learn from, and although I don’t know if I’d say ‘I am a Buddhist’ I’d definitely say ‘Buddhist ideas have been hugely important to me’. I dedicated the book to Suzuki Shunryu as I was so moved by his presence through what is written about him, particularly after reading his biography, Crooked Cucumber. I hope he’d approve of my small stones, as my attempt to ‘just notice’ and then ‘just write it down’.
The late head of our Order would often encourage us to take time to smell the roses. I guess that’s what Fiona is encouraging us to do too. Thanks for the reminder.