Awkward Questions

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I was asked a question the other day with which I am intimately acquainted but for which I had no answer. “What does it mean to lead a spiritual life?” It is not strictly true to say I have no answer. I have my own answers, but those I recognise to be subjective, not definitive. It is, I think, one of those questions to which there are as many answers as there are querents and all will hold at least part of the truth.

To begin with it begs the question of what we mean by ‘spirituality’ itself. In this day and age it is often a term held to be quite distinct from religious belief and many will say they are ‘spiritual, not religious’, yet I am not so sure you can really make that distinction. Religion is generally defined as a formalised and organised set of beliefs, where spirituality is usually seen as a personal relationship with the non-physical life. Yet a religious belief that seeks a personal relationship with God, whatever Name is used, surely, by that definition, is spiritual? For me the choice of path matters little, it is how we choose to walk it that makes the difference between whether we embrace a particular path or merely pay lip-service to an outer form; a spiritual life should be a personal journey towards understanding regardless of the route taken.

For some religion provides the structure and the guide that they need. For others that very structure is anathema. Many forget that the underlying message behind most paths that is not so dissimilar when stripped of doctrine and tradition. They can all be paths to the Light. That is up to the traveller.

If I were to seek to express an answer to that original question and say what I personally mean by living a spiritual life, I would have to say that it is to live without blinkers.

I would have to consider the blindness that can make us the last to see our faults and flaws, the last to see our personal, inner barriers and the excuses we make for ourselves and say that the spiritual life leaves us naked with nowhere to hide. It demands that we look at ourselves, both in our weakness and in our strength, recognising the problems and screwed-up bits equally with the gifts, glories and beauty we all possess; as a rule we are not very good at that, tending to see only one side or the other.

To live a spiritual life is to live, fully… and to live in the world, alive to the world, in the moment we are given; and through knowledge and experience to seek the understanding that can be born of them.

For me, it does not mean being a saint or becoming perfect. It is about living in awareness and harmony, both within ourselves and within the world. It means recognising the perfection that already exists within each of us… within each other… and within which we all exist. It means aligning ourselves, little by little with that greater perfection and with who we are in the world. It asks of us that we live in compassion and love, obeying that golden rule that transcends all the religious and spiritual barriers we have created; to treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated, and to do so in the knowledge of our ultimate kinship as part of a single stream of life.

Soul – calibre

Utopia of the blessed from Soul Calibur
Utopia of the blessed from Soul Calibur

“It’s like, imagine all the atoms in your hand… billions of them… they all have to move together to make it do this.” He wriggled his hand. “They don’t know why they are doing it …”

My mind turned back the clock a couple of decades to a room full of boys; young teenagers who, for some reason best known to themselves, had switched off the videogames and were debating the nature of existence. At that time, my home was always full of teenagers and that was fine by me. I seldom knew how many I would be feeding come mealtimes and the baking I did most days generally disappeared before it had a chance to cool. On this particular day, having reached the limit of their speculations, I had been called in as ‘expert opinion’. Apparently, my sons’ friends all knew I was ‘weird’.

They had been wondering about atoms that day too and debating if each one was a world or a galaxy, or even a universe… and if so, was there life on them… far too small for us to ever know… and if there was, was it sentient… and being so small, was a second of our time a whole galactic evolution to them? And was it therefore possible that our own universe was no more than perhaps a single atom in the bacteria upon the face of God?

And they thought I was weird?

And perhaps, chimed in one of them, if thought is electrical in nature, and therefore moves atoms and stuff around, were we just a thought in the mind of a being so vast that to us it would be a god?

So, did we even exist?

Or was God simply dreaming us?

And if we were a thought or a dream, yet were capable of consciousness, leading independent lives, and seeing civilisations come and go… what were the implications for our own dreams and thoughts? How much life was potentially in them?

And if there was life in them… were we as gods to our dreams?

And if our universe was no more than bacteria, what happened if, say, God blew his nose and we were separated from our host…? They were teenage boys after all… I was just waiting for one of them to use it as an excuse for not washing the bacteria off their own skins…

And what happened to stuff anyway? Where did the atoms go when something was destroyed…. And was anything ever really destroyed anyway?

And if we were part of some vast being, did what we do matter? Was it part of the life and learning of something we call god? I remember being inordinately proud of the lot of them. They had chosen to stop killing each other on Soul Calibur in order to look instead at the calibre of the soul.

I resisted the urge to simply answer ’42’ and gingerly cleared a space amid the detritus and sat down, promising myself that while they were at school the next day, I would potentially destroy a few universes with disinfectant … This was clearly going to take a while. So was the cleaning…

We covered a lot of ground that day.

Not for the first, nor the last, time, I sent up a silent thank you for my own less-than-orthodox upbringing that had covered so much and encouraged such questioning as I sat down to a debate I will not forget; one of surprising depth from minds so young and backgrounds so diverse.

They had all been open to exploring their view of reality, and of the world… a view imposed by their cultural and social backgrounds. These were minds open to new ideas, and I found that both exciting and encouraging, remembering that it would be these boys who fathered yet another generation of children one day and, hopefully, would raise them in this spirit of openness. If so, I was sitting in a room filled with hope.

The Last Post?

This may be the final post that I get chance to write for the Silent Eye… that decision has been taken out of my hands. I spent much of last week in hospital, having, as many of you know, been diagnosed with incurable small cell lung cancer last September. It has been an interesting and informative journey on so many levels as familiar things have been stripped away and a gift of love left in its place… rather like the tooth fairy leaving something of real value in place of a discarded incisor.

First to go was the illusion of near-immortality that gets us through life, one way or another. We know there is a certain inevitability about life leading to death, but we tend not to apply it to ourselves until we are forced to pay attention. Dealing with the situation that made me sit up and listen meant that the body came under attack. As its fitness levels diminished, my job went… and so did my face and figure. All core things with which I have identified myself over the years.

Well, you would, wouldn’t you? Even language conditions you to that… ‘my face’, ‘my body’… ‘my life’, forgetting that we borrow the raw materials of our physical existence from Mother Nature and that they will, one day, have to be returned.

Bit by bit, the human version of one’s identity is stripped away. You are too weak now to dance, couldn’t climb a slope, let alone a hill, if you tried and are going to have to be pushed in a wheelchair… the way you have done for your son all these years, in a complete role reversal. Except that he is still stuck in the wheelchair and you can’t even trade places to make it a good deal. Because there are no ‘deals’ at the end of life.

So, eventually you accept that you won’t make it to retirement. Your voice changes, disappearing every so often. Then, an eye goes… and not in some fixable way. So you can no longer drive the thousands of miles that have been your joy. Or see to paint or write with ease, or even watch the birds on the feeder. And while you are given lots of hope about the outcome while they wait for test results, it is not a surprise when you are told that the cancer that had started in your lungs has now set up multiple homes in your brain.

Or that the ‘months’ you had been given have now been reduced to ‘days to weeks… if you are lucky’.

If you haven’t started to let go of the identification of yourself by what you have done, the definitions of ‘self’ imposed by language, role and label, then having them forcibly torn away is really going to hurt. The human personality is programmed for survival, and the possibility of extinction… like a candle flame forever snuffed out… is anathema to the ego.

The ego… the personality we wear like a protective shell as we walk through the world…  wants to have mattered, to be remembered, to have made a difference. Sometimes it has… and may learn before life ends that it did. And that is a joy, although it comes with a certain regret. How would life have been different had you always known that you were so loved and made a difference? Yet each one of us, every one of us, does so…simply by being present in the world, we change it indelibly. By reaching out to a friend, by comforting a child, by simply being human, sharing life and love and laughter… and tears… we each make the world a different place, moment by moment. We may never see the ripples of what we do or say, or know how far we can shape a day or a person by our actions. We each have that power… and responsibility.

But if we had known how much we mattered in the world, or how much love might be out there waiting for us to let it in, would we have tried to become better at being human? A better vessel for the spirit that animates Mother Nature’s gift of form? Who can say? But I suspect that complacency could be a real danger.

And then you reach the real goodbyes, realising that letting go of the illusions of identity which have, inevitably, helped get you through life, was just a step towards learning how to look at someone you love and say goodbye for the last time. We say goodbyes all the time… it shouldn’t be so hard. But that ‘last time’ seems awfully final. You look at the spring flowers and know you will not see the heather bloom again, or look up at a full moon and know, with a fair amount of certainty, that it will be your last. That ‘tomorrow’ is now an uncertainty.

There is grief at leaving behind the human loves, the beauty and all the things that make our experience on earth so rich and varied. There is, for many, a clear roadmap of where we go next. For those who hold such beliefs close to their heart, there is no ego-fear of annihilation. Nor is there an ending…

Spring is the time of rebirth and the daffodils are in bloom here. I hold to an inner certainty of an existence beyond this one. It is more than belief, but if there are those who choose to call it an expression of that very ego-fear it erases, that is their privilege. I have experienced enough ‘otherness’ to know the difference.

I believe that we are all expressions of the One, by whatever name, story or symbol we seek to understand It. Talking with my son today, he compared us to a microbe on our skin trying to understand the workings of our universe. So much we may be able to deduce, sometimes we are granted a glimpse beyond the Veil… but for the most part, we are far too small to see the Design or know its reasoning in its entirety.

From its essence we are brought into manifestation, still part of the One… and when we depart this world, we are still part of the One. As the components of our bodies are returned to earth, so is the animating spirit returned to its source, carrying with it the fruits of our learning and adding to the store of Creation’s understanding. If the One is All, then it can be no other way and the separation we feel through loss or death is an illusion, painful to the human side of us, but perhaps with a purpose too. If we are here as ‘crystallised spirit’ as some have called it, then we are here to learn things that spirit alone cannot learn and we cannot do so without seeing both sides of life, bright and dark, joyous or sad. How would we know how deep love goes without the grief of loss?

Like many others these days, I have been given the privilege of being able to say goodbye. To leave those I love with memories of smiles and laughter, fierce hugs and gentle tears… for, when you know in advance, the grief of letting go works both ways.

I watch as those I love and am leaving find their own place within themselves and within the circle of love that surrounds them unseen, knowing that they will grow through the grieving, and that anything I could have done to help is done. In the end, as friends, teachers, partners or parents… we can only ever guide faltering footsteps and hold a hand along the way. Choosing the way forward and having the courage to take that chosen path is always down to the individual and when they realise that, they also begin to realise how strong they can be.

And now, for me, comes a time of gratitude, where I look back at what an amazing life I have been granted… for they all are, even when they seem small and pale against the big screen of fame or notoriety. And I can wonder at how much I have learned from the living of it. And how much love it has held… and then find that there was even more than I could possibly have believed.

This may be the last post I write for the Silent Eye, a school with which I have worked for years and which has given me so very much more in return than I could have dared to dream. I would not have missed this adventure for the world. And any time now, I will embark upon the next… and all I will take with me is love. And that is always enough.

Stone and sea

amarex diagram 105

“Stone and sea are deep in life

Two unalterable symbols of the world

Permanence at rest

And permanence in motion

Participants in the power that remains”

Stephen R. Donaldson

P1110297I thought about those lines a lot over the past few days. It is the chant of the giants in Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. As we wandered through a landscape of gigantic structures in stone and earth, saw giant figures carved into the hillsides and sat by the ever-moving waves of the shore, it kept coming to mind.

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He’s right, of course, we see them as permanent, yet they too change and shift with time. Those who wrought in stone millennia ago left a mark on the landscape we can still see and touch today, yet how much has been lost? What was there that we no longer see? How much have we pillaged from their constructions to build our own? The stone may remain, but altered, shaped, reduced, perhaps, to dust. And even that, even the stone they used was once other than it became when it was hewn from the earth. Before that it was not even stone, but the possibility of stone, grown in the crucible of a new-born earth and formed into stone, perhaps, by the weight of the sea.

moors 023It is the same with the sea. It appears a constant, moving mass, yet, of course, it isn’t. Water evaporates and condenses, becoming clouds and rain, ice and snow. It falls on the land and runs through the stone, filtered by the living rock, until it again reaches the sea. The cycle never stops, and the permanence itself is but an illusion.

weymouth 032Yet their essence remains whole, throughout the changes wrought by millions of years. What they are does not change, only how they are seen, only how we see them, form them, harness and mould them. Water is water, whatever form it takes. Stone, whether shaped or crushed, does not change its essential nature with its form. So maybe we, too, though we are born, live and die, are also permanent in our essence. Maybe we too are ‘participants in the power that remains’.

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Something there is in beauty

which grows in the soul of the beholder

like a flower:

fragile –

for many are the blights which may waste

the beauty

for the beholder –

and imperishable –

for the beauty may die,

or the world may die,

but the soul in which the flower grows

survives.

– Stephen R. Donaldson

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July 2013

Eating Dinosaurs

"The name is Pond, James Pond.."
“The name is Pond, James Pond..”

“Well it has your dinosaurs in.”

“What?” My son lounged on the bed looking perplexed. We were talking about yoghurts.

“Acidophilus.”

“Oh yeah. Well what’s yours then?”

“Bifidus.”

“Not the same beastie then.”

We had established some time ago that his particular strain of yoghurt based bacteria sounded like a dinosaur, whereas the stuff I have been eating thrice daily on my doctor’s recommendation has a less interesting name. Still, I was not about to refuse home-made mango yoghurt. Even if he was bribing me with it in exchange for socks.

“Still, ‘eating dinosaurs’… not a bad title for a blog. I could illustrate it with a random duck.”

A pond girl?
Pond girl?

“Everything is a good title for a blog these days! Why a duck?”

“Why not? Birds are the closest thing to dinosaurs we have. I have to at least try and get a respectable post out here!”

None of your posts are respectable!”  The bare toe, hovering somewhere in the region of my hand as I lounge across the foot of his bed, is squeezed firmly in retaliation thus putting an end to his mirth. “ Ouch! So, a duck in disguise then.”

“Cheek! I manage to get some serious stuff in my posts!”

“What? And I’ve been reading them and not noticed?” He withdraws the foot from my reach hastily.

“There is usually some spiritual aspect to them, even if it is only suggested.”

“What! You’ve been feeding me undercover nerkism without me even knowing?”

“Sort of in disguise. Like the duck.”

“Closet nerkism! A 007 duck!”

Camouflage duck
Camouflage duck

“More of a 00-777.” He looks blank. “666…  everyone seems to know it as the number of the Beast from Revelations. “

“I knew that.”

“777  in some systems stands for perfection, the Trinity or the Christ.”

“Hmm….”

Trainee agents
Trainee agents

It is, I have to say, a good thing that no-one overhears these random conversations between my son and I. From bacteria to dinosaurs, yoghurt to spirituality in a few short phrases. Via undercover ducks. Were they ever to go public we would undoubtedly be looked upon askance and our sanity questioned. As it is, we are perfectly safe in the knowledge that no-one will ever know.

Which is just as well, as director of an esoteric school who might, conceivably, be expected to behave sedately and write from a lofty viewpoint.

Personally, I don’t buy that.

Spiritual consciousness is not something different from ordinary life. It is ordinary life.. or it should be. One of my favourite quotes is from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Nous ne sommes pas des êtres humains vivant une expérience spirituelle, nous sommes des êtres spirituels vivant une expérience humaine.“ This is generally rendered as we are not human beings living a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings living a human experience.

Agent XXX
Agent XXX

This phrase puts a lot of things in perspective for me, for if we can accept that we are spiritual beings then it renders all aspects of life sacred. Including the laughter and gentle, random lunacy shared with friends… or between mother and son.

It means we do not have to strive towards some nebulous distant perfection, we have only to see what lies within each other and in ourselves, to recognise and embrace it and bring it out of the inner shadows and into the world.

We don’t have to duck being human. It is what we are meant to Be.

A mother’s tears

I thought I would share again an account of a moment from our first official workshop, to show how these things affect even those who know how the story unfolds. You are never able to predict the emotional impact of such things…

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I was up to meet the dawn on Saturday, finding the world covered in a heavy frost and very beautiful. The morning began with a guided meditation. The companions gathered at 7am and closed their eyes. It was a simple journey… that of a seed thrown by an unseen hand to the winds. The tiny point of consciousness watched from inside itself as it grew, illustrating the journey into becoming.

Breakfast and preparation… and then it was time for the second of the ritual dramas.

These dramatic episodes, played with conviction in a place made sacred, have a profound effect, enabling understanding, engaging the emotions as well as the intellect as they bring the teachings to life in a unique manner.  This is one of the ways we will teach, through workshops and teaching sessions and the weekend workshops, open to all.

These do not form an essential part of the School’s course, they are not required, nor is attendance limited to School members… but rather they enhance and enrich it, as well as allowing friendships and companionship to grow. Study can be a lonely thing and the personal journey must be ultimately walked alone… but that does not mean there cannot be company along the way, a hand to hold when the ground seems rough or laughter shared in sunlight.

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The first ritual drama saw the arrival of nine travellers, sheltering from a storm in the monastery of the Keepers of the First Flame. A shamanic drummer and two Troubadours, accompanied by a strange Child also sought shelter. They were following a quest to rescue an imprisoned king, or so they believed, and sought shelter and refuge for the Child while they continued their journey.

The first drama introduced these characters, and ended as the Troubadours left to continue their search, leaving the Child in the care of the nine and the Keepers. On Saturday morning the second drama was to explore the characters further, seeing deeper into their innermost being.

As the Troubadours were ‘absent’, Steve assisted our technician and had placed me in the role of the Great Mother, simply to bless the individual journey each was about to undertake as they entered the Temple.

And that felt odd. All the very human insecurities raised their head as I had read this point.. me, as Great Mother? How… what could I, just me, bring to this? And that question, I realised, was also the answer. I could bring my Self. It is all we can ever do.

The costume was simple and symbolic, grey veiled in clouds of night, a girdle of stars, dark tears at my throat and a simple nine-pointed circlet, beautifully crafted by Katie. All chosen for their simplicity and symbolism… especially the veil which prevented the pilgrims from seeing her face, yet allowed them into her embrace. I thought I had it sorted.

I do not know and cannot tell what others felt. Only what I saw and felt myself.  I stood in the silence of the sacred space and waited for the first of the companions to enter, a silent prayer in my heart, not knowing really what to do, simply trusting that I would know when the moment came. The bells called the Companions in, and the first saluted the central Light and turned to me.

And it was simple. I just held out my arms and embraced them and the cloudy veil held them like dark wings.

It sounds very little. But, from my heart to yours, I tell you that this was the most profoundly moving thing. Each pair of eyes met mine with radiant joy, each heart was open and full of Light and Life and Love, each face lit with so much beauty. One after another I held them. Overwhelmed and humble, with a glowing, incandescent sun, it seemed, blazing in my heart.

I sat in silence to watch the drama unfold and behind the veil the tears slid across my cheeks to meet my smile.

It was I who was blessed.

Impression of Contentment…

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Pablo Picasso
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso image Wikipedia

I never really got contentment. “Are you happy?” I once asked a friend. “No, but I am content,” was his reply. To me, it wasn’t enough. It seemed like accepting some kind of mediocrity. I was young then and life was lived in all the vivid hues of passion. Emotion ran sky high or hit the depths… the times in between were bland, a mere waiting for the next rise and fall of the rollercoaster.

Emotions, back then, were all sharp-edged, like a cubist painting… and like such works, always disassembling the object of them to examine them from every angle. Some of the edges were so sharp you would bleed if you touched them… but you were alive. There were no in-between days of grey and dun.

Alizarine: sandorfi, maklary
Alizarine: Etienne Sandorfi, image: Maklary

A little older and the days took on a greater realism. The consequences of action and reaction were more direct as the responsibilities of adulthood were revealed in stark detail. Like looking in the mirror, these days reflected back at you only what you projected into them. The colours were still sharp; the detail and emotion clear… all the edges well-defined. A delineated life, with specific duties… niches for the fragmented self that is required by the roles demanded by the varied aspects of a society that likes to label everything.

But even that changed, morphing into abstraction where the lines and stark hues threw everything into question and the secure assumptions of youth that had flown direct as arrows suddenly seemed to realise that infinity is not a straight line. Stubbornly held beliefs were taken out of the strongbox and held up to the Light. Some were found to be tarnished, others broken, some simply too outmoded to be of any pertinent use. Yet there is a freedom in that de-cluttering of heart and mind, a simplicity that leaves much open to interpretation and, like a gallery, the fewer you hold on to, the more you can begin to appreciate what remains in all its glory.

The Depth of Woman by Benjamin Prewiit
The Depth of Woman by Benjamin Prewitt

These days I have a preference for a more Impressionistic style. I like my edges softer, the detail less focussed. I like to be able to stand back and lose myself in the moment in order to see a bigger picture, full of suggestions and possibilities half-glimpsed; open to the imagination and the emotional whispering of the heart-centred soul. There is something about this time that both softens and excites. I find that I like the lack of definition, the gaps only my heart and mind can fill. Instead of wondering about the name of the artist, I ask instead what message they were trying to convey.

And finally, I know contentment. It is not that there is nothing I could wish had been different. Nor is it that there is no looking back in the knowledge that I could have done things differently… for better or worse… Yet there is an acceptance that everything has its purpose. Like the myriad dots of a pointillist painting, each speck of experience may seem out of place when looked at too closely in time and emotion, yet stand back and the colours of the days blend and merge into something beautiful, understandable and whole, where every scrap of colour is in the perfect place.

A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte,_Georges_Seurat,_1884
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat. Image Wikipedia

There is a new beauty… and it is far from the mediocrity of my youthful disdain. The colours of this new world are deep and rich, their contrasts sing against each other, dark illuminating light. I can see that both are needful and their harmony beautiful. The detail fades in importance; the whole is where the story lies, waiting for our eyes to read it on a wider canvas than the frantic myopia of youth can encompass. The frame of my days holds a beauty only the heart can see and its starry skies are streaked by the fingertips of the creator.

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh
The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh. Imgae: Wikipedia

Infinity and beyond…

Yet, if one could ignore space and time and be everywhere and every-when at once it would, theoretically at least, be possible to count them. Even taking all future snowfalls for the projected lifetime of our planet into consideration, it would be a finite number. There was, once upon a time, a very first snowflake to fall. There will be a last. There would come a point where there were no more snowflakes to count.

Mind boggling as the concept is, the magnitude of that number is probably as close to the idea of infinity as our normal human thoughts can grasp. Yet it is so far short of an infinite number! Scientists calculate that there could be as many as four and a half billion planets similar to earth in the Milky Way galaxy. Each one of those with its own possibility of snowflakes.  And it is thought that there are hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the universe. Yet are we sure that there is only one universe? Quantum physicists don’t seem to think so…

Suddenly our infinity of snowflakes seems a little puny compared to the possibilities that exist in this wider reality we but dimly perceive.

We in the UK may consider we get a lot of snow. On the whole, it isn’t a vast amount. A couple of inches can be considered ‘a lot’ in southern counties. The north gets more as a rule. We do have the occasional bad winter, and higher ground is harder hit. But I’ve been to places in Europe where snow meant that roads were cut through it with fifteen foot banks of the stuff on either side. Yet a friend in Malta, not so very far away, has never seen a snowfall.

It is all relative.

We think in terms of personal experience, taking into account, perhaps, what we know from the experience of others. While we are aware of these other realities… such as snowless countries or the ones that get twenty times the volume we do… we behave almost as though we don’t truly believe it. We look out of the window and see a foot of snow as either a wonderland or the end of the world… depending on whether we are going out to play or have to brave the roads. We react to what is in front of our eyes, not what the other possibilities may be. Our survival mechanisms are designed that way perhaps, taking in and processing what needs to be dealt with in the waking world of the moment.

Yet we are also designed in such a way that we can at least conceive of those greater realities. Curiosity, imagination, thoughts, hopes and dreams… through these we touch a different reality every day that has its own inner life for us. These hidden realms may occasionally be populated by apparent impossibilities and within them we may be able to transcend the limitations of physics and experience. We may question the accuracy of the reflected world within this sphere, but we do not doubt the reality of mind and imagination. Through it we access concepts and abstractions that surpass the limiting bounds of physical existence. We create and innovate and can comprehend the mind-boggling at a level and in ways we cannot in ‘real life’.

We cannot count every snowflake ever to fall, but imagination gives us an inner feeling for the infinite. It is so far outside the bounds of direct experience that we may never truly understand it. Maybe we do not need to. But we are able to get a personal picture that represents it for us, whether we look at the ocean from the point of view of a single drop, or see ourselves a pinprick in the vast sea of interstellar space. The mind allows us to form an image, a representation that allows us to ‘know’ at a very intimate level. After all, we live within the matrix of infinity and are intimately woven with it.

For many, the idea of the infinite is inextricably linked with that of divinity. Here too imagination allows us to form a personal image with its attendant emotions, regardless of the tradition in which we were raised or the path we have chosen. The image we have will be unique, like a snowflake,  whether we have chosen to view it with faith, belief or dismissal. Divinity is as impossible to grasp in Its entirety as the idea of the infinite within the mind of the everyday world. Maybe we do not need to. If we accept Its existence in any form, then here too we live within It.

A single snowflake is made by hundreds of individual ice crystals coming together and there are so many different ways in which they can arrange themselves that it is said that no two are alike. Statistically, who knows whether or not it is true? From the billions that have fallen or are yet to fall we have examined, perhaps, a few thousand. It doesn’t really matter. Their delicate beauty is transient and can be destroyed by a breath, transformed back into the element from which it came, not lost, but returning to earth to begin the cycle again.

I wonder sometimes if our thoughts and dreams are not the same, fragile and ephemeral as they are, easily damaged or dissolved by the wrong touch. Perhaps they are not lost altogether but return to their component parts, waiting for us to bring them together again in a design more beautiful than the last.

Yes, I know I have a weirdly wired mind, my sons tell me so frequently….

And then I dreamed…

I spent the night with friends… more socially distanced than any pandemic ruling could possibly require…. and I’m tired. I didn’t sleep as much as I would have liked and spent a lot of the night tossing and turning. That is not as contradictory as it might seem, for it was when I did doze that 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 am dreaming… 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 on waking that the change in my mode of perception 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, and 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.

I cannot help thinking of all those people who, as they approach the end of their lives, speak of loved ones being there to welcome them to the other side. I remember my great grandmother, close to death at one point, yet sent back, she said, to complete her tasks for this lifetime, telling us how she was a young woman again as she met my late, great grandad in a sunny field. It was not what she expected, not what she believed… but she smiled like a girl when she told us.

With my own end being pencilled in for ‘sooner’ rather than ‘later’, and with the restrictions imposed by COVID keeping so many people so very far apart, spending time with loved ones is more important than ever to me. And whether or not these visitations in the night have any reality outside of dream, their presence I can see only as a gift.

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 rose from my bed 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.

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