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The center of my recent trip to the United Kingdom turned out to be the four days I spent at Ashwhin Retreat on Shapinsay.

I had no particular agenda for such a retreat; I just felt drawn to it in a profligate, "what the hell" kind of way made possible only by a windfall (in this case, the sale of my car).

Derby, the woman who runs Ashwhin, met me at the ferry and drove me the eight miles or so across the island to her house. Once installed in the guest flat, I went and drank cups of tea with her and we talked about why I was there.

I still had no idea, but we got acquainted, discovering that we had a lot in common. Prominent in the living room, Derby had a vision board, a beautiful image of her idealized self in the landscape that was visible just outside the big glass doors: gentle treeless slopes dropping to a circular little bay.

View from upper floor of a house on the Orkney island of Shapinsay, looking north over an old stone barn to a curved blue bay under a blue sky>

When I commented on her nice rendering of the view, she said, "I drew that picture two years before I ever saw this place."

So I decided, wow, I want to make a vision board too! I've tried them before without much success, but maybe in this remote place it would be different. (It wasn't, and I made no progress in spite of the stack of beautiful photography magazines Derby later gave me to cut up, but the idea was planted and I'm still chewing on it.)

Meanwhile, I went out for a walk on the beach, looking for signs. Just...you know, signs. Anything would do as a pointer. I was pretty detached.

A black and white border collie on a rock-strewn beach on the north side of Shapinsay

The black and white border collie who came with me led me to a black and white feather, which pointed to a disembodied and strangely angelic pair of gray gull's wings, which pointed to a little stone, which I picked up.

Hand holding a small black basalt beach pebble with a white quartz segment forming a kind of halo

"Does it say anything to you?" Derby asked me when I showed it to her.

"It's black and white," I said. "Everything is black and white. And it looks like an eye. Maybe I need more color. Or nuance."

Derby said, "I look at it and see a halo. I feel that it's about your inner light."

So we decided to spend our time together doing ritual work called Munay-Ki, which deals with the energy field and the colors of chakras...stuff like that. These rites (simple and not too strange, with a South American shamanic sort of thread to them) drilled out a bit of remaining rot at the base of my self-concept and left me with a valuable personal reminder about my origins and true nature1.

A storm swept in on my third day and lashed at the stark, treeless landscape for the remainder of my stay.

View from a second-floor window on a heavy, stormy sky over an old stone barn and a curved coastline, on Shapinsay, Orkney Islands

I walked for miles.

DarkEmeralds with really windblown hair in the sloping green and treeless landscape of Shapinsay under a cloudy sky

Then I got a ferry back to Orkney and flew away.

The Shapinsay ferry, with a bookmobile on board

1I probably can't formulate it into a shareable statement, though I imagine it will eventually be a story.

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