Friday morning – an early start

Sue’s recollections of the second April workshop…

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The little village of Great Hucklow nestles quietly in the Derbyshire Dales, tucked away from any main roads under the sheltering ridge. It is a beautiful place where, you might think, little ever happens. You would, of course, be wrong. In every village, every town, and city, dramas are played out daily; lives begin and end, emotions reach the heights of joy or plumb the depths of despair and fear. There is surprise and laughter, meetings and partings… Every human emotion will have been written in the warm golden stone or walked amid the celandines and daisies.

land of the exiles 029Drama was about to unfold here too. There was, however, a difference on that Friday morning as two excited travellers parked the silver bullet, piled high with bags, boxes and shimmering silks, outside an ancient inn. We knew what was going to happen. Well… partly, at least.

land of the exiles 006We hadn’t predicted, for example, that by half past nine we would be hugging the first of our Companions for the weekend, yet Dominic was already seated outside the pub in the sunshine writing postcards and it was wonderful to meet his eyes and feel the warmth of his smile once again. He had been there for the birth of the School and it wouldn’t have felt right to have anyone else in his role. He was the first of the many friends we were to hug in welcome, as people arrived through the day from Ireland and the Netherlands, from Scotland, Wales and the farthest extremes of England… even from America… all converging on this tiny village that has become very special to the Silent Eye. It is amazing and wonderful that people come so far for these events.

land of the exiles 008Many would be joining us for the weekend… school members, friends, people with whom we have studied in other School; some who walk their own path, some with whom we have shared part of the journey. We all carry the same light, though the lanterns may be different and each illuminates the path in a unique way, adding to the Light we share. A drama would unfold… a ritual drama, carefully crafted to tell the story of the human condition and the search for spiritual growth, allowing the participants to experience the story through imagination, action and emotion, for experience leads to knowledge, and beyond that towards understanding.

land of the exiles 010But first, we had work to do. We had already been high up on the ridge… a sort of tradition. I’ve done it every year… placing myself in the landscape that enfolds us so beautifully. This may be only the second workshop for our own School, but the Nightingale Centre has hosted many others which Steve, Stuart and I have been part of over the years. It has a feeling of coming home… a familiar warmth and comfort and we know the Companions will be well looked after… and even better fed. It is also a bit of a tradition to use the hillside for one of the rituals and this year was no exception, so we had something planned and needed to check out the ground… and a nearby thorn tree.

land of the exiles 026The hillside was ablaze with celandines and daisies in the sunlight… a carpet of gold and white stars. If we could just have this weather the next morning! Last year the celandines had been encased in frost… this year the weather was beautiful on Friday and we had high hopes.

land of the exiles 028By the time we came down from the hillside the pub where we were to meet some of the early arrivals for lunch was about to open. We had time to take a deep breath… and raise a glass… and then there were hugs as old friends arrived, new ones were introduced and a hat essayed by our very own Steve. We started as we hoped to finish… in sunshine, warmth and laughter. It was a good beginning.

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The opening of the Eye – a mother’s tears

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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.

Hill-of-the-Buried-Sun…

*

…It was, after all, rather disconcerting to be thus accosted by a total stranger…

*

“Does this count?” he demanded, ferociously,

and pushed an admittedly intriguing photograph across the bar at us.

“Does that count as what?”

*

“One of them ‘Black’ places”

“Well, it might do, what is it?”

*

“It’s one of them there mounds.”

“Is it really, it looks just like a pyramid of light?”

*

“That’s why I was thinking it might count.”

“Strictly speaking, in order ‘to count’ it would have to be called

‘Black-something’ or ‘Something-black’. Does it have a name?”

*

“Oh aye, it’s got a name alright.”

“And that name is?”

“Silbury Hill!”

*

And at that, the Red-Lion, or so it seemed to us,

burst into a collective paroxysm of laughter…

*

Damaged vessels

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There are good days and bad ones, and some that are just plain odd. Waking this morning in a cosy bed, emerging from dreams of light and beauty, I lay there in the pre-dawn softness feeling that today was going to be good. Images forming in my mind of the painting to be done, the colours already occupying the table downstairs… all ready for an early start. Time to stretch and get moving. And I’ll finally get my car back today, all fixed from the garage.

I open my eyes… well, that was the general idea. Only nothing much happened.

Any lingering visions of beauty from my dreams faded in front of the bathroom mirror as I contemplated a reflection I was none too keen on. Dripping icy water, the eyes opened just enough to show me it wasn’t a good idea to look. Vanity was not happy with the sight. They were swollen shut. And my hands were as bad. Novel, though. I sort of look as if I’ve done ten rounds in a prizefighter and lost.

Cold compresses for the next hour, anti-inflammatories and antihistamines to be on the safe side, and I could just about switch the computer on, if not actually see it much. By eight, the eyes were open a bit and the hands moveable. The head and neck aches made their presence felt and a call to the doctor was in order. So I await yet more results. Why am I surprised….?

So painting has gone out of the window so far today and writing is a bit of a struggle… but I can’t just sit and twiddle my thumbs and the mind doesn’t switch off regardless. So I await two phone calls… one from the doctor and another from the garage where my little car is in for repair.

I was thinking about the current physical hiccups, all more annoying than anything else, much like the car. She drives like a dream and is my pride and joy, elderly and shabby as she is. The repairs are just down to age and wear. I saw the comparison of course and got to wondering what the purpose might be, what I am supposed to learn and take away from this passage. Quite apart, of course, from the simple realisation that I will not get any younger, even if my mind appears to.

One thing, of course, that stands out in sharp relief is the contrast between my body and I. It is not ‘me’. I am full of energy, raring to go, bursting at the seams with ideas and feel younger and more vibrant than I have for a very long time. This past year seems to have vivified me in some indefinable way and I feel alive and full of laughter, a sort of beaming smile of the soul. The body, however, seems more inclined to indulge in a wry and mocking grin. That it is merely the vehicle in which I move through the world seems patently obvious as I look at the discrepancy and wait for the repair guys to fix it.

I remembered a picture I had seen somewhere a while ago, an example of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken vessels. The broken pot is fixed together with a lacquer that looks like pure gold, rendering the object even more lovely and precious than before. Almost celebrating the breaking as, it is said, the damage means the vessel has a history and survived to grow in beauty.  Someone cared enough too, to undertake the delicate work.

It is not quite that simple but is analogous, perhaps, to the human condition. In order to grow in beauty through any kind of suffering, we have to pick up the pieces and be prepared to fashion them into something new, taking a little time and care, holding the cracks together with the gold of joy, hope and purpose.

It may be an odd day today, but it is still a good one, even though my plans have changed and I will probably not paint. However, I do need to go and bring my little car home…. And that is a joy in itself.

Lost in translation

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We were talking today about how much is lost in translation. This was being discussed from an abstract, as well as a literal viewpoint.

It started with a conversation about books and moved on to language in general and thence to poetry and song. I mentioned Jacques Brel, a poet, singer and performer of, in my opinion, utter genius, who wrote almost exclusively in French. Many people know the songs for which he was best known, even though they are generally known best in English as cover versions.

To take one of the original songs and translate it into literal but literate English is fine.. it allows access to the meaning, but not the poetry. To take the original and make it into a song that has rhyme and rhythm is wonderful.. but it then loses must of the lyricism and the depth of meaning and emotion created by the choice  and juxtaposition of words that create that unique imagery.

Yet Brel sang with absolute passion and emotion. I would point the curious in the direction of the incredible recording of his concert at l’Olympia, available piecemeal on Youtube. Each song is a showstopping performance and portrayal of human emotion. Even when the lyrics are not understood, one cannot help but be moved by the emotion. Understand the words and it is simply stunning. Look for ‘Ces gens la’, ‘Jef’ and ‘Ne me quittes pas’. I remember well the first time I saw that last recording on TV. I knew the song word for word. My husband, himself a singer/songwriter, sang it frequently. Yet, I sat, mid dusting, mouth open in utter amazement and with tears streaming down my cheeks as I watched and listened.

I have to say that I think Brel understood living with passion.

Of course, the discussion then moved on to how other things are lost in translation. Especially the abstract personal concepts that deal with the evolution of the self.  It is not a secret that that SilentEyeSchool seeks to promote a way of living in vivid colour, a way of moving through life with passionate awareness and on to another level of being.  It is exceptionally difficult, sometimes impossible, to share in words the depth of emotion a spiritual realisation can give. There are expreiences off the normal scale for which there are no common phrases or images. And they are uniquely personal.

Yet, as teachers we have to find the words, the images, the scenario that will illustrate and suggest to the mind of the student something abstract and subjective. We have to describe a spiritual ‘taste’, and if you think about it, even that sense of taste, something we are all very familiar with right from birth, carries impossibility.

How can you describe a taste? You can compare it, say it is similar to or different from.. you can generalise and say it is sweet, acid, savoury… but you cannot describe a taste accurately. Nor, if you think about it can you describe an emotion. It is something you can only learn for yourself through experience. Although you may be able to learn if it will be pleasant or painful in advance, you cannot know how it feels until you feel it. Sometimes the best way to share it is to show it, allow it to be observed and witnessed. Sometimes all you can do is point the way.

The School takes students down tried and tested pathways. We walk them ourselves. It gives a map and a companion, and, if you will, a set of tools to use along the way.Yet ultimately the experience will be as different for each of us as we are from each other, and each will find they take their own unique journey with its own flavour.

Without words

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Good morning. It is sunny today, with the sky a clear cerulean blue. My grandmother always said it was going to be a fine day if there was enough blue in the sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers. Today I could probably kit out the entire navy. If the makers of paint could capture this colour in all its transparency, they’d make a fortune. Not that they don’t already, given the price of artists colours.

There is a heavy frost this morning though and the cold has me by the throat, both literally and metaphorically. The dog has the door standing wide open, the heating has gone on strike again and my son’s prayers have been answered. I will not be singing today. My throat is as swollen as if I’d talked all through the night. I vaguely remember that scenario.

I am lucky at present. I see my son every day and the depth of the conversation we share can be astonishing for stone-cold sober and mid-morning. We can cover ground from the most ridiculous to the deepest philosophical debate, passing via music and neurology, pizza and sturgeon to the nature of God and the soul. But other than Nick the majority of my days are spent in silence, apart from a very dear friend on the phone from afar and my conversations with the dog.

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There are few things I enjoy more than settling down to long, varied and frequently random discussions over a bottle of good wine with a friend. Living in France was a perfect introduction to that, because there is always cheese. If there is cheese left, it is almost obligatory to open a second bottle to accompany it, and if there is bread left, one needs more cheese… it would be wasteful not to… and so it goes on, sometimes all night. Conversations can go very deep at these times.

We don’t talk enough. Or not about things that really matter. We chatter about the simple things, mundane problems, the latest news but we seldom seem to have time to sit and simply listen to each other these days. Or even to listen to the world around us. One of the downsides of electronic conversation is that it is often so short and factual. We cover the necessities and rarely allow heart to speak to heart, sharing the inner depths of who we are and what matters, really matters, to us as a person.

Listening, I think, is one of the greatest gifts we can give. To listen, with ears and heart and mind while someone shares themself with you is a beautiful thing. And you can hear as much in the silence between the words as you can in the words themselves.

Mind you, I have no objections to silence either. It is, after raising a family, a luxury. I have always loved silence and it was a rarity in a household full of growing children. It is an animated silence, my mind seldom quiet, pursuing trains of thought down convoluted alleyways, imagination always online and seeking ways of expression. There is a richness in this type of silent working that can be drowned in the normal noise of everyday life. One can see the value of the contemplative life. Though, as a friend has said on many occasions, I was not cut out to be a nun. I would be constantly doing penance…

There are also, though, moments where the internal dialogue stills into quiet. The dog is usually asleep at these times, the distant road noise hushed and the only sound in the village the song of birds.  At those times the surface mind is silent and something deeper still can speak in the heart. There are no words, just a knowing, yet it is communication. There is something within that reaches inwards and upwards, deeper and wider than the conscious chatter of mind, and it is answered by something deeper still that seems to be waiting with arms open wide. It comes out to meet us like a friend and lover that has been waiting for our presence and listens in the silence of those moments only to the murmuring of the soul.

Birds of a Feather

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That the birds were there first means little to Ani. It is, as far as she is concerned, her garden and she decides who gets to play in it. Apart from the stray babies, those she makes an exception for and will even call the cavalry to their rescue. There is no malice in her vociferous warnings to the feathered fiends who invade her space. In fact, she grins all the time she is chasing them off.

The cat next door, on the other hand, stalks them silently, moving a whisker at a time, closing in for that final, fatal pounce.

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Me, on the other hand, I like birds. I love to hear them herald the morning as I wake, the first light washing the bedroom in pale colour. I love to watch them darting around the garden, or soaring in the blue above. They are creatures of grace and beauty who carry music within and rise above the landscape, seeing it with eyes other than my own. In quiet moments imagination lends me their wings and I can rise with them to greet the dawn.

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The three of us watch the same sparrow on the fence from completely different viewpoints, with different emotions and imperatives fuelling our actions. I suppose we are simply following the dictates of our own species and nature. Yet these are neither inevitable nor unchangeable. There are many cats that never chase a bird. There are probably few dogs who warn them off quite so joyfully. And as a human being, I could simply ignore them, see them as a source of food or raw materials, or even through the eyes of myth and legend.

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The three of us are not so very different after all. It is a personality shaped by instinct and experience that impels our individual reactions to the birds every day. Ani sees them as both invaders to be warned away and playthings with which she can have fun. The cat I don’t know personally… for some reason, Ani refuses that acquaintance… so I cannot say whether it is the thrill of the chase, or a quest for dinner that drives it. For me it is many things. Memories of being taught their names and stories as a child, the simple love of their beauty and the knowledge of the thread of life that binds us, associations that run deeper than the surface, perhaps.

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I remember my grandfather explaining a picture in a book to me, when I was very young, where the heart was weighed against the feather of truth. There is more to that than the simple lightness, for Horus, the Divine Child of the Egyptian faith, was depicted as a hawk and truth was a goddess with a feather in her hair. The Egyptians, indeed, had many birds associated with divinity, from the Benu bird, a symbol of rebirth, to the protective vulture goddess Nekhbet. Odin had his ravens, a story brought to life for me on a first visit to the Tower of London, observing their curiosity and intellect in action. Christianity has the Dove and the Pelican. Symbolism,  folklore and fairytales are littered with feathers.

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Experience shapes us in ways we often cannot see. The innate nature can be overridden by learned behaviours, habits and acquired reactions that may seem obvious to those looking on, but to which we ourselves are blind until something throws them into sharp relief. These habits can be both positive and negative, overcoming inner battles or seeing us lost in a sea of fears. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

But we do not have to be a slave to our reactions, there is always that poised instant when we stand at the crossroads of choice and can break the cycle if we so will it and, to paraphrase the famous quotation, be the change we wish to see in ourselves.

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….

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