Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Pausing" to find focus, clarity, and peace...on the clifftop trail from Arbroath to Auchmithie.

Arbroath harbour...a misty day.
A close friend was recently hiking on Vancouver Island, not far from our Canadian home. She came upon a little fir tree, growing out of what amounted to a barren pile of rocks. The sight gave her reason to pause, and reflect on how brave and how strong the little tree was. It was an important observation. Growing, against all odds in such an apparently inhospitable place, the fir might well one day become as tall and robust as any in the forest. 

Nature has a way of reassuring us that everything is possible...but we have to be vigilant for its "voice", and be willing to pause long enough to hear its message. Taking time each day to pause, isn't always easy. Some folks might even suggest that being "still" is a precious waste of time, time better spent being busy. Goodness, if they only knew. 

While waiting for winds over the Scottish North Sea to calm sufficiently for an opportunity to launch the kayaks, we returned to one of our favourite walks along the red, Lower Devonian, sandstone cliffs between Arbroath and Auchmithie. 

Arbroath, home of the world famous "Arbroath smokies"
- even the name is patented.
It's raw, dramatic nature at its best here...ancient rock continues to be shaped and reshaped by the erosive forces of sea and weather. Immense rocks, and tiny stones, captured in the settling sand, hundreds of millions of years ago, fall from the cliffs, onto the beach, to be washed by the rising and falling tides.

Dickmont's Den, a fault-controlled geo...paddling right in on high tide is thrilling.
"Pausing" is easy here...nature calls out for one's attention, and it's irresistible. The passage of time seems to slow, even cease its once-determined march into the future. Willingly embracing fully the "now", the future no longer matters. The past is no longer important. Both pale in the presence of...the present

This, of course, means that in the fullness of an awareness of the present moment, there can be no worries, no regrets, no distractions.

The Deil's Heid.
Pausing our busy and distracted minds brings focus. Focus brings clarity. Clarity brings peace. Peace nurtures is a lovely and beautiful cycle.

Traversing the intertidal zone, the heart rate slows...there is simply so much to take in. There is such diversity of life, filling the little tidal pools, but only if one pauses, is it possible to observe the movement of their tiny bodies. 

Low tide at Castleheugh Beach.
For too many years I felt there was some inherent "good" in being busy. That was silly. It is in "pausing" that we learn to pay attention to life around us, that we become attuned to the lessons of the natural world. It is in pausing that we become attuned and connected in meaningful ways to one another. Pausing is a prerequisite for listening, a gift we need to give to one another far more often.

The clifftop trail from Arbroath to Auchmithie never fails to remind us to pause...and in the pausing, to embrace the present moment. It is the beginning of awareness. It is there that the possibility of focus, clarity, and peace can be found.

Now it has to be said, even such a "contemplative" activity in nature can work up an appetite...

Tiny Auchmithie's "But n Ben"...we've heard it's VERY fine dining.
On this day, however, the "But n Ben" wasn't open. The garlic mushroom pancake (mushrooms, sauteed in cream and garlic folded in a savoury pancake) sounded very intriguing. Another time - maybe after a paddle along the cliffs. :)

A But 'N' Ben: a small crofters cottage in the Scottish Highlands, with white walls and thatched roof. The "but" is the living room, and the "ben" is the bedroom.


  1. Ah, Duncan, once again you've hit the nail on the head! The somewhat unusual nature of my work is periods of relentless "busy", impatiently waiting for the opportunity to breathe out - to pause and to down-shift to a more natural rhythm. The natural world, and especially the littoral with its own "breathing cycle" is just the place to reset the body's clock I think. :o)

    PS - Dickmont's Den looks an entirely different place on an equinoctial Spring low tide!

    Warm wishes to you both

    1. Ian, I think you are so right. Synchronicity with the natural world seems just so..."natural". :) She offers the perfect "reset", every time. Looking right down at the "dry" sea floor of Dickmont's Den was quite astonishing, given that we had all paddled right to the end. It'll be nice to get back out there! Warm wishes from us both.

  2. I've always believed it so important to pause and notice all the beauty nature brings to us. Years ago, before hiking was part of my life, I went hiking with a group of folks up the mountain. The leader kept us going at a quick pace and I remember telling him, "you're missing the flowers, you're missing this or that". Ten years later I think I'll just say, "by Jove, i think he's got it"!

    1. Ah Linda, what can I say? It takes some of us a rather long time to learn these lessons. ;) Thank you for your patience over many years. :) Warm wishes to you from Joan and I - and see you on this side soon!

  3. Great post Duncan. Before people lived in two rooms the but was for people and the ben was for the beasts. My Gran's family came from a two roomed croft in Arran. Even though she latterly lived in a five roomed house, if she was talking about anything in another room, she always referred to it being "ben the hoose".

    1. Thank you for that, Douglas. We often see old and long-deserted crofters cottages out in the hills. It is easy to imagine the old ways. It must have been a difficult life in many ways, but so connected to the land and to nature. Great to hear from you. Warm wishes from us both.