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.

The heartbeat of eternity

Peering at the faded remains of a dark ‘instant’ photo from the seventies, I felt both close to and distant from the young woman silhouetted against the fence. Her future is my memory. She was still a schoolgirl, yet to launch herself on the world and soon to marry. Far too soon… that would be my take from the perspective of nearly five decades later. How did that happen?

In some ways, it seems an eternity. In some ways it is… a whole lifetime, my lifetime between ‘then’ and ‘now’… and as such, it is the only eternity I really know. It is an odd feeling, that. We know history happened before we were born. Some of it is very real to us, because we know the people who made it; our parents and grandparents tell us of those days, when they too were young. We know that history went on before ‘history’, before prehistory, right back to the first swirlings in the mind-stuff that would become space and time. We know that history will continue to happen long after we are gone, both as individuals and as a species… though for now we call it ‘the future’ and are sad, or glad, that we will not be around to see it. But we only know the scintilla of eternity that exists between our earliest memory and this moment. Anything beyond that is hearsay.

In that respect, at least, we can say with truth that we are eternal. We carry eternity within us, carved into the space between conception and our final breath. Reality exists only in the moments it touches us, with past and future no more than a matter of faith and conjecture. Unseen, unreal, the future has yet to become, while the past is no more. The only moment we have is now… and whole industries have grown up around teaching us that one, rather obvious fact that we overlook when our focus is upon regret, nostalgia, worry and hope.

‘Living in the moment’ does not mean failing to look ahead or to hope, nor does it mean we must release all memories. It is a matter of awareness and focus, of not missing what is by clinging to what was or imagining what might be. We forget that ‘now’ can only exist at all if there is a ‘then’… and the space between that holds them apart so that both can be.

The ‘no-thing’ can exist on its own…  but the ‘some-thing’ needs the ‘no-thing’ in order to exist at all; a degree of separation that enables being.

One of the analogies we use in the Silent Eye is that of the mother and child.  The child in the womb can be said not only to be one with the mother, but to be made from her… though she is not all that the child is, or will become. The child has no life of its own, no possibility of independent action, until it is separated from the mother at birth. In that separation, there is possibility, growth and a dawning awareness. Yet, at the end of physical life, both mother and child will return to the earth that can be regarded as our Mother and with whom we share the physical elements of existence. Those elements will, in turn, give rise to new life in an endless and beautiful cycle that renders us eternal in yet another manner. Perhaps that is one reason why the image of the Mother and Child has been seen as sacred in so many cultures.

Nature is a mirror for wider realities. The matrix for our beliefs, knowledge and life itself is held within the pattern of the natural world, while the fragment of nature that governs our tiny planet is but a child of a greater and universal nature. If that pattern holds true to itself, then the Cosmos is itself but a fragment of a greater Whole, separated to enable it to be, to grow and to realise itself. If that is true, then we are indeed eternal, both ancient beyond imagining and younger than new-born babes.

I look back at the old Polaroid, an instant photograph that captured an instant of a life I think of as mine, but which runs through every living being, past, present and future… if linear time itself even exists. It is no longer just a photograph of a young girl on the brink of womanhood, but a pause in the heartbeat of being, allowing me to look back on ‘then’ from ‘now’ and know that it is the space between that enables me to see beyond the moment, to the horizon of eternity.

Eyes to See

“By virtue of Creation, and still more the Incarnation,
nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I remember one hot, summer’s day as a child, laying in the long, tickly grass of the field behind my home, watching the clouds race. All around me I could hear the bees and insects buzzing away, drowning the distant traffic noise and the passing train. As I write I can smell again that particular perfume of hot earth, sweat and new mown grass, with a little tang of melting tar hovering as an afternote. I watched as a ladybird and a very strange caterpillar made their way to the tip of the burdock, neither bending the leaves, but moving lightly as if that was where they belonged.

I knew, even then, that I was lucky. I had been raised in a family where belief in the unusual was as commonplace as knowledge of the divine, yet there were never any labels affixed that limited those beliefs and I was free to find what spoke to my own heart.

I did not know what God might be, nor did it matter… It just Was. Some saw Him as depicted in the Churches, others had a more abstract idea…some took a more pragmatic view, others a spiritual one. But though I learned of their ideas, none told me this was what I had to believe. So, for me, I could, on that day, look up at the heavens from my cocoon of grass and feel myself held in the hand of a God of which I was a part.

As I grew older and learned to live with others, growing as I was, I watched and learned how beliefs are imposed by parents and teachers, even by culture. It is natural, of course, for a parent who, through faith, feels they have found the answers they have sought to pass these to their children as a gift, hoping, perhaps, to gift that beauty and spare the child the quest for answers.

But I saw, too, where people were forced to accept beliefs that did not sing to their own inmost heart and, in accepting them, lose the light in their own eyes. The faith, for these, goes little deeper than the lip-service and they are left adrift, serving an ideal from which they feel divorced.

Through my teenage years, I shied away from the word ‘God’, as do many who follow an esoteric path. It conjured too many conflicting images in my own mind, from the gentle Jesus to the avenging and jealous God that I could not reconcile. Then, too, in a nominally Christian country, I realised it would do the same for others, and each would bring their own interpretation to any conversation where the Name was used.

But I never really found another way of referring to It that everyone would understand. It is easy to write and avoid the word, a capital letter here and there makes it plain. But in speech it does not work that way.

So now, I look around me at the beauty of the world, trying once more to leave the imposed definitions behind me and simply see the glorious details with the eyes of that child, so long ago. And I can speak of God, for whatever It is to another’s heart, It is the One to me, and we are part of It and so is the world in which we live. I do not need to explain or define, I do not even need to understand. Just to perceive It and know It is enough.

Growing…

“Oh wow!” said the delivery driver. “It’s like walking into paradise!”

We get that sort of thing a lot. The narrow and faded street is lined with parked cars. The car-park you have to cross to access my son’s home is scruffy and overgrown. There is nothing that leads you to expect what you find behind his gates. Clean, geometric lines contrast with the encircling green of trees, bright spots of colour from the young plants, the tranquillity of running water and the harmony of the pentatonic wind chimes. There is usually a red kite wheeling overhead, sometimes the occasional squirrel and always a symphony of birdsong.

So far, Nick must have heard just about every complimentary phrase possible as people walk into his garden. They will lean over the pond to admire the huge and colourful fish and comment on how quiet and unexpected the space is, just five minutes from the town centre. To be fair, the whole things works rather well.

While I love my son’s garden, especially its relative ease of maintenance, my own tastes run to semi-wild cottage gardens. Give me a flower bed of my own to fill and it will soon be overflowing. Nick prefers order, space and neatness. I like chaos. Our vision of beauty is subjective, but here I work to his…and sneak in the odd bits of chaos where appropriate.

It struck me today, though, that although people see the beauty of the ‘finished product’… not that any garden is ever finished… they do not see what has and still goes into creating beauty. Nick’s garden took months to build… and that was just the bare bones, before we started planting; then we dug in the manure. Every day, I spend a couple of hours outside, either watering, deadheading, weeding, feeding, sweeping and scrubbing, or cleaning out the two pond pumps and filter… and that is without the big jobs like jet washing. And, much as I complain about some of the things I have to do, the results are worth it.

Another thing that people do not see is the true nature of this garden. It is designed to be accessible. From the discrete placement of handrails as part of the design, to the carefully measured distances between handholds… even the sculptures, securely concreted into the ground, serve as extra grab rails… every detail is designed to allow my son to get around his garden on his own two feet, while still allowing wheelchair access. Colour, sound and fragrance compensate for damaged sight and plants are positioned so that he can enjoy their scent without needing to be close.

As Nature is always a good teacher, there are inevitably parallels between the beauty of a garden and the people who enjoy it. Many spend a good deal of time, effort and attention on creating an image of beauty for themselves too, from hair to face to clothing. The face presented to the world may look effortlessly attractive to its ‘owner’, but it will not be to everyone’s taste. Some admire the well-groomed look, others prefer a more natural appearance… but most will not look at what has gone into creating that image. Not in terms of the hours in front of the mirror, but the life experiences, the laughter, tears, joy and pain that shapes every face.

We unconsciously create an image of ourselves, for ourselves. Sometimes the mask is just to please ourselves… more often it is shaped by what we think others want or need us to be, whether it is the corporate look for work or something designed to attract a mate. Many will react to our masks in the way we hope… few, until and unless they get to know us as individuals, will look beyond it.

But we are complicated creatures. Just like Nick’s garden, the ‘clean lines’ of our outer appearance show to their best advantage when we allow ourselves to be ourselves, letting the chaotic colour of character soften the edges, showing that unique beauty that goes deeper than the surface. A beauty only created by living.

A gardener loves gardens and growing things. It doesn’t really matter whether that garden is modern and minimalist or a riot of colour. It is the flowers and fruits of the earth that warm the heart. A person who has learned to grow in both life’s sunshine and rain has that same beauty, no matter what their illusive mirror might tell them, and they too will be looked upon with love.

A question of choice

I have been thinking a lot lately…there is more than enough time for that at the moment. Not that a mind often stops. It sleeps occasionally, though even dreams may keep it busy. Sometimes it feels as if conscious thought goes into abeyance and I stand back and watch another me, one who knows something that I do not. A bigger me. Not, as my sons would gleefully tell you given my mere five foot that this is a difficult thing.

Many writers recount how their characters write the book and they, as authors, simply take down the words as dictation. I can verify this for I have felt it myself, learning to know and love my creations as they create themselves. All the writer does then, is set the scene and give them a form to inhabit. The characters seem to write the rest for themselves and the writer taps away at the keyboard, watching and waiting to see how the story unfolds and frequently being taken by surprise.

It is a curious feeling and one that has made me wonder whether this is how deity feels, fondly watching us play out our stories upon the backdrop of life, waiting to see what we will do with the opportunities we are given. For they are opportunities, each and every challenge with which we are faced. Some of them are bigger than others, some pass almost unnoticed, but we meet them every day.

The big ones, those that affect our lives, inwardly or outwardly, are the ones we remember. They are the heartaches and grief, the fears and loss, even the joys. For they all carry choice as part of their gift. Even when we are faced with a seemingly choice-less situation, we still have the ability to decide how we act or react, how we learn, what we carry away from the moment.

I’m not even sure that the choices themselves matter. It is what impels them that counts. Too often we merely react, thinking we have chosen, when in fact we are the victim of our own conditioned responses and we stumble through life unconscious of the fact that we are not fully aware of our own selves. But choice is a precious thing. We won’t always get it right… sometimes there is no right. We will inevitably make mistakes, but that is okay. We can learn from those too. Every single second presents us with the wonder that is choice. And each choice we make will change our world in a very real way.

Have you considered that we are the authors of our own reality based upon how we face each moment. We can change our worlds with a single thought, a shift in perception, a change of heart. We can hurt and cause pain by simply reacting in anger or frustration, or we can share joy and comfort, choosing to look beyond the surface of the moment to see what lies beneath.

When we do make these choices consciously, we do not do so with the mind alone.

There is a stream of thought that sees manifest reality as the ultimate expression of divinity, by whatever Name we call It. If this is so then we are not separated from the Divine, aspiring to be worthy of Its love, but both we and the world in which we live are an inherent part of It… and expression of It’s Self.

We may choose for good or ill, each choice will carry consequences and bring further choices, to be conscious of our choices or to allow ourselves to react. But the simple fact that we have this gift is also an expression of the perfect design of the One. Made in awareness, our choices will reflect that and we can touch something finer within ourselves than we would normally see in our everyday lives. We do not do it often, but when we do, we Know.

Rebels without a choice?

Image: Big Brother by The Digital Artist at Pixabay

A mere quarter of a mile from my home the traffic ground to an unaccustomed halt. The sporadic nature of its movement proclaimed a contraflow in action somewhere up ahead and, with no other way of accessing my street, I settled down to patiently wait in the Great British Queue… an institution we are good at in this country. Mainly through interminable practice. The grass verge beside the road looked inviting. Wider than the road itself, flat and unobstructed, it leads to the lane that runs to my home a mere few hundred yards away. I didn’t take it of course…partly because it would undoubtedly churn up the grass, but mainly because it isn’t the ‘done thing’.

I glare at the cameras beside the road that now monitor the movement of every vehicle in the country, ostensibly in order to check we have all paid our road tax, but in reality just part of what seems to be an inexorable movement towards the impossibility of anonymity; of escaping from the needs and obligations of the daily grind with at least the illusion of freedom. Shades of Orwell’s dystopia rear their heads… I can’t say I like the insidious increase in surveillance. Not that I don’t understand and approve of security. Not that I particularly wish to hide; but privacy and choice matter to me. Lately it seems as if many minor incursions are being made into the small liberties and I wonder just how far it will go… and how it happens that we simply accept in silence.

I had begun to ponder this whole question earlier, checking sell by dates for one of my sons and disposing of large quantities of things for him which had passed them. He and many others of his generation that I know seem obsessed by the dates on packets. A minor thing, you might think, but it sparked a train of thought as I sat there in the traffic. I know it is a generational thing, because, of course, I grew up in a world that had never heard of putting a sell by date on an apple. Tins and packets, perhaps… though even those, we were taught, were only an indication, a safeguard, and probably marked a midway point in shelf-life. Common sense was the thing; we were taught to apply it to food and make informed decisions.

Regulations have changed over the years and my sons’ generation have been raised in a world where ‘sell by’, ‘display until’ and ‘use by’ dates are the norm. The trouble is there seems to be little understanding of the application of these labels and huge amounts of fresh food are discarded because a date applied for stock rotation purposes puts the proverbial wind up consumers. There is nothing wrong with a slightly wrinkly apple. Fresh fruit and vegetables keep far longer than the supermarkets’ dating implies. You can tell when such fresh produce is no longer worth eating. Yet, although they listen to definition and explanation, my sons refuse to accept in practical terms that only a ‘use by’ date has real significance for food safety. And that is without the aesthetic standards applied that sees misshapen produce rejected.

From a purely commercial point of view one has to give credit to the supermarkets. Once a date is passed and the product discarded, we buy more. They are hardly going to complain or try to stop us. Common sense has been replaced by the subtle imposition of a dichotomy of fear and safety dictated by a printed label.

I know it is a small and rather insignificant example, but I wondered why this and other examples of quiet acceptance are so rife. Of course the world changes; of course older generations will always look back, shaking their heads with an ‘in my day…’ It bothers me to see such mass manipulation take root and I wondered at the lack of challenge.

Perhaps, I mused, the teenage years have something to do with it. Looking back there was always a choice of rebellion available to youngsters… Hippies, Mods and Rockers, Pop, Rock, Punk, New Romantic… I don’t think my own sons really had that wave of subcultural choice in their teens; certainly not in the small town in which we lived. It all seemed rather bland. I wonder just how big a part the rebellion of the teenage years plays in the process of developing the ability to choose a personal expression of freedom for the outer persona that both mirrors and teaches a personal and inner freedom. I also wonder what is in store for this generation as their own children reach the age of teenage rebellion.

Perhaps it is simply an expression of my own generation and upbringing that questions as the technology and society that was invented to serve us assumes the silently dictatorial overtones of an Orwellian Big Brother. We are, after all, each of us, responsible for the world we have created and the future we allow to be shaped.

Between the cracks

I wandered out into the early morning garden, clad in sandals and dressing gown, in search of The Ball. The dog had hidden the darned thing again and stood at the door grinning, while I did what I was expected to do and looked for it. The Ball… the only one of the two dozen she owns that is no longer a ball but merely a few disintegrating shreds of furry rubber… can turn up anywhere… in any room…even in a cupboard. But, in spite of the innocent looks, she almost always knows exactly where it is and, if asked, will give you clues.

I had tried all the usual places, like behind the stereo or under the cushions, and eventually found it, with a little help from the grinning fiend, tucked behind the compost bin. Thankfully, mine is not a large garden to search… more of a pocket-handkerchief affair, with one small flower-bed and a lot of digging to be done.

Between the ground baking iron-hard and having spent the past year on my son’s garden, mine needs some serious work and more materials. So, I try to keep it tidy, designing wonderful planting schemes in my head that I know will never happen. On the other hand, the little patch of green offers me wonderful surprises every year as I let Nature play. Unlike the dog with The Ball, I am happy to accept what comes.

The hawthorn hedgerow that separates my garden from the fields is heavy with May blossom, its perfume filling the morning air and its branches alive with birds greeting the day. With robins, wrens, blackbirds and the occasional thrush, it is seldom silent. There is even a nightingale that sings there some evenings.

My strawberries died in the heat last year while I was away. I thought I had lost them completely, with just the brittle remains looking rather forlorn and reproachful in their pot and yet, I have a fine crop of self-propagated plants now growing around where the pot once stood.

With a bare garden to fill, I rescued some of the ‘weeds’ from my son’s old driveway before it was ripped up. I now have a whole bank of mullein, whose pale primrose flowers will grow several feet high. The narrow spikes of purple loosestrife, real bee magnets, are growing in scattered clumps in the flower bed and in the gap between window and flagstones.

And, while I have no idea where the reeds, cornflowers or tormetil came from, the few tiny forget-me-nots I rescued now occupy any space they can find, from the drifts around my roses and across the gravel, to the spaces between the flagstones. I have always grown herbs, even when I have had no more than a windowsill to play with… now, while I have planted only sage, Nature has planted me a herb garden.

I even have the first of my tiny rescued roses in bloom, although an earwig seems to have claimed it as its residence of choice, bringing back memories of the deep, velvet-red roses that once framed my great grandparents’ gate. They had a perfume unlike any other and as I child I would sit on the garden wall and breathe in their fragrance… until the day I found myself nose to nose with an earwig.

So, although, in comparison to others I have planted and tended, I could hardly call this a garden… Nature seems to think otherwise and has made one of her own. And I like that. So will the bees and butterflies that love our native wildflowers.

I cannot help seeing how well my little patch of flowered earth illustrates one of the first lessons we learned during our adventures within the ancient, sacred landscape of Albion… ‘open up and get out of the way’. I could have wrestled with the ground, squeezing a few more traditional garden plants from the budget, hefted a couple of tons of hardcore and gravel and turned the space into a ‘proper’ garden… but would the wildflowers then have a place to grow? Would I allow ‘weeds’ to thrive between the paving slabs or smile at the paths the dog is wearing through the grass? Probably not.

We learned also that ‘leaving space for spirit’… letting the moment and the land work their magic in untrammelled freedom…  allows strange and wonderful things to happen. In consciously relinquishing the need to control, beauty creeps in through the cracks of normality…or, in this case, into every gap it can find.

Nature is a wonderful teacher and, at this time, when so much of our freedom has been curtailed, my little garden reminds me that life and beauty will always find a way.

A matter of choice…

I never did like doing as I was told.

I might, through necessity, for example, obey the authoritarian order of an autocratic boss, but orders would never inspire me to give of my best. I would do just enough to be obedient within their sphere of influence… and not a sausage more. Both mentally and emotionally, I would be kicking against the bars of the imaginary cage… and although I might be a dutiful underling, I would never be an eager and willing participant.

Ask me, on the other hand, trust me to see a job done, give me a choice and let me take responsibility and I wouldn’t just go the extra mile… I’d run the marathon.

I do not, for one minute, think I am alone in feeling this way. Most people respond with far more enthusiasm to a modicum of trust and will pull out all the proverbial stops to not only meet, but exceed expectations, when they are given a choice and thus accept responsibility for their actions. A good boss knows this and handles their employees accordingly, allowing them to utilise, explore and extend their own strengths, which in turn gives them a sense of self-belief and self-worth… which in the end, is good for everyone… and especially the business.

Oddly, thinking about this put me in mind of a daft sketch I had done over a decade ago. It was the product of a conversation between Running Elk and myself. My memory is not precise about the sequence of events, but at some point during that online exchange, we spoke of Hades’ Ferryman, who carries the souls of the departed across the River Styx. A typo later and the Keeper became the Kipper of the Styx and, a few scribbles after that, the kipper was committed to paper.

I was pondering the liminal Kipper and realised that he is, if nothing else, the guardian of a point of transition, a point of choice and change.

In Greek myth, the river forms the boundary between the Earth, where the living dwell, and the Underworld, which is the realm of the dead. There is always a price to pay for passage across that river and those who do not pay, cannot cross, nor can they return to the lands of men. They do not know where they are going, they know only that the time has come to cross into another phase of existence. They must pay the price and move forward in trust. The only part of that story that worries me is the idea that someone else can pay the Ferryman for your crossing. I don’t think that, in real terms, that is ever possible. Sacrifice, too, must be a choice. It has no spiritual value if it is imposed…it must be a willing contract in order to hold power.

Like the Death card in the Tarot pack, death and the Underworld in symbolic terms, usually refer to a change in the state of being that is not always a physical death. The year I drew that sketch was the year my son was stabbed, leaving him facing change on a monumental scale as he addressed the physical, emotional and intellectual challenges of a sudden and enforced removal of both the popular and his personal concept of normality.  The one thing that remained to him and completely within his control, was choice. He could not choose to return to the normality he had known for twenty-five years; that life was over and there could be no going back. He could not simply choose to be on the other side of the nightmare either. The choice lay in whether or not he chose to make the journey between the two, paying its price or remaining locked into the imposition of disability, like a soul wandering in limbo.

He chose to make that journey, trusting that the undefined goal was the right destination to aim for. He did not know what lay ahead, nor how far he could go. But he went anyway.  At first, he followed what to many seemed to be a false trail, chasing the red herring of complete physical recovery, even whilst he accepted that such was unlikely. The distant, seemingly unattainable goal, was a good one. It demanded a high price, making him push the boundaries of his own expectations and carrying him much further towards that stated goal than anyone could have expected.  It may have been a red herring, but the quest for that recovery taught him a great deal about himself and what really mattered to him.

Then came a point when he began to reassess and exercise his inner choices rather than his muscles,  with the emphasis he chose being less on how to walk and more on how to live. Again, he had to trust that the journey towards impossible goals would take him to where he needed to be… and now, another world of his own making lies open to him, full of adventures.

My son’s situation was unusual, but the choices we each of us have to face are much the same, from the small, everyday moments where we have to trust in the outcome of our decisions, to the life-changing and momentous situations where all we know is that we cannot stand still and must move forward, even if we cannot see where the current will lead.

There is another story in mythology about the Styx. As a baby, the invincible warrior, Achilles, had been dipped in the waters of the river. The only point the water did not touch was his heel… and that was the only point of vulnerability he had. To bathe in the river of choice at a point of transition does render us invulnerable, for, like water, our choices ebb and flow about us all the time, and choosing to embrace, in trust and full awareness, whatever journey lies at our feet gives us a strength that cannot be easily broken. Even those choices that are red herrings will offer us opportunities to learn and teach us things we may never have known without the false trail.

Our choices are not always right, we do not get it right first time very often, but when we listen to the promptings of the inner heart and being,  and choose our way with courage and conviction, the effort of the journey is always worth the price we choose to pay.

Growing…

We took a stroll around the garden… my son leaning on my shoulders, me grateful that I am just the right height to fit under his arm. Weather permitting, it has become a daily ritual since we planted his new flower beds. I cannot help but smile quietly when my hitherto clueless-about-gardening son comments on how well the heuchera is doing and notes that the ajuga reptans is in flower.

My younger son prefers to grow vegetables and nourishes an ambition to build a greenhouse in his garden. For his birthday, a few years ago, I bought him seed potatoes, cabbages and strawberries… and that was that; he loved growing food for his family. This year, for my elder son’s birthday, just before the lockdown, I filled his wall baskets with pansies, sweet-smelling dianthus and trailing campanula, rescued from the wilting racks of the supermarket.

I love that both my sons have found joy in growing things, though one grows for beauty and the other for the table. It is interesting to see how watching things grow illustrates their different characters. There is the same excitement from both of them, but while my younger son cannot wait to show me how tall his brassicas have grown, the elder is having learn to be patient as Nature takes her time as he waits for plants to bloom.

So, every day, my son and I tour his garden, watching the progress of every leaf and bud, from the discarded forget-me-nots I rescued from the alley behind his house, to the latest acquisition, the Abracadabra rose. We have watched the tight buds swell and begin to reveal glimpses of colour. The new gardener asks ‘when’… the old gardener is just glad the roses survived being transplanted at this time of year.

Patience, I have observed, is not a trait that everyone shares. I used to be horribly impatient with most things…now it is only some things… so during my son’s recovery, I had a lot to learn. The recovery from brain injury is a long, slow process… like the unfolding of a flower, it happens at its own pace and cannot be forced. Holding back from doing something I could have done for him ten times faster than he could do it for himself was a hard lesson to learn… but had I not done so, he would have made no progress.

Not everyone is patient by nature, but watching things grow… whether it is flowers or people… helps you to learn the kind of patience that is born of accepting what is. A child cannot grow to adulthood overnight. A rose, even one named Abracadabra, cannot magically bloom before its petals have formed.

Gardening always makes me think of the well known ‘Serenity prayer’… “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time…”. Patience, when rooted in the acceptance of the moment, is often a gateway to serenity.

Accepting the gifts of the moment does not mean we cannot create change at need, or that we must accept that which we know to be wrong or harmful… like greenfly and black spot on roses, some things must be addressed as they arise… but where the moment gives us joy or beauty, it would be churlish to refuse its gift. And so I watch in joy as my son learns to wait for beauty to unfold.