Dartington at dusk

I walk under rolling grey clouds, with ending rain and wild winds. Leaves traced across the air to ground, the water in the fountain wobbled uncertainly and dusk gathered in the silence of the garden.

I am at Schumacher College at a four day course on non-violence and spiritual activism and was taking a late afternoon break to visit the gardens at Dartington Hall.

These gardens carry great meaning for me and, as I walked, I remembered they had carried a beautiful lesson in peace.

I came here first to a conference at which Hideo Kanze and his troupe had given a studio performance of Noh. It had been completely absorbing, neither before or since have I had such an experience in the theatre of being transported out of oneself into a complete attention. Later, in the garden, I saw Kanze and his fellow actors being shown around. The members of the troupe, so mesmerizing on stage, had dissolved into a group of Japanese, politely touring an English garden, with requisite curiosity for its forming and delight in its beauty.

Kanze, however, was completely different. He was as he was on stage, completely present to what was presence, dwelling in wonder. I sat and watched him walk down the path wholly now, in the moment, seeing. It was a moving icon of the original face before our birth. I have never forgotten and each time I walk the same path I do so with a haunted sense of a vicariously shared attentiveness.

This was being in the way of peace, vulnerable to what comes, yet poised into a responding action.

Noh, itself, is a theatre of liberation. Many of its stories tell of an encounter that transforms - a ghost haunts the place of a forlorn love and is sent on his or her way through the intervention of a travelling priest or monk - but, more importantly, it is a drama of intensified emotion, a complete showing forth, without mediation or hesitation. This is the whole of human life, presented, with nothing held back, remarkable in a culture where everything is done with studied propriety.

Both strands are essential for finding a peaceful world - the spiritual discipline that allows one a complete wondering vulnerability to what is present and a story telling that allows everything to emerge - light and shadow - into a coherent narration of our selves. For violence lives within the protected spaces of our partial selves, our egos and in the failure to acknowledge all that we are, the failure to live into our shadows as well as our lights.


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