Sunrise

It was cold when I opened the door for the dog. The grass, lush, green and in need of cutting by day, was a wonderland of gilded diamonds in the dawn light, sparkling and casting rainbows in the breeze. The morning smelled of autumn, though summer is at its height. I watched the sun rise, pink and gold, through the branches, rayed like a child’s drawing.

It reminded me that it is not just the source of light and heat that we take for granted every day… it a star and it, not our small, blue planet, is the centre of our solar system. One of countless such systems across a universe, or a multiverse, that we barely comprehend.

Were we to board a ship that sailed the blackness of interstellar space, our little planet would soon disappear, its reflected light fading into nothingness. Yet the sun would remain for a while, another pinhole in Heaven’s floor… one small jewel of the night amongst uncountable others… while time and distance would cease to have meaning.

By accident or some grand design, our home just happens to be at the right place in the planetary dance for life as we know it to be sustained. Or perhaps, life arose here because Earth was in the right place. A fine distinction. Should some ship one day carry us beyond the stars we know, would we even recognise other forms of life unless they fit our definitions? Would they recognise, or even see us? Or would our interactions seem as strange and fanciful as a visit from the Fae, where life forms alien to each other perceive each other but dimly through a veil of unreality?

Glimpsing that vastness, even just for an instant, puts life’s problems in perspective. It may not make living through them any easier, because we, and our focus, are here and now. But it is a good reminder that the whole of human life, with all its joys, sorrows and challenges, from the first Man to the last, will leave barely a speck of dust on the surface of existence, a ghostly echo in its dreams.

Does that mean we do not have to try?  That our lives are pointless or our actions without consequence?  We are part of something so vast that the events of our daily lives might seem insignificant, and in some ways that is true. It matters little, when measured against the backdrop of infinity, that we choose toast or coffee for breakfast. And yet, every choice we make, every word we speak, every action we take will irrevocably change and shape the whole of existence forever.

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future,” wrote Tolkien.  Together, we are writing humanity’s story… what part we play and what mark we leave upon its pages is up to us.

Crafting the Future…

dragonfly 080

“…Change and change in the perspective of self-realization; the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.” My son looked up the symbolism of the dragonfly on his phone. We had been watching its staccato flight over the pond. “That’s just too perfect…”

We sat, my son and I, in the morning sun drinking coffee and talking about the way he is shaping his life. “They say that we create our own reality,” he continued and I believe that to be true. Not entirely as the fashionable buzz in some circles would have it… there is a little more to it than just thinking positive thoughts and imagining that dreams have already arrived in order to manifest them. Dreams need such vision before they can become real, it is true, but they also need work. Our decisions, choices and attitude all go into the mix, along with determination and an unshakeable faith that we can arrive at our goal.

“I reckon,” he said, as we watched the flight of the huge dragonfly, “that creating your own life is like making art…” I had to agree; creating reality is akin to creating a work of art. It takes time and dedication to learn the skills and acquire the experience that can transform fluid vision to concrete presence. We see our dreams take shape through our daily perception of the world, each from our own unique perspective, much like an artist pursuing inspiration. “… and creating a beautiful future is the greatest work of art you can make.”

He has a habit of doing that, dropping a phrase into a conversation that makes you stop in your tracks. It is not a new concept, but, like all such realisations, it is always brand new to those who find it for themselves.

I am not entirely certain that I agree with him. Creating a beautiful future is indeed a wonderful thing, but I think there is a work of art even greater that we can attempt… and that is the creation of ourselves. The tools required are almost identical and the act of creation we undertake needs just as much dedication to the impossible dream, yet we do not have to create ‘something from nothing’, but only unfold the furled petals of the soul.

Work in progress

“Every Warrior of the Light has felt afraid of going into battle.
Every Warrior of the Light has, at some time in the past, lied or betrayed someone.
Every Warrior of the Light has trodden a path that was not his.
Every Warrior of the Light has suffered for the most trivial of reasons.
Every Warrior of the Light has, at least once, believed he was not a Warrior of the Light.
Every Warrior of the Light has failed in his spiritual duties.
Every Warrior of the Light has said ‘yes’ when he wanted to say ‘no.’
Every Warrior of the Light has hurt someone he loved.
That is why he is a Warrior of the Light, because he has been through all this
and yet has never lost hope of being better than he is.”
Paulo Coelho

There are people who come and go in our lives, some who may seem all-important for a while, yet fade away to nothingness, some who creep in almost unnoticed and take up residence in the heart and soul, kicking off their shoes and sharing the comfort of their soul’s fireside, some who resemble the flames of the fire itself, bringing an incandescent spark of Light into your life.

With these, the distance that may lie in between does not matter. Heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul the communication is whole, sincere and true. And with a rare few that sharing reaches a very deep level and wanders down some very strange pathways indeed from time to time as words become the deepest discussions.

Conversations like this tend to be punctuated by much laughter and silliness, and may be peppered with a fair amount of naughtiness too. It is an odd thing, but a true one, that those I have met whom I count as the most truly evolved in the spiritual sense all share a decidedly earthy sense of humour. When our discussions have addressed this, the answer has always been a take on the same theme…that those who have reached a certain level of being no longer hide behind a mask of quasi sainthood, but embrace their whole being with gusto, warts, as they say, and all.

They have often lived colourful lives, experiencing a rich tapestry of emotions and events beyond the humdrum normality of the ordinary; these few recognise and accept the full extent of their humanity, seeing in it only the action of the Divine Life. They cheerfully accept their own frailties and foibles and those, it seems, of everyone else around them as simply part of the beauty of life in motion, a perfection continuously unfolding rather than a flawed and static actuality. When they hit a stumbling block, as we all do from time to time, they simply roll their sleeves up and get on with life.

There are, for all of us at some point, mornings when we must drag ourselves from bed to face a world we do not want to see or be seen by. Where that hour around 3am seems to last an eternity of ‘what ifs’ and all choices seem to lead to heartache. Mornings where the night has broken trust and we face the dawn with only the bitter kiss of ‘why?’ upon our lips.

We can face the day hidden in brittle laughter or withdraw into silence, closing the windows of the soul and drawing the blinds to incubate our misery. Or shout the hurt from the rooftops in anger to gather sympathy or attention.

Or we can look ourselves squarely in the eyes in the bathroom mirror and say, ‘Today you are lucky. Today you have reached another crossroads. Today you have an opportunity for change. Today you can take responsibility for the next phase of your journey.’

Quite often we expect both too much and not enough of ourselves, once we have set our feet firmly upon a path of faith and growth, regardless of how we see that Light. We expect perfection now and are disappointed with ourselves when we fail, forgetting perhaps that we are works in progress, experiencing rather than experienced. Then our inner failure can plunge us into despair… which we may also see as another failure… and we wade through the treacle of dark emotions, instead of remembering that we ourselves are in charge of the sticky stuff and can choose to see opportunity for change instead of the molasses of negativity in which we have caught ourselves like flies.

Sometimes, we are too hard on ourselves. We are works in progress, but the perfection we strive for is already part of us. Maybe we need to be a little gentler with ourselves.

Watching

For the past few days there has been a young heron beside the road on the five mile drive to my son’s home. It stands, arrow thin, shadow blue and perfectly still, almost invisible, watching the drainage ditch that runs along the edge of the fields.

No-one appears to notice it as they drive by, focussed as they are, quite rightly, on the fast-moving traffic. I notice a lot of things as I drive. The road is familiar, yet changes daily. For the past few days also there has been a fox, now paper-thin with the passing of lorries, yet its coat is still that burnished copper and its tail, apparently undamaged, waves in a semblance of life as the traffic passes. Yesterday a tiny Muntjac deer hopped under the hedge as I drove out of the lane, right in the centre of the village. Today the kites were flying low, diving over the fields in the wake of the farmer, harried by crows.

solo 0311The trees are heavy with fruit, dark clusters of elder and blackberry, red haws and pale- bloomed sloes. Apples bend the branches over the skeletal seed heads of grasses and the pale stems of hogweed. Yet summer is far from over and the wildflowers are in bloom. A weasel skitters between the cars at the traffic lights.

flying solo 137I’ve watched the fields change from the bright yellows and emerald of spring to the soft green of summer and now the prelude to the gold and russet of autumn is beginning to creep in. Straw is baled, the stubble lies sharp and square in neat rows. The trees have that tinge of colour that precedes the turning, an almost subliminal feel of autumn is in the air, with the unseasonable chill of a rainy summer dawn.

You can feel it in the early morning dew, in the slight dampness of the steering wheel; see it in the light… something about the quality of it… and feel it under the stars. First frost is still far in the future, distant, but you can feel the hint of its approach. The mists have begun.

The year turns, days slide by and time moves forward, almost unnoticed, until you look back and realise how far you have come since the last time you took note. And all those days have slipped away with that quiet inexorability that we fail to see from moment to moment.

snow dog 090Yet there is a beauty to the rhythm of the year as it slides from high summer towards the dark time, holding within each fruit and flower the seed of a spring and summer to come. There is a richness to the dying time that lies hidden, quiet in summer’s heart. Even the changing seasons can be a beacon of more than hope; a confidence in the rightness of the dance of life.

We can look to the dark times and see only the chill, cold land, barren of life, of we can look deeper and see that inner life that waits for the first touch of warmth, ready to unfold and begin the cycle again. Yet where does it begin and end? Is the year born of light or of darkness? Or do both hold the seeds of growth within them?

promise of spring

Healing

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” That has to be one of the most popular quotes from the work of the thirteenth-century Persian poet, Rumi. You see it all over the internet these days and yet, I wonder how often we stop to think about what it might mean. Much may be lost in translation of words that seem both familiar and easily understandable, knowing so little of the mindset, beliefs and culture of the writer, but even taken at face value, such words conjure an image to which we can all relate.

Every life holds its own heartache. We cannot avoid them, no matter how we try. We cannot hide from them, though we can, and often do, try. Yet still they find us. And every heartache, great or small, leaves a wound that remains tender, often prone to infection from further hurts, just as any wound of the flesh. Untended they can fester and even the smallest can bring terrible pain and cause greater damage than the wound itself warranted.

Yet, if we cut ourselves, we do not run from the pain… we deal with the cut first, cleaning it, maybe having it stitched by someone more qualified than we, if it is bad, then we keep it clean and let that cleanliness and the fresh air do their work. There may be a scar, there may not. If there is, most of the time it fades into insignificance and is forgotten.

We do not treat the heart as kindly, though, do we? We often worry at the hurt like dogs with a sore foot, we scratch it and press it to feel how much it pains us, or bite it as we illogically do with a tooth that needs attention. It is almost as if we are afraid that the pain will stop.

I have wondered about that. It is not as if we enjoy the hurting. But maybe we feel a need to cling to it, to keep it alive somehow. Perhaps we have lost someone or something and in allowing the pain to heal we feel as if we are betraying that loss? Maybe the pain is due to fear and in letting go of the fear we fear the unknown territory of being unafraid? The familiar is always more comfortable than the unknown… at least in our own minds.

The danger is that we allow the hurts to define who we become. We sink beneath the murky waters of pain and cease to see clearly, allowing events and our reactions to them to shape who we are and how we see the world. We learn to see ourselves through a veil of hurt and in turn this is the image we expect others to see.

Yet we are not our hurts. The pain can teach, or it can, like a flame, burn away the impurities and leave behind something cleaner and able to move freely. I have a feeling that is its purpose, to allow us to burn for a little while, cleansing the grief and fear, before emerging like a phoenix renewed.

The scars remain as reminders. Nothing is lost or forgotten, but it can be allowed to take its place in the past and be a solid foundation for the future. Perhaps if we are able to allow ourselves to heal, seeing the wounds, as Rumi says, as the places where the Light enters, the pain would find its proper place in our lives as a teacher, not loved, perhaps, but respected and acknowledged for the value of its experience and the healing it can bring.

Normality

“Normality is a paved road: it is comfortable to walk on, but no flowers grow on it.”
Vincent Van Gogh

There are certain things we learn in order to live as part of a society that has, at least, the potential to live in harmony. There are orderly patterns that make up our lives, dictated by everything from our natural biology and emotions, to societal pressures and the necessities of survival. To live a normal life is to adhere to those patterns.

Yet, it is seldom those who do so who achieve greatness in any field. It is the rule-breakers, the mavericks, the innovators; it is those who use the imagination to create… it is those ordinary people who end up living extraordinary lives who change the world and the way we see it.

Some actively pursue fame and fortune, bringing all their drive to bear upon the task in hand. Others find a different path leads them away from the security of their own normality and they may find themselves blinking in an unexpected spotlight. For most of us though, ‘normality’ is the path we tread.

Or is it?

How many of us fit the accepted mould of ‘normality’ and what is it anyway? The outer life may have a steady job, marriage, car, dog and… 2.4 children. That ‘.4’ has never struck me as ‘normal’ in any way… average, perhaps, but not what you would call normal. How is slightly less than half a child ‘normal’? The mind boggles…

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But what about the inner life? Do you dream? Do you imagine? Do you wish and shape and change your world with every passing thought? Do you look at the stars and wonder? Imagination knows no bounds and creates its own normality… which may be far from the mundane outer world in which many of us must live. And a far cry from some arbitrary normality which refers more to a mathematical average. We are none of us ‘normal’… we are unique.

Those who break free of the accepted norm of the workaday world may find a rocky path ahead, with steep ascents, potholes, uneven surfaces and many twists and turns… but away from the concrete and asphalt is where the wildflowers grow and where wonder awaits over every horizon.

The road that carries us through the realms of necessity can be hard, straight and narrow. That is only part of our lives and we are free to break every limit within the realms of mind… and sometimes imagination spills flowers in our path.

heather 2015 derbyshire, higger tor, beeley circle, edensor, bak 089

Another country…

« Qu’il est loin mon pays, qu’il est loin… »

Claude Nougaro

“…and Claude Nougaro,” said my boss, brandishing the baguette. Her husband nodded. The three of us were at the dinner table, lingering over the cheese as usual. My employers had asked how I was managing, living in France. I had been there a couple of months, arriving with no more than schoolgirl French and was getting along quite well. I had made friends of many nationalities in Paris, shopped, dined and travelled in French and was fast learning the difference between the stiff formality of the language I had been taught in school and the laid-back colloquial version as spoken by Parisiens. I was even getting to grips with the local ‘argot’… those slang terms which, if they are in the dictionary at all, are used in an entirely different way from that suggested by their definition.

One thing I could not do, though, was grasp song lyrics. If I could read the words as I listened to music , I had no problem, but plucking the words from the music? I had no chance.

The French like music and my employers were passionate listeners. From jazz through pop to the classics, music was very much a part of our lives. I learned a huge amount from them about areas of music I had barely touched upon before and I had the use of their enormous and eclectic collection of vinyl and cassettes. But I struggled to understand anything with words. Music felt, quite suddenly, as though it was a world to which I had no key. I would see eyes filling with tears or sharing a glance sparkling with laughter at the lyrics of a song… and have no idea why. I knew this other world was there, just waiting for to be explored… but to ears unused to the nuances of its expression, understanding seemed as impossible to reach as the Otherworld.

I explained this to my employers and they came up with a list of singers I should explore. It started with artists whose diction was clear, but soon became a lesson in the music and poetry dear to the national heart… laying out before me yet another world, another layer of reality.

So I started listening, really paying attention, catching phrases here and there. Sometimes, although I could mimic the sounds, it would take a while for the words to separate out enough for me to recognise them… and sometimes they were words not yet in my vocabulary.

And then, one day, I was doing the housework and not thinking about the music at all. I realised, quite suddenly, that I had been singing along to the tape that was playing. It stopped me in my tracks. Not only did I understand the lyrics, but I also grasped the layers of meaning implied by them, could see the way the writer had played with the words, understand the symbolic landscape painted by the song. When had that happened? After that, there was no stopping me. I eventually married a French musician, wrote songs with him and my reality became a world of music.

It was driving home from work yesterday that took me back. I was singing along to an album by Claude Nougaro and, although it is now more than thirty years since I was last in France, neither the language nor the lyrics have left me. Some doors, once opened and stepped through, never close.

It occurred to me that the same leap of understanding happens in many areas of life. We struggle to grasp a new concept, a new and pertinent language… without which we do not even have the most basic chance of the proverbial lightbulb moment. And then, very often at a moment when we are neither concentrating nor struggling to ‘get there’, the light comes on. It is as if some unconscious process has synthesised all the random bits of information we have gathered, all the groundwork we have done, all the hints and intimations… and, deciding that the sum is greater than its parts, assembles a whole from the fragments, filling in the spaces between scraps of knowledge with intuitive understanding.

It is the same when you study the Mysteries. Those moments of utter illumination that come out of the blue and with no prior, conscious knowledge do happen, but they are rare indeed. There is a theory that such moments come from unlocking the memories of previous lifetimes, from the unconscious mind that pays more attention to life than the surface mind, or even that something is  passed down at a cellular level as part of the genetic memory.

For most of us, though, such clarity of vision comes only after putting the foundations in place. We study, meditate and learn, accumulating knowledge about ourselves and the path we have chosen until we come to a fork in the road. For some, it is that accumulation of knowledge that matters the most and they may go on to become lore-keepers, hoarding or making knowledge available to posterity, adding to its store for others.

Many, though, will take a step onto an unknown path, and, like the Fool of the Tarot, carrying unseen treasures in his knapsack, will walk towards a new landscape in trust. That journey is very much like setting out into a foreign land, where the ‘vocabulary’ of reality is different. And, although knowledge is necessary as a starting point, it is understanding… that unteachable knowledge of the heart… that leads to those moments of clarity when the doors of perception are opened.  And those doors, once opened, never close.

Anything goes…

I was born in… well, we can gloss over that. Let’s just say that my childhood was spent in an era of extremes. War and calls for peace dominated the headlines, crooners shared the charts with pop groups, hemlines varied between revelation and medieval and most married women… and God help you if you weren’t… still stayed at home to raise their children.

My mother had already broken that mould by working full-time when I was small. She had grown from a pretty young woman to look like Susan Hayward and dressed like Marilyn Monroe. She had fixed ideas on fashion and it was into this environment that my first stirrings of femininity would flutter.

I was blonde when I was very young, with pale wild waves that were rigorously moulded into an acceptable shape with rollers, curling irons and a back-comb, then glued into submission with lacquer. When I was about seven, the pale golden glory began to darken to a nondescript mousey brown. My mother, whose own enhanced hair colour cycled through several shades of auburn, objected to this and began the application of a vile peroxide product known as ‘Light and Bright’. Not, she would assure me, a hair dye. More of a colour corrector.

Although it was certainly unintentional and even though I was not conscious of it at the time, it was one of those ‘not good enough’ moments that undermine a child’s self-confidence. You begin to believe that who you are must be changed to conform to the ideas of others. All children spend at least part of their childhood wearing clothes others deem appropriate and it is one of the first areas touched by rebellion.

At eleven, all pretensions to sartorial freedom ended with the imposition of the cherry red uniform of the grammar school. The obligation to conform for nine hours a day (including travelling time) was mitigated only by the extremes of the decade that allowed you to wear pretty much anything the rest of the time. There just wasn’t much time left after school and homework.

By the time I was ready for teenagerhood, the decade-that-taste forgot was well underway, and for one brief, glorious moment, it was acceptable, even desirable, to have a wardrobe that contained garments as diverse as leather hotpants, orange suede platforms, white vinyl boots and psychedelic maxi dresses.

Then I started work and uniformity sucked me in once again. The unwritten dress codes of the working world were fairly strict at that time. Few defied them and prospered… especially women. Luckier than most, my first ‘proper job’ required no more than jeans and T-shirt. Being a window dresser, skirts were out of the question as, most of the time, I was either up a ladder or on my knees in a store window. Being part of an ‘artistic’ team, even though the others were men, it was de rigueur to go for colourful embroideries and sequins but even so, there was still the expectation to conform to a particular mould. My own taste was varied… mostly black leather or vivid colours… but it did not include jeans.

Then there was Paris… and I dressed how I damned well pleased. Mainly in red. After arriving in the expected British tweed, it was made apparent that the only expectation was that I had style. Any style… as long as it was my own. For a few brief years, I was able to dress as me. And I loved it.

Then I moved back to England and into the corporate world and became ‘a suit’. The mindset and social requirements can be as restrictive as the clothing and as difficult to escape when you leave that world behind. Off duty and on, there is an unwritten code that proclaims position. Rebellion came only in the height of a hemline and a refusal to wear dark, boring colours although ‘adventurous’ was seldom more than mid blue.

After the horrors of childhood peroxide, I had never dyed my hair. I just left it to grow and occasionally hacked the ends with the meat shears. When I was obliged to leave the corporate world and become a carer, I hacked to some purpose and experimented with various shades of red. Not those auburn reds that might have been acceptable to my mother, but brilliant, obviously fake scarlets and mahoganies, and finally my favourite orange.

It was a brief phase but an important one as I began to realise how little of ‘me’ was allowed to face the world. The clothes were still stuck in the rut of practicality and the expectations of the corporate world still lingered. It is only in recent years that I have thrown caution to the winds and begun to embrace my inner hippy.

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Photo: Steve Tanham

My hair once again grows wild… though slower than I would like now and it is peppered with silver. ‘Sparkles’, my granddaughter calls the silver hairs. The hemlines creep ever closer to the ground. The embroideries are more discrete than they were in the 70s. And I’m comfortable. Not just in the flow and drape of the fabrics, but in my skin.

I was lucky. My sons already fondly call me weird, so externalising a little minor weirdness was no big deal. The conservative village where I live might not always agree. The others whose opinion I care for already look beyond the surface… for which I am grateful, as the surface is more than a little worn these days. But I think it is fair to say that love gives us permission to be ourselves.

After decades of conformity, I found that it is as simple as that… a change in the way you choose to present yourself to the world makes all the difference to how you see yourself, to your comfort and self-confidence. After a lifetime of feeling obliged to conform, we probably don’t even think about it much. We are who we have become, through choices… our own and those of others… and necessity. It is not easy to make a change when habit means that you don’t realise that is needed… or when you seek to be what you think those around you would like you to be. Yet how often do we ask? Those who truly care for us, love who we are, not who they would like us to be… or even what they see.

Love recalled

I’m tired this morning. I didn’t sleep much and spent most of the night tossing and turning. When I did doze, I spent the time watching those I love wander across the screen of dreams. Though that is not quite a true depiction. I was in there with them.

I dream vividly and in colour and was surprised when I learned how many people don’t, though apparently with the demise of monochrome media that is changing dramatically. Which raises some interesting questions about how our minds and perceptions are, quite literally, coloured by our environment.

Be that as it may, my dreams have always been vividly and graphically coloured and I feel them as reality while I dream… and honestly, there are some you really wish did not feel quite so real…

Last night, however, it was lovely to see and to hold those who are distant in time and space, to talk with them and smile with them, hear much-loved voices and share the small things of every day. Most I recognised, though there were others I knew that I have known and loved, although they are not part of this life’s story. Waking each time, as I wavered between the worlds, brought a sense of both warm gratitude for that touch of presence, and a hint of loss that it was not ‘real’.

Yet, it was real on its own plane and in that moment. It was only waking, the change in my mode of perception, that traced that dividing line. It was real as I felt the touch of minds and hearts, the embrace and warmth of those long departed or far away. Dreaming opens the doors to meet across the miles, or to be once again with those who have departed this world to a place where we may meet in joy, just as we would have done in life. These are not old scenes replayed, but new interactions.

What does it matter if they are not ‘real’ if they touch the heart and call up the deepest emotions? If such a meeting still fills you with joy and gratitude when you have woken, it is real enough to change your world and your day.

Beliefs about the world of dreams vary widely, from soul journeys outside of time and space, to a simple working out of events and psychological details by the brain. Did it matter to me, while I dreamed, whether my brain was constructing images or if my soul was flying free? Not a bit. I was just happy to be with those I love.

There is no past tense here… even for those who are no longer in the world. Love does not die when the object of it is no longer beside us. It remains and is part of us always. It may be filed away, gently wrapped in the protective gauze of memory, but it is still part of who we are. Part, perhaps, of what makes us who we are.

Whatever thought and logic might bring to the question, today I will walk with that touch of love in my heart in spite of a restless night. Although I glowered at the dawn through frustrated and heavy eyelids, when I got up with the birds it was with a smile on my face and the glow of a lifetime of love, given and received, to carry me through the day.