‘A life of one’s own’ 2

The young Marion Milner

In ‘A life of One’s Own’, Joanna Field/Marion Milner writes that at the start of her experiment she didn’t really know what she was looking for, but was determined and guided by this sense of not-knowing. Yet, she knew that there was something that she needed and wanted to discover. She was concerned not to lose her way. Some years into her experiment in writing her diary, Milner began to realise there was a different way of looking at things, as well as a different way of listening. With music she tried to ‘put herself out of herself’ and get close to the music: ‘and sometimes it closed over my head, and I came away rested and feeling light-limbed.’ With looking she records this:

‘One day I was idly watching some gulls as they soared high overhead. I was not interested, for I recognised them as “just gulls”, and vaguely watched first one and then another. Then all at once something seemed to have opened. My idle boredom with the familiar became a deep-breathing peace and delight and my whole attention was gripped by the pattern and rhythm of their flight, their slow sailing which had become a quiet dance.’

What she was discovering from such experiences was the delight of not-thinking and of being aware.

Following feelings of irritation and disappointment with her holiday companion, Milner describes how rather grumpily she went alone for a walk through a forest, to where there was a cottage serving drinks and overlooking a valley. Here and unexpectedly, she finds manifold delight from her senses:

‘Those flickering leaf-shadows playing over the heap of cut grass. It is fresh scythed. The shadows are blue or green, I don’t know which, but I feel them in my bones. Down into the shadows of the gully, across it through glistening space, space that hangs suspended filling the gully, so that little sounds wander there, lose themselves and are drowned; beyond there’s a splash of sunlight leaping out against the darkness of forest, the gold in it flows richly in my eyes, flows through my brain in still pools of light. That pine, my eye is led up and down the straightness of its trunk, my muscles feel its roots spreading wide to hold it so upright against the hill. The air is full of sounds, sighs of wind in the trees, sighs which fade back into the overhanging silence. A bee passes, a golden ripple in the quiet air. A chicken at my feet fussily crunches a blade of grass …’

Milner writes that she sat motionless, draining sensation to its depths with wave after wave of delight flowing through every cell in her body.: ‘I no longer strove to be doing something, I was deeply content with what was … hearing and sight and sense of space were all fused into one whole.’ In the present moment, totally awake and aware – freed from angers and discontents and overflowing with peace.