The Feathered Seer – Planting seeds of Light

Our world faces a time of uncertainty. Fear, and a violence of word and body, are spreading like a canker across the face of nations. Adding our voice and the force of our will to the battles that rage and seethe does little but add to the confusion. Finding peace within ourselves as individuals and living with kindness and compassion seems the only way in which to answer the need of our human family.

We, who gathered in Derbyshire from places far apart, are too few to change the fate of nations, but we can and do change the world with every choice that we make. All growth starts from a single point, but we are not alone. There are many across the globe working in the both the outer and inner realms towards that peace and healing.

In an echo of an earlier ritual at one of the stone circles on the moors, we chose to work with gemstones this weekend. Through meditation and visualisation, we added our intent to the web of light that is being woven by many, all across the world, in a spirit of peace and healing. To symbolise our intent, we used tiny gemstones… natural crystals… as seeds. They, like each of us, are small and insignificant… all different, each unique. They hold no magical power to change the world save that with which our dedication imbues them.

Symbols are powerful things and may wordlessly touch something that goes beyond words. Focussing our intent upon these stones and ritually planting them at sacred sites around the world as an act of magical intent in which we ask you to join with us.

We ask that you choose three small stones…any three stones.. and see them as a symbol and as seeds of hope; fragments of the earth that carry your focused intent. Hold them in your hands… give them your blessing. Imbue them with your hopes and prayers for peace and healing. Nurture those prayers with love. Hold in your hearts and souls the consciousness of Divine Perfection, calling forth, from yourself and the universe, whatever image of divinity you hold dear.

Carry the stones with you and, when the time and place feels right, plant them in the earth as you would a seed. It does not matter where, only that it is, for you, somewhere special. Imagine as you do so that you see the seeds spreading their roots deep into the earth, joining with the spreading roots of other such seeds and forming a network of Light. Imagine the first shoots piercing the surface, seeking the sun, itself a symbol of a greater Light. And watch them flower, feeling them blossom also within your heart.

The stones that remain after the weekend will be sent across the world to other Companions and friends who may wish to join with us in this simple rite. We ask you to add your seeds to ours.

Spirituality should not remain within the precincts of the Temple, but must be carried out into the wider life of the earth. From such small acts of magical intent can healing grow.

The Landscape of the Feathered Seer

Derbyshire is rich in the traces of an ancient culture about which we know very little. At first glance, many of these sites may seem to lack the stature of the better-known circles, but there is an intimacy about the smaller, forgotten circles that is lost when they are encased in protective fences and visited by thousands.

Archaeology can only work with what has survived after thousands of years of disrepair, disrespect and superstition. The picture that remains to us is fragmentary, focusing on the physical remains of hearth, home and grave.

There is a power in these sites of forgotten mysteries. For some it is simply the power to incite curiosity, for many it is something that still calls to heart and mind, offering a tantalising glimpse of a time when mankind saw the world as a magical place and the earth beneath his feet as the body of a living being.

The truth is that we simply do not know, in any acceptably modern sense, for what purpose these monuments were created, although there are still as many as a thousand stone circles in Britain and at least as many theories. The only understanding we have of these enigmatic echoes of the past is through experience.

The story of the Feathered Seer came in fragments as we walked and worked with the land, whispered by a voice from the past. We do not know whence it came, nor how much truth it holds, nor if, indeed, it is the simply the attempt of imagination to shape a story to make sense of the questions that arose. That in itself would be a wonder, and an illustration of the power of the human ability to find a frame in which to place all that is a mystery, all that is known and understood, creating order from chaos. It may be that the circles and mounds of our ancestors are themselves the outward symbols of their attempts to frame their own understanding of the world in which they lived.

Whatever beliefs we may have in the purpose of the ancient and sacred sites, their profusion alone would suggest that they were once seen as part of a web of force which, acting together, harnessed or accessed a power deeper still. In this way, Bratha’s story and the sites themselves seem to echo the nature of the journey we share.

At Wincobank, a vitrified hillfort within the City of Sheffield, we saw the ancient keepers of wisdom withdraw beyond the veil and the essence of their knowledge passed into the keeping of a child. This process is not unlike the incarnation of the human soul, whose lineage and heritage is rooted in the Infinite.

Thrust out into the world, protected only by the shadowy presence of her guide, the child grieved her loss in a wood. There she found the Wood Stone, a great boulder bearing a carved representation of the landscape that gave her direction and led her to seek answers from the ancestors.

In the same way, in the darkest hours, the earth that itself reflects the greater landscape of the macrocosm, may lead us to seek the answers that we need, within ourselves or from the greater powers of the universe.

From the wood, Bratha and her guide follow the moorland paths to the ‘Raven’s Nest’, a stone circle on Hordron Edge. The site is guarded by a totem stone and is surrounded by other sites of ancient sanctity.

They seek advice on where to find a place of peace and balance in which the seer may grow and serve, but first they must understand the Mystery of life, death and rebirth. The seer’s gifts are rooted in her spiritual heritage and the souls of her ancestors, just as the human body bears the genetic memories of our ancestors and our souls carry the lineage of eternity.

Bratha and her guide settle at Barbrook, a place where a stream separates the lands of the living from the lands of the dead. On one side of the stream, Big Moor holds traces of a substantial ancient settlement.

On the other side are the cairns of the dead and three stone circles… one of which closely resembles a hut circle within which is set a circle of upright stones. Close by is another enclave, ringed by ancient walls and flanked by a stone gnomon.

The seer knows that in order to serve the purpose of her being, she must live and work within the world, yet that her role as priestess sets her apart from the mundane.

The people come to the seer with questions. She calls upon the silent voice of the earth for her answers, enigmatic riddles whose essence must be teased from their form. She knows that the answers to the deepest questions may be found within.

Those who choose the paths of Light know that, as Man is born into this world, his purpose is to live within the world until the next phase of existence. Such service may indeed appear to set true seekers apart from life, but those who choose to serve the Light are the standard-bearers of evolution.

Half a day’s walk from the place she calls home is a deep valley. Peter’s Rock is a striking geological feature; faces seem carved by the hands of the gods in the cracked rock. For Bratha, and for others who seek to serve, it is a place of initiation, where fear must be faced in order to pass beyond the veil.

Man’s greatest fear is death; not the death of the body, but the obliteration of the self. For many, death is the enemy and holds the terror of an unimaginable annihilation. For the initiate, death is no more than a passing from one state to another… a new birth.

At the end of the valley, the hillfort of Fin Cop dominates Monsal Dale. The Lore Keepers wove together two ancient tales, one a legend, one the story of an ancient massacre. This tale is borne out by the archaeology of the site itself. Below the steep slope that leads to the summit of Fin Cop is a place of caves and mysteries. The tall, stone figure of a giant guards a hidden landscape and, within the cave, the skeleton of an injured boy was found.

We left both the seer and the past for the final ritual, as the Companions journeyed in vision to Arbor Low, a great circle of stones within a henge. Time seems to be an important factor at this site, as do the serpent stones.

Perhaps the most prevalent belief about these ancient monuments is that they are set upon the nodes of power inherent in the body of the earth. It is possible that, like the birds and beasts, our ancestors could feel the magnetic currents of the planet…or perhaps they sensed something deeper in the life of the planetary being.

Few who are open to the magic of these sites fail to sense their presence and they seem to respond to our awareness with an indefinable awakening.

In re-enchanting the land, we are forging links across time and space… and in doing so, rekindling our own enchantment with the place we call our home.

Beyond time…

With the Feathered Seer workshop just a few days away, I thought I would share a glimpse into the origins of the story around which we will be building the weekend…

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I had met her before, thinking her a dream of the landscape, born of the mists and the magic. Imagination. Fantasy. Perhaps she is. Perhaps I delude myself with my listening. Perhaps my tears fall for a will-o-the-wisp. Who can say?

Do I believe in ghosts? The dead have better things to do with their lives than linger here in longing, clinging to a world they cannot touch and wishes they cannot hold.

Do we call them back with our desire? Are we children tugging at their apron strings as they move forwards through the layers of existence, passing through otherworlds we try to glimpse in our fear and curiosity, in our inability to let them lie?

The Old Ones honoured their dead, giving them a place of peace by the hearthfire or laying them in the womb of earth to be reborn to a new life. On one day a year the ancestors were invited in, and those who lived became those who were gone. Why grieve when there is no goodbye, only a farewell?

Our sterile deaths, hidden behind closed doors and commercially sanitised, do not permit us such familiarity.

I saw her death in all its raw beauty; saw her bones cleaned to white and marked with love.

Yet there are tales of those who return, those whose Work is unfinished and who wait, outside of time, for completion.

Is she such a one? Is hers a life that might have, should have, could have been? Or is she the spirit of the land itself, whispering and teaching, opening me to wonder?

Perhaps she is no more than a waking dream. Or a deeper part of myself rising to the surface and clothed in her form. It matters little. Such as she is, she has touched heart and mind, bringing me joy and tears as I learn from a wisdom deeper than my own.

I do not care what she might have been in a reality bounded by science and experiment. I care only for the vivid life that has touched mine and opened my eyes to a past forgotten.

For a long time I did not know her name. I first saw her vision fly with the red feathered kites as the great birds soared above a sacred landscape. I have seen her, life on life, passing the ages of Man. Yet part of her waited and watched, until she could complete her Work. For a long time I knew her only as the feathered seer.

Now I know her name.

And names matter….

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“In a time before memory….when the land was yet young and Albion unborn, I dreamed the stars of a time yet to be. I dreamed your becoming.

…I see you.

I called, waited, and you have come.

The time is now.

I know you fear what you will find and the veils you will part. I see it in your eyes… in your footsteps… in the tilt of your head.

Wind in hair the colour of faded bracken, beside you he who sees the world with the eyes of the heart, while you see with eyes aflame. I know your name… though you do not.

Not yet.

Not yet, little sister.

Names matter…”

Flying high

There was a heron in the garden when I arrived at my son’s home a little before eight o’clock. It stood on the deck, almost as tall as me, and looked me in the eye. For a moment there was a feeling of wordless communication… a kind of mute yet mutual acknowledgement of presence… then, not releasing my gaze, it spread the great wings and took to the air.

The pond is fairly heron-proof. They come in occasionally and perch on the handrails that surround the water some five feet above its surface. The accessible area is just too narrow to be a comfortable landing space for anything with a wingspan so vast and there are few places to stand, even if a heron should gain ingress. The water is deep and the fish alert to danger. The only resident at risk is little bent-tail fish.

Bent-tail has caused us much concern over the past two years. Every visitor is likely to stop at the pond on the way to the front door and almost all comment that we have a dead or sick fish in there. Bent-tail’s position of choice is a shallow corner, on the surface. Whatever caused the bending of the tail also affected his ability to remain submerged for long and he spent the winter at the surface. We didn’t expect him to survive and had several heart-wrenching days where he was upside down for most of the time.

Resilient as always, bent-tail recovered and you could see him take pleasure in the slight warming of the waters as the spring sunlight brought its comfort to the shallows. He still managed to zip around the pond and play with the other fish. My first job, every morning, has been to check on his well being.

My son has felt a sense of kinship with the little orfe. Both he and the fish have overcome seemingly insurmountable problems and defied predictions. I too am fond of the valiant little creature. So my first thought was for bent-tail when the heron flew off.

There was not a fish in sight. Not one of the forty or so in the pond. They had all retreated to the depths… which suggested that the heron had somehow been able to land and give them a scare. There was no sign of bent-tail… but as all the fish were missing, no more than gilded shadows deep below the water, I was not unduly concerned.

It took a while for the fish to regain their confidence and come to the surface for breakfast. There was no sign of bent-tail, but it is a big pond with many places to hide and not all the fish were calm yet.

An hour later and all the fish are playing in the sun. Except bent-tail.

Another hour of constant checking and there was still no sign. My son called me to the gym where he was playing music and working out. Whether the little fish had slipped away quietly in the night and thus been an easy meal, or whether the heron had come in the guise of the Reaper, we would have to accept it, bent-tail was gone.

“It’s sort of alright, you know, he died a natural death.” said my son. “His wasn’t a meaningless life.” Bent-tail was different… a small creature with a good deal to teach. According to the fish forums and advice pages, we should have euthanized him long ago. But as he seemed perfectly happy apart from that episode over the winter, and seeing the parallels with my son’s own situation, we couldn’t have done so. The little fish had a resilient gallantry that kept him swimming and playing, regardless of his problems. We learned a lot from little bent-tail and his valiant determination… and love can take any form.

“Some things just come into your life when they are needed,” said my son. “He served a purpose other than his own.” It seems odd that, at the very moment when my son’s own attitude has taken a very positive stance and he has turned a personal corner, bent-tail should depart. Just when the lessons he has taught have been learned, the little fish is allowed to re-join the cycle of nature, feeding beauty with his life, instead of dying a long, debilitating and increasingly painful death from whatever illness had bent his golden body.

The mysteries of life and death are playing a large part in our lives at the moment; not surprising, perhaps, when we are exploring just those themes for the upcoming workshop. The little fish was raised to the great Fish Pond in the Sky by a gloriously beautiful winged being. It seemed appropriate somehow. Life began in the waters before it crawled onto land and grew wings, just as our own lives begin in the waters before we walk the earth or soar with the stars; a symbolic evolution for our small angel with scales.

My son’s ‘hardcore’ music seemed an incongruous accompaniment for such thoughts, until one phrase of the lyrics was repeated over and over…

“Flying high, flying up to the sky…”

Fly well, little fish. And thank you.

Everywhere…

It was, without a doubt, a glorious day. Spring had painted the world with colour. The sky was a cloudless blue, the birds were singing and the sweater had finally come off, replaced with a thin cotton top allowing bare skin to absorb the sun. Magic. Even the early ride to work had been a joy…apart from the travel-sickness. I’m not a good passenger; my little car is off the road at present and taxi drivers notoriously lack delicacy in their driving… So I am blaming the taxi for the sudden wave of emotion that grabbed me as I watched the fields give way to housing.

I understand the necessity of providing more homes, but the five miles of green fields that once separated my home from the town are now being obliterated by bricks and concrete. First they build the best homes… looking very like a rather swish village. Once sold, they fill in all the wonderful green spaces with flats and smaller streets. Next come the facilities to serve the homes…and, once the house-builders have sold everything, the warehousing and industrial units start to ring the ‘village’ in. Meanwhile, the new high-speed train line will be cutting through the landscape right next door.

The cynicism of the whole affair reminded me of the sequence in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the Vogons are about to demolish the Earth to make way for a new hyperspace expressway.The Vogons, before pressing the button, pointed out the need to look carefully at the plans…
“There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts
and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now… What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs...”

Even in the few brief years since I have lived in my own village…a much older one…I have seen it expand, nibbling away at the countryside that should be sustaining us. I even live in a new-build flat, right on the edge of the village where once there was just a field. A couple of years down the line and there is talk of another field or two full of houses behind mine…and the high-speed train, of course will pass this way too. But it wasn’t regret that made my eyes prickle with tears. What came with the utmost clarity was a realisation of how very lucky I am to have been born when and where I was.

There are still great open spaces, even in this tiny island. We will not fill them in my lifetime. The very roads and transport that cause so much pollution have allowed us to roam and see places our great grandparents might only have read about, even within our own land. We have the leisure to travel, even if we do not travel far. And there is still beauty on out doorsteps no matter where we are.

Once in the town, I was obliged to walk to the local shop for a few groceries for my son. Instead of taking the long route through the streets, I cut through the forsaken alley that runs behind his home. Graffiti sprawls across the walls, plastic, glass and the detritus of human indifference strews the ground… yet the birds are everywhere. Blue-tits and coal-tits hop from branch to branch. Sparrows, blackbirds and thrushes flit by or add their song to the chorus. Magpies are nesting in the trees and the doves sing a soft, reassuring counterpoint to the music of life.  The resident robin watches as the local squirrel scurries across the wall. A confused blue butterfly romances the forget-me-nots and even here in the town, a red kite sails overhead.

The flowers seem to be laughing at the sun. Escapees from the confines of the gardens, discarded and thrown into the alley as trash, have taken root and flourish, side by side with the wildflowers that the gardeners would call weeds. Gnarled bark creates patterns of shadows and petals reflect a light so bright they almost consumed and rendered invisible. The fresh fragrance of flowers lifts away the taint of exhaust fumes and the breeze and birdsong silence the traffic noise.

Blossom casts petals like confetti on the bridal rite of spring… a rite that will go on regardless of what we do. Mankind is a newcomer compared to Mother Nature. We have brought destruction and yet we have also created beauty. I wonder what our final legacy will be… and whether we can, as a species, live to find harmony with the forces of nature or if we will self-destruct through our constant expansion and desire to conquer the very source of our own lives. I remember a documentary series I watched some years ago, Life after People,  and find the destitute, littered alley strangely comforting… full of hope. There is a life-force in nature that is stronger than humanity’s heedless tenure. Unless we manage to wipe every trace of life from this planet we call home, she will survive us and slowly cover the traces of our juvenile destructiveness. Perhaps, like a grieving mother, she will cover our memory with flowers.

At a more personal level, I had to smile as the flowers were a reminder of how little importance may really be attached to so many of the things over which we agonise. The memories of those cringeworthy moments of youth and inexperience, for example, hidden in the undergrowth of the memory, are replaced with a greater poise and confidence as we grow. Damage that we may have either caused or felt will remain and take time to heal, hidden in the shadows beneath the leaves,. But it is often just those decaying and discarded experiences that form the basis of new growth. Yesterday is buried beneath the blossoms of today.

From the darkest corners of our lives true beauty can be born; the starker the contrast, the more it will shine, yet, without that contrast we might never notice …Spring is a season of hope and promise. Life and light drive cold winter into monochrome memory. We know that there will be dark days again, it will rain, it will storm and the seasons will continue their dance.  But there is always spring.

Raising awareness

In two weeks time we will be in Derbyshire, just a mile or two from this enigmatic valley for the Silent Eye’s annual weekend workshop.

The story we will explore is set within the local landscape and at many of the ancient sites of the area. We work in the landscape for the three other, more informal workshops that we host each year, but for this one, we are bringing the landscape within, to create a sacred space in miniature that echoes the wider world; a microcosm within the macrocosm.

That is part of what is meant by ritual drama. We take a story, drawn from myth, imagination, or even stranger sources, and play it out symbolically. The story always addresses some of the spiritual and psychological principles behind the human journey and, through such rituals, we seek not only to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world, but to set in motion the wheels of change.

This year, the story is inspired by sites we have visited often and know well and, over the weekend of the event, we will share some of them here and open the doors of the temple a little to share a glimpse of what we do. Raising awareness can have more than one meaning…

As soon as you mention temples, rituals and robes, people react. Some are intrigued, some scoff or shy away and others make the mental equivalent of the ancient sign against witchcraft. The Mysteries have always been shrouded in secrecy and there is good reason for that where the inner teachings are concerned, for they represent an experiential journey which must be taken, not taught.  It is called by many names in many systems, but essentially it is the quest for the realisation of the true Self and its orgins…and how we can apply what we learn to our daily lives in order to grow. The journey for each of us is as individual as we are, and there are as many paths to that realisation as there are stars.

The robes are worn simply to signify a change of state… our intent to step aside from the world for a moment to align ourselves with the sacred, by whatever name we know it or through whatever paradigm we approach it. Within the ritual drama workshops, we may also use costumes, which serve the same purpose but with a more precise symbolism. They also help set the mood for whatever theme we are using and allow us to attune to it more readily by appealing to the imagination.

The sacred space that we call a temple is, on the face of it, no such thing. It is a large, sunny room with its curtains closed and a few symbolic items that serve a similar purpose to the robes.  We don’t worship dark gods…in fact everyone is free to choose their own definition of divinity and, every year, we have an eclectic mix that ranges through a whole spectrum of beliefs, from shamanic to druidic, from Qabalists to ministers. That is one of the joys of these workshops, that folk from so many from different paths can work together as one and share their differing beliefs in harmony, learning from each other in mutual respect.

We don’t go in for sacrificing goats (or anything else) either.  Quite apart from being a pointless waste of life, it would be exceedingly messy and land us with a heck of a cleaning bill. The only blood likely to be sacrificed is on the point of a sewing needle while making costumes. In spite of the number of times we have had to disappoint those who were expecting to learn we got up to something more exotic, the only thing we sacrifice is time and energy.

The ritual dramas are scripted, with each person taking a role for the weekend. The scripts are read, not learned, so there is no demand for memorising, and each is crafted to tell a story.  We’ve even published some of the scripts, so there is no mystery there. On the surface it all seems pretty safe and innocuous…little more than amateur dramatics without the bother of rehearsals. So why on earth do people come half way round the world every year to attend?

There is more than meets the eye to what is brought to birth at these workshops and the effects can be deep and long-lasting.

It is a communion of spirit. People of many paths but one intent come together to share a journey of the heart, mind and soul that leads towards a common goal. The focused intent and dedication of the Companions are the magical ingredients that change everything and when we come together, what comes into being is greater than the sum of its parts. Many small candles, each no more than a single flame, together can illuminate the darkness. Words that seem no more than a story when seen on a cold page become fraught with meaning when awareness shifts from the mundane to the sacred and they are voiced with emotion and understanding. Doors are opened in the mind that lead to paths as yet untrodden. Simple robes become sacred vestments and an ordinary room becomes a timeless Temple when filled with that dedication to the Light.

“…a pale blue light rises behind the seated Temple officials. The East is flooded with its purity, and I am blinded by its intensity.”

The single flame that symbolises the Eternal Light is kindled in the heart and its glow lingers.  Such magic is not born of words or gestures, not will you find it in the robes or the trappings of ritual. It comes from within when we turn ourselves to face the Light and we find ourselves within It. .

Silent Eye’s April Workshop draws nigh!

Chronicles of an Orange-Haired Woman!

13087411_10153830236809221_5821196479108972960_nThe Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a Modern Mystery School –(https://thesilenteye.co.uk/) – was born in April 2013, after its three Directors (Stephen Tanham, Sue Vincent – https://scvincent.com/ – and Stuart France) had laboured long and lovingly to bring it into the world.

I already knew Steve and Sue from Ritual with Purpose and Gathering of Light weekends run by Servants of the Light – and, when I heard about Silent Eye, I was keen to come along, witness its birth and meet up with friends both known and, at that point, unknown.

That first April very much set the tone, and the tight seal of friendship, upon subsequent ones – and, no matter what’s going on in my life, the end of April is always bright upon my calendar and the workshop booked and ready.

I am trained in ritual magic. I have also been a member of…

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Living dead

“I might as well be dead.”

As the opening gambit to a conversation between mother and son, it was, I admit, guaranteed to get my attention. He didn’t sound particularly cheerless. In fact, if anything, he sounded quite excited by the idea. I was obviously missing something here.

“How so?”

He explained. An evening in front of the TV was responsible.

“It’s just mindless entertainment. It is like being  dead… ” I didn’t think TV had become that bad…but then, I never watch it. “I am just moving from moment to moment,” he said, “watching an illusion on the screen. It is only when something sparks a train of thought and I pick up the phone to talk to you about it, that I wake up… I’m alive again. Then, when I put the phone down and go back to the TV, I go back to sleep.” Ah. I understood. “Its scary.”

We had been talking about how much of our lives are spent running on autopilot. Quite apart from the myriad bodily functions that are set to maintain themselves automatically, there are many things we do every day without paying the slightest heed to them. The drive we don’t register because it is too familiar… the chores we do without thinking… It is a useful skill in some ways, freeing the mind from directing a well-learned behaviour and allowing it to occupy itself with other things, but the danger is the same as with any other narcotic… it is easy to fall into a mindless dependency, instead of using the free space in attention for something more interesting.

Many writers, for example, deliberately take advantage of this free space. Agatha Christie is famously quoted as saying that the best time for planning a book is while doing the dishes. For those who make a conscious choice to benefit from this ability to work on autopilot, it is a time to multitask. For some, it is a time to clear the mind and rest within an inner stillness…  for yet others it is a time of enhanced attention, where the mind is free to roam unexplored pathways.

My son drew the comparison between the state of enhanced awareness achieved by paying attention, using modern techniques of mindfulness, and the mindless and vicarious witnessing of life through the TV screen. He was shocked by the disparity in the quality of life experience. Eating a small piece of chocolate with focussed intention and awareness, for example, is more fulfilling and far richer than simply gazing at a screen to fill the time.

It is not that TV is a bad thing. Like most human inventions, it is a double-edged sword that must be handled with care. Watching TV is a great way to relax and unwind at the end of a busy day. It can be informative and educational. It can make you think… leading to sparkling or intimate debates on the nature of life, the universe and everything, with answers far more fascinating than the enigmatic’forty-two‘. But it can become a soporific drug that eliminates the need or even the desire to think and a direct barrier to communication. The TV is not at fault… not even the programmes… the choice lies within.

One of the first exercises I ever taught was about imagining an experience, creating it from nothing in the mind, while drawing upon remembered sensation. One of the earliest exercises in the Silent Eye course looks at familiar objects which, seen with full attention, reveal themselves in a whole new light. The level of attention that we bring to even the simplest tasks can, quite literally, change how we perceive and experience the world.

When I woke this morning, it was to a dew-drenched dawn. I opened the garden door for the dog and simply stood for a while, drinking in the moment. Long shadows cast by a newly-risen sun dappled the garden with strange shapes. Rainbows danced on every blade of grass and the air was alive with birdsong. The freshness in the air heralded warmth to come and the fragrance of spring was unmistakable and the dog, released from her nightly ‘imprisonment’ on the sofa, dived out into the dew, scattering light with every joyful bound of her paws. I could sleep longer, wake later and choose to miss this daily miracle. I could just open the door and fail to see it, heading for the kitchen and the kettle and letting the tasks of the day claim my attention… but that would be such a waste of life.

“Yeah,” said my son. “It is the difference between just doing and being….”

 

What price life?

The fish seem to have noticed that it is spring. The little male gourami needs floating plants in which to build a bubble nest before his mate will take his advances seriously. As they have, quite inconsiderately, eaten all the floating plants I had provided for them in which to build the aforementioned nest, a trip to the pet store was required.

All well and good. Except, the pet-store had no floating plants in stock. After a discussion with the very helpful young man there, we managed to improvise. I replenished the supply of algae wafers for the big pleco and headed for the checkout. The mistake was passing in front of the tanks…

I’ve lost a few fish to old age lately and, while I may sigh at the beauty of some of the fish on display, I know the big pleco comes first. She…don’t ask me why, but I think she is a she… needs a fair  bit of space in which to swim, so the bigger, more spectacular fish are out of the question until I can replace the tank for a more spacious affair. But the little glowlight tetras were on special offer… which struck me as odd in itself. How can you have a special offer on life?

As soon as I got home, I switched off the aquarium lights and opened the  lid. You have to float the plastic bag to acclimatise the fish before letting the tank water in, little by little. It takes a while. A little neon had died while I was out… they are all reaching the end of their lifespan, so there was a certain sad inevitability to its end. Removing the tiny body from the water, I was faced with the same dilemma I always face at these times. How do you dispose of the remains of a life? The traditional method of flushing the little corpse down the toilet seems wrong, on all sorts of levels. The garbage does not feel right either. I almost felt it would be better to leave him to the other fish… but settled, instead, for digging the smallest of graves.

By the time that was done and the dog convinced she need not dig him up again, the new fish were ready for release. I watched for a while as they explored their new home. I saw them being checked out by the resident ‘owners’ of the tank, the small but feisty Buenos Aries tetras, asserting their right of precedence…and watched the little glowlights run for cover in the plants before tentatively trying again.

The conditions for new life were created for the little gourami, one life had been lost, and six purchased. And that’s weird. I own lives… technically, at least! They are, as far as I can tell, happy in their environment. They are all tank-bred, not wild, but even so, were they released into the rivers and lakes whence their ancestors came, would they come back through choice? I think not.

I own the dog too, in principle. In reality, she owns me… but that is a different story. On the odd occasion when she has illicitly taken herself for a walk, she has always chosen to return, so there is no sense of ownership, just friendship…and responsibility.

In truth, I own no life but my own. Neither the fish nor the dog belong to me… they belong to themselves; they are simply in my care and it is my responsibility to ensure their wellbeing. I have children… created within my body and brought into life…yet although they are ‘my’ children, they too belong only to themselves. The ‘ownership’ here is not about possession, but denotes a duty and, more importantly, a privileged responsibility to the lives that pass into our care.

It is a strange thing, when you think about it, that we use terms of possession when we speak of those we love; the highest form of love is selfless and every day we see examples of people giving, not seeking to possess, simply because they care. Such a ‘duty’ is not an onerous task, but a joy.

There is only one life we can truly call our own, yet we do not always lavish the care upon ourselves that we would on a pet. We let things slide that would ring alarm bells with an animal in our care. We may pay less attention to our own true needs than we do to that of the cat or dog…or even the fish. We know the signs of stress in our pets better than we do in ourselves and move faster to help. Because we acknowledge responsibility… and because we love them.

I keep reading about how we are supposed to love ourselves first…and because of the way it is phrased, it gives the impression that we should put ourselves first, which seems an awfully selfish way to live. If, on the other hand, we looked at the way we love those lives in our care, taking responsibility for their wellbeing, perhaps ‘loving yourself’ might take on a whole new meaning.

We are responsible for all the lives in our care…including our own. While we may feed, water and excercise our bodies, we do not always nourish or care for our minds as well as we could…and many pay even less attention to spiritual needs.

Today I bought six lives for the price of a single capuccino and was immediately reminded of their fragility and impermanence. We have a precious and priceless gift, and too often we let it fade into grey. There are no ‘two for the price of one’ offers on life…we owe it to ourselves to live the one we have as fully and as vividly as we can.