The value of change…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Where the wildflowers grow

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Locus iste a Deo factus est,
Inaestimabile sacramentum,
irreprehensibilis est.

This place was made by God.
A priceless mystery,
it is without reproach.

Anton Bruckner.

I was talking this morning with a friend about the different directions that the spiritual journey may lead us and the effects that can have on a life… your life or mine. There is no way of knowing or predicting when, or indeed if, that journey will change gear and lead you to a place unknown, changing your expected destination for another as you enter a new phase of a life suddenly unfamiliar. It is like stepping through a doorway to another world, one where the demands are unknown, different and beyond the norm.

There are degrees, of course, from the ‘turning point’ we speak of in the Silent Eye, that point where the world dims and the eyes of the heart seek another Light, through the whole gamut of our differing experience to those moments of personal, spiritual revelation that are impossible to communicate.

It is easy to write of the details of daily life, less easy to describe the momentous yet invisible shifts by which that life can be pulled from under our feet by inner events. It is especially difficult to write of these things without sounding deluded, pretentious or both. And some things are simply better left unsaid and unwritten.

There are many who seek that moment of union, fighting their way toward it, as if by study, dedication or the application of intellect or faith it can be earned. I’m not so sure that it can. I think it has to be lived; the house prepared, the vessel clean and empty and held up for the wine to be poured by which it can be filled with something other than self.

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The vessel is what gives form in the world to what it contains, and to empty the vessel of self can be a painful process. We make of ourselves a container fit for purpose and, to use an ancient metaphor, the base metal must be shaped and formed, heated in the fires of life, impurities purged … and as the iron in the heat of the forge could attest, that is no sinecure.

We are such a tangled mass of illusions about ourselves and they have to be unravelled… a tapestry of self-images that must be unpicked and it can seem a fearsome thing when what has to be unpicked is you… every last stitch until you are naked in the mirror of Being and you can see, accept and know yourself for who you truly are and not what the ego has been trying desperately to believe in all those years. From the human perspective that is, for most of us, not a pretty sight! Yet, there is a freedom in it, a freedom from the weight of the masks and screens behind which we have hidden.

Knowing yourself for who you truly are, warts, blemishes and all, might not sound the most attractive of propositions. Most of us are aware of our deeper flaws, even when our conscious mind hastily glosses over them, or finds excuses, we still know, somewhere deep inside, what it is that drives us. We call it by many names but mostly it comes down to fear… the fear of rejection or being seen to fail, of being less than good enough or of being unloved, of being different…or of being the same… There are many facets to the gem of humanity.

Yet to know yourself for who you truly are carries another aspect, for there is within each of us a spark of divinity… a cosmic beauty and a light that burns whether we will or no. To turn to the source of that light and, in full awareness offer your self as a vessel can seem a terrifying prospect. What of you will be left? The old saying in the Mysteries is that he ‘who looks upon the face of God comes not again’… and we, as human beings, are programmed to preserve life and identity.

Yet you do not lose who you are… there is no miraculous wand waving change, no automatic sainthood; the faults, fears and problems remain and you continue to make the mistakes and live the life that makes you human. Yet, many things do change, priorities shift as the focus shifts from your outer self…you become more of what you really are… and aware of what you truly are. The crumbling mansions of the ego are well and truly cemented in, but if you can pull them down and see the ruins as they lie about your feet, it is then that the wildflowers come in.

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Sowing warmth

There was a road closure on the way to work, so, to avoid the build-up of traffic, I took to the back streets, wending my way through a residential area and passing the house in which we had first lived when we moved south. To let oncoming cars pass, I pulled to one side, almost outside our old home, and was able to see what had become of my garden.

It had been a blank canvas when we had moved in, with nothing but grass and a bedraggled jasmine, struggling to survive in the concrete near the door. With little money, but lots of ideas, we had set about making a family garden. At the back of the house, surrounded by high walls and fences, we made a little wonderland for the boys.

A small pond, just big enough to attract a bit of wildlife, was lined with sheeting supplied by an undertaker friend. He also brought us a couple of sheets of wood, with an innocent suggestion that we ask no questions. These we turned into a wishing well filled with flowers, making shingles for its roof from a scrap of old roofing felt we found in the shed. Disposable plastic tubs were painted to make wall planters. Tin snips made a flock of painted butterflies up the side of the house and we added a waterwheel to the pond. Strange beings looked out from flowerbeds filled with the seeds, cuttings and wild herbs I collected. It didn’t take long before it was ablaze with life.

The front garden, though not the kind of place where you would spend much time, could be seen through the sitting room window and sloped upwards, giving a good view of the bare grass. I dug borders, planted as many cuttings as I could acquire. While they rooted and grew, I threw in seeds to add colour, and within a few months, the garden looked respectable.

While planting the back garden had been a case of filling space with whatever I could acquire, the front was planned with due regard for eventual height, spread, colour and flowering season, mixing in as many evergreens as I could with summer flowering shrubs and plants, so that it would be attractive all year round.

I have often wondered what became of our little wonderland. I can’t imagine anyone else would have enjoyed it the same as we did, when we had all been involved in its creation. The front garden, though, I have seen a few times over the years. At one point, it was an overgrown jungle. Then someone moved in who took care of it and it began to bloom again.

Today I had just enough time to see that what was left of my winter planting had worked and was still offering scented blooms, colour and texture, even on a cold January day. Many of the plants I had acquired were unlabelled mysteries. Unless I could recognise shoot, bark or leaf, I just planted things and tended them. The handfuls of seed fell where they would and grew how they chose. But the known shrubs had done as I had hoped… even though it is more than twenty years since I planted those first little cuttings.

I couldn’t help thinking, as I drove away after that brief glimpse, how good an analogy a garden can be for aspects of our own lives. I am far from the first to come to that conclusion: the parable of the Sower is well known. We never know if, or how, what we ‘plant’ will grow.

What really struck me, though, was that most of the time, we don’t even realise we are planting ‘seeds’. With every anecdote, every bit of life experience shared, every insight or opinion we offer, every bit of hard-won wisdom we can pass on… even in the lightest of conversations. What seems rather mundane to us, might be exactly what someone needs to hear, even though they may not need or recall it for years to come. When the need does arise, that ‘seed’, unwittingly planted, may just flower and bear fruit.

We may not be around to see it and may never know how our words, deeds and actions affect another’s life. It can be the smallest of things… something we ourselves have not even noticed, from a kind word or a shared smile, that changes a day for someone we don’t even know and may never see again. But it matters. Every time.

Rites of Passage: Changes…

On the morning of the workshop, long before our companions were due to arrive, two small figures faced a mass of stone and a fair degree of uncertainty. Having scaled the rocky heights, we were agreed… we would have to change the plan. We could not impose that climb on anyone else; we needed to find another way.

It was not that we didn’t know the landscape; we know it well, but fear can cloud judgement and blur lines that should be clear. So, in our usual fashion, unsuitably shod and… in my case at least… with flowing skirts tucked childlike into waistbands, we had gone out early to check over the ground… and, having done so, descended to seek another site. As always, the land provided.

There are some things you just cannot leave to chance… and double or triple checking the lay of the land is an important part of any workshop.

Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond Fear was never going to be an easy workshop, even without any miscalculations on our part; ‘fear’ is not something many people would want to spend a weekend exploring, at least, not beyond the safe confines of a staged murder mystery or a popcorn-fuelled marathon of horror movies. We prefer more intimate groups, though, where we can spend time with those who attend, sharing ideas. These weekend workshops attract people from many paths and there is always something to learn from each other and discover together.

For this particular workshop, we were going to take the group through a number of landscapes, each with their own story, from one of collective horror to a light-hearted custom whose origins date back beyond living memory.

Our first visit would plunge the group into the shadow of a nightmare scenario, from which threads of light would have to be teased.  Over the next two days, we would walk through prehistoric burial grounds, visit stone circles and approach the core of many human fears.

In the Tarot, the one card guaranteed to get a reaction when it appears is Death. Most packs show a skeleton, often wielding sickle or scythe, reaping life and limb from crowned head to common folk. While it can represent a physical death, in most readings it signifies no more than change… another common fear, especially when that change is unlooked-for and unwelcome.

In an esoteric reading, though, there is another interpretation of the Death card… that of spiritual transformation and increased awareness. From time immemorial, initiation rituals have contained a symbolic ‘death’, bringing the candidate face to face with their own mortality, that they might learn to value the finite nature of physical existence and see beyond it to a greater reality.

There is a case to be made that the apparent death of Lazarus in the biblical tale was an initiatory rite. Even today, the investiture of a knight is made with the touch of a sword and the rites of baptism and initiation alike signify a rebirth into a new life.

But the journey through our darkest fears need not be walked alone. There may be companions on the way with whom we can share experience, or those who have passed that way before to guide us and sometimes, the gift of seeing a wider landscape than our own fears… and a way to make them serve a greater purpose.

As the church bells of Tideswell chimed, we made our way to our first rendezvous….

Small steps…

“I need to do something.” Clinging to a lifestyle in which they felt themselves to be stuck, the person concerned said that a change was needed… a break in the pattern of their days, for to break just one link in a chain is to break free of it. But where to start? What if it wasn’t enough? The fear of failure was holding them back from taking even the smallest step forward that could potentially change everything.

I know that feeling. I imagine that most of us have felt it at some time in our lives. Change and failure can be two of the scariest monsters we have to face and maintaining even a painful status quo can feel like a far better option than scaling a mountain of fear. Still, you never know what you can do until you try…and you cannot take a second step until you have taken the first, no matter how small a step it may be.

I remembered climbing a mountain a couple of years ago. At fifteen hundred feet, it just about graduates from a hill to a mountain and to my eyes, it looked like one… especially as our route would take us up very a steep incline. I really wanted to visit a stone circle I had heard a lot about, but, recovering from a serious chest infection, I wasn’t sure I would make it.  I was at that stage where I could walk easily on the flat, but any kind of climb, be it hill or stair, left me fighting for breath with heart pounding. Standing at the bottom of a slope that appeared to be almost vertical, I was quietly convinced I would fail… and afraid that in doing so I would let my companion down and spoil the day.

It was hard going, especially as it was a hot and sunny day. Every few yards I had to stop and gasp for breath under the pretext of taking pictures.  It wasn’t just me, though, my companion was struggling too… and in an odd way, that made me feel better. The slope seemed endless, and even when we reached level ground, the hill still climbed steadily in front of us. We managed to lose the footpath and had to clamber over rough ground, climb a rickety gate wrapped in barbed wire and, at one point, found ourselves wading through a field strewn with bones.

And yet… we were in a landscape that was incredibly lovely, with bright blue sky above the hills and deep blue sea below. The heather was in flower, the sheep were purest white and there were wild horses watching as we climbed. After the initial climb, the going was easier, even though it was all uphill, and, when we arrived at the plateau below our destination, it was sheer beauty that took my breath away.

It had been worth it. The last climb brought us to a superb stone circle, with panoramic views… and not only that, there were other circles and stones all around us. Not only did we see what we had come to see, we were showered with so many other wonders, from the stones to the hunting hawk that we watched… gifts we could not have expected rewarded us for our efforts. And the way back would be all downhill…

I remembered too taking my younger son up Ben Nevis when he was a boy. We knew before we started that we would fail to reach the summit that day; there was no way we would make it to the top in the few hours we had at our disposal, but we would at least get a feel for the mountain and see beauty we would never have seen had we not made the attempt.

I thought back too, to the first time I had attended an event with an esoteric school similar to those run by the Silent Eye. I was scared stiff of what I might find or whether I would fail to fit in… and was met with open arms and hearts, laughter and friendship. Or the time I had arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris, terrified, owning nothing more than the clothes in my suitcase. I had left everything behind… home, friends, family, language… and was about to embark upon an unknown future. It could have been a disaster… and yet my years in France became the happiest I have known until recent years.

Whenever I feel fear of change or failure weighing me down, I look back at all those times I have taken that first, small step. It can be as simple as a phone call, a break in a routine, or the determination not to let someone down. It need not be a big thing at all. Yet, as soon as you have taken it, one foot in front of the other, your world and your view of it has already changed. Even if you fail, you will have seen and experienced something new along the way… and going back to the starting point for another attempt or a different route is always easier ‘downhill’.

There are so many possibilities for wonder out there and we never know what the next step may show us. The only guarantee that we have is that we will not see them at all unless we take that first step beyond fear…

Leaky pots

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With the very first name that comes into your head: who is the most important person in your everyday life? (I should point out here that the dog doesn’t count, regardless of what she thinks… not in this particular instance anyway. The rest of the time, she has a point…)

Now, hold that thought… the thought of the most important person in your world… then ask yourself what you do for them? I don’t just mean the practical things like providing for them, cooking, buying flowers, throwing tennis balls or being on the end of a telephone. They are important, but they are ‘direct doing’. Think about the other things that you do because of them and their presence in your life… Do you make the house a home? Put a bit of extra effort into your appearance? Stay fit and healthy for them? Make real time for them? Even write because of them?

Why? Because you care… because you want them to be safe and well, happy, proud, comfortable…. the list of possible reasons is endless…

But what happens when time changes their needs and your lives? When your partner is no longer there, when your child goes out into the adult world or circumstances separate you from your friend?

These are scenarios that may happen to us all at some point in our lives and the transition is not always an easy one, even if the event that triggers such change is a happy one. Many parents feel bereft when their children finally leave home, even while they are frantically changing the locks and booking that second honeymoon.

Most just carry on as usual, through habit. Some seem to revel in the new freedom. For others, things start to slip a bit. There seems to be little point to the things they have done for a year, a decade or a lifetime. They stop doing things, or they slide back to basics, missing that extra ‘something’ that lifts necessity into pleasure. Eating through need rather than preparing a lovely meal. The house is tidy but not what it was. Appearance no longer matters quite so much… There is a piece of the jigsaw missing.

I know that feeling. When my late partner died many years ago, I was left stranded in a world I barely recognised, with no sense of direction and no reason, it seemed, to bother being the person I had been. The illness had been long and had defined our days as a family. Of necessity his care and that of my sons had been my focus. In the emotional vacuum of grief, the hours hung heavy and empty… a common feeling at such times. I was lucky; the boys kept me afloat, even though I took on a lot of water and made some real mistakes.

It was emerging from that time and those mistakes that I began to realise something. It took a long time to sink in beyond the conditioning of my generation, raised to care for families and spouses, and just one step removed from an earlier generation where that was the accepted role of womankind.

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Those who answered that initial question with the name of a child, partner, parent or friend are wrong. No matter how much you love them, no matter if you are responsible for their care and well-being or how happy you are… there is someone more important than them.

You.

This isn’t a selfish statement nor is it to suggest that we should put ourselves and our desires before all else. There will be times when circumstance demands that you come a long way down your list of priorities, but most of the time we have more space in our lives than we think to care for our own needs. We just have to remember that we have them. A leaky pot holds little water… you cannot give your best to others without looking after yourself too.

Our society is something of a paradox… with its loss of community, it seems outwardly self-focussed, yet most of our lives are ruled by our commitment to the requirements of others and as individuals many of us take little account of ourselves day to day.

On a practical level, it doesn’t need to be much… some time alone with space to think, potter in the garden, polish the car or wallow in a scented bath. A trip to the hairdressers… a favourite meal… a walk with the dog… even getting chores done early so you have a free day… as long as it is done for you.

The bigger shift in thinking needs to be more abstract and is a simple shift in focus. To do the best job you can for your own satisfaction lifts even the worst chores out of the mire. To formulate your own beliefs and principles, and forge your own path. To live according to the dictates of your heart and not let its light be quenched. To live with passion and integrity. You are the only person who can judge if you are who you would choose to be. The same principle can be applied to most areas of our lives and is a change of perspective that can change our personal view of the world. And after all, the one person you will always live with is yourself.

Second childhood…

Frolicking Nick Verron
Frolicking ~ Nick Verron

With the unconscious wisdom of youth, my son decided that he would give me a games console. It is not, perhaps, the obvious gift for a woman about to enter her seventh decade, but then, he assures me that as I am a ‘tweenager’, it is entirely appropriate.

When the boys were young we always made sure they were up to date with the growing technological revolution. From the blocky arcade games of the ancient Atari to our first home computer, they soon became confident with consoles and keyboards and we played as a family, working out the puzzles, learning how to share,  to be patient and to persevere in the days when games took ages to load and progress could not be saved.

Spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, foresight, reaction times and logic were all well-served, Games that now look primitive were often complex and demanding and to complete them was a real triumph. We have fond memories of those times. The software available for the Commodore 64 and the old Sinclair Spectrum even allowed you, with a little vary basic knowledge, to build your own games. Such violence as there was tended to be of the ‘Tom and Jerry’ variety, with little or no relation to reality and gameplay was often as much of an intellectual challenge as a test of manual dexterity. We hoped that introducing the boys to technology early would stand them in good stead in later years and that has indeed proved to be the case.

I am decades behind the times where technology is concerned these days. Modern consoles do more than play games, it seems, allowing you to access your PC, play music and films and do much of what I now do at the computer from the comfort of the sofa, which can only be a good thing… as long as the dog lets me share. All the skills that early gaming honed for the boys are ones that need to be maintained in later years… and oddly enough, I kept the best of the old games. So, in an unexpected role reversal, my son is giving his tweenage mother a games console for her birthday.

I rather like the idea of entering my tweenage years. The term is usually applied to prepubescent children, but works equally well for those in the nameless limbo between later decades. It sounds better than ‘dotage’ or ‘incipient old-age’, and my son has been accusing me of regressing for quite a while now. I like that idea too; the old saying that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ should really be embraced by those on the threshold of a second childhood. Why should we wait until others apply that term to us in a derogatory manner, when we can throw ourselves into our second childhood head first and enjoy it?

When you consider the characteristics of a child, and the outlook of those older folk who seem to radiate joy, there is little difference. While the young have not yet learned to distrust the motives of people and events, the old have garnered enough experience to see straight through any subterfuge, dismissing the absurdities of human nature, so those at both extremities of life may see the world through clear and untroubled eyes.

The very young do not concern themselves with the far distant future and nor do the very old. At the beginning of life, the future is so far distant that it is impossible to envisage, while at the tail end of life it is so close it becomes transparent. Now matters; for the very young, there is nothing else… later, as tomorrows become increasingly uncertain, there seems little point wasting energy peering into your own unreliable future.

Small children care little about the opinion of others, it is a learned behaviour acquired as a reaction to dismissal and rejection, both real and perceived. The passing years bring a freedom from worrying about how the world judges us too… and this happens at a time when, for many, the responsibilities of the daily grind are lessened as our offspring sculpt lives of their own and grandchildren allow us to play as children again ourselves.

Granted, that is not the story for everyone, but I believe we all have the capacity to access at least some part of the inner exuberance of youth, even when the body is no longer willing to play with as much flexibility as we might like.

Life was carefree as a very small child. I remember those childhood years… the early ones before things got complicated. I remember how it felt to walk barefoot in the snow, laugh at raindrops racing on windowpanes or covering my skin with tiny, tickling diamonds. I remember making daisy chains, blowing dandelion ‘clocks’ to tell the time and digging up bits of pottery from the school playground, wanting as much to be an archaeologist as a dancer. I remember walking on walls, hunting crabs in rock pools and laying in the grass watching caterpillars. I remember feeling every day was an adventure.

With his gift my son has given me more than a games console, he gave me a timely reminder. I don’t need to remember any more. I just need to do it again.

Birds eye view

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There must have been thirty starlings, mainly youngsters, in the garden at my son’s home today. The great tits and blue tits are very tame and happy to peck away at the feeding stations even when you are very close. Robins, thrushes and blackbirds are regular visitors, along with the many sparrows, the inevitable pigeons, magpies and doves and the clever jackdaws that fly in. I often see the wrens, I think I spotted a dunnock, and there are buzzards, red kites and the local heron flying over daily.

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The heron can see the pond, but it was constructed to make it almost impossible for it to land, which is just as well given the monsters that lurk in its depths. My son keeps some rather large sturgeon as well a plethora of other fish. The other birds bathe in the corner of the stream overhung with plants and the kites sail over, watching.

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There have been a lot of birds over the past couple of weeks. Not ‘just’ birds… they are always there… but ones you seldom see, or that were very tame… or just a sheer delight. There were cuckoos, woodpeckers and a tree mouse in the woods, plus this little guy, caught on zoom. I’ve seen peacocks and swallows, ibises, robins, grouse and an owl. And birds have a habit of making me think.

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I suppose because they are wild, free creatures, that when they come so close within our lives, or seem to allow us into their world for a moment, we are touching nature in a way our towns and cities seldom let us do. They wake us from our complacency with their presence and song and remind us of the changing seasons of the year. In general their lives are much shorter than ours and they use them busily, especially this time of year when the young need to be fed and educated.

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It has been lovely watching the young family of starlings with their parents, from the first, curious visits to the bird table, where, still yellow around the beak, the babies sat open mouthed and waited for their parents to feed them, to their growing confidence as adolescents, still in the family group, still under the watchful eye of parents who encourage them now to fend for themselves. They were clumsy when they first came, flying awkwardly and frequently falling off their perches. Now they are confident, though they still stick together and several families seem to be merging into a larger flock.

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Watching the young birds find their feet… and their wings… has been a joy this spring. They were made to fly… streamlined, graceful and swift in flight. Yet leaving the egg, instinct or not, is something they have to do under their own steam, breaking out of the shell when the moment is right, into a world unknown. Ii it a scary place for them or an adventure? Is it fear or curiosity that they feel?

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I think it was C.S Lewis who wrote that it has to be hard for a bird to leave the egg, but it would be an awful lot harder learn to fly if it stayed in there. He went on to compare human beings to eggs… saying that we cannot remain eggs forever, even perfectly good ones; we either change, or go bad. And to be honest, there can be few things worse than what is locked inside a decomposing egg.

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Once our shell is cracked, though, there can be no going back… we must break out, and breathe the air… and the egg is empty of anything that will nourish us. The only way forward means a dramatic change in everything we have known so far. There will be predators, there will be the risk of the unknown to face with ecxcitement or fear. Yet it is our nature too to fly. We are children of the sun and our soul has wings; and while we may be awkward and clumsy as we grow, the heavens are waiting for us to spread our wings and fly.

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Tales on the riverbank…

falls“Have you ever wondered if you could actually walk on water?” Almost the first glimpse of the river looked as if a pathway through the grass continued, uninterrupted across the water, which might have explained the odd musing as we sat watching the water flow through the valley. My companion responded with an emphatic ‘no’. I expanded the idea, not wishing to be seen as any weirder than usual. I wasn’t speaking from a personal perspective. Many cultures have tales in their religious or mythological streams of such miraculous occurrences, from Orion and Huang-Po to Jesus, in Hindu and Native American tales, where water becomes a pathway for the footsteps of those who transcend the human condition.path on waterTheoretically, I mused, it should be possible. As we create our worlds through our own belief, if we have absolute faith in our reality and truly believe that something is attainable. It would need more than a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ though. It would need utter and unshakeable conviction. I wasn’t about to try, of course. The water, catching the light on its surface might look solid enough in places, but I knew for certain I would only end up very wet and ridiculous; not the state of mind I was envisioning in my philosophical meanderings. Even in theory you could see there was no room for the merest hint of doubt… doubt would imply an acceptance that water is wet and its surface tension too fragile for our presence. Physics would overtake metaphysics and dunk any idiot daft enough to make such an attempt. As you can see, I do not have that absolute faith in the nature of water.
monsal dale 5On the other hand the traditional symbolism of the fluidity of water as emotion makes perfect sense in that context. Transcending the human enslavement to emotional reaction would, indeed, allow those who have reached a high enough point of spiritual unfoldment to ‘walk on water’. Emotions are one of those double edged swords; they allow us to know the higher aspects of Man as love, kindness and compassion, for example; yet they may cut both ways if we become caught in the trap that forgets that such things cannot be given with the kind of strings and conditions that seek to bind other lives to our own. They can only be given freely and in that there is both freedom and beauty.
green riverThe river itself is a place that calls forth such reflections. Indeed, it seems to mirror more than the hills and trees in its surface. The winding course of the silver stream is sometimes lost beneath the trees, its present shaded in soft, green light as the growth it sustains enfolds it. Sometimes it is lost from view, its future unseen and uncertain as it follows the valley’s contours, twisting and turning. There are stretches where it is wide and expansive, open to the sky, calm as a lake in meditative silence, reflecting back the sun. Metallic glittering as fish breach its surface or the jewelled flash of a dragonfly skims through the quiet reed beds like inspiration bursting forth from the stillness.
river wyeIn places the river runs deep, its reflections hiding the underlying currents, smiling in the sunlight while in its depths stones are churned unceasingly. The shallows chatter and babble, never still, never quiet; everything is a mere surface and there is insufficient calm, no depth to sustain any but the life that clings precariously to the rocks and crevices. Yet, even here the herbs and wildflowers find a place to grow, unexpected patches of colour and delicacy, populated by insects and birds; it is here we can see the interdependence of life as each form sustains another in an endless cycle.
wild mintThere is, however, something about the turbulence of white water that draws us. The waterfalls and weirs are where we congregate, taking pictures, capturing the drama of the moment, losing ourselves in the noise and movement. No matter from which angle we see it, it always seems different. From the calm that precedes, from the gentle meander, the water flows fast, its potentially destructive power channelled through narrow gorges or forced down a fall that changes the level upon which it moves. We feel the strength and power of the elemental force, see the erosion, the catabolism of earth played out before us and we focus our eyes on the foaming brightness with both awe and trepidation.
focusSome harness that power and use it, converting its strength to create something new. Some choose to brave white water, meeting it head on, becoming one with its fierceness to conquer fear and know its power in the adrenaline rush it provokes. Some are drawn unwitting into the stream and do not survive the battering of the rocks that lie beneath the surface. All of us know the lure of white water in some form in our lives, and all have felt its touch and many the drowning pain of its onslaught.
weir topYet, as we stand fixated upon the terrifying magnificence and movement we do not always take the time to look around and see what happens next. Below the turbulence of the falls the water roils, it is true; yet life-giving moisture fills the air and the very air itself, in its turn, fills the foaming waters. Trees and plants are bursting with green; mosses grow on rock and bark, fish abound, revelling in the oxygenated flow, and flowers cluster around the banks. and strange and fantastic creatures seem to bask in the flow with wildflowers in their hair.
river wye weir
The river, falling and tumbling over rocks in a dance made by the hand of Man or of Nature, can now reach a new level, bringing the enriched water to a new plain, a new place that might otherwise lie fallow and dull. What it carries in its flow are the traces of all that has gone before, from the birth of a spring high in the hills, through the valleys, collecting and breaking down the detritus of man and landscape alike; churning it in the maelstrom and filtering it through rock and reed until it regains its purity. Life feeds from life and from its death and destruction, its changes and turns, carrying within itself the memories of its journey until, one day, it may join the sea, freed from the bounding banks and narrow channels to play with the moon tides.
monsal dale weir 077