Caged butterlies

Berthe Morisot 1875

Berthe Morisot 1875

I love antique fans… there is something about them that has always fascinated me. I remember vividly standing in tears at Harewood House at an exhibition many years ago. I don’t quite know what it is… their delicacy and craftsmanship, the artistry in miniature, their ephemeral fragility… or perhaps it is the stories that they could tell. They were given as gifts, symbols of love and affection, hid shy smiles and coquettish glances, indeed there was a whole, discrete language that could be spoken in silence by the hand that held the fan.

I used to collect them. It was one of those things I had always promised myself when I could afford to do so. The delicate lace and gauze, painted satin and  feathers of the Belle Époque were my favourite, though the little brisé fan that belonged to my great-grandmother was the most precious. They went long ago, when times were tough, but  it was a privilege to be their custodian for a while.

Amongst my dreams one night I dreamed of a fan. I was being shown how it was to be restored. The whole ‘lesson’ was about perception, and it went on for what seemed like half the night.  In this particular passage though there was a broken fan. The gauze had split and frayed through mishandling, the sticks were  damaged and broken, the guards detached. Yet it had been a lovely thing of mother of pearl and spangled silk, painted with tiny creatures and nasturtiums… School colours and not unlike a fan I once loved.

James Tossot 1885

James Tissot 1885

The restorer showed me how to fix the guards… how to stiffen the leaf, backing it with  fine fabric to strengthen the damaged bits… how to mend the sticks and replace the rivet that held them together. I remembered how to tie the wrist ribbons. And when we had finished it looked beautiful, almost as good as new…

Except, it didn’t feel right, somehow, it was too heavy, unbalanced and the extra fabric meant it could no longer fold… certainly it could no longer be opened and closed with one graceful flick to make a conversational point. Although the body of the fan was repaired, it had lost something. It was no longer fit for the hands of coy damsels or elegant matrons. It had been patched and mended so skilfully to preserve its outward appearance that it was no longer fit for purpose. It had lost its soul.

Next I was shown how to back the fan, sewing each stick in place, supported and unfurled in all its beauty so it could be framed in glass to protect it for the future. No longer would it be handled or used, it would lay against no other cheek to say I love you  in that secret language… indeed… we had to wear white gloves so as not to contaminate it with our nasty, sweaty hands… the same that gave the beautiful patina to sticks of ivory and wood.

Alexandre Roslin 1768

Alexandre Roslin 1768

The sticks, sewn into place, could no longer flex and move, there was only stiffness where there should have been fluid movement. The butterfly was caged, pinned in a frame, a lifeless beauty, preserved for posterity in all its glory… but inanimate, soulless…. Its very nature changed by its preservation. Yet collectors of beauty would pay highly for the framed fan, seeing only the artistry, not the cage.

The waking mind sees further than the dream… or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the waking mind is able to unpick what the dreaming mind already knows and bring it into consciousness. I do not believe that there are regimented meanings to the content of dreams, although some of the images we encounter are so deeply rooted in human consciousness that their symbolism is readily apparent. Dreams are personal and it is up to us to be the key that unlocks the doorways into our subconscious that they offer.

I have mulled over this one, on and off, for a long time and there are so many layers of possible meaning that unveil themselves that, as with most dreams, there is no single, clear-cut answer. It is possible that all those layers of meaning are right… each on their own level. The mind is a fabulously creative thing.

Fans have always seemed like precious, if ephemeral things to me. Perhaps, given that I was already caring for an injured son, it was a lesson in the care and diligence it would need to ‘mend’ him… and a reminder that no matter how carefully we worked, the end result would be different, though perhaps even more valuable, than where we began.

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Maybe the dream was telling me that we have to let go of the past? That attempting to preserve what is beyond repair will only render something stiff and soulless, outwardly attractive, perhaps, but no longer useful. Most of us cling to outworn behaviours, habits become futile and even relationships that have long since failed.

The battle for social acceptability through conformity might be epitomised by the broken fan too. How many of us choose by default or are forced into the roles and boxes that society deems acceptable, when we yearn for a different life, only to find our spirits starved of colour and movement, sliding gradually into an old age of stiff regret?

Caged butterflies.

Or was it, like the rest of the dreams that night, simply another lesson in perception? That beyond the outer form, whether beautiful or tatterdemalion, all things have a purpose. To try to force someone into serving a purpose for which they were not destined, is to rob them of their chance to fly… and perhaps this applies especially to oneself. To deny the inner purpose of our being is to deny our Selves and leads to a lifeless life.

Sometimes, to escape the cage and find our true wings, we have to follow our dreams.

Game birds?

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They’ve been tormenting me for weeks. Every morning as I drive to work, the buzzards line up on fence and hedgerow along a three mile stretch of the A41. It is a stretch of road where there are few places to legally or safely stop and I know every one of them. The buzzards appear to do so too. “Buzzards as big as bears”, wrote Stuart after they had attended our journey to Glastonbury a few weeks ago… and they appear to be when they are looking at you as you drive past, frustrated by the traffic and unable to stop.

Every day they have been sitting where they knew I could stop and grab a photograph… except on the days when I had the camera beside me. On those days, they infallibly choose to park themselves at spots where stopping is impossible. The herons have been doing it too. So have the kites. Only the robins have been their usual obliging selves. Until yesterday.

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The buzzard flew in just as I was approaching the one place to stop. On any other morning, I would have been obliged to sail on past and sigh…but the schools are closed for half term and the roads were quiet enough for a bit of sneaky manoeuvring. The buzzard did not seem too pleased about having lost a round in our ongoing game. Usually, they win every time. I still missed the heron a mile down the road… Then, lo and behold, a couple of hours later, I got a red kite too!

The thing is, you don’t really get a sense of the size on a photo. These were snapped rapidly from relatively close quarters and they look as if they could be pigeon-sized…but they are huge. The buzzard looks bigger and bulkier… but although a full-grown adult will weigh about the same, the red kite is by far the bigger bird with a wingspan around as wide as I am tall.

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The other part of the game is that you will never see them if you are looking for them, even when you know their regular haunts. Camera or not, even if you only set out with the intention of keeping your eye open for buzzards, the world is a buzzard-free zone.

The kites are usually soaring overhead, at least down here in the south, but buzzards could be as rare as unicorns if you are scanning the sky and hedgerows for them. They only appear when they choose. Which makes every sighting a gift. It is always a reminder too that some things cannot be expected, only accepted gratefully when they fly into your life.

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Coming of age

"The Love of Souls" -- 1900, by Jean Delville
“The Love of Souls” — 1900, by Jean Delville

I have had my fair share of love letters in my time.  Possibly more than my fair share, not that I would complain. There is something timeless and special about the written word. The first, very first, was a scribbled note on the back of a photo from a young man named Neil. I still have it. He was away on a long holiday with his parents… we were children, no more than that. The first real love letter I ever received was way back too. His name was Malcolm. He was blonde and gorgeous, looking rather like a very young Michael York. Malcolm was a couple of years older than me, very intelligent and we had met and fallen head over heels the way young things do.

It was the first time I had met a boy who looked beyond the surface to the mind. Back then, a time of legs, gypsy blouses and hot pants, few looked beyond, shall we say, the salient points of anatomy. To be able to actually talk with a young man about literature, go to art galleries together, the theatre… it was, for me, a joyous awakening. I could allow myself to be me.

It was also, for a teenager, a hugely romantic affair as we were apart much of the time while he was away at boarding school. Hence the letter. We had spent the summer together, but when September came he was riven from my arms. Yes, I know, I’m sorry… it felt that melodramatic at the time. We were very young. Star crossed lovers….

It wasn’t as bad as it seemed. I lived in Leeds, a city with a brilliant transport network. His school was in the little village of Drax, near Selby… so half an hour into town, twenty minutes by train, ten minutes by bus… then two and a half miles on foot, generally in very high heels… and we could meet. It wasn’t allowed… which, looking back, made it far more exciting. I was smuggled into the stately house on more than one occasion by Malcolm and his friends. Or we met in the village and wandered the woods hand in hand. Terribly romantic.

That couldn’t happen every week and in between there were letters. Almost daily. I will never forget the first. It had come through the door as I left for school, I had been itching to read it, but there were other girls with me until break time and I wanted to curl up ‘with’ him alone. In a corner of the form room, when everyone had left for break I opened the envelope and began to read.

No-one had ever sent me Shakespeare before! Imagine trembling fingers and maidenly heart all aflutter! I can feel the echo of it now…. even now…after all these years.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…

It didn’t last, of course, in spite of a first ring offered, in true romantic fashion, on one knee. We grew up. But it had left me with many things learned from our time together, including a love of Shakespeare and huge tracts of his work to ponder that I can still quote by heart. Everything leaves its legacy with us and it is up to us to ensure that what remains are not scars but gifts. Malcolm allowed a young girl to see beyond her own unconfident and fragile exterior and begin to explore the possibilities of mind and of simply becoming herself. It was a wake-up call.

They come in many forms, these moments of realisation. Some are relatively minor and mundane, others hold a deeper meaning, eliciting a choice made with heart, mind and soul. Some we respond to, others we choose to ignore. We always have a choice. To be… or not to be perhaps.

Over coffee and with several thousand miles between us, a friend and I were discussing this a while ago. She has a rare gift for finding the words to encapsulate wisdom. We were speaking of those wake up calls that come from the most profound levels of being; hers came forty years ago and she has served the Light with every atom of her being ever since, wearing a radiant mantle of joy born from that service that, I think, none can fail to see.

When that call comes there is still a choice. We can choose to accept, and in doing so be ready to release everything we have thought we are, the things by which we attempt to define ourselves… or we can turn away, retaining the security of our self-image.

“Well,” she wrote, “it will be according to the will of the human spirit. Until that human will has made the choice to join in fullness with the Will, the Divine extends the blessing and the curse of freedom.”

That expresses for me such beauty, that we have the gift of choice, the freedom to choose. Though when that call comes to a heart ready to hear, there may seem no other choice but to follow where it leads, no cost to consider, no question but to answer wordlessly. It is a moment of surrender to Love and in that moment, Silence is the perfectest herald of joy.

Fresh air

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I had an odd and unexpected encounter today. One of those chance meetings that seem small and unimportant yet which leave a mark deeper than we realise at the time. I had wandered over to the next village this afternoon… on a quest for information about a legendary tree…one with a history some two thousand years in its growing. While I did not find the one I was looking for, I found what I needed to know about its eventual demise and unlooked for replacement. Of course, Quainton is a glorious old village with wonderful buildings… and so many overhead cables that getting a decent shot is nigh on impossible. But although I had the inevitable camera in tow, that was not my primary reason for the jaunt. I just needed air. It has been a rough few days.

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I met a lovely old gentleman in the churchyard who taught me a lot about the village and showed me the oldest buildings still standing there, telling me of the medieval forge and culvert discovered under one of the houses when it was renovated. We walked through the village together and he told me of how it had changed over the years, pointing out the chaffinches, dragonflies and blue-tits as we walked, and taking time to show me the house-martin’s nests under the eaves of one of the houses. It was a slow, leisurely progress, stopping every few steps for the dog to sniff and my companion to rest. He was a very old man.

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It is a mellow place with the traditional village green bordered by cottages whose roofs are sighing with age and the George and Dragon… what else?… looks out to the ancient preaching cross and the windmill that is the most visible landmark of the village.

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It is the details that I notice though. The little marks of human hands and humour, like the variety of thatch creatures perched on the roofs, the village pump, or the small crosses carved into the stone of the church by pilgrims who have long since reached their ultimate destination. In many of the churches there are little games carved into the pillars and walls near the pews… often low enough to be out of sight of the officiant. You can imagine small hands surreptitiously working away to make these miniature game boards, whiling away the boredom, perhaps, of a service then in Latin and beyond their reach.

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I love the quirkiness of the fads and fancies that traverse the ages… from the civic pomp and ceremony of the Victorians to the graphic representations of death from earlier times.. the memento mori that may appear gruesome or shocking to our eyes today, yet which served as a reminder that in death there is neither princely estate nor poverty… it is the great leveller of all and in the beyond of their belief only the riches of virtue would hold meaning. In an era before the advent of antiseptics and antibiotics, when life was fragile and tenuous and dying not a sanitised process, perhaps they did not shrink as we do today from its presence.

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My companion and I stopped before the place that had once been the old rectory, now undergoing renovation. He admired the new capstones on the gateposts while I quietly admired a bronzed and shirtless Adonis worthy of any sculptor’s efforts.  The old man asked me suddenly what it was that made me take photographs… what was it I tried to capture? I turned my glance from the flexed and gleaming muscles to the equal and warmer beauty of the wrinkled face and the twinkling, questioning eyes. I had a fleeting vision of the thousands of pictures on my hard drive… birds and flowers, skies and buildings, trees and faces, architecture and hilltops, history and humour…and realised I had never really asked myself that question. For a moment, looking mentally at that dizzying array of images I was at a complete loss. There was, it seemed, no common thread. A mish-mash of images, a plethora of subjects… They are not all pretty pictures, not all are gentle, some are harsh, some wild, some dark… and beauty is such a subjective vision anyway…

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Then I saw it, the common denominator, winding through them all, a sparkling cord that bound them together. I chuckled as I understood the Ariadne’s thread that has always led me, I think. “Life,” I answered, still laughing at myself. “I love Life.” My companion smiled and nodded, satisfied, as if he were a teacher and I a dense pupil who had finally understood. Maybe he was right.

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Mist on the Moors

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… We met up with author and blogger Graeme Cumming and his partner for another wander over the moors. We followed a path that leads from a place of hoary legend and gory history, where a headless body was found, up onto a moor cloaked in low clouds.

We climbed to the plateau, sharing the archaeological features on the way… features mostly hidden by mist and bracken. In the distance, limestone cliffs shelter this place that is hidden in plain sight, unseen from the road that snakes through the valley.

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From here you can see the distinctive shapes of the hills that are shadowed in stone… except that we couldn’t as they were wreathed in cloud. But what you can see, if you know where to look, is a stone circle.

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Like all the circles in this area, the stones are quite small…as if their builders knew that power resides in what lies behind the symbol, not in the form itself. The land seems to centre on the circle and we have passed hours watching the dome of the sky sparkle above us.

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But we haven’t been back for two years… and here, as at Barbrook, reeds and bracken begin to encroach on the space within the stones. For the first time here, there is a sense of unease… not about the land, but an overlay, imposed and alien.

Looking at the stone named for the Fae, where their lights, it is said, can sometimes be seen dancing, we saw a possible reason why. The hollow  in the top of the stone was filled with something that I hoped, just for a second, was a mangled plum… but which I knew was nothing so acceptable.

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The fresh entrails of some small creature… no fur or feathers, no bones of sign of predator, were neatly placed in the hollowed stone. A fire pit in the centre of the circle held newly burned cinders…evidence of a Friday night sojourn beneath a full moon. It is not the first time we have found offerings here, though usually they are just flowers. Nothing so darkly disturbing as this.

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We walked the circle, weaving light about the stones and did what we could. I love these moors and the ancient places they shelter and feel a responsibility to care for them. There was no caring in what we had found. For the first time, we did not linger and I, for one, felt nothing but anger and distaste for what had been done.

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A rift in reality

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We were up at the crack of dawn, not because there had been too much wine the night before, which might have been expected during an evening in an Italian restaurant, but because the bug that had been stalking us for days had decided it would be fun to strike its victims during the celebratory meal and had knocked us off our feet.

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With no clear plan for the days ahead, we lingered over coffee, debating what we should do. The evening was taken care of… we were going to see Robin Williamson. We had missed his Sheffield performance last year, due to the dates of the Ilkley workshop, and his music was the main reason I was lingering in the north.

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We decided that it would be a good idea to check on the stone circle at Barbrook. After the work we had done there, we needed to re-visit the stones and, if nothing else, pay our respects and thank the spirit of the place for the gifts we had been given. The sun was rising steadily as we drove, climbing the long road to crest the hills above the awakening city.

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Three, they say, is the charm…and this was the third time in less than a week that we had passed through the gates onto Ramsley Moor. The morning mists wove mystery from the pale sunlight and the bejewelled land was bathed in gold. It may just have been the beauty of the morning, but the place felt different, alive and awake, as if two thousand years had dropped away and we were stepping beyond the veiling mists back into a time long gone.

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Retracing our steps along the path, just a few days after the workshop, it seemed like a different place. More of the mounds were visible,  shifting  swathes of mist opened pathways and vistas into a landscape of dreams. What we had done had undoubtedly made a vast difference here… though whether that difference was objective or just in the way we perceived the land is another matter.

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Nor does it matter. Reality is only real in as far as we perceive it to be. It is our perception that determines how we can interact with it and what our reaction to it might be. A tiny spider, if perceived as a threat, will make us afraid. If the darkness holds monsters for a child, the fear is real. If a stone circle seems awake… that too is real in its own realm. When we left the moor at last, we were smiling.

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Petals of the Rose

*

Close your eyes, relax and prepare for an inner journey, breathing deeply and easily.

You stand on a green mound by a sunlit sea. Far below you is a pristine shore of white sand. You hear the echoes as the waves wash gently, rhythmically, against the base of the cliff. The soft, rushing sound of water in the shingle whispers in the clear air of morning.

The sky is a pure blue, the colour of the Lady’s robe. Forget-me-not blue, and at its heart, as in the flower, the golden circle of the sun. The cry of a distant gull touches your heart with an unfathomable yearning, yet you are here, now, in this time and in this place. There is no other thought in your mind, only here, only this moment.

You close your eyes and with sight absent, other senses seem to come to the fore. The salt tang of the air touches your lips and tongue, warm rays caress your face, the soft thrumming of the waves seems to reach through the very earth beneath your feet, finding its way within and dancing with your breath.

The air smells fresh and clean, like the first morning of the world. You stand, simply drinking in the moment, the world around you, feeling yourself at its heart, feeling it within your body.

In the distance you can hear music playing, the delicate tones of a harp, beautiful in its simplicity, as if played by a gifted child, a wise child, one who sees clearly beyond the veils of Light.

The purity of the simple song draws you.

You listen, silent, barely daring to move.

You are afraid to move and break the spell, yet almost against your will you are drawn to the music.

Like a sleepwalker, you move towards the edge of the cliff.

There is a path, narrow and steep, tufts of sea thrift grow beside it, nodding their bright pink heads in the breeze.

You begin to descend.

The way is steep. Small stones roll at your feet, bouncing down the cliff face as you walk. Tiny fragments of rock are dislodged with every step. Your shoes, black and shiny, are covered in the white dust of chalk. You stop and sit on the flower-covered bank. The perfume of crushed thyme fills the air and you notice the tiny, lilac flowers all around you.     Removing your shoes, leaving them there, you stretch your bare feet, wiggle your toes… you feel like a child. You do not need them. You recline against the fragrant green and rest for a while, perfectly happy, as the sun warms your skin.

Still, the music haunts you. It is very soft, so soft you had almost forgotten it was there, calling you onwards. You rise and continue down the steep path. Looking up you can see the towering white cliffs, sparkling in the clear light. You think of the shores of Albion and wonder if that is where you are… or only where you think you might be? It doesn’t matter. You are here. It is all you need to know.

Beside a turn in the path, a stream bubbles crystal clear from the rock face, gathering in a small pool. In the bottom of the pool you can see many offerings, small gifts, coins, tablets etched with words. Beside the stream is an ancient cup. You fill it from the stream and drink from it. The water is cold and sweet, you can feel on your tongue, in your throat, rich and fragrant, a nourishing draught, quite unlike any water you have tasted before.

It is a draught of liquid Light. You feel it flowing through you, feel lit up from the inside as if you shine softly like a star.

You replace the cup. You feel you should leave a gift and feel in your pockets, not knowing what is there.

It must be something that holds meaning to you, something of value, not in payment, but in gratitude for what you have received.

Your fingers find an object, feeling its lines and edges. You draw it from your pocket and look at it as it rests in your hands. You had forgotten it was there… yet it has always been there. You always carry it. You smile, knowing what it represents; knowing what it means to you… then cast it in the pool. The ripples spread out across the surface, obscuring the bottom. Small streams of light wash over the edges of the pool, spilling onto the grassy bank and where they touch flowers spring up.

You continue down the path, following it to the beach following the song that seems to hold an echo of the music of the spring.

The dry sand is white and soft underfoot, sun-warmed and pleasant. A little way ahead the cliff reaches out towards the sea and you see the dark mouth of a small cave. You walk towards it, leaving footprints in the sand, following the song.

Outside the cave there seem to be large boulders, yet as you draw closer you see that they are piles of clothes. Whole suits and dresses, smocks and ball gowns, judges robes, uniforms… every imaginable type of clothing that bears the mark of position or office… like heaped skins divested by their owners.

The music takes on an insistent note and you feel you understand.

Stripping off your clothes you add them to the pile, feeling as if you have erased a deeper layer of your identity, you stand naked in the sunlight.

Once more you hear the cry of the gulls and look up.

From above a crown of petals, purest white is falling towards you, shed by the wings of the birds.

It settles about your brow, crowning you with beauty.

You walk forward towards the cave. A sheet of water veils the entrance, so clear it is almost invisible except for the captured fire of the sunlight. You stand in the shallow stream that cuts a channel like a pathway, your feet sinking slightly in the wet sand, as if you are part of the earth, the earth takes you into itself.

The music calls you onward and you walk, crowned and naked through the sparkling veil. As you do so, the water clothes you in a robe of the finest rainbow silk, the shifting hues almost impossible to follow with the eye.

The floor of the cave is strewn with polished stones, cool and smooth.

You feel light and free in the robes, unconstricted.

You move easily, noticing for the first time that with your clothing you seem to have left behind the stresses and strains of daily life, with your shoes you left the aches and pains, when you left the cliff top you left the cares and worries behind… you realise that with every step the descent into this cavern has been one of giving up the things you are so used to that you didn’t even know they were there.

You follow the music still, deeper into the darkness of the cavern, sure-footed even in the shadows.

You are at home here, in the heart of the earth.

Gradually a light fills the space, a shaft of Light that reaches through the whole height of the cliff… a straight path to the sky.

It is from this that the music emanates. Above the shaft the golden orb of the sun sits high in the heavens, a single ray directed and held within the narrow shaft, focused so bright you can barely see.

Drawn still by the whispering song, you step into the Light. All fear seems to dissolve, all pain dissipates… the weight of worlds seems to lift from you and you are as a babe again, bathed in the purity of golden Light.

Stay… stay as long as you wish… feel the shadows gilded, and the hurts healed…

And know that this Light fills you always.

Selah.

***

Petals of the Rose

Guided Journeys

Sue Vincent

A collection of guided meditations, designed to open aspects of the personality in as gentle and natural way as the petals of the rose open at the touch of the sun. Each inner journey will carry you to a haven within your own psyche from which to explore layers of your own being, learning their meaning and purpose.

From mystical and silent castles, to the song of the unicorn… each journey takes you deeper into your inner being and carries you out beyond the stars.

Stories stir the imagination, casting images upon the screen of mind that allow us to explore, in safety, aspects of our lives and being that we might otherwise avoid or overlook. There is a rich vein of experience in memory that can be mined for its treasures. One of the simplest and best ways of exploring the labyrinths of the mind is to do so through a guided journey.

Meditation and visualisation are not arcane practices in which a few indulge… we all use these tools every day, to navigate our way around the world and our lives. We ask ourselves ‘what if?’, creating imaginary scenarios before we act. We visualise the route we walk to work, or what the basket full of ingredients will look like, once assembled and cooked, on a dinner plate.

There is no mystery in meditation… but when you give time and attention to the practice, it can open the door to many mysteries… including those of our own being…

Available via Amazon.com, Amazon UK and worldwide in Paperback and for Kindle

Water babies

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Angel fish was in his accustomed place where he waits every morning, knowing that as soon as I have opened the doors for the dog, he will be fed. Ani bounds up onto the sofa and sticks her head over tank as soon as I open it to feed them. She has developed an acquisitive interest in the various fish foods. Angel fish doesn’t care, he comes up to the surface and will take his breakfast from your fingers, even with the small dog so close.

Except, he wouldn’t be having breakfast. You could see that straight away. It is an odd thing, even before you have a chance to really look, you just know when a fellow creature has died….. the lights have gone out.

I switched on the aquarium lamps, hoping I was wrong… he had seemed fine the night before, no signs at all of any problems and he was only a few years old, but sadly he was gone. Ani watched quietly as I netted the lifeless body and placed him in a suitable coffin, laying her head on her paws as if she knew.  In the few short hours since bedtime, his scales had dulled, his colours dimmed and the graceful expression of life had left him.

These things happen, especially with creatures we have bred and interbred solely for their appearance. As their keepers, we have a responsibility to learn their needs and provide for them, but sometimes even that is not enough.

My eyes flicked back to the aquarium. The big pleco was stuck to the glass round the corner of the tank, hiding amongst the plants he has chosen to call home. Not that he can hide very well when he deploys that huge sail-fin… but he thinks he can and that makes him feel safe. His plants are getting a little sparse… Mad Fish and co are experts at deforestation, even though I amuse my son, their previous keeper, by supplementing their fish food with blanched vegetables every day. They just eat those, anything else they can find… then have the plants for dessert anyway.

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I’m getting a little concerned about Mad Fish. He’s slowing down…he is a very old fish for his species but I am glad he has a shoal around him at last. They are always active, always darting around at speed… I can understand why he rests a lot these days. I still feel a little sadness for the long lonely time when he must have felt like a fish out of water on his own. Knowing little of tropical fish when I adopted the aquarium, I wouldn’t have questioned his odd behaviour had my son not mentioned that he thought he was missing his departed mate. We didn’t even know what he was, but a bit of research was an eye opener. So now he has a shoal and is no longer Mad Fish, but Grandfather Fish.

The little pleco was out and about too. He hides most of the time, which is a pity as he is beautiful. I didn’t know what he was either, apart from being a plectostomus. Now I do… after hours trawling fish sites, I found him… he’s a dwarf clown plec and that means I need to buy some bog-wood. I had no idea that some fish need the stuff to help them digest their food, but they do.

I’ve even learned how the fish can tell me when something is wrong. Just by watching their behaviour you can tell if something has disturbed them. The signals and body language are complex but not incomprehensible. Some are easy to understand… when they all swim up to the surface more than usual, or like the ‘tank canaries’, the little rummy-nosed tetras, whose brilliant red markings fade the moment the water quality changes. Even a water change is enough and I wait for their colours to glow to let me know the tank is safe.

The things I have learned since having the fish! Water parameters and temperatures, bacteria and how important it is to have plenty rather than keeping the tank too clean. Breeding habits, snail management, the growing of aquatic plants and a whole host  of things about fish health.

I knew a bit about that from looking after Nick’s pond… you learn the specific needs of the creatures you care for, but a pond is an alien realm…  no matter how clear the water, we really see only the surface and the shadowy world beneath is a different dimension. With a tank, you see the fish clearly, face to face, in a way that allows a completely different level of observation and a more intimate relationship.

As I watched Ani’s joy as she bounced through the long grass, getting drenched with the early morning dew, I was thinking about how much we can learn by just looking and paying attention. The difference between the pond and the tank is quite amazing. With the pond, I know the fish and their behaviour, but only seen from afar… apart from when they choose to come to the surface and interact with me. With the tank, there is an intimacy that allows me to see into their world. I could just look at the pretty fishes, or I can choose to see individuals, each with their own habits and character and learn to know them. Either way, as you learn to care for them, you start to care about them as individuals.

It is pretty much the same with people too. There are some, like the fish in the pond, whose lives keep them from intimacy and the only people who ever really know them are those for whom they will surface for a while, meeting them halfway. With most people, though, it is more like living with an aquarium except guard against too much intimacy. Even though we share a world, we only look, rather than take the time to see them. We may pass a hundred faces or more in a single day and never see more than that… yet every person is unique and has a character all their own, a story, a gift… something that makes them stand out from the rest of humanity as themselves.

Seeing instead of looking, learning each other’s needs and learning to look after each other so that we learn to care about each other.  Maybe it is as simple as keeping fish.

fish moth 003

Derbyshire’s Green Man…

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Beyond the forest’s leafy shade,

The hooded one, with giant’s pace

From pinnacle to pinnacle

Leap’t silently, in moonlit grace… 

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In eremitic solitude

In caverns deep to meditate…

Within, the riddle of the night,

A key that will elucidate…

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Beyond the stones, to four once nine

To where the goddess meets her mate

And heavens dance at winters turn

Bends earthwards to illuminate.

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