Something interesting happened as we strolled along a stunning lakeside path, resting on the many artful benches the National Trust has proved at Stourhead for visitors and which are helpful for the impeded such as me. We were at the world famous gardens to deliver Camilla’s lovely and popular earrings as well as my greetings cards to the gallery and, as always, we took a walk through the stunning arboretum whose artfully planted trees are so soothing. July isn’t the ideal month to visit, but the subtle hues of greens and red foilage made for a sublime backcloth and voices from around the world were there to relish this sensual scene created two or more centuries ago to please a bunch of filthy rich folk. That’s the joy of the NT, for a mere £10 a month, they allow a couple of plebs like us to wallow in pleasures once unattainable to 99.9% of people.
A German couple summed it up as they languished on a comfortable handcrafted bench. We had noted her beatific smile several times amongst the many happy faces passing us during the past hour or so, but this time she seemed suspended in paradise and her words proved it. “This is heaven,” she laughed gently. I too immersed in a state of bliss smiled and said, “Ahh yes,” as I walked past.
What had happened to us all? A load of ordinary folk ambling through an artificial landscape created to mimic the best in nature, now blissed-out like a bunch of hippies? Walking without agenda, absorbing the beauty around you without trying, allowing the effect of art to enter your mind, letting yourself roll with the many impressions, be they sound, sight or triggered thoughts, this seems to have stilled our busy minds, to have taken us all to a soothing mindset our ancestors habitually inhabited when they leaned upon the garden gate to enjoy the moment.
Lollygaging, or daydreaming your way through a part of the day is something we have lost the habit of doing and that is what Stourhead had done to us. The Kenyan tribe I grew up with knew this state, as do the elderly folk here in rural Somerset. I once asked my friend Kipchoge what he was thinking about as he stood looking out at the savannah and he slowly adjusted the deadly sharp spear he was leaning on and turned to gaze at me. “My bare feet are sensing the number of passing zebra hidden by the scrub, my nose is working out how calm they are and my ears are listening to their chatter as the heard moves on.”
And I’d asked, “So what are you thinking?”
“Thinking? Nothing. Just sensing.”
That, I realised, though I was still a mere boy, was profound. And now, having once spent years doing mindful meditation and currently applying such techniques to help me cope with my own battered existence, I know Kichchoge’s words were masterful, Zenlike.
And here we were, a bunch of blissed out Europeans, Indians, South Americans, Koreans and folk from many more countries, all sharing that same profound head space because a British charity has enabled us to wallow in a sensual luxury only aristocrats could once enjoy, and we all felt Zened out.