Full Circle: Giants in the churchyard

The last of the winter light was beginning to fade as we left St Andrew’s and wandered out into the churchyard. In many respects, what awaited us outside was far more impressive and interesting than the Georgian interior. There were stones.

It is fair to say that most churchyards have stones of some description, and this one was no exception. Set within the old precinct and ringed with buildings from another era, the green space is a place of peace people by memories. A memorial pays tribute to those who served and fell in the great wars, one grave marks the last resting place of Mary Noble, an old lady who lived to the grand age of a hundred and seven. She was born around the time that Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, finally gave up the ghost. She lived through the years of the French revolution, the reign of Napoleon and his final defeat at Waterloo, seeing the French monarchy temporarily restored under Louis XVIII. Not that she would have cared or known much about such great events, even though they would undoubtedly have played a part in shaping her world. She was a spinner, and continued to spin her threads until three months before her death.

The Late Mary Noble of Penrith, Cumberland by James Ward; Photo: Lakeland Arts Trust

Near Mary’s grave is another that is often passed unseen, marking the resting place of the parents-in-law of the poet, William Wordsworth who, with his sister Dorothy and his future wife, Mary Hutchinson, attended Dame Birkett’s School overlooking the churchyard. Home meant different things for Mary Noble and the poet. One would immortalise the beauty of the area with his words,  the other, born decades before the poet and living a long life after his death, spun the threads that clothed the ordinary people who lived and worked the land. Yet, ultimately, for both of them, home would be cold earth and the hope of heaven.

These, however, were not the stones we had come to see. What we were after were stones that had already been around for over eight hundred years when Mary was born. One, known as the Giant’s Thumb, is a tenth century carved ‘wheelhead’ cross, dated to around 920. Tradition suggests that it may have been erected by Owen, King of Cumbria, as a memorial to his father. At some point it was used as a pillory to punish wrongdoers and the lower holes may have been enlarged for this purpose.

The scheduled monument listing designates the cross as Anglian, and says of the now-weathered decoration that a drawing was made in 1921 that showed, “…the east and west faces to have displayed a decoration of scroll and interlacing with a crucifixion scene on one side depicting Christ flanked by two figures interpreted as Longinus the spearman and Stephaton the sponge bearer. Above Christ there is a serpent. On the opposite side of the stone there was another human figure too weathered to interpret.”

It is always with a sense of privilege that we stand in the presence of a stone that has seen so much history and one which, moreover, still carries the carved mark of an artist. For over eleven hundred years this cross has been part of the life of its community… and yet, it is a mere babe compared to some we would see over the course of the weekend.

Just a few yards away is a much more unusual collection of stones, known as the Giant’s Grave. On face value, the group of six stones is no more than a pair of Anglian Crosses with four Viking hogbacks, the carved stones used to mark Norse burials, and yet, uniquely, it is said to be a single grave.

The earliest hogbacks date back to around 920, like the cross of the Giant’s Thumb. They are usually carved with a pattern that looks like roof tiles and are thought to be a stylised representation of a house for the dead. Many are covered with patterns alone, often flowing and sinuous in a style wrongly named ‘Celtic’. Others are also carved with legendary and religious figures…not all of them Christian. Many such stones are beasts in themselves, others are carved with people, boars…and dragons.

The two cross shafts, of a similar date, are also carved, though they are badly weathered.  The interlacing is different on every stone and we have wondered if there is meaning to each pattern… a meaning  to which we have lost the keys. Curiously, given that we had not yet finalised the details of the weekend at that time, and never announced them, writer Mary Smith sent me, as well as the photo of Merlin’s cave, a newspaper cutting that discussed the lost language of symbolism and a booklet on the old carved crosses. ‘Coincidences’ like that tend to reassure you that you are on the right track…

Legends say that the Giant’s Grave is the resting place of Owen Caesarius, king of Cumbria between 920 and 937 AD:

“The common vulgar report is that one Ewen or Owen Cæsarius, a very extraordinary person, famous in these parts for hunting and fighting, about fourteen hundred years ago, whom no hand but that off death could overcome, lies buried in this place. His stature, as the story says, was prodigious beyond that of the Patagonians, in South America, seventeen feet high, that the pillars at his head and feet denote it, and the four rough unpolished stones, betwixt, represent so many wild boars, which had the honour to be killed by this wonderful giant”. Todd.

Some say the Grave is the burial place of the mythical giant Sir Ewan, who lived in the Giant’s Caves on the banks of the river Eamont near Penrith. One old record says that the Grave, ““was opened when I was a Scollar there, by William Turner, and there found the great long shank bones and other bones of a man, and a broad Sword besides.”

Yet others link the grave with Owain, also known as Ywain, Yvain who was the son of Urien, King of Rheged… and thus to the legends of King Arthur. Owain was, in the later Arthurian Romances, known as the Knight of the Lion and a Knight of the Round Table, and tales were penned about his exploits of knight-errantry. The most famous episode tells of how he rescues a lion who becomes his companion… and helps him defeat both a giant and…a dragon.

Yvain-dragon.jpg

Without realising all these details when we had planned the weekend, they were beginning to make themselves felt as gifts, joining the dots of what we had planned. Another gift awaited us too,  beyond the sundial where the ley line passes through the churchyard. A peace garden was to be our final official visit of the day. Created in1971 by the local Rotary Club, its wheel-like motif and their motto, ‘Service above Self’, were perfect for a shared dedication to the work of the weekend, which would continue the next morning with a visit to King Arthur’s Round Table…

Full Circle: Fragments of home

 

Penrith is a lovely old market town with narrow alleys and some wonderful old buildings. Sadly, we would not have time to do the place justice over the weekend, but at least we had a glimpse as we walked to our next site, the Parish Church of St Andrew.

The church itself is an interesting one. It appears to be a Georgian edifice, having been largely rebuilt and remodelled in 1720, by Nicholas Hawksmoor, inspired by St Andrew’s in Holborn, London. The elegant interior seems almost out of place in a northern market town, and lacks the homely feel of churches that have retained their character and appearance of antiquity. But the church has stood on this spot since 1133 and, taking a moment to ‘feel beyond form’, you can indeed feel its age and the centuries of prayer its walls have held.

The building is perfectly cross shaped, but, unusually, the ‘crossing’  is at the far end from the altar. You may enter from any of the three short ‘arms’ of the cross, with the nave and altar forming the longest axis. Coming in from the cold between the incongruous pillars that flank the west door, we found two medieval grave slabs and a carved font… one of three in the church of various ages. The font is used in the rite of baptism, which could be seen as one of the keys to the ‘way home’ for those choosing to follow the path of Christianity. This particular font is carved with symbols and we asked Steve to explain the one representing the nature of the Trinity.

On either side of the entrance, stairs lead up into the tower whose height was extended in the fifteenth century. The stairs are flanked by the weathered effigies of a husband and wife in Tudor dress.

On our visit a few weeks earlier, we had found the nave decked with banners bearing the names of the Celtic saints… it seems that the Ionian form of worship still has a place in the heart of the northern church. This time, though, it was discretely decked for Christmas, with each window embrasure holding a small tree, dedicated to various sectors of the community… including a poignantly bare tree for those who cannot celebrate this Christmas.

Leaving everyone to explore, we asked them to think about what the idea of ‘home’ might mean to the congregation here, knowing that the embrasure of the East Window behind the altar holds a heavenly mural, painted in 1844 by local artist Jacob Thompson.

There is plenty to see inside the body of the church, including some beautiful stained glass by such renowned makers as Burlison and Grylls, Clayton and Bell and Hardman and Powell. These are all ‘modern’ windows, with the newest being installed to celebrate the Millennium.

The oldest windows, though, consist of mere fragments of medieval glass, salvaged from the depredations of time, storm and war. Most of the fragments are unidentifiable… just whispers on the wind of time. A few can be recognised… the hand of St Peter holding the Keys of Heaven… the angels of Revelation swinging their censers… a crowned and sceptred king who may well be Richard III.

Set into another modern window embellished with the white roses of the House of York are two fragments once thought to represent Richard and his queen, but they are now thought to be his grandparents. It is curious that Richard, the last Plantagenet king, should feature so much in Penrith, when the theme of the weekend was ‘finding the way home’. Richard was killed in battle at Bosworth Field in 1485 and his body, tied naked to a horse, was taken to Leicester and, eventually, buried at Greyfriars Church. That church was lost after the Dissolution, and Richard’s remains were thought lost too…until a team from Leicester University managed to locate them in 2013. There followed a long, and ultimately unavailing campaign that sought to bring the last monarch of the House of York back ‘home’ to Yorkshire.

There were monuments too to those who had fallen in more recent battles, that their names and deeds might, at least, be carried home, even though their remains are scattered across the battlefields of the world. And a tree in a window for those who have no home at all.

So many concepts of ‘home’ in one small church, so many layers of history; a story two thousand years old had seen nine hundred years of worship in this place. Did the story of this site, though, go back even further? Many old churches are built on far more ancient sites, where once a wooden chapel may have stood unrecorded, chapels which may have been built upon pre-Christian sites. Although there seemed to be no definitive mention of an earlier church here, there were certainly clues in the churchyard… and as the light began to fade, we headed outside to have a look…

Full Circle: Finding the way home?

In spite of the rainbow that had greeted our arrival in Cumbria, the skies looked none too promising as we gathered beneath the shelter of the park gate in Penrith. The chill winds of December had brought showers, but at least, for the first afternoon, there would be a little cover. We could only hope that the following day would bring better weather.  Not that rain would stop us. Since the downpour we had encountered in Scotland, we had accepted that rain was a natural benediction… a blessing and a cleansing beyond the gift of Man and, therefore, a perfect way to start a weekend of spiritual exploration.

We had chosen to begin at Penrith Castle, built between 1399 and 1470, probably on the site of a much earlier Roman encampment, as part of the defences against raiders from Scotland. Once thought to have been first built by William Strickland, who later become Bishop of Carlisle, it is now thought that the most likely builder was Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. The castle’s main claim to fame, though, is that in 1471, it became a home for Richard, Duke of Gloucester who would go down in history as King Richard III of England, and it was this concept of ‘home’ that was to play such a large part in our weekend.

First off, we would need to think about what the concept of ‘home’ might mean. The obvious answer might be a brick-and mortar-structure, or the people within it. Could a castle be a home? Even in this dilapidated state, we found enough reminders of our own homes; kitchens, hearths and wide windows designed, not for defence, but for comfort.

Like everything that we take for granted, though, there are layers of meaning and, even such a simple idea as ‘home’ might mean a multitude of things, from the land upon which we walk to a more abstract concept of the source of being.  We gathered, in part, to seek our own answers to such questions.

We had chosen the castle not just for its history or its almost alien homeliness, but for another reason too. It is one of those places that ‘jumps out’ at you when you see it for the first time. We were to visit several sites that had that surprising ‘wow’ factor that goes beyond physical appearance alone, a phenomenon we have variously referred to as a ‘psychic shock’, a ‘kick’, and, as one of our Companions put it, a ‘gut-punch’. Almost impossible to describe, it is equally impossible to mistake or ignore when it happens.

The cause? Who knows. Perhaps it has something to do with the placement of these sites on energy lines…and that was something else we would be looking at over the weekend. Telluric currents… earth energies… are real, not speculative energies. Leys and alignments may be argued, as may the purpose and positioning on these lines of so many ancient structures worldwide, but the existence of earth energies is well established. We do not fully understand their nature or potential use, any more than we understand our own ability to shape, direct, augment or sense their presence, but there is sufficient scientific evidence for their existence to leave many questions open to be answered.

Are we sensitive to unseen energies? Why not? Birds navigate across the globe when they migrate… other animals use methods of navigation and communication that seem alien and almost incomprehensible to a species that has long since divorced itself from its animal nature, deeming it too primitive to be explored. We are constantly reading and reacting to unseen signals, from the chemical signatures of moods sensed as smells, to changes in barometric pressure. That we might have a sensitivity to the earth upon which we walk seems feasible. ‘Feeling beyond form’ was another aspect of what we wanted to explore.

We allowed our companions time to explore the castle before gathering beneath the arch of the Red Tower. There are the remains of a White Tower too… and red and white are the colours of the Dragons of Albion, who, in legend, fought beneath Vortigern’s Tower until Merlin stilled their battle…and the dragons have been used to symbolise earth energies since time out of mind.

And then there was the Arthurian connection, for the castle at Penrith, according to some of the old tales, was one of his seats. His ‘round table’  was on our list of sites to visit too, and not far away, at Arthuret, the Merlin had killed his nephew during one of the Three Futile Battles of Britain, sending the mage mad with grief and guilt… In a curious ‘coincidence’, I had just been sent a photograph of the place to which he had supposedly withdrawn during his madness.

We gathered beneath the Red Tower to share and begin to explore the ideas everyone brought to the proverbial table, affirming our intent for the weekend with a simple meditation. It had, we felt, been a good beginning…and our next site was just a short walk away…

 

A Sea of Souls.

willowdot21

This is a mystical moment from this past weekend spent in Cumbria with The Silent Eye. The weekend was entitled The Full Circle : Finding your way home.

It was late morning on the second day of the course and we visited a ring of stones and trees. Physically there were eight of us present, (one of our number was unwell) After a few moments instead of the space of this large place holding only eight people I was aware that I caught up in a crowd of thousands of souls. I have a fear of crowds and I was afraid. One tree called to me and drew me to it.

I did confide this to one of my companions and she assured me, as the tree had done, that I was safe. There is more to tell.

A Sea of Souls

Gently you called to me

Through the crowds…

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Questions of ‘relativity’…

File:Albert Einstein as a child.jpg
Einstein as a child

“… so I thought I’d ask ‘Google’.”

“Which is why you phoned me?”

“Precisely. You know everything and you’re quicker than the internet.”

Oh gawd…”

“What do you know about relativity?”

“ Erm… E=mc2?”

“Yeah, that.”

“What exactly do you want to know…?”

***

The conversation is typical of those my son and I have been having half a dozen times a day lately. The phone will ring and we will talk for an hour or so at a time. The subjects he has called to discuss, or that have come up over his morning cuppa, have been as diverse as astrophysics, optics, Chaos theory and quantum mechanics. And that’s without psychology, cats, comparative spirituality and the correct way to make tea.

Quite why he thinks that someone who left school at sixteen should be omniscient, I do not know, though it tickles me that my son should apparently, and mistakenly, think it is so. I recall a time, not so very long ago, when, in common with most youngsters, he believed I knew nothing about anything (apart from baking and helping with school homework).  Parents don’t, do they? Not in the eyes of teenagers. Parents are behind the times, out of touch and so old they are almost obsolete.

Very young children, on the other hand, think their grown-ups know everything. They trust what they are told, having no reason to question their ‘source of all wisdom’… until they reach an age when they do begin to question. Changes in the developing brain set teenagers to exploring. They need to find their own identity, their own ideas and ideals.  They compare what they know to what they perceive… which may not always be an accurate vision of the world… and build their ideals accordingly.

Finding that their parents are human and fallible is a shock to the system. Parents are inevitably seen as passé in their outlook, speech, dress and musical tastes, belonging as they do, to a previous (and thus embarrassing) generation. They obviously know nothing of the world their children know… and as the child begins to forge its own path, he strides out alone. It is only with the onset of their own hard-earned maturity that he begins to wonder if his elders might not have known a thing or two after all and the dynamics of their relationship changes once again.

Like it or not, we’ve all been children, teenagers and gone through the whole growing up process. Not only did we, in our own way, experience those various stages of change, we also became adults, and our relationship with early parental authority changed too. We still carry it with us, though, as the superego…the internal ‘authority figure’ that is a composite creation to which we are all subject. It is an inner voice that holds the moral compass and which tells us all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’…beside which we are still as children and against which we still rebel.

The odd thing was that answering my son’s queries on subjects about which I know nothing, I realised that I was wrong… I knew stuff. The huge gaps in knowledge were, as the conversation progressed, filled in by experience, common sense, and a fragmentary understanding gleaned from years of curiosity.

I was reminded that there is another part of the self that knows little but understands much… another inner voice, that answers when it is asked. It answers from a place where factual knowledge holds no sway, beyond understanding… a place of wisdom. Like children, we often prefer to make our own mistakes, rather than asking for help… or we don’t listen…  and like children, when we do ask, and learn to listen, that quiet voice can guide us home.

With open arms…

“… it gives me a big advantage for getting to know people,” said my son.  I had to admit that he has a point. The only way he can walk is with support, and if there is no handrail or frame available, he borrows a shoulder or two. I, being very much shorter than he, am a perfect height for the job and am so used to it that I have long since ceased to think about it. We just get on with it as the need arises. But, he has made use of shoulders on three continents and made many friends in the process too.

One memorable adventure I was able to capture on camera. It was after the Feathered Seer workshop, one April. My son had come along to see what happened at our workshops, and stayed behind afterwards to go exploring the Derbyshire countryside with us. Alethea Kehas had come over from the US for the workshop too, with her friend Deb, and they were going to spend a day or two with us, visiting some of the ancient sites in the area. Most of these are a fair walk from the road and over moorland paths… not exactly wheelchair accessible… but that was not going to stop us and, for the next couple of days, all shoulders were in use and my son was able to visit places he would otherwise have never seen.

Alethea, Nick and Deb at Arbor Low, the great stone circle of the north

I thought about the ‘advantage’ my son has, and it is very simple. In order to get around when there is neither handrail nor walking frame, he borrows a shoulder. This means opening his arms to let someone come close and when he does so, all the barriers that normally separate stranger from stranger go down.

People want to help, they realise that he is relying on them, that they are doing something important. They know that they matter… if only in a practical way… and, more importantly, that they are being trusted. He is trusting them, not only to keep him upright, but to come within that ‘exclusion zone’ that most of us have around us at all times where strangers are concerned.  He is letting… inviting… them in.

Most modern cultures accept no more than a handshake from a stranger, which by its very nature, keeps people at arm’s length. It may have begun as a gesture of peace, showing that neither was holding a weapon, but it creates a natural barrier of distance. The French may greet each other with either a handshake or a kiss, and while this is impersonal, it does allow people to come a little closer to each other and the effect on budding friendships is noticeable.

We each have an area of personal space around us into which any uninvited incursion will feel like an intrusion. It makes us uncomfortable and we step away at the first opportunity. By opening your arms to a stranger and inviting them into your personal space, you are automatically placing them in a position of trust and acceptance. You are sharing your life with them for a moment.

I remember when I first moved to  Paris… young, loving every second, but feeling very alone and quite desperate for the touch of another human being. A hug would have healed everything. I remember too, not so long ago, a dear friend whose healing began through just such human comfort. Unlike a handshake that proves you are unarmed, when you open your arms to another human being, you are exposing your heart and trusting them not to wound you. And the odd thing is that when you do show trust in someone in that way, they will seldom let you down.

The three of us who run the Silent Eye often hug people when we meet them. Not total strangers, as a rule, but those who come to our events are seldom entirely strangers, even if we have only ‘met’ via email. We will offer a hug, usually by hugging those we do know first, and we will not impose if the other person extends a hand or seems less than comfortable. So far, though, we have always hugged everyone on the last day of a workshop, even if we have not done so on the first.  Sometimes trust needs a chance to grow.

I have heard my son speak of the shoulders he has leaned on in Europe, Asia and India. The people, their names and stories, have left good memories behind, and made an impression on him, even those who were only there for a brief moment. They cease to be ‘just another person’ in the street and become real in a way that is normally reserved for friends of long standing. In many cases, the impression they have left has shaped my son’s view of the world, and it is a kinder, more compassionate and more laughter-filled world because of these encounters.

I have to wonder how much we lose by keeping people at arm’s length as we are trained to do by the dictates of polite society? Maybe opening our arms and our selves more often, in trust and acceptance, could change the world as we see it and allow it to open its embrace to us too?

The caring game…

Image: Pixabay

“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“Bebop died. I stayed with him. Said thank you.” He choked again. “Said goodbye. It was really emotional.” The voice managed to sound both surprised and a tad embarrassed, even through the evident emotion, and well he might. “…and then Arthur died too…”. There was a silent pause. I am fairly certain I heard a sniff. Bebop was his horse… not a flesh-and-blood horse, mind you, but part of a computer game my son had been playing for some time. Arthur was the character as which he had been playing. Oddly, I didn’t laugh. I could quite understand why he was feeling that way, even though, on the surface, it should have been funny. I have cried my way through too many books and films to laugh for such a reason.

The game, one of the latest generation, is graphically gorgeous. The wide landscape it portrays is beautifully done and very realistic. You can wander it at will, exploring the Wild West in its heyday as well as following the story through the game. He had shown me the scenery and I was impressed, not only with the artwork and animation, but with the attention to detail. Birds and butterflies randomly rise from flowers, day turns into night, grass bows in the wind as the seasons cycle and there is wildlife in abundance.

What had impressed me more, though, was that in spite of it being a western in which you play as an outlaw…and the inevitable gun-slinging that goes with it… the game does require you to make moral choices. Your character can choose the be helpful, compassionate and honourable… though that doesn’t always work out too well for him… or to simply be a violent, mindless outlaw, taking what he chooses at gunpoint. There are consequences to violence, and you will be hunted and imprisoned, or worse, should you choose that path, though doubtless many do, as violence and gore seems to be part of the gaming culture. My son had chosen to follow the honourable path instead, and that choice determined how the game unfolded.

‘His’ character takes care of others in his camp, and helps them with their problems. If he hunts, he must do so with respect. The animal must be killed cleanly, the flesh used for food without delay and the skin must be used too. No wasted deaths. His horse must be fed, groomed, watered and encouraged. It cannot be overridden and needs enough attention to bond with its rider. It needs to be protected… and the character needs sleep, food and shelter too.

But no matter how honourably you choose to ‘live’ as your character, both you and your horse will ‘die’. It is part of the story. How you die depends on how you have ‘lived’… My son had invested time, attention and care the virtual horse.  He had identified with the character in the same way you do when you watch a film or read a book. And his choices in the game had given the character the gentlest of the programmed passings, against a beautiful sunset and he had found it moving.

For a game, it is engrossing and, after many hours of playing, I could quite understand the emotional attachment my son had formed for both the horse and character. Even though it was just a game, he had put the welfare of horse and friends before his own and had lavished attention on his horse, even going so far as to name it, and naming things has always been a big part of the bonding process. It illustrated very clearly that you learn to care about what you choose to care for.

It reminded me of the Rose in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, The Little Prince. The Rose is not a particularly nice character, but the Little Prince loves her and when he finds a whole host of roses, he explains why:

“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty…One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.”

The emotions that grow when you make a choice to care are almost inevitable. It is not the same as shouldering a duty or a chore when it is a chosen course and the reward comes quietly, as an opening of the heart; it becomes an act of love. If we care for person, we grow close to them, if we chose to care for… looked after… our planet, the way the Little Prince cared for his Rose, we would care about it too.  The two go hand in hand.

It doesn’t really matter whether the thing you care for is what you feel it to be. It could be a cantankerous rose, or a virtual horse… the reality and the beauty is within the love and the care that is given, it is not always obvious in what we choose to care for. “But eyes are blind,” says the Little Prince. “You have to look with the heart.”

A link in the chain

sunset over the hills

“… and one of these days you will know a world in which I no longer exist.”
“I don’t know that I can imagine that.”
“Possibly not. I have always been part of your world. Before you were born, you could say that I was your world… all your physical experience, at least, came through me…”
“Hmm. Hadn’t thought of it quite that way before…”
“…so a world without me is not within your experience, and might be as hard for you to imagine as a world without you. No point of reference.”

The subject of mortality had been brought to our attention by the passing of a neighbour and friend, a woman whose kindness and wisdom had brought something special to the world. The simple Quaker funeral of a shared silence had been both beautiful and moving, as we each turned our thoughts to how her presence had changed our lives, making the moment one of gratitude and recognition instead of an occasion given solely to grief. Her actions had been the small ones of every day, her life outwardly unremarkable… and yet she had made a huge difference to the lives of her family, friends and neighbours. From her funeral to a deeper conversation was not a big step.

It was an interesting discussion. Because most of us live what we consider to be rather ordinary lives, we do not realise how big an impact we might make. We seldom think about how different things might be for others had we not been around. What might, or might not have happened had we never been.

For a start, how do you imagine not being? You might imagine your own demise… and, in melodramatic moments, there may even be a vague satisfaction or discontent when you consider the aftermath of that event within your intimate circle. A sort of ‘you’ll be sorry when I’m gone’ scenario… even though you will not be there to know about it.  You may be able to picture a future from which you are missing… but when you do so, you are looking at it through your own eyes and therefore it is a false image… you will not be there to see it. The ‘you’ you are now will no longer exist.

Even less can we conceive of a world in which we have never been. Any attempt to subtract ourselves from the reality we know, will have so many ramifications that such a world truly is impossible to imagine.  The thousands of lives we have affected or will affect, directly or indirectly, from the moment of our conception, down the generations, to the furthest ends of time, would each of them be changed had we never come into being. Many of those lives might never exist, were we never to have been. Subtract just one person from existence… not by death, which is a natural part of life, but by erasing them from the annals of time altogether… and the whole course of human history would inevitably change.

It is difficult to accept that any one of us could be that important. We are conditioned to think otherwise… we are, most of us, too small on the stage of history to play much of a part, or so we believe… and yet every one of us is a necessary link in the chain of human being as we know it. The smallest action of least of us can create a domino effect through countless lives and generations, and we have no way of knowing where the chain reaction might end or what it might ultimately inspire.

Does it serve any practical purpose to know that one of our descendants, generations into some unknown future, might find a cure for cancer or invent the device that will damn the world? Perhaps not… we cannot control the future to that extent. We can only help shape the possibilities that come within our reach. And that we can do.

We are not only essential links in the chain of existence, but we are, inevitably, each of us teachers too. The way we live our lives sets an unconscious example that may inspire others, or against which they will react and rebel. The way in which others react is out of our control… only our own choices and attitudes are within it, and most of those are our own reactions to or against the actions of others. It is a complicated web of interaction, and we are responsible for our own thread within it.

We may never know how our actions affect the lives of others. A simple smile may light up an otherwise dark day for a stranger in the street, a small kindness may alter a mood, every word we speak and every action we take may be an example for someone else. We do not need to know what effect our lives may have in the greater story of humanity, but we owe it to ourselves to walk in awareness of the infinite possibilities that surround us every day.

At the end of the funeral, everyone present had reached out to shake the hand of their neighbours, a simple human touch. Faces were solemn as we paid our final respects, but it was remarkable how many eyes smiled at each other, as each of us remembered our friend. It had been a silent celebration of a life well lived… one small thread in the story… but one which touched the heart and set an example of empathy and care that many will carry forward into our own lives.  “She shone, you know. There was just something about her…” said my son. Just by being herself, our friend changed the world. So can you.

Fair weather…

I journeyed from darkness to light, driving through the dawn as the blackness greyed. The silhouettes of trees slowly detached themselves from the night as the sun attempted to pierce a pall of cloud that flushed to palest rose before refusing its touch. Beneath the iron sky, there was little sign of warmth and joy. I wondered how many people would see the same sun gilding the tops of the clouds as they looked out from planes soaring high above the gloom.

The layer of cloud separated two worlds… two realities. Mine was uniformly grey, above, it would be blue and gold, and both were real, both valid… both true. A simple shift in perspective, a few thousand feet, and the appearance of the world and the morning would be completely different.

You could, I mused, say the same of the weekend. A few days, a few hundred miles and a slight shift in perspective have made all the difference.

When we headed north, we had what we thought was going to be the itinerary for the December workshop. By the time we came back, it had morphed and evolved into something rather different from what we had initially planned. The land itself had showed us a different perspective, laughing at our preconceptions, yet, instead of our carefully-laid plans being upset, they had fallen into place in a way that made much more sense.

This is one of the reasons why our research trips are so important. It is not just a case of gathering practical information, like opening times, parking charges and refreshment breaks, it is about walking the planned weekend, making sure it works and leaving space for the landscape to make suggestions of its own.

This time, one of the sites around which we had planned part of the weekend turned out to be a non-starter… but as three other sites decided they wanted to be included instead… two of them jaw-droppingly good and one of them holding a perfect bit of symbolism… we simply adjusted our perspective and changed our plans. In essence, they remain the same, though the details have substantially changed from our original design. When the land makes itself heard, it would be rude not to listen.

We were exceptionally lucky with the weather, catching a perfect dawn and a perfect sunset over the ancient and sacred landscape where we will be working.  We can only hope the weather will be as good for the workshop weekend, knowing that whatever the weather, it will be a perfect day above the clouds. Perhaps we can bring that knowledge down into the day somehow. So now, with three weeks to go, we have more research to do…