Looking in the Looking Glass

As I schedule a post or two in advance to cover my absence for the Silent Eye’s workshop weekend, there are few things I can predict with any certainty. You never know what is going to happen or how things are going to work out. One thing I do know, though, is that barring unforeseeable disaster, I will get to spend some time with the friends and people I love. And we will talk… a lot… and when we start talking, we can cover a lot of ground, from the ridiculous to the sublime, the mundane to the mystical.

Walrus_and_Carpenter by Tenniel“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”

I often think of Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” when these conversations get going. Though to be fair, the subjects of our discussions are generally weirder and further reaching than that of the oyster-eating conversationalists thus described. And “Through the Looking Glass” would be an equally good title for the friendship we share.

But, like them, we speak of many things; along with talk of snowballs and poetry, statistics and magic, parenting and the nature of a bishop’s smile, we will speak of love. It is, in fact, the common, if invisible, thread that binds most of our exchanges together and can be felt, weaving its way through the apparent disparities as we talk our way from the gutter to the very gates of heaven.

Friendship itself is one manifestation of love. Some begin with one of those instant moments of recognition, when something, somewhere clicks into place and into purpose. Others grow slowly, unfolding their petals and taking time to reveal their inner hearts. We all share parallels within our lives’ journeys, and we slide down the latter half of life, some with great elegance, others with a less graceful, yet gleeful, abandon, towards a not dissimilar conclusion and in a shared inner joy.

Most of the people I will meet again over the weekend have spent very little time together eye to eye, yet heart to heart we have shared so much and we hold up a mirror to each other in which we are reflected as One. It is the kind of fraternity of the soul that we are seldom blessed with and is to be treasured as a rare and precious thing.

Yet were you to take a peek into our conversations, you would be as likely to find us talking of steam railways and the seedier side of humanity, laughing over risqué puns and gently poking fun at the cussed stubbornness of northerners, as you would be to find us speaking of the deeper questions of Life, the Universe and Everything. For they too are all one and a common thread of meaning is woven through them.

Amongst the cabbages and kings, we have spoken of love and how our relationship with it changes as we grow. We have spoken of the differences and misunderstandings between detachment and non-attachment. Most religious and spiritual traditions, as well as the Mystery schools, teach the need for non-attachment in some form or another, particularly with regard to the ego, and it can be a frightening thing to even contemplate letting go of the self to that extent. There is an underlying fear of ‘who will I be, if I am not I? If I cannot feel, think, love as myself then who will I become?’

No matter how painful loving can be, no matter how joyful or tender, how heart-aching or blissful, it is love in some form or another that fuels all our relationships from our parents to our friends, from our children to our partners. It is behind all the richest experiences of our lives… why would we want to become ‘detached’ from that?

It became clear to me at some point, that it is the ego that, through its own fear of dissolution, misunderstands. We do not need to detach ourselves from love, but from its dependencies. When we can lay those dependencies, those needs, on the altar with a clear heart, Love opens up to us in a way that we have not understood before.

When we can see a person clearly, ‘warts and all’ as the saying goes, and love them because of who they are, when we can love without needing them to love us back, without agonising over how they feel about us, and shedding useless tears when they do not give what we would like… When we can allow them to be themselves wholly and freely and simply love them anyway, without expectation or trying to mould them to our desire… Or when we can look into the mirror of the soul and see our own Self reflected in that greater Love, then perhaps we begin to know what non-attachment means. It does not take love away from us, it gives us the freedom to Love with a whole soul.

And, this weekend, I will be with people I love.

Silent Eye: Sixth Weekend Draws Nigh! – by Alienora

Reblogged from Alienora’s Anthology:

download

Silent Eye: A Modern Mystery School has been an important part of my life since its birth way back in 2013; though, actually, the story starts even before then…

I first met Stephen Tanham and Sue Vincent (who, along with Stuart France, comprise the Silent Eye Directors) at Savio House, during either an SOL Gathering of the Light weekend or a Ritual with Purpose one. We clicked. I enjoyed the company of both.

I was, therefore, intrigued and tempted when they set up the Silent Eye School of Consciousness – and was keen to be at the Opening.

Five very different ritual experiences later, I can safely say that this initial enthusiasm has never waned, and I am now getting very excited about the forthcoming, Jewel in the Claw, weekend.

The setting is beautiful: The Nightingale Centre in the little village of Great Hucklow, deep in the heart of the Peak District. The drive up is always a journey of magnificence -especially when we leave the motorway and meander through Bakewell (for the tarts, you understand!) and the stark peaks and mountainous roads of this atmospheric part of Britain’s landscape.

Continue reading at Alienora’s Anthology

A common misconception?

 

“….so, this year it is Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Court, and next year we’ll be in Sumeria.” Running around getting things organised for the workshops always involves the attempted acquisition of some strange items. I frequently get asked what I’m hoping to use them for and that inevitably leads to questions about what we do, how and why.

“Sumeria?” The face was blank.

“An ancient civilisation, goes back five thousand years and more…” The face brightened with understanding.

“Oh.” There was a weird sort of relief too. “Cave men,” she said, thereby dismissing the great city of Uruk with two words.

“Not exactly…” But where do you start? The great walled city of Uruk, home to around eighty thousand people, was founded six thousand years ago, predating the rise of ancient Egyptian civilisation by a thousand years. The Sumerian culture had been growing for a long time before that too.

Say ‘Egypt’ and everyone thinks of the fabulous art, the gold and the temples that remain. We have no problem accepting that ancient Egypt was civilised, but unless there is a particular interest, most of us don’t have much of an idea about dates. Say, ‘five thousand years ago’ and ‘cave man’ is still the image in many minds. Say ‘prehistoric’ and that conjures dinosaurs, say ‘stone age’ and you are probably thinking Fred Flintstone.

Prehistoric means simply that period before written history… and written language first began, we believe, in Sumeria… over five thousand years ago. Archaeology has revealed the beauty and artistry of the culture, from musical instruments to fabulously worked gold and miniature carved seals. Prior to the beginnings of written history, the prehistoric culture was already exceptionally rich.

The various ‘Ages’, like Stone, Bronze and Iron, refer in brief to a leap in technology. Thus, the basic advance in the Bronze Age was the ability to work with metal. Before that, stone was the prime technology and, while it may have begun with the use of a simple rock or a worked flint arrowhead, it ended with the complexity of the enigmatic monuments that still draw us today.

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Stonehenge is perhaps the best known in this country. No mere pile of rocks, but a fantastic feat of engineering by any standards, where mortice and tenon joints allow the stones, weighing tons apiece, to ‘float’ above the circle. The construction of Stonehenge too was begun five thousand years ago. What remains suggests a complex mathematical and geometrical understanding, even though it may not have taken the form we now use. It also implies a knowledge of astronomy as well as an established culture strong enough to build the monument. And Stonehenge is just one of over a thousand known circles in these islands…

But why does it matter? That is another question frequently asked regarding the workshops. What possible benefit can there be to delving into the past for our workshops, be it the few hundred years back to the Elizabethan Court, or a few thousand?

We could answer that there is no particular benefit at all… that the stories we weave through our workshops are no more than frames for the spiritual concepts we explore. That would be true, but not the whole truth. Although we spend months crafting detailed and researched scripts, it is not the stories that matter, any more than it is the frame of a picture that holds the true value. On the other hand, those stories allow us to capture the imagination, engage the heart, mind and body, and bring our whole being to the concepts we explore. Instead of dry lectures, we learn through experience, laughter and through play… and that is always the best way to learn.

Nature has designed her children to learn that way; from lambs in a field to humans in the playground, we learn and experience hard lessons within a relatively safe world of play. The Inner Child can learn and explore the inner realms in the same way…and that is one reason why we craft such stories, taking our cue from the ancient Mystery Plays that brought the stories of the gods to life… and the gods, be it remembered, represent the cosmic principles behind the natural forces of the universe.

So, and that leads on to the next common question, are we saying that the ancients knew more than we do?  That they had a lost knowledge that we lack? Well, the obvious answer there is that if there were a ‘lost’ knowledge, then by definition, we do not have it and cannot know what it was. We can, however, look at the fragments they have left and infer that they had a different and more personal relationship with their environment, seeing divinity made manifest in the hills, rocks and streams. Would it be a bad thing to renew that relationship with the earth as a sacred and living being? Given the parlous state of the environment in this industrialised era, it could only be a good thing.

Did our ancestors have an inner knowledge that we lack? Again, in the absence of written records, we can only infer and intuit. Given that, in the days before antiseptic, disinfectant and antibiotics, life and death were separated by the most tenuous of threads, it is entirely probable that their only fear of death was of the pain of dying and loss, and the practical problems posed by decomposition. Today, as a society, we fear death and the dissolution of the personal ego; we seek ever to deny and defer the ageing process and in doing so, we create for ourselves an unsettled, dissatisfied world.

Whatever our ancestors saw, whatever forged their beliefs, is still there, in the natural world, waiting to teach us. By taking the time to look and to explore our relationship with Nature, we may glimpse the world through older eyes…for our ancestors are not separate or different from us, they are part of who we are, both in the concrete terms of genetic coding and in the accumulated knowledge and wisdom handed down to us over the centuries.

Whether, like the emerging scientists of the Elizabethan Age, we choose to take a logical and evidence-based view, or whether, like our ancient ancestors, it is the beauty and tides of Nature that speak to us, there is a path that may call us to a turning point in our own lives, echoing those pivotal points of history that have heralded a new age and a new beginning.

The stories we have woven over the years have been set in both past and future, rooted in the land as well as in myth. Each one has told a different tale, each from a different era. They are held together by a single common thread… Strip away the characters, props, and costumes designed to transport the imagination, and they are all fragments of the same story… that of the journey of the human heart and soul.

Odd socks and the mummification of rats…

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I couldn’t put it off any longer, bad back or not…  the sheets needed changing and the mattress was overdue to be turned. My son, for reasons best known to himself, chose to furnish himself with one of those huge beds of the mega-super-king variety that are the size of a small playing field. The kind that is so heavy, it is impossible to move without a crane and which has a solid-seeming base that extends between mattress and floor.  He is also furnished with one very small mother. Changing the bed is a job I dread as, given my vertically challenged status, I could use the duvet cover for a bivouac and still have room in there to party.

The very idea of turning the mattress makes me break out in a cold sweat. It is not a job I can easily do alone at the best of times. This time, however, the bad back was going to come in handy. There is always a silver lining somewhere, if you look hard enough. My son would have to help.

This is not as simple as it might seem, considering that standing and balancing are things he cannot do well, especially while trying to do something else. But I saw no reason why that should get in the way.

Stripping the bed was easy. It was when we came to turn the mattress that things took a turn for the worse. Halfway round, the edge of the mattress caught the slats on the bed base and pulled them out of place, unclipping them from the centre of the bed. The only thing for it was to balance the mattress as best we could, while I tiptoed between the remaining slats to put things right. All well and good… until I lifted one offending slat from the floor.

There, before my poised toe, and right beneath where my son lays his head, was a rat. Not just any rat either. Both it and its population of insect casings were mummified. I may have squealed. When I gingerly picked it up by its tail, it was a stiff as a board and the mummification process left a rat-shaped stain on the carpet.

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Many things made sense. My son has a well-stocked bird table that attracts a lot of wildlife… including the creature he had watched, fascinated by its agility, before calling me to ask if there were any such thing as ‘a bald-tailed squirrel’. Boots, the first cat my son had taken pity on a couple of winters ago, is a huntress and, for the first few months of her residency, had regularly brought ‘gifts’ to his bedroom door. Usually birds, occasionally a mouse and once a full-grown rat. Or, as we now knew, twice.

After one particularly bloody episode, Boots had finally understood that her gifts were not appreciated and had given up, much to the relief of the cleaning lady… I hated seeing those poor creatures torn to shreds, though the rats she had killed and left intact.

cat2

That spring, while my son was away, I had taken the opportunity to deep clean his home and garden… everywhere except under that mountain of a mattress, which had been declared out of bounds. I did the bedroom first, shut the door to keep the cat out and started on the rest. A week or so later, I had arrived to feed his fish and found his bedroom window swarming with huge black flies. I had looked everywhere for the source of the problem… except under the bed. I let the flies out, but the same thing happened for several mornings thereafter… then nothing. Not one. I cleaned the windows again and thought no more about it. Flies nest in window frames sometimes. I’d had that happen at my own home one year.

Tim

Oddly enough, Tim, the tomcat who has also adopted my son, and who is also known as Frank and Nigel to the neighbours where he deigns to dine, has been trying to get under the bed for a while. This morning, we had found out why.

I disposed of the mummy, cleaned under the bed, fixed the slats and together we remade the bed, finding, in the process, a lost favourite sock that had lodged itself in the corner of the duvet. Bonus!

It was odd that the poor rat had lain hidden for so long, slowly decomposing while my son was away and thus not plagued by the smell. The timing of the burial beneath the bed had allowed it to pass unnoticed… until I began to see the flies. Even then, the source of the problem lay hidden until we finally found the corpse and disposed of it once and for all, cleaning the mess left behind.

I wondered how often the same thing applies to the hurt, guilt and fears we bury in the shadows of the mind and heart? We may not even know they are there… or, if we suspect their presence, choose not to look too closely, knowing that it will be unpleasant. Although we may be unaware, there is something about such things that may draw others to us, for all the wrong reasons.  Such things fester and rot, eating away at the soul, leaving behind immovable stains and providing a breeding ground for darkness and pain that can cast a cloud across our own lives and those of the people we love.

No matter how unpleasant the task, it is better to delve into the dark places, tackle the mess, and decently dispose of the copses. We never know what we might uncover, or how much we will ache as we essay the task. There may well be uncomfortable surprises, but as we allow light into forgotten corners, there may also be a gift just waiting to be uncovered… even if it is something as simple as a favourite sock.

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All in the feeling?

It was a beautiful morning. I had watched a barn owl glide across the field as dawn limned the horizon with gold and palest pink. The sky was beginning to turn blue and the drive to work on almost-empty roads was accompanied by birdsong. It was one of those mornings where it felt good to be alive…. even though, I realised with a start, I wasn’t sure I really knew what that meant.

How does it feel to be alive? It is not as if most of us have anything to compare it with. It is an either/or situation and anything in between is actually neither, for consciousness seems to be elsewhere. What we think of as ‘feeling alive’ is really feeling emotion and sensation. It is hard to even separate thoughts, emotions and perceptions from who we are and how it feels to be us, here, now.

How did I feel? When I looked at it from this new perspective, I could not answer. Take away the sensation of sitting in a car… the pressure of seat and wheel, the thrum of the engine, the warmth of the morning rays through the glass, the faint tang of petrol and the sound of birds. Take away the emotions that react to movement, to the start of a day’s work, to spring mornings and the first cherry blossom… and what is left?

Were my body unable to feel, see, hear or otherwise engage the senses, I would still be alive. If heart and mind were so numbed that I was dead to emotion, or if consciousness were lost, I would still be alive. It would be no kind of life from our normal perspective, but it would still be life. How would that feel?

It is odd that we use that word, ‘feeling’, for so many different purposes, from emotion, to touch, from opinion to health…as if we cannot dissociate our idea of being alive from feeling in some form or another.

I slowed to watch a hunting hawk, feeling the discomfort caused by the pressure of foot on pedal, wishing, for a moment, that my body still behaved as it had when I was young. Could I remember what it felt like to be young? Not the thoughts, physical sensations or even the uncertain, unconfident emotions of youth, but what it actually felt like to be young? No, I realised, I could not. Nor could I even say, in those same terms, what it felt like to be older. Yesterday and today are too vague. There is only what I feel like now.

I could catalogue sensation, emotion and reaction, but that is all just a processing of sensory and social input. If the body is the interface between the world and the brain and the brain the interface between body and mind, mind must be the interface between the brain and… what? Consciousness? Being? Spirit? Soul? What was the next link in the chain… Where is the ‘I’ in all of that…and is there even an ‘I’ at all?

Caught in the limbo between home and destination, yesterday and tomorrow, there was only the road and the moment and both were part of a journey, a process in a constant state of change, but not without purpose.

For a moment, there was a glimpse beyond normality to Mystery. For a moment, I almost understood. But such things cannot be grasped, only, for want of a better word, felt. All that remained to put into thought was the consciousness of a road that leads to a somewhere that is everywhere. A somewhere that makes no distinction, no separation, between the road, the traveller and the destination. Only the journey is.

There is an odd sort of serenity in that. The vehicle may break down, the traveller may not know the way and the road may fail, but the journey is always itself, carrying us forward with purpose.

A drop in the ocean

With the April workshop looming close, Stuart and I needed a break from work and headed off for the afternoon. We wanted to pay our respects to one of the influences behind the weekend, so we took advantage of a rare break in the weather. It has rained a lot lately; many of the fields we passed were flooded and the river at our destination had overflowed, drowning the riverside pathways and marooning benches that would normally be filled with people.

We’re pretty lucky my local area… there are no rivers, just the springs and streams that arise in the chalk and meander through the Vale and we are far from the sea. Most of the time that seems a pity, as I love moving water and miss the waterfalls and waves, but with the recent persistent rain I can only be grateful.

Our little river is usually no more than a foot or two deep and seldom wider than a stream. It gave up trying to contain the influx of water a while ago and has expanded until it looks more like a lake. Riverside playgrounds and sports fields are all under water, roadside streams have escaped their confines and flooded the fields and driving is hazardous in places.

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I lived beside a river in Vichy long ago and saw the power of water in flood. It is hard to imagine it, even from news footage, until you have seen and heard it for yourself. As with many things, real understanding comes only from direct experience.  The water of the Sichon flowed into the more famous Allier half a mile from our home on the Rue Charlot. The Sichon was confined in a concrete channel about twenty feet wide and a set of vertical steps, rather like a ladder, led down about twelve feet from the little gate by the front door. The concrete extended to make wide banks creating a channel perhaps eighty feet wide.

While it was pleasant to watch the sparkling, fast flowing stream from the kitchen window, seeing the birds and wildlife that visited even its man-made banks. The concrete was ugly and I couldn’t understand the municipal mentality that had built this monstrosity to confine the river.

Until the first winter. Then I understood.

All one night there was noise… but in the blackness no way of telling what was causing it. Come morning, one look from the kitchen window solved the mystery. Huge branches battered the walls of the house as churning, mud-brown waves raced through the confines of the concrete channel. It was incredible to watch. It got worse, hour by hour, as I saw the waters rise to within an inch of the kitchen windowsill.

What could be moved was taken upstairs, along with supplies… there was such elemental force in the floodwaters and they rose with such speed and volume. There was no question of what would have happened to anyone or anything caught in their path or in the debris they carried. Somewhere in one of the boxes of photographs I still have a picture taken through that window, but it is not as vivid as the one in my mind that hears the noise, smells the water or remembers the rising fear.

I have been lucky, seeing this so close yet merely as an observer and not as a victim of the extremes of the elements. It was a place where evidence of the uncompromising power of nature was always close. Vichy, for all its elegance as a once fashionable spa town, lies in a region of volcanoes. Indeed they are the source of its famous thermal springs and the volcanoes of the region are only dormant, not extinct. The heat in summer can be intense and the thunder storms regular and spectacular. I have swum in a lake in an old crater, smelt the sulphur from the vents in the caves of the Puy-de-Dôme, and seen the remnants of the effects of previous eruptions. You know the earth in charge, not man, even in this seemingly gentle and beautiful landscape.

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Taking pictures of the local flooding that here, at least, is little more than an inconvenience, so minor in comparison to that experienced by many, I was reminded how close we live to the awesome power of Nature, even within our regulated cities. We try our best to tame her, and our industries cause such destruction and yet, even if we make our planet uninhabitable for our species and many others, we are only destroying ourselves.

We tend to forget that we ourselves are just a very small part of Nature… a mere drop in a vast and moving flow of life that wears an infinite variety of forms. The elements of earth make up our bodies and her tides and seasons are echoed within us as they flow through our veins and hearts.

In a million years… a mere heartbeat for the life of the world… what will remain of us? Very little, perhaps, but life will continue whether we would recognise its forms or not. Even the shallow flooding in the fields serves to remind me how small we are in comparison to Nature. She is older than we by far. We, with our little lives may come and go, but she remains.

Easter

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In England today there are chocolate eggs and rabbits. In France the church bells are silent as the bells of St Peter’s fly to the children, tied with ribbons and flowers. Across the world images that combine the Christian and the older pagan festivals of spring and rebirth abound, hijacked by a consumerism that somehow forgets the sacredness of both. Yet today, for once, the shops are closed.

For those who follow a pagan path this season is one of the renewal of life after the darkness of winter, a time for the rebirth of the sun, the exuberance of spring. In the fields young lambs gambol and play; birds are busy with nest building… even the kites are flying over with their beaks full. A grey and cloudy day cannot dull the blaze of green and gold that is an English spring. For those who follow the path of Nature, confirmation of their belief is all around. You can feel it in the woods and on the hills, in field and valley… everything is bursting into life.

For those who follow the Christ, this is the holiest season, the time when Jesus, crucified and entombed, rose again. It is on this event that the Christian faith is based. That in purely literal and physical terms this is not possible makes it a miracle, something beyond the understanding of logic and science, and it is this that forms the foundation of faith; that knowing of the soul that goes beyond reason. There is no confirmation in the world around us, there is no objective proof, no comfortable reassurance. You simply accept the teachings of the Church or you do not… or you feel Truth in your heart and that is enough, regardless of logic, teaching or dogma.

Faith… not religion… is a very personal thing, an intimate thing, and none among us has the right to judge the faith of another, to discount or degrade it, to ridicule or dismiss. It sings to heart and soul. It is the personal relationship between the innermost being and the Highest, however we choose to name or conceive of It. There is a purity in true faith that shines and radiates, no matter what religion, path or denomination shapes the outer form. Faith is always a thing of the inner world, regardless of the way it manifests in the outer realm in which we live.

There are many who were raised within a nominally Christian society who accept its teachings without question in childhood, when the impossible is perfectly feasible, and it is no more challenging to believe in Resurrection than it is to believe in fairies or dragons. There is beauty and comfort in a faith that shows a way to live that is based on love and which has love at its ultimate blessing. There is comfort too in the knowledge that there is no loss of self after death… only believe and follow the tenets of that faith and you will be with the Father in Heaven.

There are those too who come to their faith through living, growing into it gently, or through pain, or with the lightning flash of personal revelation, finding within it the answers to the questions of the soul.

Yet there are many who do not find faith in that way, who look at the anomalies of the biblical stories and find them impossible to reconcile. They question and find no answers within the Church and yet feel that within the heart of the story there is something. Perhaps they begin to read the stories with a detached discernment that allows them to question the disparity between the political ramifications of a powerful Church that has constructed a body of teaching to suit its needs over the past two thousand years. Perhaps they see the stories as a symbolic journey of the soul… an initiatory experience echoing even older tales. Perhaps they simply look beyond the letter of the words to the spirit of them.

A blind acceptance seldom addresses the questions of the heart. Many people are raised within a religion and yet pay only lip service to its outer form, feeling a gnawing void where the kernel of faith should reside. There are many too who, having questioned and found the literal tales wanting, have searched behind them and come by unorthodox routes to a deep faith. The exoteric Church may not suffice, but there is a Light behind it, behind all religions, that draws the seeker, often by strange pathways towards a single centre of Truth that is greater than the sum of the pathways we walk.

In the Christian story of Easter it is the Son of Man who is crucified, sacrificing himself for our redemption. Yet it is the Christ who rises, different, unknown to those closest to Him… a Mystery. For those who find faith that Mystery may take many forms and names, or none, remaining Nameless and formless as the One. I wonder if anyone can redeem another, or are we simply shown the way for the sacrifice of Self to something greater and deeper than we now know. Perhaps in walking that path we can come to understanding, to a knowing of the heart that surpasses knowledge and transcends doubt; to a place that knows neither fact nor fiction… to the awakening touch of the inner Christ that is the Light within.

May the Light shine always upon and within you.

Magic carpet…

 

“I dunno… It’s still not right.”
“I did it exactly as you said this time.”
“Even so, there’s something missing…”

My son has once again asked me to do the impossible. It is, you might think, just a small thing. Something that I should be able to do without the slightest trouble. He wants me to make him a cup of tea.

The problem is that the tea in question is the exotically spiced chai masala with which he fell in love in India and which I have never tasted. For him it is the stuff of memory, conjuring visions of people and places, scents and sounds…if we brew it even close to right.

For me, it is a mystery. I have never been to India. The ‘chai’ I have encountered here is a pallid imitation of the aromatic brew he remembers, redolent with cardamom, cloves and pepper. I do not know what I am supposed to be brewing.

Research online is no help. So far it has yielded a hundred different versions of how best to brew the chai, from starting with the spices and blending your own, to the use of tea bags…which simply do not come close.  The proportion of milk to water, the cream content, the time to simmer the spices…every possible variant is available…and we have tried a good many of them. The tea we finally settled upon comes close… but has only yielded a few cups that have held the magic to carry memory across continents.

My son, meanwhile, in his search for the perfect cup of chai, has developed a passion for the stuff. There is what looks suspiciously like an altar to tea in his home, where arcane potions are brewed that fill the air with fragrance. Turmeric, ginger, rose petals and oranges… teas that are green, black and white… a far cry from the classic mahogany brew I grew up with in Yorkshire. There are spices in there that I would never have associated with the tea caddy.

“I know what’s missing,” said my son after another abortive attempt. I was all ears…we have tried just about everything, turning his kitchen into an alchemist’s den and me into a frazzled, frustrated hobbit. “The secret ingredient….”
“Oh?”
“Love.” And there it was.

He was absolutely right. Chai is a chore… while for my son, it is a magic carpet back to joy. The best cups of chai are the ones he has made. The chai holds no emotional connection for me, except that I would like to get it right for him. I cook for him every day, and love is part of that process, both my love of my son and my love of real and exotic cookery and that emotion finds its way into the food… and affects how I work.

It is easy enough to understand why we enjoy doing the things we love and how hard it can be to do the things we dislike doing, but it is also easy to forget or overlook the simple fact that to render a service or perform a chore with love means that it is no longer a chore.

Throughout our lives we are asked to do things we would normally avoid, tackle jobs we do not wish to do or at which we would normally cringe. When we do them for love, there is little thought of how it makes us feel… we just get on with it. Whether it is cleaning up after a sick child, burning the midnight oil to get something finished or going out of our way for a friend, love takes the sting out of most things.

We can do the same thing for ourselves too, if we believe that we too are worthy of the efforts of our love…and many of us don’t. We do not even think about it, but if we lavished the same care on ourselves as we do on those we love, life might feel a little different.

Long ago I read of the Path of the Hearthfire…an approach to life that takes the little things of every day and turns them into acts of love that go beyond the earthly emotion. It is a truly magical path, perfectly suited to the hectic lifestyles we lead, with the responsibilities of work, the running of a home and the raising of children. The smallest thing, from dusting the furniture, to walking the dog, can become a sacred act if approached with love and, in doing so, we bring ourselves closer to the Source, the fountain of being from which we draw our lives.

Love adds something to whatever it is we are doing… an indefinable quality, that ‘secret ingredient’ that makes us take that little extra time, a little extra care… and that can make all the difference, even to a cup of tea.

Photos: Nick Verron

The courage of conviction…

‘They’ve got that completely the wrong way around.’ I almost winced as I read the article, completely disagreeing with the perspective that was being outlined. The basics were correct, I felt but there was something decidedly ‘off’ about the way it was being put across. I read on regardless, listening to the running commentary in my mind… then winced in good earnest. This time at me.

By what right did I think I could judge another person’s perspective? Anyone can challenge facts if they have better information, but this was not a factual piece; it was an article on an aspect of spirituality, which, by its very nature, deals with the unseen and unknown. I may have the right to disagree with a belief or an opinion, just as I have a right to my own perspective… but I have no right to judge another to be wrong on such a subject, no matter how deep my own convictions may run.

How can we know? None of us can prove there is anything beyond this realm. None of us can prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that anything exists beyond what we are experiencing right here, right now, with our own physical senses. And even that is debateable, subjective and at the mercy of quantum physicists. We cannot even be sure that we exist in the way that we think we do.

We accept that we are solid beings in a physical world where walls are impenetrable and water is wet, all the while knowing that there is more space between the particles that make up everything in the universe, than there is solid matter. Even though, theoretically, our atoms should be able to pass through walls, we don’t try to walk through them. Experience says it doesn’t work.

But we all know that there are things beyond what we are seeing. I know my sons are in their homes as I write. I know the dog is sleeping in the hallway and that the sun will rise in the morning. I cannot see any of these things, but I know them to be true. I have learned from experience, and such things are part of my image of the world that has been built over time. If I doubted that experiential reality, how could I move through the world?

When it comes to spirituality we are, by definition, dealing with things unseen and unprovable in any scientific way, yet as soon as we wonder whether there is a greater reality of some kind, we are looking at a plane of causation, something which affects and is an integral part of this reality.

We are faced with three ways we can go. There is scepticism, where we withhold judgement until and unless we find some reason to change our minds. There is belief, where we can choose to accept …or reject…a vision of reality put forward by others. Belief, on its own, implies that choice and choosing not to believe comes into that category. There is faith…trust, conviction, knowing…call it what you will. It may have, but does not require any religious affiliation or dogma, it transcends logic and simply settles on the heart.

Scepticism and belief can argue their corner. They are based on knowledge and reason. Faith is unreasonable, subjective, emotional, often illogical… and yet it can grow from both scepticism and belief. Faith ‘just knows’ and the conviction is so deep it permeates every aspect of your life and answers its every question.

And you cannot prove a thing.

You might very well be wrong.

The only ‘proof’ you can offer is how you live your life. How your convictions shape you and carry you through the trials and tribulations each new day can bring. And the trouble is that, regardless of the specifics of that faith, you are not alone. There are people whose convictions sustain them exactly as you are sustained… yet their path is different from yours and may not include faith at all.

So how can we judge another’s faith, belief or conviction when we cannot prove our own? As long at it follows some version of the Golden Rule and harms none, how can we say who is right and who is wrong?

All we can do is refuse the impulse to dismiss another’s belief, believe without seeking to impose our own perspective and accept that there is always a paradox… we can know with utter certainty, knowing that we might be wrong and that it is okay.

That, I think, is the true courage of conviction.