Anything goes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo: Steve Tanham

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

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

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

Love recalled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilfully blind…

I may sit with my back to most of the house a lot, but I still have to do the housework. I can’t ignore it, even though I can’t necessarily see it. I know it is there and, if I leave it too long before getting started on the daily chores, it is as if something is staring at the back of my neck. I can’t settle to anything productive until it is relatively tidy…  which is as tidy as living with the small dog will allow.

So, I came home from work, played with the dog and her ever-present ball while I had a coffee, then went through to make the bed. As I shook out the covers, a shiny black spider stared back from the place where I lay my head. Now, I have no problem with spiders wandering around any other room, but me and spiders do not share the bedroom if I can help it. And I have no intention of sleeping with one.

I know they lurk in dark corners and under the bed, but as long as I do not see them, I am okay with that. I can pretend they are not there. This one, however, was not allowing me that illusion and had to be evacuated. He escaped en route to the window and scurried off who knows where. So I know that I still have a shiny black spider in my bedroom… but as I cannot see him, he doesn’t exist.

It was the same when my son brandished his leech-encrusted gloves under my nose. It is not easy to screech quietly through gritted teeth, but I consider that I managed it admirably, telling him politely to remove them from my sight as, if I looked at them…properly looked and registered what I was seeing… I would not have been able to continue with the job in hand.

And that is a completely illogical reaction, on a par with the dog hiding her eyes under a cushion. Small dog or not, she does not fit under a cushion and most of her is very visible. But, as far as she is concerned, if she can’t see me, I can’t see her.

It is like sweeping the dust under the carpet. The expression has found its way into common language, but we wouldn’t actually do it. For a start, we know that would be unhygienic, and if we did it too often, a few specks would soon become a pile, and an even messier job to clean that it would have been at the start. But we are good at doing it nonetheless and, like the dramatic trope of the unopened letter so beloved of cinematographers, there is a self-preservation mechanism that kicks in to protect us; what we do not see or acknowledge does not exist for us, so we often choose not to look.

We know about the spider, the leeches, the contents of the mythical envelope or the dust bunnies under the bed. We may even have seen them. But, unless we choose to look in such a way that what we see imprints itself on our reality, we can behave as if we have not seen anything at all. We know what is, we know what we are choosing not to see, and know that choice does not change reality one whit. But it changes our version of reality.

We see it happening all the time. We do it ourselves… and I doubt any one of us can say, with absolute honesty, that we have not. Whether it is a bill left unopened, a news item we don’t want to know too much about, the junk drawer that is quickly closed because it is in need of sorting, or avoiding the eyes of someone whose story we do not wish to know, be that a beggar in the street or the little old lady who can talk for hours.

There is no denying that it can be a useful thing, this refusal to acknowledge reality. We won’t miss your bus talking to the little old lady. We will sleep at night in spite of sharing the room with a spider. Some ancient skeletons are better left in their cupboards. And if we never look at the grass, it will never need cutting…or, not for us, at least.

It is often said that we ceate our own reality and, in this respect at least, it is true. Everything we experience through our senses changes our perception of reality. And what, of that reality, we allow to be acknowledged by consciousness, changes us.

A well-known prayer asks for the ‘serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference‘. Apply this to perception, and the ability to ‘know the difference’ is clearly the key, especially is we paraphrase a little and think about the things we need to see and the things we can choose whether to see or not. Our conscious mind is where we store the things we will act upon, while the things we choose not to acknowledge are filed ‘safely’ away. In many ways, what we allow into consciousness defines who we are choosing to be.

Just what are we sweeping under the carpet of consciousness? Whose eyes do we refuse? And how many of us will be sleeping with worse than spiders under the bed tonight?

To dare, to dream, to be…

‘To know, to dare, to will… and to keep silent’… this is a phrase heard within many branches of the Mysteries and one which echoes facets of the labyrinthine journey undertaken by those of us who work within them. It is an old saying, but none the worse for that, as much of the magical and mystical tradition is rooted in history. It contains much wisdom… a veritable treasure trove that responds to exploration by the meditative mind.

When we were setting up the Silent Eye, talking about how we could encapsulate something of the essence of the School’s ethos in a few words,  that phrase was the starting point for a discussion. The school is a place where we ensure that ‘the heart and the head drink from the same stream’. It is just as easy to get lost in soggy sentimentality as it is to bury oneself in hardcore intellectualism and on the spiritual journey both ends of the spectrum need to arrive at the consensus where we find the road to Being.

It takes courage to set out on that road, for it is ultimately one that must be walked seemingly alone, facing the image of the constructed Self; the Ego that is our vehicle through this life in the mirror of the soul. It is not always a pleasant stroll; the flawed monsters that lurk within each of us are the demons the magician faces in his rites of evocation. It takes courage too to set out on a path that departs from the traditions and teachings you have worked with all your life and seek something new. To dare that road can seem like stepping off a precipice into the unknown… or it can be the most exciting voyage of a lifetime.

It is something many of us dream of doing. Yet where to start? How to translate that dream into a reality? And what is a dream anyway? It is a multivalent concept. We may think of a dream as something of no substance, the ephemera of the night; no more than a fleeting shadow of the impossible that haunts the edges of the mind. Many systems of thought, including our own, use the idea of the dream-state to reflect the limited reality of our daily lives, focussed upon the mechanical movement through the tasks and responsibilities imposed upon us, both by the world and by ourselves; seeing in our restricted and sleeping consciousness merely projected images upon the screen of the mundane world.

We can look at the Aboriginal and Shamanic dreaming that has woven its magic behind humanity’s vision, shadowing forth those aspects of being and divinity we have sought to understand for millennia. On the other hand, we may see a dream as an aspiration… something worthy of the questing soul that seeks the depth and meaning of the inner Light.

It has been asked which is the dream… does the soul dream this life… do we awake from life into a dream of the soul … are we ourselves the dream, the dreamer… or the dreamed?

Perhaps we are all of these and in that realisation… in daring to seek to bring the dream of the soul into reality, in the clear light of consciousness, we can live the dream and touch the realms of pure Being.

The value of change…

Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire!
Would not we shatter it to bits – and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!
– Omar Khayyam

“I wish….” How many times have I heard that phrase? How many times have I said it, with irony or with longing… or both… wishing that the world was somehow different? Wishing it would shape itself more conveniently… just for me? From that big win on the lottery we do not play to the weather over which we have no control, wishing things would change seems to be part of the human outlook.

There are many who make that wish and revisit it wistfully from time to time, still hoping vaguely that things might change, but doing little or nothing to make it come to pass except relying on life to arrange itself for them. This passive wishful thinking is not the same as trusting that life will bring us what we need, it is a hankering born of dissatisfaction… an uneasy state of mind and heart in which to live.

There are others who will take this desire for change and move heaven and earth to make it happen, spending all their focus on that goal. In one respect at least, success or failure matters little, either way they…we… are missing something.

Change is happening all around us, all the time. We do not have to go out looking for it…it is occurring with utter disregard for our desires or our wishes, right here, right now.  From the life cycle of the cells which make up our own bodies, to the ticking of the clock as it slides present into past with regulated inevitability, everything is changing. And we change with it.

Whether change appears to us as good, bad or indifferent…whether we accept it with grace or rail against it, making resistance drag us along unwilling, we cannot escape. Most of the time, we do not even notice it is happening, because we are so accustomed to our entire lives being built upon it and we live within an ever-changing world. It is only when we notice change occurring that we develop an opinion and choose how we will face it.

If we start to take note of that continuous state of change in which we live, we begin to notice the details. Dissatisfaction with the state of what is becomes a little pointless when now is already in the past before we can even name it. And those details begin to take on new depth and meaning when we are aware of how transient they may be.

The last day of the holidays, the last mouthful of dessert, the last kiss… as soon as we know that something is finite, it takes on greater importance and touches our emotions at a deeper, more visceral level. We savour those moments, investing ourselves in them wholeheartedly and carrying away an emotional memory of joy, delight, pleasure or pain, that etches itself on consciousness. Good or bad, those moments are lived with a vividness that makes them stand out from the grey routine of our days.

When we learn to become aware of our surroundings as a continually changing chain of finite moments, each a mere scintilla, unique in the vastness of eternity, then each detail takes on that same depth and meaning, stirring something in heart and mind into acute and thrilling awareness. From the beauty of a sunrise, to the spots on a ladybird’s back… from a small act of kindness to an unprovoked smile, we begin to take note of the richness of life and experience.

 

In the shadows

P1110792I woke from little sleep to glorious sunshine and crawled blearily from my bed, which seemed the most comfortable place in the world at that moment, even though it might as well have been a bed of nails the night before. Odd, isn’t it, how the same thing can look so very different depending on how you feel at the time? Take the sunshine… if I was going out to play, instead of heading to work, it would be a gorgeous day! If I were taking the camera out, not that I go anywhere without it, but you know what I mean, I would be delighted to have the backdrop of clear blue as a foil, for instance, to the mellow gold of old stone.

There is something about the stark contrast of the shadows thrown in sunlight, silhouettes dark against warm… that chiaroscuro created by the interplay of bright and sombre. It gives a scene life and texture… even when it is simply crumbling stone. Vistas of long empty spaces, punctuated by doors full of unknown and exciting possibilities yet painted on the canvas of memory, lead the eye and mind into adventure.

Imagination takes flight and spaces are populated with images and stories, flights of fancy or the quest for a deeper understanding of the vision before us. Thought meanders off at a tangent, exploring darkened doorways or gazing from the shadows to the clear sky framed above. Memories are created, images that take up residence in the mind, linking themselves inextricably with emotions and sensations, and the imprint of place remains long after the event has receded in time.

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The darker the shadows, the greater the contrast, the brighter the light appears… which is something we all know, though even that, too, depends on how we feel at the time. We may only notice the shadows, diving or tiptoeing from one dark and unknown doorway to the next through a landscape painted by fear… wondering what monster may lurk around the corner, seeing only a tenebrous labyrinth. The bright patches on the ground then leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable and offer no respite, serving only to mark yet another threshold into the shadow that awaits.

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Yet that light is cast from somewhere. Beyond the shadows there is a source of brightness. It is inescapable. The shadow is cast when something comes in between, blocking the sun. Yet there can be no shade without that source of light. It is always there. Shadows, no matter how deep, are intangible, they are effect, not cause and on the other side of the obstacle you can guarantee the sun is shining.

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We may see the shadows and enjoy their cool respite from a sun too bright. We may be grateful for their softening of the marks of time upon our face. Perhaps they allow us to look up and see the source of light in all its beauty, glimpsed through a window. Sometimes, I think, they are just there so we can see it, be aware of it and understand its presence as we walk through the alternating brightness and shade, enjoying the adventure in all its twists and turns, looking back on the shadows from the warmth of the sun.

The photographs were all taken at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire some years ago.

One Moment…

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“One Moment in Annihilation’s Waste,
One moment, of the Well of Life to taste–”
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

It was one of those thoughts that flash through the mind in a millisecond. The kind that leaves behind a flood of understanding so complete that you instantly know the whole story… and just as instantly lose your hold on it at the thought passes, as insubstantial as a rainbow. You are left with no more than the conviction that you have realised and understood an important concept… and you couldn’t put it into words to save your life.

I had been leafing through a book I haven’t read in years and was thinking about it on the drive to work. Nothing special, just an old favourite that held a phrase I wanted to put in context. Skimming through the text, I was aware that in the years since I had read it first, I had learned a good deal more about the subject. That accumulated knowledge, now brought to bear upon the page, changed my own understanding of what I was reading. I suppose that’s what started me thinking.

I had understood the book perfectly well when I had first read it. It had sent my thoughts off into several directions and made a huge impact on me at the time. Yet, I now realised that I had only understood it to the limit of my knowledge. When you think about it, that is as far as we can ever go. It was only in revisiting the book later with greater knowledge that it could open the doors to further understanding. Obvious really, so obvious that you probably never think about it.

You can see it in action all the time. We are constantly doing things we have done before and with practice, we learn more and we get better at them. We know this and simply don’t question it. What we don’t seem to bear in mind is that the same thing applies to more abstract skills, like thinking and understanding. We get better at that too. The mind ties itself in fewer knots and even learns to unravel them. The more off-the-wall the thoughts, the more possibilities we can see opening up for us as we bring everything we have learned so far to what we are doing.

But… and this is where it went off at a bit of a tangent… if it applies to everything else, it has to apply to living too. How often do we feel overwhelmed or seem to face insurmountable problems? How often do we feel too small to count in the greater scheme? Or face a moment too hard to contemplate? And it was the whole ‘in the moment’ thing where it all seemed to click into place.

Experience is gleaned over a lifetime but an experience lasts from moment to moment. We deal with each one as it comes, with nothing in our armoury except what we have learned in our own lives to this point. But… whatever we have learned, everything we have lived, whatever we have understood… we bring into this moment. We have the weight of our entire existence behind us and every second we have lived and therefore learned, is at our fingertips. That is a formidable thing. How many moments, how many seconds, how much have you lived and learned so far?

Living in the moment does not mean leaving past or future to fend for themselves… it means, for me at least, bringing ourselves complete and whole into every instant… and that includes all we have known until now and all we might hope for in the future.

With every second that passes we see more, hear more, learn and understand more… on levels we may not even know exist yet within the limit of our knowledge. There are realms in the mind science has barely touched. There are the abstract aspects of human nature that are hard to pin down… things like courage, love and compassion. There are our immeasurable dreams and hopes.  There is our essential connectedness and belonging within the universe… and that which we may call the soul or the spark of divinity within. And if we have the boundless weight of all that behind us, then we bring eternity itself into every moment…

Too small to matter? I don’t think so.

We are enough for anything.

Personal

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It is undoubtedly an incredible piece of craftsmanship. It is unbelievably impressive, designed specifically to be awe-inspiring, streaming light and colour into the great cavern of Bath Abbey. It is also just too big to be able to make any sense of the images it contains. Had I  not seen other Tree of Jesse windows before, recognising the recumbent figure of the dreamer, I would have had no clue what it was I was looking at. It is only later, with the help of the camera, that I am able to see the individual scenes depicted in the great, towering window of the south transept of the Abbey… and the east window is even harder to decipher.

You have to wonder why.

Politics, probably… the intent of the builders hovering somewhere between raising an edifice of the utmost beauty to the glory of their God and the desire to impress upon all who entered its portals the power and supremacy of the Church itself. In so doing they seem to have forgotten that the primary function of both the images and the Church itself was supposed to be to teach the words of a humble Man to other humble men.

Given that the stained glass and the earlier wall paintings of these magnificent and beautiful churches were designed originally to convey the stories of the Bible, the saints and the virtues of the faith to the faithful, it seems rather pointless to make them so grand they cease to fulfil their function. Their very magnificence renders them indecipherable to the naked eye… in effect, their stories become so remote and impersonal as to be invisible.

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It is only when you can actually get close enough to see the painted faces that any connection is made with the subjects they portray and it is through the emotional connection that religious teaching has always been promulgated, either with the gentle message of Love or through the fear of hellfire and brimstone. It has to be personal. Without that contact with the emotions, such teachings remain too distant to take root in the heart, where faith must grow if it is to be a true and personal relationship with the divine by whatever Name we come to know it.

The same concept applies to all our life-lessons. Unless they touch our emotions in some way, we take little note of the events, great and small, that make up our lives, events that may be there and gone in an instant. There are 31556952 seconds in a single year… each one already in the past before you know it is there… each one capable of being a pivotal point of understanding, of change, of realisation. Multiply that by our traditional ‘three-score years and ten’ and the number is just too great to comprehend… too distant to seem as if it has any relevance in our lives… too big to know how to even read the number correctly… Yet we will grumble at wasting two minutes of those lives… a mere 120 seconds… in a queue. Those seconds are relevant because they are small enough for us to come to terms with… small enough to understand their waste on something annoyingly unimportant, yet big enough for us to see what else they could have been spent upon. Annoyance and frustration make them real to us.

There are 3600 seconds in an hour… and an hour spent with someone you love, doing something you love… even dreaming about somewhere you love… is an hour well-spent. It makes you smile, relax, feel good about life. We can understand the passing of an hour. It is small enough to be personal and yet it can hold enough to make life feel as if it is pure gold and we the richest of creatures.

There are 2.208e+9 seconds in seventy years. Except for the mathematicians amongst us, such a number holds neither warmth nor possibility… it is too far from our everyday comprehension to hold any relevance. It is too big… too impersonal.

Our way of life is becoming more and more remote. The personal touch is being lost to scripted phone calls, self-service checkouts, automated business… even our social lives are now lived largely online. Youngsters will even text each other when they are in the same house. The distance between human hearts and the lack of contact in a society that shuns the intrusion of personal space can isolate us insidiously. Automation is saving money for businesses and organisations to the point where fewer people need to be employed and I wonder how far society is moving towards losing the ability to connect with each other and solve problems through building a personal relationship that starts with a simple smile.

This is especially worrisome now, when both fear and imposed restrictions limit our movements and mask our faces, isolating the hard of hearing by making lip-reading impossible and making it far more difficult to make that contact between eye and smile that warms the heart and creates an atmosphere of possibility.

It doesn’t really matter if it is a beautiful edifice divorced from the heart of its purpose by its own grandeur, or the two pairs of eyes, gateways to the soul, that slide away from each other for fear of an illusory intrusion… without that personal touch, we cannot reach each other and we are prisoned in glass stained by our own tears.

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Sowing seeds

The spiritual journey is simple, beautiful and full of Love,” read the meme. Perfectly true, but taken out of context it doesn’t actually tell you all that much, does it? Not really. Like so many of the quotes out there on the internet, usually displayed against the background of a sunset, dove or some other visual symbol of serenity, it simply drops a seed into the mind and allows it to grow… or not, as the case may be.

I remember studying the parable of the Sower and the Seed in Religious Education in school, long ago. It tells of how when the Sower sows the seed, it may fall upon stony, barren or fertile ground and where it falls will determine how the seed grows. It is a well-known story, easily understood in symbolic terms, though there are many deeper elements involved in the imagery than may at first appear. Re-reading the passage I fell to thinking about how ideas are seeded and more specifically about those beautifully presented inspirational quotes that abound across all the platforms of social media.

Such phrases, thoughts and quotes may come from the heart and be personal glimpses of understanding offered in all simplicity and with no other motive than to bring hope or share beauty. Many come from the writings of established spiritual teachers, from ancient texts or those to whom the world has attributed the mantle of wisdom. They carry with them the aura of authority; these people, we are assured, knew something, had attained something to which, perhaps, we aspire.

Sometimes they worry me.

Not so much on their own, but as a symptom of a disconnected spirituality that seems to be scattering fragments of light like glitter. And yet…

The proliferation of such illustrated quotes shows how deeply ingrained is our need for understanding, but as most offer little in the way of practical instruction, they carry the risk of misinterpretation. They may make the whole spiritual journey seem like sweetness and light; something so otherworldly and ethereal, in fact, that it seems impossible that it should be integrated within the harshness of ‘real’ life. For me ‘real life’ is a spiritual journey, and like any voyage, it can be hard, painful, exhausting and confusing. It takes effort, will, and commitment to get from one end of it to the other.

But what about the journey itself? Even a straight race, where the winner is determined at the finish line, can only be won by what happens between the starting block and the tape. It makes little sense to me to think that the only goal is at the end… To ‘real-ise’ the divine within, however we may define It, and to live it daily seems, to me, a better option.

These inspirational quotes may also, silently and quite unintentionally, imply that those of us who have not yet attained such mystical mastery have way too far to go to be able to reach spiritual enlightenment. Perhaps we have, but believing in ourselves can be hard enough in the mundane world; I am not sure that questioning our worthiness to progress is helpful. I wonder if these wonderful phrases sometimes make the goal seem just too distant and unattainable. A goal which, I believe, is not far away at the end of some lofty quest, but already within us, waiting quietly to be known.

This seeding of ideas and phrases without context is a traditional technique that can have enormous value as a meditation. Usually, however, when such a technique is used, it is within the framework of a predetermined belief system. This is where schools such as the Silent Eye and other spiritual systems have their place in what is always and ultimately a personal journey, by providing structure, background and points of reference … a jumping-off place from which to begin and a whole set of symbolic signposts by which the seeker can navigate.

We each have our own beliefs. None of us are without some kind of framework, whether it is pan-, poly- or monotheistic, atheist or agnostic or any shade in between… we have our own personal context which is the ground into which such random seeds fall. We interpret them against that backdrop, dismissing them or shaping our understanding of them in a way that fits with the other pieces of our personal puzzle. There is, however, always the possibility of misinterpretation or missing the true depth of such phrases, simply because we lack context. It may only take a single phrase, rightly understood, to change our view of the world and our concept of our place within it. Yet we have to see it clearly in order for it to be able to have an effect.

And yet, we all use quotes, even inspirational ones. And there is value to them. Why struggle to explain what someone has already phrased perfectly in a few words? They may be perfect illustrations of a point we have to share. But more importantly, when they speak to us, they may become the very first burgeoning fragment of light that awakens the seeds of awareness.