Interlude ~ Hidden Avebury?

There was a lot we would have liked to have done and seen as we paid our flying visit to Avebury that day. We could have visited all the places we had planned for our ‘Hidden Avebury’ workshop weekend, postposed now until next year due to the COVID crisis, but some things, like the almost forgotten Devil’s Den dolmen, would have to wait for a time when we had no appointment to keep at the end of the afternoon.

So, heading… as we always seem to do, somehow… in completely the opposite direction from our final destination of the day, we left Avebury’s circle of stones in a northerly direction. It was a deliberate choice. It would allow us a quick glimpse of Windmill Hill, the largest causewayed enclosure in Britain, as far as we now know. There is nothing spectacular to see there on the surface, so it is often ignored, and yet our ancestors settled here almost six thousand years ago, leaving behind them traces of their lives etched into the landscape, their bones, their pottery… and so many questions about how the site was used.

We had a chance too to pay our respects too to the local White Horse on Hackpen Hill, just below the five-thousand year old Ridgeway, the track that once crossed much of the country, coast to coast, lined and attended by sacred and significant sites. This White Horse, though, is just a ‘foal’, with the story going that it was cut to celebrate the coronation of Queen Victoria. The horse looked particularly good on this visit, gleaming white, having been scoured single-handedly by John Wain earlier this year…which seems a  perfect way to spend virus-imposed isolation time.

From there we went hunting a small statue. Time was pressing, ancient churches that we would dearly love to explore were closed, parking was awkward… so, this time, the little statue remained undisturbed. It is an old one, dating back to Roman times and having, strictly speaking, perhaps no real place guarding the entrance to a Christian Church. For a long time the damaged statue was thought to be a representation, though, of St Christopher. When its Roman origin was finally realised, it was thought to be Aesculapius, the healer. These days it is recognised as a representation of the genius loci.

In ancient Rome, the genius loci was a protective spirit… an active guardian of a place and the districts of Rome itself took their presence into account at the city’s building. These days, we tend to use the term ‘genius loci’ to speak more about the abstract spirit of a place… though perhaps the two are not nor need not be disconnected.

There is a scientific argument that says the brain chooses what it allows us to see. In an era of data-based evidence and psychological manipulation, we are probably far more likely to  be at ease with an abstract idea of spirit than we are the vision of some otherworldly guardian. In just the same way, the old visionary and fairy encounters seem to have shifted to alien beings and interplanetary forms, these being far more acceptable to the mind of modern man, on the whole.

It is not just places that hide their true depth and essence. For fear of dismissal, hurt or ridicule, many people hide their true selves, their beliefs and their experiences behind a façade of sterner stuff. Sometimes, like the little church we could not find, it is simply not the right time to reveal all… the old story about casting pearls before swine still holds true. But sometimes you just need to take a chance… just as we did by meandering down unmapped country lanes. You may not find the thing you thought you were looking for… but then again, you just might end up somewhere totally unexpected and find treasure. Or, at the very least,  something well worth waiting for…

Interlude ~ Auld Aquaintance

We were back at Avebury, after a longer absence than we would have chosen. Without the pandemic, there would have been recce trips and a workshop here already this year… and no sense of sadness as I drove past the lay-by where we would have parked to walk up to West Kennet. I would have like to have made the short climb to the ancient long barrow, a place that holds both welcome and memory, but there was no way even that little slope would have been within my capabilities.

We stopped instead beside the great prehistoric mound of Silbury Hill. Coming or going, we pay our respects to the ‘largest prehistoric, man-made mound in Europe’… thinking yet again how futile such words are to convey the sheer presence and majesty of this gravid earth.

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If, as one legend avers, King Sil is buried within the mound upon his horse, then no trace of man nor beast has ever been found. But think of Nut, the sky goddess of ancient Egypt, who swallowed the sun every night and gave birth to it each dawn and perhaps ‘King Sil’ takes on a different guise.

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In the Egyptian myths, the sun travels through the underworld at night, plagues and attacked by the great serpent, Apep. Not so very different, perhaps from the mound at Avebury, surrounded by the mirror-pool of waters that reflect the heavens and through which a swallowed king would have to pass.

Why is it that we can attribute such sophistication to the ancients of other cultures and yet deny it to our own? If we wrote down no tales, we remembered them… passing them from mouth to ear, heart to heart, throughout the millennia. Perhaps that is a more sacred way of passing on the innermost stories of creation than simply committing them to paper or papyrus. To hold something so close to your heart that you never let it go… or be befouled, damaged or broken. And yet, such a holding is only as strong as its holder… and all men return to dust in their day.

Leaving Silbury, we headed along the Avenue, parking the car so we could get out and wander amongst the stones for a little while.  We greeted them as old friends… long missed, it seems, since our last visit.  And yet, they were still so familiar that we knew their names and faces… could now pinpoint where, right across the country, the same shapes have been chosen for stones that still somehow manage to remain wholly unique to each site.

And yet, there is a similarity in the shape and faces of the stones… of that we now have no doubt at all. We have seen it from the Western Isles to Cornwall… and everywhere in between. Although it is now lost to us, there is a meaning and language in the shapes the Old Ones chose for their stones… and in the faces that they show to us.

We walked, naming the stones, greeting them, untiI had to turn back.  It wasn’t far…and nowhere near as far as I would have liked… but it was good to be back amongst the stones at all. From here we could clearly see Falkner’s Circle, a ‘lost’ circle that we had sought for some years earlier and found, discretely hiding in a hedge. There was no hiding today and the stone was clearly visible, even from this distance, illuminated as if from within.

With the Red Lion subject to virus restrictions and the beautiful old Waggon and Horses at  Beckhampton still closed by the pandemic, we were pretty much obliged to wander into the centre of the village and the main circle, in search of facilities and so I could catch my breath.

There was the familiar thrill as we ‘breached’ the energies around the circle… never quite the ‘psychic shock’ of that first time, but you feel it every time as you drive or walk into the presence of the great circle of stones. It is always like stepping into your place within an ancient and unending dance to which your soul knows the music… and as if you have never left your place at all… as if the time spent away from the dancing life within the stones is of little relevance. It is a strange place… but it heals the crazed stress-cracks in the soul like few others. Just to be there was enough.

Interlude ~ Horse Whispers

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White Horse of Uffington

It seems such a long time ago that I wrote  about our not being able to leave for the Scottish weekend, right at the last minute. Stuart hopped on a train and came down here instead. While the Pictish weekend went ahead without us in the far north, we marked time and twiddled our thumbs, waiting for scans and answers. Now, the problem was that this was not only supposed to be a workshop weekend, it was also supposed to be our second and, as it turned out,  wholly unsuccessful attempt to get a holiday of some sort this year… albeit just a few days on the road.  So when even that was denied us, I was determined that we should do something with what time we had to make our ‘holiday’ memorable.

We had already driven out to Rollright a couple of days earlier. It had taken a lot out of me, but as I had managed, I reckoned I could manage a bit further too. We had missed the June workshop thanks to Covid, during which we were supposed to be exploring some of the lesser-known features of the great megalithic circle and sites around Avebury. It is a place we love and, really, is not too far away from my home.

Marlborough White Horse
Marlborough

So, off we set… heading past the White Horse at Uffington, the enigmatic figure cut thousands of years earlier into a strangely shaped ‘horse’ of debatably draconine ancestry. It is the eldest of all the White Horses… first cut, three feet deep and back-filled with chalk, at least three thousand years ago. And yet, like so many other ‘earth-mystery sites’ worldwide, it is only clearly visible from the air…

Like the Nazca lines, there are far too many questions for reasonable answers at this place… but it is a site that is also very special to us, having been part of our story since we, all unknowingly, began our adventures here, one misty, magical morning. So touching base, even if only a nod and a wave on the way past, always feels good.

As we drove on, heading into Wiltshire, we looked out for other White Horses that we would pass. None of the other visible White Horses seem to share the antiquity of The White Horse. Most were cut within the last three centuries to honour people and events of national importance.

Cherhill White Horse
Cherhill

I find it quite telling that the ancient image of the White Horse… who may represent Epona, the Horse Goddess or the Dragon energies that run through the land… should be that echoed to make  celebratory mark. How deep do these symbols run in our blood? Does their true meaning linger at some subconscious level, deep beyond the logic of normal mentation? And, if they are speaking to us across millennia… just what are they whispering to us?

Looking at the history of the currently visible White Horses, they all seem to share a common trait in that they were all set up by men, yet if they hark back to Epona, they would represent a goddess, a female and nurturing divinity that would be anathema within the later Christian landscape. Moreover, many of the later figures have a military connection and, while it is true that war bands with cavalry had a distinct advantage, I have to wonder at what point in our history violence took precedence over the nurturing of the tribe?

Uffington White Horse from Dragon Hill
Uffington White Horse from Dragon Hill

While no records remain in anything we would recognise as ‘written language’ from the time when the great White Horse of Uffington was cut, we do have hints and history that have been passed down via the folk record and eventually captured by the ink of the scribes. Such stories are, by that point, possibly thousands of years away from their source and will have passed through the great machine of Christianisation, where the central characters of a story… who might once have been god, fey or elemental, have been sanitised or condemned by the imposition of sainthood and the pointed finger of demonic accusation.

There is so much to see and learn, so much to wonder about and ponder, even on the simplest of drives from ‘here’ to ‘there’.  No matter where we live in the world, or for how many centuries mankind has left his footprints in the dust upon which we walk, the earth beneath our feet is ancient and full of stories ready to be explored.

We cannot go far without a sense of wonder… so far it has carried us across thousands of years of human evolution and now outwards towards the stars. Perhaps that is the what the ancient White Horse whispers to the winds…

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Hackpen Hill

Keeping faith?

On Thursday, I will finally see the oncologist to discuss what, if any, steps can be taken to address the rebellious cells currently busy trying to kill me. The appointment is, quite clearly, for me alone. Like so many others in this situation, since the advent of COVID, I am allowed no-one with me to listen, prompt, remember, or check what I am hearing. On Mary Smith’s advice, I will attempt to record the meeting if I can get permission to do so. Because my life, both in terms of quality and quantity, now literally depends upon what I hear, remember and understand. And there is every possibility that won’t be much.

Masks make hearing difficult for those of us who have to lip read part of the time. Learning how little time you may have, what procedures you may have to undergo (and because of fluid build-up around the heart, there is already a very unpleasant list before we even get to the chemotherapy bit)… it may be sufficiently upsetting to stop you taking things in and processing them. You cannot see the face of those who sit in judgement nor can they see yours.

How can either of you know the other at this stage, without the subtle visual clues and cues from which we as humans read so much? We are not designed to read too much from a flick of an eye… we need micro-expressions, warmth, twitches and connection before real understanding of each other can begin to happen.

A stranger, no matter how kind, can have no idea what manner of person I am, what life I have lived or crises I have faced. Nor have I any idea who they are. They do not know and… being unable to see my face… cannot judge… how much I wish to hear. I do not know, because I cannot see and, needing to lipread a bit too, cannot always hear, what they are saying… and, crucially, how much they are not.

Human beings learn so much about and from each other simply by looking in each other’s faces. We are constantly reading how deep a smile might reach… seeing beyond it to fear or hope… adjusting our responses to their needs

I do not want to be told that I might live several months if they are looking at conditions they honestly believe likely to see me off in a matter of weeks. I want the truth… have told them so… but they will only give as much of the truth as they think I can handle. Masked, alone and unsupported, judged… and possibly condemned… all at that first unfair and uneven encounter.

And I am not happy about that.

At what point did we cede our right to truth to the decision of others? To decide how much of our own story we are capable of handling? By what right do others withhold essential information about how we can live our lives… when it matters to them not at all and to us absolutely?

I had the same battle when my late partner went through cancer, and realised, after a year of surgical hell, that ‘clear’ to the surgeons simply meant ‘hadn’t changed much’… where my partner and I thought, ridiculously, that twenty-seven operations had actually removed or at least shrunk the tumour. I had the same battle with staff when my son was in the coma and ‘stable’ became a contentious word that could mean anything from ‘we almost lost him then’ to ‘he’s actually moving his eyes voluntarily!’.

At some point, we have to remember that we have the right to ask questions… and to hear the answers, whether we like them or not. Orwell’s vision of ‘Big Brother’ is not that of some kindly protector trying its best to shield the fragile child from harsh realities, but a construct designed to reduce the capacity for personal thought and responsibility in humans.

Thinking about the way we are constantly being drip-fed information at rates other people judge sufficient for our needs,  and branded with the stigma and ridicule of ‘denier’, ‘conspiracy theorist’ or worse should we question what we are told, my only regret in not being around for too much longer will be that I won’t be here to teach my granddaughters how to question what they are told.

But I taught my sons… perhaps that will be enough.

 

Great expectations…

It had been a while. A long while, actually. And… if the bird would like to cover its ears… I was really fancying roast chicken. I don’t usually cook much for me, you see. I have cooked at my son’s house pretty much every day for the past decade or so anyway, so coming home to roast a chicken for one doesn’t really cut it.

The dog, of course, would disagree. In her eyes, I am not roasting a chicken ‘just for me’… it is mainly for her, but I might get leftovers. And, on the odd occasion that she has been ill, that has happened. This time it is me who is unwell and I fancied roast chicken.

So, I duly bought and roasted, smelling the enticing aroma as it filled the kitchen. Simply cooked with a little olive oil, seasoning and herbs… nothing fancy. A few potatoes and some carrots… my appetite is not what it should be, so why overface it? Even though the thought of making a nice , fluffy, Yorkshire pudding was tempting. It isn’t as if I am on a diet or anything. On the contrary… having eaten everything I have fancied and still lost fourteen pounds this week, I can not only afford to indulge, I am almost duty-bound to do so.

With apologies and profound gratitude to the bird on my plate, I have to say it looked wonderful. Smelled wonderful… and tasted like the contents of a chemical waste plant. About the same as pretty much everything else I have tried to eat this week. I was devastated. I had just so fancied a bit of chicken…

I expect it is the pills. I’m told it will get worse if I start chemotherapy. Maybe I should have made a curry.

But there was nothing wrong with the chicken… except, I’ll admit, from the chicken’s personal perspective, with which I can currently empathise. The expectation caused the disappointment. Yet why, after a week of such disappointments, should I have expected anything else?

Hope they say springs eternal… possibly, though, not from a roast chicken breast… but in more general terms at least. Maybe that is the problem? That while there is the possibility for things to go in a different direction from the one we expect, we always lean towards the more hopeful sde, rather than accepting that actually, we might not get the change we would prefer?

But maybe it is exactly those limitations that we need in order to truly appreciate what we have?  Did I, whilst volubly bemoaning the morphine-tainted chicken, once think to be grateful I was here and able to moan that the fowl tasted foul? That I was not only here to eat the stuff, but well enough to have bought it and cooked it myself too? And still had the breath, and the luxury of choice, with which to complain about the taste?

Even in the relatively wealthy Western society in which I live, there is poverty. There have been times in my life when any food at all would have been good… so to rail against how a bird tastes to me, when the dog and my friend both thoroughly enjoyed it, seems churlish… and yet the reasoning for that was all too easily forgotten.

It is only ever expectations that disappoint. And they are our own, painted on consciousness by hope and habit, perhaps, but constructed nonetheless out of the chimaera of a future yet to come into existence.

There is nothing wrong with hope… nothing at all. It is the carrot that draws us forward to attempt the impossible and without it, the world and our lives would be a very much poorer and bleaker place. But there is always another side to the blade… and we have to remember that the potential for disappointment goes hand in hand with the expectations raised by hope.

Even so, I really hope the chicken works better cold in a  sandwich…

Out with the Old?

It is not my intention to talk non-stop about my current health problems. But, even just a few days into what promises to be a rather long haul, so many things have been brought to my attention that I feel need to be highlighted. I’ve already mentioned the hospital food, albeit briefly compared to what could have been said, but that… although nowhere near as minor as it might seem… is as nothing compared to some of the other concerns that were raised.

Let me say straight away that I am not blaming the grossly overworked nurses; the care from individual to individual was, in most cases, superb. I am questioning a shift in our attitude as a society that allows unnerving changes in the way we deal with older and more vulnerable people.

After spending time in the Rapid Response unit and then in Resuscitation, I was eventually wheeled into a private room for the night, which was most welcome. Next day, I found myself on a ward. There were several other patients whose stories I could relate, but the saddest case was the old lady in the bed opposite mine.

Scrunched up into a little ball, the old lady barely moved. She would not speak, would not eat or interact… or so it seemed. But, just after two, her husband came in… and she came to life. The two of them were as much in love as when they had first met, nearly half a century earlier. They had shared a bed for forty seven years and the separation now was almost killing them both.

He had walked into a village dance one evening, caught her eye and winked at her. She winked back… and they were both lost to a lifelong love.

We learned how close they had become when a car had ploughed around a corner, ripping into her legs…and killing their children in the pushchair. We learned how their lives had been lived for each other from that day onwards…and how very deep the love between them still ran.

It was beautiful to see them together. She, all girly, wearing the special earrings the nurses had been forbidden to remove, he, dapper and smart, dressed for a date, bullying and cajoling the girl he loves into swallowing a little water or lunch. Honestly? They glowed. Both of them.

But that brief hour together was all they had… not even that much at weekends, thanks to Covid. He hoped to take her home… we could see him making plans for holding her in that bed together… and were worried that her almost catatonic state would prevent that.

It was the care of one or two of the nursing staff that made all the difference. In particular, the ones who took the time to talk to her, treating her like a human being with hopes, emotions and memories… talking about her husband, the cruise they had shared, the things they had done and life they had built. It was all it took to turn the silent, closed-in mannequin into a shyly proud bride, flashing a cheeky eye at her love.

Is there always time for this on our wards? No, of course not… but there should be. Perhaps with fewer managerial tiers and less red tape there would be more funding for sleeves-rolled-up nursing staff with time to help heal a patient through loving and personal care.

On Tuesday, I was told there was nothing they could do for me. That it would be a case of making me comfortable… no more. I could not speak to my family or see them. Could not comfort them. I could not be held. I could not cry on any shoulder or rail against the verdict. A lonely and impersonal death… separated from all I love…that was hard to deal with. I can’t even begin to imagine how it felt for that poor old lady.

I am so grateful that verdict seems to have changed for me at least, but this is the reality Covid is imposing in our hospitals. At a time when warmth, humanity and compassion are most needed, restrictions are pushing us further apart, and when hopelessness is added to despair, there can seem little left to live for. It does not seem right that policy is doing this to our oldest and most vulnerable people at their most vulnerable moments.

It is from our elders that we learn… have always learned. It is from them we see how to treat others, how to cherish life and love and laughter, how to value toil and continuation and courage. It was, I believe, Gandhi who said that ‘the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members’. If that small cross-section of people is representative, I can only say that if we were to have been measured we would have been found wanting.

For many, especially older patients, technology is a mystery to be accessed only with the help of those visitors who are now banned. With no ability to leave the ward, thanks to Covid, no books or even television screens, there is nothing to do except sit and wither away. I felt it myself and I am lucky. I understand how to use technology. My granddaughters waved to me over the telephone, my email and messages were seldom quiet and although there would be no hugs, the voices I love were never more than a call away.

Surely, after all our older generations have done… the least we can do is warm their final days with a little love and compassion?

In brief…

As the majority of our friends and readers will now know, I was rushed into hospital last week in a very bad way. I would like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who has sent good wishes through all the various social media platforms, through the comments, by email, snail mail, text and phone. And to the friends wh have kept me company across the miles with tales of normality and laughter.

I am sorry if it has taken a while to respond to everyone individually, I am really rather unwell and my energy levels are a tad variable.

At a time when the Covid restrictions mean that even close family cannot visit, it has meant a very great deal to be touched by so much love, friendship and kindness. Trying to process the changes that serious illness has and will impose upon us as individuals and as families is always difficult. Just now, when we cannot even see our nearest and dearest, cannot give each other a hug, hold a hand… or even discuss the practicalities face to face, it is particularly harrowing. The feeling of utter isolation is terrible, and the care shown by family and friends, albeit remotely, matters more than ever.

This week has been a journey from looking death right in the eye as I failed to breathe at all, through relief as litres of fluid were drained from around my heart, to a sliver of hope.  I have had a series of tests and procedures, and some exceedingly unpleasant biopsies, for which I still await the definitive results. One thing that is clear, however, is that I do have a lung collapsed by cancer.

They let me come home last night, until the results are in. The dog thinks it is hilarious as I too am now being kept on a short leash, attached by tubes to the oxygen extractor occupying way too much of my living room and not letting me out the front door.

I am being well looked after, the small dog seems glad to have me home. I am being well fed and cared for now I am home… and all I need right now are answers.

Thank you to everyone who has held my hand through this first rather shocking stage of the journey. Especially my friend, Mary Smith, with whom I have a date in spring at Cairn Holy when hopefully both of us will be in a rather better state than we are now.

Field of dreams..?

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Long, long ago, when the world was still young and I was younger still, I moved into a house with a garden. It wasn’t much of a garden, long-deserted, overgrown and gone to seed, but my mind painted it in rainbows. Since getting married, we had lived in a flat and a ‘street house’ that opened straight onto the pavement. My only forays into gardening had been herbs on the kitchen windowsill. It was the first time I’d had a garden of my very own, though there had usually been one at my parent’s home and my grandparents’ long-established gardens were places of magic and mystery.

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It is odd to think that although I remember every home I have lived in very well, as well as those of my grandparents,  I remember the gardens better. I have but the vaguest of memories of my father’s family home. We probably did not visit all that often as my father was stationed in Kent where we lived in married quarters and I cannot have seen Longfield after I was about three years old. I recall the tiles on the floor of the porch, the billiard table in the cellars, and being helped to slide down the great oak bannister that framed the huge staircase in the hall. Outside, though, my mind still paints the shadows cast by the rhododendrons, the slopes that ran down the hillside into the woodland and the wide expanse of the croquet lawn below the terrace.

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I can still see the garden of the married quarters where we lived in Maidstone until I was three and  where I searched for an absconding tortoise. I could sketch, plant by plant, the gardens of my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents. It was here that I first began to learn the names of plants as a child and had my first lessons in herb-lore. I learned which were poisonous, which could be eaten or used in the kitchen or for medicinal purposes, and best of all, some of the folk traditions that went with the plants.

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When I finally had a garden of my own, I remember standing outside the back door one winter morning and looking at the mess we had acquired. I had no gardening tools other than a trowel, no plants and no money. All I had was a dream of life and colour.

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I took the kitchen shears to the vast meadow that had once been a lawn and to the overgrown privet hedge twice as tall as me. It took me days to cut the stuff back. Then I started on what had once been flower-beds, removing the obvious weeds, softening the hard, squared corners and trying to identify what might be in there that was worth saving. Dead wood was removed from old roses, unidentified shrubs pruned and woody stems that still bore traces of life cleared of bindweed. By the time I had it tidy, the snow was falling… and I was in love.

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My love affair with plants blossomed through the dark winter days as I read every gardening book I could get my hands on, delved deeper into herb-lore and planned impossibly expensive planting schemes in my mind. In reality, our meagre budget would not run to plants, so I set about nurturing cuttings, raising seedlings and collecting spare plants from everyone I knew. Even so, the huge empty beds were going to look bare for a long time to come.

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As winter deepened and turned the corner into spring, I began to learn the most valuable lesson of gardening…patience.

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With the winter rain and snow, Nature watered the mutilated garden well. The threadbare hedge I had hacked put out new leaves, filling the bare patches and becoming a dense, dark backdrop against which my few flowers would glow. As the seasons turned, the lawn became a vivid green starred with daisies and crocus. Self seeded lupins, dug up from the old railway line, were steadily filling out and patches of pretty ‘weeds’ I had encouraged to grow, like yarrow and loosestrife, were showing promise. I planted what I had acquired and waited.

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Spring brought clumps of snowdrops and aconite, followed by daffodils and tulips. They had been hidden, invisible beneath the soil and were a beautiful surprise. I recognised the poisonous but beautiful leaves of monkshood. The scarlet leaves that had prompted me to leave an untidy clump of plants alone in winter revealed themselves as geraniums. ‘Dead’ roses and an ancient hydrangea recovered and bloomed and a drift of lily of the valley filled the air with fragrance and memory. By midsummer, the dismal mud-patch had become a riot of life and colour, buzzing with bees and a paradise for butterflies. It had done most of it itself, in spite of the efforts of the novice gardener. All I had done was the groundwork.

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I learned a lot from that garden and the lessons have stayed with me, rooting themselves and flowering, bearing fruit that I have plucked and tasted in many areas of my life. The perfect visions I had created in my mind were surpassed by the hand of Nature when she was allowed free rein. But, no matter what had been hidden in that garden, it would not have thrived, nor would I have been able to see it, had I not cut back all the dead and dying material, letting in the light.

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I had worried about the empty beds; I did not realise that the seeds of beauty had been sown long ago and were silently waiting to bloom. So often we think we must strive to achieve something, only to find it is already there, dormant within us, waiting only for our care and attention to grow.

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In the movie, Field of Dreams, there is a phrase oft-misquoted as ‘build it, and they will come.’ I have read the sentiment before, if not the exact words, in Dion Fortune’s book, Moon Magic, when ‘Lilith’ speaks of building the temple in order for it to be indwelt by the gods. No sacred space, be it temple, church or our own being, is truly alive until it is a home for something more than its physical form, no matter how beautiful. No gardener creates the beauty of a flower. We can only clear and create a space, enabling the conditions in which it can grow and bloom.

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Where I now live, I have a small space I laughingly call a garden. I have planned the garden I would like to make, right down to the last detail… knowing it will probably never be anything other than a dream. For now, there are only a handful of rescued plants, no flower beds to speak of and a threadbare patch of grass that cannot be called a lawn. I doggedly exercise a gardener’s patience, waiting to see ‘what happens next’, trusting that when the time is right, the seed of purpose will grow and reveal itself.

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Even so, there is beauty. I need not lift a finger to see the seasons turn, the light change hour by hour or the stars illuminate the night. I need not dig and toil to create what is surpassed by every blossoming dawn. I need only watch to see the birds and insects at work, the dew scatter diamonds on the grass or the small dog fill the space with joy. Dreams are wonderful things, but you have to choose to make them happen, and you have to work to bring them into being. And sometimes, we work so hard chasing dreams that we forget to see the beauty of what is already there.

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Deportment for the soul

Image by ADiamondFellFromTheSky
Image by ADiamondFellFromTheSky

He passed me the disc, about the size of a small dinner plate and quite heavy. My hands were full of things needing to go through to the kitchen. There was only one thing for it, I placed the disc on my head and walked through that way, thinking how the lessons learned when we are younger than we are today still have value and inordinately pleased with myself that I could still do it without effort..

My mother used to tell me about good posture when I was small and it was fun trying to walk around with piles of books balanced on my head. We had to do the same at dance class. We had it in school and in the gym too back then. For my mother, it was about deportment; the way a lady carries the body. For my teachers, the idea was that by developing balance we would be able better able to perform the movements that were required of us with grace and poise. Nowadays, it is simply about good posture and, hunched over a keyboard far too much of the time, I am grateful for those early lessons and still prefer a straight back.

Good posture stays with you. It is not something that you lose like the beauty of dewy skin or the lustre of youthful hair. Something of it remains. Even my great grandmother, her spine bent under the weight of almost ten decades, still held herself well. Those we deem elegant seem to have something in their carriage that stays noticeable for the rest of their lives too, even when the years have erased all outward sign of youth.

When I was fifteen, my grandfather gave me a copy of Dion Fortune’s Moon Magic. There is much to be learned from the psychological journey of the two protagonists and it is still one of my favourite and best-thumbed books. Being young and on the verge of womanhood, however,  one small phrase took my eye that had nothing to do with the story itself. “… the body should swing and balance from the waist and that is worth more in beauty than a slender line.”  I think this is true and it gives an impression of balance and grace.

We learn very early in our lives the mechanics of sitting, standing and walking and, once learned, we seldom give them another thought until we begin to suffer the consequences of what we failed to learn to do well. Then we get back-ache and have to learn anew, starting with the core muscles, as often as not. Yet the body is designed to both respond to and create those minute shifts and adjustments that are required in order to maintain perfect equilibrium. Until it knows a poised centre of balance, it cannot create it.

Our inner balance is very similar… we learn as children our techniques of how to deal with the world and though they may be perfectly serviceable for years to come, evolving as we grow, they may also come back to haunt us as emotional aches and pains. The accumulated effects of the years gradually throw the balance even further out and it may take going back to the beginning to put things right, through therapy or through the self examination we do when we seek to understand why. It is only in doing so that we begin to see the repetitive scenarios and reactions that have been there all along, but which themselves are no more than a symptom of something we learned awry  early in life. Once we find the starting point, we can begin too to straighten things out.

The spiritual life is little different. Spirituality does not necessarily mean religion, although religious faith should mean spirituality. The spiritual life is that very personal relationship we may each seek with whatever greater reality we come to know. We have all met those people who seem to radiate joy, no matter how hard their lives may be, no matter their age… they have a glowing beauty for which there seems no reason and they find a beauty in life that may seem to pass us by.  We may ask ourselves why here too. We absorb what we are taught as children and it serves us as children. As we grow, so do our thoughts and beliefs change and grow with us. There usually comes a point where we may feel spiritually off balance and start to examine those deep-seated beliefs, tracing them to back to their beginnings. We may find that the spiritual ‘muscles’ were never fully flexed, that we simply accepted what we were given because it worked for us then, but now the core needs some work and the source  does not seem to show us the Source we feel may be there.

Where can we look to find the answers to those questions we begin to ask, to find that poise and grace that comes from spiritual equilibrium? We need only look within. The questions we ask are unique to every one of us, the answers we seek are part of us all. It matters little if we give what we find there a Name and a Story… it is the essence of what lies at the heart of us that straightens the spiritual spine and brings back the balance.