Helen Rowe takes us into the meditative joys of her vegetable patch, spinning wheels and making music with others.
What have been the impacts of the lockdown on your lifestyle?
After I finished paid work, I took up a series of volunteer and recreational activities and of course during this COVID period the majority of those things have stopped or only continued via technology.
As an example, for 5-6 years I’ve been playing alto and bass recorder in a community group (University of the Third Age) that plays for a couple of hours every week and that has not continued, so that’s been a big loss for me. There are about 17 of us, some of whom are beginners, and the tutor is very kind and teaches people to play the instrument. I find it very rewarding. I hadn’t picked a recorder up for 30 years and finding a recorder group was at the top of my retirement list. When I play with the group I get so energised because the bass keeps the time and brings real depth to what is being played. We’ve just started experimenting with a Zoom session together.
Like everyone, we’re missing direct contact with our children, their partners and our grandchildren. Our daughter, who has been in Sydney for fourteen years, moved down to Melbourne with her partner in March and hasn’t been able to see the family, but now that will become easier. It’s really nice having her in Melbourne, though – fourteen years is a long time.
So what has got you through this period?
The ongoing contact with people through the meetings of the groups I’m a part of, such as those connected to the church. Without these meetings and the various pastoral phone calls I make, I would be certainly feeling the loss of contact with people a great deal. But because of this contact, I’m not lonely.
For years and years I’ve had this practice where someone will come to mind for no obvious reason and I’ve converted that thought into a prayer. Not lots and lots of words, just a simple ‘let this name go up’ kind of thing. That keeps me going at any time, but I’ve noticed it more during this period, because there’s more time now without the busyness of normal life. So I’ve become more aware of it – I suppose it’s a contemplative thing, a reflective time.
Mal and I also drew a 5km radius from our house that we could walk. We’ve discovered some green spaces and wetlands that we never knew existed. As well as walking and looking at the plantings and listening to the birds and frogs, we also look up the history of that place and have discovered things that we didn’t know before.
What has brought you joy?
I’ve been a backyard vegetable gardener for years. Usually in the winter I’ll let it grow over and then we have a big ‘splurge’ late in the year to get it ready for spring planting. But this year, because we’re in COVID, I decided I would get outside the back door every day and plant things from seed. I’ve got a little greenhouse that I bought from ALDI where I pot them up into something else and keep them warm. I have to look at them every day so they don’t get dry or too hot or whatever. I never think of gardening as work.
So I’m nurturing plants from seed and this winter I’ve gone outside and the birds are magnificent. We have a huge gum tree in our backyard which is covered in flowers and it gets full of Rainbow Lorikeets. So I use this time to think about things, to get away from pencil and paper or screens and to contemplate. I’m also a person who’s very happy to go into a room where the light’s fading and just sit there. I’ve always enjoyed that.
What have you learned during the lockdown?
I’ve learned the value of slowing down. I’m seriously thinking about how much I’ll get involved in after all this. I’ve been wanting to pull back from some of my volunteer activities anyway but I’m taking action now. I think I’ve come to realise that ‘retirement’ is not a dirty word! I have resisted it a bit, but I’ve discovered a slower pace and quietness and different level of appreciation of a smaller group of friends and I don’t have to do as many of those ‘other things’ anymore.
Slowing down and discovering a different way of living is very much a ‘work in progress’, but COVID has forced me and others to consider that more seriously. I’ve got a couple of spinning wheels and I might get more into that. The practice of spinning slows you down; the beautiful momentum of the wheel and the foot pedal is very meditative.
What are you looking forward to most post-lockdown?
Top of the list is being able to hug my grandchildren and children – physical contact with my immediate family. Meeting again at church, being together as a community in worship services and participating in communion. In other words, being with people who are important in my family life and my faith. And, as noted earlier, being quieter, being reflective, being on my own.
What changes would you like to see in society as a result of all this?
Interaction between strangers – just all of us conversing with people more often. Because we’ve had to stay local and are walking more, we’re greeting people we’ve never really said “hello” to before. There’s a kind of unspoken solidarity that we’re looking out for each other now and I’d like to see that sense of connection continue.
(Helen also sent this reflection which is on the theme of contemplation she mentions above. “The poet says it much better than I could,” she says)
There are no words for the deepest things. Words become feeble when mystery visits and prayer moves into silence. In post-modern culture the ceaseless din of chatter has killed our acquaintance with silence. Consequently, we are stressed and anxious. Silence is a fascinating presence. Silence is shy; it is patient and never draws attention to itself. Without the presence of silence, no word could ever be said or heard. Our thoughts constantly call up new words. We become so taken with words that we barely notice the silence, but the silence is always there. The best words are born in the fecund silence that minds the mystery.
JOHN O’DONOHUE (Excerpt from Eternal Echoes)
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