Spreading wings

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The hill was a verdant emerald rising into a sapphire sky that sparkled with motes of light… so high and clear. My companion walked behind, following at a far more sedate pace as I ran headlong to the summit, an uncompromising, absolute joy within that seemed to inundate every fibre of being. The white path led me higher and higher until I could see the curvature of the earth and felt I could reach out my arms and embrace the whole world and gather it to my breast…

My dreams have been vivid of late. They always are but even more so than usual, with the clarity and reality I knew as a child. I recall the flying dreams with the rollercoaster feeling in the stomach… I cannot have been more than eight years old and every night I would soar. Far too young to have any knowledge or interest in aerodynamics, lift or thrust, I can yet remember the minute adjustments needed to stay in the air and direct my flight. I seem to remember them in my flesh even though it was just a dream. I can feel even now the memory of physical sensation as my body swooped and banked through the air, learning to ride the wind, seeking the air-currents and updraughts, like a small fish playing in water, darting and diving through sunbeams. It was sheer joy. Every night as I closed my eyes I would wait for that first moment of flight with happy anticipation.

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It felt utterly real… the sensation of rise and fall in the gut, the air on my face, the wind in my hair. So real that my waking self would stand on my bed beneath the window, certain I would not fall but would fly if I launched myself from there… yet knowing also that it was supposed to be impossible. Wasn’t it? There was always that doubt in the mind, even though the body felt it knew just what to do.

So real was the experience for that young mind that it was, in those moments by the window, impossible to distinguish dream from reality. It was as if I was perfectly poised between two realities, each equally valid by their own rules and in their own world… which I believe they are. Yet I was in neither… I was apart from both, a third reality, if you will, where I was subject to neither of the others but could see and judge with yet another part of me what fragment of experience should fit where.

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I had always been aware of the existence of that higher part of being that we call the soul, the essence… and many other names. It was simply something I grew up with, that awareness. Yet this was the first time I remember feeling conscious of its reality. Not because I could see or feel it specifically, but the observation of the two realities by the third… and the fact that on yet another level I was somehow ‘seeing’ that observer… So what was seeing it? And was anything watching that? And where did ‘I’ end and Something Else begin?  This seemed to ‘click’ and I understood somehow in a way for which I am still not sure I have words.

To the eight year old mind that was something of a revelation. To us now, as adults, it is an illustration of infinite regress, a concept we explored at the first of the Silent Eye’s Glastonbury talks some years ago, yet it took a while before I made that connection. One of the inner ‘observers’ finds that highly amusing, that the conscious mind should take the best part of half a century to really realise a gift given so young.

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However that is often the way of things and we are adept at accepting what we know and believe, filing them in the cabinet of facts by which we live and not revisiting them with the added experience and understanding of years. As we grow and learn our store of facts expands, but we seldom take out the old ones and update them. We can, indeed, get very protective of them and refuse to even consider that we may have misunderstood, or been plainly wrong, through lack of a salient piece of information.

Over the past few years, as I have examined more and more the entrenched beliefs to which I have clung, I have found myself being obliged to discard and update many of them. I have also revisited many ideas I discarded as facile when I was much younger, realising that with the knowledge and experience I can now bring to them, they are richer by far that I imagined when I first dismissed them. The adventures with Stuart and our books have made me re-evaluate many things, while the School has seen me set aside the framework of many decades and begin to look at the essence of those beliefs from a different perspective.

When, some years ago, a friend and renowned author who had walked a similar path, told me he had spent half a lifetime building the inner Qabalistic Tree of Life… and the rest steadily dismantling it, I was surprised and recoiled from the very idea… now I know what he meant.

The ideas we cling to limit us. We do not seek beyond their bounds… why would we if they satisfy us? They are our beliefs and they ‘work’ for us. Yet, should we step across those self-imposed boundaries, prepared to risk seeing what might lie beyond, a whole world of possibility may open before us. It is worth a thought. Who knows… some part of us may even learn to fly.

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Storytelling

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Our earliest ancestors looked out upon this world and framed what they saw in stories that reached the heart through the imagination. As man and his questions became ever more sophisticated, the stories evolved, couching abstract concepts and ideas within the age-old tales. The mythology of any culture goes back beyond memory and history to a time before time was… to the Creation and before… in an attempt to answer the questions that arise in all of us.

Stories travelled and changed with each retelling, taking on the character of the teller, coloured by the season, the place, the landscape and by the politics of the local priesthood or rulership… and the myths rooted in different forms in the places they reached.

Yet if we look at the stories mankind has told there are striking similarities beneath the surface. All the mythological systems have some common themes… star-crossed lovers, the trickster, good versus evil and the unlikely heroes. All have the slayers of monsters or demons, their tales of magic and the parallels with fertility, life and death.

Many theories have been propounded, arguing for a common psychological expression of religious impulse through to a simplistic attempt to explain the seasonal growth of vegetation. It has been argued that all the stories are poetic allegories for spiritual truth and, at the other end of the scale, that they are nothing but linguistic misinterpretations… where the functions of the gods arise from the words for their names and stories are built upon them.

I have a feeling there is an element of truth to all of the theories and that the birth of the mythologies arises in as much complexity as the multi-layered mind of man.

What is certain is that there is something in these old tales that speaks to us at a very deep level of intuitive understanding. We can see the morals clearly in some of them, get a grip on the abstract through others and relate to all of them on an emotional level of personal engagement and life experience in spite of the passage of millennia.

The Egyptian myths give us the most complete record of how a system evolves over the centuries and scholars can chart the rise, evolution and demise of the various versions across the landscape of Egypt in both time and space.

From the simplest of stories a cosmogony evolved which encapsulated much of Egyptian history, culture and religious change. Between the words and images that remain we have a window into the minds of those who walked the Two Lands.

We can read their stories for entertainment, much as they would have been told around the hearths of old to while away the hours of night.

We can read them as they might have been told by the priests to the populace and see through their eyes something of the sacredness of the world, learning to see once again that same wonder in our own world, where the landscape is alive and as holy as the gods themselves.

We may choose to look at them as the priesthood may have seen them and read a deeper meaning behind the images and relationships of the gods, seeing in their interaction the story of all things… of mankind and his fallibility, of the relationships between man and nature as well as between man and that which he perceives as greater than all… the Source of Being from whence all arose.

We can read them in another way also and see ourselves in the gods, understanding the fractured facets of wholeness that make up our personalities. We may see that as the gods are both the fragments and the product of the One, then so are we a fragmented whole… pieces of a cosmic jigsaw puzzle waiting to be reassembled… and in doing so might see that we too are of the same essence as the gods.

I have a feeling that the best way to read them is as a child would read, with an openness to wonder and wondering, without analysing too much or dwelling on apparent inconsistencies and impossibilities that the adult may reject but which the child accepts without a blink.

Perhaps we just need to remember how to listen with the heart.

Extract from The Osiriad (Appendix)

Growing…

“Oh wow!” said the delivery driver. “It’s like walking into paradise!”

We get that sort of thing a lot. The narrow and faded street is lined with parked cars. The car-park you have to cross to access my son’s home is scruffy and overgrown. There is nothing that leads you to expect what you find behind his gates. Clean, geometric lines contrast with the encircling green of trees, bright spots of colour from the young plants, the tranquillity of running water and the harmony of the pentatonic wind chimes. There is usually a red kite wheeling overhead, sometimes the occasional squirrel and always a symphony of birdsong.

So far, Nick must have heard just about every complimentary phrase possible as people walk into his garden. They will lean over the pond to admire the huge and colourful fish and comment on how quiet and unexpected the space is, just five minutes from the town centre. To be fair, the whole things works rather well.

While I love my son’s garden, especially its relative ease of maintenance, my own tastes run to semi-wild cottage gardens. Give me a flower bed of my own to fill and it will soon be overflowing. Nick prefers order, space and neatness. I like chaos. Our vision of beauty is subjective, but here I work to his…and sneak in the odd bits of chaos where appropriate.

It struck me today, though, that although people see the beauty of the ‘finished product’… not that any garden is ever finished… they do not see what has and still goes into creating beauty. Nick’s garden took months to build… and that was just the bare bones, before we started planting; then we dug in the manure. Every day, I spend a couple of hours outside, either watering, deadheading, weeding, feeding, sweeping and scrubbing, or cleaning out the two pond pumps and filter… and that is without the big jobs like jet washing. And, much as I complain about some of the things I have to do, the results are worth it.

Another thing that people do not see is the true nature of this garden. It is designed to be accessible. From the discrete placement of handrails as part of the design, to the carefully measured distances between handholds… even the sculptures, securely concreted into the ground, serve as extra grab rails… every detail is designed to allow my son to get around his garden on his own two feet, while still allowing wheelchair access. Colour, sound and fragrance compensate for damaged sight and plants are positioned so that he can enjoy their scent without needing to be close.

As Nature is always a good teacher, there are inevitably parallels between the beauty of a garden and the people who enjoy it. Many spend a good deal of time, effort and attention on creating an image of beauty for themselves too, from hair to face to clothing. The face presented to the world may look effortlessly attractive to its ‘owner’, but it will not be to everyone’s taste. Some admire the well-groomed look, others prefer a more natural appearance… but most will not look at what has gone into creating that image. Not in terms of the hours in front of the mirror, but the life experiences, the laughter, tears, joy and pain that shapes every face.

We unconsciously create an image of ourselves, for ourselves. Sometimes the mask is just to please ourselves… more often it is shaped by what we think others want or need us to be, whether it is the corporate look for work or something designed to attract a mate. Many will react to our masks in the way we hope… few, until and unless they get to know us as individuals, will look beyond it.

But we are complicated creatures. Just like Nick’s garden, the ‘clean lines’ of our outer appearance show to their best advantage when we allow ourselves to be ourselves, letting the chaotic colour of character soften the edges, showing that unique beauty that goes deeper than the surface. A beauty only created by living.

A gardener loves gardens and growing things. It doesn’t really matter whether that garden is modern and minimalist or a riot of colour. It is the flowers and fruits of the earth that warm the heart. A person who has learned to grow in both life’s sunshine and rain has that same beauty, no matter what their illusive mirror might tell them, and they too will be looked upon with love.

Where the wildflowers grow

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Locus iste a Deo factus est,
Inaestimabile sacramentum,
irreprehensibilis est.

This place was made by God.
A priceless mystery,
it is without reproach.

Anton Bruckner.

I was talking this morning with a friend about the different directions that the spiritual journey may lead us and the effects that can have on a life… your life or mine. There is no way of knowing or predicting when, or indeed if, that journey will change gear and lead you to a place unknown, changing your expected destination for another as you enter a new phase of a life suddenly unfamiliar. It is like stepping through a doorway to another world, one where the demands are unknown, different and beyond the norm.

There are degrees, of course, from the ‘turning point’ we speak of in the Silent Eye, that point where the world dims and the eyes of the heart seek another Light, through the whole gamut of our differing experience to those moments of personal, spiritual revelation that are impossible to communicate.

It is easy to write of the details of daily life, less easy to describe the momentous yet invisible shifts by which that life can be pulled from under our feet by inner events. It is especially difficult to write of these things without sounding deluded, pretentious or both. And some things are simply better left unsaid and unwritten.

There are many who seek that moment of union, fighting their way toward it, as if by study, dedication or the application of intellect or faith it can be earned. I’m not so sure that it can. I think it has to be lived; the house prepared, the vessel clean and empty and held up for the wine to be poured by which it can be filled with something other than self.

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The vessel is what gives form in the world to what it contains, and to empty the vessel of self can be a painful process. We make of ourselves a container fit for purpose and, to use an ancient metaphor, the base metal must be shaped and formed, heated in the fires of life, impurities purged … and as the iron in the heat of the forge could attest, that is no sinecure.

We are such a tangled mass of illusions about ourselves and they have to be unravelled… a tapestry of self-images that must be unpicked and it can seem a fearsome thing when what has to be unpicked is you… every last stitch until you are naked in the mirror of Being and you can see, accept and know yourself for who you truly are and not what the ego has been trying desperately to believe in all those years. From the human perspective that is, for most of us, not a pretty sight! Yet, there is a freedom in it, a freedom from the weight of the masks and screens behind which we have hidden.

Knowing yourself for who you truly are, warts, blemishes and all, might not sound the most attractive of propositions. Most of us are aware of our deeper flaws, even when our conscious mind hastily glosses over them, or finds excuses, we still know, somewhere deep inside, what it is that drives us. We call it by many names but mostly it comes down to fear… the fear of rejection or being seen to fail, of being less than good enough or of being unloved, of being different…or of being the same… There are many facets to the gem of humanity.

Yet to know yourself for who you truly are carries another aspect, for there is within each of us a spark of divinity… a cosmic beauty and a light that burns whether we will or no. To turn to the source of that light and, in full awareness offer your self as a vessel can seem a terrifying prospect. What of you will be left? The old saying in the Mysteries is that he ‘who looks upon the face of God comes not again’… and we, as human beings, are programmed to preserve life and identity.

Yet you do not lose who you are… there is no miraculous wand waving change, no automatic sainthood; the faults, fears and problems remain and you continue to make the mistakes and live the life that makes you human. Yet, many things do change, priorities shift as the focus shifts from your outer self…you become more of what you really are… and aware of what you truly are. The crumbling mansions of the ego are well and truly cemented in, but if you can pull them down and see the ruins as they lie about your feet, it is then that the wildflowers come in.

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A question of choice

I have been thinking a lot lately…there is more than enough time for that at the moment. Not that a mind often stops. It sleeps occasionally, though even dreams may keep it busy. Sometimes it feels as if conscious thought goes into abeyance and I stand back and watch another me, one who knows something that I do not. A bigger me. Not, as my sons would gleefully tell you given my mere five foot that this is a difficult thing.

Many writers recount how their characters write the book and they, as authors, simply take down the words as dictation. I can verify this for I have felt it myself, learning to know and love my creations as they create themselves. All the writer does then, is set the scene and give them a form to inhabit. The characters seem to write the rest for themselves and the writer taps away at the keyboard, watching and waiting to see how the story unfolds and frequently being taken by surprise.

It is a curious feeling and one that has made me wonder whether this is how deity feels, fondly watching us play out our stories upon the backdrop of life, waiting to see what we will do with the opportunities we are given. For they are opportunities, each and every challenge with which we are faced. Some of them are bigger than others, some pass almost unnoticed, but we meet them every day.

The big ones, those that affect our lives, inwardly or outwardly, are the ones we remember. They are the heartaches and grief, the fears and loss, even the joys. For they all carry choice as part of their gift. Even when we are faced with a seemingly choice-less situation, we still have the ability to decide how we act or react, how we learn, what we carry away from the moment.

I’m not even sure that the choices themselves matter. It is what impels them that counts. Too often we merely react, thinking we have chosen, when in fact we are the victim of our own conditioned responses and we stumble through life unconscious of the fact that we are not fully aware of our own selves. But choice is a precious thing. We won’t always get it right… sometimes there is no right. We will inevitably make mistakes, but that is okay. We can learn from those too. Every single second presents us with the wonder that is choice. And each choice we make will change our world in a very real way.

Have you considered that we are the authors of our own reality based upon how we face each moment. We can change our worlds with a single thought, a shift in perception, a change of heart. We can hurt and cause pain by simply reacting in anger or frustration, or we can share joy and comfort, choosing to look beyond the surface of the moment to see what lies beneath.

When we do make these choices consciously, we do not do so with the mind alone.

There is a stream of thought that sees manifest reality as the ultimate expression of divinity, by whatever Name we call It. If this is so then we are not separated from the Divine, aspiring to be worthy of Its love, but both we and the world in which we live are an inherent part of It… and expression of It’s Self.

We may choose for good or ill, each choice will carry consequences and bring further choices, to be conscious of our choices or to allow ourselves to react. But the simple fact that we have this gift is also an expression of the perfect design of the One. Made in awareness, our choices will reflect that and we can touch something finer within ourselves than we would normally see in our everyday lives. We do not do it often, but when we do, we Know.

Rebels without a choice?

Image: Big Brother by The Digital Artist at Pixabay

A mere quarter of a mile from my home the traffic ground to an unaccustomed halt. The sporadic nature of its movement proclaimed a contraflow in action somewhere up ahead and, with no other way of accessing my street, I settled down to patiently wait in the Great British Queue… an institution we are good at in this country. Mainly through interminable practice. The grass verge beside the road looked inviting. Wider than the road itself, flat and unobstructed, it leads to the lane that runs to my home a mere few hundred yards away. I didn’t take it of course…partly because it would undoubtedly churn up the grass, but mainly because it isn’t the ‘done thing’.

I glare at the cameras beside the road that now monitor the movement of every vehicle in the country, ostensibly in order to check we have all paid our road tax, but in reality just part of what seems to be an inexorable movement towards the impossibility of anonymity; of escaping from the needs and obligations of the daily grind with at least the illusion of freedom. Shades of Orwell’s dystopia rear their heads… I can’t say I like the insidious increase in surveillance. Not that I don’t understand and approve of security. Not that I particularly wish to hide; but privacy and choice matter to me. Lately it seems as if many minor incursions are being made into the small liberties and I wonder just how far it will go… and how it happens that we simply accept in silence.

I had begun to ponder this whole question earlier, checking sell by dates for one of my sons and disposing of large quantities of things for him which had passed them. He and many others of his generation that I know seem obsessed by the dates on packets. A minor thing, you might think, but it sparked a train of thought as I sat there in the traffic. I know it is a generational thing, because, of course, I grew up in a world that had never heard of putting a sell by date on an apple. Tins and packets, perhaps… though even those, we were taught, were only an indication, a safeguard, and probably marked a midway point in shelf-life. Common sense was the thing; we were taught to apply it to food and make informed decisions.

Regulations have changed over the years and my sons’ generation have been raised in a world where ‘sell by’, ‘display until’ and ‘use by’ dates are the norm. The trouble is there seems to be little understanding of the application of these labels and huge amounts of fresh food are discarded because a date applied for stock rotation purposes puts the proverbial wind up consumers. There is nothing wrong with a slightly wrinkly apple. Fresh fruit and vegetables keep far longer than the supermarkets’ dating implies. You can tell when such fresh produce is no longer worth eating. Yet, although they listen to definition and explanation, my sons refuse to accept in practical terms that only a ‘use by’ date has real significance for food safety. And that is without the aesthetic standards applied that sees misshapen produce rejected.

From a purely commercial point of view one has to give credit to the supermarkets. Once a date is passed and the product discarded, we buy more. They are hardly going to complain or try to stop us. Common sense has been replaced by the subtle imposition of a dichotomy of fear and safety dictated by a printed label.

I know it is a small and rather insignificant example, but I wondered why this and other examples of quiet acceptance are so rife. Of course the world changes; of course older generations will always look back, shaking their heads with an ‘in my day…’ It bothers me to see such mass manipulation take root and I wondered at the lack of challenge.

Perhaps, I mused, the teenage years have something to do with it. Looking back there was always a choice of rebellion available to youngsters… Hippies, Mods and Rockers, Pop, Rock, Punk, New Romantic… I don’t think my own sons really had that wave of subcultural choice in their teens; certainly not in the small town in which we lived. It all seemed rather bland. I wonder just how big a part the rebellion of the teenage years plays in the process of developing the ability to choose a personal expression of freedom for the outer persona that both mirrors and teaches a personal and inner freedom. I also wonder what is in store for this generation as their own children reach the age of teenage rebellion.

Perhaps it is simply an expression of my own generation and upbringing that questions as the technology and society that was invented to serve us assumes the silently dictatorial overtones of an Orwellian Big Brother. We are, after all, each of us, responsible for the world we have created and the future we allow to be shaped.

Between the cracks

I wandered out into the early morning garden, clad in sandals and dressing gown, in search of The Ball. The dog had hidden the darned thing again and stood at the door grinning, while I did what I was expected to do and looked for it. The Ball… the only one of the two dozen she owns that is no longer a ball but merely a few disintegrating shreds of furry rubber… can turn up anywhere… in any room…even in a cupboard. But, in spite of the innocent looks, she almost always knows exactly where it is and, if asked, will give you clues.

I had tried all the usual places, like behind the stereo or under the cushions, and eventually found it, with a little help from the grinning fiend, tucked behind the compost bin. Thankfully, mine is not a large garden to search… more of a pocket-handkerchief affair, with one small flower-bed and a lot of digging to be done.

Between the ground baking iron-hard and having spent the past year on my son’s garden, mine needs some serious work and more materials. So, I try to keep it tidy, designing wonderful planting schemes in my head that I know will never happen. On the other hand, the little patch of green offers me wonderful surprises every year as I let Nature play. Unlike the dog with The Ball, I am happy to accept what comes.

The hawthorn hedgerow that separates my garden from the fields is heavy with May blossom, its perfume filling the morning air and its branches alive with birds greeting the day. With robins, wrens, blackbirds and the occasional thrush, it is seldom silent. There is even a nightingale that sings there some evenings.

My strawberries died in the heat last year while I was away. I thought I had lost them completely, with just the brittle remains looking rather forlorn and reproachful in their pot and yet, I have a fine crop of self-propagated plants now growing around where the pot once stood.

With a bare garden to fill, I rescued some of the ‘weeds’ from my son’s old driveway before it was ripped up. I now have a whole bank of mullein, whose pale primrose flowers will grow several feet high. The narrow spikes of purple loosestrife, real bee magnets, are growing in scattered clumps in the flower bed and in the gap between window and flagstones.

And, while I have no idea where the reeds, cornflowers or tormetil came from, the few tiny forget-me-nots I rescued now occupy any space they can find, from the drifts around my roses and across the gravel, to the spaces between the flagstones. I have always grown herbs, even when I have had no more than a windowsill to play with… now, while I have planted only sage, Nature has planted me a herb garden.

I even have the first of my tiny rescued roses in bloom, although an earwig seems to have claimed it as its residence of choice, bringing back memories of the deep, velvet-red roses that once framed my great grandparents’ gate. They had a perfume unlike any other and as I child I would sit on the garden wall and breathe in their fragrance… until the day I found myself nose to nose with an earwig.

So, although, in comparison to others I have planted and tended, I could hardly call this a garden… Nature seems to think otherwise and has made one of her own. And I like that. So will the bees and butterflies that love our native wildflowers.

I cannot help seeing how well my little patch of flowered earth illustrates one of the first lessons we learned during our adventures within the ancient, sacred landscape of Albion… ‘open up and get out of the way’. I could have wrestled with the ground, squeezing a few more traditional garden plants from the budget, hefted a couple of tons of hardcore and gravel and turned the space into a ‘proper’ garden… but would the wildflowers then have a place to grow? Would I allow ‘weeds’ to thrive between the paving slabs or smile at the paths the dog is wearing through the grass? Probably not.

We learned also that ‘leaving space for spirit’… letting the moment and the land work their magic in untrammelled freedom…  allows strange and wonderful things to happen. In consciously relinquishing the need to control, beauty creeps in through the cracks of normality…or, in this case, into every gap it can find.

Nature is a wonderful teacher and, at this time, when so much of our freedom has been curtailed, my little garden reminds me that life and beauty will always find a way.

A matter of choice…

I never did like doing as I was told.

I might, through necessity, for example, obey the authoritarian order of an autocratic boss, but orders would never inspire me to give of my best. I would do just enough to be obedient within their sphere of influence… and not a sausage more. Both mentally and emotionally, I would be kicking against the bars of the imaginary cage… and although I might be a dutiful underling, I would never be an eager and willing participant.

Ask me, on the other hand, trust me to see a job done, give me a choice and let me take responsibility and I wouldn’t just go the extra mile… I’d run the marathon.

I do not, for one minute, think I am alone in feeling this way. Most people respond with far more enthusiasm to a modicum of trust and will pull out all the proverbial stops to not only meet, but exceed expectations, when they are given a choice and thus accept responsibility for their actions. A good boss knows this and handles their employees accordingly, allowing them to utilise, explore and extend their own strengths, which in turn gives them a sense of self-belief and self-worth… which in the end, is good for everyone… and especially the business.

Oddly, thinking about this put me in mind of a daft sketch I had done over a decade ago. It was the product of a conversation between Running Elk and myself. My memory is not precise about the sequence of events, but at some point during that online exchange, we spoke of Hades’ Ferryman, who carries the souls of the departed across the River Styx. A typo later and the Keeper became the Kipper of the Styx and, a few scribbles after that, the kipper was committed to paper.

I was pondering the liminal Kipper and realised that he is, if nothing else, the guardian of a point of transition, a point of choice and change.

In Greek myth, the river forms the boundary between the Earth, where the living dwell, and the Underworld, which is the realm of the dead. There is always a price to pay for passage across that river and those who do not pay, cannot cross, nor can they return to the lands of men. They do not know where they are going, they know only that the time has come to cross into another phase of existence. They must pay the price and move forward in trust. The only part of that story that worries me is the idea that someone else can pay the Ferryman for your crossing. I don’t think that, in real terms, that is ever possible. Sacrifice, too, must be a choice. It has no spiritual value if it is imposed…it must be a willing contract in order to hold power.

Like the Death card in the Tarot pack, death and the Underworld in symbolic terms, usually refer to a change in the state of being that is not always a physical death. The year I drew that sketch was the year my son was stabbed, leaving him facing change on a monumental scale as he addressed the physical, emotional and intellectual challenges of a sudden and enforced removal of both the popular and his personal concept of normality.  The one thing that remained to him and completely within his control, was choice. He could not choose to return to the normality he had known for twenty-five years; that life was over and there could be no going back. He could not simply choose to be on the other side of the nightmare either. The choice lay in whether or not he chose to make the journey between the two, paying its price or remaining locked into the imposition of disability, like a soul wandering in limbo.

He chose to make that journey, trusting that the undefined goal was the right destination to aim for. He did not know what lay ahead, nor how far he could go. But he went anyway.  At first, he followed what to many seemed to be a false trail, chasing the red herring of complete physical recovery, even whilst he accepted that such was unlikely. The distant, seemingly unattainable goal, was a good one. It demanded a high price, making him push the boundaries of his own expectations and carrying him much further towards that stated goal than anyone could have expected.  It may have been a red herring, but the quest for that recovery taught him a great deal about himself and what really mattered to him.

Then came a point when he began to reassess and exercise his inner choices rather than his muscles,  with the emphasis he chose being less on how to walk and more on how to live. Again, he had to trust that the journey towards impossible goals would take him to where he needed to be… and now, another world of his own making lies open to him, full of adventures.

My son’s situation was unusual, but the choices we each of us have to face are much the same, from the small, everyday moments where we have to trust in the outcome of our decisions, to the life-changing and momentous situations where all we know is that we cannot stand still and must move forward, even if we cannot see where the current will lead.

There is another story in mythology about the Styx. As a baby, the invincible warrior, Achilles, had been dipped in the waters of the river. The only point the water did not touch was his heel… and that was the only point of vulnerability he had. To bathe in the river of choice at a point of transition does render us invulnerable, for, like water, our choices ebb and flow about us all the time, and choosing to embrace, in trust and full awareness, whatever journey lies at our feet gives us a strength that cannot be easily broken. Even those choices that are red herrings will offer us opportunities to learn and teach us things we may never have known without the false trail.

Our choices are not always right, we do not get it right first time very often, but when we listen to the promptings of the inner heart and being,  and choose our way with courage and conviction, the effort of the journey is always worth the price we choose to pay.

Growing…

We took a stroll around the garden… my son leaning on my shoulders, me grateful that I am just the right height to fit under his arm. Weather permitting, it has become a daily ritual since we planted his new flower beds. I cannot help but smile quietly when my hitherto clueless-about-gardening son comments on how well the heuchera is doing and notes that the ajuga reptans is in flower.

My younger son prefers to grow vegetables and nourishes an ambition to build a greenhouse in his garden. For his birthday, a few years ago, I bought him seed potatoes, cabbages and strawberries… and that was that; he loved growing food for his family. This year, for my elder son’s birthday, just before the lockdown, I filled his wall baskets with pansies, sweet-smelling dianthus and trailing campanula, rescued from the wilting racks of the supermarket.

I love that both my sons have found joy in growing things, though one grows for beauty and the other for the table. It is interesting to see how watching things grow illustrates their different characters. There is the same excitement from both of them, but while my younger son cannot wait to show me how tall his brassicas have grown, the elder is having learn to be patient as Nature takes her time as he waits for plants to bloom.

So, every day, my son and I tour his garden, watching the progress of every leaf and bud, from the discarded forget-me-nots I rescued from the alley behind his house, to the latest acquisition, the Abracadabra rose. We have watched the tight buds swell and begin to reveal glimpses of colour. The new gardener asks ‘when’… the old gardener is just glad the roses survived being transplanted at this time of year.

Patience, I have observed, is not a trait that everyone shares. I used to be horribly impatient with most things…now it is only some things… so during my son’s recovery, I had a lot to learn. The recovery from brain injury is a long, slow process… like the unfolding of a flower, it happens at its own pace and cannot be forced. Holding back from doing something I could have done for him ten times faster than he could do it for himself was a hard lesson to learn… but had I not done so, he would have made no progress.

Not everyone is patient by nature, but watching things grow… whether it is flowers or people… helps you to learn the kind of patience that is born of accepting what is. A child cannot grow to adulthood overnight. A rose, even one named Abracadabra, cannot magically bloom before its petals have formed.

Gardening always makes me think of the well known ‘Serenity prayer’… “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time…”. Patience, when rooted in the acceptance of the moment, is often a gateway to serenity.

Accepting the gifts of the moment does not mean we cannot create change at need, or that we must accept that which we know to be wrong or harmful… like greenfly and black spot on roses, some things must be addressed as they arise… but where the moment gives us joy or beauty, it would be churlish to refuse its gift. And so I watch in joy as my son learns to wait for beauty to unfold.