And so it happened – over the course of the next month or so.
Firstly I decided to move on – to take the decision to physically move on. It was cold and on several days Stowford had to cut through a thin layer of ice but I enjoyed cruising the canal which ran through some lovely English countryside. Particularly I liked the Red Sandstone bluffs alongside the canal.
Secondly I committed to follow this life for a year – just to see what happened. Commitment dissolves doubt and doubt is certainly an element of ‘The Bleakness’ My spirits began to lift. I had some enjoyable contact with people along the way. I am always surprised how much a friendly meeting can completely shift my mood. I came across several very friendly and helpful people as I travelled.
Thirdly I decided to find a pleasant spot and stay there for two weeks. Eventually I moored next to the Bosworth Battlefield site with a wood one side of the canal and open fields the other. I meditated a little, read a little, walked and rode my bike – and, started to feel very happy indeed. I’d acquired some warm clothing and a waterproof jacket which helped my physical comfort and I started to rejoice in my simple free life. It wasn’t exactly just ‘chopping wood and carrying water’ like the old Zen master but it was simple and light. I felt free.
I was so confident about my new life that I gave up my mooring at Saul Junction. I was now not exactly homeless – I still carried my home with me – but I was placeless. I lived a wandering life.
I’ve not written anything for a while because I’ve been finding my new life rather challenging. It is cold and I feel a little lonely, especially in the evenings, and I have doubts about the purpose and value of what I’ve chosen to do. I hovered about in Stourport for a few days not really knowing what to do and then moved sluggishly on to Kidderminster where I moored in the town centre amid shopping centres and multi-laned roads busy with Christmas traffic. I also had some problems with the engine – minor as it turned out. Over Christmas I visited friends for a delightful few days at Adhisthana but on my return to the boat I felt bleak. Bleak was the right word – not a happy state, but one that has flavoured my mind for several weeks.
When I lived at Guhyaloka, our retreat centre in the Spanish mountains I occasionally went to the Coast for various reasons. As I drove down from the mountains I invariably felt excited at the prospect. I semi-consciously looked forward to the stimulation of all those attractive things in the shops and the many pretty women that I’d see. But, as the day wore on the excitement faded into boredom and even mild resentment. As I drove back into the mountains I’d often feel rather bleak. This seemed wrong. Shouldn’t I feel happy to be returning to the contentment and beauty of our mountain retreat? Once back at Guhyaloka – sometimes within hours and always within a day or so – my mind returned to the contented, happy, almost ecstatic state that I generally enjoyed living there.
One day I realized what was happening. The prospect of delights on the Coast stimulated my craving but this was not satisfied and so, as I returned to the mountains (rather like when I was a student I’d return disappointed to my bed-sit in the early hours of a Sunday morning) I experienced life as disappointing, unsatisfying, empty – bleak. But as soon as I was settled back at Guhyaloka this painful state was replaced by the contentment that arose from the conditions of our retreat life. It was all very clear – shockingly simple.
It seems that ‘The Bleakness’ is a state of unsatisfied craving, or the loss of something to which I’ve been attached and my experience of it recently is a result of giving up various comforts and securities. I’ve abandoned physical comfort and the security of familiar surroundings, the proximity of friends, a sense of purpose (looking after my father) and so on. I feel alienated from the people and place in which I find myself – life has lost it’s flavour of warmth and belonging and I have some doubts about what I am doing. But, based on my experience at Guhyaloka I hope that ‘The Bleakness’ will resolve when I can drop those attachments and that I’ll discover a greater degree of Freedom.
I am presently moored in one of the four basins at Stourport-on-Severn. This is pretty much the end of the navigable section of the river, and the start of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal which joins the Severn with the Trent and Mersey. The Staffs and Worcester was one of the earliest, finished in about 1770, and the town of Stourport was established at the same time. Around the basin now there are gentrified warehouses, factories, workers’ cottages and a hotel, The Tontine, which was built to accommodate traders and canal executives. It is a good place to moor with all facilities.
It took three days to travel up the Severn, mooring at Upton, and Holt on the first and third nights and at my friend’s family home just north of Worcester on the second. It is very pleasant to visit friends en route, even though it took three attempts to tie up successfully because of the current in the river. I think
I was the only boat on the river but the lock keepers were very accommodating, allowing me to moor on the lock pontoons which would not have been available in the summer. There are very few mooring places on the river and I felt some relief to get onto the canal where you can moor pretty much anywhere.
I had some trouble with the two ‘staircase’ locks coming into the basin. I got stuck in first because not having met this type of lock before I didn’t know how much water to run into the lower before moving into the upper; and I got stuck in the second because the water level was so high in the basin that I was initially unable to stop the boat being washed onto the overflow cill and getting stuck. After a while I managed to solve the problem and moored up in the basin.
One rather odd thing about 18th century Stourport is that because of the caravan parks on the river banks, a permanent funfair with flashing neon lights and a row of fish and chip cafés – it feels a bit like an old fashioned sea-side resort town.